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Will P. Chidambaram Be Able To Grab His Moment Like Mao Zedong Did?

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By Anand Sankar:

Disclaimer: Like all stories, this one too has good and bad guys. The author leaves it to the reader to discern who belongs to which category. Some part of this account is fictionalized.

It was a warm Wednesday evening in Kandanur, and Palaniyappa Chettiyar could not contain his joy. His wife, Lakshmi, had given birth to a baby boy, who was to be the heir of the royal family of Chettinad. The boy was born into the lap of luxury, but unlike most rich boys of his time, he was a bright young lad, with an ambitious drive. He usually topped his class and that too with considerable ease. At around the same time, a young man in China believed what many never dared to. Revolution had burnt many a hand until then.

Mao Zedong

He lived in a country where the oppressed remained oppressed, subject to ill-treatment and ridicule. Meanwhile, his neighbouring country was being aroused by an inspired campaign of non-violence. But he decided to meet fire with fire, an eye for an eye, Guerilla Warfare being his chosen modus operandi. He struggled, and his followers struggled with him. The fields of “Society” were upturned, ploughed, and the seeds of revolution were sown by Mao Zedong. Maoism led to the defeat of imperialism and feudalism, leading to the creation of a New China, a true People’s Republic. 

The young boy at Kadanur had by then completed his schooling in the most prestigious high school in his state — The Madras Christian College hr.sec school. Soon he enrolled into the Presidency College, Chennai, opting to take a degree in Statistics. But then, he was not to stop at this. He then completed his LLB at the Madras Law College. A master at presenting his cases, and at wiggling out of tough situations, he had already made a mark at such a young age. The young genius was not satisfied being a mere lawyer who represented the big fish in court. He wanted to be much more, and before he knew it, he was sitting in a classroom full of bright young minds, just like his, at the Harvard Business School.

While the young prodigy from Kodanur was busy learning the Indian Penal Code, one small village in West Bengal witnessed a violent uprising, very much like what Mao had carried out in China. A section of the CPM, lead my Charu Majumdar, Karan Sanyal, and Jangal Santal staged a violent uprising, demanding that the landlords distribute their land among the homeless. It was almost as if Mao was there in spirit, guiding the peasants to challenge their masters for a fair share of the profit. Their demand was very much justified, considering the fact that they had drudged along with no apparent financial benefits for so long. The police tried to suppress the angry peasants, but a hail of arrows answered their arrival. Desperation spawns Courage, and that’s exactly what happened in the small Bengali village of Naxalwadi.

When Mao Zedong passed away in 1976, the young scion of the Royal family of Chettinad must have been a young MBA graduate from Harvard, blissfully unaware of the radical changes in the role of Maoism in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Deng Xiaoping, another visionary Chinese leader, identified the obvious flaws in Maoism, and sought to do away with Mao’s thoughts. His quest for truth led to the basic understanding that Capitalism laced with Communism (Although the PRC claim that it’s the other way round) was the real way forward for China. China praised its hero, Mao Zedong, but did not see his efforts as a “cultural revolution”.

P.Chidambaram returned to India, an empowered man. He had learnt much, during his brief tenure at the Harvard University. He was not one to fall into petty state politics, controlled by film stars and hedonistic families. Chidambaram was a visionary, a man who aimed at the stars, and got there too. But, unlike Mao, Chidambaram did not believe in selfless service. He was a man who wanted to enjoy life. He bought large sections of land, sometimes as large as 2000 acres, in the district of Coorg, Karnataka. He married Nalini, another famous Lawyer, and had a baby boy, whom he named Karthi. Chidambaram was a thinking economist with political ambitions. He had big plans for himself, and for India, and for fulfilling them, he needed Power. In the 1984 elections, he contested in the small constituency of Sivaganga , an unfancied constituency, and came through in flying colours. He was to be re-elected from the same unfancied constituency for six more times – 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2009.

Maoism inspired by Mao Zedong was catching up.

Mao Zedong was long gone, but his ideals remained deep-rooted in many a maind across the world. Vietnam, Korea, Nepal, Brazil, and even a few radicals in USA, a predominantly Capitalist society, embraced Maoism. In India, Charu Majumdar, the First Naxalite of sorts, was said to be inspired by Mao’s ideals. In India, the Naxalism spread through the student community with rapid pace. West Bengal, Orissa, erstwhile Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala became breeding grounds for young Naxalites. Naxal magazines became a rage, and much of the funding was achieved through Poppy cultivation. The idea of an equal society was getting lost, and violence gained centre stage. St.Stephen’s, Delhi, which had produced many great Indian minds, became a quagmire of Naxalite ideas.

Rajiv Gandhi, India’s young visionary Prime Minister, immediately recognized Chidambaram’s potential, and inducted him into the Union (Indian federal) Council of Ministers in the government on 21 September 1985 as a Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Commerce and then in the Ministry of Personnel. He made rapid progress, and was responsible for many financial reforms, the earliest of which was fixing the price of tea, a decision which was greatly criticized by the Government of Sri Lanka. By 1991, he virtually rewrote much of India’s export-import policies. Chidambaram was a man of action, and never minced his words, just to please the others. In these lines, he was very similar to Mao. He believed that he could change a large system for the better, and he stood by his views. He was opposed to the free-market and as a firm believer of the planned economy, he forced the steel industry to cut its exports and threatened the cement manufacturers to cut prices or face punitive action. His Financial budget in 1997 was termed as a “dream budget” by many businessmen and entrepreneurs across India. He was the chief engineer in the creation of a strong, independent India that had come a long way from being a “Greedy-Babu” ridden economic society. But P.Chidambaram was not a true “messiah” who cared only for the well-being of his followers. Reports suggest that he amassed a large fortune while in power, and managed to become staggeringly rich for a Union Minister.

In November 30, 2008, P.Chidambaram became the Home Minister of India. By then, naxalism had reared its ugly head more than once in India. A new party, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) had taken shape, and was solely concentrating on the violent part of Mao Zedong ideology. Gone were the days when Naxal leaders only attacked power-hungry bureaucrats. The new avatar of Maoists began by killing 7 policemen by attacking a school in Karnataka, not something Mao would ever have dreamt of doing. Contrary to their ideal of an equal society, they scoffed at equality of opinion, when they killed as many non-violent anti Maoists in Chattisgarh. Their stronghold, Dantewada, became a dreaded crucible of violence.

Much has changed. Chidambaram is not the efficient young minister he was, many years ago. He is known more for his swanky sedans and his lavish villas, and less for his ministerial reforms. He even did a George W. Bush when he got a shoe thrown at him, for pardoning the devious Tytler. P.Chidambaram is no longer known as the “Best Finance Minister of independent India”, but as a weak Home Minister, who has not delivered the goods. Mao Zedong underwent this transition too, from being revered as a great political mind, to becoming a political liability to the People’s Republic of China.

The New face of Naxalism

The Maoists in India can no longer be called Maoists. Mao Zedong was a Chinese visionary, who may have confused “right” and “wrong”, but he never advocated the merciless killing of hundreds of innocent civilians just to prove a point. Today, the misguided Naxals of India asked P.Chidambaram a question by causing a passenger train to derail in Jhargram, West Bengal, and resulting in the death of 65 passengers (last count). The Union Railway Minister and the West Bengal Chief Minister are embroiled in a mindless blame game. The whole nation looks to the Home Minister, the bright mind from Kandanur, the young boy who trumped many a learned mind at Harvard, the prodigal Commerce Minister, and the game-changing Finance Minister. Maybe the time for glory has come. Mao Zedong grabbed his moment when he had the chance. Will P.Chidambaram do the same? We sure hope so.

Image courtesy: http://southasia.oneworld.net/ShowCategory?b_start:int=310&type=Article&id=107 and http://www.studentsoftheworld.info/sites/country/5826.php

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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