In­dian Maoists have the right cri­tique but the wrong so­lu­tions

India Today - - SIGNATURE - Ajai Sahni The au­thor is the di­rec­tor of In­sti­tute for Con­flict Man­age­ment

Par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, the Maoists tell us, is a “pigsty”— and many in In­dia would cur­rently be in­clined to agree. The nowde­ceased Cherukuri Ra­jku­mar aka Azad, spokesman of Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia- Maoist ( CPI- Maoist), ar­gued, “The In­dian state is the joint dic­ta­tor­ship of the big bour­geoisie- big land­lord classes who serve im­pe­ri­al­ism; it en­sures democ­racy for this tiny sec­tion of so­ci­ety, while it ex­er­cises dic­ta­tor­ship over the vast masses of In­dian peo­ple.” This sys­tem is be­yond re­demp­tion, and must be “smashed” through rev­o­lu­tion­ary vi­o­lence, and re­placed by true “peo­ple’s democ­racy” un­der the Maoists. “The cen­tral task of the rev­o­lu­tion”, in this con­cep­tion, is “seizure of po­lit­i­cal power through pro­tracted peo­ple’s war”; this ob­jec­tive is, ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous Maoist pro­nounce­ments, to be se­cured by 2050.

The real threat of the Maoists in In­dia is not that they will take over the state— that’s a pipe dream— but that they will pro­voke great vi­o­lence, both against them­selves and against wider pop­u­la­tions that will be sucked into a con­flict in which they have lit­tle stake or in­ter­est. And the real prob­lem with their doc­trine is not that its cri­tique of the in­equities and in­equal­i­ties of the In­dian state is in­ac­cu­rate or false — the cal­lous­ness and ca­sual bru­tal­ity of the state, the ve­nal­ity of its elites, and des­ti­tu­tion of large pro­por­tions of the pop­u­la­tion are ev­ery­where in ev­i­dence— but that their pro­posed ‘ so­lu­tion’ is utopian, unattain­able, and in­deed counter- pro­duc­tive. The his­tory of past rev­o­lu­tions— in­clud­ing Marx­ist- Lenin­ist or Maoist ones— is that they cre­ated no new free­doms, but rather new tyran­nies, in their wake.

The Maoists jus­tify their vi­o­lence as a re­sponse to the vi­o­lence— ac­tive and struc­tural— of the state and ‘ sys­tem’. “It is not just state vi­o­lence that peo­ple face,” Azad ar­gues, “in a class so­ci­ety as in In­dia, vi­o­lence is en­demic to the sys­tem, and the op­pressed masses are ex­posed to it in the course of their daily lives... The vi­o­lence of the Maoists, which is pre­ceded and pro­voked by the vi­o­lence of the op­pres­sors, is not re­ally the main is­sue; jus­tice is. If Nax­alite vi­o­lence is to be dis­cussed, it should be in the con­text of vi­o­lence per­vad­ing ev­ery as­pect of our sys­tem.”

Couched in the lan­guage of class war, these claims sit ill with the re­al­i­ties of the Maoist move­ment. A great deal of at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on a few high- pro­file ac­tions by Maoists and their frontal groups to block ma­jor in­dus­trial projects, but the truth is, they have worked out an ami­ca­ble modus vivendi with most ma­jor en­ter­prises in their ar­eas of dom­i­nance, and many an en­tre­pre­neur ad­mits can­didly that Maoist ex­tor­tion ‘ costs’ less than state cor­rup­tion. They have also worked op­por­tunis­ti­cally with var­i­ous ‘ op­pres­sor’ groups, at times to se­cure tac­ti­cal, at oth­ers, sim­ply pe­cu­niary, gains. Cru­cially, with rare ex­cep­tion, they have done lit­tle to dis­turb ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal equa­tions, or to vig­or­ously tar­get the core of state power and prin­ci­pal source of ‘ state op­pres­sion’— the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive.

More damn­ing, how­ever, is the fact that of the thou­sands who have fallen vic­tim to Maoist vi­o­lence, an over­whelm­ing pro­por­tion has been from the very classes and com­mu­ni­ties they claim to be seek­ing to “lib­er­ate”— the poor­est of the poor, trib­als and Dal­its. Such killings are jus­ti­fied as “pu­n­ish­ment” for “in­form­ers”, “col­lab­o­ra­tors”, “class en­e­mies” etc, but can­not es­cape the criticism, as Brian Crozier ex­presses it, “where rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies find it nec­es­sary to kill more peo­ple on their own side than the en­emy, it must be pre­sumed ei­ther that their cause is widely op­posed or that, at least, it leaves the pop­u­la­tion in­dif­fer­ent”.

It is a mea­sure of the fail­ures of the In­dian state that a move­ment so rid­dled with con­tra­dic­tions should be, in Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh’s words, “the sin­gle

OF THOU­SANDS WHO HAVE FALLEN VIC­TIM TO MAOIST vi­o­lence, an over­whelm­ing pro­por­tion has been from the very classes and com­mu­ni­ties they claim to be seek­ing to “lib­er­ate”— the poor­est of the poor, trib­als and Dal­its.

big­gest in­ter­nal se­cu­rity chal­lenge ever faced by our coun­try”, and that it should per­sist for so long. But Maoists have found fer­tile ground in an ad­min­is­tra­tive and po­lit­i­cal vac­uum over vast ar­eas of In­dia, where the state is sys­tem­at­i­cally and chron­i­cally fail­ing to pro­vide min­i­mal pub­lic goods and ser­vices, in­clud­ing se­cu­rity of life and prop­erty, crim­i­nal jus­tice, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­cial and eco­nomic growth. In such cir­cum­stances, it is in­evitable that other en­ti­ties will step in to fill the vac­uum. It is in­evitable, also, that they are un­likely to be con­strained by law or any es­tab­lished pro­ce­dure in their in­ter­ac­tions with lo­cal pop­u­la­tions and, con­se­quently, that these in­ter­ac­tions will tend to be un­ac­cept­ably vi­o­lent.

The Maoists have also been enor­mously as­sisted by the am­biva­lence of the state, whose per­spec­tives vac­il­late be­tween apolo­get­ics and in­com­pre­hen­sion. An ex­am­ple is the re­peated claim by home min­istry of­fi­cials that de­spite the op­er­a­tional dis­as­ters of past years, of the 40,000 sq km pur­port­edly “lib­er­ated” by Maoists, 10,000 sq km has been “re­cov­ered” by state forces. It is not clear what ar­eas in In­dia had been “lib­er­ated” and when; or, in­deed, whether of­fi­cials who spoke so lib­er­ally of “lib­er­ated ar­eas” even knew what the ex­pres­sion meant. But this pro­jec­tion ap­peared to feed the need to dis­cover some “suc­cesses” at a time when a se­ries of op­er­a­tional de­ba­cles like the Chin­tal­nad mas­sacre of April 2010 had demon­strated the in­com­pe­tence of the Cen­tre’s “mas­sive and co­or­di­nated op­er­a­tions” and their un­der­ly­ing “strat­egy” to “clear, hold and de­velop”.

It is use­ful, here, to clar­ify what “lib­er­ated ar­eas” are in the Maoist lex­i­con. A lib­er­ated area is es­tab­lished when “the en­emy has been de­stroyed com­pletely and rule of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary peo­ple’s gov­ern­ment is es­tab­lished”; when the Maoists ac­quire the char­ac­ter of a reg­u­lar army and en­gage state forces in a mo­bile or po­si­tional war­fare; and where the Maoist party has es­tab­lished its own sys­tems of pro­duc­tion. “Lib­er­ated ar­eas” are, then, ar­eas in which no gov­ern­ment pres­ence is pos­si­ble, and any in­ter­ven­tion would meet with con­ven­tional mil­i­tary re­sis­tance ( not just guer­rilla ac­tion) along a de­fined ‘ line of con­trol’. The LTTE in Sri Lanka, to take an ex­am­ple, had, for a long time, set up a “lib­er­ated area” in north Sri Lanka, where they ran their own com­pre­hen­sive ad­min­is­tra­tion, and de­fended their ter­ri­to­ries along a “for­ward de­fence line”. No com­pa­ra­ble ar­eas of Maoist con­trol ex­ist in In­dia. What we have here are guer­rilla zones and base ar­eas. The idea that a rebel force, es­ti­mated at a max­i­mum of 20,000 armed cadres and some 50,000 ‘ mili­tia’, can sus­tain “lib­er­ated ar­eas” in In­dia is man­i­festly ab­surd. Yet, it has been ar­tic­u­lated from some of the high­est po­si­tions of power in Gov­ern­ment.

There are no lib­er­ated ar­eas in In­dia. There are ar­eas of mis­gov­er­nance and non- gov­er­nance over which, var­i­ously, in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, thugs, gangs, eth­nic ex­trem­ists, Is­lamists or Maoists ( among other va­ri­eties of malfeasants) ex­er­cise their rule. What is es­tab­lished here is, at worst, “dis­rup­tive dom­i­nance”— the ca­pac­ity to pre­vent through vi­o­lence, state agen­cies from car­ry­ing out their tasks of ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­liv­ery of pub­lic goods.

The Maoist move­ment in In­dia has cur­rently moved from a high fa­tal­ity stale­mate to a low fa­tal­ity stale­mate. Far from the sound and fury of troop­in­ten­sive “area dom­i­na­tion” ex­er­cises, how­ever, a quiet, in­tel­li­gence- based cam­paign has dec­i­mated the lead­er­ship of the party, and forced it to with­draw from its ef­forts to “ex­tend the peo­ple’s war across the coun­try”— back into its “heart­land ar­eas” along the pur­ported “red cor­ri­dor”. Such re­lief, how­ever, will prove tran­sient, un­less a greater mea­sure of clar­ity and fo­cus at­tends the state’s ap­proach and strat­egy to this un­set­tling re­bel­lion.



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