April 07, 2010

On the Indian Maoists and their sympathisers

Sat, 2009-11-14 14:31 Prasenjit Bose
As the Maoists continue with their violent and disruptive activities, sections of the intelligentsia are openly expressing sympathy for their cause. Although the sympathy is often couched in rhetoric against the state and its security offensive against the Maoists, what distinguishes the Maoist sympathizers from a broader community of intellectuals and civil rights groups, who are skeptical of the intent and apprehensive of the efficacy of the Union Government’s anti-Maoists operations, is their stubborn refusal to condemn the anarchic violence and mindless killings by the Maoists.

On 4th October 2009, the Bengali daily Anandabajar Patrika carried an interview of CPI (Maoist) Polit Bureau Member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji where he said that Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is their preferred choice for being the next Chief Minister of West Bengal. He even justified Maoist support to the Trinamul Congress by hailing Mamata Banerjee’s capacity to rise above class interest and adopt pro-people positions. One wonders what Kishanji and the Maoists’ take is on Mamata Banerjee’s Railway Budget passed by the Parliament few months back, which is replete with proposals of Private-Public Partnerships in developing railway stations and freight terminals to logistics parks and cargo centres. What do they have to say about the thousands of acres of land that is proposed to be acquired for the Railway freight corridor project in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar? Perhaps the Maoists also consider the FICCI Secretary General Amit Mitra, who was appointed by Mamata Banerjee as head of an expert panel to draw up business plans for the Railways, as not a part of the “comprador-bureaucratic bourgeoisie”, which according to their Party Programme rules over India. Mamata Banerjee’s “interactive session” with the corporate bigwigs in Kolkata on 22nd August may also have been perceived by the Maoists as an enclave of the “national bourgeoisie” who have come on board their “new democratic revolution”.

This rank opportunism of the Maoists has gone hand in hand with their devious game of turning themselves into henchmen of Trinamul Congress under the fa├žade of pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric and joining in the massacre of CPI (M) cadres in West Bengal. Over 130 CPI (M) activists have been killed by these forces since March 2009 across the state, with more than half of them killed in the West Midnapore district alone. The victims were mostly poor peasants or agricultural workers from dalit or adivasi families. The Maoist sympathizers justified this mayhem as elimination of “class enemies” and celebrated the violence against the CPI (M) in Lalgarh as a revival of Naxalbari. The Trinamul Congress, on the other hand, aided and abetted by sections of the media, indulged in stupendous double-speak. They started by attacking the State Government for failing to control Maoist violence and questioned why the Maoists were not being banned in West Bengal. When the Central Government banned the CPI (Maoist) and the State Government started joint operations with central security forces, the Maoist sympathizers initiated shrill rhetoric against state repression. The Trinamul Congress obliged by shifting its stance and opposing the anti-Maoist operations, calling for a withdrawal of Central security forces.

The hypocrisy of the Trinamul Congress and the Maoists is further borne out by the protests against the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) of Lalgarh, who was arrested by the police in end-September 2009. Besides charges of murder and attempt to murder of CPI (M) activists, arson, demolition of police outposts, waging war against the state etc. under various sections of the IPC, charges have also been framed against him for raising funds for a terrorist outfit, attempting to murder police personnel and conspiring against the state. All these charges are prima facie credible. While Chhatradhar Mahato was a one-time Trinamul Congress activist, his brother Shashadhar Mahato is an active member of a Maoist armed squad. Since November 2008 the Maoist backed PCPA, which was led by Chhatradhar Mahato blockaded the Lalgarh area, making it out of bounds for the police and administration. This “liberated zone” was used by the Maoists to launch a series of attacks against the CPI (M) activists and others like activists of the Jharkhand Party (Naren) and election commission personnel, killing over 80 persons in the Lalgarh area since November 2008. Several Trinamul Congress leaders, including Mamata Banerjee visited Lalgarh during this period and expressed open solidarity with Chhatradhar Mahato.

After his arrest, Chhatradhar Mahato has started disclosing several facts to the police regarding the Maoists’ activities, their nexus with Trinamul Congress, their sources of funds, etc. This has embarrassed the Maoists, who have now started adopting desperate tactics. First came the kidnapping of the OC of Sankrail police station by the Maoists, through which they secured the release of some of their arrested supporters. Then the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express was held hostage for several hours by the Maoists and the activists of the PCPA near Jhargram on 27th October, in order to pressurize the State Government to release Chhatradhar Mahato. With the situation getting out of control, Mamata Banerjee and other Trinamul Congress leaders have started leveling outrageous allegations against the CPI (M), that the hijacking of the Rajdhani Express was a conspiracy hatched jointly by the CPI (M) and the Maoists in order to malign the Railways. The day is not far when she is going to allege that even the killings of CPI (M) activists is also a CPI (M) conspiracy!

The brouhaha over state repression in West Bengal is complete bunkum. On the contrary, the Left Front Government has continued to adopt a democratic approach towards the problem in Lalgarh. Following the complaints of police harassment of some adivasis following the assassination attempt on the Chief Minister in Salboni in November 2008, which had sparked off the Lalgarh agitation, the administration had negotiated with the agitators, transferred the culpable police officials and released several arrested persons. Since then there has not been a single reported instance of atrocity by the State police or the Central security forces, even as the Maoists have continued with their killing spree. Can the State Government be faulted for taking steps to arrest the culprits of murder and arson? Had the alleged links between Chhatradhar Mahato and the Maoists been fabricated, why has the court remanded him to custody? After all, he is not being tried in a kangaroo court. Why should he not be prosecuted? Why should he be released only to return and continue with the murders and mayhem against the CPI (M) activists?

It is time for the Maoist sympathizers in West Bengal to deeply introspect about their role in these developments. Blind hatred for the CPI (M) have driven them into such frenzy that even wanton killings of poor CPI (M) activists seem justifiable to them. They have no qualms in supporting Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamul Congress, which is a reactionary force allied to the Congress, the ruling party at the Centre today. Mamata Banerjee will never sever her ties with the Congress because the only thing she is interested in is power, not only at the Centre but also in the State. In the ultimate analysis, the Maoist sympathizers are only playing into the hands of the rightwing anti-democratic forces. The restoration of peace, dignity, justice and socio-economic development is what the adivasis want in Lalgarh and elsewhere in the State. This cannot be attained unless the Maoists stop their brutalities and targeted assassination of CPI (M) activists.

Far away from the political theatre of West Bengal, where the Maoists are on a rampage, some Maoist sympathizers based in New Delhi have chosen to raise the pitch. Prominent among them is celebrity activist Arundhati Roy, who appeared on CNN IBN news channel few weeks back, facing an unusually genteel Karan Thapar, to express her outrage at the planned security offensive by the Union Government – “the army of the rich” – against the “the army of the poor”, the Maoists. She argued that free market democracy in India has failed to deliver justice to the poor, especially the adivasis, and the State has deliberately ignored peaceful protests against those injustices. What is the choice left for the adivasis, dispossessed of their land and livelihoods by big corporates and tortured and raped by the State, but to take up arms in self-defence, she asked? Her advice to the Union Government: withdraw the armed offensive, hold unconditional talks with the Maoists and do things like, “for example”, making public all the MoUs signed by the Government with mining companies, which according to her is a “key issue”.

What strikes one immediately is that the media savvy CPI (Maoist) leadership, whose interviews galore nowadays from TV channels and websites to newspapers and magazines, has neither cited any MoU signed by any Government as their “key issue” nor made any demand to make those MoUs public. When Roy does so, is it because she perceives the question of mining and displacement in the tribal inhabited areas to be the root cause of the Maoist problem? Or is it because of her difficulty in providing a truthful account and reasoned justification for the activities and beliefs of the Maoists, whose cause Roy has chosen to espouse?

The explanation that the roots of the Maoist insurgency lie in the systemic deprivation and exploitation of the adivasis by the Indian bourgeois-landlord state suffers from several infirmities, because it is entirely ahistorical. The Naxalite movement of 1967, from which the present day Maoists originated, was supposed to be the beginning of a protracted armed struggle; to wrest State power from the hands of the “comprador-bureaucratic” bourgeoisie who had kept India as a “semi-colony”. The experience since then has shown that such a road to revolution is not only inappropriate in Indian conditions where parliamentary democracy has taken roots, but such sectarian politics in a diverse society like India, inevitably leads to alienation from the people and degenerates into mindless violence and anarchy. Eventually, the Naxalites reached an ideological dead-end as domestic and international developments completely overtook their shallow and confused understanding of Indian society and polity. The failure to make any advance in pursuing such an erroneous path led to innumerable splits within the Naxalite movement in the 1970s and 1980s.

In practice, the basic debate within the Naxalites have always been on whether their activities would remain to be based on individual assassinations of “class enemies” (the infamous “khatam line”) or to reorient their work prioritizing mass activities and participating in the democratic process. Several Naxalite groups, like the CPI (ML) Liberation and the CPI (ML) New Democracy, eventually realized the futility of their adventurist path, abandoned armed struggle and joined the parliamentary democratic process. However, some of the groups like the CPI (ML) Peoples’ War and the MCC continued with their violent tactics and eventually merged in 2004 to form the CPI (Maoist). The documents of the CPI (Maoist) clearly enumerate their “central task” as “seizure of political power by armed force”.

It is this historical background which celebrity activists like Arundhati Roy are now seeking to suppress by constructing a new narrative of poor people and adivasis taking up arms to defend their lives and livelihoods in the face of ruthless exploitation by free market capitalism, after their peaceful protests have been entirely ignored by the State. The effort is to portray the security offensive as one between the State and the adivasis. But this is so deceptive. The Maoists can hardly claim any contribution in the struggle against the exploitation and deprivation of the adivasis. The Left parties like the CPI (M) and CPI and several independent adivasi organisations have been fighting in these areas for the land and forest rights of tribals and against their exploitation since decades. A major achievement of that struggle was the enactment of the Forest Rights Act for the tribals and other forest dwellers, during the tenure of the previous UPA Government. What has been the contribution of the Maoists in this struggle?

The adivasis have also been increasingly dispossessed of their lands and forests, in the post-liberalization period, which has seen foreign and domestic big capital being allowed to exploit forest and mineral resources in a reckless manner, especially in States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. The socio-economic development in tribal inhabited areas has been grossly neglected by the Central as well as the State Governments. The Left parties and adivasi organisations have been struggling against these policies. The Left ruled States like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura have successfully implemented land redistribution programmes in the adivasi inhabited areas. While much remains to be done in terms of ensuring comprehensive socio-economic development, the Left led Governments have been steadfast in defending the land and forest rights of the adivasis as well as protecting their culture and identity. The Maoists have never been found agitating on these issues. In fact, much of Maoist violence is directed against the railways, roads, power and telecom facilities and even medical teams, which expose their anti-development vision.

Far from any concern for the socio-economic development of the adivasis, the Maoists have chosen to focus on the tribal inhabited forests mainly out of military-tactical reasons, because it is easy to conduct guerilla warfare and set up their “liberated zones” in these areas given the near absence of the administration in those places. The typical tactics of the Maoists have been to build their base areas in forests near tribal habitats and establish their control over the area through the force of the gun, eliminating or terrorizing all other political parties and adivasi organisations into submission. The hapless situation of the adivasis can be seen in Chhattisgarh today where they are caught between the vicious cycle of violence between the Maoists and the state-sponsored armed militia, Salva Judum. In Orissa, thousands of Christian tribals had to bear the brunt of Bajrang Dal orchestrated violence, after the Maoists executed VHP leader Lakshmanananda Sarawati in August 2008 and fled from the scene leaving the tribals to fend for themselves.

The experience in the States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa shows that mindless violence by the Maoists and repression unleashed by the state using the pretext, invariably leads to a cycle of violence and counter-violence, shattering the lives and livelihoods of the poor tribals. In this violent milieu armed Maoist gangs get a free hand to indulge in extortion, robbery and mayhem. Under the garb of pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric against the Indian constitution and the election process, the Maoists also forge opportunistic links with bourgeois political parties for patronage and protection. Having witnessed how people decisively reject their poll boycott calls by turning out in large numbers, they have started issuing directives to people on who to vote for. Kishanji’s statements endorsing Mamata Banerjee reflect this trend. They are also involved in booth capturing, threatening and even killing representatives of one political party on behalf of another. For instance, JMM MP Sunil Mahato was killed in Ghatshila by the Maoists in March 2007. They also made assassination attempts against former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in 2003 and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in November 2008.

The Maoists do not represent any democratic movement. In their “liberated zones”, no political activities other than their own are permissible. They conduct kangaroo courts and summarily execute political opponents labeling them as “police informers”. Their presence outside their base areas in the forests is negligible. Politically, they are totally absent in the countrywide movement against imperialist globalisation and neoliberal policies, be it working class actions like strikes or peasant struggles on agrarian issues. They have failed to draw any lesson, either political or economic, from the experiences of building socialism in the twentieth century. If anything, they have become even more dogmatic over time, articulating a development vision, which seem eerily similar to Cambodian Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. To romanticize these nihilist anarchists as a revolutionary force fighting for justice to the adivasis is nothing but utter travesty.

The Maoists cannot be tackled by the Central or State Governments through security operations alone. While violence has to be combated as per law, the issues affecting the lives and livelihoods of the adivasis have to be dealt with on an urgent basis. Under no circumstances should innocent adivasis or their independent organisations be targeted or harassed in the name of anti-Maoist operations. The Maoists need to be thoroughly exposed before the people. Meanwhile, the Maoist sympathizers, who are calling upon the state to initiate “unconditional dialogue”, would do well to persuade the Indian Maoists to follow the examples of their Nepalese comrades and other CPI (ML) groups and move away from the destructive path of “protracted armed struggle”, which for them has become an end in itself.

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