Tribunal & tribals

From the grandiosely self-titled Independent People’s Tribunal held in New Delhi, one might have come away curiously (and disturbingly) enlightened: that Operation Green Hunt is reminiscent of the McCarthy-era anti-communist witch hunts, or even the Vietnam War. (Where’s the napalm, one might ask.) It’s a war on the environment; a colonial persecution of marginalised peoples. The “consumerist” middle class is now “a grave threat to national security”. While the gamut of “activist” dislike for the state may appear to turn all logic on its head, it’s necessary to engage with this discourse to show where, and how, it misreads and misrepresents.

That India’s tribal communities are a national asset, uniquely enriching our “human biodiversity”, was never contested. That’s why their welfare must be disengaged from the Maoists and those same old activists allegedly crusading in their behalf. The latter, who claim to represent the marginalised, indulge in their own marginalisation — in omitting reference to Maoist violence or merely paying it lip service. They collate the facts that the “red corridor” overlaps not just some of the least developed districts but also some of the richest in natural and mineral wealth in arguing that Maoists are Robin Hoods providing the abject what the state doesn’t. Unsurprisingly, Maoists grew in influence where the state was the least visible. But Maoist activity has been a tale of obstructing the rule of law and development, destroying infrastructure, arson, extortion, kidnappings and executions, culminating in last week’s massacre of 76 security personnel.

In taking the anti-statist argument further, the “tribunal” also recommended replacing our development model — “exploitative”, “not suitable for the country” — by a “participatory” one, emphasising “agriculture and the rural sector”. Well, India has faulted in failing to take development to tribals, not in imposing development. Nor is it feasible to deprive the economy of resources it needs. Whoever extends the Avatar logic to preserving tribals in their “pristine” state, depriving them of the benefits of economic development, cannot be their friend. Leaving tribals “alone” is too romantic a notion that dangerously connives with Maoist bloodlust, which aims to ultimately overthrow the democratic state — ironically it is only a democratic state that allows the freedom of speech on display here. Restoring civil administration can initiate development and uplift the tribals — Maoists oppose that uplift since it’s their ticket to redundancy.