Monday, October 25, 2010

Ayodhya verdict & our secular conscience: Part Two

The three members Bench of Justice D.V. Sharma, Justice S.U. Khan and Justice S. Agarwal has ruled by a 2-1 majority that all the parties in the title suit, i.e. Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla represented by his sakha (close friend) Triloki Nath Pandey, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board will have one third equal share each of the disputed property and declared the litigants joint title-holders. Justice Sharma has disagreed with the decision of the majority that one-third of the disputed land should be given to Muslims for construction of a mosque. Dismissing the suit filed by the Sunni Waqf Board for a declaration and possession of the site so that Muslims can rebuild the demolished mosque on the same spot, the Bench has allotted the portion right below the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid to Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla Virajman with a caution that the defendants should not obstruct or interfere the area in any manner. The areas covered by the structures of Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar in the outer courtyard were allotted to the Nirmohi Akhara. The two Hindu litigants will share the remaining unbuilt area within the outer courtyard “since it has been generally used by the Hindu people for worship at both places.” The Bench has allotted the rest of the area where the Babri Masjid stood, including part of the inner courtyard and if necessary also some part of the outer courtyard to the Waqf Board stating that “the share of Muslim parties shall not be less than one third (1/3) of the total area of the premises”. To alleviate the progress of such a three-way division, the Bench has advised to use some parts around the disputed land presently under acquisition of the Government of India. The judges also ordered that the prevailing status quo which is currently under state control shall be maintained for a period of three months.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ayodhya verdict & our secular conscience: Part One

In a large and diverse country like India, there is never a dearth of issues that stimulate the citizens to talk, argue and fight. But the credulous public mind, overexposed and debilitated by artificial trends and a plethora of confusing information are often been hypnotized by the shining pendant of a forged present and a delusional future. Moreover, a vague vision of history compels them to acquire comfort by mirroring a general trend of forgetfulness. In this spurious atmosphere, even a detrimental agenda can easily capture public imagination and receive popular support. Incapable to ponder much of its gravity, people tend to offer themselves as cannon fodder in socio-political conflicts waged against their own interests. The six-decade-old Ayodhya dispute over the ownership of 2.77 acres of “holy” land is such a thorny issue that has sharply polarized a devout Indian society along quasi-religious lines. Flaring up from time to time, the dispute has instilled a stream of dangerous ideas deep inside the country’s psyche. Acknowledged as one of India’s most divisive and contentious issues, the dispute with its high hegemonic potential has shaken the very foundation of the country’s collective identity as a nation and gradually grown into a symbol of subjectivity. Looking into the chronology of events including the wide network of relations and sectoral interests in and by which the dispute is situated and sustained for such a long time will provide us a necessary linkage to the Ayodhya verdict which was recently delivered by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The desolation of Kashmir

Seventeen year old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, a class XII student, was preparing for the medical entrance exam. On 11 June, while coming home from his tuition class, he was caught in a street fight between a stone-pelting crowd and the police in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area. Tufail took shelter in the Gani Memorial Stadium but a tear-gas shell fired by the police from close range landed on his head. He died on spot. The administration first tried to pass the blame on the protesters claiming that the boy was killed “to keep the pot boiling’’ but later retreated when eyewitness evidence and the autopsy report confirmed that the murder was caused by police firing. Since then, large-scale street violence has erupted across the Kashmir valley. The police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were seen engaged in frequent clashes with incendiary crowds armed with nothing but stones and chunks of rocks. Reacting to the young stone-pelters, the security men, apparently ignorant about non-lethal ways of crowd control greeted the youngsters by firing bullets straight at them. The indiscriminate firing caused several civilians to die on the streets. Most of the casualties, shockingly, are teenagers and school going children, aged between nine and nineteen. Normal life is suspended in the Valley for months by strict and indefinite curfews imposed almost every day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rahul Gandhi’s ‘sipahi’ syndrome

The Adivasis, who had flocked Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s Lanjigarh rally in thousands, cheered joyfully when he announced, “This is your victory. You saved your own land.” Adding further that he is just a sipahi (foot soldier) who have represented them in Delhi, the dimpled faced fourth-generation scion of India’s most famous political family explained to the Adivasi crowd that “whether it is rich or poor, Dalits or Adivasis,” in his religion, “all are equal”. Rahul’s flamboyant speech came two days after the Central Ministry of Environments and Forests (MoEF) has denied permission to the mining group Vedanta Resources Plc’s $1.7 billion bauxite mining project at the Niyamgiri Hills for “serious violations of Environment Protection Acts, the Forest Conservation Act and the Forest Rights Act”. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended withdrawing the environmental clearance for the mega project. “Since August 2008, a lot of new information has come to light,” said Jairam Ramesh, the Minister for Environment and Forests. “It is on the basis of this incriminating new evidence that the decision has been taken,” the minister has asserted. The FAC accepted the findings of a four-member panel headed by N.C. Saxena which was formed after the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) instructed the Environment Ministry to address concerns related to the impact of the project on the local Adivasi community, the wildlife and biodiversity in the surrounding areas and clear the project only “after a thorough scrutiny and due consideration of all aspects.” The panel has found that the state government of Orissa has failed to implement the Forest Rights Act, which protects the community rights of forest-dweller Adivasis but instead “colluded with the firm in question, Vedanta, to allow blatant and widespread violations of forest and environmental laws.” The panel has also found that the mining group has “illegally occupied at least 26 hectres of village forest land within its refinery”.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lalgarh: when the saints go marching in

Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, two conscientious rabble-rousers of our time have marched into Lalgarh on last Monday, grabbing the apron string of their spanking soul mate – our famous railways minister. They went to attend and address a rally organized by the Trinamool party under the “apolitical” banner of Santras Birodhi Mancha (anti-terror forum) to spread the message of peace among the people of Lalgarh and to re-establish rule of democracy in this Maoist infested land of Bengal. Both have delivered the best of their banal statements concerning adivasis and their rights, about why MNCs must be resisted from setting up factories in the adivasi land, about how democratic process had come to a halt in the area. Both have also condemned the atrocities perpetrated by the joint security forces against innocent villagers after putting a Maoist tag on them and demanded a judicial inquiry into the death of Maoist Central Committee spokesperson, Azad. Both the crusaders without a pause had heaped immense praise on the railways minister for “putting up a brave fight against the ruling regime in favor of the poor and establishing the rule of democracy.” Agnivesh has informed the sizeable crowd mobilized primarily by the notorious Maoist frontal body PCAPA that, “Only Mamata has the courage to oppose Operation Green Hunt. Only she has the courage to oppose land seizure in the name of industrialization.” The polemicist Swami went one step further. Unable to resist him from the exiting setting or maybe the scorching heat, he barked out slamming the chief minister of Bengal: “It is time for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to go on vanwas (exile). Naya Zamana Aayega, Mamata Banerjee ka Zamana Aayega (A new era will come, the era of Mamata Banerjee)”. The rally was also blessed by top Maoist leader Kisanji. Manoj Mahato, the infantile leader of the PCAPA, has gone out of his way to ensure its success.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another rail disaster: what comes next?

India woke up from uneasy dreams to witness one more devastating train accident on Monday. This time it was at Sainthia in Bengal’s Birbhum district where the Uttar Banga Express entered platform No. 4 at a speed of about 80 to 90 kmph and ran into the Vananchal Express from behind which was just rolling out off the station. The impact of the fatal collision was so huge that a coach of Vananchal Express was tossed over on a nearby pedestrian footbridge. Sixty-three passengers were announced to be officially dead, numerous has suffered severe injuries. In past one year, this is the sixth major accident. The total number of deceased from rail accidents in the last fourteen months, as put forward by various media reports, has reached a whopping 428. Only since April this year, the figure is a shocking 250. The alarming rise of railway accidents in the country (more than 162 accidents since Miss Mamata Banerjee took over the charge of the Railways ministry, 40 accidents since April 2010) has made the entire nation feel extremely vulnerable and apprehensive about a safe rail travel. But the out of the ordinary minister of Railways and her top notch officials seems to be quite unaffected by the frequent accidents. The minister, being suspicious about the cause of the accident, had assured to “take strong steps against those who are behind this,” obviously hinting towards a sabotage.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010 and beyond

The vuvuzela horns have stopped buzzing. Paul, the octopus has retired from oracle predictions and went back to his formal job – to make children laugh. Columbian pop star Shakira’s titillating Waka Waka has lost its impetus. The FIFA World Cup 2010 is now history. For one month we were glued to ESPN, spending sleepless nights to assiduously follow the thrill of the greatest show on Earth. Apart from the tainted IT firm Satyam which was one of the official sponsors of the FIFA tournament and the ubiquitous and talkative Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan who was seen in the galleries and later found posing beside Shakira for a valued World Cup memento, India was nowhere in the picture. Needless to say, the holy land of masala cricket is not likely to be there anytime in near future. However it did not stop the Indian television channels to emulate each other and implement all-out efforts for loudening and sustaining the hype surrounding world’s most watched sporting event. After all, football is a mass television-packaged entertainment drenched with television money. The wedlock between football and television is making both the parties richer and richer everyday. Just before the semi-finals, Uruguay’s manager Oscar Tabarez had commented in a press conference that the other three semi-finalist countries Netherlands, Germany and Spain have “more footballers than we have people.” Similarly it can be said with some certainty that India perhaps have an abnormally higher number of football experts than it has genuine admirers of the beautiful game. For every football expert of one television channel, there was always an equal and opposite expert in the other; although there was not necessarily an equal and opposite fact available to constantly argue upon. A football expert in Indian television is someone who does not necessarily needs to be associated with the game. Indian television producers have uniquely promoted even wary political lackeys and stupid film stars as football experts – just to cash-on their dubious public appeal.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The other side of Rabindranath Tagore

A remarkable aspect of Rabindranath Tagore’s life is the way his persona had changed radically from the restricted identity of an oriental romantic-mystic to the wide-ranging identity of a concerned citizen of the world. A poet, who had earlier attempted to blend spiritual and romantic notions in his quest of grasping the mystery surrounding individual human soul and the divine, increasingly began to give voice to the minds of the colonized and oppressed people and expressed his passionate desire to be identified as one of them. This absolutely stunning transformation is manifested in the non-conformist and modernist approach of his later works. Quite obviously, this aspect of his life was somewhat overlooked by his ostensible admirers who has imposed upon him the title “Gurudev” and converted him into a sacred idol. W. B. Yeats, who was primarily responsible for forming the synthetic image of Tagore as a mystic poet in the West found problems with his later works. Amartya Sen in his brilliant essay Tagore and his India, has rightly pointed out that the “neglect and even shrill criticism” that Tagore’s later writings received from these early admirers arose from the “inability of Tagore's many-sided writings to fit into the narrow box” in which they wanted to place and keep him. “To those who do not read Bengali, Tagore is exclusively a literary person or a mystic of sorts,” regrets historian Tapan Roychoudhury. He further clarifies, “The fact that some two-thirds of his writings are serious essays, mostly on political and socio-eco­nomic problems of India and the crisis of civilization has been more or less ignored in Tagore scholarship.” (Source)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Innocent Maoists and the incredible but factual tale of a heartbreaking rail tragedy

Half minister Dinesh Trivedi always has a refined presence on television debates. Sometimes too refined one would say. He speaks chaste English, he can articulate his party chieftain’s feral “vision” in plain words which typically bear mordant remarks about the bête noire CPI(M). Therefore after the Maoists have successfully derailed the Mumbai bound Gyaneshwari Express near Jhargram in Bengal’s Midnapore district and caused several civilian deaths, the half minister’s clean and cold face kept flashing on various news channels. When asked about his opinion about the horrific incidence, Trivedi squarely puts the entire blame on the State government, parroting the Trinamool chieftain’s corrosive guideline and asks: Isn’t law and order comes under the state? When the anchor of the show asks him whether the Railways minister also owes some responsibility or not, the half minister thundered: How do you blame the Railways Ministry when the incidence has taken place in CPM ruled Bengal? After all Mamata Banerjee is not Bengal’s chief minister. He then delivered a gem. The half minister assured us, “The day Mamata Banerjee becomes the chief minister of Bengal, I can guarantee you there will not be any such problems”! (Source) How is he so confident?

Indian politicians are habitually infamous for talking nonsense in public and Trinamool Congress is particularly notorious in this aspect. One might therefore think that Trivedi must have gone utterly paranoid to stupidly justify an awesome disaster on behalf of his party boss who unfortunately is the Railways minister of the country. One might also wonder how Trivedi is so sure about the administrative competency of Mamata Banerjee. Both the thoughts have a close connection. In fact, Trivedi was speaking according to an instant strategy derived from the fantastic brains of Mamata Banerjee and her present advisors. The script was plain and simple. First to put the entire blame on the state government’s failure to maintain law and order, then to spread the rumor that the incident was possibly the handiwork of the CPI(M) and finally, to obscure any feature that could draw attention towards the Maoists and their frontal organization PCAPA as the real culprits behind the tragedy and shield them.

Intellectuals, who claim to be representatives of civil society and are openly supporting both the PCAPA and Mamata Banerjee, immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Instead of assisting the hapless victims and standing beside their families, the so called intellectuals, many of them on payroll of Indian Railways, were more anxious to clear the name of Mamata Banerjee and the Maoists from any public suspicion. They called a press conference to condemn the deaths and offer condolence to the victims. But the event was instantaneously converted into a political platform where the “awake and aware” intellectuals accused the CPI(M) of being involved in the mishap. “The accident was made to happen at a time when people are preparing to ring in a change,” thundered painter Shuvaprasanna, Mamata Banerjee’s trusted Rasputin and chairman of the passenger amenities committee of the Railways. Amid table-thumping approval from Shuvaprasanna, another jewel of the crown Debobrata Bandopadhyay unambiguously said that “the needle of suspicion is towards CPM, which is the only beneficiary of the accident.” During the press meet no one minced a single word about the involvement of the Maoists except Railways heritage and culture committee chairperson Shaoli Mitra, who monthly draws Rs. 50,000 and other perks from the Railways coffer. Posing as the most credulous among the lot, Mitra uttered, “Even though Maoists have denied their links with the accident, media is emphasizing the Maoists link. We are going through a dark time.” How bad not to believe the honest and truthful Maoists! However, the “intellectuals” refused to answer any question posed by journalists who asked them about the basis of their allegation. (Source)

Within hours after the now infamous “intellectual” press conference, Mamata Banerjee appeared into the arena to hold one more press meet with her matching message: “I don't know who has done the heinous crime. But whoever has done it, it's a political conspiracy. (Emphasis added) I have requested the union home ministry to conduct a probe,” she said briskly. She then added her punch line, “The accident has happened two days before the (civic) election. One may be politically against us, but I feel bad the way the incident was engineered to fulfill one's political interests.” (Source)

Why the Trinamool tricksters are so eager to put the blame on the CPI(M)? Is it just because they wanted to score brownie points before the civic polls? This logic seems valid and persuasive, but there is a more intricate mechanism that is working deep beneath the visible surface. During the Singur-Nandigram fiasco, a single enemy strategy was vigorously employed by the detractors of the CPI(M) which had helped the Trinamool Congress to evoke an innate fighting impulse against the Marxists. To some extent this fighting impulse has stimulated the common man’s mind and caused the party’s 2009 poll debacle. No one can completely deny that the CPI(M) as a party has made quite a few serious blunders during the land acquisition controversies. But it is also a fact that to serve the single enemy strategy and impale the Marxists as enemy of the people, the blunders have been trumped up on an enormous magnitude. The CPI(M) has been blamed for every malady and misfortune of Bengal. It was a well crafted strategy to cloud rational judgment and distract attention from the real causes. The vicious attack has worked extremely well in the recent past and eroded a substantial chunk of the Left Front and the CPI(M)’s support base. At the same time it has helped the Trinamool chieftain to emerge as the only unyielding voice against the single enemy CPI(M). Quite obviously it became the central strategy for the Trinamool and their rainbow allies which also include the Maoists as a vital but disguised ally. Blaming the CPI(M) have therefore served a dual purpose. It has augmented the single enemy strategy and also obscured the role of the atrocious Maoists in the train tragedy that has caused death of nearly 150 innocent civilians.

The “blame CPI(M)” ploy was initiated by the Trinamool MP Sisir Adhikari with his “evil forces are out to vilify Mamata” remark. Receiving the tip-off from Adhikari, the PCAPA convener and spokesperson Asit Mahato was quick to announce, “We had no knowledge about the attack on the train. Our people did not do it…. It was the handiwork of CPM goons. It was a conspiracy hatched by the CPM.” After denying any involvement of the PCAPA in the sabotage and strongly proclaiming about a “CPI(M) conspiracy” Mahato did not stop there. Sensing the ramifications of the tragedy, a concerned Mahato desperately attempted to vindicate Mamata Banerjee and said, “CPI(M) has plans to politically isolate Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee so that she is forced to resign”. (Source) Then the Trinamool intellectuals started their synchronized chorus to deliver an identical message which was followed by a statement issued by the State Committee of the CPI (Maoist). The statement assured the railway authorities “Nothing will be done from our side” and solicited them to ply their trains without fear. Keen to distance themselves from the tragedy fearing public backlash, the Maoists also repudiated the charge against them by stating that, “We were not involved in the sabotage.” Shaoli Mitra’s argument about the “innocent” Maoists was based on this statement. The Maoists also “demanded” an independent enquiry of the incidence by “a neutral investigation team comprising intellectuals, scientists, engineers and unofficial experts” since the state controlled CID and the central agency CBI “both are biased”. The Maoists demand call in mind what Rabindranath Tagore once wrote condemning the violence perpetrated by Indian extremist groups during the freedom movement, “To light the fire and then complain that it burns is absolutely childish.”

Why the Trinamool intellectuals and the veiled backers of Mamata Banerjee so intensely struggling to shield the Maoists from the train mishap? It is only because the chronology of events clearly show how the Trinamool leaders, the intellectuals, the PCAPA and the Maoists are coordinated with each other. Within days, the Indian Express published a story on PCAPA leader Bapi Mahato who controls the Guimara-Lalgeria panchayat area where the Gyaneshwari train disaster took place. The 25 year young leader, charged as the mastermind behind the attack by the police and investigating agencies, has revealed that “…we targeted the goods train. But somehow, we were fed wrong information that the goods train would cross through this track and we removed pandrol clips from a long stretch.” (Source)

Here we must also mention about some “neutral” analysts like a learned economist turned talk-show star who was simply “unable to comprehend why the Maoists will attack a train if they are so intimate to Mamata Banerjee”. Are the so called “neutral” voices really so naïve to figure out that to achieve her enduring objective of occupying the Bengal chief minister’s chair, Mamata Banerjee has willingly mounted on a savage beast? A Maoist leader has explained her predicament to the media, “We had expected Mamata to pressure the Centre in withdrawing the joint forces from the Jungle Mahal area. But she did nothing… She took our help in Nandigram, but she didn’t help us and so we wanted to cause minor damage to the railways by targeting a goods train.” (Source) The savage beast will possibly stop only after consuming the rider. These so called neutral voices are in fact deceitful to the core. By pretending to be naïve, they are actually trying to mislead the people from the clear nexus between the Maoists and Trinamool. People only see what they are prepared to see. Mamata loyalists and lobbyists are therefore trying too hard to preserve the post Singur-Nandigram milieu so that the opportunity of a “change” does not spin out of control.

Mamata Banerjee’s admirers adore her for the essentially ruthless fighter image she has fostered over the years and for her ability to enforce a creepy but effective anti-CPI(M) diatribe. In her ongoing business of deception, she is steadily assisted by her intellectual friends who are putting the final wrapping on her glitzy packages. Under her direction, incessant attacks of virulent deception are widely been used as a worthy weapon to win over different segments of the population and for keeping the support intact till the 2011 assembly elections.

Most of the arguments spearheaded by the Trinamool chieftain are essentially phony as their base substances are all lies. In unusual situations, even phony facts and phony arguments sound logical. The same is happening today in the post Singur-Nandigram political atmosphere of Bengal. The fallacies and lies she have mastered to execute her deception strategies will obviously fool some people for some time. Many of her enthusiastic supporters are unable to visualize the actual situation as their minds are besieged under the grand emotional appeals and fallacious arguments of the Trinamool Congress. But will it be possible for the megalomaniac Mamata Banerjee to keep this momentum till the 2011 assembly elections is a tuff question to answer. From the almighty chieftain to the creepy-crawly lower rank leaders, most of the Trinamool team is habitual offenders of democratic integrity. Their rhetoric is full of unsound reasoning. Their language is filthy and obnoxious. Their approach is unscrupulous and fascistic. Their outlook is reactionary.

The Trinamool chieftain and her destructive forces have launched a new brand of manipulative politics in Bengal where emotion instead of reason is used to prove a conclusion to every political argument. Her expendable pawns of today and her future day scapegoats are mostly unaware about the ulterior motive of this deceptive politics. By deliberately replacing reality with illusion, by appealing to people’s emotions and prejudices to cloud their thinking ability, she has converted political deception almost into an art form. Hence, for the time being, her every wrong seems to be right. The Trinamool intellectuals on the other hand, especially the most vicious among them have confirmed once more that greed and self-interest are truly great motivators. But the recent events have proved one more thing for sure. You really do not need enemies if you have friends like the ones who are buzzing around Mamata Banerjee’s spoilt hive.

As a continuation of their 2009 general election performance, the Trinamool has achieved a “giant victory” in the civic polls today. It is an expected verdict. Only a miracle would have turned the verdict in CPI(M)’s favor. But the writings have already started to appear on the wall. It will become more and more prominent in the coming days. Do we really need a weather man to know which way the wind blows?

Image Courtesy:

Monday, May 3, 2010

CPI (Maoist) and their disingenuous defenders

The Indian State which is ruled by the comprador class cannot be overthrown by means other than armed conflict. This is the fundamental political belief of the CPI(Maoist) which aims to seize State power through “protracted armed struggle”. When the Maoists are so frank and clear about their ultimate objective, it is difficult to appreciate why the ongoing conflict between them and the State should be viewed as “one side is bent on destroying the ‘LWE’ (left-wing extremism) and the other side determined to defend themselves”. To some, it may appear that the “other side” is concertedly defending the subjugated masses from a repressive and brutal State but the real intention of this “other side” is obviously something more ominous and far more profound than it seems to be. Is it not true that both the sides are equally resolute to destroy each other? Many exponents and experts who find nothing wrong in the Maoists method of action have affirmed us that condemning the Maoists violence is actually a symptom of “bourgeois-liberalism”. Maoist violence and State violence cannot be viewed as same because the heart of State violence is to suppress and consistently kill innocent people whereas the Maoists’ are violent just to “defend” the poor Adivasis. Even when the Maoists opt for offensive steps, we are advised to view it as a part of their defense tactic! When State forces take action, it is “war against our own people” which is highly condemnable because “political aspirations ought not to be suppressed militarily”. But when the Maoist People’s Army arrogantly slaughters innocent people at random under so many “noble” pretexts, it does not need to be condemned, but instead needs to be glorified because the victims simply “suffered the fate that they deserved”. (Source) This is a strange and dangerous logic.

Violent ideologies will continue to attract people as long as the very source of their resentment remains unabated. But why does ultra-left sectarian politics always have some special appeal among a section of the thriving middle-class of this country as the only way to address injustice? In a recent speech, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has explained that left sectarianism seems to be an “easy way out” for it’s proponents since they can “dangle the prospect that there is another short cut to revolution.” (Source) Accordingly, a battalion of human rights, civil liberties organizations, Gandhian social workers and a section of urban embedded intellectuals are raising the mercury level in the ongoing debate on the Maoist menace by repeatedly harping on two aspects as the real cause behind the Maoists spread. They talk about the development model implemented by the Indian State since 1990’s which is responsible for shattering the livelihood of the Adivasi (tribal) people. They also talk endlessly about the gross violation of Adivasi rights from the ongoing State paramilitary offensive Operation Green Hunt. Both the issues are relevant and needs proper introspection.

In the Adivasi land

No one can deny that the Adivasis are among the poorest of the poor in India. Well-off sections of the society have always deprived them of their elementary rights and never viewed them with any respect. Historically, they have been left at the mercy of the oppressors, plunderers and their agents. Numerous time during the colonial rule, the Indian Adivasis had bravely fought to resist the British colonial interests but their rebellion was never been treated as part of the Indian Freedom Struggle. The British took away their autonomy over the forests by imposing the Forest Act in 1927 after terming them as traitors and encroachers. The biased law remained in force until 1980. Valued only as cheap labour in factories, mills, plantations, quarries and mines during the British colonial rule, the Adivasis also became the victim of a separate Adivasi identity created by the colonial rulers that had categorized the community into tribal and non tribal, criminal and non criminal tribes.

The situation remained unchanged even after Independence. Successive governments and their callous, corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy have failed to provide them the basic means of livelihood. Development works or benefits of government policies have seldom touched their lives. People in the remote Adivasi dominated areas continue to live without roads, electricity, hospitals, clean water and proper sanitation. The post-independent elites, the middle-class and various political leadership were also ineffectual to do any justice to them. Instead, they have regularly cheated and victimized the Adivasi communities by showing little or no concern for them and went on exploiting their precious resource base. In the situation as it prevails now, the Adivasi population has increasingly become alienated from their vicinity and traditional resources. They are forced into chronic poverty and are also at risk of losing their community identity.

According to a recent study of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), nearly 2.6 million people have been displaced between 1950 and 1991 in the country due to mining and 164,000 hectares of forestland has been diverted for the purpose. 52 per cent of the displaced population belongs to the Adivasi communities whose livelihoods and economy are closely attached with the forests. A wilderness of terrible despair that the Adivasis are facing today is directly linked with the central government’s disastrous National Mineral Policy (NMP) released in the year 1993. The Ministry of Environment and Forest has sanctioned 881 mining projects between 1998 and 2005 in forest areas diverting 60,476 hectares of forest area and forced a significant number of the Adivasi populations towards immediate displacement from their traditional habitat.

Almost half of the 50 major mining districts in India have a large Adivasi population. Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa are the three top mineral-bearing Indian states regarding concentration of mineral deposits. About 70 per cent of India’s coal, 80 per cent of its hematite iron ore (high-grade ore), 60 per cent of bauxite, 40 per cent of manganese and almost all its chromite are found in these three states. The three states are also characterized by large forest covers, big Adivasi populations with a very high rate of poverty and backwardness. (Source)

The Maoists have made inroads in areas where hilly regions with dense forest covers provided a geographical advantage for them to operate in a relatively easier way. These are also the areas where State apathy, abuse of power and denial of people’s rights are severe. These favorable conditions have immensely helped the Maoists to strike a chord with some sections of the people living here. The Adivasi dominated regions were selected as a strategic choice, not because of any special concern for the dismal condition of the Adivasis. After subtly exploiting their misery, the phraseology mongering Maoist leadership has effectively applied a warped and distorted ideology on them. They have ignited the brewing resentment with their gun wielding politics and enlisted the Adivasis youths as the perfect cannon fodder in their protracted people’s war.

A “Gandhian social worker” gives a fantastic ‘Gandhian’ interpretation on why the Adivasis are with the Maoists. He has expounded that when the Adivasis come to the realization that “the only reasons for losing my land and my resources were because the “government” agents were not on my side and that they had guns,” the only means that is left to oppose the government agents and save their resources is, “to have guns of my own”. (Source) This now famous “Gandhian” social worker believes that under a repressive setting choosing a gun is the only way to channel the anger of the poor, and thus grants a “Gandhian” legitimacy to the Maoist gun-culture. A section of the deracinated intellectuals and rights group activists tend to perceive the Maoists like a Messiah for championing the Adivasi causes and for offering “formidable resistance against implementation of hundreds of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for mining and mineral-based industries in predominately tribal India.” It becomes an excellent excuse to vindicate the rebels from all their misdoings.

To endorse what the Maoists are doing today, passionate sympathizers are putting forward an outrageously simplistic and romantic logic. They argue that in a “fake” democracy, “resistance seemed the only way out”. One cannot “pretend to be neutral” under such terrible circumstances. Violence of the “oppressed and the oppressors” cannot be morally equated. They have discovered that the only political force that is capable to channel the anger of the poor against a failed system is the one and only CPI(Maoist). They are enthralled by the wild dreams of a “new democratic regime” under the Maoists where landlordism will be abolished and the tillers will become landowners, where the property of the imperialists and the big bourgeoisie will be confiscated, the representatives and backers of the anti-democratic opposition to socialism will be stymied, income and wealth will be properly redistributed to satisfy the reasonable needs of all. At the same time they convey a warning to “the ruling classes and those who govern on their behalf” that the CPI(Maoist) “is not merely a guerrilla army backed by a large section of the people in its areas of operation, but a party with a vision and a plan that does all it can to implement, against all odds”. (Source)

Let us now see how the so called “Maoist ethics” works on the ground. The Maoists who are about to create a “new democratic regime” surprisingly does not keep trust in democratic principles themselves. This aspect is evident from the everyday life under an authoritarian military setup in the dark Dantewada jungles where in the name of the people everything including the functioning of the ostensible people’s committees and jan adalats (people’s courts) are determined by the Maoist dictum. Whoever dares to disobey their authority is branded as agents of state or police informer or exploiter and is executed in cold blood. Without any transparent process of verifying guilt, these kangaroo courts act in a four-in-one role – as the accuser, prosecutor, judge and executioner to regularly deliver capital punishment to the accused after identifying them as class enemies. The Maoist leaders keenly follows the ultra-left tradition initiated by Charu Mazumdar and has elevated their murderous obsession into a political principle. It is quite easy to terrorize and keep the people under a constant threat by the AK 47 wielding people’s guerrillas. Instead of being involved with issues of livelihood and socio-economic justice, the Maoists believe in practicing mindless militarism as the only resort to achieve their desired goal. The barrel of their guns is pointed to disrupt the emergence of any strong democratic movement in their area of dominance. However, they are rarely heard to assault any member of the “comprador bureaucratic capitalist class”. There is no instance where the Maoists have stopped mining operations in these areas; neither did they ever organize any strong movement against the poor living and working conditions of the locals who work in the mining industries. How is it possible for so many industrialists and mining companies, traders and forest contractors to happily go on doing their business in the Maoist infested areas? It is simply because the big bourgeoisie and corporate houses are their stable cash cows. They have to regularly pay handsome protection money to the Maoists and fund their "revolution".

The Maoist backers believe that “unless people are armed there is no other way one can neutralize the great advantage the ruling classes enjoy over means of violence”. These backers have found an effective way to “humanize the demonized” and counter the State sponsored “abuses, half-truths and untruths” by reciprocating it with similar abuses, half-truths and untruths in favor of the Maoists in thrilling reports based on what they “saw, heard, read, discussed, debated, and argued” during the sponsored trips into the Maoist heartland. (Source) The mystifying reports tell us that the Maoists shit in neat field toilets, do not drink or smoke, can skillfully stitch and sew, can cook delicious but nutritious meals, watch popular movies, listen to their all time favorite BBC news and “be it day or night” takes out a book to read and a notebook to write. The senior Maoist members carry laptops and download TV programs from You Tube. Hearing from them that “we do not kill, loot or rape,” the enthusiastic fact finders become sanguine about the moral stateliness of the rebels. They are equally satisfied with the answer, “we only kill enemy of the people”. When a senior leader was asked why they are killing CPI(M) party workers, the terribly “honest” revolutionary replies that he “couldn't answer without reading report of the state committee”. After blowing the Maoist trumpet in full force these “quite supportive” admirers become flabbergasted to find that the Maoists do not try to “over blow their achievement”!

Gurucharan Kisku a.k.a Marshal, a key Maoist functionary of the Kharsawan-Purulia-West Midnapore-Bankura sub-zonal committee who has recently turned into a renegade with several of his followers has revealed a disturbing account which is in sharp contrast to the lofty claims of the backers. Kisku has exposed how the Maoists squad members “collect a levy of Rs 20 and 3 kg rice from every such poor and deprived tribal household at gun point” and have killed “more than 200 tribals who where neither rich, nor oppressor”. (Source) In another interview, Kisku has said, “I have realised that if the party line is clear, there is no need for unnecessary killings. Ultimately, most of the dead people are tribals themselves. Whenever a tribal raises his voice against the Maoists, he is killed.” In reply to the question whether he is still a Maoist, Kisku answers, “If you consider Maoist as someone who kills police officers and innocent people, I am not one.” (Source)

Kisku, who was one of the closest aides of CPI(Maoist) leader Kishenji, has also accused that the Maoist leadership were not working for the Adivasi people but instead “have attempted to divide tribals”. In the name of leading a justified war on behalf of poor and deprived tribals, the Maoist top brasses are “using them as instruments.” Expressing his discontent, Kisku went on to say that, “Tribals are a social entity, with distinct customs, religion and language. The party is destroying this tribal system and way of life in Jungalmahal and other areas. It is following the proletariat line where distinctness is not recognized. There is no development of tribals under CPI(Maoist). There is only 20 per cent representation of tribals in the leadership of the party at all levels.”

Lalgarh paradigm

The ongoing events in Lalgarh have revealed how the Maoist’s “strategy” works among the impoverished masses. From 2007, there have been sporadic incidences of violence in the area carried out by armed Maoist squads’ crossing over from Jharkhand. The Maoists had prominently marked their presence in that area when they tried to assassinate the chief minister of Bengal by an IED explosion on November 2008. In the ongoing verbal extravaganza, it is seldom uttered that the police action in Lalgarh had intensified only after the attack on the Bengal chief minister. The CPI(Maoist) had accepted the responsibility of the explosion in a press release. Maoists spokesperson Gour Chakraborty was found to reveal in an interview that, “Our party wanted to kill Bhattacharjee”. (Source) A key Maoist leader Shashadhar Mahato, better known as Bikash, had openly stated that since someone needs to execute the chief minister “we took charge of it”. When the police raided across the Lalgarh area in search of the culprits, a resistance group called the PCAPA (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities) cropped up instantaneously to “defend” the local Adivasis from police brutality.

It is undeniable that the PCAPA was able to maneuver a significant number of locals, most of them impoverished and ingenuous Adivasis, and has coercing them to confront the state administration. Even after the government reprimanded the accused policemen and undertaken several remedial steps, the PCAPA refused to come to any compromise with the state government and continued with their violent protests which in many ways were identical with the Maoists distinctive style. On the grass root level, the PCAPA targeted local CPI(M) workers. No wonder that the CPI(Maoist) is particularly hostile against the CPI(M) in Bengal since the Marxists are the only political force in the state that has come forward to fight them politically. They systematically started burning houses of “class enemies”, looting banks and killing local CPI(M) leaders and workers who were either agricultural laborers or poor peasants and created a total anarchy after undermining and preventing the state forces to enter the area. Soon, the devious Trinamul Congress chieftain and a section of high-flying urban intellectuals were seen screaming on media to justify the anarchism and bloodbath with the excuse of expressing their “concern” for the subjugated Adivasis and started to feed the “heroic resistance movement” with dubious fodder. Gradually it became crystal clear that the PCAPA is really not interested to resolve the apparently meager issue of police brutality but has a much greater objective in mind – to cordon off and convert the area into another notorious Maoist stronghold. The Home Minister of the country has to later admit in the Rajya Sabha that the PCAPA is “only a front organization to the CPI (Maoist)”.

Though proclaimed by some rights activists and run-of-the-mill academics, in real sense Lalgarh was never a “community upsurge”. Let there be no mistake that from its origin, the movement steadily followed the dictums of the Maoists bosses. The killings and destruction of properties, the call for a boycott of the State agencies were the handiwork of the so called “revolutionaries” who were eager to create another liberated zone of its own kind in Lalgarh. The “radical democrat” intellectuals attempts to show how the Maoist leadership carries out a class analysis to understand the concrete forms of exploitation and oppression and “clearly” identifies the friends and the enemies while spreading their movement. If this is the case then why the Maoist hands are smeared with proletarian blood? The majority of people killed by them are always from the deprived and neglected sections of society for whom the Maoists claim to be fighting for. Most of the CPI(M) party members in and around Lalgarh who are bearing the brunt of the deadly “new democracy” of the Maoists also belong to the same social class.

Disingenuous defenders

Inside and outside pressure groups are robustly persuading the government to renounce the “unconstitutional” Operation Green Hunt and rethink its counter-Maoist strategy. But who will pursue the Maoists to desist from their killing spree? Isn’t it quite obvious that the present situation will not improve any further if only the Indian State discontinues their anti-Maoist operation? Isn’t it also the Maoists who must be prevented from their violent acts? The activists who have specialized in defending the rights of the Maoists are debating the issue with utter dishonesty. Presently their single track demand is that the State must first and foremost stop the repressive action on the “Adivasis”. They are always quick to raucously denounce the State offensive but rarely seen to come forward to even say with the same intensity that along with the State onslaught, the Maoists violence must also stop. Instead, when the Maoists massacres paramilitary forces, triggers deadly blasts, attacks police posts, robs banks and mines, kidnaps and murders innocent people to provoke the State for instigating brazen measures to curb the deteriorating law and order situation, the so-called rights activists create a hullabaloo on sympathy networks against the “phlegmatic response” of the State while maintaining a discreet reticence about the clinical atrocities of the Maoists or try to define it on moral terms. This particular façade of the Rights groups is not only disingenuous but also deeply suspicious.

Just like the State agencies, the rights and civil liberty groups are similarly caught up in misleading public opinion by systematically giving a lopsided view of the subject. When the Maoist armed squad attacked a relief camp in Dantewada on July 2006 and killed thirty Adivasis including children, CPI(Maoist) spokesperson Azad had surfaced to justify the killing by saying, “No people’s war can be so clinical as to have no civilian casualty”. How did they forget that incidence? Are they not aware that the Maoist goons have ingeniously melted among the Adivasi population and it is quite hard if not impossible for the State security forces to distinguish between a hardcore Maoist insurgent and a naive Adivasi? How to identify and isolate the CPI(Maoist) leaders and members from the common people in the so-called “liberated” villages? After getting recruited as cannon-fodders in the Maoists squads, should the State forces continue to consider the Adivasi men and women simply as Adivasis? Is it not true that at the end it will be no-one else but the Adivasis who will be left to bear the catastrophic impact of the clash between the State forces and the so-called revolutionaries? On this question the activists are maintaining a conniving silence.

“A defining characteristic of the human rights movement is its attitude of suspicion towards all power and authority,” wrote K. Balagopal, one of the finest human rights activists in India. Asserting that “the human rights movement is equally concerned about physical violence and structural violence,” Balagopal had revealed that “the violence of rebel movements is rarely as well balanced and exactly sufficient for its stated aim of establishment of justice as the movements’ claim it is.” Pointing out at “the more romantic the more distant” human rights activists who finds it uncomplicated to condemn institutional violence but remain relatively quiet against the “popular militancy” carried out by rebel movements, Balagopal had asked, “Can the fact that the purported final aim of the authority is total liberation of human beings from all oppression render one blind to these questions?” (Source)

Balagopal had intensely denounced all forms of violence. Since “systematic violence on both sides bleeds society,” he was also a sharp critic of the Naxalites for their belief that violent armed struggle is the inevitable form of revolutionary class struggle. Writing in the context of the Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh, Balagopal had argued that the Naxalites, “intentionally used methods that would challenge the very authority of the law and push the state, inch by inch, to repudiate law and legality”. He had further observed that the, “systematic violence by the naxalites has gone hand in hand with the State electing a response of systematic violence to the naxalite movement,” and had swayed both sides to “copy a lot from each other because they set each other’s terms.”

According to Balagopal’s analysis, “Systematic and calculated violence begins with the enemy but soon turns to the agents of the enemy within and among one’s friends”. Exposing the dilemma that characterizes the Naxalite movement he further continues, “The naxalites social base consists of the landless poor, the peasants, and the miners and factory labor, with the middle class as a potential ally. Yet the majority – overwhelmingly – of the victims of naxalite violence belong precisely to these classes/groups.” He had argued that as “there is no natural mechanism to ensure that the aims of the militants remain close to the needs and aspirations of the supporters…..This question is all the more urgent because it is the supporters who willy-nilly bear the brunt of the State’s counter-attack.”

Balagopal’s moral honesty did not go well with the pro-Naxalite coterie of academics and intellectuals who have lately been reduced to the obnoxious position of fire eater apologists of the CPI(Maoist). He analysis had surely irked the pseudo-dissent shadow-warriors who thinks that, “violence of the state forces in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa and the violent resistance of the tribals (under the leadership of the CPI(Maoist)) whose land had been taken, livelihood destroyed and who had been thrown into the wilderness of destitution, despair and hunger cannot be morally equated.” Quite predictably, Balagopal was ruthlessly abused by them for the “basic shift” in his priorities and world view and was termed as a “liberal humanist” and “reformist”. His critics has even gone to the extend to declare that, “Those who claimed that they were equidistant from the aggressor and the aggressed were on the side of the aggressor – it was their class bias that made them assess the two with the same yardstick.” (Source) However these frenzy concerns sounds almost bizarre since neither the noisy “radical democrats” nor the highflying Maoist leaders belong to the aggressed class.

Selective Human Rights

Balagopal’s criticism can be fittingly applied to the various human rights and civil liberty groups who thinks that State terror and the terror by non-State actors is altogether different since the “states have killed many times more people than those killed by non-state actors”. In his writing Balagopal had raised a fundamental question: “How can the Human Rights movement not look at how this power is being established, with how much real backing and support it is being exercised, what norms it is following, how democratic the norms are, how accountable this power is to the people in whose name it is exercised, and so on?” Criticizing the sheer duplicity of the Maoists politics he writes, “…expression of contempt of institutions and processes of public justice under the State is quite common with the Maoists, though it has never prevented them from demanding enquiries and lawful action by such institutions against perpetrators of what they believe to be injustice.” (Source)

To defend the rights of the Maoists, human rights activists have chosen to rest on the third preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. The preamble says, “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”. Indigenous human rights groups and activists has interpreted and reinterpreted the Declaration in their own way to fit it into their diverse schemes. “…the real Human Rights Activists would never justify any kind of cold-blooded murder, torture or ill-treatment committed either by the State or non-State Actors” claims one such activist but then go on saying, “The Human Rights Activists raise their voices only when the state violates or does not enforce, ensure and protect the Human Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India, embodied in the UN Conventions, Covenants and Protocols signed and ratified by the Government of India and enforced in the Court. The human rights violation by the non-state actors takes place only when the state is inactive, ineffective and unjust, which also should not be justified.” (Source) This statement reveals the sly attitude of the human rights community. They claim to be impartial but cannot prevent themselves from exposing their prejudices. The resonance of their rhetoric is quite obvious to notice. Off course they do not justify the atrocities committed either by the State or non-State actors but definitely tries to shield the non-state actors by squarely putting the responsibility on the State. When the Maoists killed 70 CRPF jawans in Dantewada on 6 April 2010, the civil rights organization PUDR issued an incredible statement: “we neither condemn the killing of security force combatants nor that of the Maoists combatants, or for that matter any other combatants, when it occurs.” Why? Because civil rights organization “can only lament the folly of the Indian government which lacks the courage and imagination to pursue a non militaristic approach which is pushing us towards a bloody and dirty war.” (Source)

As a result of this half-baked outlook, the rights activists have considered that it is their moral duty to take a “zero tolerance” and “antagonistic” stance while criticizing human rights abuses by the State while human right abuses by non-State actors should be criticized in a “non-antagonistic” manner. But there is a fundamental question here – do non-State actors have the same human rights duties or commitments to respect or renounce from the direct human rights violations of others? What if non-State actors commit significant human rights violations? Should it also be criticized with a “non-antagonistic” approach? In the height of their folly, rights activists has completely overlooked Article 30 of the Declaration which has cautioned that, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” (Emphasis added)

“Among all the armed opposition groups in India, the Naxalites or Maoists are probably the worst human rights violators” reports the rights group Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR). According to the report “Torture in India 2010” ACHR has noted that, “the Maoists continued to kill civilians on the allegation of being “police informers”, members of the anti-Maoist civilian militia such as “Salwa Judum” and for not obeying their diktats. The Maoists have been responsible for brutal killing of their hostages after abduction. Often the hostages are killed by slitting their throats or beheading. Often these killings were authorized by Maoist ‘people’s courts or Jan Adalats.” (Source) When the Police Officer of the CID Special Branch, Francis Induwar was brutally beheaded by the Maoists, human right activists who swear by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dawn to dusk were seen to be more occupied to establish a “seems to be true” allegation that, “Francis Induwar was not protected by the police department because he belongs to the Adivasi community.” In Lalgarh, while the Maoist cadres have slaughtered more than 150 CPI(M) workers and supporters from June 2009 to February 2010, the concerned human rights group APDR representative have disclosed that the group is keeping a list of the dead but only the “people allegedly killed by armed CPM forces”. According to their selective human rights principles, the victims who are associated with the CPI(M) are State actors by default and therefore not entitled to human rights at all. Going by this weird logic, all Maoist violence can be effortlessly justified.

Article 10 of the Declaration has proclaimed that, “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair, and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” However a noted professional dissent and “world citizen” cannot stay away from mitigating the kangaroo courts as a “lesser wrong” by putting forward an eye-for-an-eye school of morality: “At least … the collective was physically present to make its own decision. It wasn’t made by judges who had lost touch with ordinary life a long time ago, presuming to speak on behalf of an absent collective.” (Source) If this is not outright deception then nothing is.


While the entire human rights system is based on the responsibility of the State, the dangers that originate from the non-State actors must also be considered as a matter of grave concern. The human rights communities usually trace their lineage to the United Nations General Assembly's 1948 Declaration which has entitled rights and freedoms for everyone but does not suggest that the State has any specific responsibility in this regard. Those who advocate that human rights is related only to serious abuses of State power and relevant only when applied against the State is deliberately ignoring this point. Their disagreement about applying human rights obligations to non-State actors is based on a slanted outlook which is often superficial and simplistic. Several examples are available in the media reports which confirm that non-State actors like the armed Maoists are amply capable of abusing and violating human rights too. While many human right groups has constantly held the State liable for violating human rights and for failing to make human rights obligatory, time has come when the non-State actors must also be held evenly accountable. International humanitarian law applies to all sides. It cannot be purely a state-focused subject.

Most of the human rights groups that operate in India today have emanated in the 1970s from the outer fringes of a variety of Naxalite factions. It is therefore obvious that these groups will be biased about the left sectarian adventurist politics of the Maoists and the organized violence perpetrated by them. These groups are purposely serving the cornered Maoists who are in desperate need for support from the civil society to broadcast and propagate their cause. The “victory” in Nandigram and Singur has stimulated these groups to become more aggressive against State discrimination or victimization. But they must be reminded that all discourses regarding human rights must be kept away from the realms of rhetoric and ideology.

Human rights can never be selective.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kanu Sanyal: the last Naxalbari legend

Journalists who has reported the death of Krishna Kumar Sanyal, popularly known as Kanu Sanyal, couldn’t fail to describe two things. That he lived in a thatched two-room mud hut at Hatighisa village in Naxalbari where a worn out reed mattress and some plain rugs lay on the floor. His only other possessions were few books, clothes and utensils. The other thing they have noticed are the framed black and white portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao that hung on the mud wall. This description is given to confirm the simple yet ideologically dedicated lifestyle of the legendary Naxal leader who has committed suicide on 23 March. For the last one year, the undisputed leader of the Naxalbari uprising was ailing after a brain hemorrhage and had become too feeble to move outside his home. But even so, he refused treatment from any government hospital in Kolkata. How could he approach the State when he is fighting it? – Kanubabu used to argue. “I was popular once,” he bitterly stated in one of his last interviews, “I have lost my popularity. I am unwell. That is the reason I cannot organize the masses anymore.” Former comrade-in-arms Azizul Haque believes that his suicide is symbolical – a protest against “the slaughter of innocent people in the villages in the name of Maoism and its counter-measures”. Kanubabu was known to be severely critical about the Maoists who often torture and kill poor and innocent villagers for refusing to join their movement or for turning against it. “In this respect, I do not approve of today’s Naxals,” was his sharp and clear remark. The reason behind his suicide remains an enigma. Did he take the extreme step because he could not bear the pain of his diseases anymore? Was he depressed and frustrated by the current form of revolutionary extremism in the country? We can speculate whatever we like but the real truth will never be known.

Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal were the three famous leaders of the Naxalite rebellion that sparked off at Naxalbari on March 1967 when sharecroppers armed with conventional weapons rose in revolt against the local jotedars (landowners) and forcefully occupied farmland. On May 23, when a police force raided a troubled village in the area, armed peasants attacked them and killed a police Inspector. The police hit back two days later, by firing upon a crowd of villagers killing ten, including six women and two children. This event became a flashpoint and soon the movement spread like wildfire all over the land. Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal were the grass-root leaders who practically led the Naxalbari peasant uprising. While the two were involved with the day-to-day struggle, trying to spread the movement among the peasants and mobilizing them, the 49-year old Charu Mazumdar who was basically an ideologue was providing the theoretical guidelines. At some point during the incidence, the idea of capturing State power through an armed struggle was born in Mazumdar’s mind as he perceived that “there was an excellent revolutionary situation in the country with all the classical symptoms”.

Mazumdar had even predicted that Indian people will complete “the great epic of liberation” by the end of 1975. How did he predict this specific time limit? In a speech published as “March Onward, Day of Victory is near” in the September-December, 1970 issue of the Naxalite mouthpiece Liberation, Mazumdar explicates: if the idea of armed struggle that had originated in his “revolutionary consciousness” in 1967 could seep into the minds of ten million people by 1970, “why is it impossible then for those 10 millions to rouse and mobilize 500 million people of India in a surging war by 1975?” A brilliant prediction indeed! Mazumdar’s argument sounds infantile and awful today but during those days his fiery clarion call to “Make the 70s the Decade of Revolution” found wide response among the youth, especially among college and university students from affluent families. Ignited by the “romanticism” of an armed revolution, they jumped into the revolutionary fray to pursue Charu Mazumdar’s mistaken dream. In May 1969, on the hundredth birth anniversary of Lenin, Kanu Sanyal formally announced the formation of CPI(ML) at a rally in Kolkata’s Shahid Minar.

In a 2007 interview, Mazumdar’s erstwhile lieutenant Kanu Sanyal passed a caustic remark to strongly counter the popular belief that Charu Mazumdar was instrumental in initiating the Naxalbari movement. “Charu Mazumdar was never directly attached to the Naxalbari Movement. When the Naxalbari uprising took place, Charuda was bedridden at his Siliguri home, with a severe heart ailment,” Kanubabu bluntly declared in that interview. He further went on to affirm that Mazumdar’s “role was limited to providing the philosophical base for the Naxalbari uprising”. (Source) According to Kanubabu, while all the grass-root leaders of the uprising including him were underground, the radical minded people who became excited by the news of the uprising and wanted to join the movement was only able to approach Charu Mazumdar since he lived in the adjoining town Siliguri and was easily accessible. Mazumdar’s infectious, unequivocal and sharp rhetoric promptly induced and convinced the radicals to fight for the great cause of liberation.

There was serious difference of opinion among the leaders on the strategy of armed struggle from the initial stage of the movement. Mazumdar propagated for instant armed struggle by forming small and mobile guerrilla units which will annihilate individual “class enemies” and take over the lands. Completely ignoring the need of mass movements or mass organizations to build up popular support, Mazumdar announced that “guerrilla struggle is the only form of class struggle” and annihilation was its “higher form”. He thought that the “actions” will instantaneously lit fire among the masses and awaken them to revolt against the system. Though leaders like Kanu Sanyal too believed in armed struggle, yet they stressed on building up mass movement involving the entire working class and peasantry as the primary task before forcefully taking possession of farmlands owned by big landlords. Deploring Mazumdar’s treatise of individual killing, Kanubabu later sarcastically said, “Charuda never missed the opportunity to preach his line of ‘individual terrorism’, labeling it as the spirit of the Naxalbari Movement.” He further argued that, “In a people’s movement, individual feeling, individual anger must first become crystallized for a people’s movement to succeed.” Armed revolution cannot be forced on the people if the objective conditions are not present.

Charu Mazumdar who coined the slogan “China’s Chairman is our Chairman” had even gone to the extent to proclaim that, “He who had not dipped his hand in the hands of class enemies can hardly be called a Communist”. Infatuated by Mazumdar’s incendiary ideas, the Naxalites went ahead to accomplish India’s liberation and started killing landowners, their associates and agents, money lenders, petty businessman and police informers. Initially, the strategy had borne some fruits. Due to the fear of getting killed by the Naxals, many from the oppressor class in the remote villages either fled or knelt down before them creating a power vacuum in the areas to fill by the “revolutionaries”. The Naxals loved to call those areas as “liberated zones”. In numerous cases individual murders were perpetrated by local criminal and lumpen elements those who had silently infiltrated among the Naxalite rank and file. The top Naxal leadership soon started to access the revolutionary triumph and its spread by the number of class enemies killed by them. Jubilant by this initial “success” in some small pockets of a vast country, Charu Mazumdar and his followers started exaggerating their so-called revolutionary achievement, completely underestimating the mighty State power and also the imminent white terror backlash perpetrated by armed goons of the Congress Party.

Mazumdar committed another serious blunder when he granting full sway to the Naxal action squads to plan and execute their own programmes. The squads started to function independently without any coordination between each other which intensified reckless violence and more bloodshed. Instead of creating confidence among the masses, Mazumdar’s erroneous strategy of revolutionary terror largely alienated the masses from the movement. Soon the State forces swung into aggressive action. Kanu Sanyal was captured along with 37 comrades by the police from his northern Bengal jungle hideout on August 1970. Charu Mazumdar was arrested in Kolkata on 16 July 1972. Twelve days later he died in police custody. The movement collapsed into shambles after being brutally crushed by a massive State repression called “Operation Steeplechase”.

Charu Mazumdar desired for an instant revolution – he was literally in too much hurry. His deteriorating health condition could be the vital reasons why the man became so frenetic to achieve the liberation of Indian masses by 1975. Whatever might be the reason, his ultra left-adventurism and revolutionary romanticism was primarily responsible for the heavy losses of precious lives within and outside the movement. Making a pointed attack on Charu Mazumdar’s tactical eccentricity, Kanubabu had stated, “…with arms in hand, youths tend to believe they can bring about a revolution by using bullets alone. But the reality is, they simply can’t. Without a solid mass base, all efforts will be futile.” In his later years, Kanubabu became an unabashed critic of the common perception that gun-culture is the ultimate identity of a communist revolutionary and continued to say that acts of terror can only damage popular movements and alienates the masses.

After his release from Visakhapatnam jail where he was imprisoned for seven years, Kanubabu took the initiative to form the Organizing Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (OCCR) to assimilate splinter Naxal groups. In May 1985, OCCR merged with the Communist Organization of India (Marxist-Leninist). In June 2003 he formed a new CPI(ML) and kept his political activities confined in north Bengal region. Taking up local issues, he continued working quietly among the peasants and tea garden trade unions. Kanubabu was a severe critic of the Left Front government’s industrialization policy as he felt that the policy will only benefit the imperialists. He had also firmly voiced his opposition to the land acquisition methods in Singur and Nandigram. At the same time he was very much skeptical about Mamata Banerjee and the rainbow alliance led by her party, the Trinamool Congress. He had no doubt in his mind that the alliance “lacks the political will to work for the common people”. On a June 2009 interview Kanubabu had also spoken about his disapproval of the Lalgarh agitation. He considered the Lalgarh agitation “strictly an ethnic insurrection by the Adivasi community”. Condemning the Maoists for exploiting the Adivasis to carry forward their agenda of individual terrorism, he had thundered that, “Lalgarh is certainly not a Communist uprising”. (Source)

Since he had openly repudiated the ruthless violence of the neo-Naxals, popularly known as the Maoists, it is quite natural that their backers will consider Kanu Sanyal’s viewpoint as stale and redundant. A soft and lenient Kanubabu was indeed a disappointment for them in comparison to the fire eater Maoists. While Kanubabu lived and died inconspicuously in a remote north Bengal village and has certainly failed to develop into a “collector’s item”, the smart, crafty and “successful” Maoists have attracted the glossy attention of mainstream Indian media and ensured a high-profile, luxury position in it. The Maoist leadership and the neo-liberal media are equally comfortable when the image of a half-naked sexy model is presented next to the stunning image of a gun wielding grim faced Maoist women. For the Maoist leadership, it is free propaganda. For the media, both the images are sensational and thus a highly saleable commodity.

Highbrow intellectuals and celebrity activists who are singing the same tune to sanctify the Maoists and propagate their cause believes like Arundhati Roy that the noteworthy rebels are keeping “hope alive for us all” by creating “the possibilities for an alternative”. In a recent essay-cum-travelogue of her sponsored journey into the Maoists' hotbed Dantewada, Arundhati Roy writes, “Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded (and its many splinter groups) has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream. For that alone, we cannot judge him too harshly.” She wonders if Charu Mazumdar could have ever imagined that the tribals turned Maoist cadres of Dantewada are “the ones on whose shoulders his dreams would come to rest”. Roy is fascinated by the “superbly organised, hugely motivated” Maoist guerrilla fighting force and its members, those who always carry “a weapon and a smile”. She writes emotionally about one Comrade Kamla who told her that she likes watching “Sirf ambush video (Only ambush videos).”

Roy even endorses a Maoists' version of tribal history and shares it with her readers since in her warped “outlook” she measures the tribal people’s struggle for rights and the deceiving politics of the Maoists' as equivalent. Her opposition to the government’s anti-Maoist offensive “Operation Green Hunt” leads her to bizarrely eulogize the total militarization of everyday tribal life, the killing of a village panchayat president because he was a “Tata’s man” and the Maoists' Jan Adalat (kangaroo court) where they regularly try and execute their adversaries. Lionizing the ultra left movement, the believer Roy gets prompted to write, “Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever”. (Source)

Kanu Sanyal was counted out long before his mortal death; today’s neo-Naxals do not need a Charu Mazumdar either. And possibly they never really needed Mao! They just want apostles like Roy to spread their blood thirsty politics under the disguise of a noble intention.

History appears first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. It seems that an over-enthusiastic and obsessive Roy has completely forgotten this basic lesson.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Charles M. Schulz – visionary and humanist: Part Two

Umberto Eco believes that Charles Schulz is essentially a poet and Peanuts is nothing but poetry in graphic form. In his 1963 essay The World of Charlie Brown, Eco has observed that the strip has an extraordinary capacity of “carrying tenderness, pity, wickedness to moments of extreme transparence” and a distinctive eminence where readers are accustomed to “…identify with the surface of things, a revelation that causes us to touch the depth of things.” Panel after panel Schulz’s artistic mastery is manifested in the graceful way he had moved from one kind of role to another. He can effortlessly drift from a funny cartoonist to a lyrical poet, from a keen social observer to a visionary philosopher almost unnoticed. Eco has also found that regardless of the diverse role he plays while creating the strip, Schulz’s art essentially remains “his version of the human condition” produced from everyday events. Peanuts can be read on several levels due to this assorted appeal and Schulz could create a pensive mood by infusing a tempting optimism and hope within the milieu of despair. Quite obviously, unrequited love became a central theme of Peanuts. The narrative has also given emphasis to various Christian themes. Even if the strip has distinctly represented the American way of life and Schulz had undoubtedly transpired himself into America’s conscience, the strip’s sheer chemistry of blending social and moral subjects with complex themes and ideas, its appealing characterization and lucid dialogues has touched million hearts across the globe. Readers have found it easy to relate themselves with the characters.

Although Peanuts featured only the children, the strip is certainly not about childhood. The losses, rejections and disillusionments faced by the children are mostly related with the psychosomatic torments of the modern industrial society. “Happiness,” Schulz had pointed out, “does not create humor.” According to David Michaelis, the author of Schulz’s recent biography, “In Peanuts, the game was always lost, the football always snatched away … the kite was not just stuck in a tree, it was eaten by it; the pitcher did not just give up a line drive, he was stripped bare by it, exposed.” The genius of Schulz lies in shattering the delusion about childhood inside the adult psyche. The children in Peanuts are actually representing the epitome of human life confronting all the unavoidable complexities of the adult world – depression, loneliness, melancholy, humiliation, struggle to succeed, fear, failure, anxiety and self-doubts. Schulz himself had hinted on the real essence of the strip by saying, “Anybody who says Peanuts is cute is just crazy.”

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Through the years, the strip has skillfully addressed various socio-political issues with a dry sense of humor. Reading Peanuts in a socio-political context can uncover interesting aspects of the strip. An early strip had lampooned present-day consumer culture by showing Charlie Brown getting disempowered by the false needs of consumerism. Charlie Brown purchases a wastebasket, unpacks it, and feels gratified by the usefulness of his purchase after throwing the useless wrapping paper into it. In a 1957 strip, Snoopy is seen holding his fist in the air and moving around like the fascist dictator Mussolini to suggest Lucy’s fascistic temperament. In a July 1970 episode, Snoopy gets trapped and tear-gassed with the rest of the crowd while delivering a speech at Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. The trouble was caused by a riot that broke out during a demonstration against dogs being sent to Vietnam, and then not getting back. In another remarkable episode, Charlie Brown’s African-American friend Franklin reveals that though he had three good memories once, he has forgotten all of them. Franklin’s revelation comes after the opening panels where Schulz had related “good memories” with “hope”.

The crabby Lucy’s psychiatric booth is another superb idea conceived by Schulz to ridicule the neurosis of modern civilization and its citizens. Lucy, who probably achieves tranquility through her insensitivity, councils the alienation, fear, anxieties and frustration of any patient, “who has a problem and a nickel,” with her aggressive psychobabble. In one of the episodes, Lucy counsel Charlie Brown to develop a personal philosophy which will carry him through times of stress. After thinking hard, Charlie Brown finds one: “Life is like an ice cream cone…you have to learn to lick it” which caused a stunned Lucy to yell, “That’s the most stupid philosophy I’ve ever heard!” In an early 1958 strip, Lucy’s tousle-haired brother Linus gets terrified after he mistakenly interpreted snowfall with nuclear fallout. In another episode, Linus finds a note carrying several parental advices in his lunch packet and anxiously reads it. When Charlie Brown inquires about his lunch menu, Linus replies, “Carrots, Peanut butter and Guilt”. A 1969 series show Linus’s teacher Miss Othmar losing her job for participating in an ongoing teacher’s strike. In a parody of the space race hype, Snoopy imagines himself as the first beagle to land on the moon and feels jubilant for “beating Russians”.

The strip had also carried an interesting number of popular culture references. Charlie Brown wears a Davy Crockett hat and is seen surrounded by Crockett merchandise, Linus turns depressed because Bob Dylan was about to turn thirty. Peppermint Patty tells Marcie “Has anyone ever told you that when you're mad, you look just like Billie Jean King?” and refers to Marcie’s “Billie Jean King glasses”. Snoopy imitates Mickey Mouse and leans against a wall putting on black glasses to resemble Joe Cool. There are many other popular culture references like pop singer Pat Boon, rock king Elvis Presley, baseball star Duke Snider, comedian Mort Sahl, the popular children television show Howdy Doody, The Beat Generation and sci-fi movies that can also be found scattered in the strip. In a 1958 strip Charlie Brown asks Lucy, “How did you ever get to be such a fuss-budget?” Lucy explains her source of inspiration by displaying all the “fuss” titled books she has studied. Every of the titles were a distorted version of actual popular book titles of that time. Lucy’s favorite title I Was a Fuss-Budget for the F.B.I. was derived from I Was a Communist for the FBI, a radio show and later film based on an undercover agent infiltrating communist organizations.

Charlie Brown’s baseball team had three regular girl members Lucy, Marcie, and Violet on the side – an ideal example of gender equality. He even refused sponsorship for his team because the sponsor objected having girls or dogs on the side. Toy piano prodigy Schroeder with his obsession with Beethoven becomes the symbol of cultural snobbism. Pig Pen is always dirty and messy but when his companions accuse him for his filthy appearance, Pig Pen loudly proclaims that he has clean thoughts and an immaculately clean conscience. When Charlie Brown laments after losing a baseball game, “How can we lose when we’re so sincere”, he epitomizes all the misfits of a human society gone paranoid. This superb dialogue is a testimony of why Charlie Brown is called “the most sensitive child ever to appear in a comic strip”.

Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally’s school building has a habit to drop bricks on people it didn’t like. Sally loves to talks with the building and frequently questions its authoritative existence. Burdened with numerous complains and criticism, the building collapses from depression. While presenting a report on rain in her class Sally reads, "This is my report on rain. Rain is water which does not come out of faucets...after a storm, the rain goes down the drain, which is where I sometimes feel my education is also going". Sally also considers her a good evangelist because she was able to “convince” a classmate about the superiority of Christianity – by hitting him with her lunchbox. In an obvious display of the darker side of his humor, Schulz once showed Lucy’s “still on the bottle” baby brother Rerun Van Pelt getting involved in a gambling scandal while playing for Charlie Brown's baseball team. But Rerun has a point. How will he know that gambling is wrong when he is “still new in the world”? Besides, he had only bet a nickel. “What else can you do with a nickel these days?” baby Rerun candidly spells out.

“I want to remind adults of the pressures children are always being put under,” Schulz once said. In various instances his calm observation has revealed several absurdities of the modern world. In a 1988 interview with Michael Barrier, Schulz had spoken about the strip’s relation to social issues:

I think the social issues that I deal with are much more long-lasting and more important than losing the White House…..People say, “Don’t you ever deal in social issues?” “Well, don’t you read the strip?” If you read the strip every day, you’ll see that I deal with more social issues in one month than some of these deal [with] in a whole year. But you have to be a little more sensitive to it. (Source)

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In the year 1968, Schulz introduced the little African-American kid Franklin in Peanuts. Franklin is the first African-American character to feature in a mainstream American comic strip. From the introductory episode located at a public beach, Franklin informs Charlie Brown that his father is fighting over in Vietnam. They quickly become friends and Charlie Brown invites Franklin to visit him at this house. Schulz had never emphasized on Franklin’s racial background and denied any political motivation behind this character. But showing Franklin at a racially integrated beach at the time when the presence of African-American families on American public beaches was rare, Schulz might have made an effort to express his view on race discrimination with his characteristic subtlety.

At the time when the civil rights movement was at its peak, the introduction of Franklin was obviously controversial. Schulz received a letter of objection from a Southern editor for showing Franklin sitting in the same row in school with Peppermint Patty. United Features too didn't like to see an African-American child inviting his white friend to come on over to his house and asked Schulz to change it. In the same Michael Barrier interview, Schulz had expressed his displeasure against the syndicate for objecting Franklin’s introduction into the strip. The dispute on the issue finally ended after Schulz threatened United Feature's President Laurence Rutman: “Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit.” Schulz continued to draw Franklin attending school with his white friends.

Franklin is a thoughtful and sensitive kid who frequently quotes from the Old Testament. He is an active and serious student who reads psychology books and refuses to play a game of marbles after school because “I have a guitar lesson at three-thirty…right after that I have little league, and then swim club, and then dinner and then a ‘4H’ meeting.” He can ingenuously ridicule Lucy’s psychiatric booth by calling it a lemonade stand. He is the center fielder of Peppermint Patty’s baseball team and has a common subject to converse with Charlie Brown – about his grandfather. Unlike the other characters, Franklin has the least anxieties and obsessions but when Peppermint Patty cries after she is forced by the school principal to wear shoes that hurts her, Franklin comments, “All I know is, any rule that makes a little girl cry has to be a bad rule!”

Schulz had sought to depict the character in an unprejudiced manner and refused to make any overt political statement through him. Franklin was naturally accepted into the integrated milieu of the strip, treated as any other character and his existence was as normal as the other members of the gang. But still Schulz could not avoid being impaled by critics for showing Franklin as a “token black” character who had “no personality traits at all”. (Source) He had never addressed the ‘race issue’ openly because he believed that race was not his subject. He didn’t want to draw things unless he really understood them. Though on occasions, race did appear as an issue in the strip. While watching Franklin practicing ice-hockey to “become a great hockey player”, Peppermint Patty asks him, “How many black player in the NHL, Franklin?” Readers are divided on whether this is a racial comment or a question addressed to white America. (Source) In the animated film A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, a particular scene became the subject of severe criticism due to its “casual racism on display”. In that scene, seven members of the gang, including Snoopy, joins together to celebrate Thanksgiving and Franklin is shown sitting alone on one side of the table, on a fragile beach chair below the level of others. The scene has been read by critics as a subtle but insidious depiction to ascertain Franklin as a “racial outcast”. (Source) Whether this one-off example proves anything about Schulz’s race outlook remains arguable. But Schulz’s handling of Franklin is definitely different from the typical African-American stereotype depicted in American comics.

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Charles M. Schulz had “changed the entire face of comic strips” thinks Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson further acknowledges that “there's not a cartoonist who's done anything since 1960 who doesn't owe Schulz a tremendous debt.” The Times called the Peanuts characters “international icons of good faith”. The New York Times editorial defined Peanuts as “an ongoing parable of contemporary American existence”. Garry Trudeau called it, “the first (and still the best) postmodern comic strip”. The strip continues to receive heaps of praise and gratitude even today. But there is also a growing school of thought that wants to remove the visor of appreciation and read the strip differently.

Like all great art, Peanuts also must be read objectively; with extreme care and attention. There are skeptics who believe that a genius with a tremendous mastery on medium can also elusively intoxicate minds and push people towards the realm of fabricated believes. How a comic strip that is devoted to failure did achieve such a universal success? Is Peanuts successful because it has worked like a palliative in the mind of the readers and diverted them from the rigors of their daily survival? Does Charlie Brown’s inability to establish meaningful relationships, his guilt, futility and subjection somehow create an off-putting feel about the complexities of life? Was there an innate but generous escapist feel that worked silently within the brilliant ideas of Peanuts? Did Schulz deliberately underestimate the social powers that controls life and ignored to expose them? Did he instead, accentuated too much to comprehended and explain psychological and emotional aspects through funny episodes involving funny looking children? For a genuine evaluation of Schulz and his creation, these awkward questions need to be debated.

(Return to Part One)

1. Chip Kidd edited: The Art of Charles M Schulz
3. Charles M Schulz: You really don’t look 50 Charlie Brown
4. Charles M Schulz: The Complete Peanuts 1969-1970 (Vol. 10)
4. website
5. Annotations of The Complete Peanuts
6. Umberto Eco: The world of Charlie Brown (reprinted in the collection of essays Apocalypse Postponed)
7. Calvin Harlan: Visions and Invention, an introduction to art fundamentals

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