26 January, 2011

Black Hole of History: saga of post-45 Bose

Uday India, Cover Story, Vol. II, No. 09, pp 26 - 31, February 12, 2011

Did Netaji die in the air-crash in 1945? Or did he continue to live in India till 1985 or beyond? Can a Man of indomitable energy, bubbling enthusiasm and unending patriotism just transmute into a wandering dervish? 

Many theories, documents and conjectures galore. However, the actual key is in the hands of the Government of India. If only it would de-classify the documents pertaining to Netaji. 

While critiquing the sense of history of the notable Realist E. H. Carr, the then Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, Trevor-Roper suggested:

“according to Carr, ‘objectivity’ means, not being ‘objective’ in the hitherto accepted sense of the word -- i.e. being uncommitted, dispassionate, fair -- but the exact opposite, being committed to that side which is going to win……”

How this seemingly unconnected theoretical reference becomes contextual in the present scheme of things which are going to be discussed here? The answer lies in the complex matrix of events, facts, narratives, personalities and politics which is going to unfold soon after.

By now, it is well assumed that not just the intelligentsia, but many so-called commoners, are somewhat aware of the concept of a Black Hole. Technical jargons aside, a Black Hole is an object in the Universe which does not allow any light to come out of it. Hence, no information can be obtained from the Black Hole.

Interestingly, a Black Hole is initially a bright, luminous star. However, the death of a star can have three different possibilities, and Black Hole is one of them. Just imagine, an effulgent star one day extinguishes itself, loses all its fuel and ‘dies’. And after death, does not allow us to look at it.

Coming back to dry theoretical discourse, historian A. J. P. Taylor questioned the prevalent notion of historical ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. He asked:

“Was Stalin’s extermination of the Kulaks justified because it helped to produce a strong Soviet Union? Or does it mean that Hitler’s pogrom was not justified because Germany lost in the Second World War?”

Extracting a page from Taylor, one might tend to argue that historiography or ‘the art of writing history’ has generally divorced itself from moral judgment in order to uphold the so-called ‘objectivity’, which in essence is simply nothing but a mechanism to buttress the ideology of the ‘victor’.

Now, which lack of morality and ethics are we talking about? And that too in post-colonial Indian Historiography? Who are the Indian ‘victors’ after independence? And who all are the marginalized in the mainstream historical discourse? Whatever be the reality, the perennially disgruntled remain the hapless Indian citizenry -- the so-called ‘masses’.

The Tale of Two Pistols

Did we ever read or hear about a protagonist in Indian History called Trilok Singh Chawla? He is definitively bound to be a non-entity in mainstream historical narrative. Nevertheless, Trilok Singh, and many like him do exist, albeit in a carefully shielded apparatus, called the Historical Black Hole. To glean information from their tales, it becomes pertinent to explore some less charted territories, mostly lost in the labyrinth of mainstream narrative.

Such feelings were randomly crossing the minds of the audience in the hall of the Mahabodhi Society in Kolkata on 18 January 2011. Restlessness was a tangible asset on their faces. The reason was pretty straightforward. A microscopic minority out of the ten million population of the ‘literate’ city had gathered to discern some information regarding their “Netaji”. After all, his 115th birthday was around the corner. The audience of around 30 – 40 people were eagerly waiting to see a much-controversial documentary on Netaji. 

Well, what do we know about the Man? That he was a great freedom fighter and became President of the Indian National Congress (INC) twice. His opinions were at variance with the Father of the Nation, and that was one of the main reasons of his eventual ouster from the INC. That he was a ‘Fascist’ (as believed by Francis Fukuyama, Paul Samuelson and our Marxist brothers) and went to Germany and then to Japan to ‘collude’ with the Axis powers so as to liberate his motherland through the Indian National Army (INA). He failed though, like most of our freedom fighters, to reach the Red Fort and deliver a ‘tryst with destiny’ speech from the ramparts of the medieval architectural piece.

However, the things that we hardly know or rather care to know; can be summarized in a nutshell:

Did Netaji ‘die’ in the air crash at Taihoku airport (present Taipei) on 18 August 1945?

If the answer to the above question is in the affirmative, then why have not the Government of India (GoI) brought his ‘alleged’ ashes from the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo?

And if Netaji did not die on that fateful day, as has been claimed as well as to some extent ‘proved’ by careful analyses as per circumstantial evidence and pure logic by many analysts, politicos, academicians and freelancers; what happened to that Man?

Why have the GoI not disclosed a number of (according to estimates, around 30) classified documents pertaining to Netaji?

And why the GoI has to file a case challenging the Central Information Commission when the latter (a body constituted by the GoI itself to emancipate the countrymen from official secrecy) allowed an RTI application of unmasking the history of INA, written ironically by an official historian way back in 1950?

And why the GoI posits clearly unintelligible arguments that it shall be derogatory and harmful for India’s relations with friendly nations if the classified documents pertaining to Netaji are made public, even after six decades of our political emancipation?


Trilok Singh is an apparently innocuous person. He is into real estate business and lives in Bangkok with his family. And since he is a nonagenarian, there is the least probability for him to join any terrorist organisation to jeopardize India’s security interests.

However, he has committed a crime and for which he is still languishing. He is a pariah in his own motherland. At least, his son has to make ‘durbars’ to meet the Prime Minister of India and still can’t have a glimpse of him. Trilok, the bold Sikh, was a secretary of Netaji in Thailand during the INA days. Singh still cherishes that memory, and is in possession of a photograph of his leader. Well, his crime is not just that. He was a part of the ‘dissenters’, who disobeyed their Imperial rulers and fought to emancipate their ‘boden’ (German word for soil).

Trilok’s other major crime is that he still remains the custodian of two pistols, quite antediluvian though in their technological structure and military impact. These were the two pistols which were given to him by his revered leader before he left Thailand. Singh still remembers the last words of his “Netaji”: 

“Chawla, we will meet in Red Fort”.

And naturally Singh has the quixotic belief that his Netaji will come back. His last wish is to hand over these two pistols to GoI. But the latter is pretty busy handling graft charges, and has no time to accommodate outmoded characters like Singh. In this busy 21st century, our leaders hardly have an ‘inch’ of space for the ‘masses’, something which at least the medieval stalwart Akbar had. Remember his ‘Jharoka Darshans’ every morning?

Two Schools of Thought

Now, the masses are gullible no doubt. They can be goaded to believe nonsense. But there are elites to guide them. And intellectuals (without getting into the definition of the term) must provide us the path. However, here the question arises, which intellectuals to listen to? In post-colonial India, we have had two sets of intellectuals to have opined and written on Subhash Chandra Bose.

The first set represents the official line of thought. According to them, the solution to the phenomenon called Netaji is simple. He passed away in that air crash and was a patriotic leader who spearheaded the INA. It’s the second set of motley group which every now and then, have created and still re-create flutters.

Samar Guha, a Professor of Chemistry at Jadavpur University, was a freedom fighter himself under the guidance of Netaji. After he became an MP in 1967, he started the crusade in the Parliament for instituting a fresh inquiry into Netaji’s mysterious disappearance in 1945. What made him think that Netaji was still alive or at least did not perish in that crash? Since by then, an official Commission of Enquiry had already taken place, called the Shah Nawaz Khan Commission (December 1955) and declared its ‘verdict’ which in fact was corroborative of the crash theory.

More so, as Guha kept on clamouring, there was instituted another Committee, which journalist Anuj Dhar in his book Back From Dead (BFD) terms as a Sham Commission, was the one-man G D Khosla Committee (1970-74). And expectedly, both the commissions stubbornly declared that Netaji perished in that crash at Taihoku.

Nobody bothered to probe the inner details, or rather were willfully reluctant to. At the other end, Guha was dogged enough not to surrender, though incarcerated during the Emergency. He rather picked up his pen during his sojourn to prison and penned down his persuasive monograph: ‘Netaji, Dead or Alive?’

Secret documents and evidences revealed in the book convinced the then Morarji Desai government to discard the findings of both the Shah Nawaz Committee and Khosla Commission. Guha openly challenged the Crash theory. Does it mean that he was privy to some more ‘clinching evidence’ apart from the ones cited in his book?

Might be. At least that is what has been indicated by Dhar in his magnum opus. “Bhagwanji was the man on Samar Guha’s mind when he had sworn in the name of God in the Parliament that Netaji was alive” (pg 311, BFD).

In fact, the story goes a bit backward in time. And that is exactly what the audience was privy to on 18 January at the Mahabodhi Society hall. Amlan Kusum Ghosh of the SRIFT Foundation has enthusiastically tailored a documentary ‘Black Box of History’ (BBH) which touches upon many possible angles of post-1945 Bose’s survival.

The fact of the matter is Amlan-babu was visually portraying the hard facts (?) on 18 January as has been already elucidated in Dhar’s book. Or which in a sense Prof Guha had vociferously argued in the Parliament or Dr Madhsudan Pal firmly believes and on which Dr Purabi Roy of Jadavpur University puts an insignia through her painstaking research in the 1990s in post-Communist Russia.

Even if the above be discarded by our officials and GoI as sundry and over-enthusiastic individuals, the following two can hardly be ignored. One was Thevar, whose statue exists in the Parliament Hall. Thevar claimed that ‘he had stayed’ with Netaji for nine months from January 1950 to October 1950. He detailed in front of the media that Netaji was then at Sikiang district of China on the Assam-China border and was acting as an Indian representative on the Asian Liberation Force (pg 353, BFD).

According to Dhar, Thevar further claimed that “Subhas Babu was taken to Manchuria by the Japanese….” (pg 354, BFD).

Next in line to officially disregard the hitherto existing official beliefs, was Manoj Mukherjee, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. He, however, did not do so acting on an independent mission, which the others have basically done. Rather, Mukherjee was appointed by the GoI in 1999 to unravel the mystery pertaining to the ‘death’ of Bose. Again, he was a one-man committee in search of ‘one more Man’.

He, nevertheless, put up a gallant fight and came up with his findings in May 2006. Ironically, he faced a ludicrous response from the GoI, which by then had seen a change of guard in New Delhi: the INC-led GoI was back. The obvious response of the GoI was to throw the voluminous report to the garbage bin without positing any concrete rationale.

The Union Home Ministry, while submitting the report to Parliament, placed an Action Taken Report (ATR) too where it said the Centre had not accepted the Commission’s findings. The Commission had said that Bose did not die at Taihoku and the ashes kept in Renkoji temple in Japan were not his.

Rudra Jyoti Bhattacharjee, an advocate, filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court in 2006 challenging the ATR. The case is still on.

Justice Mukherjee went to Japan to interview the doctor who had reportedly issued the death certificate for Netaji in 1945. Interestingly, it became known that the certificate was issued on the name of a Japanese Ichiro Okura.

In 2005, the Taiwanese government officially declared that no air crash happened at Taihoku on and around 18 August 1945. Based on cogent documents, interviews and proofs, Justice Mukherjee concluded that Netaji did NOT perish in August 1945. The only possibility thus left was that he went toward Russia through China.

Such a hypothesis is concurred by the investigation carried out by Hindustan Times as well as by Dr Roy’s research based on the archival documents. And there is no reason to outrightly reject the assertion of Zerovin (a German) as told to an Indian engineer Ardhendu Sarkar. Zerovin had personally met Bose in 1948, somewhere in Siberia. According to his version, Bose told him:

“I expect to be in India very soon”. (pg 215, BFD)

Dr Roy tried her best to unravel the hidden dimension, but all in vain. The reason was obstinacy shown by the GoI. It never requested the Russians to open up their secret military archives which presumably contain the papers concerning Netaji’s disappearance. Roy could still piece together enough materials to unravel the mystery. Her ‘hypothesis’ is that Netaji was alive after 1945, in Russia. And he was not mal-treated by Stalin. However, after the latter’s death in 1953, Bose might have been ‘swapped’ between Nehru and Khruschev. Roy tries to substantiate her arguments by indicating that India’s relations with Russia improved after 1953. Well, she does not possess any ‘clinching evidence’ either.

Nonetheless, did Nehru have any ‘clinching’ and cogent proof to ever say that Netaji perished in 1945?

He defended himself thus:

“You ask me to send you proof of the death of Bose. I cannot send you any precise and direct proof.” (Nehru’s letter to Netaji’s brother, Suresh Bose, 1962)

In a recent piece in Current History (20 October 2010), Hugh Purcell has quoted a stenographer, Sham Lal Jain. As a deponent before the Khosla Commission, he said: “Pandit Nehru asked him to make typed copies of a hand-written note that said Bose had reached Russia via Dairen [Manchuria]”.

He also alleged that Nehru asked him to type a letter to British Prime Minister Attlee that “Bose, your war criminal, has been allowed to enter Russian territory by Stalin”.

Moreover, on 10 March 1978, Mountbatten uttered: 

“there was no official record of Bose’s death in his archives” (pg 57, BFD).

The Movement is On

The silent revolution to ‘unearth’ Bose has been going on since 1960s, when Leela Roy, a revolutionary and Bose’s compatriot, discovered that Netaji was alive and residing at a place called Neemsar in the UP-Nepal border. Ghose’s documentary interviewed those residents of Neemsar who supposedly had a brush with the Great Leader. Interestingly, all of them say that they are quite confident that it was Bose who stayed at Neemsar for a long period of time in the 1960s. However, he always remained behind a veil, and incognito, assuming the name of Gumnaami Baba.

Indubitably, things turn quite dramatic over here. Was Netaji living incognito in India for around three decades (1954-85), behind the veil and never surfaced in public? Why? Well, Dhar tries to prop up a plausible answer in the Postlude of his book citing conversation of Bhagwanji and Leela Roy (March 1963) :

“My coming out will not benefit anyone – the country, the people and myself. India would not be able to stand the pressure of the world powers.”

What pressure was Bhagwanji referring to? Was it the War Criminal status accorded (or was it?) to Netaji as he was alongside the Axis powers. After losing the War, history was neither written for them, nor by them.

Now, evidence speaks for all, and even for the dead. Two things were done regarding Bhagwanji. First, his sample handwritings were compared with Netaji’s actual ones pre-1945. And second, teeth found from Bhagwanji’s room at Faizabad (the place where he reportedly breathed his last in 1985) were sent for DNA profile matching with a Bose-kin.

The former had an interesting result as B. Lal, an expert opined on 25 June 2003, in the affirmative; while two other experts ‘appointed’ by the GoI, negated any similarity. As far as the DNA report was concerned, it remained inconclusive.

In an e-mail correspondence, Dhar told Uday India: “As I understand, opinions of handwriting experts are accepted in courts of law world over. Regarding Bahgwanji, it is impossible for an aging man to continue copying someone else's handwritings in two languages for 30 odd years.”

He further asserted: “Regarding DNA, I have held the view since the time of writing the book that any opinion expressed by anyone linked to GoI lack credibility. If a government is hell bent upon to prove something, tweaking DNA will be a child's play for them. A DNA test must not take place in a GoI authorised laboratory, but in an independent laboratory in the US or UK.”

Netaji or Bhagwanji?

On 26 November 2001, Justice Mukherjee drove up to the District Treasury to open up the boxes containing Bhagwanji’s belongings. Out came a pair of German binoculars, a Corona typewriter, a pipe, a Rolex watch (Netaji’s watch?), a box of five teeth, a pair of silver, round-rimmed spectacles and a number of books in English.

Even Justice Mukherjee could not hide his ‘emotions’ when he confessed, albeit ‘off the record’, to Ghose that he was 100 per cent sure that Bhagwanji was Bose in disguise. Ghose’s BBH portrayed it (a type of sting operation) and that has forced Mukherjee to prefer isolation.

Things turned more bizarre in the evening of 18 January 2010, when Prof Nanda Chakrabarti claimed that Bhagwanji aka Bose did not pass away even on 16 September 1985! Can Bijoy Nag, the present editor of Jayashree publications (originally founded by Leela Roy) hold the key to this helical mystery? He was one of the close aids of Bhagwanji during his stay at Neemsar and Faizabad. In fact, Jayashree had published a lot of write-ups by Mahakaal aka Bhagwanji aka Bose. 

The readers must have had enough by now; upto the brim and in a state of phantasms. All the doubts of the readers could be clarified quite easily if and only if the GoI de-classifies the documents related to Netaji. And only if the GoI answers with substantive rationale why the Mukherjee Commission report was dumped?

Such a possibility however seems remote in the Land of the Buddha where politicians overtly professing non-violence and bureaucrats claiming fidelity to the constitution molest the public belief every moment. In a country where mafia can burn alive an upright officer in broad daylight, and at the other end of the spectrum an IAS officer could amass 360 crores of currency, with pending investigations and court cases providing the termites healthy food for existence; expecting the GoI to go public with data on post-45 Bose will be something more than utopian.

Nevertheless, no solution is in sight in this parliamentary democracy apart from what Dhar, Chandrachur Ghose and others of “Mission Netaji” are pursuing: a campaign of declassification and RTI activism. At least, we cannot just join the Maoists if we do not get any justice in the existing system; which of course is what one of our Cabinet Minister advocates. We need to tell him that we still believe in the system, may be not in some personnel who man the system.

“Kadam kadam Badae Ja, khushi ke geet gae ja

Yeh Zindagi Hai Qaum Ki, tu Qaum pe lutae ja”

13 January, 2011

Indo-Iran Oil Payments

by Uddipan Mukherjee


A fresh spin was provided to the already turbulent India-Iran bilateral relations when India’s Central Bank issued a directive on December 27 2010, regarding the payment mechanism concerning trade with Iran. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced that: “In view of the difficulties being experienced by importers and exporters in payments to and receipts from Iran, the extant provisions have been reviewed and it has been decided that all eligible current account transactions including trade transactions with Iran should be settled in any permitted currency outside the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) mechanism until further notice.”

ACU is the simplest form of payment arrangements whereby the participants settle payments for intra-regional transactions with the central banks as their representatives.

As an initial reaction, Iran refused to sell crude oil to the Indian companies if the payment was done outside the ACU route. Nevertheless, Iran later agreed to ensure shipments at least for January 2011.

In fact, to make matters worse, on January 07 2011, the State Bank of India (SBI) refused to issue fresh Letters of Credit (LCs) to public and private sector refiners. This move has the potentiality to ‘halt’ oil import from Iran altogether.

This particular stance by the RBI has led private sector firm Reliance to abandon its plans to invest in an oil refinery in Iran.

Though there is no direct evidence that American pressure is operating on Indian companies, however, there are indications that it is quite likely that firms like Reliance were coerced to withdraw from Iran if they wanted to keep their prospects alive in the Shale Gas sector in USA.

To partially corroborate such a hypothesis; according to WikiLeaks, the officials of the US government had warned executives of France's Total and Italy's Eni SPA that investments in Iran “could possibly impact their Shale gas investments in the US”. Moreover, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that US officials had made a similar warning to the Indian companies.

Analysts have castigated India for this move as it supposedly shows that New Delhi is kowtowing to American dictates. By all probability, the political equation is inextricably entwined with this economic decision. However, matters run deep.

The stage was definitely set up with the Strategic Partnership with USA, and further bolstered by the Indo-US Civilian Nuke deal. India’s aspiration to acquire a permanent seat in the UNSC was always serving as a backdrop. Simultaneously, America’s terming of Iran as a pariah state for its clandestine nuclear activity made diplomacy further difficult for South Block.

However, India’s position regarding the contentious issue of the Iranian nuclear programme is actually logical. India believes that since Iran is a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory, it needs to conform to NPT guidelines and clarify doubts, if any, to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). India never denies the fact that Iran has the right to pursue civilian nuclear energy programme.

Nonetheless, the existence of a theocracy-backed stubborn political dispensation in Tehran has not made matters smooth in this regard. In addition to that, American and Israeli misgivings regarding Iran’s motive have not created any salubrious diplomatic ambience for India either.

Needless to mention, any future sanctions against Iran would entangle India, at least tangentially because India is at present a non-permanent member of the UNSC. Over and above, offensive statements by the Ayatollah regarding Kashmir have not helped to solve matters.

Presently, India will surely try to ensure that political underpinnings do not jeopardize its own economic interests. Hence, the RBI directive may be interpreted as a temporary muscle-flexing so as to serve two purposes simultaneously: one, an indication of allegiance to US interests and two, censuring Iran for Ayatollah's Kashmir comments made in November, last year.

Hopefully, to that end, a delegation of officials from the Indian Finance and Oil Ministries and the RBI will be leaving for Tehran on January 14 to settle matters amicably. Also, on January 07 2010, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told that the country hopes to resolve the payments dispute with Iran before February, this year.

In that direction, India and Iran will look at currencies like the euro, yen and dirham to resolve the impasse at their forthcoming meeting in Tehran since settlement through US dollars has become difficult due to sanctions imposed against the nation-state.

Actually, India needs to perform the ‘balancing act’ between Iran and USA to a level of precision. For that, it shall be natural for New Delhi to maintain the status quo regarding the gas deals with Tehran, at least in the foreseeable future.

That means, New Delhi is most likely to procrastinate on these deals. A plausible argument posited by India is Tehran’s demand to revise the gas prices every three years for the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. Furthermore, the LNG project is yet to proceed as the proposed plant would need American components, which might violate the US-Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). Also, the direct threat posed by the terrorist groups in Pakistan is another reason for India to delay the projects.

However, it is unexpected that it would scrap the deals altogether.

12 January, 2011

Lalgarh and the Letter

Dear All,

find the following piece in the print edition of Uday India, Vol II, No 7, 29 Jan 2011, pp 30-31 (online edition will be available next week). 

it was submitted on 07 Jan 2011, the day Netai incient took place. 

Investigations and events have unfolded since then. However, the basic picture hardly has altered. 

thanks and regards

Abstract: Violence is continuing in Lalgarh for more than two years now. On 07 January 2011, a new mode of bloodshed has erupted as the people (allegedly aided by the Maoists) are challenging the 're-established' bases of the armed cadres of the ruling Marxists. Amidst this turmoil, a letter from the Union Home Ministry has sparked off a major controversy.

Friday, 07 January 2011. Few villagers of Netai assembled near a house which allegedly was sheltering some ‘harmads’ of the Marxists. After some altercation, the insiders started firing indiscriminately. According to the initial reports, six people have been killed and around fifteen injured. Interestingly, the ‘harmads’ were believed to have been bolstering the Village Protection Groups (VPG) set up by the Marxists. 

And Netai is a village in Lalgarh.

It has been over two years now. And still the events do not seem to have become a part of mere archival documentation. To recollect, on 02 November 2008, at Shalboni, in the district of West Midnapore in West Bengal, a land mine explosion had targeted the state Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s convoy. He was returning after an inspection from the proposed site of Jindal Steel Plant. Accompanying him was Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. However, both were unhurt.

The natural outcome of such a purportedly grotesque act was ‘activity with alacrity’ of the state police. In fact, they vented their grievance on the Santhal Adivasis of Lalgarh, a place south-west of Shalboni.

Now, if one attempts to locate Lalgarh on the map, it is most likely that (s)he would face disappointment. The most detailed map shows a narrow road from Midnapore Station, which abruptly ends somewhere near Pirahkata. In his piece published in the Monthly Review on 17 December 2008, Koustav De asserts that the road from Pirahkata to Lalgarh is well made but rarely used by the Adivasis. He laments that the road is of no use to the indigenous population who rarely even possess motorbikes. According to him and quite as well expected, the primary modes of transport of the Adivasis are bullock carts, cycles or mainly by walking.

Well, after two long years full of skirmishes, attacks and counter-attacks, punctuated by claims of the Maoists to have ‘liberated’ the area and counter-claims by the ruling Marxists that the Maoists have aligned with the Trinamool Congress (henceforth, TMC), Lalgarh finally has completed a full circle.

Just after the Shalboni incident, the personnel of the Lalgarh and Ramgarh police stations led a joint operation on 05 November 2008, into the villages of Choto Pelia, Boro Pelia, Bashber and Kata Pahari, all in the Lalgarh area.

The overtly left-leaning magazine Sanhati came out with a gripping description of police brutalities in the Chhoto Pelia village. Partho Sarathi Ray in his well-drafted piece of 13 November 2008, quotes one hapless villager of Chhoto Pelia : “We know the police from the way they knock at the door, just one long and loud knock and then they break in with heavy kicks(emphasis added). They do not even wait for anyone to open the door.”

The tale of the villager was grossly similar to stories of a mismanaged counterinsurgency programme anywhere in the world. When the police or the ‘state’ hardly cares about winning the hearts and minds of the local denizens, the insurgency is further aggravated so that it shapes up as a formidable insurrection.

The state police, in that particular house at Chhoto Pelia singled out a guest, labeling him as an 'outsider' and alleged that he had come to carry out the 'Shalboni Landmine Operation'. On that day, the police were in no mood to listen to the pleas of the inmates and thrashed them with the butt of their guns. One woman was hit right in the eye, reports Ray. She fell unconscious, her eye damaged permanently.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Maoists, the so-called ‘Robinhoods’, have been no good either to the Adivasis. Initially, they had propped up the Peoples' Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) as their frontal organisation; which seemingly had a ‘tribal’ look to it, apparently devoid of any Maoist colour. However, with time, the PCPA lost its apolitical moorings and got mired in controversies when one of its top brass Chattradhar Mahato (incidentally, belonging to Chhoto Pelia) was arrested and alleged to have Maoist links. Further, PCPA activists were booked by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the wake of the Jnaneshwari Express mishap.

To add to the woes of the Adivasis, the Maoists started their blatant acts of nihilism by killing cadres of the Marxists and their allies (who were part of the Adivasi milieu). Individual assassination became the order of the day. The 1970s ‘Conspiratorial Killings’ espoused by Charu Mazumdar through small armed squads became the norm in the area. Hence, such acts excoriated the PCPA of its ‘people’s flesh’ and brought out the inner Maoist core.

Thus, things became easier for the marauding armed cadres of the Marxists, the so-called dreaded ‘harmads’. Slowly but surely, they made inroads into the local populace and more importantly, fought back into their psyche. Indirectly and quite unknowingly, the counterinsurgency forces sent from New Delhi, the CRPF and the CoBRA, aided the ‘home-coming’ of the Marxist leaders and concomitantly, their ‘goons’ who possess a democratic badge so as to legitimize their undemocratic acts.

Ironically, on that fateful day of 07 November 2008, when the ruling Marxists were ‘observing’ the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution throughout West Bengal, ten thousand Santhal men and women, armed with traditional weapons, came out and obstructed the roads leading to Lalgarh, disconnecting it from Midnapur and Bankura.

In fact, on that very day, ‘notable’ Marxist leaders of the area, Dipak Sarkar, district secretary of the party and Susanta Ghosh, a state Minister were basically helpless in negotiating with the Adivasis. They had succumbed to a people’s movement, Maoist or not.

But, times have changed. On the eve of New Year, on 31 December 2010, the Marxists openly vowed to fight the Maoists in Lalgarh by forming the VPG which will be keeping track of intruders in the area. And the duo of Dipak Sarkar and Susanta Ghosh were back with their political muscle-flexing, which always did not have democratic underpinnings of the ballot.

In fact, Sarkar blurted: “You will have to protect yourselves. The Maoists, who are engaged in killings and arson, will try to hit back any time. They operate in night and you will have to fend for yourselves.”

The venue was significant. It was the Ramkrishna High School grounds, where TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had addressed a mass gathering on 09 August 2010. Nonchalantly, Sarkar asserted that VPG had already been formed at Radhanagar and in some other pockets of Jangalmahal. Can we sense any Salwa Judum here?

Actually, PCPA under their spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato succeeded to have the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Lalgarh without the presence of the state police; virtually making it free of the influence of the Marxists. Soon after the elections, the PCPA, with the covert aid of the Maoists started to gain ‘control’ of the area. And during the first-second week of June 2009, they went on a rampage at the premises of the Marxist party office and virtually demolished the plush two-storey house of the local Marxist leader and Binjur zonal committee secretary Anuj Pandey. The Lalgarh police station was not spared either, thus completing the formation of the ‘Liberated Zone’.

Then, the state government was definitely slow to retaliate since it was in a quagmire: whether to retain confidence in its well trusted cadre-cum-hooligan force (‘harmads’) which paid them rich dividends in Nandigram or to use the begging bowl in front of the bourgeoisie Union Government. Ultimately, the Chief Minister chose the second option.

However, Anuj Pandey is back in Lalgarh and so are the ‘harmads’. The New Year resolution for the Marxists is not just to fight the Maoists in Lalgarh, but actually to keep their hold over the power structures in the state, which they had (mal)nourished for over three-decades. Hence, any sort of TMC-Maoist combine needs to be broken, openly through the ballot, but if need be, by bullet, bows, arrows, spears, daggers et al.

Hence the rationale to form the VPG. A double-reading of the Marxist narrative makes things pretty clear: a fight against the Maoists means a fight against the TMC and an important fight before the ensuing Assembly elections. Still, the New Year party was not that lively for the Marxists as CM Bhattacharjee, their keynote speaker, could not blab alongwith Sarkar and Ghosh. After all, Lalgarh is definitey not the safest place in West Bengal yet.

Of late, the word ‘harmad’ has become popular. At least, people outside Bengal are now acquainted with the word. Thanks to Union Home Minister Chidambaram’s letter to Bhattacharjee. While hurling diatribes against the Marxist (mis)government in the state, the Home Minister used the term ‘Harmad Vahini’ to describe the armed Marxist cadres. Things are quite clear. It’s TMC supremo who is brandishing the sword; only difference is that Chidambaram is holding the weapon.

From the issuance of such a letter and its media leakage, two things could be understood. One, Chidambaram has finally been badgered to the limit by Ms Banerjee so that he has burst, though in an outlandish manner. Two, Congress is considering its alliance with TMC quite seriously and Pranab-da must have had a major role in this regard.

However, problems multiply for the Congress. Kabir Suman, a TMC MP, mostly known for his psychopathic comments, has released a book on the Nandigram incident.

A book is a harmless literary product, no doubt, but till it does not create unnecessary controversies. In his book, Suman writes that TMC has serious links with the Maoists: a claim which corroborates that of the Marxists for a long period of time now. Moreover, Suman, a democratically elected MP, asserts that he finds ‘no sin in waging an armed rebellion’. In effect, he extols the Maoists. As if to buttress Suman’s claims, on 04 January 2011, a day after the book was released, Maoist leader Bikram sent a fax to media houses claiming to extend ‘support’ to and ‘joint resistance’ with the TMC.

The political climate is heating up in Bengal. Indubitably, it’s not only the Marxists who possess the ‘harmads’. All the political parties do, however, in varying degrees and efficiency. CRPF and CoBRA continue to drive out the fluid Maoists, and the area is later on taken up by the state police, which in essence means that the Marxist cadres; much to the chagrin of the TMC and the Maoists, reclaim their lost territories. It needs no re-iteration that the state bureaucracy is under strict surveillance of the ‘ruling’ Marxists.

It is almost understandable that there exists a TMC-Maoist tactical pre-poll alliance since their common political foes are the Marxists. Nonetheless, diffidence is writ large on the faces of the political parties in Bengal.

Far removed from the brouhaha, debates, reports and allegations going on in Kolkata, the ‘hoi polloi’ of Lalgarh live on, albeit amidst fear. No letter of assurance has reached them, neither from New Delhi nor from Kolkata. Probably that letter is languishing in the postal department.


04 January, 2011

WikiLeaks and the Indian Maoists

by Uddipan Mukherjee


Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks has bagged a whopping deal of £1.1 million to pen down his autobiography.[1]

This very well goes to show the kind of impact the revelations of WikiLeaks have had. Though it might have created substantial flutters in diplomatic circles of most of the nation-states, with USA being maximally affected, India has not been spared either.

However, there was one disclosure by the ‘maligned’ site which has received less hype by the global media. The reasons were obvious as the ‘scoop’ was not even remotely associated with America’s War on Terror. Rather it pertains to India’s low-intensity civil war which is predominantly rural based.

Moreover, unlike the other ‘leaks’ due to the website, this particular one did not portray the obvious. Rather, to the consternation of many analysts, WikiLeaks divulged that the Indian Maoists are “not dependent on support from outside India”. Moreover, they are “moving towards a more unified command system”. The latter, however, was more in conformity to standard perceptions about the insurgent group. [2]

Actually, Wikileaks has unearthed a document sent by the American Embassy in New Delhi on 18 April 2006 to the State Department in Washington. The cable, apart from carrying the above information, categorically mentions that “the Indian Government believes the Nepalese Maoists sold arms to the Indian Naxalites”. [3]

In fact, in the same document, the Government of India (GoI) proclaims that the Indian Maoists do not maintain any ‘operational’ links with their Nepalese counterparts. Nonetheless, the GoI does not deny ‘commercial’ links like arms sales between the two insurgent groups.

As per the leaked cable, the GoI has assured the American embassy officials in New Delhi that it dos not provide any logistical aid to the Nepalese Maoists, though it is contrary to popular beliefs in Kathmandu.

Now, this is news for the analysts and that too something which is not quite believable. The reasons may be enunciated in a nutshell.

One, are ‘business’ deals like arms sales not enough to corroborate the fact that there may be deep-rooted links between the two groups, more so when they have similar ideological moorings.

Two, Indian strategic community, media and even officials from GoI have in the past repeatedly pointed to the collusion between Indian and Nepalese Maoists as well as help being received by the Indian ultras from across the border.

For instance, on November 9, 2010, P V Ramana, in an article in the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), threw considerable light on the linkages between Indian and Nepalese Maoists.

He took cognizance of a media report of November 6, 2010 to assert that the Indian embassy in Kathmandu wrote to Foreign and Home Ministers, as well as to the Foreign and Home Secretaries of Nepal, claiming that two commanders of the People’s Liberation Army of the Nepalese Maoists signed a secret agreement with three leaders of the CPI (Maoist) of India. And according to that agreement, the Nepalese Maoists would impart political and military training to the Indian rebels. Further, those media reports also stated that about 300 Indian rebels have already been trained inside Nepal.

Ramana took the aid of annual reports from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to attest linkages between the two revolutionary groups.

In the article, he however quotes an interesting comment (on July 4, 2006) by then Union Home Secretary V.K. Duggal: “There is no physical link between Maoists in Nepal and India. However, there is an ‘ideological’ (emphasis added) link.” [4]

And if this comment is bluntly compared to the leaked cable, it turns out to be quite puzzling. What is the perceived link? Is it ‘ideological’ or ‘business-like’? Incidentally, the WikiLeaks disclosure stokes more confusion as according to it; the GoI has nullified ‘ideological’ links between the two concerned groups.

In another reportage (November 11, 2009), Siddharth Srivastava for Asia Times Online wrote that high-level Indian government sources point towards growing evidence of foreign support of the Maoist rebels. Among the ‘outside forces’ at work are remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). His report claimed that the LTTE were sharing their expertise with the Maoists in hit-and-run tactics and jungle warfare.

Srivastava quoted Home Secretary G K Pillai that “The Chinese are big smugglers ... suppliers of small arms. I am sure that the Maoists also get them”. [5] And interestingly, the proclamation of the Director General of Police of Chattisgarh regarding the alleged links between the Lashkar-i-Toiba and the Indian Maoists has till date remained sensational.

Actually, one needs to glean the facts from the plethora of factoids. Indubitably, the GoI sounds ambiguous in terms of asserting anything substantial about the foreign support (if any) being enjoyed by the Indian Maoists. However, that does not subscribe to the fact that the Maoists are indeed not receiving any help from outside.

In the same leaked document, much to the discomfiture of the Indians, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has been quoted as accepting that India had provided monetary incentive to the Nepalese Maoists. However, such a ‘leak’ has been outrightly rejected by C P Gajurel, senior leader of the Unified Maoists’ Party of Nepal. [6]

In this regard, it has to be appreciated that when a top Nepalese Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai have had his education in India, when India’s Red Corridor shares a contiguous border with Nepal and when the ultimate objective of both the Maoist parties (tactical differences notwithstanding) is to overthrow the parliamentary democracy by waging a people’s war; then it appears highly incommensurable that they are de-linked from each other.

Furthermore, with the espousal of the right to self-determination by the Indian Maoists, they naturally are driven towards the different separatist groups in the North-East and Kashmir. In addition to this, recent reports have corroborated that the Indian Maoists have set up direct liaison with insurgents in the North East at least as far as arms procurements are concerned. [7]

What WikiLeaks merely indicate is that the Indian government has not conveyed anything regarding ‘foreign help’ for the Indian Maoists to the US Embassy in New Delhi. Simply speaking, the GoI may not yet possess cogent documents to indict any party. Hence, a literal interpretation of the WikiLeaks’ ‘documents’ in this regard may lead to a strategic miscalculation. Amidst the hype generated by WikiLeaks, one needs to be really cautious.