Monday, March 17, 2008

Representing Nayagarh

G N Saibaba
MORE than the event it is often the representation of the event that leaves an impression on the human mind. And when it is a political movement based on Maoist ideology it becomes the battle for the hearts and minds. Media representation of the synchronised attacks carried out by the CPI (Maoist) on police stations and armoury at Nayagarh in Orissa, 85 km from Bhubaneswar, becomes important in this context. How the image got imprinted in the opinion of the civil society was for everyone to see.As has been reported, the attack was carried out simultaneously in Nayagarh District on the armoury, town police station, police training school and the police stations at Daspalla, and Nuagaon, the police outposts at Galeri and Mahipur. Media quoted government authorities as saying arms to the tune of thousands, lakhs of rounds of ammunition as being taken by the Maoists. These simultaneous attacks were spread over about 75 km in the districts of Nayagarh, Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada, and Kandhamal. In the ensuing gun battle 13 police personnel and two others were killed. Nine police personnel were injured.The media reported this as yet another story of the inability of the state to match the strike power of the Maoists. Words strategically deployed to name the act, the ethics or the politics that defined the act, finally became the act itself. Both the print and electronic media gave countrywide coverage of the incident for over a week with contradictory figures of casualities on both sides, the quantity of arms, ammunition carried away by the Maoists. It also reported the alleged brutality of the Maoists on the police.No one asked as to the need for the state to have such a huge stockpile of sophisticated arms in the remotest villages in Nayagarh where some of the poorest live. From whom or where was the threat? There is another story to which the media turns a blind eye. Orissa is one of the richest states in India abounding in minerals, forest wealth, precious stones, etc. But it has the poorest of people unable to eke out a living, even one square meal a day. But then this hardly makes news.This is also the state where POSCO, TATA, Jindal, Mittal, Vedanta and others have made a beeline for the resources of the people, which the government euphemistically calls second-generation reforms. So then we come to the old question. Who needs such security? Such a pile-up of sophisticated arms? But then this question hardly bothers the media. This is evident from the silence on the massive built up of security forces in the area post-Nayagarh with Air Force choppers to boot. That this has terrorised villagers is for anyone to see with many fleeing fearing air raids.An independent fact-finding team headed by a former professor of Delhi University, Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty in an initial report released from Bhubaneswar, on February 24, stated that “the environment of excessive deployment of (state armed forces) creates unnecessary tension, insecurity, and fear in the day-to-day life of people.”The Orissa Government has reinforced the existing forces with four more companies of the notorious Greyhound police borrowed from Andhra Pradesh, five companies of CRPF sent by the Centre and two battalions of Orissa State Armed Police. Post-Nayagarh saw fierce gun battles on the Gasama hills bordering Kandhamal District, 50 km from Nayagarh between the police / paramilitary forces and the Maoists. Three police personnel were killed including an Assistant Commandant of the Special Operation Group.Two days later, the Chief Minister declared that in the continuing combing operations to capture the Maoists the state forces recovered 40 per cent of the weapons while killing 20 of them. But a report sent by the Joint Command Centre of the CRPF, Orissa Police and Greyhounds to the CRPF headquarters in Delhi, as cited by a section of the press, contradicts this version. It says that the arms recovered were burnt ones - made useless by the Maoists and left behind before they moved into the dense forests - perhaps those which were mainly used for training purposes by the police. The report didn’t mention any casualty on the side of the Maoists.The fact-finding team mentioned above also confirms that the “casualties on the Maoist side are not known even though there were unconfirmed reports of some killings.” Not a single Maoist body was recovered. Air Force helicopters were used for co-ordinating the ground forces resulting in a war-like situation in the region bordering Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. A section of the press was told by the intelligence that helicopters were called in to bomb the Maoists.Security personnel were moved from place to place as per the information provided through helicopter surveillance. Though the Central government maintains that the army will remain non-interventionist in the operations in the heartland of the country, after Nayagarh the IAF set up a task force headed by a senior officer to oversee search and reconnaissance. Even though in the past some army officers opposed drawing the army to fight citizens, post-Nayagarh developments come as bad omens.Police and paramilitary forces were upset about a so-called directive that the NHRC had sent to the state Government prohibiting aerial bombing. Tribals in and around Gasama hills fled their villages fearing full-scale war and harassment. Some of them now live in a temporary camp in a school near Bhanj Nagar.On Nayagarh, the Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil chose to contradict the learned Prime Minister as he refused to consider Naxalism “the single biggest security threat to the country”. The strange argument is that Naxalism is a “scourge” and so it shouldn’t be termed the ‘single biggest threat’. The logic sounds postmodern and feudal simultaneously.He argues that Naxalism is more or less contained in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and is now limited to Chhattisgarh- Orissa-Jharkhand. Therefore, the learned Prime Minister is misplaced despite his insistence for the last four years that Naxalism is the ‘biggest internal security threat’. Shivraj Patil betrays himself in the same interview as he calls for constitutional changes to get the Centre “special powers to handle Naxalism.” Further, “for the deployment of forces in the states, the Constitution has to be amended with a two-thirds majority in Parliament and backing from half of the State legislatures.”The Home Minister speaks his mind when he presses for a major constitutional amendment. Perhaps the stories that the media is silent about will answer the urgency in the need for the Home Minister to amend the Constitution for a further centralised authoritarian state. All words, ‘single largest threat', ‘constitutional amendment', ‘development’, ‘violence’ and ‘victims’ are placed in the larger narrative: that it is because of the Maoist tribals have to face the ire of the state. It successfully hides the situation prevalent in this region.A life of skewed choices for the tribals reduced to sub-humans between life and death. More and more capital investment in this region has only made their plight worse. Demonisation or romanticisation of the Maoists misleads any genuine attempt at understanding the Maoist movement. The Maoists are neither the rustic heroes nor Robin hood-like saviours of the rural populace. They are the only force responding to the aspirations of the people. They oppose the politics of destruction, destitution and death brought forth by Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation. It is this story that the media is again silent about.The author teaches at the University of Delhi

(This article appeared in The New Indian Express in South India in the OP-Ed Page as main article, Friday February 29 2008 06:50 IST)

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