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Independence Day in Maoist land

india Updated: Aug 16, 2010 22:25 IST

On Sunday, August 15, the tricolour sat atop a pole in front of the primary school in Jarga village. It was everywhere on the way to Jarga: at traffic signals and shops, flapping on a motorcycle carrying three young men, standing at the centre of every school compound in every other village en route.

This would have unremarkable in many parts of India on Independence Day. But this was Jharkhand, a state in which Naxals have a presence now in virtually every district. And Jarga is in the heart of a Naxal area, an hour off the main road, surrounded by the jungle. At the entrance to the village, a stone plaque lists the date of the birth and death of a villager believed to have been killed at a jan adalat (the Maoists’ ‘people’s court’). When our driver learnt where we wanted to go, he quietly removed the tricolour from his car.

And yet there it was, a flag in the centre of the village, dutifully raised on Independence Day, such a routine act that none of the villagers gave it a second thought until we mentioned it.

Just as Jharkhand is a state with high levels of Naxalite activity, it is also a state with high levels of democratic participation. In its first elections as a separate state held in 2005 in the midst of increasing violence, it had 50 parties competing for elections. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, its turnout at 51 per cent was below the national average of 58 per cent but compared rather well with those of other states like UP (48 per cent), Bihar (45) and Madhya Pradesh (51). One man in his ’30s of adivasi background doesn’t have the education or skills that qualify him for a job in the private sector. In the last 15 years, he has tried his luck in many professions. He tried to work as a tutor, something in a local NGO, to be a subcontractor for small schemes sanctioned by the government. He even tried his hand at his family’s traditional occupation of basket-weaving despite wanting a better profession. Finally, he responded to the political party that tried to reach out to him. As he puts it, there is now a “berojgaron ki fauj” (an army of the unemployed) in Jharkhand. The CPI(Maoist) has capitalised on it. Other political parties have not.

While the rise of Naxalism has something to do with failures of development or governance, it also has a great deal to do with the failure of political parties.

Kanchan Chandra is Associate Professor, New York University, Saroj Nagi is Associate Editor, Hindustan Times