The institutionalised resistance to State authority, which is really what Naxalite violence is all about, has been around for a very long time.
It isn’t quite the run-of-the-mill elephant jokes that were popular at one time (Google it if you are so inclined), although the elephant figures in it in a major way.
I have in mind a tale about a mother elephant that had calved on top of a hill. It was narrated to me by the manager of a company I worked in for a while. He would insist on coming up with the most comprehensive solution to a problem that the team under him could barely get started on solving. While that is an awful state of affairs, you could go just as terribly wrong by getting started on the first thing that strikes you as the solution.
The story goes that there existed a temple on top of a thickly wooded hill. There was a pathway that was barely enough for people to go up in single file, if they wanted to get to the top. The climb was not just arduous but treacherous as well.
On most days, the temple priest would be the only one to go up the hill and, that too, because it fell upon him to perform the morning rituals. The rest confined themselves to offering prayers only on important festival days.
Cracking the calf puzzle
One morning, when the priest went up to perform his daily puja, he was astonished to find a calf elephant crying out plaintively for help. Soon, all the villagers trekked to the top of the hill. The question in everyone’s mind was, ‘‘How did the baby elephant get to the top when even expert trekkers found the going so tough?’’
The villagers were scratching their heads trying to find an answer. Soon, the village wisecrack hit upon an explanation. He said, ‘‘Look, I think it is like this. The mother elephant must have gone up the hill and given birth to a calf.’’ . The villagers nodded their heads. ‘‘Oh yes, that is really how it must have happened’’, they seemed to be telling each other and dispersed in the secure knowledge that they had cracked a puzzle. But, of course, the real mystery was not how the calf happened to get there, but how a pregnant elephant managed to get to the top of the hill and give birth to a calf.
So it would seem, for the talking heads and writers in the media, when it comes to understanding the Naxalite violence and the role of private militia orsalwa judum as it is called.
If only the Government had not created this monster, the problem of Naxalite violence would not have escalated to the extent of wiping out the entire state Congress party leadership in the manner in which it did.
But the truth is, salwa judum or not, Naxalites have been around for a long time. Also, it isn’t as though they have all of a sudden embarked on the path of violence after being strong adherents of the principle of ahimsa. The reality is a bit more nuanced.
Truckload of charges
Years ago, I was, for a brief while, engaged in nothing more onerous than doling out payments to transport contractors within the finance set up at the Tata’s truck plant in Pune.
Dealing as I did, with truck drivers and assorted other minions in the world of commerce, I acquired a deeper understanding of the politics and social mores of India’s vast countryside existing outside the metros.
The company had engaged the services of the cooperative society of ex-servicemen for driving away fully assembled truck chassis from Pune to various towns where Tata dealers were located.
The transportation charges that were payable took into account the distance involved; the quantity of fuel to be consumed, besides wages and daily allowance to the driver for the duration of time it took him to deliver the vehicle and return. You could say that pretty much everything had been factored in, to the last minute detail. Or at least, so the company thought.
The extra levy
But when the bills were submitted there was an extra item charged at Rs 20 per truck (not a small sum in the 80s) for some destinations which were not built into the contract. The clerk in charge of transport payments would routinely disallow that claim and pay only the balance which was, as per the terms, agreed upon.
Over time, it added up to a sizeable sum which brought the secretary of the ex-servicemen society to my office. He explained that all chassis that passed through the town of Jagdalpur in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh for upcountry destinations, suffered a levy in the hands of the local militia and this couldn’t be incorporated in the contract.
He went on to explain in some detail, the internal security situation in the eastern parts of India. He would know; he was, after all, a retired colonel of the Indian army. Jagdalpur is at the very heart of the Naxalite movement in the State of Chhattisgarh.
It was all a long time ago. But nothing much has changed. One, the institutionalised resistance to State authority, which is really what this is all about, has been around for a very long time.
Two, such organised resistance was defeated only in the plains of Gangetic West Bengal and later in the plains of East Punjab. More specifically, the resistance could never be quelled with any degree of success where the movement operated with the advantage of hills and forests.
It is one thing to evict Naxalites from Jadavpur University which they occupied for a brief while. But it’s quite another to beat down the resistance dispersed around the hills of Chota Nagpur or the forests of Malkangiri in Odisha.
Operating at the margin
That said, no one is quite seriously doing anything about it either. The movement is being sustained because the energy needed to keep it going is generated from within. Both the rebels and the components of the established authority of the State (ruling party and the party in opposition) have no incentive to disturb the status quo.
The rebels are quite content to operate at the margin, collecting a toll on traffic in their domain; much like what warlords did when caravans passed through the Silk Road in the era before sea lanes of commerce were discovered. The political parties too do not want to destroy the rebels.
Each political party thinks that the rebels would be useful at some future date for forming an alliance to outwit the other party/parties contesting for political power.
In any case, the mindset of the rulers, no matter which party is in power, is not dissimilar to that of the rebels themselves.
There is no grand vision for the country where Naxalites stand in the way and, therefore, need to be either reformed or eliminated. They too prefer to make money at the margin from industrial investments, administrative clearances, and so on.
In other words, they operate at the margin sucking out what they can, much like the Naxalites themselves.
If Naxalites operate from the safety of the hills and forests, the ruling establishments prefer to operate from the safety of secretariats in the States and the North and the South Blocks in the Centre.
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