Let darkness prevail: The blackout in Bastar

Anoop Saha
has a post about the recent blackout in Bastar caused by the maoists

Let darkness prevail: The blackout in Bastar

Whatever a man does, he does it for a reason. Such says the psychological theory behind human motivation. By corollary, if something happens which requires human mind and labour, somebody must get some material, spiritual or emotional benefit out of it. This axiom is not always true as regards to the events of terrorism, or the actions aided by lunacy. The blasting of electricity towers in southern Bastar by the naxalites is an example of this kind of extreme perversion, something that lies in the realm of madness.

Since the first tower was blown away on 21st may, it took more than 21 days for the state government to restore power. In between, nearly 50 lakh residents of those places were forced to spend life in complete darkness. In between, the naxalites killed 3 CSEB “workers“, who had gone there to repair the lines. And they continued the mayhem by destroying more towers on 2nd and 4th june.

Some things become so integral to our life that its subtle importance is realized only when it is taken away for a substantial period. The problems faced by the people of Bastar in those 21 days were manifold. Excessive heat has made life miserable. People who use pumps for water had to look for other sources, or drink highly polluted waters coming from Bailadila hills. Medicines could not be saved in the fridge. No operation could be conducted in hospitals. There was an increase in cases of theft and robbery.

The train, which brings people from nearby Orissa and AP to sell their produce in local hats, could not run, thus hitting the livelihood of many. Mobile phones could not be charged. Petrol pumps could not run. There was no candles, no mosquito mats, no kerosene in the market. And of course, NMDC, the only large profitable PSU in these areas suffered huge losses of the tune of nearly 100 crores or more. And its 1000 strong staff had nothing to do for days on.

The question is what might be the motivation behind this despicable act by the naxalites? The posters that appeared near Bailadila provides some of the answers. According to them, 500 of their cadres were killed by Salwa Judum. The power cut was to protest these illegal killings, and taking revenge from people who support it. Agreed that in the name of Salwa Judum, a regime of unaccountable brutality has been unleashed over the people of Chhattisgarh for last two years. Agreed that the administration has been more than a facilitator in these extrajudicial killings, and there has been no relief in sight for the hapless people.

But have the maoists been above board at all times during this period? Manikonta, Darbhaguda, Errabore, Ranibodli, Kotrapal form ugly blots on them. The thinking that all signs of opposition must be annihilated, ran (runs??) deep among the maoist cadres and leadership. The killing of 8 villagers in Kotrapal (by the maoists) in the initial phase of SJ provided the spark that started the whole fire. Even now, the extremists believe that they will be able to take care of SJ by force alone. Of course, some among them think that the time is ripe for them to take on the might of Indian army, but that subgroup is a lunatic fringe in an almost insane orgaization.

Coming back to the forced blackout. The 3 CSEB workers were a constituency for socialism. By killing them while they were on their duty the naxalites have shown there rudderless leadership. Ostensibly the attack on vital power infrastructure was to give a punishment to the people, to force opinion against Salwa Judum, to stop NMDC from exporting iron ore and to protest the private operators in the mining sector exploiting the people and resources of Bastar. The powercut certainly led a dent in NMDC’s profits. However the private parties, most notably essar steel which uses iron fines from Bailadila mines for its pelletisation unit in Vishakhapatnam, were running smoothly. That’s because essar uses a pipeline to transport the ore and the its pumps were well outside the affected zone. Also most other units have backup ore, just to fight these kind of exigencies. These players were the least hit and the naxalites know that.

Similarly, if anything, their move will only strengthen Salwa Judum and its supporters. The power distress has been widely reported. Chief minister of Chhattisgarh and the home ministry mandarins have additional arsenal now in justifying the armed militia. Majority of residents of Dantewada district don’t support Judum. Now that they have seen the naxal designs, they will have second thoughts. Supreme court is entertaining a petition against Salwa Judum. The government will have a powerful argument now, one that is difficult to counter. Above all, further hate propaganda will be unleashed among the SPO’s and what further damage is done by them can only be seen in the future.

This attack has been a net loss for everybody. In Charla town, in CG-AP border, a huge rally was organised by CPI on 2nd june. According to an email by indefatigable JP Rao, “Advawsis from far off villages of Chintalnar, Usoor, Botetong, Benchchend and other villages walked around 200kms over three day to reach the meeting venue. Adivasis of bordering 30 villages in CG such as Maraiguda, Aavulapalli and Kishtaram etc also participated in the ralley. The local press estimated the gathering at more then 20,000. Manish Kunjam the president of the Mahasabha and the state Secretary of CPI addressed the rally. Kunjam in his address stated that more then 4000 advasis were killed by the Salwa Judum activist and 2500 houses were set on fire. Manish Kunjam’s convoy was attacked by the Salva Judum activsts at Dornapal while they were returning to Sukma.” (Actually Kunjam had already crossed the place, but the other CPI leaders were beaten by Judum) CPI is leading the local protests against the entry of big corporate houses like Essar in Dantewada and Tata in Bastar districts. This rally was reported sparsely in local and national media. An attack on his convoy did not find a mention or condemnation anywhere in press, except in an article in Daily Chhattisgarh. The blackout by the maoists dwarfed all such events of significance. Incidents like the Santoshpur encounter, that was gradually getting wider coverage, was lost in the din.

Lest it finds no mention, it is a shame for to all of us that a large proportion of people in Bastar were unaffected by the power problems. That’s because electricity never reached those villages. More than 75% households in south bastar have not been electrified. This when, CG is supposedly a power surplus state. Health services also never reached those villages. These are the people who form the core of naxal support base. Needless to say, they couldn’t see how continuous power cuts for a couple of weeks can raise such a hue and cry.

Still, uncontrolled violence is never an answer to any problem. In my articles, I have repeatedly asked the maoists to come to the negotiating table, and/or fight elections and change the system from within. It is better for them to give up arms from a position of strength than being forced to do so after all its major leaders are killed. I have no doubt that the group has a good number of well-intentioned, bright, responsible and diverse people. To have these people kill village sarpanch’s and get killed by a non-comissioned SPO is a “deadweight loss”. Just like the recent power cuts in Bastar.


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