‘Hello, Bastar’ by Rahul Pandita – A Review

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

As soon as the TV screen blared that the Academy Awards for the best screenplay goes to the film Spotlight, and when there was adulation and praises for the work of Journalists and how important they are for the society, my mind raced up to remember none other than our own Rahul Pandita and Samanth Subramaniam. Ironical it is, I concede, that an elite west world’s award function for entertainers should make me remember these journalists whose works usually revolve around the war zones, downtrodden, government and religious oppression, and almost all those topics which do not get covered in the cacophony of the mainstream ‘The Nation wants to know’ media.

Rahul Pandita is one those rare journalists who is courageous enough to plunge down to the ground level reality and brings us an honest account of what happens to that part of India which we have comfortably failed to notice. I greatly loved his Our moon has Blood Clots because it brought me closer to Kashmir without making it appear so bloody. It shook me. Made me go angry, yet brought me sanity. This work, Hello Bastar, is carefully written and well researched. It took away some sleep, gave me tremors, and in the end, exposed me to the true colors of my country.

Readings on Maoists or Naxalites is not completely new to me. I have always been following and reading magazines and newspapers which throw regular updates on what happens in the Red Corridor. Political discourses never go without mentioning the armed tension which happens at the very centre of India. Each and every discussion on how important Economic development to India always adds that the failure to uplift our masses economically would certainly contribute to more agitation, violence and anger. Having said that, Hello Bastar brings a new perspective by providing the almost humane side and necessity of the revolution. It begins with a cursory history of what prompted theComrades to take up arms. It adds an authentic why, what and how.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

When India got Independence, the then government ushered in great many land reforms that abolished the Zamindari system. Ambedkarwas one of the loudest voices who proposed to bring a complete reform in the land laws. Although the letters of the law was complied, the ground level remained unchanged. The Congress party has to be blamed for it once again. It greatly depended on the Zamindars and land owners for funding and also for party cadre mobilization (an important reason for why the agricultural income still remains beyond the purview of taxation in India). Since, our economy remained close for a long time and failed to provide an alternative means of employment, the labourers and downtrodden continued to work under the land owners, all for a pitiance. The labourers and workers were made to work for long hours without a decent pay. Much worse, their women were raped; lands confiscated; and their produce were bought for a paltry sum. To add to their woes, the government officials contributed to another form of oppression.

For almost any oppression by those in power, there is always an equal reaction from the masses. Those in power are always too blind to realize it. History always repeats as a farce with a smirk. The Maoists brought an organized force to the downtrodden. They mobilized them. Brought them awareness. They told them that they are not alone and their fate doesn’t has to be rescinded to hopelessness. As Rahul Pandita rightly says, it brought them an identity. A voice.

Take away the veneer of revolution, all the people want is a decent life with the basic needs met. They need their land and home untouched. All they require is the basic education , health care and a decent employment with a decent pay (Read As primary education, primary health care and a minimum wage employment). The Maoists are filling the void which is created by the state. The enemy of the Indian state, in most cases, is the Indian state itself. It is quite astonishing to read how organized and planned the Maoists work underground. They have their own Constitution, hierarchy of powers and a planned strategy. They bring education and assures the tribals a safety net from the oppression of the government officials. To be precise, they connect the tribals to civilization.

There had been talks between Maoists and the State which invaribly failed. Consider this: The CM Chandra Babu Naidu pooh-poohed the sane suggestion of a bureaucrat to redistribute land to the poor, because he just cannot irk his own friends who hold more than thousand acres of land. And, every tactics of the government to quell down is just plainly naive without understanding the needs and psyche of those who rebel.

I do not want to blame the State alone for the violence unleashed. The Maoists are equally brutal. Rahul Pandita fails to cover this part (another a reason why some critics has considered that this book is lopsided) and he even goes on to justify the violence on the part of the Maoists. To know this part of the truth I am quoting the words of the famous historian Ramachandra Guha,

“I knew beforehand that the Maoists were no Gandhians, but it took a conversation with a Muria tribal to see them in clearer light. This man, a first-generation graduate and former school-teacher who had been rendered homeless by the civil war, explained to me how behind the macho image of an armed revolutionary lay a man who lacked any moral courage whatsoever. His words ring in my ears still—he said, in Hindi, “Naxaliyon ko himmat nahin hai ki woh hathiyaaron ko gaon ke bahar chhod ke hamare beech mein aake behas karein (the Naxalites do not have the guts to leave their weapons outside our village and then come and have a discussion with us).”

Despite his machismo and certitude, the Maoist was actually so fearful of his own self that he dared not engage in democratic debate—even with poor and unarmed villagers. If he really had confidence in his beliefs, why would he seek in the first instance to enforce them at the point of a gun?”

Also, there have been instances of attacks by Maoists on schools, panchayat leaders (who are good and work for the community), and in one case, they have even blowed a bus with civilians in it. None of this is addressed by the author.

Yet, I can honestly say that Rahul Pandita has made every effort to give a complete picture of the red comrades. His portrait of Anuradha Gandy is heart rendering. That he has reached almost every segment of the Maoism is commendable. The afterword by Kobad Ghandy brought out how well-read and well-informed the Maoists leaders are than our own elected leaders of democracy. Have the state learnt anything from the armed rising? The answer must in negative. The present government has only made stern in its enforcements, materially and in human resource, to Salva Judum. And, worse, it continues to oppress the tribals and their rights silently (This one incident is just an example: Dated February 18, 2016.http://www.business-standard.com/arti… ).

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you**.

It is quite easy to erase a particular tribe or class. History has evidences for it, especially when the State is strong and the democracy remains delusional. But, it also shows, that one can never obliterate an idea. It always and always sprouts again.

When the land which gave birth to Mao has itself forsaked him, it is better for the comrades to move to the democratic participation. The first step should be from the government. It is said that Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The whole issues and threats of what plagues both State and the Maoists should be brought to light for an open discussion. It should be brought for a sane discussion among the masses without vindicating or vilifying any party. This book does that. And, it is in this respect, it is very important.

Highly Recommended!



** The poem is titled ‘Democracy’ and written by Langston Hughes


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