15 August, 1947. A tryst with destiny. India throws off the yoke of colonialism and attains independence for itself. After nearly two centuries of foreign domination, India finally gets the chance to map her future for herself. And indeed, for the country, those early years was a time of hope and faith for its new found identity, and great things were expected of her. But alas, the gloss wore off very quickly, and today, sixty three years after independence, the country is lurching from one internal crisis to another-and is counted among the most corrupt nations on earth.
In The Absent State, Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita have tackled three ‘areas of darkness’ that have bedeviled the Indian state for generations-the Maoist menace, the violence in Kashmir and the collapse of the Northeast-regions where the writ of the Indian state is either minimal or conspicuously absent. The majority of the book concerns the Maoist problem-as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, it is India’s biggest internal security challenge. Be that as it may, all these three ‘areas of darkness’ have one thing in common: a complete absence of basic amenities. There are no proper schools, no medical facilities worth its name and no law enforcement agency to check crime; in fact when crimes do occur, people prefer to approach the militants for justice rather than petition the courts for relief. Riven by social discontent, tribal rivalries, poverty and unemployment, these areas have become no man’s land, where only the bravest or the most foolhardy will dare to tread. It is chilling to learn that nearly a third of India’s territory is under insurgent rule, a testament to the government’s callous neglect of tribal belts in Orissa, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, among others.
A hard hitting piece of reportage and a searing indictment of the failure of Indian polity, the book brings us face to face with the ‘other India’, an India shorn of its urban glitter and faux sophistication, where parallel governments are the norm, and where people can count themselves lucky if they get a square meal a day. As the authors say in their preface, in a country with over 32 lakh elected representatives, lakhs of people have been pushed out of the democratic process and left to fend for themselves. This book is their untold story.
(Hachette India, 612/614,6th floor, Time Tower, MG Road, Gurgaon-122001)