Much of what is tearing India apart can be ascribed to greed, arrogance, corruption, political exigencies and plain stupidity. And all of it is not a prerogative of just one side of the conflict. This is the fact that jumps out of the pages of Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita’s startling, extremely disturbing yet deeply compassionate account of our country’s most serious challenge — its battle with itself. The germs of the conflict may have been often handed down to us from our past, but the problem is that the infection has been allowed to fester and become a deep wound.
This is an extremely well-achieved book. It avoids the pitfalls of being clever. It never over-emotionalises any one side of an argument. Still it remains a deeply moving account of people stuck in the middle of a tragicomedy that has kept them on tenterhooks for most parts of their lives.
Every side has victims and every dead body has a grieving mother. The ordinary cop from Jharkhand is just as terrified as his tribal adversary. Both fight an unnecessary war. The tribal at least has the comfort of being right.
Put a soldier in the middle of Lal Chowk, Srinagar, and every passerby will loathe his presence. It’s a matter of time before he loses it. And when that happens, he will be despised even more. So each time an innocent is killed, the hatred towards the state the soldier represents takes yet another quantum jump.
Conversely, in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where the only interfaces between the state and people are security forces, where people get denied every basic need, where urban India flaunts its newfound influence over rural India, it becomes only natural for people to gravitate towards those who at least proclaim to be on their side. And in this case they are the Naxalites, and, as this brilliantly researched book tells you, even Planning Commission reports lend credibility to these claims.
The solution is not, as the Americans believed in Vietnam, technological. It is not to bomb every inch of the land and hope that the adversary alone will die. This solution only creates more hatred and, as the book so powerfully evokes, more militants. It provides more fodder to the forces that seek to profit from the misery of the people. This is the other strength of the book — is doesn’t flinch from uncomfortable truths, it is not bound by compulsions of political posturing or taking fashionable stands.
There is, for instance, the historical context of the bizarre story of the sale of Kashmir by the British to a Hindu Dogra king. It delineates the exploitation of a Muslim majority, first by a Hindu court and then by successive governments of independent India. It recounts the story of people constantly betrayed, the violation of their dignity which has led them to become, at times, pawns in the hands of a militaristic and brutal Pakistan.
But it does not flinch from describing the pain of the Kashmiri Pandit and his brutal expulsion from his land. The fact that the Pandit was killed or terrorised by the same people with whom he lived for centuries is a fact that is not glossed over.
As the book so strongly brings to the fore, every brutality gives rise to another brutality. People subjected to torture lose the faculty of wisdom. A mind brutalised is prey to both an internal surge of madness and the machinations of those who seek to exploit it.
This book is an essential read for anyone trying to understand the way out of this mess.
Sudhir Mishra is the director of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005)
Also read The Motorcycle Diaries. Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado travel across Latin America and ‘expose’ its underbelly. Result: a revolutionary is born.