Sunday 23 October 2016

Questioning The Comrades

A largely sympathetic, and even one-sided account of the Maoists
Let’s Call Him Vasu: With The Maoists In Chhattisgarh
By Shubhranshu Choudhary
Penguin Books | Pages 270 | Rs. 350

Those who have never walked through dark and dangerous forests at night may find it difficult to appreciate not one but several such journeys into Dandakaranya undertaken by the author, spread over seven long years, which resulted in this slim and eminently readable volume. It provides another first-hand account of what Maoists are up to in Chhattisgarh and is a worthy addition to several such recent accounts—Jan Myrdal’s Red Star Over India, Days And Nights In The Heartland Of Rebellion by Gautam Navlakha and Hello, Bastar by Rahul Pandita, among others.


Not surprisingly, like the others this too is a largely sympathetic, and even one-sided account of the insurgents—Choudhary is forced to wonder aloud whether he was an embedded journalist on a conducted tour. But being a son of the soil, who had made the acquaintance of Vasu, a Maoist of some substance in his younger days, Choudhary was on surer ground.

Dandakaranya was meant to be a hideout for the Maoists. But in less than three decades, the forest and mountain range straddling over the five states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra, has transformed into the insurgents’ headquarters. Choudhary’s conversations provide the Maoists’ view of how this came about. One of the illuminating passages suggest that the so-called spontaneous uprising by the tribals against the Maoists called Salwa Judum was planned in New Delhi and executed by the government. The author quotes traders and forest officials admitting that they were alerted in advance and advised not to bid in areas where the ‘spontaneous’ uprising would start months later.

Maoists the author speaks to are surprisingly candid in confessing that they are worried over the attrition rate in their ranks. They freely admit that in Dandakaranya alone, their annual budget is around `12 crore, part of which is funded by tendu-leaf traders (but there is silence on the remaining sources) and that some of them got used to ‘over-spending’. It was a mistake, they say, to accept money from Essar, a private steel company. Comrade Kosa, the top Maoist leader in Dandakaranya, shows off his AK-47, a walkie-talkie and his solar-powered laptop to the author. At the camp, Maoists assemble to watch the film Mrityudand on the laptop. Asked what his son was doing, Kosa casually mentions that he had finished college and was working in the US. In another delightful irony, the book notes that the present Rajah of Bastar, an alumnus of the London School of Economics, is leading tribals to rally against the mining projects of the Tatas.


The book courted an entirely unnecessary controversy by quoting a Maoist courier who claimed that money had been sent to Dr Binayak Sen, the human rights activist undergoing trial for allegedly aiding the insurgents, to arrange for the legal defence of a top Maoist leader in jail. Sen’s role was not germane to the book, and the reference also got diluted because other Maoists, and even the said messenger, have said that Sen never received the money and that he never worked for them.

The title of the book, and the light, conversational style are designed to draw readers who may not have the patience or the inclination also to read about insurgencies. But it provides invaluable insights to policymakers and more serious readers.

With A Song On His Lips Bibliofile
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store

Post a Comment

You are not logged in, please Log in or Register
  • Daily Mail
Bastar’s adivasis are battered by vigilantism, dispossessed by the state’s landgrab and failed by the justice system
MAGAZINE October 20, 2016
Railways only served the ends of imperial loot and barefaced racism
MAGAZINE October 20, 2016
In his debut novel Ajith Pillai pitches mordant irony into the theatre of satire.
MAGAZINE October 13, 2016
A remarkable odyssey, at first in search of a cure for cancer and then, increasingly, in search of understanding.
MAGAZINE October 13, 2016
This analysis of the Republican nominee is more than all his bluster
MAGAZINE October 13, 2016

More than a decade after India first started the procurement process, it has finally inked an €8bn agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault. The original deal was to buy 126 Rafales to replace the accident-prone Russian MiG-21s. Ultimately, the government offered to buy only 36 ready-to-fly planes.

POLL STARTED ON: Sep 26, 2016
Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 31st Olympic Games from August 5 to 21. This is the first Olympics being held in South America and is going on even as a majority Brazilians are unhappy with their rulers. Here’s a quiz on some random Olympic facts and related trivia.
QUIZ STARTED ON: Aug 11, 2016