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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Author Interview with Rahul Pandita (2011)

GUERRILLA CHRONICLES: INDIA’S MAOIST PHENOMENA

In my online interview with Mr. Rahul Pandita for another blog, he offered quick insight on his second book Hello Bastar. Associate editor with the Open Magazine, he is the co-author of The Absent State: Insurgencies and the Indian State, and has over the years, extensively covered conflict ridden zones from Bastar to Baghdad. Hello, Bastar has been hailed as a most compelling read about India’s Naxalite Movement today, and I was glad to have attended the book launch in Delhi's July of 2011. 

Also available as Ebook



1. What is India’s Naxalite Movement and what about it concerns you the most?

Well, it’s too difficult to talk about India’s Naxalite movement in an interview, but let me put it this way: it stemmed out of people’s anger, out of their genuine grievances. You see, what happened is that India set itself free from its colonial masters, but for the poor nothing really changed. Isn’t it a tragedy that while we are vying for a permanent seat in the UN, a majority of our people go to bed hungry! That is why the Naxal movement is spreading because more and more people are being left out of the India shining story. And that is what should be of concern to all of us.

2. When did the idea for “Hello, Bastar” germinate?

I have been covering the Maoist insurgency for many years now. I have travelled extensively through the Maoist-affected areas and reported on the lives of the poor and the marginalised adivasis. Most of the literature available on the Maoist movement talks of 1967 when Naxalbari erupted, but there is hardly any material available on what happened when the Maoist guerillas entered Bastar for the first time in 1980, creating this huge movement that New Delhi now terms as India’s biggest internal security threat. Also, most of the literature is too academic. I thought it is important to tell the story now, and I have written this book for an ordinary reader who often wonders what the hell is happening in his backyard.

3. As a journalist, you have travelled the great central geography of India’s Naxalite regions. Have you always known the stories you were after, or have you been stupefied by your findings often enough?

No, I mean, even after years of travelling in these areas, what I see sometimes leaves me dazed for days. This whole area is completely neglected. I have seen families who eat once in two days. It is shocking.

4. How long did you research for “Hello, Bastar”?

Like I said, I have been covering the Maoist insurgency for long now. But in all for the book, I’ve worked really hard for about two years.

5. Does your title suggest a more “friendly” experience with the Bastar Culture?

The title is basically a reference to about 45 Maoist guerillas who entered what is known as Dandakaranya—comprising parts of Bastar, Maharashtra and Andhra—in seven squads in 1980. They had no idea of Bastar; they didn’t know the language. And there was a lot of exploitation of the poor adivasis at the hands of businessmen and petty government officials. And they changed the whole scenario there. So “Hello, Bastar” refers to these squads who entered Bastar for the first time. It is their story, and of their other comrades.



6. Where did you halt during your travels?

I have halted at different places, depending on circumstances. Sometimes I have stayed in small lodges. Sometimes in adivasi huts. Sometimes in a school. Sometimes in the middle of a scary jungle. Last time I was in Bastar, we found a huge poisonous snake next to where we would sleep. The Maoist guerillas killed it immediately.

7. Who was the most impacting Maoist leader you’ve met and why?

The senior-most Maoist leader I’ve met is their supreme commander Ganapathi. I am the only journalist from mainstream media to have met him in person. There are other leaders as well, but it is best not to talk about them.

8. How much is religion a part of your identity as a writer/journalist?

It’s a timely question. (For a more detailed response, read this.)

9. Any role models from books you’ve read?

I am a big Naipaul fan, and that of Ryszard Kapuscinski.

10. What will your next project be?

My next project is a memoir about growing up in Kashmir.