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Kobad Ghandy 2008 interview

Kobad Ghandy, the Indian Maoist leader who has been arrested, worked in Chattisgarh state, a main centre of rebel activity. Suvojit Bagchi of BBC Bengali met him last year. The following are excerpts from his interview:

Has the Maoists' emphasis on educating the poor contributed to their rise in Chattisgarh?

We are trying to give basic education through mobile schools. We are teaching children basic sciences, mathematics and indigenous languages. Teams involved in the process are specialising in designing courses for the people who are backward, so that they can learn faster.

We are taking extra care to improve health facilities, as well. We have told the tribals to boil drinking water. It has reduced diseases and death by 50%. Even independent NGOs have said so. Child mortality decreased because we have managed to empower women to an extent.

The level of under-development in these areas is worse than, as some indicators suggest, sub-Saharan Africa.

Are you saying you are not killing but helping people to live?

Yes. But we are defined by the prime minister as the deadliest virus... (laughs)

Why do you think so?

We have a clear-cut definition of development. We think the society is in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state and there is a need to democratise it.

The first step is to distribute land to the tiller. So our fight is against land grab and exploitation of the poor, especially focusing on rural India.

Is that why you have managed to consolidate so strongly in Chattisgarh?

One important reason why we have managed to consolidate is because we talk about dignity of work.

For example, villagers here collect tobacco leaves to make local cigarettes. This industry runs into billions of dollars. But the daily wage of these tribals was less than 10 rupees a day before we came to Chattisgarh.

That is far less than the daily wage defined by even the government of India. We have forced these contractors to increase this daily wage - we have managed to push it up by three to four times. That is one reason why people like us.

But you have armed wings, don't you?

I can't tell you much about that. Because I don't deal with that and don't even know their members.

You are talking about development. Will you be open to the government extending development to these areas?

Why not? We have not opposed developmental works here. For example, we did not oppose the building of some schools. But if they build schools to convert those to army barracks - which India always did in various places - we will oppose.

So you will do politics on basis of guns?

Guns is a non-issue. Some villages of Uttar Pradesh or Bihar have got more guns than the entire Maoist force in the country.

What the government or some section fears is our ideology and the society we seek to build up. So we are projected as criminals.

Do you think it is possible to hold on to your bastions in face of a state-led offensive against you?

It's a difficult battle. But with capitalism and the government colliding with each other - with American economy going into recession and increase of exploitation - we do hope to consolidate.

Will you ever participate in mainstream politics?

No. Because we believe a democracy which respects people, cannot be established in this country.



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