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Book review: 'A quick travel through the countryside'

Book>> Red Sun; Travels in Naxal Country by Sudeep Chakravarty

By Shubhranshu Choudhary
Published: Thursday 15 May 2008


Few years back we were working on a bbc film on Naxalites and were traveling in the forests of Chhattisgarh, one of the locations in "Red Sun, Travels in Naxalite Country" by Sudeep Chakravarti. My good friend and bbc cameraman Bhasker Solanki had this insight: "I am glad you brought me here. I would have never believed, had I not seen with my own eyes, that some parts of India are so under-developed. I feel I am in Sub Saharan Africa now." Bhasker is a proud non-resident Gujarati who was brought up in England and carries a British passport. Of course he is part of the Gujarat rebuilding after the earthquake--but that is about his home in India. While his bonding with India is beyond doubt, it is largely influenced by the spate of Bollywood films specially produced in the recent years--for a foreign audience. People who are emotionally drawn to a "real" Indian experience.

Arundhati Roy once talked about the upper class in this country who want to be somehow separated from this country, and are running a secessionist movement. Red Sun does an excellent job of drawing their attention to the perils of living inside walled mansions, ignoring the other India. Sudeep Chakravarti has written an excellent primer for the people who know practically nothing about Bharat, where Naxalites live side by side with the poor and are steadily gaining importance in their lives and businesses.

Chakravarti has an engaging narrative and creates a very sympathetic presentation of this other India. The book is evocative in detail and sharp in grasp of the situation. The best part of the book is that it is not preachy and does not offer any advice or solutions.

In his travels, Chakravarti takes us to Bengal of 1967 for the Naxalbari uprising. With his Bengali connection, he gives us an insider's view to the turmoil of the next five years till the movement was crushed.

But the book does not talk in the same way about the regrouping of similar forces in Bihar and Andhra in later years, which I found personally disappointing.

There are far greater books written on the topic of Naxalism, and its spread in India, many of them in vernacular. But as the author himself states in the introduction of the book, it is a journey of one man in a different space, almost a different country. But to try to understand the Maoist mind through this book, will be unjust.

Naxalism has become a hot topic since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it the "biggest internal security threat India is facing" couple of years back. Not many books have been published on the subject since. And it seems the author was under pressure from the publisher to hurry up.

The writer seriously lacks access to the most important players. I kept waiting in the entire book for an encounter with a Naxalite, which never happens. Kavita Krishnan of All India Students Association in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University is the top ranking "Maoist" the writer gets hold of and tells us about her in great detail. Probably Krishnan was also surprised to discover her new status.

Krishnan represents cpi (ml), a party that left the politics of violence much before her joining them. cpi (ml) is now a mainstream political party, and seen by the Naxals as a bigger enemy than the Congress.

The Nepali Maoists' perspective is coloured and diffused. It seems to come through a prism-of journalists and activists. The book is about the interviews with the people who are not directly involved in the war, the old timers, the over ground operatives, the police officers, and social activists. There are some glaring mistakes in the book, which can be corrected in the next edition. It talks about an attack on Ajay Singh, the number two leader of Salwa Judum, which is the government engineered civil militia in Chhattisgarh . His death is narrated in detail in the book. Ajay Singh was indeed injured in an attack but he remains a trusted no two to Mahendra Karma, the Salwa Judum chief. He never died.

The book is filled with long paragraphs, entire pages from Naxal documents which makes the reading a bit cumbersome sometime. But it makes the book a prized possession for people who want to work on the subject in future.

In the later edition a bibliography would be useful.

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