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Lessons From Chhattisgarh Peace March

By Nachiketa Desai

15 May, 2010

A bunch of hooligans belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party and the
Congress representing the traders and contractors of Bastar succeeded
in creating confusion among the newspaper reading, TV- watching urban
middle class about a unique initiative of over 50 concerned citizens
who took out a three-day peace march from Raipur to Dantewada in
Chhattisgarh from May 6 to 8.

The peace march, whose participants included leading scientist Yash
Pal, veteran Gandhian Narayan Desai, social activist Swami Agnivesh
and academics Banwarilal Sharma and Ramji Singh, besides scores of
social activists and independent journalists, was meant to convey the
message to the nation that 'dialogue and not gun' was needed to defuse
the crisis caused by the civil war between the state and the Maoists
in the mineral-rich forest areas of the tribal-dominated region of
Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and

Despite elaborate explanation by Prof Yash Pal, Agnivesh and other
eminent citizens about the purpose of their peace march, the Raman
Singh government of Chhattisgarh and Union home minister P Chidambaram
managed to propagate through the media that the peace march was meant
to thwart the 'Green Hunt' and to buy time for the Maoists to regroup

The media, controlled by the corporate world and the government
through their patronage and threat, did their bit by conveying an
impression that the peace march met with stiff opposition from the
people of chhattisgarh though the vulgar and orchestrated
demonstration against the march was only by a handful of hooligans who
were seen back-slapping the state police officials.

Unwittingly, the peace marchers too fell into the trap laid by the
government and the protesters by confining themselves to addressing a
series of press conferences instead of holding one-to-one talk with
the people of the towns they passed through. There was also a lack of
preparation for the march which should have got placards, banners and
pamphlets printed to convey the message of the marchers.

"It was futile to take out the peace march through cities and towns
which fall into the 'black-market corridor'. The marchers should have
crossed over to the 'red corridor' to establish communication with the
adivasis who are caught in the crossfire between the state forces and
the Maoists," says Rabi Das, a founder member of the CPI-ML. "The
marchers would not have faced any violence, not even a whimper of
protest from the Maoists and the adivasis in the 'red corridor' on the
other side of the Indravati river," he adds.

Incidentally, Rabi Das and his comrade Nagbhushan Patnaik had
renounced violence in the late 1970s after they had come in contact
with Gandhian social worker, Malatidevi Choudhury and her husband
Nabakrushna Choudhury, the former chief minister of Orissa. Rabi Das
has been working in the starvation-prone Kalahandi district of Orissa
for over two decades now.

Having met with nasty protest from traders of Jagdalpur and Dantewada,
the peace marchers held a review meeting in which several participants
stressed the need for crossing the Indravati river into the 'Red
Corridor' to express solidarity with the Maoists' cause of giving the
ownership rights to the adivasis over land, forest and water bodies,
with the rider that taking up guns was not the solution.

Prominent among the peace marchers such as Prof Yash Pal, Thomas
Kochery, Dr. Banwarilal Sharma had made it amply clear during their
interaction with the press that the faulty development paradigm of the
country was responsible for the widening schism between the rich and
the poor and that the government was hand-in-glove with the mega
corporations and multinational corporations in the plunder of the
country's natural resources to the peril of the poor adivasis and the

Given such a stand, the peace marchers could have easily established
rapport with the adivasis in the 'Red Corridor' as well as the Maoists
fighting for their rights. They could have also tried to convince the
Maoists of the efficacy of non-violent direct action by pointing out
the success of the people's movements in Baliapal and Gadhamardan in
Orissa which were able to stop the proposed national missile testing
range and the bauxite mining respectively.

In fact, it is because the people's movement in Orissa has remained
peaceful and non-violent that it has been difficult for the government
and the mega corporation to push ahead several mega projects in the
state. Local villagers in Orissa have been resisting setting up of
mega steel plants by the Tatas and the Korean gian Posco for more than
five years now as a result of which these companies have not been able
to take possession of the land.

The government and the companies, on the other hand, have tried many
times to provoke the people by resorting to violence as in
Kalinganagar. There have also been attempts by the government to brand
these peaceful movements as Naxalite movements so that the state
repression can be justified.