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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

The first Naxalite presence in the Bastar region was noticed a quarter century ago. Chhattisgarh had not yet been carved out of Madhya Pradesh and Bastar was not yet divided into several districts. Bastar was the biggest district in the country, bigger than the State of Kerala in area, covered by thick forests and almost exclusively inhabited by tribals.

The BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa instituted a one-man inquiry committee headed by then Bastar Commissioner Sudeep Banerjee to find out the reasons behind illicit felling of trees in the forest lands of Bastar between April 1989 and May 15, 1990 and the emergence of Naxalism. The finding of the committee was that the Naxalism had grown out of the endless exploitation of the tribals by the police and forest department personnel and the tribals in the Bastar district had greater confidence in the Naxalites than in the government officials. The report gave credit to the Naxalites for generating new self-confidence among the tribals of Bastar district.

The Commissioner’s report said that a total of 81,877 trees were illicitly felled in Bastar district in 1989-90 while as many as 15,716 trees were illicitly felled between April 1 and May 15, 1990. The total number of trees illicitly felled during the period of inquiry thus came to 97,593.

‘The tribals have for ages been depending on the forests. The figures show that the forests have continuously been depleting and the laws enacted for management of forests have only been abridging the rights of the tribals over the forests. Though the tribals are the best friends of the forests even today, a feeling has been growing among them that the forest resources are being utilised by the administration or the non-tribals like traders and contractors. The tribals have been seeing the traders, contractors and government officials prosper by the forest resources while their own condition has been deteriorating’, the report pointed out.

The report said that the political parties had always adopted an equivocal attitude to the tribals’ act of ‘encroaching’ upon the forestland. Only the Naxalites had been openly supporting the tribals on this issue. The Commissioner emphasised that it would be wrong to blame the Naxalites for the encroachments on the forestland. The Naxalites had only adopted a “more realistic approach” to the prevailing social and economic situation. The report, of course, mentioned that a feeling had grown among the people because of the support of the Naxalites that the forest officers or the police could do no harm to them.

Around the same time, two female workers belonging to an NGO in Dhar district were declared as Naxalites by the District administration and ordered to leave the district, simply because they had told the villagers, employed in the plantation work, that they were being grossly underpaid by the contractor. Vijay Singh, then Commissioner of Indore, had shown the guts and (ignoring the scowl on Patwa’s face) rescinded the order of externment against the two girls.

Misuse of TADA

A journalist based in Kanker (then part of Bastar but now a separate district) wrote about the reprobate behaviour of the police in the Naxalite areas and the Superintendent of Police of Bastar booked him under TADA for “harbouring and helping” the Naxalites. Many senior journalists who knew the Kanker man closely vouchsafed for his integrity and even Congress leader Motilal Vora (who knew the Kanker journalist intimately) spoke in his favour but Patwa remained adamant. After the dismissal of the Patwa government in December 1992, the Bastar district police chief submitted to the designated court an affidavit saying that he had falsely booked the Kanker journalist to please the Chief Minister. The IPS officer continued to flourish in the Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh and continued to indulge in excesses against the people (so much so that he was indicted by a committee of the State Assembly). If Patwa could make use of him in an attempt to silence his adversaries and critics, why shouldn’t Digvijaya Singh do the same? The officer retired as Additional Director General of Police.

That the self-styled godmen beguile the gullible is understandable. What, however, is surprising is the manner in which the educated persons, quite rational otherwise, block their critical faculty before such a godman even when the godman has been proved to be a crook. It may not be out of place to cite an instance from my student days in Varanasi.

One Jhumari Tiwari disappeared from home and after several years surfaced in Bombay (as it was then known) and assumed the name of Ram Lakshman Acharya. It was rumoured that he had spent the intervening years in the Himalayas where he had practised yoga and attained divinity. While teaching the citizens of Bombay how to attain moksha, he landed in the police dragnet on a complaint from the wife of an influential industrialist. He was prosecuted and awarded seven years’ rigorous imprisonment for the offence.

Sri Prakasa, an eminent citizen of Varanasi, was then the Governor of Maharashtra. A delegation from Varanasi approached the Governor with the request that the godman be transferred from Bombay jail to Varanasi jail. The Governor obliged (those days there was not such a public scrutiny of the actions of Constitutional authorities as it is now). As soon as Ram Lakshman Acharya entered the Central Jail in Varanasi, he was declared ‘ill’ and shifted to the Shiv Prasad Gupta (district) Hospital at Kabirchaura.

Still a convict and undergoing sentence, the godman could not be allotted a private or special ward under the rules. He could not be put up in a general ward, along with lesser mortals. So a way was found out. General Wards 6 and 7 were connected by a small corridor. In the middle of the corridor was a room where the nursing staff assigned duties for the two wards had their paraphernalia. The pieces of furniture and the almirahs were dumped in Ward 7. To create room for these items, some beds of Ward 7 were moved out into the veranda. The nurses’ room was allotted to Ram Lakshman Acharya.

Every morning the ‘hospitalised’ godman would walk some four kms (a couple of constables trailing half a km behind) to take his bath in the Ganga. On return he would shut himself up in the room for a few hours to perform pooja. By the time his pooja was completed, top government officials, Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi Division, the DIG of police and the Jailor downwards, most of them along with their wives, would be waiting outside to touch his feet and obtain his blessings. All the surgeons and physicians of the District Hospital — barring one — took turns to pay their obeisance to the convicted godman. Dr Dutta (I am unable to recall his initials) was the only doctor who would, after completing his round of Ward 6, head straight to Ward 7 without casting a glance at the room situated between the two wards.

I was witness to this shocking degradation of the educated class. During that period, I was an inmate of Ward 7 undergoing treatment for pleurisy.


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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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