April 07, 2010

Maoists in West Bengal: Crass Terror, Political Degeneration

By Debasish Chakraborty

The Maoist assault in three western districts in West Bengal –West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia- started years before the Lalgarh incidents crystallized, even much before the events in Nandigram .

From 2001, Maoists (the Peoples’ War and MCC, from 2004 their joint Party) started a concerted attack on organized Left forces in Bengal. Violence escalated after the landmine blast in Chief Minister’s convoy in Shalboni, in November, 2008. Till September, 2009, more than 100 CPI (M) leaders and activists were killed by the Maoists in these districts, hundreds others have been forced to leave their living places at gunpoint. It is true that the Maoists have been able to create a terror regime in large parts of the “Jangal mahal” or the forest areas of these districts.

What is the politics, the game plan and strategy behind this assault? While Maoist activities in West Bengal are part of their all-India programme, there are some state specific realities.
Firstly, CPI (M) has strong bases and areas of political influence in the above mentioned three districts. The base has not developed on ‘one fine morning’; it was achieved through long and arduous struggle on the question of land and livelihood. It is CPI (M) which carried out steadfast struggle to break the old exploitative structure in these areas. The panchayats after 1977 worked massively in poor and backward areas of these districts, particularly for the uplift of the tribals. Significant changes took place in last three decades in the economic life of hundreds of thousands of people in those areas. That does not mean, however, that there was no underdevelopment, a question we would address shortly. CPI (M), naturally, has a strong political presence in most of these areas. The armed attack was the only available option for other political forces to break that base. Maoists were encouraged and abetted by anti-CPI (M) forces to achieve the goal which they themselves could not carry out on their own. The details of political geography are important here. Despite a large are of influence, there were certain pockets in these districts, particularly in Lalgarh, Binpur blocks in West Midnapore, where CPI (M) has been relatively weak. Factions of Jharkhand Party were in control of panchayats, even won assembly seats with support from Congress or TMC. Maoists chose those particular areas as their primary base and the Jharkhandi leaders were quick to surrender. In fact, it was Jharkhandis at first, then TMC activists who played the role of facilitator for the Maoists.
In spite of development, many tribal-population dense areas in these districts continue to remain backward. Left Front government on its own initiated a Human Development Report in 2004 in which many villages in these areas were identified as backward. Interestingly, many of these villages, including villages in Belpahari, Kantapahari and much publicized Amlasol were run by Jharkhand Party led panchayats. They lagged far behind others in implementing developmental projects. For last six to seven years, it is the Maoists who aggressively opposed any efforts of development. They have destroyed bridges, chased away road construction workers, and blasted government buildings, including even panchayat offices. They killed doctors and nurses by triggering mine blasts. And, from November last year, their font-organization “Peoples’ Committee” has dug roads, destroyed bridges, and blocked all kinds of administrative activities.

Another reason for the Maoists choosing this area for operation is that it lies on the West Bengal- Jharkhand border. It is well known that the Maoists operate in hilly terrain, remote plateaus, and densely forested areas in all the states where they are somewhat active. It is not because that they are concerned about the tribal people, but it is part of their military strategy. They choose areas where so-called ‘guerrilla activities’ can be run in relatively easier way. Particularly in Jharkhand, the Maoists enjoy almost a free run. For quite some time now, the Jharkhand administration has shown very little seriousness in dealing with them. Moreover, there is virtually no influential political party in Jharkhand who would challenge the Maoists politically and ideologically. Maoists followed a hit and run policy in border areas. Whenever there was any security offensive, Maoists crossed the border in their safe haven in neighboring state.

Lack of development?

Of late, it has become fashionable to attribute underdevelopment as the exclusive reason and justification for Maoist mayhem in the Jangal mahal of West Bengal. Lack of development is definitely there, particularly in the backward areas. However, certain facts are relevant. As is well known, West Bengal has the best record of land reforms in the country. Up to 2008, 29, 83,640 landless persons have been given land rights and 10, 36,432 acres of land were distributed among them. In addition to that 15, 10,871persons have been recorded as share croppers. Among those who got land rights 5, 36,565 are tribals while 11, 05,306 are scheduled castes. Similarly, among recorded share croppers 1, 64,850 are tribals. This has not happened anywhere else in the country. West Bengal is the leading state in awarding the Forest Rights under newly enacted law, though much before it was enacted at the central level tribal people in West Bengal have been given wide ranging rights over forest areas. Similarly, there has been a phenomenal stride in spreading education in the western areas. Hundreds of self-help groups have been formed to generate income .But still, the laterite zone is a difficult area for agriculture and irrigation is a real problem. Left Front government has taken special initiatives with focus on ameliorating the backwardness of this area.

In spite of some remarkable advancement in some sectors, poverty still persists. The neo-liberal policies pursued in our country over the last two decades have further widened the divide between the rich and the poor. In a capitalist society, any development process must have some kind of inherent class content. But while fighting for a radical transformation of the socio-economic structure, the struggle and efforts for immediate developmental issues is an urgent requirement. Partial gains may be achieved if the specific conditions exist. The Left in West Bengal has been trying, with success and failures, exactly that within the limitations.

The Indian Maoists, however, reject any idea of development altogether and oppose the projects of development everywhere. They oppose the laying of rail tracks, construction of bridges and establishment of power projects. Blowing up schools by the Maoists has become a very commonplace in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts of West Bengal, the Maoists have established themselves to be the strongest hindrance to any sort of developmental works. Whose interest are they protecting?

To be honest, the entire interest of the Maoists is in military stratagem, not dictated by any compassion for the tribals and the poor. But, obviously, they can --- and they do --- make use of the intense poverty of the tribal population, though not for enhancing their consciousness. Instead, this poverty has been used for making the people surrender to their diktat.

Indian Maoists have a ready answer to the complex question of relationship between development or the lack of it and the forms of struggle. The so-called ‘guerrilla warfare’ and armed struggle, according to them, is the only option.

Writing more than a century ago on Marxist understanding on the forms of struggle in general and guerilla warfare in particular, Lenin wrote: “Let us begin from the beginning. What are the fundamental demands which every Marxist should make of an examination of the question of forms of struggle? In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognizes the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise on the of their own experience themselves in course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an studied attitude towards the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, and as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defense and advance. Marxism, therefore, does not reject any particular form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only; recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim, whatsoever, to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers in the seclusion of their studies”

“In the second place”, Lenin continued, “Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism. At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their ·turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.” (Lenin, Collected works, Volume 11, Pages 213-14).

However, in this age of AK-47, who listens to Lenin?

Who are ‘Class enemies?’

And let us have a look at Maoists’ ‘class enemies’. They have killed over 100 CPI (M) activists and supporters in the Junglemahal area of West Bengal. Out of them, at least 60 were either agricultural labourers or poor peasants. And the majority is tribals. Maoists always offer justifications for such brutal killings. The victims are described either as “agents of police” or “exploiters”. In their bulletins (like Peoples’ March or more recent Peoples Truth , often available in websites too) or in their regular briefings to Kolkata media, Maoists have explained that only “agents of state” or those who had dared to stand against them have been targeted. It would always be left undefined as to who or what would be branded as “agents of state”. Moreover, the sole judge of who was an ‘enemy of the people’ is the Maoists themselves; as if they have been conferred some kind of divine right to kill anyone they want.

Numerous examples of the Maoists’ mindless barbarism are evident. In an early such incident in Shalboni, Maoists went to kill Vagyadhar Mahato, a CPI (M) activist. When he was not found, his old mother Puntibala Mahato, their neighbor Ichamati Mahato and her four year old daughter Priyanka were killed. On 31st December, 2005, CPI (M) Purulia district secretariat member and former Zilla Parishad Chairman Rabindranath Kar and his wife Anandamoyee Kar were burnt to death in their house. In Shalboni, a teacher Anil Mahato was killed in the school premises itself in front of the students. It was repeated again when Karamchand Singh was killed in the classroom. More recently, Avijit Mahato, a college student, popular for his social activities, was killed while he was on his way to sit for an examination. Maoists killed three poor villagers after abducting them when they were working in a project under NREGA in Shalboni. Those who needed to work in NREGA turned out to be critical ‘class enemies’ of Maoists! A medical van has been ambushed in Shalboni, killing a doctor and two nurses. Interestingly, the medical team regularly visited in remote tribal villages.

Maoists have perfected the art of brutality. Most of the times, these poor unarmed people were dragged into the jungle and stabbed or shot to death. In a horrific case, in June, 2009, bodies of Salku Soren, Naru Samanta, and Prabir Mahato were left lying on the spot, only to decompose. Their family members were not given the right to even touch, let alone cremate them.

The Maoists in West Bengal has perverted their already gruesome line of “annihilation”. In 1972 itself, a section of Naxalite leaders, including Kanu Sanyal, Nagbhushan Pattanaik challenged the then prevailing line of “annihilation” and seriously condemned the method of clandestine individual killings. Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao Ze Dong, then supportive of the so-called “spring thunder”, expressed abhorrence for the degeneration of the idea of “Peoples’ War” in the hands of Indian Maoists. No lesson has been drawn from the experiences of the seventies, except the fact that the Maoists use highly sophisticated arms nowadays.

Relations with Trinamool Congress

But most important of all and what may be considered as the special political perspective of Maoists’ activities in West Bengal is their close affinity with the other anti-Left political forces, particularly Trinamool Congress, the main opposition force in the state. Their partnership expanded from western districts to other areas of the state, for example in Nandigram and Singur.

Apart from numerous reports of Maoists’ active participation in Nandigram and their armed attacks along with the TMC gangs, political and organizational documents of the Maoists have established the complicity. Maoists have, in fact, evolved a theoretical perspective for this complicity. In a document, published in December, 2008 and circulated among the Maoist rank and file, the Maoist leaders have emphasized the need of a “united front” with anti-CPI (M) “ruling class parties” and particularly with TMC. The document, titled “Some important problems in our work and their solutions”, Maoists have asserted that as CPI (M) is a “social fascist force”, it is important to organize “anti-fascist” front with other ruling class parties. Whosoever wants to join in such “fronts” are welcome. Without giving any scope of confusion the document has stated that Mamata Banerjee, the leader who was in the forefront of “struggle” in Singur should be supported and Maoist cadres should work closely with her. According to them, West Bengal is now is a “flaming field” and many united fronts are emerging. All such joint operations should be encouraged.

In another document evaluating the Nandigram episode, the Maoists have clearly stated that they were in forefront of armed activities, arms training to BUPC, the organization who spearheaded the agitation. BUPC was led by TMC and it existed even after the Chief Minister categorically announced that there would be no land acquisition in Nandigram in February, 2007. In the document the Maoists triumphantly claimed that though they were in leading position in armed aggression and killing of CPI (M) activists in Nandigram from the very beginning, the other parties accepted their leadership from July, 2008. They claimed that that it was an “achievement” that the other parties openly acknowledged Maoists’ role. Maoists have claimed that TMC leaders “fought the war” in close cooperation with them.

During the ongoing security operation in Lalgarh, top ranking Maoist leader M Koteswar Rao alias “Kishenji” has given long interviews to the electronic media. In fact, he was busy in explaining things from morning to midnight over mobile phone interviews. Kishenji has categorically stated that Maoists helped TMC in Nandigram in “ousting” CPI (M) and in reciprocation they want Mamata Banerjee’s help to stop central security forces from entering Lalgarh.

Kishenji, in a significant interview in Anandabazar Patrika on 4th Ocotober, 2009 has categorically stated that they wanted Mamata Banerjee to be the next Chief Minister of the state. According to fanciful analysis of Kishenji, though the TMC has same class character like Congress, Mamata Banerjee, by the sheer force of her personality can override the barrier and can initiate radical reforms!

TMC supremo and Railway Minister have reciprocated this unique gesture although it was she who had consistently demanded withdrawal of central paramilitary forces from West Midnapore after the joint operations started. It was she who organized rally in support of this demand. The central ministers from her party went in Lalgarh to oppose the operations of joint forces. Even now, Railway Minister is completely silent about the terror unleashed by the Maoists. She was speaking in a manner which legitimizes the brutality of the Maoists. This is in stark contradiction to the professed stand of the Prime Minister and the Home minster.

Ideological anarchism of the Maoists has led to such an outrageous level of political degeneration.

Peoples Committee or Maoist -TMC front?

From November, 2008, an agitation started in Lalgarh in West Midnapore, spearheaded by ‘Peoples’ Committee to resist police atrocities’. That it was timed just after the landmine blast in Chief Minister’s convoy was no co-incidence. Just as the state police moved in to search for the culprits, the Peoples’ Committee cropped up. That this organization is a front of Maoists and actively supported by TMC was clear to anyone residing in the area. The roads were dug and Maoists forced the villagers to block all movements. From then on, virtually a reign of terror was unleashed in the entire area. It was ploy to expand the bases of Maoists while the blockade continued. All government offices were virtually closed, schools ceased to function, villagers were forced to pay huge “levies’ to Maoists. CPI (M) activists and supporters were being killed and many of them were forced to declare that they would leave CPI (M). CPI (M) offices were burnt and looted. The state government exhibited great restrains considering the sensitive content of involvement a section of the tribals. The Chief Minister publicly stated for number of times that the Left Front government was trying to avoid bloodshed at any cost. However, the Maoists escalated the bloodshed and almost every day CPI (M) cadres and sympathizers were killed. This reign of terror was branded by the Maoists and a section of anti-Left media as “Adivasis Revolt”, even comparing it the Santhal rebellion of 1855. But there was no serious demand for the tribals; neither had it contained any spontaneous involvement of the tribal people as was depicted by the media.

The complicity of TMC was evident here too. The secretary of “Peoples Committee” Chatradhar Mahato was a known Trinamool Congress activist while the President of this outfit Sidhu Soren is a squad member of the Maoists. Sashadhar Mahato, the brother of Chatradhar, is a leading member of the Maoists and a declared absconder for many crimes. On 4th February, 2009, just before the elections were declared, Mamata Banerjee herself went to Lalgarh and shared the dais of public meeting with Chatradhar Mahato. She declared with grand fanfare that the so-called Lalgarh agitation is another “Santhal Rebellion”. While no CPI (M) activists were even allowed to enter his own village in Lalgarh , Mamata Banerjee was welcomed by the Maoists. The attack against CPI (M) intensified after that.
After the state government finally decided to take control of the situation in firm manner and Central Security Forces joined in, TMC opposed any intervention by security forces. Mamata Banerjee even went to the extent of calling this operation as “state sponsored terrorism”.

Chatradhar Mahato’s arrest and interrogation in this September have only revealed those very things which the people in Jangal Mahal, the forest areas of three western districts of West Bengal knew from very beginning. On the process, reports in the media about the ‘confessions’ of Mahato has created political ripples and contradictory reactions from a section of the intelligentsia.

What are the truths that have been exposed?

First, the ‘Peoples’ Committee against Police Atrocities’ was formed by the Maoists, primarily to cordon off an area out of the bounds for police and administration. Chatradhar Mahato revealed that top Maoist leaders of the area were present in the meeting where the Committee was formed. Gradually, the Committee followed the dictums of the Maoists and expanded its work from digging roads to attacking CPI (M) cadres and sympathizers. The Lalgarh agitation was not at all any spontaneous outburst of the tribals, as it was depicted in a section of the media; it was, rather, a well-planned disturbance to create a conducive atmosphere for the Maoists to consolidate their own base.

Secondly, the Committee acted as a convenient platform for the Maoists and Trinamool Congress to work together. In almost every village where a “branch” of the Committee was formed, both the active members of the Maoists and TMC worked in unison. In many places, the houses of local TMC leaders were used as meeting places and shelters for the Committee and the Maoists cadres. Chatradhar himself claimed that he used to maintain links with state level TMC leaders as frequently as he did with the Maoist leaders in West Midnapore.

Thirdly, according to Kolkata media, Chatradhar Mahato partially confessed about the huge amount of money collected as ‘donations’ and forced ‘levies’ during last ten months. It ran into crores. There was smooth flow of outside financial support also. Specific names of some the financing persons and organizations have also come into light.

Fourthly, the Committee and Chatradhar himself had regular contacts with a section of the anti-CPI (M) intelligentsia and even participated in number of secret meetings in Kolkata too. Though it was not so ‘secret’ to any observer, this revelation has apparently unnerved some of the intellectuals who, for some months now, have already been rewarded abundantly by the Railway Minister. These intellectuals have tried their best to claim that they had no inkling of Chatradhar’s Maoist links.

This theory of ‘delinking’ Peoples’ Committee and the Maoists is the escape route for TMC supremo and the Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee herself. The gruesome incident in Jharkhand has shattered the ‘delinking’ scheme. Maoists had offered to release the abducted inspector of the special branch of Jharkhand police Francis Induwar in exchange for Kobad Gandhi, Chatradhar Mahato and Chandrabhusan Yadav. The inspector was later killed in an atrocious manner.

Honeymoon with ruling class

One of the most important criteria for any serious movement for social transformation, particularly for the Marxists, is a concrete analysis of concrete situation for concrete application of political-ideological understanding. The left movement in the country and even in its most advanced outpost in West Bengal has many weaknesses and deficiencies. Despite that, CPI (M) is the leading contingent of anti-imperialism in India. The tirade against the party by the combined forces of ruling class parties, ruling elite, corporate media was clearly evident on the question of US-India civil nuclear agreement. CPI (M) and the parties of the organized Left have been consistently struggling against the neo-liberal economic policies from the very outset. It is hardly debated that the role of CPI (M) and the Left is crucially important in combating the communal forces. Every advancement of the Left is ferociously targeted by the ruling class and the corporate media, while every setback is cheered by them.

Maoists, by targeting CPI (M) and the Left in West Bengal have consciously sided with these very forces. It is no coincidence that they enjoy not only the enthusiastic company of the parties like TMC but also bonhomie with pathological anti-Left mainstream media in the state. Almost every killing by the Maoists in Jangal Mahal has been legitimized within hours, by some or other explanation by media. This is a unique feature, not seen elsewhere in the country.

In the seventies, a new term was popular in West Bengal: “Congxal”. It was denoted to identify Naxalite-turned-Congress hoodlums. Initially these elements launched attacks against CPI (M) activists, particularly in and around Kolkata, in the name of ‘revolution’. After the rigged assembly elections in 1972, a large section of these thugs became Youth Congress activists and a second phase of murderous assault against the Left started. It is well known that more than 1100 CPI (M) activists and supporters were killed and more than 20 thousand were forced to leave their homes during semi- fascist terror period of 1971-77. Infamous Siddhartha Shankar Ray regime in West Bengal adopted a two-pronged strategy: on the one hand, a section of the Naxalite activists were brutally killed by the police and Congress workers, one the other, another section was used as murder gangs against CPI(M).

History does not repeat itself, and many in the Naxalite stream are severe critics of Maoists too. However, history cannot be altogether forgotten either.

(Debasish Chakraborty is News Editor, Ganashakti. The author can be contacted at: news@ganashakti.co.in)
PULISHED in Economic & Political Weekly( EPW) NOVEMBER 14, 2009 vol xliv no 46

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