IF Palaniappan Chidambaram, Union home minister, was sincere about owning moral responsibility for the Dantewada massacre of 76 men of the Central Reserve Police Force by Maoists in Chhattisgarh on 6 April, he would have resigned instead of merely offering to resign, and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, should have accepted. His continuance in the home ministry has become untenable because he could have a vested interest in clearing forest areas of their tribal habitations and handing over the lands to multinational mining companies, including the London-registered Vedanta Resources plc, promoted by Anil Agarwal of Sterlite fame, whose director Chidambaram had been till the time of taking over as finance minister in the first UPA government.
In the 2004 Annual Report of Vedanta Resources, its chairman, Brian Gilbertson, recorded: “On 22 May 2004, Mr P. Chidambaram resigned from the Board, following his appointment as Finance Minister in the new Indian Government. I would like to thank him for his contribution and I am sure he will play a pivotal role in the continuing development of India.” There is direct, credible incriminating information about Chidambaram’s intimate relationship with the Vedanta group which has the biggest stake in the acquisition of India’s tribal territory. A lot of information is contained in Rohit Poddar’s book titled Vedanta’s Billion$, first published in California in 2006, but banned for distribution in India. If Chidambaram is not removed from the home ministry and a person without such conflict of interest appointed in his place, and if the government persists with Operation Green Hunt to turn the ‘red corridor’ into a ‘corporate corridor,’ there is every likelihood of the nation heading for civil war.
A product of Harvard Business School and a great admirer of former US President George Bush’s “war on terror,’ Chidambaram is keen to launch the full might of India’s armed forces, the army, air force and the paramilitary to fulfill an agenda of ‘securing territory’ for mining multinationals. In pursuit of this agenda, paramilitary forces have been given the American-inspired ‘area-domination’ mandate to clear the tribal areas of insurgent groups, hold the territory to ensure that Maoists are unable to re-enter, and finally, prepare the ground for ‘developmental’ projects by corporate houses. The Maoists have not seized any territory. They have turned the natural habitat of the poor tribals, with their support, into their strongholds because the mainstream political parties, particularly the Congress and the BJP, have virtually abandoned them.
Had the CRPF’s 62 Battalion observed the minimum precautions required in a counter-insurgency operation, the Dantewada massacre and annihilation of the entire Alpha Company of the Battalion would not have happened. No matter on which side of the fence one is, the Maoist massacre of jawans is indefensible and deserve to be condemned. The solution to the problem, however, does not lie in deploying the army and the air force, as Chidambaram’s battery of media spin masters is braying. Fortunately for the nation, the Army Chief made it clear that “our polity is wise and astute enough not to deploy the army against Maoists who are not secessionists.” Equally commendable is the view of the Air Force Chief who said: “Our training and weapons are meant for enemies across the border and to inflict maximum lethality on them. We cannot do this on our own people.”
When Chidambaram visited Lalgarh in West Bengal on 2 April, called the Maoists “cowards hiding in jungles,” said the buck stopped with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in clearing the area of rebels and vowed to rid the nation of “Maoist menace” by 2013, he virtually signed the death warrant of the 76 ill-trained CRPF jawans who were already on their ‘area domination’ mission of Dantewada. The Maoists hit back with a vengeance in less than 48 hours. Somewhat rattled by the sudden turn of events, Chidambaram called the Maoists savages more dangerous than jihadists. The Maoists believe they are waging a just war to protect the tribals from being evicted from Dandakaranya and handing over the land to national, transnational and multinational mining corporations for which the government had signed a series of MOUs, including several secret ones. Dandakaranya is a vast forest area spread over parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkand, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal.
Tribals, numbering about 85 million in he country, had been living in this area for millenia. They are the poorest and the most neglected section of society. In fact, they are sitting on billions of rupees worth of minerals buried under their land. The vast majority of them are illiterate. The few schools the government had built in their respective states have been commandeered by the government to billet paramilitary forces engaged in Operation Green Hunt, which explains why the Maoists have been blowing up school buildings. The mid-day meal scheme has not reached tribal children.
The Right to Education Act or the Woman’s Reservation Bill have no relevance to them. Unless they are allowed to live with dignity and respect and not cheated by denying them royalty, Maoists would continue to hold sway over them. The root of the problem is the displacement of tribals to cater to the greed of about 100 families who control more than 25 per cent of the country’s wealth. Chidambaram is clearly on the side of these 100 families and not of the toiling masses. If only he had utilised his legal acumen and expertise in championing the cause of the tribals instead of their oppressors, he would be furthering the cause of the party that had given him power and pelf. Instead, he chose to be the legal adviser for the collapsed US energy corporation Enron when it tried to extend its criminal reach to India in the 1990s, and the environment pillaging and tribal tormenting Vedanta. Of India’s total aluminium capacity of 1.3 million tonnes, Vedanta will account for 885,000 tonnes once its Jharsguda smelter in Orissa is commissioned in coming months.
In a move to make the best use of Orissa’s bauxite and coal deposits, Vedanta is creating 1.6 million tonnes of smelting capacity at Jharsuguda to be backed by a five million tonne aluminia refinery at Lanjigarh and a power complex of 3,750 MW. If Vedanta has its way, then all its capacity will be on ground by 2013 coinciding with Chidambaram’s targeted year for completing Operation Green Hunt.
To understand Chidambaram’s agenda, one should have a close look at his lectures. In his Mahendra lecture delivered at Harvard Business School in Boston in 2006, he described the first three decades following India’s independence, which covers the entire period of Nehru’s premiership, as the “lost years during which the nation’s economy was directed by the government and closed to the outside world with abysmal results.” Addressing a US business audience in 2007, Chidambaram said India was facing the challenge of “leveraging huge natural and human resources to ensure rapid economic growth. But attempts to make quick and efficient use of resources such as coal, iron ore, bauxite, titanium ore, dimonds, natural gas and petroleum are thwarted by the state governments and interest groups.” Any wonder dyed-in-the-wool Congressmen like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer find it difficult to go the whole hog with Chidambaram?
Sterlite, a Vedanta group company, was involved in evasion of huge amounts of Central excise and customs duty and after an inquiry was ordered to pay Rs 249.30 crore in 2003. The company filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court with Chidambaram as counsel and obtained a stay of recovery proceedings. After becoming the finance minister in 2004, Chidambaram failed to initiate any significant move to recover the dues from Sterlite. According to the banned book of Poddar on Vedanta, Sterlite’s share price shot up 1,000 per cent in 2003 when Chidambaram was on its board of directors.
The Pension Board of the Church of England had invested £3.8 million in Vedanta Resources.company shares, believing it to be an ethically run company. On the recommendation of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group which found the tribal people in the mining area had not been treated properly by Vedanta and in the absence of a new approach from the company, the Board withdrew the church’s investment last year. It speaks volumes for the company’s corporate governance and social responsibilities. To facilitate Vedanta achieve its ambition of emerging as the world’s largest metals trading company by 2013, must the nation sacrifice its poor jawans?
The writer, a veteran journalist, is Director, Statesman Print Journalism School.
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