The Contours of a Vacuum : Making sense of the Maoist movement

Chennai, July 28

“Journalists are like crocodiles. You neither like them nor hate them. You only have to feed them,” responded Aman Sethi to a question posed by the audience during his lecture at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), today.

Speaking on – “The contours of a vacuum: Making sense of the Maoist movement,” (in two sections), Aman Sethi addressed issues leading up to the current situation in Chhattisgarh, which some see as the centenary celebration marking the initial outburst in 1910 – as the start of the movement.

Talking about the history of Chhattisgarh dating back to the 5th century A.D, and the continuous struggle over controlling the forest areas, Aman Sethi, who is an alumnus of the ACJ, kept the students engrossed throughout. Bringing out its concise history, starting from the Communist Party of India and touching upon Marx and Lenin, he sketched out how the Maoists, as we see today, came into existence. He also reiterated that if anyone believed that what is happening in Chhattisgarh is unprecedented, he is wrong. Mentioning the events of the 1960’s and the 1990’s, he quoted Marx: “History repeats itself.” By the end of the first session, many were left wondering whether a six month stint in Chhattisgarh had left such a lasting impression on the speaker.

Aman came out exactly the opposite in the second session, bringing out the terror inflicted in the region, both by the Maoists and the Indian government. He highlighted the cooperative efforts by the state and the Central government. Equipped with information from the locals, the Maoists and the government officials, Aman described in detail the attacks that led to the death of  76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, laying out every piece of information he had gathered. It showed clearly how brutal and precise these planned attacks of the Maoist were and how such events are followed up. He also threw light on the confusion of identity that individuals are subjected to. He picked up the specific example of how a man, who was initially arrested under suspicion of being a Maoist, went on to become a Special Police Officer, on being released after two years. He was later murdered by the Maoists, on suspicion of being a police informer.

Replying to questions on the funding and military support; the possibility of intervention through air and the eventual outcome; Aman, with his quick wit, precision and natural flair for the subject, left his audience of aspiring journalists, in awe.

On the context of the relation with the local tribal population (Adhivasis), Aman stated that the Indian government tries to implement the WHAM model of counter insurgency, that is, Winning Hearts And Minds. He said, “We say that our relation with the Adhivasis has been estranged. But when has it ever been amiable? It has never been.” Then, one thing is for certain. Irrespective of whether it is the Maoists or the Indian state that takes control over the region, the group which is going to be oppressed will be the same – the common man.


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