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Hello, Bastar: Rahul Pandita Takes You To Ground Zero Of India”s Naxal Movement

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By Vishal Shrivastava:

Book: Hello, Bastar: The untold story of India’s Maoist movement
Author: Rahul Pandita
Published by: Tranquebar Press

hello bastarIn the world of literature, writing fiction is considered to be a tough task as you paint a very different picture which seldom exists; but Rahul Pandita in his book Hello, Bastar has explained that writing reality is equally difficult especially when it is on a topic where people and governments are biased. At a time when even talking about welfare of the poor adivasis, issues like land and forests, can very well give you a tag of Maoist by the fascist forces of the country; Rahul Pandita has gone one step ahead of explaining the India’s Maoist movement clearing out all the doubts about the idea of revolution that entered Bastar in 1980 and is now termed as India’s biggest internal security threat.

In schools or in colleges we are only taught the things which our government wants us to learn and therefore many of us believe that Naxalites are some kind of terrorists who kills our policemen. The media knows well to earn brownie points on the news of death of our soldiers but the ambush where naxals are killed is shown in the small ticker running on the big screens of television news channels. Rahul Pandita has explained how the movement which is so vast could have been stopped if the political class of the country had indulged in dialogue with the leaders of the movement instead of backstabbing them again and again by increasing police pressure in the areas of their activities.

The people who support Naxalism and pick up weapons against the state are doing so because the political leaders whom they trusted in several elections have backstabbed them again and again while the Maoist leaders continued to help them (whatever be the means). The scenario after the 1978 elections is well explained by Pandita when he writes that “The congress won the election, but as it happens with most promises, the party did nothing towards alleviating the lot of the poor. Meanwhile, the Maoists had been doing their work, forcibly occupying land in hundreds of villages and distributing it among the poor”

The novel explains briefly how a fight of land and rights turned out to be a battle of vote bank politics for the politicians while they continued to ignore the real problems. Hello, Bastar is not a novel but it is an authoritative account of the incidents which people forget when they debate about Naxalism sitting in their air conditioned rooms. It explains how gross violations of human rights forced the villagers to change their ideological path and pick up weapons as they blindly support what the Maoist leaders tell them.

An incident from the book explains the conditions of poor landless adivasis, “…Often an Adivasi caught in the forest area collecting firewood or forest produce would be threatened with dire consequences and then coerced into sending his womenfolk or his cattle to the forest officials.” During incidents like this it was the Maoist guerrillas who came for the rescue of labourers and adivasis. The rise of Naxalism in the recent decades is only because the guardians have turned into devils for the poor landless labourers.

There are several accounts of violations and how it was the Maoist who came for the rescue; the book also explains in detail the funding and working technique of spreading Maoism in the area by the Naxal leaders. The one thing that I find common after reading about the Naxal hit areas from the book, is that naxalism has grown in places where there was no development, and there was no signs of governance and in the name of state there were only false promises of political leaders ranging from Indira Gandhi to Chandrababu Naidu

The afterword of the book is given by Kobad Gandhi which he wrote from Tihar Jail. He has presented the story of a Dalit girl who was raped by upper caste youth and how her hands and ears were chopped off and the incident went unnoticed and how such incidents result in actions against the state. He rightly maintains that for the mainstream media, issue of naxalism is just about violence but the book brings out that the question of violence is secondary and development must be taken as priority. Kobad Gandhi presents several reports of UN and other organizations to claim that people of India are living in horrific conditions even after six years of independence and it is time to discuss various alternate models to better the policies of governance.

In my view Rahul Pandita with his on ground reporting in this book has not only questioned the government’s action over the years to counter Naxalism by use of force but also reflected on the need of development in the Naxal hit areas. The political leaders must understand that problem of naxalism can be solved with dialogues and development and the initiation of dialogue must be by the political leaders by going to the ground zero in person not by sending commandos with flower petals along with guns and asking the Naxals to choose one from the two.

The government is trying to frighten the villagers with guns. Instead the government must try to give them a hope to live, a hand to bring them back to mainstream. The government must understand what John Steinbeck said and Rahul Pandita quoted in this book:
“How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him- he has known a fear beyond every other.”

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