Thursday, August 10, 2006

Salwa Judum: Good or bad?

During the past fortnight, two newspapers broadcasted from opposite ends of India's political spectrum carried articles on Salwa Judum, the anti-Maoist movement in Chattisgadh. Salwa Judum has been in the spotlight recently after the Erraboru massacre in which Maoists attacked a refugee camp organised by the former and killed between 35 to 60 people (figures vary with source). It is interesting to see Salwa Judum being painted in contrasting colours by these two newspapers.

From the right, the Aug 6 issue of the Hindu nationalist weekly Organiser carried an editorial on the movement. The editorial is in reaction to the opinion prevalent in some quarters that the Salwa Judum is not really the organic resistance movement that it is made out to be, that it is has been organised by the Chhattisgadh government to fight the battle on its behalf, and that its actions have only exacerbated the situation. The editor (R Balashankar) argues that the Centre should put its weight behind the Salwa Judum instead of casting doubts about its credentials. For him, Maoist violence stems from "the wily plains people, mostly from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh" while the Salwa Judum is made up of "gullible Vanvasis" trying to fight them off. The battle is clearly between good and evil, and there should be no questions about Salwa Judum or its methodology.

On the other hand, the July 22 issues of Economic and Political Weekly from the left hosted a special section with eight articles on the Maoist movement (free registration required for viewing). Of course, EPW is not a formal political mouthpiece but seems to host views exclusively from the left. Nearly all the articles are written by individuals who empathise with the Maoist movement (R Balashankar call them 'apologists in the media'; one of the writers is Sitaram Yechury, a CPI politburo member) and who think Salwa Judum is a villain manipulated by the Chattisgadh (BJP) government and deserves to be eliminated. Though all of them critisize the Maoists for their harsh methods, they all claim that conditions for the "revolution" has come from poor living conditions stemming from historic reasons such as a feudalistic land tenure system.

The most apparent cosmetic difference in the writings from the two sides is in the wording used to describe the people living in the Maoist areas. The left calls them tribals or adivasis as has been the official practice since Independence, while the Organiser calls them 'vanvasis' (The Hindu nationalist movement is trying to rub off the notion that adi-vasis have been living here since before the Aryans invaded India since it debunks the very notion of Aryan invasion. It is also trying to broaden its base from its currently upper class Hindu support).

For someone who is not familiar with leftist writing, the tone in some of the EPW articles can come across as treasonous. One of the articles titled "Spring and its Thunder" seems to be written with as much gusto and hot blood as you would expect from Chandrasekhar Azad in the middle of his struggle. It almost leads you to think that a successful communist revolution is imminent and the only thing in debate is the methodology. The subtle condonation of the violence that goes hand-in-hand with the Maoist movement is disturbing. On the other hand, the Organiser seems to take an illogical line too. It advocates suppression of the Maoist movement at all costs by attributing all its causes to urban troublemakers, not sparing half a syllable to indicate that at least one of the causes of adivasi/vanvasi unrest is poor social conditions.

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