Friday, September 02, 2011

Where State Fails Naxalism Succeeds – Review of "Hello Bastar"

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Couple of years back, I happened to listen to a talk by historian Ramachandra Guha and in that talk he said that major crisis the independent India is facing in this decade is the rise of Maoist movement in major parts of Central India. His speech aroused my interest in naxal movements in India and I started reading more to understand the Maoist movement. When I came to know that Blogadda was giving out the book “Hello Bastar” by Rahul Pandita for review I don’t have to think twice – I grabbed the copy at once – here is a chance for me to enhance my knowledge of naxalite movement in India and write a review. I am very much impressed by this book after reading it.
The front cover of the book has a photo of a young naxalite with a gun in hand and it reminded me of the cover of the book “A Long Way Gone – Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah. Similarities between this book and Hello Bastar don’t end there – the book by Beah talks about exploitation of poor and their sufferings in Africa and how they organized against those atrocities while the book by Rahul Pandita takes us through the exploitation of poor in India by the state and how with the help of Maoists trying to win their right to existence. 
The fasting of Anna Hazare became a huge hit with middle class of India coming out in large numbers to support the cause of abolishing corruption. Why were Anna Hazare and his team able to get so much support? The common man of India especially the urban middle class was fed up of corruption and seen in Anna a savior who is sincerely fighting to end corruption. If urban middle class is dejected with corruption, the poor and tribals of India are dejected by the exploitation of them by the government and upper caste people. These poor people are looking upon Maoists as their Anna Hazare. Rahul Pandita writes “Void created by the state has been filled by the Maoists.” 
“Hello Bastar” has nine chapters, a postscript and an afterword by Kobad Ghandy, one of the senior most Naxal leaders of India, who is now in Tihar Jail. This book was written after Rahul Pandita has spent considerable amount of time with the naxals and understanding their life and thoughts. So this gives a feel of an insider who has knowledge of the working of naxal movement writing this book even though Rahul Pandita is not part of the Naxal movement as such.
Hello Bastar starts with a narration of how Kobad Ghandy on 26th September 2009 was arrested in Delhi after his trusted human courier betrayed him and let police know the whereabouts of Ghandy. The book ends with an afterword by Kobad where he remembers his wife, Anuradha Ghandy, another Naxal leader whose sole aim in life was to bring the poor people out of exploitation. The first chapter also discusses the Maoist killing of 75 CRPF personal in Chattisgarh on 6th April 2010 and other major unrest that happened during the last two years. Rahul Pandita concludes “India’s heartland has become new Kashmir
Next six chapters narrate the history of Naxalism in India. A mass movement of farmers in Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967 under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar started the Naxal movement in India. Even though naxals were defeated by the government after 72 days of its start, the seeds of “Naxalism” were sown and Rahul Pandita addresses in this book how this seed has grown into a big tree that has spread over so many states in India.
The chapter “Return of Spring Thunder” examines how the naxals, learning from their earlier defeats and mistakes started building an organizational structure that can compete with any state run military unit. By mid-seventies the Maoist movement became so popular that it drew even affluent students from so many colleges in India. The Maoist slowly started tasting victory when they forced the government to agree to their demands. In the chapter “Hello, Bastar” Rahul Pandita describes how the guerilla zone and rear zone was set up in forests of Andra Pradesh and Madya Pradesh. Rahul Pandita also highlights the various “wars” fought by the Maoist against the state, government contractors, forest officials, landlords etc after the organizational setup came into place. 
“Andra to Abujhmaad” chapter looks into the history of Maoist movement from mid-eighties till the end of first decade of 21st century. How the political parties used tribals and poor people as vote back ignoring them time and again after elections, state’s use of brutal force to kill Maoists and poor tribals and the ups and downs of tribal movement are all there in this chapter. A detailed narration of Maoist organizational structure, how they are funded, how they procure weapons and the prominent leaders and their ideologues is also given. Such a detailed narration that helps the reader understand how Maoist work can only be given by someone who has intimate knowledge of Naxal movement and Rahul Pandita proves that he has that intimate knowledge with this crisp narration. 
So much of history – in the next chapter “The Guerillas, The Republic”, Rahul Pandita talks about what he saw in the naxal camps he visited – life of a guerilla, what weapons he carries, what are his/her daily routines, about the marriage practices, their education and medical system etc. I felt this was the most entertaining chapter of the whole book. 
In the chapter “The Rebel”, Rahul Pandita enlighten us about Anuradha Shanbag - who later became Anuradha Ghandy after her marriage to Kobad Ghandy – how she got attracted to Naxal movement, her relationship with Kobad, her life as a Naxal, her dedication to the cause of the poor, her last days and more. A truly touching chapter indeed. 
I always thought that Naxalism is a rural phenomena happening in some remote village. After reading the chapter “Urban Agenda” I understood how ill informed I was. Naxals have penetrated into urban areas as much as rural areas. Rahul explores in detail the agenda of Naxalites in the urban context. 
It is said that a picture is worth thousand words. This book has about 17 color photos that depict the life of a naxal deep inside the forest. This photos are another golden feather that makes this book a must read book of anyone interested in learning about the Naxal movement in India. 
I am happy that I read a great book that let me understand the inside story of the current Maoist movement in India. Thanks to Blogadda for sending a signed copy of this book and hoping that I will get more opportunities to review books with you.
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

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