Mahendra Karma engineered Salwa Judum (SJ), a vigilante tribal group hired and armed by the State-corporate land and mining nexus to exterminate tribals resisting resource loot. Karma was responsible for the execution of thousands of tribals, and the torture, rape, displacement and destitution of lakhs. This is the man the Congress nurtured, protected and now mourns. The State has never regretted the lakhs of civilian deaths it has caused, whether through Operation Green Hunt (OGH) or otherwise.
State and corporate-sponsored violence remains under-reported and frequently justified. The government urges Maoists to eschew violence but itself plans military attacks on civilians. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s directives, SJ continues in its new avatar as the ‘Koya commandos’. Abuse of State power, corporate loot and violation of human rights during OGH (and intensifying in Phase II of OGH) — all in the guise of ‘national security’ and ‘development’ — led to national and international protests and bad press. The State responded with news blackouts. The State’s right to violence is conceded only if the State is regarded as above the law, impartial and anonymous. We need to ask inconvenient questions like, ‘why has the State been violent, since when, and for whose benefit?’ ‘Why are the tribals retaliating?’ They are tired of being “collateral damage” in the intensely violent and unjust privatisation of resources (protected under the Fifth Schedule) and national wealth that is passing for ‘development’.
All areas designated Maoist are also areas in which memorandums of understanding amounting to trillions of rupees have been signed with many MNC’s for mineral extraction. When this looting is supplemented with the mythologies of ‘democracy’ and ‘progress’, the villain becomes the anti-development, non-progressive Maoist tribal. The D Bandhopadhyay report of the Planning Commission notes that the Maoists have undertaken development that the State should have. Genuine pro-poor development should enhance tribals’ productive relations with the land, not disposses them.
The tribals are asked to ‘eschew violence’ and ‘join the democratic mainstream’. But the electoral process that constitutes this ‘democratic mainstream’ is a cynical numbers game. The ‘first-past-the-post’ system has meant that parties need address the demands of only the voting populace of very specific constituencies, differentiated along lines of tribe, caste, religion, etc. And that too, only on the influential sections within them, who in turn will (often coercively) ensure the remaining votes. This has not only created long-standing traditions of nepotism and inherited privilege, it has meant that, after six-plus decades of independence, the needs of the vast majority remain unaddressed. They have not opted out of the ‘mainstream’: they have been systematically excluded.
This exclusion has resulted in systemic, systematic and mind-boggling poverty, destitution, violence and deaths. This ‘political mainstream’ has failed so completely that even these deaths have no meaning for it. They are inconsequential, never on par with the individual deaths of the privileged who constitute the ‘political mainstream’.
The coveted tribal land is Eklavya’s thumb. This is what the Dronacharya of the State is demanding as the price for ‘development’. Why should Eklavya concede? Dronacharya and Eklavya are nowhere near equal, and well-intentioned if naïve calls for both to respect the Geneva Convention should understand this. The State denies that it is at war with its own people, and given their disparity in strength, the Maoists are hardly likely to endorse the Convention unilaterally.
If the Maoists have an alternative understanding of democracy and development that may prove more inclusive and sustainable, then perhaps it is time to listen to them, rather than banning and ‘encountering’ them. The post-May 25 suggestions to intensify police and military action in these regions will prove disastrous. The State must recognise its own strength and responsibilities, and make the first move toward peace by lifting the ban. It must allow transparent media coverage and observers in these regions. The question — whether one is for or against Maoist ideology — trivialises, distorts and distracts from the central issues.
PK Vijayan is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Hindu College. Karen Gabriel is Associate Professor, Department of English, St. Stephen’s College
The views expressed by the authors are personal