Rediff Personal Homepage
Read from the beginning
picture Vishwanath nearly gives me a heart-attack. Early morning, he shouts into my ears, "Uto (Up)!" Not used to such stern awakenings, my first thought is that it is a police alert. But no, it is a wake-up call. Vishwanath, being the last sentry, and more zealous than the others, is carrying out his duty vigorously, that is all. After watching him scare a couple of others, I decide to doze a little more.

When I wake up, I find the guerrillas getting ready for their morning drill. The drill is an everyday affair, normally for an hour. Depending on whether the squads have marched for long in the morning, it would decrease on increase.

The PW conducts centralised and divisional training camps every year. The centralised camps, at times held under Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam guerrillas, are for instructors. Vishwanath, who now takes charge of the drill, is an instructor.

The drill is mainly of guerrilla tactics. All the outlaws need for it is a small clearing. They start with running in tight circles, faster and faster, suddenly changing directions. Stretching exercises follows. The drill ends with weapons training.

The PW publishes a military publication -- Jung -- which presents the squads the latest military tactics, and analyses the raids they have conducted. Jung is in English. The group also has other books in Telugu, some of them translations from English.

picture "The first military book we published, Basic military training, was in 1988. The cover title was Kathasagaram!" Karan had told me earlier, "In 1989, we started Jung."

We go down for breakfast a little later. It's chivida again. I gobble it down fast, as I am to visit a tribal village this morning. The village -- or rather the hamlet -- is about one-and-a-half hours away. Vishwanath and Prabhakar would accompany me.

But after breakfast, H says the light is good for photography. Can he shoot some pictures? Karan had earlier told us that he would rather we finished our pictures at one go. So we postpone my trip to the evening -- "after 10.30 the villagers would be away in the jungles."

I walk over to where R, G and H are standing. With their stubble, they look pretty outlawish. They are planning to return the next night. Karan, who has joined us, says he has sent word to a guerrilla, Hanumanthu, whom he is particular that we meet. Hanumanthu had escaped from the jaws of death recently. The cops had taken him into the forest to be shot, but he had escaped. Luck prevailing, we would meet him, the next evening. But if he was late, would we mind staying on?

"We would like it covered," he tells us, before moving away to brief the squads about the photo-session.

Karan tells the guerrillas that they are about to be part of history. H is looking around for good locations, planning his shots in great detail. Fifteen minutes on, I decide I have got enough shots and decide to retire and update my notes.

Lying on my stomach, my notebooks spread out before me, with Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik crooning to each other on my Walkman, I start pondering the details I need to collect from the village. Outside, R is listening to what he has recorded of Karan's briefing yesterday over and over. His logic: if the police, by some misfortune, arrest us and confiscate all notes and cassettes, he would at least be able to recreate it from memory. But there doesn't seem to be any cause for alarm now. What could possibly go wrong?

The bad news comes an hour later while we are having our second round off talks. Radhaakka I sharing her experiences with us when a guerrilla approaches us. She tells Karan something in Telugu. He excuses himself, but comes back a few minutes later.

"I think we will have to change our plans a little," he says, "We will have lunch now. You will move out immediately after."

It's around 11.30 now. We ask him how serious the situation is. We wouldn't mind forsaking lunch, we say.

"Situation tho thoda serious hai (The situation is a little serious)," Karan replies, "But you can start after lunch. Somebody has informed the police that we are here. Can you get ready immediately?"

We pack our belongings. For the first time during the trip, none of us has anything to say. I tuck away my precious package of notebooks and taped interview in the side pocket of my rucksack, within easy reach -- now even if I have to drop my bag and make a run for it my notes and cassettes would go with me.

We go down to the stream. Taraakka is calmly presiding over two huge pots of rice and dal. A few guerrillas are having a quick lunch. Despite the urgency, they are at ease.

Karan, meanwhile, has joined us. He tells us that Radhaakka, Vishwanath and a couple of others would take us out. He would join us a little later, after he finishes the work here. "Have to make some arrangements," he explains and moves off to give Radhaakka last minute instructions.

"There goes the chance of another bath," I remark to G in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"Don't worry," he replies as we move off, "Who knows, our next stop might have a bigger stream!"

Vishwanath, Ganesh and Sagar are in front. We are sandwiched in the middle, with another outlaw between us. Radhaakka and her AK-47 brings up the rear.

The sun is high, maddeningly hot, and covers me in sweat in five minutes flat. But there's no slackening of pace. I cover my head with a small towel that I had wet for the purpose -- but have second thoughts about it soon. A pink-and-white bobbing head, I realise, would make an excellent target in the undergrowth if we ran into cops.

We halt on a dry stream, after 30 minutes of march. Karan joins us an hour later -- an hour which we spent contemplating the possibilities of danger and watching the fruitless efforts of the guerrillas, who were trying to flush out a ghorpad (a big lizard) from its underground sanctuary.

Our camp for the night is at least another hour from here. We move on. There's not a full squad with us now. Only nine people. The majority of Radhaakka'steam is here.

A little later -- it must be another 30 minutes -- we stop to rest. Again, on another dry stream. We group around Karan, who tells us what happened in the morning. Apparently, the police had got wind of the fact that four civilians were roaming the jungles with Naxals. One of their informers must have spotted us. Though the cops hadn't any idea who we were -- if they knew, they would be less alarmed, I should imagine -- they had a rough idea we were moving north.

"They will start combing from north down to the road," Karan tells us, "So we have doubled back. I have sent a squad towards them. They will show themselves and divert their attention."

He pauses a little, and adds: "It's better all of you get out tomorrow. We can continue with the interview now, if you want."

picture G says he needs to catch his breath first and Karan lies back on his sheet. H, R and Radhaakka have disappeared into the jungle with Vishwanath. They have seen a viper. A few minutes later there's a slight commotion, and they come out triumphantly. Vishwanath has the deadly snake captive at the end of a string that is tied to a long stick.

Karan is watching the proceedings unimpressed -- obviously snakes and snake-catching have lost their thrill for him. I tell him I need to stay back, explaining the data that still remain to be collected.

"You can stay back," he decides, after a little thought. G, who has been following our conversation, however, does not think that that's feasible.

"It will be dangerous to them," he tells me, "You may risk your life, but you have no right to endanger the lives of these people." The logic behind his argument is that without me the guerrillas can move faster and easily escape any ambush that the cops choose to throw.

"I would still like to stay," I tell Karan, leaving the decision to him.

My moment of truth arrives just before we set off. As I hoist my rucksack, Karan comes over to where we are standing. "Kal subhe nikalna accha hoga (It will be better if you leave tomorrow)," he tells me, "Maybe we can arrange a meeting later."

I am disappointed, but there is nothing I can do about it. If the big man wanted me out, out I would have to go. "Well," I console myself, "So much less to file!"

The sun is fading as we reach our last camp. There's not much of a clearing here. Groundsheets are spread and the guerrillas build a fire. I corner Karan to finish as much as possible. R too joins in.

We begin with the violent image that the Naxals enjoy among the urban population. To them, the PW is more of a militant outfit than a political organisation.

"That's negative propaganda," Karan replies promptly, "We have that image because that's what the State wants. That is only expected. It happened in China, it happened in Peru and it is happening here. In China, even after the revolution succeeded, the communists were called the red dacoits. In Peru, they used to call the Shining Path guerrillas bandits."

"In India the upper middle-class and sections of the middle-class have this ugly picture of us. They haven't seen our mass base. They don't know the work we do. They will come to know about these only when our movement extends to the cities. Now, our propaganda is weak. We need to strengthen it to counter this," he adds.

The objective conditions needed for a revolution, Karan continues, assessing the PW's weak areas, are present in India. But the group's subjective forces -- namely, party and military organisations -- are weak.

"We have only started. We have to build more squads and platoons," he says, "Also, we have to spread the flow of our political education."

Another area of concentration is to raise what the party calls 'proletariat intellectuals', or people capable of leadership from among peasants and tribals. This has been prompted by the defection of the urban intellectuals, who had formed the backbone of the party during its initial days.

"Mao," the Naxal says, "has said the intellectuals, the so-called urban ones, are all fence-sitters. They will join the side that is winning. We do not want to have such people."

The commitment on the part of such intellectuals, he continues, is less. That's why so many of them have gone back. But a tribal, even if he cannot fully comprehend the ideology, will join the party on the basis of his belief in the little that he knows. And once he is taught the ideology and his exposure increases, his commitment is more than that of the intellectuals.

"Tho isme, kaun better hai?" Karan asks, "Hamare vision me, intellectuals social practice se banega. Knowledge practicese ayeaga. Intellectuals ka base jo hai, woh production hai. Productive forces jo hai, woh proletariat and peasants hai. Thointellectuals kal yeh bhi ban sakte. Thab unka army badega tho thabi revolution success ho jayega. The revolution will succeed when the people's consciousness is awakened." [Translate]

The conversation turns to violence. I wonder at what point the party advocates it.

picture "The violence we advocate is more defensive than offensive," Karan replies, "Our aim is not to physically eliminate the enemy, but to protect our movement from elimination. We want to warn the enemy not to attack our revolution, not to attack our people. That's all."

This, probably, is why there is such a gulf between the PW and the other armed forces in the country. Unlike the groups in, say, Jammu and Kashmir, these are not angry young men who have picked up the gun out of rage or frustration. There's nothing personal in their fight. Only principle. It is not emotion that propels them on to the path of violence, but ideology. If the Kashmir militants look at the security forces with burning hatred, so powerful that one can feel it physically, the PW men see them in a remarkably different way. For them, the police are enemies. Not to be hated or revenged on, but to be defended against. And, if possible, won over.

"Our enemy is the state. Not individuals. The police are also exploited men. We would like to show them the correct path. We would like them to join us," Karan explains.

I marvel for the umpteenth time at the strength of his conviction. Here's a man, in the prime of youth, coldly, serenely, going about a mission the end of which he knows he will never see. A mission which the world has laughed off as unattainable, a mirage.

"We communists are dreamers," Karan smiles at my unasked questions, "This is a protracted war. We know our revolution is not going to succeed in one year or even 10 years. It will take years. That is spelt out very clearly in our party ideology. But our day will come. If not today, it will come tomorrow."

Do you, I persist, see it succeeding in your lifetime?

Karan thinks for a few seconds before starting to answer. "In 1985, when I was fighting in Telengana, there were encounters every day. I would have someone with me today, but tomorrow he would be dead. Shot. Killed in an encounter. I stopped thinking about the longevity of my life then. I can die today. I can die tomorrow. But even if I die, there will be people like me. The fight will continue. And the revolution will succeed," he pauses for a moment.

"I am not saying that I don't dream of it happening during my life-time. I do," he adds, "We communists are all dreamers..."

The sun has retired. So have G, H and R. I too follow suit, going over what we have discussed to see if there are any gaps.

I don't remember when I doze off. The next thing I know is somebody shaking me awake. It's about to rain. We would have to take shelter in a shed on a farm nearby.

There's half a kilometre to be negotiated -- which distance, in nil light and my drowsy state, I find pretty tedious. Somehow I manage to make it without spraining my ankle or toppling into the slushy field.

The shed is dusty, not very big, but is any day a better option than sleeping in the rain, wrapped in plastic sheets. We find it already taken -- by a couple of hens that refuse to be evicted. The guerrillas finally repress them underneath a bamboo basket, from where they are to keep me awake half the night with their muted protests.

Vishwanath, meanwhile, is putting up a tent outside. I must say the man works fast. Within 10 minutes flat -- I timed him -- he has the tent up and ready!

picture Tonight, again, the food is late in arriving. Radhaakka tells me the police had been to the village, around 1800 hours. The villagers are waiting to make sure everything is okay before they come to us. Finally, at around 2300 hours, they arrive. Kichadi, dal and bengan (brinjal) -- cooked with so much chilli that it burns down our throat. We are eating in the open. We have to hurry as it has started drizzling. By the time we retire, it is raining heavily outside.

   'We will meet again. If I live...'