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IBN interview with Arundhati Roy on Taslima and Nandigram

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. How do India’s leading authors respond to the treatment given to Taslima Nasreen over the last 14 days? That’s the key issue I shall explore today with Booker Prize- winning novelist Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy says Bengal govt's behaviour was 'ridiculously unacceptable.'

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, let me start with that question. How do you respond to the way Taslima Nasreen has been treated for almost 14 days now?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it is actually almost 14 years but right now it is only 14 days and I respond with dismay but not surprise because I see it as a part of a larger script where everybody is saying their lines and exchanging parts.

Karan Thapar: She, I believe, has been in touch with you . What has she told you about the experience that she has been through?

Arundhati Roy:Well I have to say that I was devastated listening to what she said because here’s this woman in exile and all alone. Since August she’s been under pressure, she says, from the West Bengal police who visit her everyday saying, “Get out of here. Go to Kerala, go to Europe or go to Rajasthan. Do anything but get out of here. People are trying to kill you,” not offering to protect her but saying get out. On 15th November when there was this huge march in Calcutta against Nandigram, they said, “Now you’re going to be killed so we’re going to move you from your flat to some other place” and they did it but they withdrew most of her security which is paradoxical because on the day when she was supposedly the most under the threat, she had no protection. A few days later they gave her a ticket and pushed her out of the state.

Karan Thapar: Listening to the story she told you about herself, do you believe that the West Bengal government’s behaviour has been unacceptable?

Arundhati Roy: Well it has been utterly, ridiculously unacceptable. I mean, what can I say? Here you have a situation where you’re really threatening and coercing a person.

Karan Thapar: Far from protecting her, they were threatening her?

Arundhati Roy: Absolutely.

Karan Thapar: What about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee? He is a poet, he is an author; how does he emerge from this story?

Arundhati Roy: He emerges from the story, as far as I am concerned, as the principal scriptwriter who managed, quite cleverly, to shift all the attention from Nandigram to Taslima. Taslima is not the person who is displacing the poor peasants of Nandigram. She is not the person who is robbing people of their daily bread.

Karan Thapar: So he used her as a pawn to take the pressure off himself in terms of Nandigram?

Arundhati Roy: I think very successfully because we are discussing her and not Nandigram right now.

Karan Thapar: So he’s failed to stand by any of the constitutional duties that as a Chief Minister he should have upheld?

Arundhati Roy: I should say at this point that we do not have the constitutional right to free speech. We have many caveats between us and free speech so maybe he has upheld the constitutional rights to us not having free speech.

Karan Thapar: On Friday, Taslima announced that three pages from her autobiography Dwikhandito, which allegedly had given offence to critics, are to be withdrawn. Do you see that as a sensible compromise or a mistake?

Arundhati Roy: Well, neither. She does not have any choices. She is just like a person who has now got the protection of the mafia which is the state in some way. She has nowhere to go. She has no protection. She just has to blunder her way through this kind of humiliation and I really feel for her.

Karan Thapar: You used an interesting phrase. You said she has to blunder her way through this humiliation. Was withdrawing those three pages, admittedly under pressure, a blunder?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t know. Honestly, we can all be very brave in the security of our lives but she has nobody to turn to and nowhere to go. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation.

Karan Thapar: She had no other choice, perhaps.

Arundhati Roy: She really is in a mess. I think it is a reflection on all of us.

Karan Thapar: Let’s come to the issues and the principle that underlie what I call the Taslima Nasreen story. To begin with, do you view freedom of speech as an absolute freedom, without any limitations or would you accept that there are certain specific constraints that we all have to accept?

Arundhati Roy: It is a complicated question and has been debated often. I personally, do view it as something that should have no caveats for this simple reason that in a place where there are so many contending beliefs, so many conflicting things, only the powerful will then decide what those caveats should be and those caveats will always be used by the powerful.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that given the fact that many people are vulnerable, freedom of speech for them should have no caveats, it should be absolute and that’s their only protection?

Arundhati Roy: I think so because if you look at the facts, you have outfits like VHP or the Bajrang Dal or the CD that the BJP produced during the UP elections, you see that they do what they want to do. The powerful always do what they want to do. It is the powerless and the vulnerable that need free speech.

Karan Thapar: Let’s explore the position that you’re taking – free speech is an absolute freedom and there should be no limitations on it. What about the view that by criticising Islam, Taslima has offended beliefs which for tens of millions of Indians, maybe for hundreds of millions are sacred? These are beliefs that underlie their dignity and their sense of identity. Should freedom of speech extend that far as to threaten people’s sense of themselves?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t believe that a writer like Taslima Nasreen can undermine the dignity of 10 million people. Who is she? She is not a scholar of Islam. She does not even claim that Islam is her subject. She might have said extremely stupid things about Islam. I have no problem with the quotations that I have heard from her book. Dwikhandito has not been translated into English, but let’s just assume that what she said was stupid and insulting to Islam. But you have to be prepared to be insulted by something that insignificant.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you some of the things that she said, not from Dwikhandito, but from an interview she gave to Anthony McIntyre, The Blanket in 2006. She says, “It’s not true that Islam is good for humanity. It’s not at all good. Islam completely denies human rights.” Elsewhere she talks about what she calls the venomous snake of Islam. To me that sounds as if it goes perhaps beyond a simple critique and into deliberate provocation.

Arundhati Roy: It sounds like Donald Rumsfeld or some Christian fundamentalist.

Karan Thapar: And you would rile at him so why not rile at her?

Arundhati Roy: Yeah, but I wouldn’t say ban him or kill him. I would say what a ridiculous person. What a ridiculous thing. How can you start reacting to everything like that? We have an infinite number of stupidities in the world. How can you start having your foundations rocked by every half-wit?

Karan Thapar: Let’s put it like this, does freedom of speech necessarily include the right to offend?

Arundhati Roy: Obviously it includes the right to offend otherwise it wouldn’t be the freedom of speech.

Karan Thapar: But is that an acceptable right in India?

Arundhati Roy: One person’s offence is another person’s freedom.

Karan Thapar: That maybe so in England and America where Western levels of education have allowed people to hear something offensive without reacting violently. In India, where the education levels are so disparate, where religion is so emotionally and passionately held, then if you have the freedom of speech merging into the right to offend, you end up provoking people often to violence, sometimes to death.

Arundhati Roy: First of all, I think we have to understand that education is a very loaded term because modernity is what is creating some of this kind of radical fundamentalism. And it’s not like traditional India anymore. In fact, if you look at any studies that have been done, actually communal riots have increased.

Karan Thapar: Aren’t you evading my point? You’re questioning what is meant by modernity and education but you and I know that the levels of sophistication in terms of being able to handle offence to your religion or criticism of your God vary hugely.

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying is that level of sophistication is far better in rural areas than urban areas.

Karan Thapar: You mean that rural Indians are better able to take criticism of Ram or Allah?

Arundhati Roy: If you look at the kind of riots in rural and urban areas, you’ll see that, historically.

Karan Thapar: Let me give you a specific example. If criticism of Islam by Taslima Nasreen leads to a situation where people come out and riot on the streets and there is a real genuine threat that innocent people could end up killed, what in that circumstance should be the government’s priority — to defend freedom of speech or prevent the loss of human lives?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t think that’s a choice. I think they have to protect freedom of speech and do everything that they can to prevent the loss of human life because here what is happening is that this kind of right to offend or ‘my sentiments have been hurt’ have become a business in democratic politics. Let’s say the political parties are engineering these situations which lead to a loss of life otherwise why should it be that Dwikhandito has been on the bestseller list for four years in West Bengal and nothing has happened and suddenly when there’s a massive march and a massive mobilisation against the CPM, the book suddenly reappears as insulting people’s faith?

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying mischief makers, manipulators whipped up sentiments four or five years after the book was published, to deliberately try and corner Taslima and to create an atmosphere that perhaps worked in some peculiar way to the advantage of the West Bengal government?

Arundhati Roy: Look at who’s benefiting from it. All the anger about Nandigram has now suddenly turned to us asking the same state that criminally killed people in Nandigram to now protect Taslima Nasreen.

Karan Thapar: Are you trying to suggest that perhaps that the West Bengal government was in some way involved in engineering this incident to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima?

Arundhati Roy: I would say that it would have had a lot to do with it and I am saying that it is so easy to do these things.

Karan Thapar: When the situation happened, it would have perhaps been judged as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dilemma. Perhaps as a poet and author he felt a need to defend or desire to protect the freedom of speech. As a Chief Minister, undoubtedly he knew that he had the duty to stop and prevent the loss of human life. If therefore, by putting pressure on Taslima Nasreen to leave the state for a while, he was able to save ten or fifteen lives that would have otherwise been lost on the streets of Calcutta, did he not do the right thing?

Arundhati Roy: No, I don’t think so. I think that’s the game that they would like us to play. ‘I did it in order to defend innocent lives.’ But I think there’s a deeper script in the understanding of what is known as the deep state. I think that this was a provocation that actually could have ended up creating a loss of lives because, I want to go back to it, why should it be that for four years that book was on the market and no lives were lost. Everything is in the timing.

Karan Thapar: So you really do believe, when you use phrases like the deep state that there was a conspiracy, even though we don’t fully understand it, to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima and to perhaps put her in a position where under pressure she was forced to leave and the government didn’t actually have to physically throw her out?

Arundhati Roy: I wouldn’t use the word conspiracy because that sounds like an intelligence operation and I don’t think that something like this needs to go as far as a conspiracy but I would certainly say that you need to examine the timing of this because that’s all we are ever left in India. No one ever gets to the bottom of anything. It is always like, who benefits, why did this happen now. I would like to know, why it happened now.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying something that’s pretty fundamental. You’re saying that far more simple —as you did at the beginning— that the West Bengal government behaved unacceptably. Now you’re saying that there was almost Machiavellian intent, not a conspiracy but a Machiavellian intent behind the way they have played this game out?

Arundhati Roy: You are making it sound like I have a very deep insight.

Karan Thapar: No, you have a deep distrust and a huge suspicion.

Arundhati Roy: That’s true but I also know that this is the word on the street. You don’t need a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is something that we have seen happening over and over again. It is nothing new or amazing that’s happening.

Karan Thapar: Let’s turn to the Central Government’s response to Taslima Nasreen. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Pranab Mukherjee said that India would continue extend protection and sanctuary to Taslima Nasreen and then he added that it is also expected that guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people. How do you respond to that?

Arundhati Roy: It is like being sentenced to good behaviour for the rest of your life which is a death sentence for a writer. If I had to live somewhere in those conditions, I would become a yoga instructor or something. I would give up writing because this is such a nasty thing to do. Here is a woman who is a Bengali writer. She can’t function outside. It’s a question of principle anyway. It is not about her, it is about us. What kind of society are we creating? Sure it’s tough to take the kind of things she said about Islam but she should be put in her place, intellectually and otherwise. Not like this where she will become a martyr to somebody else.

Karan Thapar: When Pranab Mukherjee says that it is expected that guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people, is he in a very real sense giving Muslim fundamentalists a veto, both over what Taslima can write and say and therefore whether she can stay in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:Who does he mean when he says ‘our people’? Am I included for example? Because by saying this he certainly hurt my sentiments. You can’t really match people’s sentiments.

Karan Thapar: You are quite right. ‘Our people’ includes the whole range of people but I suspect that when he says our people he had those who we were protesting against Taslima on the streets of Calcutta in mind. Has he, therefore, given them a veto over what she can write and say, and therefore a veto over whether she can continue to live in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:It is not her. He has taken a veto over all of us. I mean I have also been told by the Supreme Court that you will behave yourself and you will write how we ask you to write. I will not. I hope that is extended to everybody here.

Karan Thapar: Given that Taslima’s case is not a unique case, you’ve suffered as you said at the hands of the Supreme Court, M F Hussain has suffered, art students in Baroda have suffered, even people doing cartoons and satires of Gandhi on YouTube have suffered, are we an intolerant people?

Arundhati Roy: We’re just messy people. Either we have the principle of free speech or you have caveats that will fill up this whole room and we will all just be silenced. There will be no art, there will be no music and there will be no cinema.

Karan Thapar: Are you moving in that direction where caveats to free speech are becoming so many that there is no freedom to be artistic?

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying here does not matter. I might believe in this but I know that tomorrow I have to deal with the thugs of the government, courts of the fundamentalist and everybody else. In order to live here you have to think that you are living in the midst of a gang war. So what I believe in or don’t believe in is only theoretical. However, how I practice is a separate matter. How I survive here is like surviving amongst thugs.

Karan Thapar: But then the corollary to what you’re saying is very important. You’re saying that artists, particularly those who see things differently, particularly those who are stretching out and wanting to be new and avant-garde, have to contend with the thugs, as you call them, with the government and the majority that’s trying to push them back.

Arundhati Roy: We do and we will. The thing is that I also don’t expect to be mollycoddled. I know that we have a fight on our hands and how do we survive in this gang war. The state is just another gang, as far as I am concerned.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that it is not easy to be different in India?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it’s challenging and we accept that challenge.

Karan Thapar: What’s your advice to Taslima Nasreen?

Arundhati Roy: I really don’t have any advice. I feel very bad for her because, let me say this, her’s is actually the tragedy of displacement. Once, she has been displaced from her home. She has no rights. She is a guest and she is being treated very badly. She is being humiliated.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, it was a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate.

Source:Mumbai Girl

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Interview with Nepal’s Maoist Leader Dr. Bhattarai

Posted by Indian Vanguard on November 4, 2007

Interview with Nepal’s Maoist Leader Dr. Bhattarai

November 3rd, 2007

When reporting on the Maoists in Nepal, Western journalists tend to focus on Chairman Prachanda, ( nom de guerre of Pushpa Kamal Dahal), usually overlooking the major influence that Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has wielded within the Party—from the very beginning to the present time. Although it is Prachanda’s face that will greet you on the official Maoist website, it is fair to say that it is the combined efforts of Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai, together, that have so altered the course of Nepal’s history.

Dr. Bhattarai’s credentials are impressive. He seems to have thrived in the academic world. He garnered the highest score in the National School Leaving Certificate (SLC) in 1970. In 1972, he came first in the Intermediate Science exams. He received his Bachelors in Architecture (Honors) in 1977 from Chandigarh, India, and his PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) in 1986. His doctorate thesis on “The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal- A Marxist Analysis” was later published by Adroit Publishers (Delhi 2003). He has a number of other books to his credit and is a regular contributor to both Nepali and English periodicals.

No less impressive is his reputation as a superlative chess player. Prior to his ascendancy in the political realm, when the World Chess Federation (FIDE) president Max Euwe gave a simultaneous exhibition in Kathmandu, Bhattarai played him: He beat Euwe, the ex-World Champion, in 23 moves with what is remembered as “a brilliant queen sacrifice.”

On February 4, 1996 Bhattarai gave the government, led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, a list of 40 demands, threatening civil war if they were not met. His demands included:

1) The end of the “domination of foreign capital in Nepali industries, business and finance”
2) The abrogation of “discriminatory treaties, including the 1950 Nepal-India Treaty”
3) The confiscation of “land under the control of the feudal system”, to be “distributed to the landless and the homeless.”

The Maoists declared the People’s War.

Dr. Bhattarai went underground for almost eight years. In May 2002, the Nepal government announced a bounty on his head—dead or alive–of $64,000–a vast fortune in Nepal.

In February 2003, he was designated by the Maoists to head a five-member negotiation team in peace talks with the government to end the ongoing People’s War. He emerged from hiding one month later.

He is now Senior Standing Committee Member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Head of the International Department of the Party, and Convener of United Revolutionary People’s Council.

Dr. Bhattarai married Hisila Yemi, a Newar Buddhist girl met at university. Today she is known by the nom de guerre Parvati, a political leader in her own right. Together they have one daughter.

It is perhaps pertinent to note that Dr. Bhattarai hails from a village in the western district of Gorkha, ancestral home of the kings of Nepal. It is no accident that anti-feudal sentiments have long permeated this area. The western districts have the poorest record in child literacy, child labor, landless households and per capita food production. Out of necessity, a large percentage of western Nepalis migrate to India as laborers; the region is substantially sustained by remittances sent to the folks back home: Little wonder then that this became the initial support base of the Maoist movement.

I interviewed Dr. Bhattarai long after sunset at his compound. Although he had spent the day in back-to-back closed-door meetings, he was attentive, engaged, polite and seemingly oblivious to the fact that the hour approached midnight.

Interview with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai

DUNHAM: I’d like to begin with the monarchy–the monarchy as your foe. It seems to me that the Maoists couldn’t have wished for a better enemy than King Gyanendra, widely regarded as an arrogant, rigid, ruthless, foolish and out-of-touch king– unless you wished for the king’s son, Prince Paras. The monarchy has had its wings clipped but royalists still exist, many among them denying that they are royalists. Who do you most distrust: monarchists or “closet” monarchists?

DR. BHATTARAI: It’s not a matter of personal distrust. We keep these things in historical perspective. We are not interested in individuals. We are interested in institutions, which have hampered the development of Nepal. This illegal monarchist institution, which presides over a feudal economy, politics and culture, and that has been ruling Nepal society for the last 250 years—this has been the biggest obstacle for Nepal moving into the modern age. We want to abolish this feudal institution. In that sense, whosoever is in favor of abolishing this institution, we are ready to align ourselves with them. But those who don’t want to abolish the monarchy or want to keep the monarchy in one form or another—we distrust them.

DUNHAM: And do you think that there are still a substantial number of people who are secretly monarchists?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yes, there are secret monarchists. Being Marxists, we like to think in terms of class systems. Because of the monarchists’ class interests, and their landed interests, their economic collaboration and their cultural linkages with Hindu fundamental interests—these people would like to save the monarchy, whether secretly or openly. And they are substantial in number. But they are gradually decreasing in numbers and becoming isolated from the people. In that sense, their days are numbered. We don’t regard them as a big adversity. If they are not backed by big foreign powers, I think the days of the monarchy are numbered.

DUNHAM: What about members of the army? Are there still significant numbers of secret monarchists within their ranks?

DR. BHATTARAI: In the lower levels of army personnel, most of the members are against the monarchy– let us say below the rank of major. But above the rank of major– colonel and general– there are still people with a privileged background who are linked with the Shah and Rana families. These people are either secretly or openly for the monarchy. These people are also decreasing in number but still they are powerful. They occupy the senior-most positions in the army.

DUNHAM: You mentioned the fundamentalist Hindus. Do you regard that as a growing institution?

DR. BHATTARAI: When Prithvi Narayan Shah [the first king, 1722-1775] founded the centralized feudalist state of Nepal, he gave it a slogan that means a real Hindu State. The real cultural background of the state, in that sense, is Hindu fundamentalism. Hindu fundamentalism is still substantial in numbers. They are the real backbone of the monarchy.

DUNHAM: And how deep does the Hindu state run in Nepal?

DR. BHATTARAI: I think that it is quite strong. It isn’t as strong as it is in India. It’s more deeply rooted there. But in Nepal’s case, since it lies between India and China (or the Tibetan Autonomous region of China–Buddhism dominated) there has always been a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal, as well as various national religions indigenous to Nepal. In that way, Hinduism is more diluted in Nepal than the Hinduism of India.

DUNHAM: So the king has support in India?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yeh, some of the ruling classes in India– mainly the Hindu fundamentalist parties–they seem to be in favor of the monarchy. The majority of the political parties– Indian National Congress, which is the ruling party in India– they don’t seem to be overtly in favor of the monarchy. But, yes, a section of the ruling class in India is in favor of the monarchy.

DUNHAM: Here’s my impression of the average Nepali assessment of government officials: Corrupt; greedy; jealous of one another; promising the people anything they think the people want to hear but, in fact, focusing their attention on building private mansions, getting SUVs, sending their relatives on shopping sprees, etc. There is also the issue of age. When one thinks of members of Parliament, one thinks of very old men indeed– holding onto their power no matter what. If this impression meshes with the Maoist party’s impression, how can you be sincere when you say you want to work with the guys in government?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yeh, when you have to choose between the whale and the deep sea, the choice is very difficult. But since the monarchy has been the biggest obstacle for social development in Nepal, for the last 250 years, we must choose any ally who is ready to fight against the monarchy. That is the choice forced upon us. In that sense, you are right. The Parliamentary political parties cannot be trusted, they themselves are very corrupt, they don’t have any vision for a new Nepal. That is well known. Even so, to do away with the monarchy and to fight against feudalism, we thought is was more prudent to align ourselves with them– for the time being. If it is possible, we will try to reform them. We prefer it that way. But if they are not ready to reform, then the path will take its own course.

DUNHAM: The Madeshi problem. I’ve been coming back and forth to Nepal many times and I thought I knew a lot about Nepal. But I realized in December 2006 that I had never heard of a Madeshi problem. I didn’t know this. It was a completely new thing to me. Two or three weeks ago I went down to Birgunj and Janakpur and I talked to ten or twelve leaders–intellectuals–not leaders of the radical parties—but some I think, were radically inclined and preferred not to share with me everything they felt. Anyway, my impression was that the Terai has a legitimate gripe against the government of Nepal. They have been marginalized, parodied, belittled and ignored for decades and now, I think, they have taken a cue from the Maoists– how the Maoists have focused attention on issues in the last ten years—the Madeshi are sort of imitating the Maoists in getting their point across. The Madeshi I talked to, they themselves felt now marginalized by Yadav and Gwala Singh and these guys, and they felt like they no longer had a voice. Ironically, they had been marginalized within the issue of marginalization. Where is the Maoist focus on this situation and how important is it to address the discontent in the Terai?

DR. BHATTARAI: You have raised a very valid question. Nepal is a multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic country. Being of small size, there is a lot of diversity: national diversity, social diversity and regional diversity. Within these diversities, the Madeshi issue is an instance in which the people feel marginalized by the central state. Our party, the Supreme Maoists, during the People’s War, we raised the issue of the marginalized nationalities and regions, including the Madeshis. We were the ones who really empowered them, who really led them to fight for their cause. Then came the peace process. Then there was some confusion. Some people thought we had compromised with the state and some of the royalists and Hindu fundamentalists from India– who were against our movement– they tried to grab this genuine agreement with the Madeshi people and they instigated this Madeshi movement. The genuine movement of the Madeshi people was highjacked by the unscrupulous elements from India and Nepal. We support the general cause of the Madeshi people. We must support it because their cause is genuine. They need liberation from the oppressive state of Nepal.
We have promised the Madeshi autonomy. But when the Nepali Congress government wasn’t prepared to declare autonomy right now, or declare a free state right now, then we made a sort of compromise that we would go for an election with the constituent assembly and after the election, we would go for a federal structure. Some people thought, if it was postponed in that way, the federal system might never be achieved. The general agreement was there. But there were some– the royalist people were never for a federal system in Nepal or autonomy for the Madeshi people–they instigated, created the problem.

DUNHAM: But there are also people in Terai who aren’t asking for autonomy but, rather, advocating for Secession from Nepal. How realistic is that?

DR. BHATTARAI: No, I think that is just a fringe group. The movement of the Madeshi people is just looking for autonomy within the federalist state of Nepal. The Maoists are for that. Our movement raised that question. We fully support that. Those who claim they want to separate from Nepal—they are an insignificant minority. They could be instigated by elements from India.

DUNHAM: Let’s talk about the youth of Nepal. 60% of the population in Nepal is under the age of 30. They are active in the streets but they emerge as political office-holders much more slowly than they do in the West. It frustrates them. How can the Maoists integrate the youth of Nepal into the political positions of power so that their frustrations are better addressed?

DR. BHATTARAI: In fact our movement mobilized the youth. You’ll see the majority of our cadres in our People’s Liberation Army or in the women’s movement or the Dalit movement or the so-called untouchable movement–most of them are youth. Our party is given full credit for mobilizing the youth. We join with the general aspirations of the youth. I think they are the biggest strength of our movement. You see, the PLA, more than 30,000 living in camp internments, most of them are youths between 22 and 25 years of age. We’ve been able to organize and mobilize the youth and represent their aspirations.

DUNHAM: I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, in terms of numbers I see that. What I don’t see is in terms of leadership. I don’t see a younger group coming forward. Where is the representation under 40 or, let’s say, under 50 in the government? There’s a gap here.

BHATTARAI: If you look at it from our party’s viewpoint, all the five ministers that we have chose, all of them are under 50 and some are below 40. And if you see the 83 members of the interim legislature we have nominated, the majority of them are between the ages of 30 and 40.

DUNHAM: Are you addressing the education of the youth? And their ability to find a job, once they have received an education?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yeh, that’s a good question. The biggest problem of Nepal is unemployment. That’s why many youths migrate to India and other foreign countries in search of jobs. Most of them are uneducated. Even some who are educated but don’t get good employment in Nepal migrate to the West– the US, Canada, Australia and other places. We have to provide them with a good education, technical education, political education and create jobs within the country. This will be the focus of our development policy in the days to come. Our party has given due importance to spreading education and providing jobs within the country. If you see within the interim legislation, we fought hard to include employment as a fundamental right. It is the first time in Nepali history where we have included this as a right in the constitution.

DUNHAM: Are you developing specific job programs?

DR. BHATTARAI: Whatever can be done, we are pushing forward and our thrust has been to initiate developmental works so that jobs are created for the youth. Creating infrastructure—building road, dams—could be constructive in mobilizing the youth in large numbers. This is what we are proposing. Let’s see what happens.

DUNHAM: To what extend are the other parties dragging their feet?

DR. BHATTARAI: Other parties are dragging their feet. If you see the experience of the past 15 years, when the Parliamentary parties were in power, they followed such a wrong economic policy so that the employment wasn’t there. The so-called development growth was there—but growth without employment. So this lopsided, distorted development policy should be corrected and we want to follow an economic policy where there is growth and employment.

DUNHAM: Tying into the economics: The industrialists who I have talked to in Kathmandu are resistant to the Maoists coming into power. How do you approach them? How do you gain their trust? How do you work with businessmen who have so much to lose financially? Have you been in any kind of conversations with these men?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yes, we are in conversation with industrialists. In fact we are organizing some contracting programs with the educated members of the Chambers of Congress and industries. We have tried to remove some of the misconceptions they have about us. And now we think that whatever misconceptions they had about us is mostly clear. They know that we are for representing industry in this country. We are for a democratic revolution, not a socialistic revolution right now. In the democratic phase of the revolution, the private property will be there. The industries and trade will not be seized. It will remain in private hands. The state will play a guiding role, but the property will not be nationalized. Once this fact is clear to them, that we are the ones who can ensure real stability in the country– peace in the country– in that sense, they will absolutely come to our side.

DUNHAM: What about foreign investors? I’ve read that big investors have pulled out recently because they are giving up on political stability in Nepal. They have cold feet. How do you get them to come back and embrace the idea of investing in Nepal?

DR. BHATTARAI: If you look back in history– Nepal, because of its backwardness, lack of industrial development, lack of development climate– there has never been significant foreign investors in Nepal– even before our movement started ten years ago. The economic development of the last 40 or 50 years, the growth rate went very slowly—less than 2% per annum. It’s a very low growth rate. This can’t be blamed on us, you see. The reason why foreign investment is less is because there is less demand: there is poverty, when the people are poor—they don’t buy goods. Because of this, foreign investors are not attracted. But once this democratic change is complete, once we go for big infrastructure development projects, then foreign companies won’t oppose the idea of investment. We are not against foreign investment. The only thing is that the priority should be given for national self-reliant development. And the foreign investors play a secondary role, a supporting role. We should rely more on our indigenous resources: labor, capital and market.

DUNHAM: For many years NGOs have pumped money into the country and perhaps created the notion among the people of Nepal that foreign countries are always going to help them, bail them out. You speak of self-reliance. Do you believe that NGOs are a barrier to self-reliance?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yeh, NGOs and INGOs haven’t played a very positive role. Instead of creating productive employment they have been more of a parasite– bringing money from the outside and continuing the goods from the outside. Whatever money comes through the NGO agencies, it definitely won’t trickle down to the real masses of the people–only a few people, some elites in our nobility area– they have pocketed that money and created a separate class of elites. That has definitely alienated the masses. This is one of the reasons we were given the right to revolt in the countryside.

DUNHAM:
How do you curb the NGOs? There seems to be an inordinate number of NGOs in Nepal, compared to other countries. It’s almost a cottage industry here, where everyone can set up an NGO and put a picture in a Western newspaper of an undernourished child and say, “GIVE”.

DR. BHATTARAI: (laughing) Yes, exactly. You’re right, you’re right. This is a very disturbing development taking place. I think NGOs have to be regulated and controlled.

DUNHAM: You would suggest a central watchdog monitoring organization?

DR. BHATTARAI: Yes, it should be there, it should be there. We are in favor of that.

DUNHAM: Regulations for all NGOs?

DR. BHATTARAI: Not all. There are some NGOs who may be really dedicated to the quality of society and people, driven by UN motives, or something like that—but most of these NGOs are profit-oriented, commercialized. So in a real sense, they are not NGOs. They needed to be regulated and controlled.

DUNHAM: What is the relationship between the Maoists and the political powers in Delhi? What should India be doing to better support the Nepali situation?

DR. BHATTARAI: Historically, there have been some problems with our neighbors to the south. Because ours is a smaller country, sandwiched between two big countries, India and China. Historically, there has been an ongoing rivalry between India and China. There is an inherent insecurity in Nepal that someday one of our big neighbors could eat Nepal up. And since we are more dependent on India– we are landlocked on three sides from India, and almost all of our economic interaction takes place with India– that fear-cycle is always there. But in the changed context, we think we need to improve our relationship with India. Particularly since last year, the Indian establishment has been playing a more positive role for the democratic cause of the country. Definitely, we would like to improve our relations. But we would like to retain our independence and sovereignty vis-à-vis these big powers. There are some problems. But we think it can be resolved.

DUNHAM: You mentioned that you are landlocked.

DR. BHATTARAI: We are India-locked.

DUNHAM: And yet, in terms of water, you have the second-greatest potential for hydroelectricity in the entire world. This must be a great concern and interest for the Maoists. Certainly the Indians would like to have that energy. How are you addressing that? I know that you can’t do anything right at the moment, but how would you like to address the hydroelectric potential while ensuring that the Nepali people are actually getting the benefit? In the past, there have been water treaties with India that proved to have been lopsided in favor of India.

DR. BHATTARAI: The water issue: It is a major resource for Nepal. If we could correctly exploit this resource, then we could really benefit. In that sense we are not against collaborating with India to harness the waterpower. We are not against have agreements with India on the water issue. But in the past, the water projects that were undertaken by India were, as you say, quite lopsided. India could monopolize the benefits and the Nepali people thought they had been deceived. There are some residual problems connected to that. But we would like to correct that. If we could come up with equality and mutual benefits, we would like to conclude fresh agreements with India. We are for that.

DUNHAM: In talking with Nepali people about India, I often sense a cynical reaction. If you would like to work with the Indians, what do you say to the Nepalis who don’t trust India?

DR. BHATTARAI: We have to act on two levels. On the government level, our relationship can be quite strained at times. But on the people-to-people level, the relationships are quite smooth and warm. Once there is a real democratic change in Nepal, and the Indian people support the change in Nepal, the relationship between the two people will definitely improve. If our movement is successful—we are able to abolish the monarchy and establish a democratic republic in Nepal—we should have a better relationship with democratic India. I think the earlier frictions we have had with India will abate.

DUNHAM: What is the Maoist’s current relationship with China and how important is Beijing in terms of the future of Nepal?

BHATTARAI: Beijing is important because it is a big power. Not only are the Chinese our neighbors, but also is an emerging world power, so we should have a balanced and friendly relationship with China. But the Himalayas separate China from Nepal. We have very limited linkages with China, economically and physically. We are bound to have more interaction with India than China but, even then, a better relationship with China will be to our advantage. China’s economy is growing very fast. As we are sandwiched between two fast growing economies, we could benefit from both India and China.

DUNHAM: I’d like to address the amount of violence that has taken place in Nepal in the last ten years. Approximately 14,000 people have died because of the conflict. After the uprising last year, everyone took a deep breath, a sigh of relief, but since then there have been frequent bouts of violence—pockets of violence here, pockets of violence there. And many people who I’ve interviewed claim that the Maoists, knowing and willingly, are engaging in acts of violence and intimidation. How do you answer that accusation?

DR. BHATTARAI: That’s not true. If you see—in light of the facts—the party which was the Revolutionary People’s War for ten years—and has played a very resourceful role in the peace process, which has improved in one year’s time. Before starting the People’s War, we were in Parliament. We were in peaceful politics. Only when Parliamentary and peaceful politics failed to bring about the desired changes in the country—and there was a lot of repression unleashed on the agitating masses—we were forced to resist. Violence threatened us. Violence was not our choice. If you analyze it correctly, during the ten years of the People’s War, we proposed peace talks, time and again. Three times we entered into peace talks. We voluntarily and unilaterally declared ceasefires. That shows that we were for genuine peace with the monarchal state, which was violent, controlled the armed forces of the country, and which was by nature very undemocratic, and they thrust all of this violence on us. Our violence was not offensive violence, but defensive violence. Resistance violence. Given the historical record I think it is not true if somebody alleges that we are still into violence. That’s not true.

DUNHAM: Well, let me ask you this: In 1996, the Maoists lit a fire. And I can’t think of one instance in the history of Nepal where a fire has created such energy around it, and so quickly. My question is: Can the Maoists control the fire they created? What happens, for example, if some of the Maoist youth are disenfranchised and go off on their own? All of the cadre—all of the youth you have assembled—

DR. BHATTARAI: It isn’t true. It is a proven practice: More than 30,000 youths who fought, who participated in the war, members of the People’s Liberation Army—they have been living in camps for the last six months—very peacefully, not a single person has revolted, so that is the proof. This whole thing is under the control of the party leadership.

DUNHAM: How long can you keep these youths in cantonments before—they’re young guys—how long can you keep them there before they become restless and –

DR. BHATTARAI: They won’t be ready to stay idle in the camps, if the political process doesn’t move ahead.

DUNHAM: If you had one question to ask Americans, what would it be?

DR. BHATTARAI: Being the sole superpower of the world, I think Nepal should be too insignificant for them. They shouldn’t be interfering with the internal affairs of Nepal. Nepal is not a threat to you, United States of America. We would ask them, just let the Nepalese people decide their own future, and you will see that we are the most peaceful people in the world, and that we are no threat to the United States of America, we are no threat to the American people. There was not a single American harmed during the last ten years of the People’s War. There is no reason to harbor any prejudicial interest.

Source: Mikel Dungham Blogs, November 1, 2007

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Interview whith Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa. (Nepal Times.)

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 31, 2007

“I stand with the revolution”
Interview with Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa in Nepal, 28 October

MIN BAJRACHARYA
By raising demands on the eve of the constituent assembly elections, the Maoists are accused of being against polls. Why are you going against the very agenda you raised?
On a superficial level, it looks like the CPN-M was behind the delay in elections. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that the NC and other parties are the main culprits. Take a look at our demands, and see if they are legitimate or not. The parties are responsible for the election postponement because they refused to budge.

Don’t you see that you are endangering the peace process and a return to war?
We have seen that danger. If the government tries to suppress our peaceful revolution with weapons then it will be clear that they have no desire to hold elections or change to a republic. I don’t think they’ll make such a stupid move. But history has shown that in extreme cases, people do resort to stupidity. So we haven’t dismissed that possibility.

In the span of one-and-a-half years, what have you accomplished and what have you lost?
Our recently concluded fifth plenum answers this question. There were forces that tried to isolate us by labelling us terrorists. They have failed. The middle class no longer misunderstands us and we have established international relations. But there have also been losses. We have had trouble making the changes we wanted. We failed to make the people understand many of our agreements. Regressive forces have made use of that. Our weaknesses in madhesi, janjati and republican issues have been exposed.

Are you a hardliner?
No. There are right-wingers, middle-of-the-roaders, and leftist factions in our own party and they are in constant conflict.

So where do you stand among those factions?
We are revolutionaries and I fall into that category. Our party follows the revolutionary code. I am on the side of revolution and if the party line goes against my beliefs, then I will stand with the revolution.

It is said that you have tried to establish yourself against Chairman Prachanda.
That is also part of a conspiracy. I do not surface in public much, and that is my weakness. This rumour has spread because certain factions wish it.

You have said that you do not want a republic like that in Iraq or Sikkim.
We want a Nepali republic, where Nepalis make the decisions. Foreign help will be required, but not foreign direction. If foreigners try to direct us instead of just helping us, it will be an attack on our national integrity.

You have maintained that there is an Indian hand in everything, but we do not see you opposing it.
Our line on India is clear. There are many treaties and agreements with Nepal that need to be changed. We don’t want to ruin our relationship with India, we want to make it better in the future. But our party will oppose India’s incorrect actions. Certain factions in India are hatching a conspiracy against the movement of the Nepali people. This is an attack on our independence. The madhesi incidents are also anti-national.


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‘The movement will continue’: Varavara Rao

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 29, 2007

Poet, professor and Marxist critic, Varavara Rao has been the face of the Naxalite movement in AP for almost four decades now. In an exclusive interview to Daipayan Halder, he spoke on ‘State terrorism’ and the status of the Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh

vv picture

Varavara Rao

Is the State becoming intolerant?
It is. The State has become the biggest terrorist. But in Andhra Pradesh, more than in any other state, atrocities have been the worst. If you are a Naxalite, a naxal sympathiser, an ideologue, or simply a civil rights activist, you can be put behind bars or killed in a fake encounter any time.

In 1992, for example, journalist Gulam Rasul wrote about a land scam in an Urdu daily. An additional DSP killed him in a fake encounter and branded him a Naxalite. His friend who was traveling with him in a scooter was also killed. Doctors working for the underprivileged, lawyers taking up the causes of the marginalised are being put behind bars. Civil liberties are being curbed like never before. Laxmi, a women’s rights activist, was killed in a fake encounter in 2005. Since 1969, more than 2,000 people have been killed in fake encounters.

But didn’t the previous Andhra Pradesh government want to negotiate with the Naxalites?
The peace talks between the government and the Naxalites broke down and the ban against them was re-imposed on August 17, 2005. This has led the cadre to look for alternative operational zones in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The repression started in the previous Telugu Desam regime and has been continued by the Congress government in pursuance of World Bank conditions.

he police launched a crackdown on Maoists on January 6, 2005, when it became clear that there was no meeting ground between the state government and the outfit. Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy was interested in going ahead with the second round of talks, slated for November 16, 2004, with the CPI (Maoist) and the CPI-ML (Janashakti), but senior police officers advised him against it.

Why did the talks fail?
Mainly because the government wanted Naxalites to lay down arms, while carrying on their political programmes and their propagating ideology. The Naxalites rejected this. Following a series of encounters, in which 10 Naxalites were killed in a week, the CPI (Maoist) and CPI-ML (Janashakti) announced on January 16, 2005 that they were pulling out of the peace process.

Is it hard to get the youth interested in Naxalism?
It is only the petty, bourgeoisie youth who are taking to the market economy. The marginalised youth, i.e. the Muslims, the Dalits and the tribals, are not swayed by the market forces because they can see that inequality is rising. They are attracted to the movement. But there is no campus culture today. You can get a degree through distance education without ever walking into a university campus. In a campus, there is scope for healthy political debates. That culture is dying.

But the Centre now says that Naxalism is a developmental issue and plans to address it as such
These are academic talks. (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh says it is a developmental issue, but he is also supporting SEZs. SEZs will displace people, take away their livelihoods. So the problems will persist. Look at what is happening at Nandigram, at Singur, at all other places.

Finally, what is the future of the Naxalite movement? Will it continue in the face of prosperity?
The movement will continue. The forces of liberalisation and globalisation have widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This has to be redressed.

http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1130315&pageid=2

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Interview with kanu sanyal

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 29, 2007

Even at 78, Kanu Sanyal dreams of a revolution. Age hasn’t mellowed him; neither has his failed attempt at Naxalbari in 1967

He takes pride in the fact that even though the movement was quashed in West Bengal, it has spread to other states. In a free-wheeling interview to Daipayan Halder, he talks about Singur, brutality of the State and the future of Naxalism.


Kanu Sanyal.

The Naxal movement was traditionally restricted to rural areas. But recently some city-bred activists have been arrested in Mumbai for allegedly being involved in Naxal activities. Is the movement spreading to metros?
This was bound to happen. It does not matter where you are. If there is inequality and suffering, you would be affected by it and would eventually want to change the way things are. Even in 1967 when we started the movement at the sleepy hamlet of Naxalbari, it spread to the metros like wildfire. Students from Presidency College and IIT, Kharagpur took to arms. I am sure the movement still attracts the youth in the metros.

But isn’t the youth too caught up with career goals to even bother? Waging a class war would be the last thing on their minds.
I don’t agree. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a crisis in the Communist movement internationally. China also changed track. But the death knell of the Communist movement hasn’t been sounded yet. Look around you. Farmer suicide rates are going up, so-called developmental projects are displacing thousands, MNCs are destroying traditional livelihoods.

During the late ’60s, college and university students from well-to-do families took to Naxalism. They sacrificed promising careers to pursue a dream. Today, the situation is much worse, as there is more inequality. I am sure the youth will not remain cut off from reality for long.

In recent Naxal attacks, the rate of civilian casualty has gone up. In the ’60s the movement strictly tried to avoid this.
Firstly, if there is an armed struggle, there will be casualties. I definitely don’t approve the killing of innocents. But then sometimes innocent villagers get accidentally blown up by landmines that were put to annihilate class enemies. Or maybe they die in crossfire. That is unfortunate.

Mindless violence, though, should be strictly avoided. There have been cases where Naxals have reportedly killed innocent villagers for turning against them. This is unpardonable.

In South Chhattisgarh, ordinary villagers are becoming special police officers. Villages were your strongholds. Today, even villagers are turning against you.
This is a disturbing trend, as villages, truly, are our strongholds. If villagers are turning against the Naxals, it is a major cause of concern for the movement. There is a need to mobilise villagers, to show them the path, not antagonise them. Cases have been reported of villagers being tortured when they have refused to do join the movement. In this respect, I do not approve of today’s Naxals.

In late ’60s, Naxals had no training camps and used hand-made pistols, but captured popular imagination. Now, you have Kalashnikovs and proper coordination, but no popular support. Today, even Naxalbari votes.
I don’t agree with this. It would be wrong to say that Naxals today have no popular support. Yes, at times they commit excesses; there may be individual cases of corruption also. But how can you say there is no popular support? The movement has spread far and wide. Surely, there must be support for the movement.

Why an armed struggle? Why not accept parliamentary democracy like the CPM has?
The CPM has not been able to address people’s issues. The Left Front is in power in West Bengal, yet a Singur happens. There is no difference between them and any other political party. They say West Bengal is making progress. Take a tour of Purulia and you will see the depravation, the abject poverty people are in. There is no other alternative.

China has changed track and you still idolise Mao Zedong…
Our slogan in 1967 was: China’s chairman is our chairman. I accept that the slogan was completely incorrect. Why should we think of Mao Zedong as our chairman? It was coined by Charu Majumdar and voiced by the comrades.

But that’s a minor issue. The problems that gave rise to the Naxal movement at that time were very real. There was a need to take up the cause of the landless farmers. There was a need for an agrarian revolution. Those problems persist even today. And that is what powers Naxalism.

http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1130317&pageid=2

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`A multi-pronged approach is necessary’: Shivraj Patil.

Posted by Indian Vanguard on September 14, 2007


Interview with Union Minister for Home Shivraj Patil.

In the third week of September, the Union government convened the first meeting of the Standing Committee of Chief Ministers of States affected by naxalism. A new term, two-track response, was evolved to describe the measures needed to be taken with regard to areas under the growing influence of naxalism or Maoism. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi on the understanding within the government on this issue. Excerpts from the interview:

The recent meeting of Chief Ministers of some of the States affected by naxalism shows that there is an urgency and a willingness to deal with the problem differently. Some quarters have expressed a need to look at the issue holistically to relate it with the socio-economic plight of the people whose cause the naxalite groups claim to espouse. How does the Centre view this two-track response?

This problem has been there for some years and from the beginning we have been trying to solve it by adopting certain methods. We do not think it can be solved by adopting only one method. That is why from the beginning we have been saying that the issue should be treated as something that relates to economic development and social and political justice, and that the people who are involved in it must be persuaded to believe that guns are not going to help solve the problem. What will help is the understanding. But if some people are bent upon using only violent methods, the state is bound to protect innocent people’s property and lives. That was being done in the past and that is why we thought that once again we could meet and discuss these issues in greater detail to bring about better cooperation and coordination between the activities of the States. This is not a two-track approach but a multi-track approach – discussing issues, development of the economy, doing political and social justice – and if necessary as a last resort, doing one’s duty and controlling the violent activities of some people against innocent persons.

Given the regrouping of outfits such as the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre and the renewed activities of naxalites in certain States, what exactly does the Centre have in mind in terms of dealing with the situation? It also appears that there has been an escalation in the scale of activities of these groups. Is a ban one of the options?

We are not stopping at a ban. We are developing the economy as well. If regrouping is taking place, we shall have to put in all effort to see that violence is not allowed to continue. No, there has not been a manifold increase in the scale of activities. In some States, the activities have come down; the killings have also come down. In some States these have increased. If one takes the sum total of all the incidents and killings in the affected areas or the affected States, it will be noticed that they have actually come down. The killings may show an increase and that is because of the improved kind of explosives being used.

Dialogue is known to be the best political option, but as the Andhra Pradesh experience has shown, talks have not borne much result. The failure of the talks drew criticism from certain sections that the Andhra Pradesh government was going soft on these groups.

We are talking to people in Pakistan and other countries; should we not talk to our own people? Why should we treat talking to our own people as a soft approach? We are expected to persuade them, remove their grievances, and if necessary take action as per the law.

What is failure? If the killings have come down, it is not a failure. Why should we say that it has been a soft approach? It is a fair and just approach. If total success has not been achieved, to that extent one can say that we have not been as successful as we should have been. We have to remove the problems faced by people. We have to help them develop themselves, develop the areas where they live in, and give them amenities as are available in the advanced regions. We have to give them economic, political and social justice. We have to convince naxalites that by killing others they will not get anything, but by cooperating and by understanding the real situation, they will be able to get their grievances solved. That is the approach they should take.

Naxalites claim to enjoy considerable support among the poor. How would the Centre view their extremist actions, in comparison with other forms of extremism threatening the country?

If economic grievances are there and if someone is angry, we should understand that. If separatists are trying to be violent, we can come to the conclusion that either they have wrong conceptions about the situation prevailing in the country or that they have been instigated by some people across the border or that they have a narrow and parochial approach to problems.

So is it primarily an economic question?

It is not only economic. There is no one way; it has to be a multi-pronged approach to [address] their real grievances – economic and social justice and unemployment.


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All parties pursue our agenda: Varava Rao

Posted by Indian Vanguard on September 13, 2007


N. RAHUL

Interview with Varavara Rao, member of Revolutionary Writers’ Association.

P.V. Sivakumar

Varavara Rao raises anti-government slogans after being taken into custody on August 19, 2005.

Varavara Rao has been the face of the Marxist-Leninist movement and the revolutionary writers in Andhra Pradesh for nearly four decades. He has served several terms in jail in his political career beginning with the tribal struggle that took root in the State in Srikakulam following the Naxalbari movement. He was an emissary of the Maoists in the peace talks with the State government in 2004. In this interview, he spoke on naxalite activity in Andhra Pradesh. Excerpts:

What has led the Maoists to operate from outside Andhra Pradesh?

The State has resorted to repression against them just as it had always done in the past when a movement gained in strength. The breakdown of peace talks and the re-imposition of the ban on the CPI(Maoist) on August 17, 2005, led to the cadre looking for alternative operational zones in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The party has made the thick forests of the two States and Jharkhand its base to carry on its activities.

Why, in your view, did the government tread the path of repression after choosing to negotiate with the naxalites?

The repression started in the previous Telugu Desam regime and has been continued by the Congress government in pursuance of World Bank conditions. The police launched a crackdown on Maoists on January 6, 2005, when it became clear that there was no meeting ground between the State government and the outfit. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was interested in going ahead with the second round of talks, slated for November 16, 2004, with the CPI (Maoist) and the CPI-ML (Janashakti), but senior police officers advised him against it. He had even acknowledged that the talks were a good sign as they would help a section of the extremists join the mainstream.

Why did the talks fail?

Mainly, the government wanted naxalites to lay down arms while carrying on their political programmes and their propagating ideology. They [the naxalites] rejected this. Following a series of encounters, in which 10 naxalites were killed in a week, the CPI (Maoist) and CPI-ML (Janashakti) announced on January 16 [2005] that they were pulling out of the peace process, which was initiated following a ceasefire that both sides had agreed upon six months earlier.

The hostilities between the government and the naxalites touched a peak with the killing of Congress MLA C. Narsi Reddy at Narayanpet in Mahbubnagar district on August 15 [2005] at an Independence Day programme. The government clamped a ban on the Maoists on August 17 and two days later arrested me and my colleague G. Kalyan Rao. We were picked up because we were members of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association, which was also banned as a frontal organisation of the Maoists.

We were in jail until April 2006, though the ban on the association was relaxed within three months of its imposition. Our release was delayed because the government had, in the meantime, booked six cases against us.

What have been the successes, if any, of the talks?

There was a detailed discussion on 1.02 crore acres of surplus land in the State [to be distributed to the poor]. The land was divided into 35 categories. The CPI (Maoist) occupied five lakh acres, including two lakh acres in the plains. Now, the identified land is in everybody’s list, including the Chief Minister’s and the Left parties’. The CPI (Maoist) demanded distribution of three acres of land to each landless family and the setting up of a land commission with retired bureaucrat K.R. Venugopal as its chairman.

How strong is the naxalite movement in the State now?

The CPI (Maoist) planned a mass militant programme but could not succeed. It succeeded to a certain extent in the Andhra-Orissa Border area. Moreover, all political parties are now pursing the agenda fixed by the naxalites, at least for vote bank politics. It is a great victory for the naxal movement.

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‘A question of rights, not development’

Posted by Indian Vanguard on September 13, 2007

V. VENKATESAN

Interview with D. Bandopadhyay, Chairman of the Expert Group on Development Issues to deal with Causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism.



D. Bandopadhyay, Executive Chairman, Council for Social Development, New Delhi.

IT may be a coincidence, but the signals are far-reaching. After having witnessed for three years the State governments’ indifference to utilising Central funds meant for socio-economic programmes in the naxal-affected districts, the Planning Commission appears to have developed doubts about the efficacy of the New Delhi-driven development approach to tackling the Maoist challenge. On May 29, 2006, the Commission appointed a 16-member Expert Group on “Development Issues to Deal with Causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism”. The Expert Group, chaired by D. Bandopadhyay, Executive Chairman, Council for Social Development, New Delhi, has prepared a report. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

As the Chairman of the Expert Group, could you outline its terms of reference?

As specified by the Planning Commission while setting up this Group last year, we had to identify specifically the processes and causes contributing to continued tensions and alienation in areas of unrest and discontent, such as widespread displacement, forest issues, insecure tenancies and other forms of exploitation like usury, land alienation and imperfect market conditions, and suggest specific steps to reduce the tensions and causes of discontent. Our task was to identify the causes of persistent and abysmally low social and human development indicators and suggest steps to bring these on a par with the rest of the country in a time-bound manner. Our effort has been to examine and suggest an appropriate strategy to ensure peace and life with dignity and to resolve conflicts in areas of chronic unrest.

Naxalism is a common name. What used to be called naxalism has now become Maoism. Naxals have all come into the open. Their party, CPI (ML), is now fighting elections. The People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh and MCC of Bihar have merged to form the Maoist group. Naxalism is a misnomer now.

Should the government meet the Maoist threat with the force at its command or view it as a socio-economic problem?

There are two aspects to the issue. One is the seizure of power through armed force. You ignore that. They are a small band of committed political militants. But how are they operating? According to the government’s own admission, there are today roughly 150 to 165 districts, spread over 12 to 14 States and challenging the jurisdiction of 550 police stations.

The naxal movement started in 1967 under the jurisdiction of one police station in West Bengal. For 40 years, the state’s response has been basically to treat it as a “law and order problem” and counter it with superior state violence. Thirty per cent of the Indian land mass, the Home Ministry says, is naxal-infested. How has the militancy survived over the past 40 years against the stupendous state power called the Indian state?

It is not a question of development, but of rights, which have been denied. Development is peanuts. Forget it. If you look at Central India, you have the largest mining projects, very big dams, very big industrial projects; these are the areas predominantly inhabited by the Scheduled Tribes. There is no official figure estimating the number of displaced people due to coercive acquisition of land for development purposes. Scholars’ estimates vary. One scholar, Walter Fernandes, has estimated that between 1951 and 2005, roughly 5.5 crores of the Indian population have been so displaced. Of these, only 28 to 30 per cent has been properly resettled and rehabilitated. In the case of tribal people, it is estimated that only 18 to 20 per cent of them have been properly rehabilitated. Thus, a vast number of displaced, homeless, landless, jobless tribal people are roaming about as flotsam and jetsam of our development process.

What specific reforms would the Group suggest to tackle the growing Maoist threat?

According to the terms of reference, we will suggest measures to upgrade the levels of governance and strengthen public service delivery in areas where the Maoists are strong, through suitable administrative and institutional reform and mechanisms for prompt redress of grievances.

We are also expected to suggest measures for ensuring time-bound achievement of livelihood security, health and nutrition security, food security, etc. and also suggest changes in Central and State legislation impeding the achievement of these objectives. Specifically, we will suggest measures to strengthen the implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and the functioning of Autonomous Councils in the Sixth Schedule and other areas to ensure empowerment of the communities.

The experience with the Backward Districts Initiative under the RSVY scheme is that the States are little interested in utilising the funds earmarked for development of naxal-affected districts. What is the reason for this?

This raises a basic question about the class character of the state. Branding does not change your character. There is no cap on finances. Yet, the States, whichever parties may be in power, are uninterested in utilising the funds for developing the infrastructure in the naxal-affected areas. It is a demand-driven thing. The more you want, the more the Centre will give. The States are not interested in looking at that segment of the population, which, according to them, are not part of the mainstream.

The Maoist crisis is like the proverbial fish in water. If water is taken as a metaphor for disgruntled peasantry and the fish for militants, so long as the peasants are disaffected and discontented, fish will move freely in that territory. If you can win over the peasantry to your side, fish will die for lack of oxygen. This is what West Bengal did within two years of the naxal uprising in 1967. Through massive programmes of wresting or sealing surplus lands within two and a half years, one million acres of land could be redistributed to the landless. What West Bengal achieved following that naxal uprising, other States failed to do.

http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/stories/20070921501802200.htm

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Interview With Prof. Jose Maria Sison

Posted by Indian Vanguard on September 11, 2007



By Enrico Piovesana
PEACE REPORTER
Via Meravigli, 12
20123 Milano, Italia
20 August 2007

Enrico Piovesana (EP): Prof. Sison, could you please tell us briefly about
your personal and political history, from your childhood up to becoming an
“International terrorist”?

Professor Jose Maria Sison (JMS): I am not a terrorist. I stand for
principles and actions that are for the benefit of the people fighting for
national liberation, democracy and socialism. I am a Filipino patriot and a
proletarian internationalist, not an “international terrorist” by any
suggestion. Communists are not terrorists. European governments are wrong
for following the Bush line that communists, progressive mass leaders,
national liberation movements and anti-imperialist governments are
terrorists. The imperialist powers are engaged in fascisation on a global
scale.

By my writings and political acts, I am well-known for opposing policies and
actions that harm or work against the interests of the people. I stand up
for the rights and interests of the people and support their revolutionary
struggles. I have strongly opposed micro-terrorists like Al Qaida and Abu
Sayyaf and macro-terrorists like the US and other imperialist powers that
kill large numbers of people through the daily violence of exploitation,
state terrorism and wars of aggression.

You can get the biographical information about me from the book, At Home in
the World: Portrait of a Filipino Revolutionary. At any rate, here are a few
facts. I was born on February 8, 1939 in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. I
took my grade school in this town and high school in Manila. I took my
bachelor and masteral courses at the University of the Philippines and I
taught English literature and political science subjects in two
universities. I was active in the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal mass
movement. I became the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of the Philippines from 1968 to 1977. I was arrested, tortured and
detained by the Marcos fascist dictatorship from 1977 to 1986.

I was released from military detention after the fall of Marcos in 1986 and
rejoined the faculty of the University of the Philippines. I went on a
university lecture tour in the Asia-Pacific region and then in Europe from
late 1986 onwards. When my Philippine passport was cancelled in 1988, I
applied for political asylum in The Netherlands. I am now the chief
political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines
(NDFP) in peace negotiations with the reactionary Government of the Republic
of the Philippines (GRP). Ironically, it is in connection with the GRP-NDFP
peace negotiations that the CPP, New People’s Army NPA) and I have been
blacklisted as “terrorists” by the US and other foreign governments upon the
lobbying of the GRP in order to pressure the NDFP towards capitulation.

EP: How would you describe the nature of NPA struggle: history, strength,
spread, activities, social support, mid-term and long-term goals?

JMS: The Communist Party of the Philippines describes the New People’s Army
as the main weapon for protracted people’s war and seizure of political
power along the line of the new democratic revolution under the leadership
of the working class in the concrete conditions of the Philippines. The NPA
was established on March 29, 1969, a few months after the reestablishment of
the CPP in 1968. It has carried out fighting, political, productive and
cultural tasks for more than 38 years. It is deeply and widely based among
the people, mainly the peasantry.

It has more than 120 guerrilla fronts. It operates in 70 of the 81 provinces
of the Philippines, 800 out of 1500 Philippine municipalities and in more
than 10,000 out of the 42,000 Philippine villages. It has been instrumental
in the establishment and development of mass organizations and organs of
political power. It has generated and supported social programs and mass
campaigns for the benefit of the people in mass education, land reform,
production, health, defense, cultural activities and settlement of disputes.

The goals announced by the NPA are to seize political power in order to
complete the new democratic revolution and establish a people’s republic and
then to become the main component of state power and defender of the people
in socialist revolution and construction in the Philippines.

EP: What’s your reply to those who say that nowadays a Maoist guerrilla
fighting for a socialist state is anachronistic?

JMS: The NPA cannot be anachronistic by fighting for national liberation and
democracy against US imperialism and the local exploiting classes of big
compradors and landlords. It is the new democratic force that is striving to
defeat such anachronistic monsters as imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat
capitalism which exploit and oppress the broad masses of the people.

By the time that the NPA succeeds in defeating these anachronistic monsters,
then the people shall have accumulated the strength necessary for building
socialism under conditions of an imperialism much weakened by accelerated
crisis under such policies as “free market” globalization and global war of
terror spearheaded by US monopoly capitalism. The world capitalist system
has a growing tendency to implode because of the increased number of
competing imperialist powers and the growing resistance of the people of the
world.

EP: The CPP program states that the future socialist State will have special
relations with the People’s Republic of China. Many people say that NPA is
even armed by China. Why do you still consider China a revolutionary state,
even if it has become a completely capitalist country?

JMS: At the time that the CPP program was formulated in 1968, the People’s
Republic of China was still a socialist state and was practically the center
of the world proletarian revolution through the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution. But since then, especially after 1976, CPP documents and
publications have been criticizing the revisionists and capitalist
restorationists that have prevailed over the Marxist-Leninists in China. As
you say, China has become capitalist and is no longer a revolutionary state.
I refer you to CPP documents and publications criticizing and condemning
“free market” globalization in sharp contrast to China’s conformity to this
policy pushed by the US and other imperialist powers.

EP: Could you explain what the ‘Oplan Bantay Laya’ is and its effects on
civilians and political activists?

JMS: Oplan Bantay Laya is a “national internal security plan” patterned
after Oplan Phoenix of the US in Vietnam during the late 1960s. It seeks to
destroy the political infrastructure and the guerrilla fronts of the armed
revolutionary movement. It is instigated by the US in the context of its
policy of global war of terror. The US has described the Philippines as the
second front of such global war. It has introduced thousands of US military
troops in the Philippines and increased military supplies to its Filipino
puppets to push them on a counterrevolutionar

y rampage in the name of
anti-terrorism.

Oplan Bantay Laya has brought about the extrajudicial killing, forced
disappearance and torture of more than a thousand progressive legal
activists, including leaders of progressive mass organizations, journalists,
lawyers, religious leaders and other activists who advocate human rights,
social justice and just peace. It has also brought about the brutal
displacement of more than one million people mainly in the countryside, in
addition to a previous level of two million internal refugees. The forced
displacement of the people is calculated to divest them of their land and to
deliver this to foreign mining, agribusiness and recreation companies.

Oplan Bantay Laya aims to destroy the armed revolution and legal opposition
and to intimidate the people. But it has failed to destroy a single
guerrilla front of the NPA. It has only served to fuel the flames of the
armed revolution. The gross and systematic violations of the human rights of
the progressive legal activists have outraged the Filipino people and the
people of the world. The progressive legal mass movement has risen up to a
new level against the escalating acts of violence against the people by the
US and the local reactionaries. Even international human rights
organizations and human rights agencies of the UN have pointed to the
criminal responsibility of the Filipino puppet rulers headed by Arroyo.

EP: The situation will get worse from now on with the new anti-terror law:
the Human Security Act enforced on July 15?

JMS: Indeed, the human rights situation will get worse with the
anti-terror- law, which is deceptively called Human Security Act of 2007. The
definitions of “terrorism” and “conspiracy to commit terrorism” are vague
and overly broad. It becomes very easy for the Arroyo regime to take
punitive actions against any individual,, any organization and any party in
the opposition. The punitive actions include limitless surveillance,
warrantless arrests, indefinite detention without bail, proscription as
“terrorists” and seizure of properties and financial assets.

EP: Do you think that under Arroyo’s leadership, Philippines is going
backward to the Marcos dictatorship era?

JMS: In many respects and to a great extent, the Arroyo regime is already
very much on the fascist road of the Marcos dictatorship. Especially with
the HSA of 2007, the Arroyo regime has gotten a license for martial rule
without having to declare martial law and comply with requirements set by
the anti-fascist provisions of the 1987 constitution

EP: What is the role of US military in supporting Philippines troops? Only
training and logistical support or something more?

JMS: The role of the US military in supporting Philippine troops is not
limited to weapons training and logistical support. It is to indoctrinate
the puppet officers and troops and enhance their subservience, mercenary
character and puppetry to US political and military plans in East Asia and
the world at large, It is to gain intelligence from the puppet forces
against the Filipino people as well as to provide intelligence to the puppet
forces in order to condition their thinking and operations. It is to lay
anew and develop the infrastructure for direct US military presence and
operations in the Philippines and for US military intervention and
aggression in Southeast Asia, East Asia and farther afield.

EP: Official figures put at 40 thousand the death toll of the ‘People War’.
Do you confirm this number? Is it true that the conflict is now in an
escalating phase?

JMS: It is wrong for anyone to ascribe the death toll of 40,000 or whatever
number to the people’s war .. We must make clear that this number refers to
the people killed by the military, police and paramilitary forces of the
reactionary government in the course of anti-NPA campaigns of suppression as
early as during the time of the Marcos fascist dictatorship. Since after the
fall of the Marcos regime, the number would have significantly increased to
60,000 with the count of victims in the brutal campaigns of anti-communist
military suppression under the regimes of Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo.

Being the army of the people, the NPA strictly directs its fire against the
military, police and paramilitary forces of the oppressive regime. There is
an estimate that since 1969 the NPA has killed more than 30,000 enemy troops
and wounded many more and the reactionary military and police have killed
around 10,000 Red fighters and more than 50,000 civilians. These figures
exclude the casualties in the fighting between the reactionary armed forces
and the Moro liberation forces.

EP: What about the peace negotiations started in Brussels in 1995?

JMS: The peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the
Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines
(GRP) have made some progress in the form of agreements within the framework
of The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. The most significant of the
agreements is the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and
International Humanitarian Law, which is the first item in the substantive
agenda of the peace negotiations.

But under various pretexts, the GRP has blocked the further advance of the
peace negotiations by repeated attempts to require the NDFP to capitulate
and by repeated declarations of prolonged recesses, suspension of talks and
even the termination of the negotiations. The peace negotiations become
paralyzed every time the GRP demands the surrender of the revolutionary
forces and stops the negotiations as a process for addressing the roots of
the armed conflict and agreeing on social, economic and political reforms
for the benefit of the people.

EP: What do you think about the other Philippine armed conflict: the one
between goverment and Moro Islamic Liberation Front? And what is your
opinion about the Abu Sayyaf Group?

JMS: The Moro people have the right to national self-determination,
democracy, development and peaceful enjoyment of their ancestral domain.
They have the right to secede from an oppressive state and to demand
regional autonomy in a nonoppressive state. The Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF) is waging a just revolutionary armed struggle along the line of
upholding, protecting and promoting the national and democratic rights and
interests of the Moro people.

The Abu Sayyaf is different . It was originally organized by the CIA and
Philippine military intelligence in 1991 in order to make trouble on the
flanks of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). But when the MNLF
capitulated to the GRP in 1996, the Abu Sayyaf appeared to run out of
control of the CIA and Philippine reactionary military. Now, it is being
used by the US as pretext for the continuing presence of US military forces
in Mindanao and the entire Philippines.

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Interviews

Posted by Indian Vanguard on September 6, 2007

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