Reading B.G. Verghese’s article Daylight at the Thousand-Star Hotel in Outlook (May 3), one is stunned by the abysmal poverty of thought and colonial mindset of this renowned intellectual. How is it that the illiterate, seemingly uncivilised, backward, half-naked adivasi thinks, analyses and acts a lot better than an established, well-read, highly qualified intellectual like Verghese?
The history of freedom in our country presents innumerable such contrasts: of the highly educated white man, with his vast, in-depth knowledge of the world and the natural and social sciences, glorifying the British raj as a regime with a civilising mission; and the half-naked, illiterate Indian who craved for freedom and independence. To justify the oppression of their subjects in the colonies, the “educated” colonial intellectuals invented phrases such as “white man’s burden”, “civilising mission” et al. The freedom fighter, however, was not impressed by the ‘development’ the British colonialists brought to India through their railways, roads, communication networks, plantations, mines etc.
Verghese is a typical example of the self-proclaimed civilisers of modern-day India, akin to the white ‘civilisers’ of yesteryear, who would have been the pride of a Rudyard Kipling. He reveals this colonial mindset by vehemently arguing in favour of the civilising mission of the corporate sharks and the Indian State to transform the poor, backward adivasis from savages into civilised people through a ‘development’ that destroys people’s economy, social life, culture and all human values. Ironically, ignoramuses like him imagine that adivasis are the casualties of non-development.
The corporate vultures and their police servants have said, through Verghese, what they think of a dialogue with the Maoists. Citing from my interview in The Hindu, Verghese gives his own interpretation to my proposal for talks. He derides my statement that “talks will give some respite to the people who are oppressed and suppressed under the jackboots of the Indian State...” and interprets this as “respite for the oppressed (cadres)”. Such is the wishful imagination, cynicism, trivialisation and vulgarisation of a life-and-death question confronting millions of hapless people!
Verghese also thinks that lifting the ban on our party, release of jailed leaders for the purpose of participating in talks, and respite for the oppressed are unreasonable preconditions. Would anyone, except Verghese and other war-hungry hawks, imagine that the Maoists had placed respite as a precondition? We had only explained why we think a ceasefire is necessary to give respite to the oppressed and suppressed people in the war-torn zones.
In any war, there can be several periods of peace depending on many factors such as natural calamities which affect a significant chunk of the population and need relative peace for reconstruction and assistance to the victims; war of aggression by another country which calls for the united resistance of one and all; war fatigue among the people and even the belligerents; chronic famine conditions for a sizeable proportion of the people arising basically out of prolonged periods of war; the needs of either side for a respite for various reasons, and so on. However, it is only when both sides in the war feel the need for peace that a mutual ceasefire and a situation for initiating a dialogue will arise.
Verghese does not speak like an impartial observer but betrays his conscious motive of tarnishing the Maoists with his ideologically bankrupt rhetoric. His inherent bias is clear from several of his remarks, such as his accusation that the Maoists pose like “Robin Hoods but rule by fear and authoritarian command over cowed camp-followers”. He further says: “Many comrades have broken rank in disgust over the Maoists’ brutality and hubris.” Can he cite any authentic source for his accusation, leaving out the disinformation campaign unleashed by the reactionary rulers and their police-intelligence wings? How many comrades have broken rank in disgust over our “brutality and hubris”? We challenge him to furnish a list.
One is also dumbstruck to hear Verghese chide Arundhati Roy saying: “Why scoff at a cancer hospital built near Raipur by Vedanta, the aluminium corporate, or the proposed Vedanta University in coastal Orissa? Are these by definition all wicked enterprises?” He then goes on to repeat Ms Roy’s observations on the pathetic health conditions and lack of any healthcare in Dandakaranya and asks: “So where do we begin? By burning down the Vedanta hospital?”
Should one think it is because of his innocence or because of his false consciousness derived from the non-stop propaganda by the corporate sharks that Verghese poses such a foolish question? Vedanta might appear as a benevolent enterprise to Verghese, but life has taught the adivasis what it stands for. Even as Verghese comes forth as an apologist for the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity, we find organisations like the Church of England, and several shareholders in Vedanta exhibiting better rationale by withdrawing their shares from Vedanta. Even the colonialists seem more humane and rational than the slavish intellectuals in their former colonies! Moreover, even the Supreme Court of India and the environment ministry have raised objections to the proposed Vedanta University and mining venture. Only a Chidambaram, who served as a member of its board of directors until 2004, and Verghese, with his “compassionate” colonial mindset of “civilising” the backward people, can stand up in support of vultures like Vedanta, Tata, POSCO, Jindal....
Verghese’s colonial mindset is at its best when he says: “Yes, there will be land acquisition and displacement—that is the story of civilisation; but there will also be resettlement, compensation and training for new vocations.” The adivasis and poor peasants in our country can never imagine how people like Verghese can distort history so shamelessly. Ask the 60 million people who have been displaced by the land acquisition of the “civilisers”. How and why such barbarism is called the story of civilisation, only Verghese knows best. To convince the sceptics, he further says: “Admittedly, this (resettlement, compensation) has not always been done wisely or well. But times are changing. New legal frameworks, better norms, closer monitoring, improved R&R and livelihood packages have continuously been put in place.”
Verghese here comes out as an incarnation of the typical Indian bureaucrat, like a G.K. Pillai. All intellectual pretence is shed here and he reveals himself as a loyal servant of the Indian comprador sharks. So why is all this hullabaloo about land acquisition and displacement being raked up by people like Arundhati Roy and others?
Another interesting instance where Verghese distorts facts is in the growth in tribal populations. In order to disprove Arundhati Roy’s apprehension about the probable genocide of tribals due to the war waged by the Indian State, Verghese asserts that “the tribal population of India was 19.1 million in 1951, rose to 84.3 mn according to the 2001 census and is estimated to be just short of 100 mn (8.1 per cent of the population) today.” Had he exerted a little effort, he would have known that the seemingly huge growth in the population figures of scheduled tribes in India is not because of an increase in the population of the tribes but due to the inclusion of several hitherto non-tribals in the ST category.
Verghese’s attitude towards the occupation of schools by the security forces is also criminally casual. He says: “Yes, schools in Naxal-affected areas are often occupied by security forces, not to prevent education but because schooling and other developmental activities, such as they are, have come to a halt.” Even worse, he accuses the Maoists of opposing schools and of being interested only in “agitprop centres to indoctrinate the young”. This reveals the extent of indoctrination this intellectual mind has been subjected to by the omnipotent imperialist media and the servile education system he is a product of. He goes on to say, “Development and connectivity threaten them. Hence they destroy roads, culverts, bridges. Hence the wanton attacks on railway and highway projects that would, if completed, connect and open up remote, backward areas. If education, health services, roads, irrigation, markets and communications are provided and poverty rolled back, the Maoists would be out of business.”
Throughout his article, Verghese acts as an apologist for the reactionary deeds of the rulers; and at times his language is indistinguishable from that of Chidambaram. For instance, Chidambaram too said at JNU recently: “Maoists want to ensure the tribals were inaccessible and incommunicado (from mainstream) by blowing up buildings, railway tracks and targeting developmental projects. Are they trying to create an archaeological museum in the tribal areas by keeping the tribals away from development?”
While one can understand Chidambaram, as a loyal representative of the corporate sharks, uttering such trash, it’s really amusing to see intellectuals like Verghese imagining such things and drawing fantastic and subjective conclusions. On several occasions, we have clarified these questions. We have explained why we are targeting roads, bridges etc. Let alone opposing, our party has even led people’s struggles demanding the setting up of schools, appointment of teachers, health services, markets, irrigation and so on. In fact, seeing the utter apathy of the rulers, we ourselves have set up schools, dug wells and tanks to develop irrigation and increase productivity and yields of crops, organised cooperatives, trained local doctors, built roads and bridges deep inside the forest.
Why would Maoists be threatened by development and connectivity? If Verghese and his brand of intellectuals think that concrete roads are the barometer of development, they are living in a fool’s paradise. He falls prey to the ruling class scheme of development that displaces the adivasis and destroys their lives, lands and cultures. He says roads and railways open up remote backward areas. For whom? For the people or for a handful of mining and industrial companies, forest contractors and police tormentors who make adivasi lives a veritable hell?
Even more amusing is Verghese’s allegation that the Maoists are working only among the adivasis and that they will be “out of business” once the adivasi areas become developed. He does not even know the programme of the Maoists, which is to mobilise the vast majority of the suffering people throughout the country. Can the Maoists seize power and establish the “totalitarian state” Verghese is talking of without organising the non-adivasi majority living in the advanced regions of the country?
Verghese refers to the Salwa Judum as a savage blot but concludes that “strategic hamleting” was confined to one district and prevented from being extended to any other district, even in Chhattisgarh. But who prevented it and how, he prefers to be silent on. It has been the heroic resistance, armed and unarmed, by the adivasi masses led by the Maoists since the end of 2005 that has upset the devious plans of the reactionary rulers to uproot the entire adivasi population. He doesn’t say that Salwa Judum was defeated and prevented from creating havoc in newer areas because the Maoists and the adivasi masses had dealt a death blow to this state-sponsored terrorist gang by carrying out daring militant offensives such as in Ranibodili and Errabore; that the rulers had never given up their fond wish to drive the entire adivasi population into strategic hamlets; and that Salwa Judum Part II unleashed by the Sonia-Manmohan-Chidambaram gang is precisely to achieve that unfinished goal.
Lastly, Herr Verghese fondly hopes: “The Maoists will fade away, democratic India and the Constitution will prevail, despite the time it takes and the pain involved.” If the Maoists fade away by the superiority of your development model, then why are the advocates of your development keen on brutally suppressing the Maoists and the adivasis they are leading? In which part of India is the Constitution prevailing, Mr Verghese? In Dantewada, Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon? In Jharkhand, Orissa? In Lalgarh, Jangalmahal? In the Kashmir Valley? Manipur? Where was your Constitution hiding for 25 long years after thousand of Sikhs where massacred? When thousands of Muslims were decimated? When lakhs of peasants are compelled to commit suicides? When thousands of people are murdered by state-sponsored Salwa Judum gangs? When adivasi women are gangraped? When people are simply abducted by uniformed goons? Your Constitution is a piece of paper that does not even have the value of a toilet paper for the vast majority of the Indian people.
Finally, this comment by Verghese—“People’s Tribunals keep mouthing yesterday’s tired slogans.... They do not see tomorrow; maybe they fear it”—applies more to people like him. He keeps mouthing yesterday’s outdated, monotonous slogans like “end of history”, “there-is-no-alternative”, “demise of Communism”, “totalitarian state”, and so on. He does not see tomorrow. He even fears it. The spectre of Communism sends shivers down his spine.
Chemkuri Azad Rajkumar’s Last Note to a Neo-Colonialist (Jul 19) shows the Maoist leadership is neither ignorant nor insensitive. The government has worked out grand development plans for districts under Maoist control, but they’ll be laid waste by corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and police officers. The Maoists are neither demanding a separate country nor fighting a religious war—in fact, they are atheists who do not believe in an afterlife. Only doing all they can, including giving up their lives fighting, for the downtrodden. Why not give peace a chance and let the Maoists handle development for a while, especially when the ban prevents them from contesting elections? N. Kunju, New Delhi
Azad’s rejoinder shows the Maoists are as confused as the so-called neo-colonialists. While democracy certainly gets manipulated by the powerful, a Communist state is definitely no answer. Santhanam Krishnan, on e-mail
Although it may be tough to digest Azad’s article, some of his ideas are undeniably relevant. Raj Madhav C. Thakur, Pune
Azad’s long-winded essay on how Communism is good for the digestion and for world peace won’t make the cut. The world is far more complicated than what the Maoists, with their limited exposure to information outside the Communist credo, make it out to be. Big Onion, on e-mail
I refuse to believe that the tribals want to live in the jungles forever. Progress is part of human history, it certainly makes our lives better. Rajesh Chary, Mumbai
We may not agree with his methods or his views, but Azad definitely did not deserve to die in a cold-blooded encounter. Asif Sultan, Shreveport, US
No one knows what the Maoists want, perhaps not even they themselves. They are like the character in Bunty aur Babli who keeps shouting ‘Hamari mangein poori karo!’ without saying what his demands are. Rajendran Balakrishnan, Manama
Articles such as Azad’s are nothing more than a campaign by editors, ngos and others to reduce our democracy to a primitive state. S. Mahendra Rajan, Sohar, Oman
Azad’s last note is an eye-opener, which shows where things went wrong. No one who is powerful obeys the law in India. Our founding fathers somehow adapted themselves and the system to the colonial system that they aimed to replace, changing only the names. For example, the ics became the ias. The result is a government cut off from the masses. The powerful care two hoots for the inconveniences of the poor. R.K. Chaturvedi, Lucknow
Azad’s rejoinder (A Last Note To A Neo-Colonialist, Jul 19) was full of intellectual pretence. The article, predictably, tries to molest not only Indian democracy, but also the makers of the Constitution. His attempts to arouse sympathy for Maoist misadventures by invoking the anti-Sikh riots and Kashmir were at best amateurish. Such self-styled protectors of the dispossessed should not have been given space in a magazine like Outlook.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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