From Jhanda to Anda: what the Maoists should do

If you thought Arundhati Roy had given up writing fiction after “The God of Small Things”, you just need to read her “Walking with the Comrades” to know she hasn’t.   It’s a fascinating article that blurs the line between journalism and propaganda.  Completely obliterates the line, in fact.  The article doesn’t tell me much about the concerns of the tribals it is supposed to be about, but it does provide a fascinating insight into Ms Roy’s sympathies and her thought processes.

As I read about the 74 soldiers who were killed by Maoists yesterday, I wonder where all this will lead to.  Why do people persist  in the belief that violence will lead to dispute resolution?  Or that armed struggles result in peace or economic development or prosperity?

There are certainly genuine issues on both sides.  All the economic progress hasn’t percolated to the poorest people like the tribals.  They are ill-equipped to cope with the huge changes involved in modern society, and they are naturally reluctant to give up their traditional way of life.

But will gun-toting, ambush video recording killers really solve their problems?



Picture courtesy Outlook magazine


When Ms Roy talks about sweetly-smiling Comrade Kamala, she doesn’t mention that Kamala probably smiles even as she guns down people.  I wonder how much Kamala understands about the issues involved – it’s not easy to have an objective view when you live in the jungle and your only news comes from guerillas.

The key, of course, is economic development.   That bauxite mine that Ms Roy is so fearful about may actually bring economic development to the area.  Sure, it will also bring deforestation and pollution.  But by blindly opposing progress, the tribals are giving up all leverage.  They run the risk of having the mine come up and having no say or control over it.

Having found that hunger strikes lead nowhere, Ms Roy has probably now decided to sympathize with armed struggle as a means of protest.  But both approaches are ultimately fruitless.  It’s a much better idea to resolve issues through negotiation.  That bauxite mine may come anyway, but by negotiating, the tribals can mitigate the environmental damage, ensure better working conditions for the mine workers and so on.

Sure, the tribals don’t have equal power right now at the negotiating table.  But a gun will not help them much.  What they really need to harness is the power of the national (and international) media to articulate their position and their concerns.  Right now, all we see them as is heartless killers who have no compunction about massacring 74 CRPF soldiers.  Based on just that news, I can muster zero sympathy for them.  How does killing soldiers help their cause?  Can they also resist tanks and missiles?  All they will end up doing is turning the forests into a war zone and destroying their villages.  Is that what they want?

If the Maoists are really looking out for the welfare of the tribals, they need to throw away their guns right now.   The power of the soundbyte is much greater than the power of the submachine gun.

What tribals really need are andas, not jhandas.  Not grenades, but microphones.  But they should do the talking themselves, and talk about real issues.  They should especially not let fiction writers do the talking for them.


8 thoughts on “From Jhanda to Anda: what the Maoists should do

  1. Like it or not, Arundhati has definitely shone a piercingly bright spotlight on the Naxalite/Maoist crowd in Dandakaranya. Yes, the 75 policemen massacred were men with families, lives of the near and dear thrown into disarray by the ghastly executions. But I don’t see Arundhati totally romanticizing the existence of the rebels. She doesn’t mince words about the comely Comrade Kamla’s ultimate likely fate:
    “Even now I think of Comrade Kamla all the time, every day. She’s 17. She wears a homemade pistol on her hip. And boy, what a smile. But if the police come across her, they’ll kill her. They might rape her first. No questions will be asked. Because she’s an Internal Security Threat.”
    Do you think that Roy’s article caused the murder of the policemen? I don’t think so. The enmity is far older than self-absorbed narratives of authors that will form part of their memoirs.
    Or is her presentation of the simple humanity and inhumanity of the Maoists something that must be taken into account so that the powers-that-be should bring the tribals and Maoists into the equation rather than simply barging in and setting up bauxite mines to benefit the rich few?
    If the Outlook article is read by even a few of the decision-makers, one might hope that a more equitable solution can be hashed out, more than if Arundhati had merely fictionalized it in a novel.

    • I agree, Arundhati definitely deserves credit for starting a public debate on the Maoists and the tribals’ plights. It’s true that there hadn’t been much, if any, of an objective discussion on what was causing the insurgency and how to resolve it.

      That said, I do believe she is romanticizing the Maoists as some kind of modern Robin Hoods. No, I don’t think her article is related to the policemen’s deaths – although the cynic in me says the Maoists handled it stupidly. If the Maoists wanted Arundhati’s article to generate sympathy for their cause, they spoiled it all by going and killing those policemen just when a debate had started. Clearly, strategy is not their strong point.

      The issue I have is not with the tribals’ cause per se as it is with the Maoist middlemen. Who are they and do they really represent the tribals? Or, as Nandini Bedi suggests, are the tribals just caught between two armed groups – CRPF and Maoists?

      • Nandini raises very good questions, indeed. Would Arundhati be willing to act as an honest go-between, if she were asked? Her answer “I’m just one individual” shows she knows her limitations when it comes to hard-headed dealings with the world, outside of the realm of imagination and rose-colored glasses.
        I remember a Malayalam movie from the 80’s called “Panchagni”, with an excellent screenplay and mesmerizing acting. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arundhati came of age around the same time, and still retains her romanticized impressions of the Maoists as Robin Hoods, rather than exploiters of the tribals they claim to protect. I know, because it had that effect on me.

  2. Good article, One needs to be reminded that the freedom of this country was won through non violence, if we took this path , India ( if it still would be called by now ) would have disintegrated long time ago. Thing with these naxals is they have fled from Andhra courtesy grey hound squad and have taken up various safe heavens in the area.

    And it will take something like a 26/11 to be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

    BTW first time here and your writing style is great!!! Cheers

    • Thanks for the compliments.

      I agree on the naxals – when one takes up the gun, it’s very hard to relinquish it. They may have fighting for Telangana, but that fight’s over, so they have moved on to the next one. The question is – is an armed struggle the only way to resolve all issues ?

  3. i don’t like roy’s attitude towards mass murder. i don’t think she understands the implications of her supporting the naxals. she may be a wonderful wordsmith, but she has not reached her “age of reason”. and the naxal facade of speaking up for the tribals – how many tribal settlements have the naxals set up with water, electricity, education, employment, sanitation, transport? who wants to be an adult in this world – with job committments, family responsibilities? so much easier to be “gabbar singhs” – scared villagers supplying them with free food, terrorists supplying them with free ammo, occupying land they don’t pay for, days spent in practising the art of killing, gullible women who think crawling around in the dust with war paint on their faces is a sign of respect from their male counterparts. just gun fodder, collateral damage entities. where are the political and social naxal leaders? not in the jungles with their slaves. not addressing issues which have alienated a people. every nation in this world is developing at the cost of natural resources and forests. their tribals have been absorbed and assimilated into the general population. not like india, we keep them ignorant and primitive with the lure of reservation and handouts. i don’t think the west, south-east, east nations have scheduled castes and tribes in 2010. only our country – we believe in controlling through misinformation. even now, we are thinking, will violence solve the naxal problem? when we should be thinking – are the naxals the true representatives of the tribals’ demands? are they trustworthy? will they be “normal” citizens after their grievances have been settled? how many authentic tribal leaders will be sitting across chidambran when he meets the leaders of 33 naxal-hit areas? since naxals can only survive in current conditions, will they allow progress and enlightenment of the gullible tribals? since a strong economic infrastructure will free the tribals from being duped by selfish elements, will the naxals allow the govt free access to the areas? the very transport system, (railways) designed to keep the volatile sections connected with the rest of the country, was targeted by the naxals to isolate the disgruntled people from state aid and early solution of the problem. how devious.

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