Friday, October 16, 2009

BHARAT AND INDIA: ARMED REBELLION AND MENTAL SECESSION

The recent elections in Maharashtra have brought a harsh truth to the surface: rulers of Independent India have failed the people of both Gadchiroli and Mumbai, Bharat and India. How does one draw this seemingly illogical conclusion despite the fact that Naxal-affected Gadchiroli saw a high voter turnout of 63%, while India's commercial capital, despite being hit by India's worst terror attack less than a year ago, could enthuse only 43% voters to get their fingers marked, even though the city was shut officially to enable every one to vote?

Gadchiroli is one of the 160 districts of India affected by the Naxal movement that is active in the states of Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Orissa, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. The Maoists, as the Naxalites are popularly called, are engaged in an armed struggle against the present Indian state because they believe that it has failed to empower millions of Indians who continue to suffer unbearable poverty and exploitation.

There can be no denial that even 63 years after Independence, there remain a vast number of Indians who are leading a sub-human existence. According to the Planning Commission, 300 million Indians are below the poverty line while some estimates suggest that as many as 77% Indians live on less than Rs 20 per day. Naxalites hold sway where the poorest of the poor Indians live. In these areas, schools and primary heath centres are virtually non-existent, there is little or no road connectivity and there are virtually no employment opportunities. To cap it, the already wretched existence of the people has been made even worse by corrupt officials, politicians and feudal landlords. If in other parts of the country, 84 paise of each rupee meant for the aam admi is siphoned off by corrupt officials and politicians, you can imagine that in these 'extreme' areas, virtually nothing has ever reached him.

We have to, therefore, understand that conceptually, Naxalism represents an indictment of the form and frame of the state that has failed to meet its most fundamental obligation to its people despite being in position for so long. Most of us living in relative comfort in the cities have a one-dimensional view of the Maoists. However horrifying and unacceptable that may be to us, we must remember that there are still a few among the affluent lot whose hearts not only beat for these unfortunate, helpless and exploited fellow Indians, but they have even given up lives of comfort to be with them and guide them in their struggle to get out of their very dark pit.

Kobad Ghandi, who was arrested last month, is an unlikely political mentor of the Maoists. He hails from an affluent family from Mumbai, was Sanjay Gandhi's classmate at Doon School and did his Chartered Accountancy from Oxford. His wife, who died of malaria last year, also was from Mumbai. Yet, the couple gave up the good life and chose to devote themselves to what is essentially a noble cause. Ravi Sharma, an agricultural scientist from Andhra Pradesh and Anuradha B his wife, both arrested yesterday, also did the same.

If the cause that the Naxals have taken up is so undeniably just and one that rightly shames free India, then why is it that in Gadchiroli so many people turned out to vote for the politicians who have been exploiting and failing them for over half a century? Is it not damning evidence that the alternative that the Maoists promise and have delivered so far is worse than what the netas have? The Maoists may be in almost complete control of many areas, but that is manifestly more due to the power of the gun in their hands than the ideas in their heads. They are employing a very old and failed ideological tool to obtain a social solution in an entirely different age and setting. The very poor man may know that they are working for him, but by now he has also discovered that this is not the deliverance he is looking for. So, he has been forced to choose between the lesser of the two evils before him. He simply has no other choice.

Since 2005, Naxal violence has claimed an average of sixty lives per month. And, as the recent beheading of police inspector Francis Induwar in Ranchi and the killing of 17 policemen in Gadchiroli shows, the danger posed by Maoists is too real to be ignored any longer. Dr Manmohan Singh was not wrong when he says that Naxalism poses the greatest internal security threat to the country. Home Minister P Chidambaram has also shown rare political resolve to use force to defeat this challenge that some politicians have been exploiting - anything new? - for petty political gains.

No matter what bleeding-heart liberals and human rights activists bubbled in Delhi might say, it is the sacred duty of the state to ensure that the law of the land prevails and that ordinary citizens are not terrorised by anyone promising a better future at the point of a gun. One can keep arguing in TV studios about state-sponsored terrorism, ideology etc, but that must not deflect us from the task of ending the prevailing anarchy with minimum loss of time and life.

The people of Mumbai, by keeping away from the voting machines in these troubled times, have also unmistakably conveyed the message that they have lost faith in the ability and intention of politicians to do what they are expected to. They too have have sent a signal, again, that the manner in which the country is being governed generates no hope in them, no matter which party is in power. This is particularly true for the elite and the middle class as they are the ones who have stayed away from the voting booths.

The people of Mumbai, unlike those of Gadchiroli, have not voted because they can afford to not vote for the lesser evil. Why? Because they have another option. They can, as Rajdeep Sardesai says, "secede mentally if not physically" from the Indian state and become "resident non-Indians". As long their comfortable lives are not touched by the failures all around them, save for a few minor irritants that they have learnt to live with, they don't give a damn about what happens elsewhere. They lives are not confined to and stymied by the many failures of India that have kept nearly 900 million Indians in darkness without hope. They can manage with and without the state and its unresponsive instruments. They know voting is not going to change anything. So they don't want to waste their time and effort taking part in what has become a mockery of democracy.

This "mental secession" of the elite from the rest, of India from Bharat, is what led to the mess in the first place. The biggest mistake newly Independent India made was to do little more than change the colour of the skin of its rulers. No effort whatsoever was made to replace the colonial tools of governance, deliberately designed by the British to maintain a clear and unbridgeable gap between the elite and the natives. The British had a motive for creating an elite that looked up to and aspired to be as much like them as the colour of their skin allowed, and as distant from and superior to the natives they were expected to keep firmly in control on behalf of their masters.

When free India opted for an inherently flawed model of democracy not suitable for a large and diverse country like India, even that exercise remained confined to the legislature only. The judiciary, administration and police remained as colonial as they were before Independence. The involvement of the people in governance has, thus, remained mostly limited to casting their votes every few years. The rest of the government machinery remains as aloof and arrogant and above them as it always was. In fact, over time, even politicians, the only ones that normal Indians have a say in choosing, have also become equally, if not more, removed and distant from the people whose voice they are supposed to be.

Of late, there is a democracy-killing trend that has gathered great momentum. A few hundred political dynasties, big and small, have emerged across the country and taken vice-like control. Though there are over a thousand political parties in India which should indicate that the democratic process is robust, exactly the opposite is true. There is no inner party democracy in most parties and many of them, big and small, are no more than family fiefdoms.

This has happened primarily because politics, like the colonial administration, police and, to some extent the judiciary, is becoming a platform for plundering India. That is what the British did too. But they were here precisely for that purpose. This was not their country. It is India's misfortune that the elite they created and the politicians who have succeeded them, are doing exactly the same, exceptions apart. The only difference now is that the loot remains largely in India, if it is not rotting in Swiss banks.

This is not the value system or the model of governance that is going to deliver the people of Bharat from the misery being inflicted on them by the ruling elite of India. All that it is going to do is to ensure that the Bharatiyas who break out of their hell-holes, despite the government or due to it, will also choose the easy way out and mentally secede from Bharat. They too, like the present elite of Mumbai and elsewhere, will seal themselves in their comfortable bubbles and just shut themselves out from the misery and poverty that writhes but a few feet away.

Yes, Naxals post a grave threat to the security of India. Yes, they are employing unacceptable tools and an ideology that has invariably inhumanly oppressed the very classes it is supposed to uplift. But is any one else in the country seriously committed to the task of trying to lift almost a billion souls out of despair? Let us not hide behind 'trickle down' theories and some such nonsense to justify our insensitivity and failure as a nation.

The example of China is before us. So we can't pretend that it can't be done, and wave the 'empowering' flag of democracy in front of the deprived and the hungry. Our models of democracy and governance have failed thus far and the disastrous direction that they have taken of late will ensure that they will not succeed in future too. So, while putting down of the armed rebellion of Maoists is essential, it will succeed only if we show even greater resolve and firmness in simultaneously putting away the tools that have failed Bharat and perpetuated colonial India.

I read a tweet somewhere which said that we must ban from politics the 400-odd families that have taken over India. That may sound silly, but it tells us that dishonest cosmetic changes will not work. This nation did not fight for Independence to live with armed rebellion on one side and mental secession on the other. Both are equally dangerous and both need to be addressed urgently and honestly.
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4. Corrupt, colonial India faces volcano
5. Covering up the mother of all corruption scandals
6. Conspicuous consumption and conspicuous poverty