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Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Bastar tragedy, farce

Truth is the first casualty in this war

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj |
Updated: April 21, 2016 12:14:46 am
bastar, bastar violence, chhattisgarh, chhattisgarh naxals, chhattisgarh naxal violence, bastar naxals, dantewada, dantewada violence, chhattisgarh news, india news The Indian state is unwilling to confront the fact that the insurgency rests on an idea that the state is essentially discriminatory and favours only the powerful. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Mourning, in poetry, is often a moment of grace. In life, it is habitually replaced by passionate and profound pretentiousness. Taken to the extreme, it competes with majestic theatre. Since the present situation in Bastar evokes a similar play, it’s obligatory to trace its roots.

The forested zone saw two major incidents four summers ago — the Sukma collector’s abduction in April, and the encounter killing of 17 tribals in Bijapur in June. Within hours of the abduction, the Chhattisgarh media despatched OB vans and its best journalists from Raipur to Sukma. They remained stationed there for over a week
until the collector was freed.

In June, few visited Bijapur, as the media bought the police theory that the deceased were “hardcore Naxals”. The “biggest ever Maoist encounter” in Chhattisgarh went almost uncontested until this newspaper reported that they were tribals, including two bright students of 15.

Today, let’s mourn the assault on journalists over the war against Maoists, who can still strike at will, but also know that much before the police began talking, the media had gifted its tongue to the establishment. (See: ‘Chhattisgarh government pays for all TV news that is fit to buy’).

Several media groups in Chhattisgarh have tremendous business interests in the state — coal fields, iron ore and thermal power production. They often run into the government for various reasons other than journalistic, and obviously want the forests to get cleared quickly. Tribals become prehistoric irritants who must be sacrificed at the altar of national interest. Anyone who talks about tribals is a natural enemy.

Many tribals of interior villages, where the state has never set foot, have told this writer that they are not big fans of Maoists, but still prefer them because the state wants to snatch away their mineral-rich land. The argument that industry brings prosperity is not applicable in Dantewada, where the National Mineral Development Corporation has run the country’s largest iron ore mine for five decades, but perhaps not one tribal has moved beyond Class IV employment as the entire operation has been outsourced.

The biggest tragedy of Bastar is that the Naxal insurgency, which is now reaching its 50th year and dominates large tracts of central India, still remains an incident-driven headline. There is little attempt to engage with the rebels or grasp their methods and madness.

So there won’t be any discussion on the relative calm that India’s “biggest internal security threat” has observed for some time. Have the guerrillas disappeared after a stormy decade or merely entered a different phase of war, perhaps a strategic retreat, a tactic they have often employed? If they are indeed almost over, as the police claim, then where have these several thousands of guerrillas gone? They could not have suddenly turned into farmers, or migrated to cities and taken up odd jobs at dhabas or salons after decades of bloody struggle.

The fact that in an era when suicide-bombing has become a highly effective mode of violence across the globe, Maoists are still adamant on a “protracted guerrilla war” seems to be ignored. If killing or headline-hunting is their sole purpose, as is commonly believed, what has prevented these insurgents from adopting the easiest route of a fidayeen? The Indian state is unwilling to confront the fact that the insurgency rests on an idea that the state is essentially discriminatory and favours only the powerful. The state needs to tell its citizens that that idea is flawed, if it indeed is, but it has not been able to assure tribals that it cares for them more than Maoists do. Several young officers in Bastar have told this writer in candid moments that if it were not for the rebels, the state would have gifted the zone to industry long ago, leaving tribals in a wretched state.

Last year, nearly 550 new cadres were recruited in Bastar alone. A huge number, especially in a “lull” year, and considerably more than the 393 Maoists killed across the country in the last five years from January 2011 to September 2015 (home ministry figures that also include alleged or unidentified Maoists, many of whom could actually be innocent tribals). If they are not attacking the police with the same ferocity as they did
till recently, what are they up to? Is some bigger war of optics being played by both sides that few of us have the tools, or even the desire, to decipher?

It is not clear whether the state really wants to fool its citizens or is ignorant about what lies in its own backyard. In the latest Dantewada attack last month, two “new” theories have been put forward by the forces: First, that this was a new mode of attack as the security personnel were in an open vehicle, in civilian clothes, returning from a holiday. But in August 2011, 11 cops had died when a similar contingent of Chhattisgarh Police was returning from a holiday, in civilian clothes, in an open vehicle, when it was ambushed in Bijapur. Many attacks on policemen have taken place during unsuspecting movements.

The second theory was about the digging of a tunnel for planting a landmine. It cannot be funnier than this. Armed attacks by Maoists have declined due to their depleted ammunition but IED blasts, the safest mode of an assault, are consistently increasing — 46 in 2013, 50 in 2014, 65 in 2015 (Chhattisgarh Police figures). This, when IEDs are extensively recovered, too — 153 in 2013, 149 in 2014 and 232 in 2015. Last year, Maoists had blasted an anti-landmine vehicle in Dantewada, killing five personnel. The Darbha assault on the Congress convoy was effected by an IED blast on a national highway. The first primer on Bastar tells you that its roads, be it forest lanes or highways, are strewn with landmines. Step carefully.

Both the state and the insurgents prefer this zone of darkness which gives them crucial space for continuing with their plans, unhindered and uninhibited.

The recent incidents in Bastar are like deja vu, tales heard and seen earlier. At first, Dandakaranya was a horrific tragedy, now it has become a farce. A farce in which the nation willingly participates. Obviously then, despite the recent noise, the establishment seems unruffled. It knows how the farce

unfolds and unravels. The comedy only gets amplified by repeated performances.

ashutosh.bhardwaj@expressindia.com

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