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Hello, Bastar: The Story of Maoism in India

March 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 165

Bastar is a district in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh with nothing extraordinary about it. Like many ordinary districts in India, it is not talked about at all in the political discourse of this country, much less the world. No wonder, most of us haven't heard of it, even though the movement that Bastar is being associated with, has been called the "greatest internal security threat" facing the nation, by the Prime Minister himself. Thankfully, there are a few journalists who have not only gotten acquainted but have, in fact, become so intimate with this neglected stretch of land that they act as the much needed medium to carry the desperate voice of its people to the world outside. Rahul Pandita, author of 'Hello, Bastar', is one of those few.

The single most potent factor behind the credibility of the many intense stories that make up this piece of non-fiction is that Rahul has spent years investigating this violent, underground and widespread phenomenon. He has followed the Naxal movement closely and travelled through the heart of Naxalite territory, talking to passionate grass-root activists, veteran ideologues, 'liberated' farm workers and powerful leaders of the movement. The book is made up of heroic tales of individuals who found in Naxalism, the answer to the woes of their miserable lives in modern India. Almost like a Kanti Shah movie, the book is full of stories of gross injustice faced by dalits and landless farmers at the hands of rich upper caste landlords. Gruesome murders, beastly rapes and vengeful counter-strikes abound throughout the narrative.

There is also enough space given to introducing the reader to the Maoist school of thought and its evolution in the political scene of this country. The reader is also informed that recruits not only come from among the exploited classes but also from more affluent backgrounds, whose only motivation to adopt the hard life of a Naxalite 'comrade' is the high ideals associated with it. The most pertinent chapter for most readers, I assume, would be the one titled 'The Urban Agenda'. As the name suggests, this part of the book is devoted to detailing the ultimate goal of the Naxalites, viz taking over the cities. By virtue of being over-populated economic centres, Indian cities have a huge problem of unemployment and poverty and could turn out to be major recruitment grounds for the people's war against a sold out government. As the author concludes the chapter, "[Liberating Gurgaon] may be a far cry but not as far as it sounds to the government."

The book is not without its share of flaws. The flow of its narrative from one chapter to the next appears disrupted on many occasions. There are myriads of sub-plots and isolated events that sometimes tend to lose touch with the wider context. The author makes no attempt to hide his own sympathy to the Naxal cause but much is left desired in terms of considering alternative points of view. Surely, there is a flip side to the Naxal coin as well, which, if given enough space by the author, would lend the book even more authority and balance. Notwithstanding the above hitches, the book is a riveting read for anyone interested in finding out more about the Naxal movement, a sad outcome of India's feudal past and its schizophrenic present.

Writing about an issue as complex as this needs tremendous effort, which the author has clearly put in. For all its shortcomings, the book is bold enough to implicitly declare that our economy is built on the graveyard of the poor masses of this country and that it needs reforms, but in a radically different, if not contrary, spirit than the prevalent. A compelling story told in a sincere tone, it is priced at Rs. 250, which incidentally, is more than the total monthly income of many landless farmers in India. Certainly worth a read!

Source: EzineArticles
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