Heart of Darkness, Guest Column by Sudhir Mishra

The Naxal crisis has blown up in our face because of our vanity. We have failed to see it as a valid militancy because at the heart of it is desperate poverty. Extremism is often the curse of the impecunious. While the insurgency in Kashmir can still be seen as a diplomatic tangle, or terrorism originating in the North-East as a war of identity, the Naxal crisis is naked in its despair. Unless urban India rises up to the obscenities of inequality that have underlined this militancy, it will be akin to Nero, the Roman emperor of yore, fiddling his thumbs whilst Rome was burning.

Lets start with a very simple beginning: lets pay attention to the crisis. One obvious symptom of the malaise is that the only interface between the government and the people cannot be the police. It must be development work.

One argument could be that how can development work start when extremism is so rampant. To this, I wish to say, that even in Uttar Pradesh, where I am currently, there is barely any Naxal activity, but there certainly is no developmental work happening either! We need to stop asking the question, Why is Bihar poor That is elementary. Let us instead ask ourselves, How did Bihar become poor If this crisis is about tribals losing their land because the government wants to go on a mining binge, let tribals too participant in this orgy. There must be a vision of a state, and it must be shared by all. There are some very respected names who have worked on a grassroots level with very specific areas, men with a deep knowledge of peoples grievances and unjust histories. The government should be eager to engage them. I dont see that.

I am not proposing Gandhism, even though some great Gandhians have done radical work in the worst-affected zones in the Naxal heartland, districts that have seen generations of negligence. What I am saying is that given the problems of a pluralist society such as India, if there can be a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), there is always scope for a Special Government Zone (SGZ).

That said, Naxals will have to give up violence. There is a deep irony at the heart of this bloodshed: a poor policeman posted in the middle of nowhere (nowhere for us on the fringes, geographically at least) is also choosing such a job out of desperation. He must be poor. Killing him is not the way to win a war. The war can only be won by consensus. And our urban classes, that can celebrate a Fashion Week with exotic variations of fabric, but fail to see the irony of a cotton farmer killing himself a hundred kilometres away, will have to see the grotesque injustices that still exist at the heart of their beloved nation. We should lose our vanity and come to terms with the fact that there is a desperately impecunious nation at the centre of all this. The economic liberalization has hugely benefitted the urban middle-class. Let us begin to share the spoils, as they say.

The answer to the Naxal crisis is dependent on urban Indians reaching out. They owe a great responsibility to the disadvantaged, because if a nation is to progress, it must take all people along with it. I want to be optimistic and believe that this may be possible. But as Desmond Tutu of South Africa once said, Of course there will be forgiveness. But first let there be justice.

(Published in the Mumbai Mirror on May 30th 2010)

Sudhir Mishra has been blogging on cinema at PassionForCinema, and has now begun a new blog on cinema as well as life beyond just cinema, at <a href=”http://sudhirmishra.wordpress.com”>http://sudhirmishra.wordpress.com</a>

8 thoughts on “Heart of Darkness, Guest Column by Sudhir Mishra

  1. Thank you, Sudhirji, for the nice column, and thank you, Shekhar, for sharing in this space.

    I recently read one of India’s leading industrialists tweet about the recent Maoist attacks : “Those who take innocent lives 2 prove their point against d State r murderers. They shd face d entire might of our Nation without compromise”. How about suggesting to his close-to-6-digit followers that the entire might of our nation be channeled to a more progressive cause as a proactive step, rather than a blind-sighted, reactive one? Anyone’s a buddy of this passionate guy who owns breweries and yachts and jets and antique car collections with the same passion as the Maoist insurgents’ for their daily bread? Perhaps a fireside chat over one of his brews would be an eye-opener!

    We are generous with our expressions condemning ‘innocent lives’ being taken after the fact, but do nothing about policy proposals that are being negotiated to be passed into law, that could potentially take innocent lives and act against our citizens’ interests in the future (e.g. a bill that could potentially make taxpayers liable for potential nuclear accidents on Indian soil by US corporations, beyond other irreversible human & environmental damages…remember the Bhopal/Union Carbide catastrophe? Read more links to readings at http://bit.ly/a7CAqh reflecting our & our leadership’s hypocrisy. And if it bothers you enough, please go to http://bit.ly/9YmqcW ).

    Social evils like poverty and poverty-driven-terrorism require not reactive armchair empathy, but pro-active off-the-chair action. Will all those who wish that the ‘murderers face the might of our nation without compromise’, help garner such might with foresight & thoughtfulness, and more pro-actively?

    “The answer to the Naxal crisis is dependent on urban Indians reaching out…” – sure there are many who genuinely want to…but in the absence of shared values between the leaders and those led, how and where does a concerned urban Indian even begin, in bringing light to hearts of darkness?

    Sudhirji, any actionable suggestions to those yearning to reach out?

  2. begin by not believing anyone but finding out for ourselves . this entails going to those areas .. there are many non naxals who have seriously worked in these places . .it is with the help of these people who are working for a kind of middle ground that something can b done . .i agreee that many places in these areas are not safe but developmentin the shape of hospitals ,schools .,industries that offer employment shud b set up close to these areas . i totally subscribe to the view that tribals cannot be treated like artefacts in a museum and shud be integrated in mainstream society but simultaneously can benefit from their wisdom and their relationship with ,for example ,the environment

  3. I exist because you imagine I do
    Ans: No you don’t exist because I don’t imagine you as you are not worth my imagination and hence my existential imagination cannot existentially imagine you thereby resulting in your complete non existential existence-RGV

    Shekhar sir this is the answer given by MR Ram gopal varma to me on his blog when i put that particular line on their comment column..

  4. Did you read in t’day’s paper about that architecture student who lost her right hand?
    Apparently, she was very good at detail work and sketching.

    Terrorists. Goonda log. They crossed the line of decency.
    My opinion and I stand by it.

  5. “Every poor man in hungry despair resisting the British Empire was once called a Congressman. When the Congressman came to power after freedom, every hungry militant was called a Communist. When the Communists came to power in some States and still kept many people starving, these poor men were called naxalites”…

    ~ Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in http://bit.ly/brEagv

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