A fragmented image of socio-economic realities in Maoist-infected Chhattisgarh, of tales of oppression and resistance, of Government’s strategy to counter armed rebels, emerges through the book, Let’s call him Vasu , by Subhanshu Chowdhary who was born and brought up in the state. The author, who worked for several media organisations in the country and abroad, researched for this book in the areas under Maoist influence for around seven years. He met several Maoist leaders to understand their viewpoints and beliefs, to know their struggles and experiences and feel the agony of being a rebel in the heart of India (Chhattisgarh is located in the central part of India). The book reflects his interactions with tribals, Maoists and deep engagement with the life processes in the regions around Bastar. Though a vivid description of the movement’s growth and influence on the social life there comes out in the book, it fails to show a glimpse of the future roadmap, both of the Government’s action plan and the Maoist movement. The book is descriptive but lacks insight; it relies more on informal conversation, less on empirical evidence and serious formal interviews that reveal that the true state of affairs, the real picture of the Maoist road map.
The book is an incomplete testimony of the travails of the tribal population, state and the administration’s negativity but falls short of giving the full picture. It almost falls in the category of half-truth. The author has indeed attempted to raise new controversies in the socio-political and intellectual circles, as is often done by ingenious film makers, sensation-seeking reporters and event managers, and one such episode deals with the famous Binayak Sen case. Binayak Sen, arrested by the Chhattisgarh government on the charge of being a messenger for Maoists (a case of sedition was filled against him), was awarded life imprisonment by the local court. His conviction triggered widespread protests and human rights activists campaigned for him but the case is still pending in the High Court though he is out on bail from Supreme Court. But the author has tried to establish that he is indeed a messenger for Maoists on the basis of statements given by two rebels.
The author has given credence to the unclear statements of one Anil and another Sabyasachi Panda, who has now separated from the Maoist party, and declared Sen as a messenger. The author, who has a long journalistic experience, should have been wary of resorting to this weak, unconvincing method of reaching a conclusion. Presenting somebody as a messenger for Maoists and even hinting at his involvement in the exchange-transfer of rebels’ money on the basis of an unauthenticated statement given by a faceless person is childish and even creates suspicion. It is natural if questions are raised about the author’s intention as he has conducted a shallow and tentative investigation to prove Sen’s links with Maoists. Some people may even wonder if this portion of the book is motivated.
The book contains more such references which reflects inaccuracy, supporting material which are less than credible. The reference to ‘jeet’ and ‘mukti’, the son and daughter of illustrious trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi falls in this category. It appears one of the objectives of this book is to probe those living in towns and cities who were either sympathetic to the Maoist cause or close to rebels at some point of time. Sadly, the book falters in this objective too as no serious work has been done on this front either. Some stray characters crop up here and there.
These references are casual and not well-researched. There is no structured discourse on the outfits, individuals and groups who are open sympathisers of Maoists. Against this backdrop, it is natural to wonder why some people have been singled out for special treatment.
Another disappointment in the book comes when the author interacts with top Maoist leader and general secretary Ganpathi. Ganpathi hugs the author who fails to engage the Maoist in any meaningful, serious conversation. The question-answer session scarcely reveals anything of worth or significance. Interestingly, the author blames the Maoist leader for this, arguing that he does not say anything significant. I believe this is a remarkable failure of the book that it does not bring out for the readers a clear perspective of a top Maoist leader’s mental orientation, his worldview and his assessment of the movement’s achievements, goals and future roadmap.
Despite these deficiencies, the book has some positive aspects. The book presents the real history of Salwa Judum, its growth process and the true forces behind this movement. This also reveals how armed guerrillas from Andhra Pradesh sneaked into this region and initiated targeted warfare through the statements of Kosa. There is an exhilarating account of how an LTTE guerrilla trained rebels in Andhra Pradesh in 1987 and how the Maoists shifted to Chhattisgarh from Telangana. But these interesting stories miss the big picture: whether the Maoists do have a comprehensive action plan and strategy, whether they are working on expanding their horizon beyond Bastar, are they working on an agenda of establishing direct relationship with youth organisations and people’s movements, do they have a working relation with Maoists of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra? Other questions like whether they have learnt lessons from their excessive reliance on ‘militarist strategy,’ have not been answered in the book.
It is not clear whether Maoists analyse their failures and mistakes, review their strategies and plan innovative methods to connect with the larger masses. A seven-year research, that involved dedication and huge risks, reveals some important facts about Maoists of Chhattisgarh, particularly of their difficult jungle-life, violence and counter violence, but it should have produced something more credible and worthwhile on the issue.
Let's Call Him Vasu