The Condemned Men Of India’s Tribal Insurrection – OpEd


Ever since the killing of the top Maoist military strategist Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, a deliberate hyperbole on the part of the ruling establishment in West Bengal has ensured that individuals with differing viewpoints can be swatted effectively. Influential members of the cabinet have been liberally quoting the famous George W Bush dictum of “you are either with us or with the terrorists,” to quell any call for an impartial probe into the allegedly staged elimination of the outlawed guerrilla.

However, a civilized democracy functioning under the rule of law has always promoted unprejudiced public discourse devoid of degrading official propaganda. In this case though, despite all the brouhaha the champions of nationalistic values and patriotism have failed to plug the yawning gaps left in the dramatic story of a raging gun battle in the midst of an isolated forest that snuffed the life out of India’s most sought after political terrorist. And the word “political” is used consciously given the fact that the Congress party has deemed it fit to send an emissary for paying tribute to the departed soul condemned unequivocally by one and all for the murderous nature of his politics.

This in itself is a silent acceptance of the slain Mao leader as a political functionary at par with any mainstream leadership. Does that amount to condoning the massacre of innocents that Koteshwar Rao has presided over during his eventful underground career that stretched up to three decades? Presumably, the Congress party engrossed in fighting corruption within and without is simply saluting the honesty of this individual who displayed extreme grit in resisting the lure of money and power to meander into an uncharted course – a completely rare phenomenon in today’s currency driven politics. This, one must understand is not an attempt to legalize Koteshwar Rao’s criminal antecedent but a gracious approval of plurality that ironically was alien to his political thinking.

Moreover, the burning Telengana crisis has a bearing on this far reaching decision of the Congress leadership as hundreds of young and old from this region of Andhra Pradesh were driven by an unfulfilled aspiration of land, livelihood and liberation into the radical fold.

The chief of the counter insurgency force responsible for gunning down Kishenji was acerbic in the defence of his men and he certainly has the right to do so. But unfortunately, his big mouthed political masters have rendered the spirited defence virtually inconsequential with contradictory statements. While acknowledging the great sacrifice of his men in maintaining law and order, the following facts cannot be wiped out altogether.

(1) A point blank shot through the chin that pierced Kishenji’s brain was the fatal one killing him instantly despite the designated assault team’s contention of piercing the target from a distance. Why on earth is the government so eager to gloss over this tell-tale sign of close range firing deliberately?

(2) Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has gone on record that a rebel squad had assembled in the area for a meeting to chalk out plan for executing subversive activities and were given three days time to surrender. It implies that Kishenji was in negotiation with the administration at the time of his killing and standard operating procedure makes it obligatory on the part of the platoon to sanitize adjoining areas before laying siege. Under such circumstances, how on earth can the rest of the insurgents including Koteshwar Rao’s battle hardened bodyguards escape from the scene of action without a scratch?

(3) Local political heavyweight and a junior minister in the Indian government Sisir Adhikary claims to have been briefed by tribal people – who went into the forest for collecting kendu leaves – of the entire incident and how the guerrilla commander’s associates fled from the conflict zone. If it is true then the platoon commandant needs to be penalized for letting civilians roam around happily during a fierce gunfight or is it the same old story of unarmed people being used as a human shield by the security forces? The Minister in a flamboyant style iterated his party Trinamool Congress’s determination to disinfect the State within a week’s time. One wonders whether the ruling outfit intends to promote a radical democracy with active assistance from the Naxalite functionaries now entrenched in their set up and the administration.

(4) This author has reason to believe that the ruling establishment was in continuous engagement with Koteshwar Rao via unofficial channel and the decision to entrap him must have been vetted at the highest level. Perhaps, a living Kishenji spilling the beans on Maoist association with mainstream political groups of all hue and some trusted insiders of the administration would have been a huge embarrassment for any thriving democracy.

Furthermore, intense cooperation with Israeli agencies in terms of logistics, training and intelligence sharing has spurred the forces to adopt targeted killings frequently. Unfortunately, the political leadership is yet to fetter the agencies on this score and make them realize that it is a completely self-defeating concept in Indian scenario. This way we might slaughter several hundreds of informed revolutionaries along with despairing citizens from the subaltern class who have taken up arms out of resentment, but the monstrous anger of deprivation will gain strength to gobble up the very fabric of Indian democracy in no time.

What intrigues the sane mind is the determination with which the government prepares to launch a concerted military campaign, the sort of which is generally reserved for hostile territories across the enemy line. This is a trap that can vitiate the entire debate of development and the effort to empower those 77% who lives on less than one dollar a day will get delayed indefinitely. The Indian leadership is yet to recognize that encouraging a security centric approach to solve this menace will only compound the crisis as this very concept is fraught with the danger of triggering a dense smoke and mirage filled aura with everybody chasing the shadow endlessly.

The Maoists, have indeed done a great disservice to the cause of the poor confronting displacement and dispossession. Thriving on protection money extorted from the very corporates engaged in dislodging the rural poor from their land is nothing short of treachery. The revolutionaries seem to have developed a vested interest in extortion and violence or else they could have initiated some community work for the welfare of the local populace in the liberated zone with a portion of the fund that they receive for buying sophisticated armoury. It is high time that the ultra left forces in India come to term with the global reality of democratic and peaceful protests enjoying more popularity and support across the spectrum than armed struggle to usher a just order.

On the other hand governments at the central and state levels struggling to extract the country’s fiscal health out of the intensive care unit has turned to multinational corporations for liquidity infusion into the system and West Bengal is no exception. Mamata Banerjee is well aware of the fact that her government is drastically paralyzed on the economic front and she needs the private sector to do her bidding. But the remedies available with a government whose foundation is based on agrarian revolution and a stated policy of discouraging acquisition of arable plots are limited to allowing the corporates exploit the tribal infested laterite lands rich in mineral and forest wealth thereby sowing the seed of a major tribal uprising.

Meanwhile, with the government shying away from undertaking any land deal on industry’s behalf, the Trinamool Congress is positioning itself as the primary broker. In the process, similar to the previous repressive regime of the Marxists, the Chief Minister is happily inclined to allow the democratic system run on the strength of weapons and illegal money power.

Last but not the least; it is a pity that the counter insurgency force chief has stooped to the level of deriding those who dare to question his men’s conduct. Perhaps the decorated officer’s emotion has hazed his intellect. The rules of engagement for any armed forces set up under constitutional glare must conform to the rights and privileges enshrined therein including sobriety to avoid being bracketed with renegade militias.

Seema Sengupta

Seema Sengupta is a journalist based in Kolkata, India and a Contributing Writer for The Korea Times, Seoul. Her articles have been published by Asia Times Online, South China Morning Post, The Bengal Post and other newspapers. Recipient of National Award for Excellence in appreciation of excellent services rendered in the field of Freelance Journalism, 1999. She can be reached at [email protected]

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