Eminent journalist Rahul Pandita's latest novel Hello, Bastar -The Untold Story of India's Maoist Movement, is a daring attempt to understand Naxalism in its very pristine form. The author speaks to HT about his inspiration, objective and his view on what exactly is happening in Bastar, a district in naxalite occupied Madhya Pradesh.
Stripped off from the government's and media's propaganda, Hello Bastar brings you true accounts of actual people, their journey into naxalism, their lives and aspirations. Rahul revealed that a childhood encounter with Maoists in fortnightly magazines and later as a reporter traveling in these areas, inspired him to write the book. He discovered the shocking extent of deprivation, poverty and exploitation that existed in the largest district of the country and what further created an impact on him was the massive divide between the area he reported about and the area he reported to. The reference of the Metropolitan Delhi in comparison to tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Orrisa, gave him an insight into the extent of selected development and resource allocation that exists in this country and what disturbed him even more was the fact that in the last couple of years this crucial , social - economic divide has actually accentuated rather than decrease.
When asked about the objective of his book, Rahul said that he aimed to bring across and illustrate the point that naxalism more than anything is an issue of development and of skewed socio -economic policy rather than an issue of violence, and law and order. Having said that he further explained that the second purpose of his book was to reach the ordinary informed reader, who is disillusioned by the government and media's propaganda and doesn't really know what s happening in his own backyard. He said that there is a complete lack of contemporary reader oriented literature on this vital subject his book aims give it's readers an opportunity to fill in these much regretted information gaps
Rahul further commented that there is a level of general insensitivity and indifference among people with regard to this issue, especially among the educated middle class. He says that there is a need for these people to realize that this issue is not as restricted, removed and exclusive to the naxal areas as they think it is, and it can and does affect them in more ways than they can imagine.
Talking about his journey to the red zone, Rahul said that as a conflict journalist, danger and threat to survival had always been a part of what he did. He elaborated that one needs to understand there exists a very thin line that between guts and stupidity and that one can only be careful not cross the line a dead journalist is after all a bad journalist. He went on to recall the constant dangers that he experienced such as in such as falling victim to a police ambush or be mistaken as hostile invaders by the naxalites or if not that then to falling prey to the mosquitoes and diseases like malaria and dengue. He confessed that there are a number of things that can go wrong as one travels in the conflict zones , but he it is a calculated risk which he was prepared to take.
Giving us an insight into the lives of the people living in Maoist infested area, Rahul said that although Maoists are not able to provide the tribals with better health, education and longevity, they are still able to give them a sense of dignity , the uniform of a naxal warrior gives them a sense of belongingness as if they are indeed a part of a larger community. This empowers them in a way that the Indian government never has, as it never gave them what they deserved as rightful citizens of India. Maoists have revealed to them the nature of injustice done against them.
Illustrating the tribal mindset Rahul narrated an incident in which they were informed about Rahul Gandhi and were later asked what they thought of him. He was perceived by tribals as the prince of India, and when asked whether they thought that prince could have ever fallen sick or catch disease like cholera they said no he could not.
Finally he added that government's policy is flawed as it is exclusionary, It took a long time for the government to accept that naxalism is a socio economic problem and not a law and order one and even after this reluctant acceptance little has changed. He further added that the ordinary tribal is a small insignificant presence, who hardly figures in Government 's 5 year development plans. He concluded by saying that as long as these tribals, many of whom still think that huger is a disease, are treated in this exclusionary way are not given the holistic development package they deserve, the problem of left wing extremism will never end.