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Anchoring a troubled nation


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INDIAN Maoists said they got a key tormentor in a well-planned ambush in Chhattisgarh on Saturday, or you could agree with the TV anchors that the rebels carried out the cowardly murder of 28 men from a convoy of 20 cars belonging to state-level leaders of the Congress party.

The attack is thought to have been carried out mainly by women guerrillas in revenge for what the Maoists and independent analysts say have been horrific incidents of rape and murder carried out periodically by Mahendra Karma, founder of the dreaded state-backed Salwa Judum militia. He was killed in the ambush.

To have an approximately cogent picture of the incident you have to understand the worldview of the TV anchors that break the news and interpret it on a daily basis in India.

To balance their narrative you could watch Sanjay Kak’s new documentary that gives a rare glimpse of life in the Chhattisgarh forests where a ragtag army of poorly armed but highly motivated tribespeople have dug in for a long-drawn battle for sovereignty and dignity.

Images of young men and women in military uniform, but also often wearing bathroom slippers and sarongs, with an archaic gun slung casually on their shoulders as they dance and sing to tribal rhythms offers an untapped visual of India’s “biggest internal security threat”.

I recommend the documentary, Red Ant Dream, to all TV anchors and their wider audiences for an informed assessment of the current state of Maoism in India.

But this is not how television channels and the deep state whose views they mostly echo would want you to understand or see India’s Maoists.

The demeanour of the anchors reminds me of a movie I watched in 1960. “Main Hindustan hoon [I am India]”, bellows the baritone voice as the map of India slowly rises from its horizontal stupor to light up the screen. That’s how the all-time classic Mughal-i-Azam began to tell its riveting story — a splendorous musical replete with close-to-authentic costumes, great acting and sustained myth-making.

Of late, the ‘I am India’ syndrome has afflicted successful and aspiring TV anchors but the one who takes the cake is he who daily barks out orders to the army chief and to the prime minister, or to a Shakespearean mob, to chop a few Pakistani heads in revenge for a badly reported border incident or who does a bit of sabre-rattling with Russian-built missiles that target China.

When the border saga tends to drag somewhat the anchor, as do his rival colleagues, quickly conjures up an Indian quarry. Hang the rapists in a public square, put suspected Muslim terrorists before a kangaroo court.

The other day the bespectacled anchor was livid, furious. When that happens, and it must happen frequently enough to sustain the TRP ratings that intertwine with TV-induced nationalist fervour, you can feel the Bengali-accented English giving way to heavier Bengali-accented English.

The expressive Kathakali demeanour of the anchor begins to resemble Emperor Akbar in rage. “I am India. And there will be bloodletting.” Trusted analysts then go into a chorus of yelling and screaming to justify the state’s arriving retribution

A less angry explanation for Saturday’s incident could be found in India’s recent history. There are Maoists and Maoists. After initially opposing them in Nepal, India is currently engaging with them there. In Iran, the powerful Maoists got the better of the mullahs for a long time, unlike their pro-Soviet Tudeh comrades who were quickly decimated after the Islamic Revolution.

The Iranian Maoist attacks on Khomeini’s Islamic state would make their Indian counterparts look like novices. In one instance, they blew up parliament with the prime minister and his cabinet buried in it. The West applauded and we can safely assume even helped them. They became the CIA’s eye in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Clearly, Maoism is not the solution to India’s myriad problems with rapidly depleting social justice. Nor does the official argument for “development” offer real hope to defeat them because colonialism also developed India’s infrastructure, laid railway lines, set up schools. The question is the same as then: what is the state’s motive?

The current war in Chhattisgarh is a two-way street of vendetta and brutality in which the state and the Maoists are complicit, with the state bearing the greater responsibility to end the cycle of violence peacefully. The Maoists deserve to be censured unequivocally for the death of too many innocent people on Saturday. But it is dishonest to characterise their war as a battle between democracy and bloody-minded rebels. Which democracy, the Maoists asked?

Remember that Mao Zedong died in September 1976 at about the time when Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule was in full cry over India. If we bear this seemingly unrelated fact in mind we can at least verify again, if any verification is needed after the traumatic events of 20th-century Europe, that authoritarianism afflicts socialist and capitalist societies alike.

When the emergency was lifted in India in 1977, it left behind the pulsating idea that dictatorship could be honed into statecraft more quietly and insidiously than Mrs Gandhi did.

India’s drift from its promise of liberal democracy towards a repressive police state is a work in progress in which regional authoritarian tendencies are competing with a federal penchant for militarist solutions.

The disillusionment of Faiz Ahmed Faiz with a situation in which it could be deemed criminal to walk with your head held high, applies just as nicely to many parts of India today.

Senior lawyer Shanti Bhushan recently described the current criminal justice system as a notch worse than the one run by colonialism. There was no TV channel to note his remarkable observation.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Comments (15) Closed

Susan May 30, 2013 03:40am
Mr Naqvi, While your article is about more than TV anchors and 24/7 live television, I am grateful that you are saying it as it is: the horrible jingoism and nationalistic shouting that these TV anchors indulge in. I sometimes wonder which reality they live in. And ofcourse Arnab Goswami and his cronies are the worst. They contribute immensely to whipping up mindless reactions and responses instead of a constructive reflective discussion. Terrible, terrible with regard to leadership. Thank you for saying it as it is. The Maoist/state confrontation is equally destructive and we know well that the use of force and authority isnt the solution.
Job May 30, 2013 04:30am
Cheap shots, distortion of facts, outright lies, this what Jawed Naqvi's columns are about and this one is no exception.
viv May 30, 2013 04:45am
Maoists or Naxalites denounced democracy since 1960.They are enemy of democracy globally and never resorted to peacefull or non violent means.Maoists killed scores of poor civilian as well as tribals in last 40 years.They are running extortion and kidnapping racket in affected areas.Then why Mr. Naqvi wants us to not "characterise their war as a battle between democracy and bloody-minded rebels".A well-expected article from an anti-Indian and leftist.
Sauron May 30, 2013 05:53am
An insightful observation and true in many aspects.(Hope this is published in indian newspapers as well).
hari May 30, 2013 09:38am
useless article by useless writer.
ASH May 30, 2013 11:50am
Weaving, is the simple process of entwining multiple sets of yarn to create patterns and designs. The wrong ingredients or the incorrect technique can create a frame which is abhorrent and distasteful. This is an analogy to the author
P.Mishra May 30, 2013 12:23pm
Sorry to say, I could not understand what the author wants to bring forth.
Mishra May 30, 2013 01:07pm
Will your father if he can't feed you?
Khaksar May 30, 2013 08:55pm
Totally agree!! (Except for the part about Russian made missiles : Journalism rests on facts)
Irrfaan Akhtaar May 30, 2013 03:12pm
Mr. Jawed Naqvi should surrender his indian citizenship and move to pakistan
Nero May 30, 2013 03:44pm
Dear Author: Bit too much of rambling. But agree with the key point. Almost anyone who has travelled to central and eastern India knows that Maoism didn't grow on trees. It was a fringe movement for long time, since late 1950s, but government actions (and inaction) provided the fodder which this violent ideology needed. Fact of the matter is if quarter of the country is still "ruled" through colonial era forest and land acts (e.g. forest act 1978), inhabitants of these forests are effectively "colonized" since 1800s. Add to it constant kicking around by thekedaars, patwaaris, police and mining leases. No wonder most young tribals seeks refuge with Maoism. There is no option but to repeal colonial laws and create real democracy. But offcourse, elite sitting in cities would rather kill them all and grab the forests for mining, while urban middle class is too mis/ill informed to do anything about it.
anupam May 30, 2013 07:39pm
i have been reading Jawed Naqvi's articles regularly..i must admit that he raises relevant topics..or areas of problems in India..however he then gets carried and paints a picture that represents India as very close to Nazi by the time i am towards the end of the article, i already know what he is leading to.. he could be a decent journalist if he refrains from hyperbole..
Vijay K May 30, 2013 09:41pm
He starts with the insurgency , moves on to Mughal-i-Azam and ends with Indira Gandhi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz with a kathakali thrown in for entertainment. Im not sure where hes coming from or where hes going. Ramblings of a confused mind.
anurag May 31, 2013 02:04am
Every thing you see , read or feel about India...........opposite is always True. Dr.Manmohan Singh Prime Minister of India
Balaji May 31, 2013 02:57am
Useless article and I don't know where it starts and ends.. and what he wants to say other than to discredit India as whole.