This week I reviewed War and Peace in Jangal Mahal, edited by Biswajit Roy, for The Hindu. Kafila readers will be familiar with at least two of the essays in the compilation – by Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam and will remember our hectic debates on the subject.
The collected letters of correspondence between the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Indian state is an archive of corpses: policemen and guerrillas, commanders and comrades, police informers and Maoist sympathisers. The body count racked up by each serves as a signalling mechanism for the other.
Except for the police and Maoist commanders, the dead usually don’t get to choose sides; their identities are written in reverse, a teleological narration that details seemingly insignificant decisions that end in death.
In June this year, the CRPF, state police and CoBRA battalion killed 19 men, women and children in an anti-Maoist operation, claiming those killed were hardened Maoists. When newspapers reported that villagers said they were conducting a public meeting when they were surrounded by police and shot, the police pointed to six troopers injured in the encounter and asked why villagers were holding a meeting in the middle of the night.
The Maoists have an explanation for their violence as well. “The notion of just principle in a normal situation is different from that [in] a war-like situation,” wrote Maoist commander Kishenji in a letter to the Bengali daily, Dainik Statesman , in which he explained his party’s policy of killing police informers, “During war, freedom of thought, consciousness, initiative and innovation is much limited in scope.”
Read the rest of the review here
While there is always the thrill of holding people hostage against their desire, the Maoists, of late, seem to have discovered the pleasure of release.
Having spanked the state into submission by beheading Francis Induwar; by freeing policeman Antindranath Datta and “peacefully” vandalizing the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani, the Maoists appear to be signaling a new phase in their troubled relationship with the State.
Now that the State and the media know that the Maoists are capable of taking the pleasure equals pain principle to its logical climax, freeing hostages and good-naturedly scribbling slogans on trains appears like a far more civilized way of fomenting revolution.
Just yesterday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed their willingness to break free from the handcuffs of current discourse and engage with those who abstain (from violence).
Maoist leader Kishenji has insisted that while the rebels shall not lay down their arms, talks with the West Bengal and Central Governments must be preceded by the unconditional release of all prisoners taken captive since military operations began in Lalgarh in June, a withdrawal central forces from the area and a declaration of ceasefire by both sides.
In the meantime, the Home Minister, P.Chidambaram, has warned that he can keep his velvet gloves on for only so long; thereafter it’s steel fisting all the way. The victims of military operation shall inevitably be the poor tribals who have love for neither State nor rebel. Now if only the Maoists would take themselves in hand.
First published in the Hindustan Times