“A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India”. This is how the July 5, 1967 editorial of Communist Party of China (CPC) mouthpiece People’s Daily had described the peasant upsurge in a tiny Bengal village – Naxalbari. People’s Daily was endorsing the incidence where share croppers and landless laborers rose in revolt with ‘land to the tiller’ slogan against the local landlords. The editorial also went on to predict that “…a great storm of revolutionary armed struggle will eventually sweep across the length and breadth of India”. Named after its birthplace, the Naxalbari movement soon evolved into an armed uprising in Bengal and spread like wildfire in several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. The movement reached its peak between May 1969 and June 1971 after the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was founded on April 22, 1969. But the stormy days didn’t last for long. From 1972, the movement started losing its impetus. Between 1973 and 1975, the central and the state governments, both under the Congress Party rule, jointly crushed the movement by ruthless army and police operations. Most of the prominent Naxal leaders were captured and jailed or dead in ‘police encounter’ including the principle ideologue Charu Majumdar, who had died in police custody in July 1972. After the first non-Congress Janata government came to power in 1977, the jailed Naxalites were released along with other political prisoners imprisoned under Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. By then, many of them were deeply frustrated over the failure of their movement and turned impassive about active radical politics. After 1977, the Naxalites were fragmented into numerous small groups under different leaders, organizations and ideological positions and were conflicting with each other over ideological-tactical debates with elements of personal egotism but could not generate any significant impact in the socio-political milieu of India. Evading from direct political linkage, many of the former Naxals started putting up non-governmental organizations to stay entrenched with social, economic, cultural, environmental, legal, human rights and gender related issues. The present day Indian Maoists trace their lineage back to this iconic ultra left-wing rebellion.
The Naxalite movement inflamed again after the resurgence of two potent Naxalite groups in the 1980s. In Andhra Pradesh, the pro-Charu Majumdar People’s War Group (PWG) was set up in 1982 under the leadership of Kondapally Seetaramaiah. The other group was the Kanai Chatterjee, Amulya Sen and Chandrasekhar Das led anti-Charu Majumdar Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). After been restructured in the mid-1980s, MCC had extended its considerable influence in parts of central Bihar. Confined within their respective territory, the PWG and MCC had dominated the insurgency scene for some time and were also frequently engaged in violent fights against each other over territorial disputes resulting in the death of hundreds of cadres and sympathizers of both sides. But by 1992, counter-insurgency operations by the government in Andhra Pradesh have largely tamed the activities of the PWG. The outfit was banned and its erosion continued when large numbers of PWG cadres were either arrested or has surrendered before the security forces. In Bihar, violence related with caste prejudices and regular clashes with the upper castes private armies like the Ranvir Sena started showing signs of desperation among the MCC cadres. These alarming ground realities forced the two once-rival groups to come together on September 21, 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) to act as “a consolidated political vanguard of the Indian Proletariat”. After ‘great debate and controversy’, the term ‘Maoism’ was adopted upholding Mao Zedong’s thought as the ‘third and higher stage in the qualitative development of Marxism’. Following the unification, the cadre strength and gun power of the alliance increased substantially and the group became the most considerable Naxalite formation in the country to secure its influence and control over a large geographical spread – the ‘Red Corridor’.
From Andhra Pradesh’s Telangana region to the Tarai region of Nepal, the ‘Red Corridor’ stretches about 92,000 sq. km linking parts of Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra, the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, Western Orissa, Jharkhand, Central and North Bihar, the far-eastern region of Uttar Pradesh and the Bihar-Jharkhand border areas of Bengal. This vast stretch covers concentrated tribal pockets and comprises some of the poorest, underdeveloped and oppressed regions of the country. While the region is rich with mineral resources like coal and iron ore deposits, natural gases and forests, the Indian state has badly failed to deliver minimum social-economic amenities and to considerately attend the largely unseen suffering of the local people, particularly the tribals. This is the key reason why the Maoist movement has fairly succeeded to penetrate in this region. Displacement due to large scale projects, inability to avail the benefits from natural resources, failure of law and order and regular exploitation by local landowners, traders, police and corrupt government officials has added to set the ideal condition for the Maoists to exploit the people.
In remote and rural areas where socio-economic deprivation and exploitation are common, the Maoist approach to address long existing grievances through the barrel of the gun deeply influences the people to strike a sympathetic chord among them. It is therefore relatively easy to stir up the anger and resentment of the underprivileged, particularly the women and youth to join the guerrilla army and fight the ‘class repression, class exploitation and class rule’ of the Indian State. In their own way, the Maoists have also dealt with a core grievance of the rural poor – their lack of land rights. By forcefully acquiring land from the oppressive landlords at gunpoint and redistributing them to the landless peasants has significantly helped the growth of their support base among the poor rural peasantry.
After the massive counter-insurgency operations in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had suffered considerable losses and have gradually shifted their focus to Dandakaranya (a 35,600 square miles spread over the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh), Bihar and Jharkhand. However, in the Bastar and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh, the Maoists were harshly confronted by a unique form of resistance from the local tribals – the Salwa Judum. Steered by Mahendra Karma, a local tribal leader belonging to the Congress party, the movement came up in the year 2005 as “a spontaneous reaction by the tribals to defend themselves against the reign of terror unleashed by the Naxalites”. (National Human Rights Commission report to the Supreme Court of India) The Salwa Judum recruited its members from the villages, built-up local vigilante groups and was supported by the Chhattisgarh government as a counter insurgency force. Its members, mostly tribal youths were recruited as Special Police Officers (SPOs) by the Chhattisgarh state Police and trained in using arms.
The secretive and illegal activities of the Maoists have kept their political outlook and motives mostly distant from the larger Indian population living outside their sphere of influence. Though there are instances which illustrate that the Maoists are trying to spread their influence outside their customary stronghold, in reality, their influences are still concentrated in the poorest regions inhabited mostly by the tribal population. For obvious reasons, the invisible Maoist leaders have kept their focus confined on the relatively inaccessible rural belts. The reasons are not only tactical as stated in their party documents. It is also due to the fact that for conducting their acts of individual violence and terror these places are good as safe shelters from the counter-insurgence forces. Except among the habitual woolgathering intellectuals, so called human-right groups and sections of the middle-class student population in the cities, the Maoists have minimal influence among the urban petty bourgeoisie and the industrial working class. After the unceasing rise of Dalit politics and the ominous growth of Hindutva-communal forces, chances for the Maoists to make a greater impact on the general course of Indian political sphere has become marginal and the prospect of expanding into unexplored zones is steadily shrinking.
Killing a handful of ‘class enemies’, clashing with the mining and steel companies, attacking police posts and jails, damaging vital infrastructures like roads, bridges, and railroads, blasting landmines to ‘wipe out the armed forces of the counter-revolutionary Indian state’ or establishing parallel governments of Janathana Sarkar in the ‘liberated zones’ of remote tribal pockets to encircle cities while being isolated from the majority of the people are the fantastic Maoist tactics to establish the People’s Democratic State. In the extremely complicated composition of a multi-national, multi-religious, and caste-divided Indian society, the Maoist proposition to shape the revolution by ‘seizure of political power through protracted People’s War’ sounds thrilling and romantic but is far away from the prevailing reality of contemporary India.
Misinterpreting Mao’s annihilation theory and embracing the people’s war theory of Lin Biao which the Chinese Communist Party has discredited long ago, the Maoists turn into a real nuisance when they start forcing their erroneous doctrinarism on the masses to bear the brunt of their ‘revolutionary’ actions. Democratic struggle and mass-political programs have no place in their credo. Instead, they are obsessed with armed activities and military programs that include sabotage and annihilation of enemies through individual assassination. Maoist leaders also have a typical tendency to justify their actions of individual terror by parroting quotations of Mao like ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ out of context. Most of the victims of their so called ‘revolutionary tactics’ of crushing the heart of the enemy’s state machinery is always the poor and the ordinary. Their annihilation theory has also been extended toward rival Naxalite groups and members or supporters of mainstream Left parties. To fund their revolutionary operations, the Maoists extract levy from the landlords, the village rich and government contractors, get involve in racketeering of forest resources, force farmers to cultivate poppy crops to harvest opium that fetches lucrative price and also helps the ‘class enemy’ bourgeois parties to win elections in exchange for a substantial amount of money.
A classic example of this strange ultra-left adventurism is evident from the role they played in the so called ‘liberated zone’ of Nandigram. Here, the outfit took the initiative on behalf of the Trinamool Congress to build-up an armed resistance against the ‘conspiracies and treacherous policies’ of the Left Front government of Bengal. As claimed by Koteswar Rao, CPI (Maoist) politburo member in charge of Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa, the Maoists were armed by the Trinamool to spearhead the movement. (Source) According to the CPI (Maoist) General Secretary Ganapathy, Maoist cadres were in the forefront to “lead the movement in the correct direction” and stall the alleged ‘land grab’ of the state government which was acting at the behest of the ‘comprador’ Salim Group. Eleven months of their stupendous effort has immensely helped the Trinamool Congress to seize political grip in the area. Soon after their victory in the Panchayat polls, the Trinamool Congress has completely disregarded them and pushed them out from Nandigram. Thereafter, no news of any Maoist activity has been reported from there. Since the ‘revolution’ in Nandigram is over, the Maoists have thus shifted their focus on Lalgarh in West Midnapore leaving behind Nandigram in the safe hands of Trinamool!
On November 2, 2008 a landmine was detonated on the convoy route of Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and Union Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan who were returning from Salboni after the foundation stone ceremony of Jindal steel plant. The landmine wire was found to be originating from Lalgarh. As a result, the Police entered the adjacent villages and picked up some local tribals as suspects. A protest movement sparked off in Lalgarh over allegations of police high handedness during the raids and almost immediately, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janashadharaner Committee (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities) was floated. Led by a 45 year old local tribal leader Chhatradhar Mahato with obvious Maoist links, Lalgarh is brewing for a remarkably similar Nandigram style ‘movement’. To recreate another ‘liberated zone’, the local tribals are mobilized with arms; roads are dug and blocked at several places by felled trees to resist the ‘oppressive and autocratic’ state incursion. Maoist sympathizer organizations like the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and Lalgarh Andolon Sanhati Mancha (Solidarity Forum for Lalgarh Movement) are fueling this ‘unique form of democratic politics’ from their backyard at Kolkata. While media report (The Times of India, 22 April 2009) has suggested that sophisticated and indigenous firearms have been sneaked inside Lalgarh, local tribals are seen brandishing traditional weapons in front of television cameras to put up the impression of a genuine tribal revolt.
Bengal is a difficult terrain for the Maoist to bloom. When the central and other state governments believe that the Maoist problem is largely a law and order issue, the Left Front government has carefully comprehended the socio-economic aspect of the problem and tried to tackle it through ideological and political means. In other states, the Maoists have capitalized from the existing grievance among the rural poor concerning land rights. But in Bengal, land reform and redistribution has been a remarkable success. This achievement has mostly isolated the Maoists from the larger section of the rural populace. In other states where 4 per cent of families owned 60 per cent of lands, in Bengal 40 per cent of the families own 80 per cent of the land. Not been able to win over the people, the vengeful Maoists have thus targeted the CPI (M) workers. The recent Maoist incursions are mostly visible in some regions of Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore districts where lack of development remains to be a relevant aspect even after the successful implementation of land reforms. Bengal still has poor, landless and marginalized people who exist without any access to agriculture and depends on the forests for their livelihood. The Maoists are been able to penetrate and influence this section through the gap created by inadequate development and lack of basic amenities.
Six days before the polling for 2009 Lok Sabha elections began, the Maoists had attacked NALCO’s bauxite mines in Orissa and killed at least 8 Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawans and injuring scores of others. On 16 April, during the first phase of the month long election schedule, at least 17 people were killed by them in a string of attacks across the ‘Red Corridor’. To enforce their poll boycott strategy and disrupt the election procedures through violence, armed Maoist ‘people’s militia’ attacked on polling booths and vehicles carrying the election officials. Five members of a polling team were killed by a landmine blast in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh. A bus carrying Border Security Force (BSF) personnel for election duty was blown off by another landmine explosion in Jharkhand’s Latehar district; bullets were sprayed at the bus killing seven BSF personnel, the bus driver and his assistant. In Bihar’s Gaya district, the Maoists open fired at a polling station in Bankebazaar killing a policeman and a Home Guard on duty and looted the electronic voting machines (EVM) and four rifles. Though termed as a ‘spectacular’ success by sections of the media, actually, the Maoists were successful to attack just 71 of the 76,000 vulnerable polling booths. In the second and third phase of the elections, the intensity of Maoist attacks has dropped substantially.
When the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) was formed by the Naxalites in May 1968, one of the first resolutions passed by the body was not to participate in elections. While the CPI (Maoist) is still carrying this legacy, Naxalite factions like the CPI (M-L) Liberation has “corrected the mistake of completely rejecting parliamentary politics” in 1982. Kanu Sanyal, one of the founding leaders of the Naxalite movement has “accepted parliamentary practice as one form of revolutionary activity”. Even their counterpart in Nepal, the CPN (Maoist) which had once pledged to fight jointly with them have joined the mainstream political system and participated in elections.
Cocksure about their ‘creative’ application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the CPI (Maoist) refuses to recognize any necessity of participating in a bourgeois-democratic parliament. They are ideologically motivated in their belief that in a country where bourgeois democratic revolution has not yet been completed “the rule of the masses cannot be achieved through normal political methods” and so it is absolutely necessity to propagate “extensively and concretely to boycott the parliamentary elections”. Based on a personalized, narrow and distracted perception about the ‘objective conditions’ of India, the group believes that parliamentary institutions and systems are “discredited to a large extent in the eyes of the people” and there is no ‘objective basis’ for them to participate in this system just for “exposing the parliamentary system from within”. Participation in election “neither helps in developing revolutionary class struggle, nor in enhancing democratic consciousness among the people.” Instead, it only fosters ‘constitutional illusions’ and distract from “intensifying revolutionary class struggle and armed struggle against the state.” According to them, “promoting alternative institutions of people’s power” is the only way to “enhance people’s consciousness and to wipe out their illusions” about the present parliamentary system. Answering to the question on why the CPI (Maoist) declines to fight elections and refuses to participate in the democratic process, the Maoist leader Ganapathy’s has remarked, “You think raising issues in the parliament is the democratic way whereas we believe that people are raising their issues in a democratic way through organized protests”. (Source) Marxist-Leninist parties and groups who participate in elections are accused for diverting ‘revolutionary armed struggle into legal and peaceful channels’. Terming parliamentary politics as a ‘dog-eat-dog world’ and the Parliament as a ‘talking shop’, a recent Maoist released squarely blames all the mainstream Left parties like CPI (M), CPI and even the Naxalite CPI (M-L) Liberation, for playing the ‘most dubious role in legitimizing the farce of parliamentary process’. The Maoists are particularly antagonized with the CPI (M) and have termed the largest communist party of India as ‘social fascists’.
The political theory of the Maoists seems to be more inclined towards anarchism than Marxism. The Maoist viewpoint on shunning elections as a matter of strategy is surprisingly similar with the anarchist perspective. Anarchists believe that, “Utilizing the state, standing in elections, only prepares people for following leaders – it does not encourage the self-activity, self-organization, direct action and mass struggle required for a social revolution.” Likewise, the Indian Maoists also believe that “participation in parliament does not help in developing the subjective forces. Rather it will only drive them into legalism and divert them from … intensifying revolutionary class struggle”. Anarchists argue for the need of “creating alternative, libertarian, forms of social organization which can become a force to resist the state, win reforms and, ultimately, become the framework of a free society.” The Indian Maoists believe in “promoting alternative institutions of people’s power” as the only way to enhance people’s consciousness. Anarchists reject the Leninist idea that standing for elections immensely helps to carry the agitation of the proletarian party among the masses. The Indian Maoists reflect the same thought when it says that “participation in election will only sabotage the revolutionary movement”.
Will the Maoists also echo the anarchist wisdom that all Marxists are not Leninists? While mechanically theorizing their election boycott stand, the Maoists has carefully kept aside the indispensable polemics of Lenin. Long ago, in one of his most important writing ‘Left-wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder, Lenin has categorically pointed out that participating in a bourgeois-democratic parliament actually helps the revolutionary party to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments ‘deserve to be done away with’. Lenin had argued that far from causing harm, the parliamentary forum provides opportunities to expose the system of capitalism and facilitates the successful dissolution of the institution. Taking part in the election campaigning draws the masses into the election struggle to “take the bourgeoisie at its word and utilize the machinery it has set up”. To extend his argument Lenin had pointed out that “Communists should constantly, unremittingly and unswervingly utilize parliamentary elections …and all other fields, spheres and aspects of public life, and work in all of them in a new way, in a communist way”. Communists must learn to “create a new, uncustomary, non-opportunist and non-careerist parliamentarianism”. Lenin though did not forget to ring his warning about the pseudo-revolutionaries – those who are incapable of taking into account the rapid change of forms, become “hypnotized by a definite form” and are “afraid to see the break-up which objective conditions made inevitable”.
Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country has said in an interview that, “India’s Maoists don’t really need to win; they just need to be there, to show us where we have gone wrong”. (Source) Chakravarti’s admiration towards the Maoists for their role as conscience keepers of the Indian society is simplistic and soaked with romanticism. This flabby estimation might please the middle-class conscience of the Maoist sympathizers of India but will definitely not help the Maoist movement to advance any further from their present situate. Unless the Maoists learn to shed their flawed obsession with armed activities, remove the dogmatic faith from their minds that guerilla warfare is the only path to liberation, realize the necessity of democratic struggle and mass-political programs, arrive on a common platform with other Left parties and develop tactical alliances with them to settle on issues pertinent to the people, the movement will continue to remain isolated and confined within the remote corners of the country and subsequently become marginalized. If the Maoist leaders cannot give up their old adventurist line and comprehend the major contradictions of Indian society, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to make progress towards occupying the center-stage of Indian politics. By moving away from their commitment to violent insurrection and joining the democratic process, the CPN (Maoist) in Nepal has already shown a way to their Indian counterpart. Whether the Indian Maoist leaders can go for a major theoretical breakthrough and ‘take into account the rapid changes of forms’ and respond to the ‘break-up which objective conditions made inevitable’, whether they can develop the subjective forces in a true Marxist way or remain blinded by misreading of the objective conditions will determine their future significance in the Indian political sphere.
Map courtesy: wikipedia.org
1. Maoist Document: Strategy & Tactics of the Indian Revolution
2. CLSA Special Report: India’s Naxalities
3. Anil Biswas ‘Maoism’: An Exercise in Anarchism
4. Tilak D. Gupta: Recent Developments in the Naxalite Movement
5. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan: The road from Naxalbari
6. Ajai Sahni: The riot of Red flags