May 29, 2010

From "Maoism" to Open Terrorism?

28th May, 2010

First they tried to assassinate the West Bengal chief minister through a land mine blast. Then they tried to create a liberated zone and murdered political opponents. Then they started killing some of "their own sympathisers".

Now, near Jhargram, by deliberately targeting ordinary citizens (two posters of the Peoples' Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) were found in the derailment site) and killing 65 of them (as I write this) and injuring dozens of others, the Maoists and their front group - the PCAPA have killed the camel whose back they had already broken through loading several straws.

Mere outrage is not enough. Justice can be served to the victims of this gruesome rail tragedy, only by making those responsible feel the brunt of the law. The PCAPA's leaders at large should be brought to justice. And any pretense of a talks based solution to the Maoist challenge in West Bengal should now be given up.

And the Railway minister must resign. The lady has demonstrated a serial incompetence that was displayed in the handling of the motormen strike in Mumbai, her statements blaming the dead people themselves for a stampede in the New Delhi Railway Station, the repeated attacks on trains recently by the PCAPA and the Maoists etc, apart from the horrendous tragedy that was enacted yesterday night. And she and her partymen- the rabble rousing Kabir Suman in particular have openly colluded with the PCAPA and the Maoists in the near past, in their endeavour to take on the ruling government in West Bengal, by hook or crook. Her party is now answerable for this tragedy - a consequence of the PCAPA's activities, which were not merely condoned but also given political support in days not very much in the past.

The United Progressive Alliance government is also answerable for this disaster -dithering, dilly-dallying, oneupmanship and crass Realpolitik had blinded the home minister to the political ways of his coalition partner from West Bengal.

Lastly, those in the "civil society" who have condoned the Maoist/PCAPA activities in the near past, if they indeed have a capacity to retain their mental balance, should atleast now realise the futility of Maoist politics and its reduction to plain opportunism, violent, anarchic and irrational violence that kills the very people they claim to preponderantly represent.

May 27, 2010

Arms Over People: Maoists in Bastar

By Nirmalangshu Mukherji   

The Indian state has amassed nearly one hundred thousand paramilitary forces—code-named Operation Green Hunt—ostensibly to confront an armed rebellion organized by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the Dandakaranya forests in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. As the forces raise their guns at each other, massive and protracted violence is breaking out in these hills and jungles affecting the lives of several million tribals inhabiting the area. The latest of these is the killing of nearly 40 civilians and trainee special police officers by the maoist forces in Dantewada. After exploding a civilian bus carrying 50-60 persons, they opened fire on those who survived the blast. This atrocity is preceded by a series of other atrocities in recent weeks, the most notable being the killing of 76 CRPF personnel on April 6 while they were walking back to their camp. The attack on the civilian bus shows that the maoists have escalated the scale of “revolutionary violence” in response to the Operation Green Hunt to the point that they are prepared to inflict massive “collateral damage” to innocent civilians. This is clearly a warning to the government of the shape of things to come if the Operation Green Hunt continues. While the cabinet committee on security, the army chiefs, the home ministry, and counter-insurgency experts prepare for even more aggression with an “expanded mandate” for the home minister, a crucial factor is systematically missed in the raging debates on this issue in the mainstream media (there is some discussion in the alternative media, especially the internet).

There is overwhelming evidence that the maoist forces at the frontline—the militias and the guerrilla army—consist entirely of tribal youth. While the orders for a specific action could be emanating from the essentially non-tribal leadership hiding safely in their secured bases, it is the tribals on the ground that carry out the explosions and the killings. According to reports discussed below, there are about 50,000 armed militias and 10,000 guerrillas operating basically in the Bastar area; all these people are young tribals. The maoists have been able to raise this huge force because a vast majority of tribals in Bastar have sided with the maoists for reasons discussed below. The massive presence of tribals in the maoist scheme of things has led commentators such as Roy (2009) to conclude that there is no difference between the tribals and the maoists. I will evaluate the factuality of this conclusion below.

For now, it is evident—yet systematically overlooked— that any armed operation to flush out the maoist leadership will have tribals, armed or unarmed, as the direct target. There are layers and layers of tribal human shields between the government forces and the maoist leadership. Further, as the ill-fated and murderous Salwa Judum campaign showed, any attack on tribals not only results in immense calamity for the tribals, it in fact helps increase maoist base of support including expansion of guerrilla forces. The essentially non-tribal veteran leadership from Andhra and Bihar have carefully planned all this for decades after poring over maps and demographic profiles.

To understand why even the militias and the guerrillas—not to mention the millions of unarmed tribals who support them—ought to be viewed as victims requiring protection, we need to understand the real character of how the (upper class) maoists, driven out from Andhra and Bihar, went about constructing their base of support in Bastar.

The Documents

We now have four important documents in the public domain to study this issue. Two of these are based on recent travels inside the maoist territory by two public intellectuals from Delhi (Roy 2010, Navlakha 2010); the others are detailed interviews of the general secretary of the maoist party (Ganapathi 2010) and the maoist spokesperson (Azad 2010).

The last two are maoist documents by definition. As for the other two, it stands to reason that the maoists wouldn’t have allowed the intellectuals, accompanied by guerrilla forces, to travel extensively in their territory in times of war unless the intellectuals showed prior sympathy to the maoist movement. It is beyond belief that the maoists would invite people, including other naxalites, who are opposed to them to travel with the guerrillas, take photographs, make audio recordings, visit the headquarters at Abujmaad to interview the general secretary, and inspect documents of maoist administration (Navlakha 2010).

As it turns out, there is not a single remark in the two (very) long pieces written by the intellectuals that questions the basic objectives of maoist strategy. (For records, Roy 2009 did contain some well-tempered critical remarks; they are now totally absent from Roy 2010). Furthermore, each article is strewn with political remarks of the authors themselves, some of which directly support the basic maoist goals and practices. Take just one of those remarks: “Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded (and its many splinter groups) has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream” (Roy 2010). As a matter of fact, lip-service notwithstanding, most “splinter groups” of the erstwhile naxalite movement no longer share Charu Majumdar’s “vision”; for example, that “vision” strictly forbade participation in electoral politics, as the maoists rightly emphasize. Charu Majumdar’s—and Kanhai Chatterji’s—“vision”, in its original form, is currently upheld essentially by the maoists. Away from the propaganda of the Indian state, then, this study is based on pro-maoist documents.

The maoist spokesperson Azad (2010) asserts that “the welfare of the masses is the first priority for the Maoist revolutionaries”. The media-savvy Kishenji (Koteshwar Rao) offers to talk to any party that “worked for the common good of people” (Times of India, 18 March) suggesting that the maoists had devoted themselves to the “common good” of tribals in Bastar forests. The maoists had already entrenched themselves in these forests for about twenty five years before the first of the major attacks by the state began in 2005, in the form of the Salwa Judum campaign. So, what did the maoists accomplish for the tribals in that quarter of a century?

Maoist Control

The ability of an organization to engage in the welfare of a given population is obviously a function of the influence of that organization in the concerned area. As the writers report, the maoists entered the Dandakaranya forests in small groups—two squads (Navlakha 2010), seven squads (Roy 2010)—back in 1980. (The puzzling issue of why they chose Dandakaranya of all places in this vast country will be taken up later). Having secured the confidence of the local, predominantly tribal population, they set about organizing them so that they can realise their rights—for example, rights of land, forest produce, and the like. Needless to say, vested interests, such as tribal chiefs in cohort with the local police and forest officials, attempted feeble interventions initially. There were more determined attempts in 1991 and 1997 that were easily dispelled because a large number of tribals had benefitted from the movement by then: “killing a few of the most notorious landlords” (Roy 2010) did the job. As the remnants of state representatives were driven out of the area, things seem to have proceeded smoothly till about 2005.

During this period, the maoists were able to build up a substantial organizational base both in terms of participartion of people and coverage of area. The peasant-worker front, Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Majdoor Sangh (DAKMS), currently has nearly 1,00,000 members. The women front, Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Samity (KAMS), has nearly 90,000 members. Even the cultural front, Chetna Natya Manch, has over 10,000 members.

From 2001 onwards, Dandakaranya is directly administered by Revolutionary People’s Committees (Janatanam Sarkars, JS). Each JS is elected by a cluster of 3-5 villages whose combined population can range from 500 to 5,000. 14-15 such JSs make up an area JS, and 3-5 area JSs go on to constitute a division. There are 10 divisions in Dandakaranya. So, the general picture is that the party’s authority “now ranged across 60,000 square kilometers of forest, thousands of villages, and millions of people” (Roy 2010). I must emphasize that these are maoist numbers as told to the visiting intellectuals. Assuming, in the absence of contrary evidence, that these numbers are not inflated to impress the outsiders, we can now ask what the maoists have achieved for these millions of people.

The travelogues attempt to paint an impressive general picture of Dandakaranya. Away from the ugly inequalities of the rest of India, with its filthy towns and failed countryside, we get a picture of a land of pristine rivers and lush green forests. There live a population of beautiful people in colourful attires going about happily with their daily lives, armed with their newly-found dignity and self-reliance in a largely egalitarian society. According to Vandana Shiva (speaking to NDTV, 13 April, 2009), peace and tranquility prevailed in Bastar before the Indian state attacked the people. Despite grinding poverty and historical neglect by the state, tribal areas usually present a sense of serenity on the surface. A very different and disturbing picture emerges when we scratch the surface.

Maoist Welfare: Wages and Agriculture

Consider the issue of wages. On a seasonal basis, much of tribal livelihood in the concerned area depends on collection of forest produce such as tendu leaves and bamboo culms, among other items. A bundle of 50 tendu leaves—70, according to Navlakha (2010)—currently fetches one rupee. To earn about 30 rupees, then, a tribal has to collect and bundle nearly 2000 tendu leaves per day! No doubt this is a substantial increase from a meagre 3 paise per bundle in 1981 (Roy 2010). Similarly, the wage for a bundle of 20 bamboo culms has been raised from 10 paise in 1981 to 7 rupees now. So, a tribal has to cut, collect and bundle 100 bamboo culms to earn 35 rupees a day. These figures are roughly corroborated by Kobad Ghandy (2008) who reported that daily wages have been raised 3/4 times from 10 rupees some years ago.

It is difficult to compare wages on an absolute scale since they vary widely with respect to nature of work, location, caste, gender, etc. It is well-known that tribals occupy the bottom of economic ladder. Given their atrocious exploitation in the past by the state and private operators, the wages sketched above signal “huge achievements for tribal people” (Roy 2010); the impoverished tribals never knew anything better. The documents report, without furnishing data, that these wages—negotiated by the maoists with private contractors—are higher than those announced by the Chhattisgarh government. The maoists were also able to eliminate traditional social evils such as free first day labour for tilling the land of the village chief. These measures explain why tribals feel indebted to the maoists.

But the mere surpassing of highly exploitative wages announced by a particular state government to satisfy the greed of private contractors does not by itself qualify as an “alternative development model” that others allegedly preach but the “maoists have been practicing for last thirty years among millions of Indians” (Navlakha 2010). Even if absolute comparisons are difficult, it is evident that these wages are much, much lower than the minimum wages enforced across the nation; the tribals in Bastar “make just enough to stay alive until the next season” (Roy 2010). For agricultural labour, minimum wages typically vary between 60 to 80 rupees a day in the rest of the country. In a “high-wage” state like Kerala—perhaps one model the maoists would wish to compete with—wages under the rural employment guarantee scheme range upto 150 rupees a day (Utsa Patnaik, personal communication).

The other side of this problematic picture is that, having negotiated what I consider to be merely subsistence wages for the tribals, the maoists themselves collect 120 rupees per bag of tendu leaves from the contractors (each bag contains 1000 bundles). The contractors are allowed to collect upto 5000 bags per season per contractor. This means that for a big contractor with 5000 bags, the party makes about 6,00,000 rupees. Roy (2010) reports that, at a conservative estimate, such a contractor makes about Rupees 55,00,000 per season. The documents do not state how many contractors operate in the Dandakaranya area; in general, it is said that the tendu leaf business itself runs into hundreds of crores of rupees. A similar story obtains for bamboo culms, tamarind, and other forest produce that generate “royalties” for the party, and huge profits for contractors.

As for agriculture, the maoists did encourage the tribals to grab about 3,00,000 acres of forest land which they had been cultivating “illegally” in any case for generations. The task was relatively easy since there were no landlords from the outside and tribal societies have insignificant class structure. As the maoists realized, the issue was basically to grab forest land of the state at will since there was no real intervention of vested interests. In fact, something like a class-structure developed as tribal chiefs and other elements with muscle-power grabbed disproportionate portions of land. The problem was subsequently solved by killing a few of the more notorious landlords, as noted. The net picture, it is claimed, is that “there are no landless peasants in Dandakaranya”. The maoists also organized the tribals to construct some harvesting structures such as ponds and wells, and encouraged the nomadic tribals to learn proper cultivation techniques. There’s an attempt to introduce multicrop and shifting cultivation. Navlakha (2010) presents some details about the grain and vegetable items cultivated, and their yields, as recorded in a given JS. There’s some mention of using tractors and buffaloes for ploughing in some areas in recent times. None of this sounds anything more than routine and—compared to other regions of the country—primitive agricultural practices.

It is difficult to form a picture of the extent of these efforts and their role in improving the quality of life of the tribals. Recall that we are talking about an area of 60,000 square kilometers and a time-span of a quarter of a century. In general terms, Roy (2010) writes: “Only 2 per cent of the land is irrigated. In Abujhmad, ploughing was unheard of until 10 years ago. In Gadchiroli on the other hand, hybrid seeds and chemical pesticides are edging their way in (Gadchiroli is in adjacent Maharashtra). ‘We need urgent help in the agriculture department,’ Comrade Vinod says. ‘We need people who know about seeds, organic pesticides, permaculture.’” Why is Comrade Vinod asking for these absolutely basic things now? What have the maoists been doing for close to three decades?

Maoist Welfare: Health and Education

A more concrete picture of the food-situation emerges when we look at the health sector. There is no mention of even a single health centre initiated by the maoists in that vast area. All we are told repeatedly is that people have been advised to drink boiled water; apparently, this method reduced infant mortality by 50% (Ghandy 2008). Navlakha (2010) reports that lately the JSs have initiated a scheme of “barefoot doctors” in which some tribals are trained to apply some medicines (distinguished by their colour) for afflictions such as malaria, cholera and elephantitis, the three most dreaded illnesses. Again, we do not know the extent of these efforts.

However, Roy (2010) reports a doctor she met—a doctor was visiting that area after many years. The doctor said that most of the people he has seen including those in the guerrilla army, have a haemoglobin count between five and six (when the standard for Indian women is 11). There is extensive tuberculosis caused by more than two years of chronic anaemia. Young children are suffering from Protein Energy Malnutrition Grade II. Apart from this, there is malaria, osteoporosis, tapeworm, severe ear and tooth infections and primary amenorrhea—malnutrition during puberty causing a woman’s menstrual cycle to disappear, or never appear in the first place. “It’s an epidemic here, like in Biafra,” the doctor said. “There are no clinics in this forest apart from one or two in Gadchiroli. No doctors. No medicines.”

Notice that most of the severe conditions are caused by acute malnutrition—especially in women and children—suggesting what the “alternative model” of agriculture and other efforts at maoist “development” has done to the people of Dandakaranya. Words like “famine” and “sub-Saharan condition” are frequently used in the documents under study (Navlakha 2010, Azad 2010). The words are of course polemically directed at the state: ‘Look, what the Indian state has done to the tribals’. Any index on quality of life certainly brings out what the Indian state has done to its people, not just the tribals. But the area at issue concerns essentially the maoists “with a history of more than two decades where the party has been able to create an alternative structure, virtually uncontested” (Navlakha 2010).

As with the almost complete absence of health centers, the documents do not provide any evidence for any new and regular school for the tribal children in the vast area. The rare schools that exist are all provided for by the state. By now, a large number of these impoverished schools have either been occupied by the security forces or blown up by the maoists to prevent the security forces from doing so. Lately, the JSs under the maoists have initiated a mobile school programme; there’s also a mention of some evening schools operating in some areas. The mobile schools are “in nature of camps where children attend schools for anywhere between 15 to 30 days, depending upon how tense the situation is in a particular area. Classes last for 90 minutes for each subject with four subjects taught in a day. There are between 25-30 students and three teachers. They have begun to employ certain teaching aids from globe, torchlights to CDs to teach history and science.” Again we do not know the extent of these efforts. In any case, beyond these rather primitive and grossly inadequate efforts, the documents do not explain why the maoists failed to introduce thousands of regular schools in the 10 divisions under their control during at least two decades of non-tense situation.

Alternative Model

In so far as tribal-welfare is concerned, could the maoists have done better on wages, agriculture, health, and education? Given their vast command area with visible support from millions of tribals, it is not difficult to conceive of real alternatives to the measly “development” programmes they initiated. With thousands of villages under their control, they could have dominated thousands of gram sabhas and hundreds of panchayats in the Bastar area.

Under the auspieces of these tribal-controlled panchayats, they could have formed hundreds of democratically-constituted cooperatives to administer the livelihood of tribals. For example, cooperatives devoted to forest produce such as tendu leaf could have competed—with massive popular support—for the tenders floated by the state each year. This way the system of greedy contractors would have been eliminated from the scene and the entire profits—after paying “Kerala”-type wages—would have remained with the tribals. Similar efforts could have been directed at other forest produce and agricultural land.

Add to this the state funding that would have been allocated to these panchayats, and the ability to draw rural credit from local banks. One can only imagine what good could have been done for the tribals with the funds so available: schools, colleges, technical institutes, health centers, tractors, buffaloes, tubewells, irrigation canals from rivers, safe source of drinking water. In time, these people’s organisations could have made full use of national rural employment guarantee scheme, the forest rights act, the right to information, the education act, and other schemes of the state.

There are other advantages with strong and legal people’s bodies. For example, it is mandatory for corporations to secure consent of the local people before they can start operations. To that end, Tata Steel authorities organized a public hearing for their planned steel plant on October 12, 2007. The corporation “secured” the required consent by hiring an audience of about 50 people in a meeting far away from the concerned area. It is doubtful if they would have dared to do so if vigilant people’s committees, under the auspieces of panchayats, were in place. In fact, Roy (2010) reports on a wonderful initiative by the women’s mass organisation, KAMS, in which members of KAMS immediately surround a police station after someone is falsely arrested, and get the person released before the police is able to file charges. One wonders if such initiatives can be expanded with legal people’s institutions in place.

None of this of course was going to be easy. The alternative just sketched would have required creative economic initiatives backed by democratic movements; it would have also involved legal battles with the state and the contractors, as every people’s movement in the rest of the country know. Nonetheless, in Dandakaranya, the maoists enjoyed unprecedented advantages, as noted, to pursue these democratic goals. There is no evidence that the maoists even contemplated these obvious steps. Why not?

Primacy of Warfare

A disturbing answer begins to emerge when we look at what else the maoists have done in the area during the same period. The basic idea, as the General Secretary Ganpathi told his visitors (Ganapathi 2010), is that “it is important to guard against getting bogged down in legalism and economism and forget that masses have to be prepared for seizure of power.” So, “seizure of power”, and not the welfare of the tribals, was the central goal. In this light, it is seriously questionable if the maoists entered the forests of Dandakaranya three decades ago with tribal welfare in mind at all. The documents suggest the following story.

After considerable setbacks to their armed struggle in Andhra, the maoists decided to enter these forests way back in 1980, as noted. The basic goal was to “build a standing army, for which it would need a base. Dandakaranya was to be that base, and those first squads were sent in to reconnoitre the area and begin the process of building guerrilla zones” (Roy 2010). Dandakaranya offered a variety of advantages. It was a vast densely forested area spanning across several provinces such that people can cross state boundaries through the forest itself. After the refugees from the erstwhile East Bengal left the area, it was inhabited almost entirely by the tribal population who have been there for ages. The state had only a rudimentary presence in some areas, while it was almost totally absent in others. Also, as noted, “there was a class society here, but due to the tribal traditions, unlike plains the Mukhia/Manjis exploitation did not appear sharp” (Navlakha 2010). Finally, due to their historical isolation and exploitation from the outsiders, tribal traditions have been compelled to acquire some degree of militancy to defend themselves. Much before the maoists entered the scene, tribals in Bastar had a history of resistance against the British, landlords and moneylenders. Dandakaranya was virtually a “blank slate” on which the maoists decided to inscribe Charu Majumdar’s—and, later, Kanhai Chatterji’s—“vision”.

The first task was to create enough guerrilla zones, and the second was to secure guerrilla bases in the guerrilla zones so created. Navlakha (2010) explains the distinction: “Guerilla zone is a fluid area in the sense that there is contention for control and the State is not entirely absent, even if it be in shape of its police or armed force. However, there are spots in these guerilla zones which are demarcated to ensure that some work can carry on relatively uninterrupted. These are ‘bases’ which are not easily penetrable or accessible.” The current plan is to “intensify and expand guerilla war ... we have to utilize cleverly the tactics of hit and run basically” (Ganapathi 2010). Ultimately, however, “we have to develop guerilla war into mobile war and guerilla army into a regular army” (Ibid.). That’s the goal. The tribals are essentially cannon-fodder in this elaborate military strategy.

To pursue it, one-third of the guerrilla forces of the erstwhile People’s War Group were transferred to Dandakaranya from Telengana in Andhra back in 1988 after some support from the tribal population had been secured. The squads from Andhra started organising village militias from the very beginning. Militias consist of 20 to 30 young people armed with anything from bows and arrows, muzzle loaders, home-made pistols to genuine rifles and rocket launchers (10% of the used stock is distributed from the central army headquaters to the militias each year). Their basic task is to “guard” a group of villages. Apparently, the best of the fighters from the militias are incorporated into more professional guerrilla squads whose members sport combat uniform and carry “serious” weapons such as Insas rifles, AK-series rifles, self-loading rifles, pistols, revolvers, hand grenades and other forms of explosives; some carry light machine guns, mortars and rocket launchers. In December 2001, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) was formally consituted. By now, the PLGA has “moved from platoons to companies, and are now moving towards battalion formation” (Navlakha 2010). The writers report that there are about 50,000 members of militias and 10,000 in PLGA.

Once guerrilla zones expanded and covered much of the area, the task of constructing guerrilla bases started in earnest in 2001. Two or three spots were selected for guerilla bases in each division, and in this shape 10-12 spots were concentrated upon to form the guerrilla bases. Abujmaad forms the Central Guerrilla Base. To ensure that these bases are not “easily penetrable or accessible”, a complex system of landmines and IEDs punctuate every road, approach, landmark tree or rock formation throughout the forest areas. Needless to say, all of this requires an elaborate structure of informers, lookouts, technical experts, technical equipment for secure wireless communication, laptop computers, solar-charged batteries, electronic and other devices for triggering IEDS, vehicles such as hundreds of motorcycles, well-concealed factories and workshops for manufacture, repair and refitting of weapons, and so on. Except for the supply of human power—young men and women—to the militias and PLGA (we return), the tribals are nowhere in the picture.

Allocation of Funds

The documents do not explain sufficiently where the money for this elaborate military structure comes from. Some weapons and related ammunition have been seized/stolen from police stations and armouries, some have been removed from the corpses of security personnel after ambushes. It is unclear if the total amount of these seizures explain almost battalion level weaponry. Navlakha (2010) does report, in general terms, the source of money: party membership fee, levy and the contributions of the people, confiscation of the wealth and the income sources of the enemy, and taxes collected in the guerilla zones and base areas.

Presuming that most members are famine-stricken tribals themselves, party membership fees are not likely to amount to much. Later in the essay, Navlakha (2010) informs that “revenue accruing from looting of bank or confiscation of wealth are far less” than the money collected from royalties on forest produce such as tendu leaf. So, it is really the royalties/levies from forest produce and taxes on contractors and companies that constitute the bulk of the funds. (What is “contributions of the people”? Are there remittances from abroad from wealthy sympathisers as with LTTE and similar organisations?) It is anybody’s guess how much money is so collected and how it is divided between military work and “mass work”.

An apparently disjointed bit of information throws some light on the issue. Navlakha (2010) reports on the budget for 2009 of one area RPC (recall that there are about 50 area RPCs in Dandakaranya). The income side showed about rupees 11 lakhs. It is interesting that, although the income includes about 3,60,000 rupees from taxes on contractors, it does not directly mention the “royalties”—the real money. About half of the income comes from allocation by the JS; it is unclear what it means. Does it mean that some of the other income, including royalties, is partly distributed by the divisional RPCs to area RPCs? Or, does it mean that most of the real money remains with the party itself for military work?

An indirect evidence for the latter conclusion emerges when we look at the expenditure side of the budget. It is reasonable to expect that the income of a given RPC is primarily meant for development work in the concerned area. It turns out though that over 50% of the (meagre) income is allocated to “defense”, about 12% for agriculture, 9% for health, and 0.9% for education. It is important to note that “defense” means providing just the kits for the militias and PLGA (three pair of uniform, oil, soap, toothpaste, washing soap, comb, gunpowder, bows and arrows, and food). RPC budget does not pay for the weapons and related military needs; so, the astronomical money needed for that purpose must be controlled directly by the party itself. Is that where rest of the money including the “royalties” go? The answer is likely to be in the positive since even most of the development money is diverted to military preparations.

Now that we have some idea of where the money from the taxes, royalties, and “contributions from people” basically go, it is clear why the system of greedy and rich contractors—and similar characters—must continue to operate freely even in the “liberated zones”, while the tribals continue to toil at subsistence wages to survive until the next season. In other words, these contractors and other concealed characters are allowed to cheat the tribals all the way—“the slippery arithmetic and the sly system of measurement that converts bundles into manak boras into kilos is controlled by the contractors, and leaves plenty of room for manipulation of the worst kind” in a business running into several hundred crores (Roy 2010)—because they basically fund the war against the state for seizure of power. One wonders if the “rapacious plunder by the tiny parasitic class of blood-sucking leaches” (Azad 2010) includes these contractors who fund the “war of liberation”.

The preceding perspective also explains why the maoists never even contemplated alternative and genuine development plans based on panchayats, cooperatives, etc. For one, as noted, those plans would have driven the system of private contractors out of Dandakaranya resulting into a massive loss of revenue for the party. For another, those plans would have raised the condition of the tribals from mere subsistence to the threshold of decent living. Having tasted decent living by their own cooperative enterprise, would the tribals continue to clutch on to the maoists; most importantly, would they allow their young people anymore to join the militias and PLGA to die violent deaths at a young age?

Finally, once real economic development with the associated democratic process unfolded, Dandakaranya would have teemed with state officials, other political parties, functioneries of banks and other funding agencies, agents of companies supplying a variety of goods, expansion of communication within the area, etc.: Dandakaranya would have opened up to the outside world. This would have seriously compromised the secrecy, security and inaccessibility of the network of guerrilla bases. It is no wonder that the maoists do not allow development activities of the state in the areas they control (Navlakha 2010). The ostensive reason given is that, in those areas, they themselves “undertake reforms that benefit people”; by now we have a fair idea of the character of those “reforms”. In sum, then, the tribals cannot be allowed to prosper beyond subsistence because it will interfere with the plans for seizure of power.

Children for War

The maoists complain that the state uses “school children as SPOs (special police officers) and as police Informers” (Azad 2010). Given the character of the state, as noted, this—as with other horrors—might well be true. What is the maoists’ own record with respect to children?

Even if we set aside earlier, unconfirmed reports of children being snatched away from tribal families at gunpoint, the documents provide a range of evidence about extensive involvement of children in the war. Roy (2010) describes a young boy, Mangtu, who appears to be one of the conduits between nearby towns and the guerrilla army. Next, she describes another “slightly older” person, Chandu, with a “village boy air”, who actually belongs to a militia and can handle every kind of weapon except an LMG. Then, of course, there’s this much talked about (and photographed) young girl, Kamla. At the time of reporting, she is 17, and is already a hardcore member of the PLGA with a revolver on her hips and a rifle slung on her shoulder. We can only guess about her age when she joined the armed forces. She had taken part in a number of ambushes; in fact, watching “ambush videos” is her favourite form of entertainment. Yet she has a captivating smile; that’s the human design of a 17-year old which even the addiction to ambush videos cannot disfigure.

These are not isolated examples. Roy’s narrative and the accompanying photographs furnish the distinct impression that most, if not all, of the people in the militias and PLGA are aged between mid-teens to early twenties, and most of these have been part of the armed forces for several years. Roy’s motherly instinct wells up as she prepares to sleep in the forest amidst hundreds of armed guerrillas: “I’m surrounded by these strange, beautiful children with their curious arsenal”.

Recruiting children for warfare seems to be an established practice in the maoist scheme of things. Comrade Madhav, who has now risen to be a commander of a PLGA platoon, joined the maoists at the age of 9 in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh (Roy 2010). The entire thing is carefully organized. The mobile schools mentioned earlier (perhaps the only maoist effort at education of tribal children), are not meant to provide education to tribal children in general. While the general tribal child has no school to go to, these specialised schools, called Young Communist Mobile School (or, Basic Communist Training School), host select groups of 25-30 children in the age group 12-15. These children receive intensive training for six months in a curriculum consisting of basic concepts of Marxism Leninism and Maoism, Hindi and English, maths, social science, different types of weapons, computers, etc. (Navlakha 2010). Once they pass out, “they trail the PLGA squads, with stars in their eyes, like groupies of a rock band” (Roy 2010).

Navlakha (2010) also reports that, as with any regular army, recruitment drives are conducted with meetings and leaflets. One of the leaflets, directed at “unemployed boys and girls of Bastar”, says “you will not get any salary but food, clothes, personal needs will be fulfilled and your families would be helped by the Janatam Sarkar”. Elsewhere in the essay, Navlakha (2010) reports on the food supplied to the guerrillas: “Breakfast can vary between ‘poha’, ‘khichri’, etc., mixed with peanuts and followed by tea. Lunch and dinner consists of rice with dal and subzi. Food is simple but nutritious. Once a week they get meat. Sometimes more than once if fish is available or there is pork, which is provided by the Revolutionary Peoples Committee”. Even with this impressive food intake, most of the guerrillas have less than half of the normal count of haemoglobin, as noted. One can only imagine with horror the condition of these children when they joined the forces.

With no schools to go to, no opportunities in hand, and with sub-Saharan conditions prevailing in their families, which able-bodied tribal child can resist the temptation of assured food, clothes, peer company, and the ability to roam the forests with a rifle slung on shoulders? Naturally, when the state attacks and the economic lives of tribals are further disrupted, enrolment for militia and PLGA increases sharply. The more the repression by the state, the bigger the “people’s army” of starving children.

As mentioned, the total strength of the militias and PLGA currently adds up to about 60,000, with many more in the waiting. Assuming as above that most of them joined the forces when they were children, it follows that the Indian state and the maoist leadership—consisting of Ganapathi, Koteshwar Rao, Kobad Ghandy, Azad, and others in their politbureau and central committee—conspired to deny normal chilhood to a vast number of tribal children. They never went to school, never learned about life outside the forests, never glimpsed the pluralistic complex of Indian society, never acquired the skills to become a participating citizen, never allowed to make up their mind. All they know is how to fashion an IED, how to clean and fire a rifle, how to ambush, how to kill. They form the frontline—and get maimed and killed—when the police, the greyhounds, the CRPF and special operations forces encircle them. As for Kamla, “if the police come across her, they’ll kill her. They might rape her first. No questions will be asked” (Roy 2010). Kamla won’t be the only one.

The basic picture is abundantly clear from maoist documents themselves. In an act of palpable cowardice, the defeated maoist leadership from Andhra and Bihar abandoned the struggling people there, and entered the safe havens of Dandakaranya forests. Taking advantage of the historical neglect and exploitation of the tribals by the state—the “root cause”—the maoist leadership ensured the support of hapless tribals with token welfare measures while directing most of the attention secretly to construct guerrilla bases. In the process, they lured a large number of tribal children with assurances of food and clothing. These children have now grown into formidable militia and guerrilla forces. After committing atrocious crimes in the name of “revolutionary violence”, these youth brigades are now facing the wrath of the mighty Indian state. It is reasonable to infer that millions of tribals continue to side with the maoists largely because their children are with them.

Should the tribals now pay the price with their lives and livelihood because of the evil designs of a handful of men such as Ganapathi, Koteshwar Rao, Kobad Ghandy, Azad, and others in their politbureau and central committee? Whose vision is the Indian state supposed to satisfy, Charu Majumdar’s or Gandhi’s? How does Mrs. Sonia Gandhi address the “root cause” by attacking the tribals?

The tribals can be saved only if

A. The state dismantles operation green hunt since its immediate victims are unarmed tribals under mental and physical seize.

B. The state announces total and universal amnesty to the young tribal people in the militias and the PLGA—and a safe and concrete programme for their rehabilitation—once they surrender (only) to a citizen’s body comprising of individuals such as Yash Pal, Swami Agnivesh, Kuldip Nayyar, Mohini Giri, Medha Patkar, Rajender Sacchar, Himanshu Kumar, Binayak Sen, Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Vandana Shiva, and others.

C. The essentially non-tribal leadership of CPI (Maoist) is brought to justice for their crimes against humanity.

In the face of immense calamity unfolding on millions of tribals in Bastar, historical and humanistic decisions are urgently needed beyond routine and failed "counter-insurgency" operations.

Nirmalangshu Mukherji is Professor of Department of Philosophy, Delhi University


1. Azad 2010. Interview with the spokesperson of CPI (Maoist), The Hindu, 14 April.

2. Ganapathi 2010. Interview with General Secretary, CPI (Maoist), by Jan Myrdal and Gautam Navlakha, 14 February,

3. Ghandy, K. 2008. Interview with Suvojit Bagchi, BBC South Asia, 23 September.

4. Navlakha, G. 2010. ‘Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion’, An abridged version appeared in Economic and Political Weekly, May.

5. Roy, A. 2009. ‘Mr. Chidambaram’s War’, Outlook Magazine, 9 November.

6. Roy, A. 2010. ‘Walking With The Comrades’, Outlook Magazine, 21 March.

Published on PRAGOTI

'Maoism': A Critique from the Left

By Prasenjit Bose

As the debate on leftwing extremist violence and the state’s offensive against it intensifies in India, opinion tends to get increasingly polarized. On the one side are those who consider the CPI (Maoist) as a destructive terrorist group, much like the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or the separatist United Liberation Force of Asom (ULFA), which has to be crushed through the military might of the state. On the other side are those who see the Maoists as a revolutionary force, fighting for the cause of the exploited and the marginalized, and justify their violent acts as a necessary evil in order to bring about radical social transformation. Little effort is made, however, from either end to delve deeper into the question of leftwing extremism, in India or elsewhere, in order to understand its current activities in terms of its ideological basis, social roots and historical origins.

Many on the Right consider this to be an entirely fruitless exercise, because they see any effort to analyse the root causes of extremism and terrorism as an expression of empathy, which accords legitimacy to the extremist cause. Such a rightwing approach leads to foolhardiness, so vividly demonstrated by George Bush’s ‘war on terror’. That has not only led to unforgivable criminality in the form of imperialist invasions and occupations, killings and torture of innocents and destruction of entire societies; it has also singularly failed to combat extremism and terrorism. Rather, the extremist cause itself has received impetus across the world.

Some on the Left, however, go to the other extreme, especially when it comes to leftwing extremism. While very few come out explicitly espousing or defending the Maoist ideology, there is a tendency among others either to romanticize or to overlook their mindless violence and to one-sidedly berate the state for its security operations. This penchant for condoning acts of terror or glorifying violence in the name of radicalism – even that directed against innocent and helpless victims and not against the state ¬– is entirely opportunistic. Marx, writing in the context of the philosophical roots of religion, had said: ‘To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter’.1 Celebration of leftwing extremism and violence arises precisely out of the inability or the lack of willingness on the part of some thinkers, ‘to grasp the root of the matter’, and thereby terribly confuse form with content.

The present volume, which brings together three essays, looks at the question of left extremism from a Marxist standpoint. Left sectarianism, adventurism and dogmatism, as phenomena, are neither new nor unique to India. This collection of articles not only critiques its contemporary manifestation in India in the shape of the CPI (Maoist), but also traces its historical origins and record, both in the Indian context as well as internationally to show left sectarianism for what it is: a road to nowhere. But it is not simply an innocuous tendency, which surfaces within the Left from time to time. Historically, left sectarianism has been very counter-productive and it retains the potential of seriously damaging the prospects of the Left in future. The present volume therefore seeks to contribute to the ideological-political struggle against left sectarianism, by exposing its erroneous theoretical foundations and distorted praxis.


Lenin’s 1920 work, Leftwing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, is a classic on the inner struggles and ideological debates within the international Communist movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. Lenin identified two tendencies which were inimical to the interests of the working class movement: ‘opportunism’, which ‘developed into social-chauvinism and definitely sided with the bourgeoisie’ and ‘petty-bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows something from the latter and, in all essential matters, does not measure up to the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle’.2 On the latter tendency Lenin elaborated:

"A petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, and its tendency to turn rapidly into submission, apathy, phantasms, and even a frenzied infatuation with one bourgeois fad or another – all this is common knowledge. However, a theoretical or abstract recognition of these truths does not at all rid revolutionary parties of old errors, which always crop up at unexpected occasions, in somewhat new forms, in a hitherto unfamiliar garb or surroundings, in an unusual – a more or less unusual – situation.

Anarchism was not infrequently a kind of penalty for the opportunist sins of the working class movement. The two monstrosities complemented each other."

Lenin’s observations on ‘leftwing communism’ contain four crucial insights, which were not only accurate in the specific context in which they were made, but have continued to remain valid for the Communist movement. Firstly, left sectarianism is a reflection of a petty bourgeois class outlook, in contrast to a ‘consistent proletarian’ class outlook. Secondly, it is unstable, in the sense that it appears as a trend within the movement, peaks and then dissipates within a short span of time. Thirdly, despite being unstable, it does recur within the movement from time to time at certain conjunctures, since the social basis for such extremism always exist in capitalist societies. And fourthly, it often appears as a ‘penalty for the opportunist sins’ within the Left movement, and ideologically-politically ‘complements’ such opportunism.

Lenin’s position vis-à-vis left sectarianism is enunciated by citing several concrete instances on which the Bolsheviks had to wage struggle against ‘petty-bourgeois revolutionism’, both within the party and outside (with the Socialist Revolutionary Party). For instance, left sectarianism had to be fought on the question of ‘a strictly objective appraisal of the class forces and their alignment, before taking any political action’. This is vital for the Communist movement, because an overestimation of its own strength and underestimation of the strength of the enemy inevitably leads to adventurist actions and setbacks.

Then there was the question of violence and ‘individual terrorism’, which the left extremists considered to be the essential hallmark of revolutionism. Lenin states that this was something that ‘we Marxists emphatically rejected’, not because Marxists are opposed to violence ‘in principle’, but because it was not ‘expedient’ at all times. In essence, the context in which the Communists take to violence has to be very specific – Lenin cites the violence during the French revolution or that employed by ‘a victorious revolutionary party which is besieged by the bourgeoisie of the whole world’. Being a revolutionary Marxist certainly does not imply being supportive of violence per se.

Lenin also underlined the struggle against the left sectarian tendency to ‘sneer at the comparatively insignificant opportunist sins . . . while they themselves imitated the extreme opportunists . . .’ This is precisely how the extreme left ‘complements’ opportunist tendencies within the Communist movement. Struggles against left deviation were conducted within the Bolshevik party too, most importantly, on the question of participation in ‘a most reactionary parliament’. Lenin cites that the ‘left’ Bolsheviks had to be expelled from the party in 1908 for ‘stubbornly refusing to understand the necessity of participating in a most reactionary parliament’, at a time when the situation demanded that the party combined ‘legal and illegal activities’.

It is noteworthy that the core issues in which the revolutionary movement in Russia witnessed intense ideological-political struggles between the Bolsheviks and the extreme left in the early decades of the twentieth century – on the correct assessment of the correlation of class forces at a given time, on violence and individual terrorism, on Communists’ participation in bourgeois parliament, etc. – resurfaced time and again in different countries throughout the twentieth century, wherever the Communist movement was significant. Even today, these are precisely the issues, which mark the basic differences between the Communist and left sectarian trends.


The Communist movement in India was initiated in the backdrop of the freedom struggle in the 1920s. While the Communists did not succeed in acquiring the leadership of the national liberation movement against British colonialism, they played an important role by drawing in large sections of the working class and the peasantry within the ambit of the movement and influencing its overall direction. Following independence, alongside the emergence of the Communist party as a major opposition force to the ruling Congress party within the parliamentary democratic set up, ideological debates also intensified within the Left on the road to revolution in India. The initial debate surrounded the basic programmatic approach of the Communist movement, especially in regard to the characterization of the Indian state and the revolutionary strategy to be adopted.

On the one side of this debate were those who considered the independent Indian state as one, which was led by the national bourgeoisie, which was consistently anti-imperialist and had an anti-feudal character. From such a progres¬sive characterization of ‘Nehruvian socialism’, it followed that the Communists would necessarily have to dovetail their revolutionary strategy to the efforts of the state led by the national bourgeoisie, which would eventually lead, through various transitory stages, to socialism. This class collaborationist and revisionist understanding was challenged by a significant section within the Communist party, which led to intense inner-party struggle during the 1950s and the eventual split in the Communist Party of India in 1964.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)], formed in 1964, arrived at a programmatic understanding that the Indian state is a bourgeois-landlord state led by the big bourgeoisie, which has a dual character. On the one hand the big bourgeoisie collaborates with imperialism in its pursuit of capitalist development. On the other hand, it has conflicts with imperialism in order to preserve and expand its economic domain, which it seeks to resolve through pressure, bargain and compromise. It is this dual character which gets manifested in the economic and foreign policies pursued by the Central Government. On the basis of such characterization of the Indian ruling classes and the state, a revolutionary strategy of building a peoples’ democratic front – an alliance of workers, peasants and other toiling sections under working class leadership – was enunciated. The revolution, directed against the big bourgeoisie, landlordism and imperialism, is to be achieved by combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles. This overall understanding, however, was questioned by a small section, which considered participation in the parliamentary democratic process – just as the left sectarians did during Lenin’s time – to be revisionist and non-revolutionary in principle.

Such left deviationist tendencies were always present within the Communist movement in India. It had surfaced vividly during the immediate aftermath of independence leading to errors like characterizing political independence as merely ‘formal independence’ and calling for armed insurrection against the newly independent state. These, however, were subsequently corrected and the Communists participated in the first general elections held in independent India in 1952. In the late 1960s, however, left sectarianism reappeared on the scene. This was the period when land struggles under Communist leadership were gaining momentum in West Bengal, drawing in large sections of the peasantry. The Congress was losing ground, and after the 1967 state assembly elections the first non-Congress United Front Government was formed in West Bengal, in which the CPI (M) participated. The same year, extreme left elements who were opposing the participation of the CPI (M) in elections, led a violent peasant revolt in Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of north Bengal, and gave a call for armed insurrection to overthrow the state.

Significantly, the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), which had itself come under the grip of left sectarianism during this period – culminating in the ‘cultural revolution’ – openly backed the left adventurists in India. People’s Daily, the official organ of the CPC, published an editorial on July 5, 1967, entitled ‘Spring Thunder Breaks Over India’, where it hailed the Naxalbari revolt because ‘armed struggle is the only correct road for the Indian revolution . . . the spark in Darjeeling will start a prairie fire . . .’. Encouraged by such prognoses and prescriptions, naxalites in India borrowed wholesale from the strategy of the Chinese revolution developed in the 1930s and 1940s along with the CPC’s concepts and formulations of the Indian state and society put forward in the late 1960s. They went to great lengths to portray themselves as the flag bearers of the ‘Chinese line’, even coining the slogan: ‘China’s chairman is our chairman, Chinese path is our path’. When the CPI (ML) was formed in 1970, its programme stated:

"The democratic revolution in India is taking place in the era of Mao Tse-tung when world imperialism is heading for total collapse and socialism is advancing towards worldwide victory. Our revolution is a part of the great proletarian cultural revolution which has consolidated socialism and proletarian dictatorship in China and has turned China into the reliable base area of world revolution. Our revolution is taking place at a time…when the CPC headed by Chairman Mao and Vice-Chairman Lin Piao is leading the international proletariat to fulfill its historic mission of emancipating the whole of mankind from the rule of imperialism and reaction and establishing socialism and communism on this earth. We are a contingent of this great army of the international proletariat." (Emphasis added.)

Thus, from their very inception, left sectarians in India have believed in a one size fits all theory of revolution – that of imitating the Chinese path. They never felt the need to seriously engage with Indian society, understand its socio-economic realities and its historical and cultural specificities. They trashed the experience of the Indian Communist movement during the freedom struggle as well as the post-independence period. Most importantly, they misestimated the correlation of class forces and misread the mood among the masses. Their dogma was simple: the situation is always ripe for a revolution, and if revolution succeeded in China by following a certain path, the only thing that needed to be done was to emulate it in India at all costs.

The naxalite folly, in relying upon such imported know-how to make revolution and trying to blindly imitate it, became amply clear within a very short span. The armed rebellions led by the left adventurists in some rural pockets of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh were either crushed by the state or fizzled out by 1970–71. Not only did their unrealistic slogans fail to arouse the peasantry, their mindless violence and individual terrorism alienated the masses. The attempts to spread anarchy in the urban areas in the name of ‘cultural revolution’ further isolated them and invited more state repression. By the time of their leader Charu Mazumdar’s death in police custody in 1972, the ‘spring thunder’ had ended in a whimper.

The CPC had realised by 1970 that the naxalite movement in India was going nowhere and was turning into an embarrassment. It is reported that the CPC sent a note to Charu Mazumdar expressing its reservations over the activities of the CPI (ML) some time in 1970–71.3 The main criticisms made by the CPC were directed against the description of Mao Zedong as India’s chairman, secret assassinations, making bloodletting the yardstick for the revolutionary fervour of a member, ignoring mass work and mass struggle, confusing military tactics with political and organizational issues, and misrepresenting united front tactics. However, the damage had already been done.


The failure of the naxalite movement in India in the 1970s did lead to some reflection on the part of those who had been its active participants, but the weakness of their theoretical foundations and concepts came in the way of any meaningful introspection and course correction. Significant changes took place within the CPC itself in the 1970s, especially after the death of Mao Zedong, and the errors of the cultural revolution were finally put to rest in 1978. So dependent and fragile was the ideological framework of the CPI (ML) that it could not come to grips with those changes, eventually leading to innumerable splits in the 1970s and 1980s.4

In practice, the main debate within the naxalites has always been on whether their activities would remain to be based on individual annihilation of ‘class enemies’ or to reorient their work prioritizing mass activities and participating in the democratic process. Some naxalite groups, like the CPI (ML) Liberation and the CPI (ML) New Democracy, eventually abandoned armed struggle and joined the parliamentary democratic process. However, other groups like the CPI (ML) Peoples’ War and the Maoist Communist Centre continued with their violent tactics and eventually merged in 2004 to form the CPI (Maoist). The programme of the CPI (Maoist), which is at the forefront of leftwing extremism in India today, envisages as its central task, the ‘seizure of political power by armed struggle’; a throwback to the same old Chinese path.

The experience of the Communist movement in India has already shown the futility of a blind pursuit of armed struggle against the Indian state. In a context where parliamentary democracy has taken root, resort to armed struggle without exhausting the potential for mass mobilization within the democratic set up, not only fails in its objective but also turns the masses away. Moreover, the socio-economic realities today, in India and abroad, are very different from the situation in the 1960s and 1970s, when socialism existed as a major countervailing force to imperialism. We are currently in an era where international finance-driven imperialism dominates economically, militarily and culturally, posing stiffer challenges before the Communist movement.

Left politics itself has undergone a sea change globally, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, with newer questions of democracy, peoples’ participation and social justice acquiring added significance. The need has been felt within the Left, especially among Communists across the globe, to renew and enrich the vision for socialism in keeping with the momentous changes that have taken place over the past two decades. Some parties with a left extremist past have also seriously engaged with these questions, most notably the Nepalese Maoists, and have repositioned themselves within the democratic process. For the contemporary left sectarians in India, however, the answer to all such questions is to be found in guerilla warfare and ‘liberated zones’.

The current activities of the CPI (Maoist), across their pockets of existence in the remote forest areas in India’s central-eastern region, bear out the degeneration that inevitably follows from dogmatism. The typical tactics of the Maoists have been to build their base areas in the jungles near tribal habitats and establish their control over the area through the force of the gun, eliminating or terrorizing all other political parties and tribal organizations into submission. The Maoists do not believe in organizing the tribals for exercising their rights over land and forest resources or for socio-economic development.5 Their sole aim is to set up the so-called ‘liberated zones’, where the entry of all other state or non-state actors is prohibited by force and no political activities other than their own are permissible. These ‘liberated zones’ are then used to launch armed attacks in other areas against the state machinery, not only the police stations and paramilitary outposts but often targeting railway tracks, roads, power stations, telecom facilities and even schools and health centres. Political opponents are often executed after conducting kangaroo courts and labeling them ‘police informers’. Extortion from forest contractors and the mining mafia is the primary means of financing these activities.6 Such nihilist anarchism perpetrated in the name of ‘people’s war’, and the eventual retaliation by the state, brings immense suffering to the tribals and other forest dwelling communities, shattering their lives and livelihoods.

Even as the Maoists issue calls for boycott of elections, they forge underhand deals with individual leaders and candidates of bourgeois political parties during elections and indulge in booth capturing in their favour in exchange for money, protection and patronage. This has happened repeatedly in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and more recently in West Bengal. They also assassinate elected representatives from different political parties at the behest of their rivals. For instance, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MP Sunil Mahato was killed in Ghatshila by the Maoists in March 2007. They also made assassination attempts against the former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister in 2003 and the West Bengal Chief Minister in November 2008.

It is noteworthy that the cadres of Left formations, especially the CPI (M) – mostly belonging to the toiling classes and socially deprived sections – are specifically targeted by the CPI (Maoist) and assassinated on a frequent basis. They see the presence of a significant Left force in India’s political mainstream and their success as a big impediment in furthering their left extremist agenda. While the Left as a whole has to traverse a long way to eventually succeed in its revolutionary objective in India, it has over the years played a consistent and significant role in defending people’s rights and deepening democracy. In the past two decades the Left emerged as the ideological-political core around which the resistance and struggles against communalism, neoliberal policies and imperialism have been built. The Left-led state governments, despite their limited powers, have successfully implemented pro-people policies like land redistribution and democratic decentralization, which have benefited the peasantry and the working people and expanded the mass appeal of the Left. All this is anathema to the left sectarians.

Much of their current violence is therefore directed against the Left, especially in the CPI (M) stronghold of West Bengal. No political party anywhere in India has lost as many activists and supporters to Maoist terror, as has the CPI (M) in West Bengal since 2008. What is worse, this mayhem is being conducted in league with the main rightwing opposition to the Left Front in West Bengal, the Trinamul Congress, with the avowed aim of bringing them into power in the state in the 2011 assembly elections. This gang-up with right reactionary forces in order to settle scores with the Communist Left marks the climax of degeneration for the Maoists in India.


The present volume seeks to make an intervention in this backdrop. All the three essays contained in this volume deal with left sectarianism, with two focusing on the CPI (Maoist) in India and one with the international experience of left adventurism. The first essay by P.M.S. Grewal is a theoretical critique of the programmatic understanding of the Indian Maoists. Grewal revisits the earlier debates within the Indian Communist movement, tracing the origins of left sectarianism, to show how the Maoists of today have remained prisoners of the old dogmas regarding the Indian state and society as well as the revolutionary path. He exposes the theoretical hollowness of the Maoists and blows up the myth about their being a revolutionary force fighting for the cause of the tribals or other exploited sections. The last section of the essay provides detailed information on the recent Maoist attacks against the CPI (M) and the Left in Lalgarh and elsewhere.

Nilotpal Basu’s essay complements Grewal’s analysis, by looking at the flawed ideological political approach of the Maoists, which negates the very first principles of Marxism-Leninism. Basu argues that the greatness of Mao Zedong lies precisely in his creative application of Marxism in the concrete conditions of Chinese society in the 1930s and 1940s and not in mechanically implementing the Comintern line on how to carry out the revolution in China. In contrast, the Indian Maoists seek to re-enact the Chinese revolution in contemporary Indian conditions, which are vastly different from those in pre-revolutionary China. The farcical end result is the very anti-thesis of Mao Zedong thought. Basu makes a robust critique of the anti-democratic practices of the Maoists and their hypocritical sympathizers. He also argues that Maoists can be effectively dealt with, not by means of imposing bans or security measures alone, but by ensuring their political isolation and addressing the developmental needs of the tribal areas where the Maoists operate.

Vijay Prashad looks at the international experience of left extremism, especially in Latin America. Through very informative expositions of the major political developments within the Left in countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, Peru and Colombia, Prashad argues that the present day realities do not favour guerilla warfare any more. Prashad contrasts the failure of armed struggles in country after country with the successful ‘long march through the institutions’ by the Latin American Left, and draws the conclusion that the way forward for the Left lies in mass movements and not guns. The discussion on the Maoists in Peru and Philippines is particularly relevant in the Indian context as it demonstrates similar tendencies within the extreme left leading to very similar and equally destructive outcomes.

We also reproduce as an annexure, excerpts from a CPI (M) document, Ideological Debate Summed Up, which was first published in June 1968. This document throws light on the ideological debates within the Communist movement in India in the 1960s. The relevant excerpts from the document reproduced here deal with all the ideological questions thrown up by the naxalites – whether India’s independence was merely ‘formal’, whether the Indian big bourgeoisie was ‘comprador’, whether the state was ‘neocolonial’ and a ‘puppet’ of imperialism, whether to take part in the parliamentary democratic process and participate in coalition governments in the states. This document serves as an appropriate historical backgrounder to the Marxist critique of contemporary left sectarianism in India. It contains an important and enduring vision – that the road to revolution in India will neither be the Chinese road nor the Russian road, but a distinct Indian road.


1. Karl Marx, Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844.

2. The discussion here is based on the chapter ‘The Struggle Against Which Enemies Within the Working-Class Movement Helped Bolshevism Develop, Gain Strength, and Become Steeled’.

3. See Biplab Dasgupta, The Naxalite Movement, Allied Publishers, 1974. In Chapter 7 (p. 195) Dasgupta refers to an inner-party note submitted by Ashim Chatterjee titled ‘Bartaman Partyr Kajer Sar Sankalan’ (in Bengali) where he accuses Charu Mazumdar of suppressing the CPC note because it contained criticism of his policies. Later the main points in the Chinese note were circulated among the members of the CPI (ML) in a letter signed among others by Kanu Sanyal and C. Tejeswar Rao.

4. For a detailed discussion on the ideological-political basis of the splintering of the naxalites in the 1970s and 1980s, see Prakash Karat, ‘Naxalism Today: At an Ideological Deadend’, The Marxist, Jan-March, 1985.

5. For instance, the Maoists have remained conspicuously absent in the struggles to defend the forest rights of the tribals waged by various democratic organisations alongside the Communists, which eventually led to the enactment of the Tribal Forest Rights Act in the Indian parliament in 2006. Moreover, unlike the late 1960s when the naxalites attempted to organize tribal peasant revolts, the contemporary Maoists take absolutely no interest in organizing the peasantry, either against landlords or the state’s anti-peasant policies.

6. See for instance Arundhati Roy’s article ‘Walking with the Comrades’, Outlook, March 29, 2010. While glorifying the Maoists and supporting their armed struggle in Chhattisgarh, she also provides an account of Maoist extortion. She states that the forest contractors who buy tendu leaves from the tribals pay Rs. 120 per bag as ‘commission’ to the ‘party’. This source alone provides hundreds of crores to the Maoists. For an effective critique of Roy’s position, see Sudhanva Deshpande’s rejoinder ‘She was There’, Outlook, April 12, 2010.

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May 15, 2010

5 CPI(M) workers killed in Maoist attack

Kolkata, 15th May: Suspected Maoists killed five supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in two incidents in the Paschim Medinipur and Purulia districts of West Bengal on Thursday.

A group of armed miscreants abducted CPI (M) workers Ashok Ahir, Sanatan Ahir, Swapan Ahir and Nazrul Mir from Chandabilla village in the Binpur block near Lalgarh of the Paschim Medinipur. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found on the State Highway 9 at Etela, located between Silda and Belpahari, on Friday.

According to Praveen Kumar Tripathi, Police Superintendent of the Jhargram police district, the killings were suspected to be the handiwork of the Maoists since rebel posters found from the spot claimed that the four persons were killed for spying on behalf of the police. The posters also demanded the immediate production in court of all persons arrested by the police for their supposed Maoist link, failing which the Left-wing extremists threatened to intensify their attack.

Mr. Tripathi said that an investigation into the case was initiated and a manhunt launched to nab the culprits.

In another incident, suspected rebels killed a CPI (M) supporter at Pathardihi village near Arsha in Purulia district on Thursday. The victim, Srikanta Mahato, was dragged out from his home and shot dead a little distance away.

Life was disrupted in the forest fringe areas of the three left-wing extremism-affected districts in the State on Friday following a bandh called by Maoists and the indefinite blockade programme observed by the Maoist-backed Police Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (PSBJC).

Two suspected Maoists were arrested from the Simlapal region of Bankura district on Friday. They were allegedly involved in the operation of the rebels raiding a police outpost in the district two months ago.

In certain pockets of the Jangalmahal (common name for forested south-western parts of the State) life was hit by the PSBJC's indefinite blockade programme that entered its second day, and the Maoist bandh.

All educational and business establishments remained closed while vehicles stayed off the road.
May 15, 2010 7:37:51 PM