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Indian kidnapping stokes sectarian divisions
THE CITY of Bangalore in the Indian state of Karnataka is facing a general strike on 28 September over the kidnapping of veteran film actor Rajkumar by the infamous bandit Veerappan. Rajkumar's fans are infuriated at the authorities' failure to secure the actor's freedom. Jagdish Chandra of Dudiyora Hooryta (Workers' Struggle) explains how the kidnapping on 30 July has inflamed the region's nationalist politics.
IN KARNATAKA, Rajkumar personifies the saviour of the Kannadiga people and their language. He has meticulously built that image over 40 years through his films by portraying himself as a down-to-earth simpleton.
The Kannada film industry dances to his tune, all the political parties bow to his requests when it comes to granting tax exemptions or waivers of entertainment taxes. A larger-than-life film personality, Rajkumar has acquired this envious position through his fan clubs.
In the 1980s when there was an agitation for the supremacy of the Kannada language, Rajkumar led that movement. It shot him to fame as a language icon. His fan clubs, though not completely controlled by him, are his muscle power.
In the recurring anti-Tamil riots and Kaveri water dispute riots, these lumpen clubs have had a field day. The abduction of Rajkumar by a Tamil bandit is seen as an affront to the prestige and fame of the Kannada language in general and Kannada chauvinists in particular.
Veerappan, a one-time sandal wood smuggler and elephant poacher, is virtually dictating terms and getting them successfully met. For example, he got a government order passed dropping all the charges against his comrades languishing in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu jails!
There is no doubt that the forest brigand has found new friends, the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) - which is a virulent Tamil nationalist group - is behind him. If you look at the demands that Veerappan has put forward, and the political language he speaks, it is certain that the TNLA has found a new recruit.
Apart from the linguistic communal tension it created in the first week, the kidnapping has held the whole Karnataka state to ransom. The worst hit are the unorganised workers in general and the workers of Tamil origin in particular.
The construction workers who hail mostly from neighbouring Tamil Nadu have fled the cities. The film industry has come to a standstill throwing thousands of workers on to streets with no income.
Ironically Veerappan, who has at least 100 criminal acts to his credit on account of looting, murders, rape and arson, is voicing popular demands on behalf of ordinary Tamils. They have cheered his Tamil language demands and other demands such as compensation for the Kaveri riots victims, a permanent solution to the Kaveri river dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and compensation to the innocent victims of excesses by the special task force employed to nab Veerappan.
His demand for minimum wages for the tea estate workers of Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu and compensation for the Dalith ['untouchable' caste] families whose male spouses were burnt alive in the village Kambalapally of Karnataka has surprised many people.
However 'well meaning' Veerappan's demands may be, socialists must oppose the methods and tactics that he and his guerrilla friends are adopting. The present hostage crisis is threatening the unity of Tamil and Kannadiga workers. Rajkurmar's kidnapping has put the lives of tens of thousands of working-class Tamils in Karnataka on the line.
Socialists oppose the tactics of individual terrorism as it makes the working class mere passive spectators in the drama. The substitution of guns and bombs in place of collective methods of struggle such as mass strikes, industrial stoppages and all-out hartaals [general strikes], mutes the power of the working-class to defend its own interests. It also gives the government an excuse to step up state repression.
The kidnapping not only shows the incapacity of the ruling classes to solve the fundamental problems faced by the mass of the population, but also the utter failure of the leaderships of the Left and the working class movement in dealing with these issues.
The working class has to inscribe on its banner all democratic demands in relation to language, creed and caste but must also strive to achieve the goal of a society free of all exploitation.
We demand full compensation to the Kaveri water riot victims, Kamballapaly massacre victims. A minimum wages of at least Rs 5,000 to not only to the tea estate workers of Nilgiries but for all workers. A sliding scale of wages, which would fully compensate the spiralling prices of essential goods and services.
All minority languages should be given their respectful place and the medium of instruction should be in the languages that people best understand.
The working class and the Left should form defence committees at the time of riots and communal disturbances, to physically defend the linguistic, religious and caste minorities.
Only the working class and poor farmers of our region and the whole of India can achieve the complete removal of landlordism and capitalism from our midst and bring peace, progress and harmony to our lives.
In The Socialist 29 September 2000: