THE CHALLENGE OF VIOLENCE
Indian Maoists have the right critique but the wrong solutions
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.
NAXALITES DURING AN EXERCISE IN THE ABUJHMARH FORESTS OF CHHATTISGARH, IN 2007