Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interview with Swedish writer and political commentator : Jan Myrdal

Eighty five-year old Swedish writer and political commentator Jan Myrdal was in India recently. Son of Nobel laureates Alva Myrdal and Gunnar Myrdal, Jan talks to Business Standard on elections, politics and the Left-wing extremism in the country

Though India is the largest democracy, the most prominent party, the Indian National Congress, is completely dynasty-dominated. Is that a healthy sign?

Well, I somewhat knew Jawaharlal Nehru. He was an interesting person and a leader, and I have great respect for him. But I don’t think dynasty politics is good in a democracy. I see not only his grandson, but his great grandson taking part. Heredity is usually not the best way to select leaders.

Though voting is a democratic right, elections here are dominated by the caste factor. Instead of voting for developmental issues, caste and wealth are predominant. What are your views on it?

The caste system in India is deep and destructive. Many believe caste is exclusively Indian, but it is not. You have social organisations in other countries, including mine, where voting is not carried out rationally, but on the basis of caste, clan and tribe. Through this, some people move up and distort the entire thing. The main question in India is the deep class divide; farmers commit suicide here because they cannot repay loans. The rapid development process in the country is not designed in a way that benefits the people at the bottom. While some are becoming extremely rich, others are extremely poor.

You had said there was a possibility that the movement started by Communist Party of India (Maoists) chief Ganapathy could end in a civil war, which the Maoists might lose. Why?

The situation in India is grave. It started, if you remember, in 1967 with the Naxalite movement. Even now, you have a big struggle around the area rich in mineral and water resources. If the government says the only road to development is to get rid of farmers or people in the area, and is able to convince the classes or intellectuals to agree on this, we have a grave situation.

On the other hand, if the government accepts the possibility of a strong solidarity movement, the entire situation would be different. I am not saying this movement would develop into a civil war, but in reality, you have a situation of a civil war in the country. And, the question of who is going to win is, to a large extent, one of whether you can have a solidarity movement here. People in tribal areas are struggling for their rights, and this struggle is necessary.

It is important for the urban middle class to understand this is not the only way to development in India. Economic development is not limited to utilising resources. If the government wants to get rid of farmers, it should understand agriculture can be organised in a different way, and mining can be organised in a different way. The question is who organises it? Would it be organised by the people from below or not? People in adivasi areas are struggling.

It was not started by the CPI (Maoists), it is only a part of it. There is a huge class difference in India. Tribals are not struggling for forest produce or land rights; there are huge mineral deposits being developed by foreign companies, which would affect the environment. People living in the area should alone have the right to decide who does this and how. If they are ready to convince the government, it would be a victory for the people.

You are upset about the death of Maoist leader Azad. And, you partly blame yourself for it. Do you think you were tracked by intelligence agencies to narrow down on Azad?

Well, I don’t blame myself for Azad’s death. But, after my interview with Ganapathy, Azad made certain statements and continued with our correspondence and discussions. These went on until Azad was taken by the authorities and killed. I have no possibility of knowing if his killing was decided at the top or the lower level, but I can say my interview with Ganapathy played a small part in the development, which could have led to negotiations.

In a manner similar to the land rights’ movements started by tribals in Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, in the ongoing Assembly elections in five states, especially Uttar Pradesh, we have seen huge movements against the state governments taking over land from farmers. How is this issue growing in India?

These are cultural movements by people who are struggling hard, and it is not limited to tribal areas. There are other parts of India where people are struggling, and it is vital for the development of the country.

You were in touch with Azad and you had interacted with him at length. Do you think talks between the Union government and the CPI (Maoists) could have taken place? You were the last person to interview Ganapathy. Do you think there is scope for talks between the Maoists and the Union government?

Talks are always necessary. How they are conducted or how they should be conducted is for the parties to discuss. But I think the ruling classes swindled the CPI (Maoists) in this matter. The CPI (Maoists) has tried, and tried several times. But every time, the ruling class has used the negotiations to eliminate leading figures, which I think is dangerous for all parties.

The Chhattisgarh government has received many awards for its public distribution system. Has the state government managed to reach out to the financially weak?

The main issue for the Chhattisgarh government is how it should end the exploitation of resources that is going to take place. I don’t think the people are against the use of natural resources. But how it would be done is important. The manner in which it is being done in India is similar to the way the British did it, or the Russians did it in Central Asia — both led to disruption. You can either have a development process based on the needs of the people, or you can displace the people. I thing the Chhattisgarh government would do certain things, but it is not solving the main problem.

The Union government feels security personnel should be deployed in areas where the CPI (Maoists) has its presence and development activities should be carried out. How do you view this strategy of the government? Would it result in winning the hearts and minds of the people who are unhappy with the government?

I don’t think you win the hearts and minds of the people by the policy of operation ‘green-hunt’. There would be a way out. However, I don’t think the government is honest. Though it is working with big foreign groups, I don’t see any of these seriously talking about a different way of development — one in which the tribals would have a say. Development is a different issue.

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