Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Wrong Track

[On 27 October, day before yesterday Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) of Lalgarh blocked Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express near Jhargram in demand of the release of Chhatradhar Mahato. The agitators of PCAPA did not hurt any passenger or railway stuff. However, a section of media and the state propaganda machinery are crying and trying their level best to give an impression that something very unusual has happened—as if it is a threat to the security of the railway passengers. Railway track blockade and delayed arrival at their destination are not something unheard of about Indian Rail. In contrast, most of the trains run late. Therefore, this tune of propaganda actually reflects a particular politics of state machinery — demonization of an organization and movement. All human right activists and democratic people do condemn this approach. The state machinery does not like to understand that demonization of a movement based on democratic demands does not solve the problem; rather aggravates it.

Following is one of the two editorials of the Statesman 29 October 2009, which analyzes that issue. Although this editorial assumes to some extent that PCAPA is the same as that of Maoist organization, in contrast many human right activists and academicians believe that PCAPA is an independent organization fighting against police atrocities. It is the government which likes to make it irrelevant and label as Maoist. However, this editorial is worth reading.]

Let’s assume for a moment that every compartment of Tuesday’s Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express had had an armed jawan on board. On this basis, there may have been about 20 armed railway policemen on hand to protect passengers. It is doubtful in the extreme if they would have been able to prevent tracks being blocked, or indeed overpowered several hundred tribals who surrounded the train. All they might have achieved is some loss of lives ~ their own, and those of the attackers and passengers. Assuming the policemen had sanction, and governments the gumption to open fire in these circumstances, the train would still have been besieged. Ultimate responsibility for thwarting such attacks rests with the police on ground, and the intelligence apparatus of the State government. Both failed on Tuesday, as they have consistently over the past few months. The reason is that the government is unable to penetrate people’s movements; it has lost credibility with the tribal, and its public relations initiatives have been identified as insincere charades. This was the first battle that tribals won.
They, and the Maoists who supported them, won a second battle decisively on Tuesday. Fulminations of television anchors notwithstanding, they managed to garner considerable sympathy ~ first from passengers on the train they captured, then from others by releasing them without causing any hurt. It took a young boy on board the Rajdhani to convey this message to the governments of India and West Bengal. Poignantly, he told an interviewer that his captors had been good to him and to others on the train, and all that they wanted was for their demands to be considered. That these demands exist is testament to the failure of governance, to the massive diversion of development funds over years, nay decades, by the political class, including Communists. If popular support turns in favour of the protestors, and against the government, we will have to brace for greater upheavals.
The Maoists are winning a third battle, and this victory it seems will come by default. By failing to draw a distinction between the tribals and Adivasis, the destitute and the dispossessed on the one hand, and the Maoists on the other, the state and the media are falling into a trap. In effect, we are adding to the Maoist ranks every tribal with a grievance. It won’t be long before we push them all into the Maoist corner, even if their demand is only for a fair share of the development pie, and without any ideological underpinnings. The objective of government initiatives must be to isolate the Maoist, not populate his army.
The Maoist has won a fourth and possibly decisive battle in creating a Compact Revolutionary Zone that the government does not really recognize. Whether we like it or not, it is a geographical reality. Piecemeal approaches, or state-specific counter-moves are unlikely to work. As much as the Home Minister seeks a unified strategic command to combat Maoists, the Prime Minister must consider a similar structure to battle the causes of this unrest, in other words a single, bipartisan command structure to take up development. This suggestion might get the noses of some Chief Ministers out of joint. It is, though, the price they may have to pay for never having looked beyond their noses. Truly, India faces a mammoth challenge. So far, it hasn’t handled it very well.

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