‘Newton’ Shows the Farce That Democracy Is in Bastar

The motifs of the gun and the EVM weave the narrative together – the gun necessary to ensure the safety of the EVM.

5 min read
The motifs of the gun and the EVM weave the narrative together — the gun necessary to ensure the safety of the EVM.

In April 2010, in one of the most dastardly Maoist attacks in Chhattisgarh, 76 security personnel were killed in Chintalnar. The bodies were taken to the primary health centre in Sukma town. Can you guess the first thing Amresh Mishra, the then superintendent of Dantewada Police did at the PHC? He ordered for bulbs at the health centre. To me, that was a telling comment on life in the Red corridor, as the Maoist zone cutting through the heart of India is referred to.

Over the next few hours and days, I realised that a soldier is valued only till such time that he has a gun in his hand and finger on the trigger. Many of the bodies of the jawans lay outside the health centre for a shocking 18 hours after they had been killed because there wasn't sufficient space inside and the sarkaari forms had not been filled up. Sensitivity shot at close range by India's red tape. Four days later, when we visited the injured soldiers who had been admitted to the same PHC, we found they were lying on blood-stained bedsheets.


‘Newton’ Understands the Problem of “Free and Fair” in the Maoist Region

Newton, India's entry to the Oscars, does a fine job of bringing to the fore life in this India, that is part of the Republic only on paper. The story is about elections that have to be conducted in a remote Maoist-affected habitation, where 76 voters are enrolled. Newton, or Nutan Kumar, is the extremely self-righteous Election Commission officer with “imaandari pe ghamand” who is obsessed with ensuring a free and fair election. The problem is that the definition of “free and fair'” as Newton understands it, is different from how Atma Singh, the CRPF commandant played by the brilliant Pankaj Tripathi, interprets it.

Atma Singh and his men have a clinical approach to the problem at hand and they refer to several areas in south Chhattisgarh as “Pakistan” – a no-go zone. In practical terms, it is about protecting your men and minimising loss of life and limb. It isn’t an exaggeration because if you step into Chhattisgarh from Andhra Pradesh at Konta, a dusty apology of a small town, drive up and move 5 km on either side of the non-existent National Highway 30, you would indeed find yourself in “Pakistan”.

Yahan aap safe hain,” the CRPF officer tells the EC officials when they arrive at the paramilitary camp. That indeed is the mindset of the force, whose heavily fortified camps – the only safe zones in the heart of enemy territory – dot the highway every 5 to 10 km.

India Doesn’t Understand Bastar Just Like How Atma Singh Looks at Malko

On one of my several visits to Chhattisgarh, I recall speaking to a constable from Giddam police station, 15 km from Dantewada town. I was interested to know the police-Maoist equation in the mind of a gun-wielding cop. After all, “Maowadi Murdabad” is a slogan that is painted on the wall outside every police station.

“Do you hate the Maoists?’” I asked him.

“There is no such feeling. We represent the State and they have vowed to overthrow the State. So if I come face to face with a Maoist, whoever pulls the trigger first will live to fight another day. Simple.”

India does not understand Bastar. It does not even speak the language of the tribal, who is viewed with suspicion. Just like how Atma Singh looks at Malko, the local Block Development Officer. For the tribal, devoid of any development or a better price for the tendu leaves that they collect, both the State and the Maoists are oppressors.

The gun and the EVM are the two motifs that weave the narrative together, with the gun necessary to ensure the safety of the EVM. The State has employed the gun of the law to neutralise the gun of the outlaw.

“Bandook bhaari hai aur yeh desh ka bhaar hai,” says Atma Singh, referring to the weight of his weapon. In his book, his grammar of violence is legitimate as opposed to the bastardised syntax of the Maoist.

Newton resents that Atma Singh uses force to get the tribals to vote, just so that the sight of 39 of the 76 tribals voting in a line can be visual proof that “democracy truly runs deep in India” for a foreign TV journalist. Embedded journalism at its worst.


In the Maoist Region, Every Action Has an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Ironically, in a dramatic scene in the second half, the conscientious Newton has to use the same gun to ensure four tribals can vote in the jungle, away from the polling booth. Newton shows the farce that the festival of democracy is in this patch of central India, where tribals have no idea who the candidates are, how to press on the EVM or where Delhi is.

One aware voter says nothing will change with the black ink on his finger. He is right because the indelible ink is merely a symbol, to reassure the State that voting was done according to law and that citizens exercised their right to vote. It becomes a tool to reduce the electorate to voting percentages.

The candidates themselves are cutouts and banner material, out of sync with local reality and aspirations. There are several independent candidates in the fray, with poll symbols ranging from fruits to vehicles. The irony that even with so many independents, the democratic exercise is held at gunpoint, is not lost on the viewer.

In an interesting menu, the CRPF feeds the EC officials eggs for breakfast and chicken for lunch. In the Maoist zone, it is indeed a chicken and egg situation for those who are caught in the crossfire. They don’t know what will hit them first – the Maoist bullet or the police bullet.

Newton is a depiction of the third law of motion that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. India's entry to the Oscars holds a mirror to this cat and mouse game and the reflection does not make a pretty picture.

(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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