In the grip of misunderstanding

In the grip of misunderstanding

Going deep into the heart of Chhattisgarh and into the land of revolutions

Nilanjana S. Roy
September 05 , 2014
03 Min Read

Many years ago, when the the Naxalite movement was at its height in West Bengal, two versions of a nursery rhyme did the rounds. Version one was something like: "Go to sleep, baby, go to sleep, if you don't close your eyes, the dreaded Naxal will get you." Version two was the same, only substituting the word 'police' for Naxal.


"Naxalbari lives," is how Sudeep Chakravarti begins Red Sun. He has written this book chiefly for middle-class India, for whom "Maoism today is something vaguely alarming, to do with shifting lines on the country's map that they see every once in a while in the mainstream media." For Chakravarti, the bigger question is how to come to grip with "India's little understood, most misunderstood war". Searching for answers, he travelled across several states, met revolutionaries old and new, attempted to understand the 'Other India' that is rarely seen.

Book One opens with a travelogue, as Chakravarti goes deep into the heart of Chhattisgarh, where the state-sponsored Salwa Judum movement attempts to counter Naxalism. Caught between the pincers of the two are the ordinary people, their loyalties constantly questioned, their rights constantly trampled upon. It's a beautiful landscape, Chakravarti reminds us, encrusted with the sores of poverty and violence. In Dantewada, children are encouraged to play 'Maoist-police', where the Maoists always win; in Pondum, families have been 'resettled' in an endless game of shifting counters.

In the forest of Dandaka, where according to the Ramayana, Rama found rest and shelter, Chakravarti meets Himanshu Kumar, a man searching for an elusive neutral territory in between the Naxals and the Salwa Judum. Himanshu and his wife help to educate the locals, teach them about their basic rights. They're viewed with suspicion by both sides.

It's encounters like these and, later in the book, with legendary figures of a previous revolution such as Kanu Sanyal, that bring Chakravarti's thesis to life. He treads a middle path, neither espousing the Naxalite ideology nor condemning it, merely drawing the reader's attention to the largely hidden civil war raging across 14 states of the country. This is as much a journalist's effort as a travelogue — and while it does not attempt to be an analysis of the new Maoism, Red Sun is a brilliant introduction to the war that middle-class India would prefer to ignore.

By Book Two, the narrative has shifted from travelogue to analysis, and while the interviews with ministers, bureaucrats and police officers are illuminating, they also slow the pace of the narrative. Chakravarti is at his best at documenting small insights: so much of the revolution is now available online, and what he calls 'the desktop revolutionary' is very much part of this revolution. He sees urban cities as neo-urban states, with the new Maoism targeting their 'safe' borders. Some things remain familiar: the posters of Mao, Lenin, and protest icons in the rooms of the more cerebral Naxalites, the familiar revolutionary language of the 'Urban Perspective Plan' of the CPI (Maoist).

While Chakravarti's analysis of what lies behind this civil war — inequity, the massive skimming of funds meant for 'development', stark poverty — is sharp and to the point, the best parts of Red Sun are the more personal interludes.

In the Saranda forest, he meets CRPF troopers weighed down by their ancient armour. In Jharkhand, he reports on the state health minister's 'solution' to the Maoist problem: a state-wide vasectomy drive. Only a sensitive observer could have captured both sides of this conflict — the bitter and the burlesque — so well.

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