We live in an age of unbridled consumption where “greed is good” as the character Gordon Gekko famously states in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. We elect political dynasties, once elected the politicians unashamedly use their clout to better the lot of their offspring. Millions of children across the country go to sleep hungry but our elected representatives do not bat an eyelid before staying in five star hotels. The level of insensitivity most of us have developed to the grinding poverty of this country is, at some levels, almost indecent.
In the midst of twitters, twits and twats, comes the sad story of Kobad Ghandy, the member of the central committee of the CPI (Maoists) arrested last week in Delhi. Ghandy got some media attention because he and wife Anuradha, who died last year of cerebral malaria, were from well heeled middle class backgrounds. We may be appalled by any group that propagates violence, but in this age of mammon we must acknowledge that people like Ghandy had no incentive but to fight battles for the poor and dispossessed. There can be no condoning the means, but the motive was certainly not any personal gain or profit. That is why his story fascinates us. However misguided, this man was certainly driven by a higher purpose than improving his bank balance.
The case of physician, social worker and human rights activist Binayak Sen, still facing serious charges of abetting Naxalites in Chattisgarh is even more troubling. Ghandy does not deny being a Maoist and will no doubt be punished for it; Binayak Sen has always maintained his innocence. Both these men were qualified to pursue conventional careers. They differed in their approaches but both were certainly fired by a certain idealism to work for the less fortunate. Look where that landed them.
To persist with any belief system is rare today in a society that makes heroes out of robber barons. It is easy to be greedy. It is a natural human instinct visible in young infants and children. To give up one’s creature comforts is so much harder. From a wealthy Mumbai family, Ghandy studied at Doon School and St. Xaviers College and went to study chartered accountancy at London. But instead of pursuing a career and a better life he and his wife chose to go underground and fight a battle that in their view was designed to liberate the poor. There can be nothing particularly romantic about the life and hardships they must have endured when underground.
But the media narrative about Ghandy either paints him as some kind of romantic revolutionary figure or part of the red menace, the “vermin", that must be exterminated. And lo and behold, a week after his arrest we are told that the government intends to bombard the Naxalites and fight them to the finish in an altogether new offensive. Certainly the state must fight those who oppose the law of the land. But whatever happened to tackling the root cause of insurgencies spreading across India?
In travels through Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, like many journalists I too have met members and sympathizers of outlawed Naxalite groups. It is never a black and white story. There are too many shades of grey in this narrative, the oppressive grey tones of dispossession, the dark grey of exploitation, the cloudy grey of hunger and starvation. True, the revolutionaries often turn extortionist/dacoit but that is only part of the story.
Ghandy is just the latest face of a lingering tale of protracted battles across the land. In the October 20, 2003 issue of Outlook I had written the opening essay for a cover story titled India’s Hidden Wars. I quote the concluding lines:
“Clearly, repressive police action has not worked. If anything it may have alienated people further in naxal pockets. To even begin to solve the problem, say experts, one has to address the root cause. But slave to the drama of electoral politics, the Indian state has till now been a colossal failure in tackling problems of poverty, health, education or exploitation. There is no reason to believe this will change. The wound will fester. ”