Book: "Let's Call Him Vasu"; Author: Shubhranshu Choudhary; Publisher: Penguin Books; Pages: 270; Price: 350
This is the untold story of the growth of the Maoist movement in the very heart of India, an insurgency Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls the country's most serious internal security threat. This is also investigative journalism at its best, with a jaw dropping narrative. After spending years chasing the story, former BBC journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary has come out with a gripping account of why the Adivasis and Maoists are at war with the Indian state.
If activist-writer Satnam's book, "Jangalnama: Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone" (also Penguin), could be called the Indian answer to "Red Star Over China", then this would classify as the Indian part II of the Edgar Snow classic. Shubhranshu is a gifted story teller with a reporter's eye for detail.
The author is no stranger to insurgency. While a journalist, he was once fired at by Indian soldiers when he was with the ULFA. He escaped minus his media kit, fled barefoot, and rode a bicycle for six hours to catch a flight to Delhi.
In this book, using his contacts forged when he was young, Shubhranshu forays into Bastar, the secure headquarters of the Maoist onslaught, to learn why the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is today such a ferocious force.
"Let's Call Him Vasu" is also a brutal expose of the way India has cheated the Adivasis. Shubhranshu travels to village after village with no trace of modernity. Hospitals do without doctors, teachers boycott schools but collect salaries, there is no water and power supply, there are no roads, and ration shops are located miles away. Worse, outsiders cheat the Adivasis left and right, bully and rape them, and even kill them if they don't give up their land for corporate India eyeing the enormous mineral wealth in Chhattisgarh's tribal heartland. "It is only an accident of history that the tribals have turned to the Maoists." Indeed, the entry of Maoists shook a callous state and forced traders to treat the tribals with some dignity.
Some of the darkest secrets about the CPI-Maoist are revealed in this book. How did a group of 49 men sent to present day Chhattisgarh a long time ago from Andhra Pradesh transform Bastar into a Maoist fortress? How big is the Maoist army in the region? Where do they get their arms from? Where and how do they manufacture them? Did the LTTE really train them? How do the Maoists treat their enemy, within and without? How do the security forces treat the Adivasis? Who are the men (and women) posing such a threat to the Indian state? How big is the women's role in the Maoist movement? What is the Maoist budget? How was the Salwa Judum unleashed - and defeated? Can the Maoists ever win? Can they be subdued?
Every question is answered - by the Maoists who allowed Shubhranshu to be in their midst, in their forest hideouts. If you are a student of Indian politics, this book is for you.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)