This Article is From Aug 27, 2014

Meeting the Maoists: The Invisible Killer

(As the Narendra Modi government looks at a new internal security strategy specifically to counter Naxalism, NDTV reporter Anchal Vohra recounts her meeting with Deva, a Maoist area commander in Bastar and his gun-toting army that resolutely favours bullet over ballot. This is part 2 of a three-part series.)  (Read Part 1)

In a report, titled, 'the invisible dead', senior journalist, Revati Laul, calls malaria Chhattisgarh's silent, third biggest killer. "While Chhattisgarh makes up two per cent of India's population, it accounts for 14 per cent of the country's falciparum malaria cases.

But the state doggedly refuses to acknowledge this," writes Laul.

As all attention is given to the other two killers, Naxals and security forces, malaria maims but escapes public discourse.

It is precisely errors such as these by the state that have lead to more disenchantment, making it play into the hands of the Maoists.

But this conflict is not just about hand-outs. It is also about rights and ownership. Why should the ownership of the forests be with the government when the benefits go to others and not those who elected the custodians of their resources, they ask.

Straight out of a Maoist pamphlet Jamila, who is around 35 years old and has been with the Maoists for over 15 years, volunteers to announce her mission, "Jal, jungle, jameen.. hamari ladai isse vaapis paane ki hain (water, forest, land, our fight is to take these back). The corporates, the government are looting our resources, the iron ore is ours, the trees belong to us".

In an interview to the magazine Down to Earth, BD Sharma, collector of Bastar in undivided Madhya Pradesh, had said, "Even during the British Raj, tribal areas were termed 'excluded areas', with their own institutions and power over local resources. Independent India has become worse for them".

But will the government ever let the right to massive resources slip into the hands of tribals? The government argues that India needs the resources for nation-building, and that they belong to every Indian.

I pointed out to Jamila that the state provides cheap rice, opens schools and primary health centers. Where does she think the money for that comes from?

"Didi, it doesn't add up," Jamila said resolutely.   

But why arms? Why not give democracy a chance? The Maoists jump at that suggestion, "Not just the tribals, the whole country is upset with the politicians, they don't know who to vote for. Isn't that true, didi?"

The softly spoken but hard hitting words strike a nerve. Away from this shadowy world, in the heart of the mainstream, anger towards elected representatives was a major theme of these general elections. However, while many voters saw a new promise in change and overwhelmingly voted for a BJP led by Narendra Modi, in Chhattisgarh too, Jamila and Ramesh, a gun wielding Maoist scarcely 20, rubbished the whole electoral system.

Genuine grouse against the state from experience or more as a result of years of Maoist indoctrination? Both, perhaps.  

As Ramesh and Jamila clung on to their guns, I shared polling figures with them. From 42 per cent in 2004 and 47 per cent in 2009, Bastar saw 59 per cent voting on April 10 this year for the general elections, reflecting a growing faith of the people in the democratic system.

The Maoists seem to be losing the battle.

Amid the heated argument, Deve, another young Maoist offers me black tea - the tribals don't use milk as they believe that cow milk is meant for the calves. He also serves raw mango with salt.

Ramesh boasts of the Maoist education system, writes his name and shows me his book - Scientific knowledge for children.

Jamila heads out for a bath.

The camp has men and women in equal number. Most of the members are young. They may be confused about whether Mao comes from China or Russia, but they appear to have incorporated his thoughts - that power comes from the barrel of a gun.

I went through some of the party literature. It was pretty up to date. Edward Snowden is a good guy for challenging the might of imperialist America. Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party not so much, because he participated in elections.


The young comrades give me different accounts of what they believe should be done with the state's resources.

That iron ore is the backbone of any modern country seems to be lost on some of them; they suggest they need the iron to make utensils. They argue that it is found under the earth their ancestors have lived on for centuries. Using it only for what the tribals need, would result in saving more trees, more forest, they say.

Others want the resources to be in the domain of only Indian companies; that despite the official party brochure clearly mentioning the Maoists leadership's disapproval of the several MoUs the state has signed with several Indian companies.

"We must take out only what we need for India. Why are we selling it to foreign countries like Japan? How does that solve our problems," asks one member.

The root of the conflict is clear - mistrust between the people and the elected governments. Exploited in the name of resources. 

It is interesting to note that mining is happening at a much larger scale in the north of Chhattisgarh, not the south which is seen as the Maoist heartland. Both Jamila and Ramesh come from the south.

It is time to meet the leader of the pack. Deva.

(In the third concluding part of the series, Anchal details her meeting with Deva, the area commander)

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