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The Gangs Issue

In The Name Of Mao

If you're going just by natural resources, Chhattisgarh is India's richest state. Hardwoods like teak and saal come from here, and there are huge supplies of steel, bauxite, diamonds, and gold.
October 1, 2006, 12:00am

Photos by the Author

Gadar is a loud and impassioned, long-winded man. When I met him he immediately began trotting out the history of the movement, beginning with that uprising in Bengal, and then came to the communist rhetoric. After a few minutes I got a word in: “It’s too dense. What is the basic Maoist ideology? Tell me it like I’m a five-year-old kid.” He said, “The problem is the uneven economic development of this country. The entire political-social-cultural economics and the sovereignty of this country have gone into hands of the World Bank through American imperialism. You see, the philosophy of imperialism is the market. Its God is profit, and its method is cheap labor. To achieve this they have taken triangular attack: Cultural inundation! Economic inundation! Political inundation!—and so it is that our entire economy has been replaced by Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola! Drinks you can take anywhere in the world. It used to be you could take nimbu water, lime water, sugarcane juice, coconut water. Buttermilk! Where once there was an option in our country, today one drink of imperialists is replacing four. This is the result of the dominant economy of the World Bank.” OK. But what are Naxalites doing in the forests? “Land to the tiller has not been solved. Health education and basic needs of people have not been fulfilled. America is a police state—dependant only on the army. They produce bombs. They only produce the weapons.” He said a lot more stuff like that, and as happens with Maoists, you start to zone out. Then he started to enthuse about our upcoming joint entrance into the jungles of Dantewada. He reached a fever pitch of Mao rhetoric and I stopped taking notes. At the end I had to say something else, so I just muttered, “So you want a democracy without capitalism?” He said, “If we were together at this moment, I would recite an impromptu poem out of joy.” I still don’t know what the fuck he was talking about. The next few days were spent talking to everyone even remotely linked to the Naxalites. I was told they were rapists. I was told it was a lie and it was the police who raped. I was told that the police force you to help them and then the Naxalites punish you severely for doing so, and vice versa. Eventually I found myself at a Naxalite camp. When I met the commander there he was very skeptical of my intentions. He asked me who else I’d talked to at that point, and I rattled off the list: “G.P. Singh, John Lankumar, O.P. Rhator, Ramesh Nayyar, the home minister, Dr. Ajai Sahni of the Southeast Asian terrorism watch group, the Naxalites’ lawyer and representative in the 2004 peace talks, the director general of jails, Gadar, countless journalists, a wedding of anti-Naxalite bandits in Bihar, K.P.S. Gill, Mr. Narayan of the—” “What did K.P.S. Gill say?” He had sat up. He cocked his head. “He said Naxalites are murderers. He said they cut off the hands of policemen, they kill poor people, they are nothing but bandits. He spoke generally. He thinks the movement is doomed to fail because it is founded on an illogical premise.” There is not a good word for what he had in his eyes. Whatever it was, it was more than smart or educated or certain—it was resolve so heavy he did not in any way need to make it apparent. I was like a schoolgirl swooning. (Later I found out what the mysterious quality in his eyes was: He was in mourning for his leader and closest friend, who had been murdered several days before.) He took my number and said he would call. I asked if there wasn’t any way we could speak for 15 minutes now. There wasn’t. His call didn’t come. And five days later, the Naxalites in his district killed seven tribals—slicing open their stomachs and slitting their throats—and kidnapped twenty-five. That was the closest I came to understanding. There were more jungle meetings—there were more stories—there was endless shit. There was a day of strange sleep on a string bed in the hut of two tribals before I was pedaled by a 13-year-old over half a mile of dirt road to a spot 15 feet from a Naxalite squad, only to be sent back. And there was, finally, a meeting with one of the seven members of the Coordinating Committee. Arranged by a senior journalist in India, it took place in a home in the city of Ranchi. Approaching the home, having waited eight days, led by the boy through crowded back alleys, I felt like I was about to meet Colonel Kurtz. But it was just a Naxalite boy of 29. He was soft and smooth-skinned. He was full of smiles. After listening to his programmed talk about the downtrodden for one half of our allotted hour, I interrupted. I said, “Yes, but tell me, what do the Naxalites actually do?” It took some time to make my question clear to the translator, but when he grasped it, he turned to the commander, Sagar, and put it to him. Sagar’s eyes lit up. He spoke with animation and enthusiasm for close to ten minutes, punctuating his thoughts with gestures, speaking in a lively tone and with an engaged alternation in pitch. And then the translator turned to me, and he began: “In 1967, in the region of Naxalbari, there was a spontaneous uprising…” ANGELA CORNING