Amongst The Believers

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FOUR DAYS after one of India’s most deadly Naxal attacks, we received an anonymous call. It was an invite from the Naxals. A flight to Raipur, a bus into the interiors of Dantewada, a phone-call directing us to a guest house, and then a long journey into invisible India.

It was the morning of April 14. We — TEHELKA and five other journalists — arrived at the edge of a forest. A 30-km walk began. Eight hours later, a surprise awaited us — the mastermind himself, Ramanna alias Ravula Srinivas, the chief planner of the Dantewada attack and secretary of the south Bastar regional committee of the CPI(Maoist). The son of farm labour in Andhra Pradesh, Ramanna, 44, joined the Radical Youth League after school. He migrated to Chhattisgarh 30 years ago, and hasn’t seen his family since. Accompanying him was Ganesh Ueike, 48, the party’s political strategist, a BSc from OsmaniaUniversity, fluent in English.

Over the next 36 hours, many things would be revealed. Ecstatic at having killed the “largest number of security forces in one day”, Ramanna would contradict government claims in broken Hindi. It was the CRPF who fired first. There weren’t 1,000 Maoists; more like 300. The Naxals had spotted CRPF jawans carrying supplies between camps, and tracked them for three days till their own cadre reached a substantial number. At 5.20 am on April 6, two groups of Naxals surrounded the CRPF company, forcing them into a wide field adjacent to the road, where a third group of Naxals struck.

Over the next 36 hours, many things would become evident. There would be talk of violence, meticulous strategy, intense militarisation, cartridges stolen from the police, IED experts explaining how to defuse pressure bombs with syringes. There would be rickety huts, malnourished children, near-empty wells, crushing poverty, clay pots, dry rice, filthy drinking water. There would be a parched lake; all the water is diverted to Essar’s steel projects, Ramanna would say. That would become one the reasons for the massacre, along with the 96 MoUs the Chhattisgarh government signed with multinational mining companies, and a list of 115 Adivasis killed by the State during Operation Green Hunt.

There would be Geeta, our guide through the dense jungle. A shy tribal woman in a faded sari, she would surprise us later by disappearing into a mud hut and emerging seconds later, dressed in battle gear. It is this shifting kaleidoscope that would mark much of our journey. There would be men and women who would remind you insistently of others: take their guns and uniforms away and they could be migrant construction workers living in a shanty, or the faceless poor anywhere in India. There would be children running down hillocks with bows and arrows. Later we would learn they formed the party’s Balak Sangathan — little spies who help in “identifying enemies of the village”.

Over the next 36 hours, we would be immersed in a world that is fragile, combustible, as if it were the tip of something about to explode. On the evening of April 14, we arrived at our destination — thatched roofs, idle cattle and two commanders brandishing AK-47s. Hours of conversation followed. Factoids about India’s defence budget, land policy. Questions about a media and government “sold to corporates, IPL and the West”. Assertions that violence was the only way to restore a just, equal State. We returned from the jungles of Dantewada, from one victor’s den, to another preparing for victory. Dogged by all the old questions. How can this war be stopped? How can the journey to a just, equal State begin?

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Interview with Ramanna, mastermind of the April 6 massacre that killed 76 CRPF jawans

What was the purpose of killing 76 CPRF jawans? Most of them were from poor families in Bihar and UP.
They were fighting on behalf of state. If they had given up their weapons, we would not have harmed them. In fact, we have letters from mothers of some of those killed, who sympathise with us. They understand that we are fighting for people’s cause.

Where are these mothers?
I cannot tell you. If the government found out, they will harass them. Their sons are already dead; the government will also stop their pension.

But what was the aim of the attack?
The attack was in retaliation to a number of issues. First being Operation Green Hunt. The Home Minister may say there is no such operation but 115 innocent adivasis have been killed since August last year. For eight months, arm forces have been torturing villagers across Bastar and Dantewada. Even our leaders in various parts of the country have been arrested and killed in false encounter. Just recently on March 11, Sakha Rapparao and Kunda Reddy were arrested in Pune and Chennai. Even in UP and Bihar, member of central committee have been caught and killed in cold blood. Thirdly, the Raman Singh government has signed 105 MoUs with various multinational companies for mining. In Beladila hill region alone, 96 MoUs have been signed. They are using water from the local water bodies for mining purposes. There is no water for drinking and for cattle.

Hasn’t the Dantewada massacre alienated the people who initially sympathised with your cause? You want an armed revolution, over throwing the Indian state.
You tell me something. Why is the Indian government testing weapons like Brahmos and other missiles? Why is Rs 10,000 crore allotted to defense budget? They are bringing in new weapon everyday. You are a democracy running on Gandhian philosophy, then why are you taking up arms? We have taken up arms for common man’s rights. Our struggle is to defend the rights of the adivasis. If we do not pick up the guns, we will not get our rights. There are lots of people who have no connection with our Maoist politics, yet they sympathise with us. They are aware of our pro-people stand. Intellectuals realise the injustice that is going on, they are the true patriots.

Aren’t you a militant force, which is anti-development? Someone even call you terrorists.
They are not aware about our cause. The media has sold itself to the government. So it shows what the government wants it to show. The corporate world has captured the electronic media. They are imperialistic and support foreign principles and thoughts. Media today is meant for 3 C and 1 S – Crime, Cricket and Cinema, and Sex. Mainstream media is against the people. From the day Manmohan Singh declared that Maoist are the single biggest threats to India, the media has gone overdrive with its propaganda. They say Naxals are terrorists, they get fund from foreign organisation. Anyone who fight their right, are branded as terrorist be it in Kashmir or North East. They spread false propaganda like we are involved with drug mafia and brown sugar smuggling.

There are reports that you are cultivating opium…
This is pure propaganda. This is like that saying — give the dog a bad name and hang him. We are against opium cultivation. We have even burnt the opium crops and have even punished the cultivators. Our workers warns them of social boycott if they continue growing opium. But unfortunately, the media doesn’t publish all these information. Instead they say we are growing opium.

But does free press any role in your setup? We dont see such a thing in China.
Is there a free press now? Right to Information Act is rubbish, you cannot even ask how much are you being paid under NREGA. Press plays an important role in society. It should have a people oriented role. It should report on the drawbacks of the society. It needs to play a positive role in human resource development. Instead the media today is running after ratings and spread negativity through its portal of crime and culture.

There is allegation that you take money from NREGA scheme, which is meant for people below poverty line.
This is another propaganda. NREGA is nothing but a source of funding for the ruling party, Congress cadres and the bureaucracy. Not for us. We have opposed NREGA.

In 2001, you didnt allow the census to take place, would you this time? 
The government has an ulterior motive. Through census, they want to keep eyes on the naxals and suppress the Maoist movement. It is a strategy of their guerilla war. Our Jantana Sarkar conducts census every year in the villages, where death and birth records are maintained.

Your violence has also chased away a lot of people from the Dantewada and Bastar.
This is completly false allegation. People from Bastar usually go out to work in the month of January and return by April. Instead around 20,000 people have migrated to Andhra (Pradesh) due to of Salwa Judum’s atrocities.

But how can you justify destruction of schools? Your actions are leaving an entire generation illiterate.
I have a simple question: how many gurujis have actually been teaching in these schools? Did the government ever try to find out – why in 63 years of independence only 30 percent of people are literate in this region? Instead, the government is using educational institutes to house para military forces, who are torturing and killing innocent Adivasis.

If you keep destroying schools like this, ordinary adivasis will suffer…
See, we do not harm any teacher who are from this region. The government is trying to spread false information that we are against schools and hospitals. We will not stop any school or hospital where genuine work is going on. Instead we have regular interaction with the teachers, health workers and Auxiliary Nurse Midwifes (ANMs) to ensure proper functioning of such facilities. We have also opened alternative schools. Now the government is inviting missionaries and corporate NGOs to run schools here. They teach Adivasis to become government’s slave. We will not allow this. RSS had a major role to play in the creation of Salwa Judum. And now government has itself acknowledged that Salwa Judum is a failure.

Manmohan Singh Government has again and again offered to talk with Maoist, provided you stop violence…
Manmohan Singh is the main traitor of the people. He is the reason for the misery that has come on our country like unemployment and poverty. He is the agent of western imperialism and multinationals like Tata and Essar. He is responsible for two-lakh farmer suicides. He has no connection with the common people. Three people – Sonia Gandhi, Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh are responsible for the miseries of the people.

But Rahul Gandhi tried to reach out. He visited Bastar and said all the right thing.
He is also similar. His discovery of India is a completely rubbish. He is anti-people. Having lunch at a Dalit’s house means nothing. The media has uselessly hyped the whole event. This is an insult to the common sense of ordinary people.

We have a constitution that is considered ideal by many. Every citizen has been given equal rights in it. Don’t you think present system can address your problem? 
Mainstream politicians are all corrupt. They take money from corporate.

Even communist politicians?
There is no difference. You should visit Bengal to find out. How did a 5-star hotel come up in Lalgarh? Who has shares in the potato cultivation in the villages? There is complete hooliganism of the ruling class. Everybody from Lalu Yadav to Nitish Kumar to Chandrababu Naidu to Karunanidhi, every body is the same.

But in Bengal, dont you have collaboration with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinimool Congress?
There is nothing. If that was the case, why would Mamata Banerjee support Operation Green Hunt?

The reason you are finding support from Adivasis is because you have taken up their cause. They may not be necessarily interested in your ideological stand.
It is wrong to divide the ideology from the cause. People like Medha Patkar fought for NarmadaValley; there are thousands of farmers who are fighting against the imperialist policies of the government like SEZ, but are they being successful? Politics is very important. Just protesting and going to jail will not help. Until and unless you can control the government, nothing would happen. You need to have the resources in your own hand. Our struggle is to create a new democracy as an alternative to the Indian democracy. The multi-party democracy is a charade, what we need is a people’s democracy.

But coming back to the question of talk. Are you ready to talk with the government? 
It will depend on what the government has to offer. Armed struggle for our rights will continue.

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