Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tribals used as pawns in Maoists' game

By Nilotpal Basu

29 Jun 2009, 0536 hrs IST, TNN

Lalgarh has attracted an unbelievable amount of frontpage news space and primetime slots, not only in Bengal but also nationally. Why has the media otherwise obsessed with cricket or Bollywood shown signs of such an overwhelming interest in a subject so intensely political (or drab,' as one may put it)?

One cannot dismiss the new-found interest in Lalgarh as trivial. Unfortunately, the Lalgarh question has seldom been addressed in a holistic manner.

What does Lalgarh signify? Is it about a "revolutionary" Maoist insurrection? Is it purely a collective expression of innocent tribal outrage against "failed governance"? Or is it about the collapse of CPI(M) in the western districts of Bengal? Was the violence, so clearly directed against CPI(M) and the administration, spontaneous?

An attempt to answer these questions might help us unravel reality from consciously built myth; or, in the words of Deng Xiao Ping, one of Mao's closest comrades and a fellow long marcher, "To seek the truth from the facts".

West Bengal, Naxalbari to be precise, has been the cradle of ultra-Left movement in the country. It could have spread to other parts of the state, but the rural poor refused to be swayed by extremism, cherishing the fruits of the most comprehensive agrarian reforms. The Rightwing security doctrinaires in the wake of Lalgarh, however, refused to concede this achievement to the economic, political and importantly, ideological battle of the organized Left.

The Maoist activities were particularly intense after the formation of CPI(Maoist) with the merger of CPI-ML(PW) group and MCC. The new entity, however, differs fundamentally from the Naxalilte movement of the Sixties. While the latter sprung out of incorrect assessment of the method and course of the agrarian reforms, the Maoists do not believe in partial struggle to mobilize the rural poor to achieve mass demands. Ganapati, the general secretary of CPI(Maoist), has been quite candid: "Our choice of remote forest areas for our guerrilla activities are prompted to suit our military strategic needs." It has to do very little with the concern for uplifting the lot of the poor tribals.

In Lalgarh, what has been evident is not the urgency to lead the tribals to articulate their sufferings, but a calculated move to use these hapless people as human shields and use them as pawns to quench the drive for establishing military control. Not that there is no issue of development in Lalgarh. But the questions of jal, jangal and jameen (water, forest and land), which inspire tribal disquiet in the rest of the country, has in fact played little role in Lalgarh.

The simple reason is that the most important issue land has been largely addressed in these tribal-dominated areas. Till 2008, a total of 1,76,668 tribals have received land pattas for 1,97,350.49 acres. This is in West Midnapore district alone. On the forest produce, 88 LAMPS have been created to facilitate the earnings of tribals from forest wealth, aimed at undermining the role of the contractors who exploited them. In fact, it is revealing that PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato happened to be a forest contractor.

But this is not to say that there is no need to redouble efforts to address development concerns. The early activities of the Maoists in the region were specifically aimed at undermining the creation of physical and social infrastructure.

Lalgarh, and the three other gram panchayat areas that stand pivotal to Maoist activities, were never CPI(M) bastions. All four are presently controlled by the Trinamool-Jharkhand Party-Congress combine. The Assembly seat of Binpur, under which Lalgarh falls, is held by Jharkhand party (Naren). So, the majority of the mainstay of the movement are not CPI(M) deserters.

This is not to say that political opponents need not be won over. The battle against Maoists will have to be grounded in efforts to overcome the development deficit and isolate them from people. Firm administrative actions to silence the guns is not the be-all and end-all of our battle to deliver justice to tribals and the rural poor. It can usher in a new phase of initiatives on the social, economic, political and ideological fronts. We owe this to the victims of mindless violence. A consensus across political parties to pursue this objective is the need of the hour.

The writer is CPI(M)'s central committee member

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