Mr. Chidambaram’s war by Arundhati Roy – Part 5

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When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal Special Police Officers in the “people’s” militias—who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin—there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders. These people don’t have to declare their interests, but they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”, which TV channels “reporting directly from Ground Zero”—or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from Ground Zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from Ground Zero—are stakeholders?
What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’, ‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme Court’s own committee.

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique. They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it takes 6,00,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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