Review: Let's Call Him Vasu
Let's Call Him Vasu
Penguin books India
Rs. 350 pp270
If you have ever wondered why anyone chooses to become a Naxalite, journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary's book provides all the reasons. The only catch is the answers are sprinkled across the pages, tucked away in the middle of sentences spoken by the many Party insiders. Walking through the jungles of Dantewada for days, Choudhary takes us on a tour of the Naxalite turf on live-view mode and you will have to read attentively to piece together the story he intends to tell. Within minutes of meeting his first contact, Comrade Anil, Choudhary asks rather abruptly if Binayak Sen was a courier for the Party. The answer to this question, having cost the writer some dear friends, lies dispersed in different insider accounts.
On page 8 Comrade Anil says, "Oh yes, of course". Two pages later, narrating an account of how Sen carried cash lent by Orissa's top Maoist commander Sabyasachi Panda for imprisoned Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal to seek legal recourse, Anil says, "I will not say Binayakda worked for the Party… (he) was an old friend of Narayanda's and only helped him at a personal level." In deciding to take on a respected activist-doctor, the evidence that Choudhary puts out there is clumsy. To help any person get legal recourse is not a crime under Indian law. So what's the point? In a style that feels both frustrating and riveting, Choudhary never really pins down his contacts or cross questions them. He tells their story in raw chronology giving you the sense of reading a minimally-edited dictaphone transcript. The book scores on a few aspects: Choudhary has amazing access to the leadership. He has managed to meet the top rung - Sonu alias Bhupathy, Kosa, Orissa's top command Sabyasachi Panda, military strategist and weapon maker Rajanna, and Ganapathy, the Party's general secretary. However, given the access, could Choudhary have done more? Most definitely. At times, he seems too grateful to be amidst them, such as when India's greatest internal security threat, Ganapathy, gives him a farewell hug that seems "unnatural to refuse". The book also pieces together the history of the Party in Bastar after their exit from Andhra. Finally, Choudhury's own authentic research as a journalist and activist in recording the atrocities of the Chhattisgarh government's vigilante terror outfit - the Salwa Judum - comes through.
The book gets better towards the last chapters that contain rich insights. "These tribals who are fighting with you... will you make sure they get something out of this fight?" asks Choudhary. Although Ganapathy's political rhetoric is evasive, Choudhary finds his answer between the lines spoken by his numerous interviewees - when Kosa speaks about the Party's circular that ordered them to "start a movement centring on any one of their problems" and later when the Tendu wage hike victory was "used" to garner more support; and finally when Rajanna says "it will never happen" to the possibility of the Party being led by the Adivasis some day. The magnitude of the reality is unsettling. Chowdhary concludes that a large number of Adivasis are turning Maoists because the Party is the only entity that communicates with them. His own initiative CGnet and CGnet Swara trains adivasis to be journalists, a praise-worthy initiative indeed.
Shriya Mohan is an independent journalist