Kishanji: Not Just Another ‘Martyr’

November 28, 2011

November 28, 2011


By Saroj Giri

Kishanji is not just a fighter against oppression, a brave and courageous soul. He presided over something unique in the history of resistance movement in the country – and maybe he was not even so aware of it. Several forms of resistance seem to have come together in his leadership – synchronizing armed fighting power of the people with open rallies, processions and demonstrations. If one is really serious about democratic mass upsurges then one cannot wish away ‘strategy’, the ‘use of force’ or ‘armed resistance’; that the life-veins of mass struggle extend into the zone of armed resistance – these otherwise old Leninist lessons were restated, reasserted, renewed afresh in the life and activity of Kishanji.

It is in this sense that Kishanji in a way rehabilitated the status of both mass movements and ‘military strategy’ within the left. The left today is prone to reject anything to do with discipline and military as just some kind of right-wing, fascist obsession. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek points out that, against the ruling ideology of hedonistic permissivity, the left should “(re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently ‘Fascist’ about these values” ( Kishanji’s contribution stands out here –raising great fear and alarm among the ruling classes who hunted him down.

This is a crucial contribution at a time when the left is suffering from ‘loss of strategy’, when mass demonstrations at Tahrir Square or the Occupy Wall Street seem to hit a dead-end, simply tiring itself out, or unable to withstand state repression. Some might say that the militant mass demonstrations in Jangalmahal ended with the Maoists ‘taking over’ in June 2009. Instead this ‘taking over’ was nothing but the much needed backbone of the mass movement, able to now express itself as an organised force with a strategy.

This is the first step towards seeking clarity about the class struggle, defining what Marx in the Communist Manifesto calls a ‘line of the march’ for the movement as a whole – apart from being able to withstand the armed might of the state. Not that the Maoists have gained major success here but they have got some of the basics right. The usual story of mass activities and rallies frittering away after the initial upsurge did not therefore repeat itself here. The mass movement continues in many new forms. In fact, a new mass women’s formation, the Nari Izzat Bachao Committee has come up even as big rallies like the August 2010 mass rally attended by Mamata and Swami Agnivesh continue – unless banned or ‘denied permission’ by the government.

Such is Kishenji’s contribution, with something original – not just some bland ‘sacrifice’ or ‘martyrdom’ which Maoists themselves so often glorify. Maoists must guard themselves from this entrenched habit of not seeing anything specific or original about its leaders and painting them all in this barren seriality of ‘yet another martyr who heroically sacrificed his life for the revolution’. Otherwise the movement will be going round in circles, will stagnate in spite of the dynamism of its concrete practice.

Perhaps we can here identify something like a ‘Jangalmahal model or path’ of the Maoist movement, which can be compared to say the ‘Chattisgarh model or path’. There are many problems with talking in terms of ‘models’. And yet the specificities of the movement in particular areas must also be grasped so that we do not club all experiences and forms as one and the same. Otherwise, we are not learning anything new, not synthesizing, not learning from practice but endlessly repeating a set formula. Kishanji stands out in this respect. We do not know whether he also made conscious formulations about the specificity of the movement in Jangalmahal model (like a Hunan report?) but his concrete practice brilliantly shines forth.

Just in the month of September, Varavara Rao, myself and comrades from Kolkata had made a ‘fact-finding’ (for want of a better term) trip to Jangalmahal. We could not meet Kishanji but witnessed the atrocities committed by security forces and the private armies (bhairav bahini). I talked to a very young adivasi comrade, deep inside a village off Jhargram town: a member of the armed squad. I asked him if he had met Kishanji. He said yes. Then he said, that he cannot follow all that Kishanji says in meetings. Then I asked him if he heard of Marxism from Kishanji (I was curious). ‘Yes Kishanji talks about Marxism, but I find it very difficult to follow’. Then I ask him what has he understood of Marxism, what is it? I think he felt cornered but after some reflection came with a reply: it is something very good but some people have spoiled and distorted it. ‘We guerillas are fighting such people’.

Those like Kishanji have taken Marxism to the masses when doing so immediately means ‘organising’, planning, strategizing, taking the struggle ahead and putting yourself in the line of fire. Kishanji’s daring is not ‘speaking truth to power’, in postmodern Zapatismo-style, but making power come out of its democratic garb exposing its lies and falsities, including its violence to which our man fell.

I find it a bit of an enigma that Kishanji never put away his gun when on camera – one can prominently see it and so he is clearly not bothered to play the democratic card of being democratic, peaceful and so on. He talks nothing about the gun, no glorifying violence and so on, as some would pathetically expect. Instead he talks about a meticulous patient fight for real democracy and power to the people ( So why is the gun so visibly present, slung on his shoulders, surrounded as he is by curious journalists in his own camp? It can only mean that he had no pretense here of liberal bourgeois leaders of being non-violent and democratic, even as they preside over huge standing armies, hidden away.

Here we are only traversing a key insight of Marxism – that the question of power must be foregrounded, hence no point playing games that there is no power in society, no class power, no armed power, it is all democracy and free competition and so on. That is why Lenin would say that socialism is not a better or true radical democracy (this would have sounded respectable and acceptable to all), but the dictatorship of the proletariat – this is far more honest that saying that there is democracy for everyone even though it is really class dictatorship. If you feel kind of uncomfortable in whole-heartedly supporting Kishanji because of his gun then you might be uncomfortable with a key insight of Marxism itself – this is the double bind he throws us in.

Kishanji was not the man of ‘its blowing in the wind’ but precisely of another Bob Dylan song. He is the man of ‘the hour when the ship comes in’, one who must have imagined that he is fighting to usher in this grand hour, perhaps even when ‘the answer might not be blowing in wind’:

For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in

Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered


14 Responses to “Kishanji: Not Just Another ‘Martyr’”

  1. Harsh Thakor Says:
    December 2nd, 2011 at 07:19

    Whatever the difference in the tactical line we all have to recognize the Maoists as the most genuine revolutionary force in India.Comrades like Kishenji exhibited death-defying courage and their names should be written in letters of gold.The Maoists have not developed the correct line with regard to relationship with mass organisations or have developed the correct military line which is still infected by the Charu Mazumdar trends but have to be given credit for fighting like Tigers against all the odds.To have survived for 30 years is a historical achievement comparable to the the Chinese revolution .Even forces outside the Maoist camp recognize this.They have arguably proved to other groups that thee is no alternative to armed struggle,whatever their left adventurist deviations.They need to rectify their errors combining the idaes of Comrades like the late Nagi Reddy,D.V.Rao or Com.Harbhajan Sohi.The C.P.I.Maoist resembles the Shining Path in Peru of the 1980’s led by Com.Gonzalo before their setback.

    Red Salutes to Comrdae Kishenji!He laid his life down for the emancipation of humanity at large.The rallies in his memory reverberate the deep feelings in the masses for a revolutionary change.

  2. Harsh Thakor Says:
    December 2nd, 2011 at 14:07

    Some lessons of the massline could be taken From Gunadhar Murmu’s struggle in the 1970’s and the 1980’s to develop mass revolutionary line in the agrarian and tribal front in Debra.It is heartening to know that the C.P.I.(Maoist)is rectifying the errors of the Charu Mazumdar line and leading rallies and mass movements.They still need to imbibe teachings of Coms like T.Nagi Reddy and make a proper criticism of the Charu Mazumdar line.

  3. SUBIR Says:
    December 10th, 2011 at 14:40


  4. chepal Says:
    December 11th, 2011 at 08:26

    today’s ongoing people’s movement led by Maoists is not a coup or conspiracy as widely mistaken, I would like to identify it as an illusion created by the state through its mass false propoganda. and the previous comment of a friend is an examlple as to how the ruling class through the state apparatus(corporate media,news papers,intellectuals,radio,political parties,education,etc) has been disseminating distorted facts of the on going revolution. The politics today for the Indian ruling class is to anyhow keep the middle class within its camp. Today state fears losing its legitimacy from the urban middle class. Thus state is employing all its mechanisms to derail and delegitimise this revolutionary movement. kishenji is an example of what a true participant of a revolution would be.

  5. Sanjib Mukhopadhyay Says:
    December 12th, 2011 at 12:11

    Such is Kishenji’s contribution, with something original – not just some bland ‘sacrifice’ or ‘martyrdom’ which Maoists themselves so often glorify. Maoists must guard themselves from this entrenched habit of not seeing anything specific or original about its leaders and painting them all in this barren seriality of ‘yet another martyr who heroically sacrificed his life for the revolution’. Otherwise the movement will be going round in circles, will stagnate in spite of the dynamism of its concrete practice.

  6. SUBIR Says:
    December 15th, 2011 at 04:49


  7. kamal nayan choubey Says:
    December 18th, 2011 at 01:00

    i agree with some of the points of Saroj. Of course Kiashanji was a brave political activist, nevertheless i want to point certain things which are absent in this article. First, there was an inherent tendency of ‘know all’ in all the revolutionary groups, Maoists (and Kishanji) are not exception of this. Like ruling classes of Bengal, Maoists also have killed poor people. Once Kishanji claimed that he killed approximately 100 people, and he was saying that with quite confidence, as if he was sure that all those people were part of ruling classes. It is really very easy to justify your violence vis-a-vis the violence of ruling classes, the difficult task is honest self-reflection which was, in my understanding, absent in Kishanji’s politics.
    Second, and this is related to first, that when you claim that you ‘know all’, you always try to establish your truth and for that matter you find that if someone is opposing your ‘enemy’ he is suitable for your politics, as Kishanji wholeheartedly supported Mamata in last elections. It is strange that left groups are killing each other and thinking that they are doing progressive politics. My submission is that Maoists can find problems in CPM and they should rightly oppose this, but if they are killing CPM workers (or vice-versa), and they thought that Mamta was better than CPM, then it was a strategic blunder. And we must evaluate this fact critically.

  8. chepal Says:
    December 19th, 2011 at 07:55

    yeah i conform to what kamal(above commentator) has rightly pointed out that killing of CPM cadres and even Trinamool in that case is not at all a legetimate political action, but what is more important to adhere is to look at the political terrain in which Maoists has been relentlessly fighting. It is of utmost importance to study the complexity of ground reality in which Maoists has to execute their political programme. It is i think with the logic of ‘enemy’s enemy= friend’ that Kishanji had given his support to Mamata to defeat the authoritarian rule of CPM in the last elections. And with the coming of the new government Bengal has witnessed a more regressive government, more manifestly with the offer of ‘peace talks’and the killing of Kishanji.
    As far as killing of innocent people are concerned, it is the responsibility of the state to look into. The more the state repression, the more the increase in killings of cadres of political parties(whom Maoists persieve as the agents of state), as pol parties are one the parties involved in deciding the type and form of state repression or counter-revolution.
    And its important to look at violence and disregard of laws and covenants by the state forces too in the name of ‘law and order’ in these areas, where innocent villagers without right to life and livelihood are labelled as Maoists/terrorists and gunned down in extra-judicial fake encounters.

  9. DEBASIS Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 04:47

    there is no difference between JANGALMAHAL OR WALL-STRRET MOVEMENT . BOTH are anarchist, they cannot make new society. Negation of negation is the primary to be a marxist, but negation with affirmation is needed to be a ma0ist. present day maosist has no afffirmation view nor any concrete politics how to establish power . only ROVING TYPE GUERRILAISM cannot change society. without a geniue polities more myaters will be formed without a single srep forward to the formation of new society

  10. Iqbal Abhimanyu Says:
    December 22nd, 2011 at 01:48

    If “dictatorship” is a key insight of Marxism itself, than I’ve problems with Marxism too…

  11. chandramouli Says:
    January 4th, 2012 at 10:41

    In fact Kishanji was a great patriot and warrior what Kishanji believes in Maoism is relevant ,the so called structure of Indian democracy has been failed in the respect all areas in this sense there is a lot of disparities between haves and havenots .The dogma of MAOISM is seems to be relevant to tackle the current problems of people which they are facing

  12. SUBIR Says:
    January 28th, 2012 at 12:38

    I can not make any head or tails of what chandramouli has said…if democracy has failed that does not mean that the dictatorship of maobadis are right…without any proper enquiry or trial kishanji’s men have murdered people..all those who were murdered were not enemy of the people.

  13. Harsh Thakor Says:
    November 24th, 2012 at 05:41

    Today is the 1st death anniversary of this great Comrade Kishenji,who made an immortal contribution to the cause of the Indian Revolution.Above all he was not mechanical and was innovative and creative in his application of ideology.He brilliantly combined mass struggle with armed struggle in Lalgarh.Earlier he played an important role in the Jagatiyal peasant movement in Karimnagar,in organizing the movement in the Damdkaranya region and in the inification of parties into bith the C.P.I(M.L) in 1998 and the C.P.I.(Maoist) in 2004.Infact Com.Kishenji imbibed the very spirit of the C.P.I.(Maoist) of self-criticism and rectification of errors and he superbly combined practice with theory.Let us all dip our blood in his memory.

  14. Abhishek kishor Says:
    March 24th, 2020 at 19:19

    Iss prakashan ka hindi me koi publishers hai

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