Maoism in India: Panic or Panacea?

June 19, 2009

By Nandini Chandra. Guest contributor, Sanhati. Paper presented at Left Forum 2009.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing a day-long meeting in New Delhi of Chief Ministers of six states, severely hit by Naxalism. April 6, 2006, PTI

The Maoists want to bring down the State. Given the autocratic ideology they take their inspiration from, what alternative would they set up? Wouldn’t their regime be an exploitative, autocratic, violent one as well? Isn’t their action already exploitative of ordinary people? Do they really have the support of ordinary people? —Arundhati Roy, 27 March, 2007, Tehelka

“Trinamool Congress workers are in cohorts with armed Maoist groups to pursue mischievous plans to keep Nandigram on the boil”—CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, in New Delhi after a two-day Politburo meeting. 12 Nov, 2007, Hindustan Times

India will in the not too distant future move into what I call ‘In-Land’ and ‘Out-Land’. In-Land will constitute massive City States…Outside these gated City States will lie Out-Land, present day rural India, as ever out of sight and therefore, out of mind. It is entirely possible that Maoists or others like them could control this Out-Land. If some turn rogues, they could turn to ‘warlordism’. —Sudeep Chakravarti author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country, Penguin, 2008, in conversation with Sarita Ravindranathan, Sify News, 24 May 2008.

It is learnt that intelligence security establishment strongly believes that Maoist and ISI have forged an alliance to wage terror war against India [sic]. In a recent development, Maoists have openly come forth to voice their sympathy for banned Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), which is known to have joined several terrorist outfits across the border including Lashkar-e-Toiba. —Soumittra S Bose, 8 Sep 2008, TNN

Naxalism, which started off as a people’s movement, has now become a nearly Rs 1500 crore organised extortion business in the form of ‘levy’, police and central security officials said. CPI (Maoist) and especially its splinter groups, which extort the money hardly pump it back for running the movement but instead use it to maintain luxurious life-styles for their masters, the officials said.—Snehesh Alex Philip, 7 June, 2009, PTI


In the wake of the neoliberal shift in the official Left position, there have been massive land grabs and accompanying assaults on the most vulnerable of the rural poor. The rural masses have not taken this assault on their land and basic means of livelihood lying down. Most development and human rights activists however choose to filter this revolutionary potential of the agrarian classes through the lens of “the victims of displacement” rather than class war. While liberal outpourings of sympathy for the dispossessed poor is ultimately couched in moral rather than political terms, often concluding with admonitions for failure of governance, anarchist outcries of despair with the state of affairs are no more productive. This simultaneous attack on and concern for the rural labouring masses derives from a basic obfuscation of the fundamental and historical contradiction in the official Left’s relationship to the peasantry. Added to this is the self-delusion of its relationship to the bourgeoisie shaped by its own unacknowledged bourgeois class consciousness. This obfuscation and self-delusion then provide the underlying focus of most present day discussion on the Maoists.

This paper seeks to place the present panic over Maoism in India in perspective through a consideration of the interlinking lenses of the state, media, civil society and the official/mainstream “left”. It starts with examining the gaps in P. Sainath’s dedicated reporting on rural misery, as expressing certain key features of official left ideology, starting with the cult book Everybody Loves a Good Drought (1996). It moves on to an exploration of the political context in which the National Commission Report on Maoist affected states (2008), authored by independent civil society activist-experts emerges. In its sympathetic approach to the Maoist menace, the report surely departs from the official Left position and yet in its skewed understanding of the problem, it remains deeply consonant with it. Finally, it points to the dangers of the merging of state, media, and civil society interests and what implications this has for a class based understanding of the rural masses.

First, two examples of reporting on rural issues—the first from the pen of Magsaysay award winner P Sainath; the second a local hack in Raipur.

The Good Person of Indian Journalism

In an article published in the Hindu titled “Where India Shining Meets Great Depression” (April 4, 2006), Sainath writes: “FARMER SUICIDES in Vidharbha crossed 400 this week. The Sensex crossed the 11,000 mark. And Lakme Fashion Week issued over 500 media passes to journalists. All three are firsts. All happened the same week. And each captures in a brilliant if bizarre way a sense of where India’s Brave New World is headed. A powerful measure of a massive disconnect. Of the gap between the haves and the have-mores on the one hand, and the dispossessed and desperate, on the other. Of the three events, the suicide toll in Vidharbha found no mention in many newspapers and television channels. Even though these have occurred since just June 2 last year”[1].

The report of the local hack is gleaned from a story done by journalist Subhranshu Choudhary (ex-BBC) who learns that the local journalist accompanying him on a Salwa Judum (a state-sponsored militia of tribals in Chhatisgarh mobilized to fight “Maoist terror”) rally earns around 5000 every month for not writing. “Journalism here is the art of not writing,” he said… “Being journalists, we know who is doing what; the ins and the outs of corrupt practice, and the perpetrators,” he continued. “We get a fee for not writing about the corruption. That is our salary.”[2]

In Dantewada, the locals were extremely hostile to journalists, not allowing them to even enter their town since they knew most journalists were brokers for Essar, a multinational company trying to grab land to set up a plant. People in Dhurli told Choudhary “Tell the government, if they want to take our land they must first kill us. They can take this land only over our dead bodies.”

Back in Delhi, Choudhary was amazed to read a report by the Indo Asian News Service claiming that the people of Dhurli had agreed to give their land to Essar. They were so happy with Essar’s rehabilitation package, the report said, that they had written a letter to the government expressing their willingness to give away their land.

The report received prominent coverage by newspapers like The Times of India, The Hindu, Business Line and The Economic Times. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be the work of a local reporter who was in the payroll of the company.

Very superficially then, P. Sainath falls in the great tradition of committed nationalist journalists, for whom writing is a mission, while the story of the Raipur hacks confirm the lamentable selling out of an honorable profession. But obviously there is more going on here. Choudhary shows in his piece how precarious the life of a civil war-ravaged small town hack can be. Those who try to defy authority are simply killed or their careers destroyed, while the Sainaths (not too many) can afford to bridge the great disconnect between mass media and mass reality because of who they are: the grandson of a former President of India, and English speaking. What is admirable about Sainath and most crucial for my present purpose is not his selfless devotion to the cause of the rural proletariat and landless laborers, but the way in which he has managed to make the rural sector a marketable feature in the national imagination, to the extent that many of the national dailies do cover a rural story now and then. Sainath’s appeal to the middle and upper middle classes (at most 30 percent of the population) (and possibly much lesser – ed.) rests precisely on knowing the language they speak, the films they watch, the songs they sing. In his book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought, from the title to the chapter headings and frequent punch lines, one is thrilled with the apposite word play and the play with one’s collective conscience. Referring to the displaced rural population he opines, “if the costs they bear are the price of development, then the rest of the nation is having one endless free lunch”[3] or referring to the Koya tribals who have been denied access to the bamboo which is their lifeline, he quips: “They are the bees banned from honey. Only, these bees have no sting”[4]. These felicities do a rather good job of visually and mnemonically summarizing the plight of the rural poor. They perform the function of advertisement jingles that linger in the mind long after the fleeting message has passed.

The point I am making about Sainath is not that he is a sellout, but that in order to operate within the market some sort of spiritual concession is inevitable. This kind of reification is completely welcome moreover as long as it allows him to at least partially subvert the larger expectations of developmental journalism, pertaining to the use of facts, statistics or events. And Sainath excels in statistical analogies, bringing together disparate realities vividly and exactly like some poet-arithmetician. Moreover, the facts and figures demonstrate his ability to focus on the deep underlying processes, the linkages to economies of scale and the longer history of a particular phenomenon.

Talking about Ratnapandi of Ramnad, Tamilnadu, who climbs at least forty date palms daily, he says: “Even if these were shorter ones, between fifteen and twenty feet, it means he could be climbing upto 5000 feet a day. This is roughly equivalent to walking up and down a building of 250 floors daily, using the staircase. Only Ratnapandi isn’t using a staircase. Not even a ladder. He shins up using his hands and legs. The risks accompanying him are also, quite obviously, far greater”[5]. Again comparing the distance walked daily by Paharia women in Godda, Jharkhand, he comments: “Paharia women like Guhy walk a distance equivalent to that between Delhi and Bombay-four to five times a year”[6].

Lukacs in his essay, “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat”, reserves the profoundest contempt for the journalist, akin he says to a prostitute. Detailing how the factory line division of labour invades the realm of ethics, he says:

The specialised ‘virtuoso’, the vendor of his objectified and reified faculties does not just become the [passive] observer of society; he also lapses into a contemplative attitude vis-à-vis the workings of his own objectified and reified faculties. This phenomenon can be seen at its most grotesque in journalism. Here it is precisely subjectivity itself, knowledge, temperament and powers of expression that are reduced to an abstract mechanism functioning autonomously and divorced both from the personality of their ‘owner’ and from the material and concrete nature of the subject matter in hand. The journalist’s ‘lack of convictions’, the prostitution of his experiences and beliefs is comprehensible only as that of capitalist reification[7].

“Not a description that fits Sainath even remotely!”, one might be tempted to exclaim. But when one considers the sheer creativity with which Sainath identifies the precise mechanism of the plunder of the villages by the cities, the slow throttling of agrarian populations by neoliberal policies, one is forced to wonder about his silence vis à vis the neoliberal policies of his own CPI(Marxist) (henceforth CPM – ed.) bosses in West Bengal. Why is his rage at the despair and miserabilism of the countryside only articulated in terms of abstract notions of political incompetence, bureaucratic inefficiency, and corruption? Indeed, he is smart enough not to hold individual usurers or contractors responsible for the rot. On the other hand, good administrators are always singled out for praise. The concrete evidence for the objectification of his consciousness lies elsewhere— in his complete blindness to the work of Maoists or Naxalites (officially differentiated since the merger of the PWG and MCC into CPI (Maoist) in 2004) in the very backward regions he visits.

Since the so-called communist party with which he affiliates himself is not carrying on any work in these remote regions, he refuses to recognize that anyone else could be doing political work there. Even a state authored National Commission Report glowingly acknowledges the work of the Maoists in looking after the welfare of the marginal and displaced tribals and dalits. For most of the book, we hardly find any trace of their presence although we know from government records that the districts he visited are heavily “infested” with Maoists. If on one occasion he grudgingly concedes the abrupt decline in landlord terror in Palamu district to be the outcome of their handiwork, on the only other occasion he refers to them, it is with heavy-handed censure of their ideology. One of the most poignant character sketches in the book is of Baidyanath Singh, poet, singer, and activist. In a postscript to the piece, Sainath tells us that Singh was murdered by a squad of men in uniforms normally associated with the Maoist Communist Center. The MCC is then described as an ultra-left wing group with a long history of violence. Nothing else! Only after this incriminating information are we told that Baidyanath’s friends didn’t actually think the MCC had even murdered him. It was the contractors in league with the irrigation department touts posing as MCC men.

Given that he has little patience for the utopian socialist Bhoodan and Sarvodaya movements, and he is acutely aware of the comprador character of leaders like Biju Patnaik (former Chief Minister of Orissa), whose corruption he exposed in Everybody Loves a Good Draught, it is strange that the contradictions of his own party’s exclusively tactical politics do not force him to advance the slightest criticism. What is surprising is that the Party apparatchiks have not shied away from announcing their shift from being Marxists to marketeers. The CM of Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, in a by now (in)famous statement declared that in order to industrialize West Bengal he was willing to become an agent of big capitalists. In the case of Nandigram, it was no ordinary big capital either, but the Salim group of Indonesia (allies of Suharto implicated in the most heinous anti-communist holocaust). It seems then that the prostitution of the most honorable journalist is brought about not at the behest of capitalism per se but via the Party which has sold itself out.

What this entails is an inability to see the wood for the trees. While Sainath does a body count of the Vidharbha farmers who died by swallowing pesticide, he obviously fails to see the Maoist campaign to highlight the root causes of the agrarian crisis in the cotton belt of Vidharbha. Bernard D’Mello writing on the arrest and torture of Shridhar Srinivasan a year later wonders why the peasants haven’t followed the historical precedents… of raiding food grains, burning the money lender’s records instead of “turning inwards, blaming and punishing themselves by taking their own lives?”[8] In so far as Sainath never poses the same question in his subsequent reports on farmer suicides, he is complicit with institutions of mass media, civil society, and state in obstructing any view of the real or potential class mobilization of the rural proletariat. Indeed he talks of the need for politics as the only way out; but is the rise in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of cotton from the all-time low of 1700 a quintal to 3000 as a result of pre-poll adjustments, the only example of such politics?[9] It is implied that the farmers’ plight is addressed by the politicians only as a result of their negative agency, their suicides.

Feel Good Welfarism of the Experts

This brings me to the larger consensus that has been achieved in recent years on the question of the Maoists. A large spectrum of radicals of different hues- reformists, anarchists as well as communists – congregated at the World Social Forum Mumbai in 2004 and debated on the ways of fighting neo-imperialist regimes. They vowed to bring about ‘another world’ and push for people’s struggles and movements. Yet in their charter of principles passed in Bhopal, they continued the 2003 policy of excluding “organizations that seek to take people’s lives as a method of political action”. The parallel Mumbai Resistance that grew out of a critique of this policy helped sharpen the debate between different shades of the Left, specifically the one between Maoists and those privileging the so called mainstream. However, it is the issue of class struggle which eventually clinched the debate on the different modes of political mobilizations.

P.J. James of the CPI (ML, former Red Flag faction) has identified the ensuing talk of several alternate models of development, and resistance through regional forums as an attempt to abandon class struggle for a new kind of political dispensation privileging “people’s movements”, under the stewardship of bourgeois civil society[10]. This was most visible in the unprecedented bonhomie between the official communist parties and the reformist civil society groups and NGOs.

The rift in this broad consensus comes with the CPIM’s open embrace of Chinese style capitalism and ardent chaperoning of SEZs to the detriment of the urban proletariat as much as the disenfranchised agrarian class. The CPM’s open advocacy of violence (dumdum dawai) towards peasants who dared to oppose the land grabs in Nandigram and Singur fit in with its violent neo-liberal shift. But attacking fact finding teams, academics, and human rights activists and stopping them from entering villages bespeak a bloodlust almost calculated to antagonize its WSF partners. When the WSF inveighed against their former allies and bemoaned the fate of farmers and peasants, did it mean they had averted their face from the heavy-handed Left model? Or did it indicate a more human face of the same model, which believed that it was possible to have equitable re-distribution within the existing bourgeois set-up, or that a free market could flourish alongside village level self-governance (panchayati raj)? The innate federalism of the NGO vision of course finds it convenient to project itself as the other end of a centralized and heavy-handed state machine, which is ironically deployed for the protection of its own class interests. The repudiation of all forms of centralism, seen as “only… imposed and maintained from above, solely by a bureaucratic and military clique”[11] then reveals a disavowal of the history of class struggle which advances through democratic centralism, as well as fear of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In the many reports being filed from the different radical portals on the resistance to SEZs and corporate land grabs that have been triggered since Kalinga Nagar and Singur, we are again and again being asked to see the Maoists as a furtive force lurking “behind the curtain”, coming to the people’s rescue, but also establishing simultaneously that the people and the Maoists cannot be one and the same. In only one report on the recent Lalgarh tribal uprising by Partho Sarathi Roy in Sanhati, do we hear one of the tribal women, Arti Murmu defying this conception of the people as congenitally exterior to politics:

“Whenever there is a Maoist attack the police raid our villages and torture our women and children. For how long will we suffer this oppression by the police? All of us are Maoists, let the police arrest us. Today we have come out”[12].

To regard the Maoists as strictly an external force importing change in the circumstances of the poor would be to subscribe to a mechanical materialist and vulgar evolutionary theory, easily trumped by Maoist dialectics. It also amounts to accepting the unchanging nature of society based on the belief that change can only come from an external bigger force, rather than through the working out of internal contradictions.

The Expert Committee Report “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas” (2008) operates on this very premise of total divorce between the Maoists and the people. The members constituting the committee are public-minded former bureaucrats, academics, NGO consultants, and journalists. They portray the Maoists as part Robin Hood and part bandit, looting and manipulating the people, helping them, but also getting them into trouble with the police. The strategy is to downplay the violent side of the Maoists and play up the Robin Hood side so as to turn the government’s attention towards the deep social crisis that makes the people resort to them in the first place. The Maoists are then seen as raising the confidence of the most humiliated and oppressed subjects of the state, recovering alienated land on their behalf and giving them justice. The report argues that if like the West Bengal government in the early1970s, the government of India could grasp Mao’s notion of the guerilla as a fish in the water of the masses, address the social and economic inequities that afflict the bulk of its population (water) and make it evaporate, then it will automatically learn to curb the power of the Maoists (fish).

This welfarist view, however noble, does not seem very realistic since it says nothing about tackling the forces of speculative private capital which are ruling the state currently. The appeal to the state to institute an ameliorative plan then has the basic Gandhian Bhoodan principle written all over it, in so far as it hopes that the state working for big capitalists can be made to part with its surplus on the basis of moral entreaties. It almost seems that by insisting again and again that the Maoists are not such a consolidated and dreaded force as they are made out to be, the committee hopes to awaken the authorities to the reality that it is possible to wean the peasants away from the Maoists. The chairperson of this report D. Bandhapadhyay should know since he was a field officer in the West Bengal government’s Operation Barga in the early 1970s which sought to redistribute land to the middle peasants. He has written elsewhere about how the move, although partially executed was extremely successful in `(temporarily) crushing the Naxalite movement in the state. What he omits to mention is that it was accompanied by one of the most brutal massacres in the history of urban counter-insurgency. There has yet to be any public truth and reconciliation. The report makes the more powerful point that people are in any case so badly off that they will lap up even crumbs thrown at them.

In trying to quell the panic over the Maoist menace, the Report ends up creating a conundrum—that the Maoists are a bogey and that they need not be seen as a bogey. In other words, what is objectionable about them is their use of violence; but then again, the violence symbolized by them isn’t all that threatening. This might be in direct response to Manmohan Singh’s hailing of Maoists as the single largest internal security problem. In any case, the ambivalence towards the Maoists keeps deepening when we pursue the thoughts it has inspired vis-à-vis Islamic terror, customarily seen as an external enemy. In the same address in 2006, Singh makes the point about the necessity of assuming responsibility for the alienation of Muslims, thus attempting to turn their external terrorist status into an internal one[13]. What has brought about this shift in priorities and what has led the state to perhaps renew its focus on the Maoists both as a law and order problem as well as a political force representing people’s disaffection?

There could be many reasons for deliberating on the menace of the Maoists—the merger of the two powerful streams, the MCC and the People’s War in 2004 (named), the combined military and electoral victory of the Maoists in neighbouring Nepal (not named), the ongoing civil war in Chhatisgarh between the Maoists and the Salwa Judum (named), or the growing sympathy with Maoists in the face of the anti-people policies of the official Left (not named). To be sure, the Report is extremely concerned with the violation of the rights of dalits and adivasis. But there is a different kind of emphasis on civil society members, as wise counsels, conscience keepers and moderators. It is then the attack on the genuinely committed factions of civil society such as Dr. Binayak Sen whom the Report cannot name, which is the more urgent centre of anxiety. In fact, the growing ill-treatment of members of civil society not only discredits non-violent methods of protest, but more importantly, if peaceful dissenters like Binayak Sen and others are being persecuted for being Maoists, it becomes pertinent to ask what the Maoists must do to deserve such august company? In such a situation where the line between Maoists and non-violent activists is being blurred, one can imagine how the effort to re-establish a rapprochement with the official Left might become the most practical thing on the civil society agenda.

For the most part, this seems to be taking the form of chastisement for the outrageous physical and sexual violence committed against the people’s resistance and the gagging of the press. For instance, without specifying any incidents, the Report recommends that it is not desirable to insulate the affected area and people “from civil society groups, media, and political organizations and penalize those who seek to establish contact with affected people to gather information about the action of naxalites and state agencies, and speak or write about their observations. Besides being undemocratic, it is counter-productive as well. Reverse this trend. Rather, seek cooperation of civil society organizations with good track records in providing credible information on the impact of the movement and of state action on the affected people, which may help in critical appraisal of the policy pursued by the state”[14]. Surely, the fact that the Left Front government is not once named as an offender, and mentioned several times as an example of model behaviour, betrays a tone of social intimacy and a desire for reconciliation. To this end, the report ironically makes the task of CPM-style reform an attractive and reasonable proposition.

While condemning the creation of state militias like Salwa Judum that pit tribal against tribal, it recommends the installation of local policing in the pattern of the old Bengal Rural Police Act 1913. Again it dubs the Public Courts of the Maoists arbitrary and barbaric especially with regard to their treatment of personal matters and recommends the setting up of local dispute settlement bodies (nyaya panchayat). Similarly, it tries to show the Maoist methods of redress to be overbearing, bringing up questions of gender sensitivity and other such tokens. The only problem is that their recommendations are presumed on an individual and property based bourgeois rights discourse. When they talk of giving women inheritance rights and factoring in discriminating structures like patri-local residence, the members reveal their deep seated elitism and inability to contextualize gender within the particular class and organizational dynamics of the poor. For instance, K Balgopal mentions how the large contingent of women in Maoist military squads would probably “put to shame the eternally unfilled promise of one-third reservation in the legislatures”[15].

The document ends on a note of warning: “market development believes in survival of the fittest, and neither the SCs [Scheduled Castes] or STs [Scheduled Tribes] constitute the fittest”[16]. This is directed against the crude methods undertaken by the state (the unnamed West Bengal) to silence the people’s voice, since it actually threatens to break the clear division of ranks between social democrats functioning within the market and Maoists who are willfully outside it, a polarization consolidated during the WSF in Mumbai. It is also a final admission that a fear of the Maoists barely conceals a fear of the people and the reality of caste/class politics. It is this fear that allows the media and state to turn the Maoists into a monster force as opposed to the vastly different reality they occupy in the different states. Occasionally, one comes across Intelligence reports that question the “exaggerated” threat perception, not enough to merit bringing in the army[17].

In Nandigram, for all the hype of Maoists arming the peasants, it is well known that peasants used handmade weapons and tactics that are “all classic strategies used during the Tebhaga movement and the freedom struggle of which Nandigram was a major centre; digging trenches to keep police out, and ‘liberating’ the area for months”, according to Kavita Krishnan, editor of Liberation. While the CPM sings the glory of the Quit India, Tebhaga, and the Telengana movements, it refers to Nandigram as ‘anarchy and lawlessness’![18]

People’s Politicization

A longer history of the undivided CPI reveals that the bourgeois Brahmin leadership has repeatedly betrayed the agrarian people’s revolutionary aspirations. It is the protracted working out of this basic contradiction between bourgeois leaders and an agrarian revolutionary class that keeps the spiral of fear and violence alive within the CPI(M) organizational structure. Peter Custers writing on the history of the Tebhaga movement (c.1946-7) remarks that the peasants were more than ready for armed revolution[19]. It was the leaders who proved inadequate to the task, diverting their strength from class questions to the apparently more pressing one of communal violence, a constant feature of post-1930s Congress dominated nationalist politics. Neither was there any attempt to assume leadership of the national movement, both a result of Comintern diktats as well as the product of a Brahminical awe and respect towards the Congress seen as an elder brother. It is important to understand a similar Brahminical complex working among the present day loose left confederation, drawn towards the official Left in so far as they are able to command inter/national prestige and institutional legitimacy.

The official Left’s attempts to pass off its anti-agrarian policies and brutalization of the peasantry under the guise of a socialist accumulation process is then totally bogus. True, extending the industrial base could ultimately create more jobs. However, apart from actually dismantling healthy Public Sector Units, the glaring lack of any policy of regulation or expropriation of surplus value to the social sector, let alone implementing any of the more progressive national policies that do exist make their claims almost laughable. West Bengal is the only state that has not yet implemented the OBC quota in institutions of higher education and it is one of the states with the lowest success rates of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). Their own party ideologue urges them to pay attention to the collapsing Public Distribution System for food[20]. This general neglect of peasant/backward caste interests, often misrepresented under the aegis of the spectacular token land reforms of Operation Barga or the great performance of Panchayati raj institutions in west Bengal[21], adds to the distortion in understanding peasant insurgent consciousness in Bengal, seen in purely romantic/pre-political terms.

While the CPI(M) has transitioned into extreme reformism, based on the assumption that capitalism has a long way to go before it transforms through some kind of automatic combustion into socialism, the Maoists are rightly concerned about the objective historical necessity of the moment. This has prompted them to boycott elections and more ruinously adopt the exclusive path of protracted war. It is true that Maoists do not necessarily enjoy staying underground, and it is the brutality of the state that initially forced them into the forests. Far from negotiating this blockage to maximize their class gains, they made a virtue of it. As Balagopal has shown in the case of Andhra Pradesh, they have done a good job of antagonizing and killing their own mass base, and in Chhatisgarh of walking into the trap of the Salwa Judum. In both Bihar and Andhra, their so called boycott of elections has deliberately facilitated the fortunes of the different regional parties, with little leeway gained in exchange for services rendered. As a fall out of their extreme vanguardism, they miss out on more modest opportunities to empower the people with whom they have united.

In his 1920 pamphlet, ‘Left wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder”, Lenin had exhorted the Left in Germany committed to regarding the parliament as politically obsolete, about the urgent task of participating in representative institutions, “You must work within them because it is there that you will still find workers who are duped by the priests and stultified by the condition of rural life, otherwise you risk turning into nothing but windbags”[22].

The low priority given to everyday class struggle does not arise from any Brahminical complex. Navlakha cites local CPI leaders in Dantewada pointing out “98% of Maoists are Adivasis”[23]. K Balgopal too attests to the organic base of most of its leadership[24]. The separation of Maoists and the people then is not about the contradiction between different stages of development. On the contrary, what we witness with the Maoists is a politics of despair, what Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI(ML) Liberation General Secretary calls “an anarchist caricature of Mao’s teachings”[25], an abstraction of class struggle instead of a real intervention. In their splendid isolationism and tendency for pure abstraction then, the Maoists end up producing the same results as Sainath, which is to paint a bleak picture of the condition of the poor without any attention to their class potentials. In Balgopal’s damning words, “the people for their part have come to look up to the squads as a substitute for their own struggle for justice” or even more evocatively, the Maoists have “corrupted the masses into the receivers of justice rather than fighters for it”[26]. More specifically, he has in mind their inability (at least in Andhra) to sustain the movement beyond a generation, and their perpetual search for new ground and new recruits. In many respects then, the picture of the Maoists painted by the National Commission Report rings true at least to an aspect of the ground reality.

The National Commission Report however completely twists the picture by painting all Maoists and Naxalites with the same brush. It begins with a reference to the wide array of Naxalite groups only to focus entirely on the CPI (Maoists). This substitution of Maoism and Naxalism, Dipankar Bhattacharya has noted, is a classic case of denying the CPI ML movement, specifically Liberation, its different and perhaps more threatening revolutionary trajectory. It is possible that the great media shorthand of Maoism for all kinds of sensational activity, both heroic and easily demonized, is in fact a displacement of the threat from the everyday revolutionary class struggle of a party like CPI ML Liberation.

Everyday class battles that involve the peasants’ direct involvement in seizing grains and food supplies, strikes for wage increases, launching movements against draconian anti-terror laws, organizing public hearings for the loot and corruption unleashed through the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and other ailing governmental schemes, are extremely crucial in shaping a lasting movement. The All India Agricultural Labour Association of the CPI ML (Liberation), for instance, is able to coordinate battles that perhaps avoid the problem of a people permanently outside existing political structures[27].

A politics that speaks only through the language of sacrifice grows into the impotent lament of the windbag. The fetishization of violence obscures an assessment of its true role, a crucial consideration in a world where many peoples’ very survival increasingly takes on the character of a revolutionary struggle; and ends up pushing the panic button, subsuming all other battles, ideological and tactical into serving the prophesies of the ruling class.


[1] P. Sainath, “Where India Shining meets Great Depression”, The Hindu, 2 April 2006,, accessed April 2, 2009

[2] Shubhranshu Choudhary, “The Art of Not Writing”,, 10 April, 2009, accessed 11 April 2009.

[3] P. Sainath, Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts, Penguin, 1996, p. 77.

[4] Ibid, pp-102-3.

[5] Ibid, pp. 136-37

[6] Ibid, p. 171

[7] Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, Merlin Press, 1967, p. 15

[8] Bernard D’Mello, “Mumbai’s Rebels: Those who couldn’t Remain Unmoved”, EPW, Vol 43, No. 18, May 3-9, 2008, pp. 17-20

[9] P. Sainath, “The Dull Days of White Gold”, 8 April, 2009,, accessed 10 April 2009.

[10] P. J. James, “World Social Forum’s “Many Alternatives” to Globalisation”, The World Social Forum: challenging empires, eds., Jai Sen, Anita Anand, Arturo Escobar and Peter Waterman, online version at, published Viveka Foundation 2004

[11] Lenin, State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution, “Experience of the Paris Commune, Marx’s Analysis”, 1917, Lenin Internet Archive ( 1993, 1999,, accessed 2 April 2009.

[12] Partha Sarathi Roy, “Background of the Lalgarh Movement”, Nov 13, 2008,, accessed 5 April, 2009.

[13] Manmohan Singh, “Full Text of Prime Minister’s Speech on Internal Security”, 5 Sep 2006,, accessed 10 April 2009.

[14] Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas: Report of an Expert Group to Planning Commission, GOI 2008, p. 77.

[15] K Balagopal, “Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh”, EPW, Volume 41, No 29, 22 July, 2006.

[16] Development Challenges, Ibid, p. 79.

[17] Maj General Ashok Mehta, “The March of Maoists”, The Pioneer, 13 December, 2006

[18] Kavita Krishnan, “Nandigram: Fact and CPI(M)’s Fiction”, 25 April 2007,, accessed on 2 April, 2009.

[19] Peter Custers, Women in the Tebhaga Uprising: Rural Poor Women and Revolutionary Leadership1946-47, Naya Prakash, 1987, pp. 99-105.

[20] Jayati Ghosh, “The Left and Elections”, 25 May 2009,, accessed on June 10 2009

[21] Dipankar Basu, “The Political Economy of Middleness: Behind Violence in Rural West Bengal”, EPW, Vol. 36, No. 16, 21 April 2001.

[22] Lenin, “Left wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder”, 1920,, accessed on 25 April 2009.

[23] Gautam Navlakha, “Maoists in India”, EPW, Volume 41, Number 22, June 3 – 9, 2006.

[24]K Balgopal, ibid.

[25] Dipankar Bhattacharya, “The Three Contemporary Currents among Indian Communists”, Liberation, February 2007

[26] K Balagopal, Ibid.

[27] All India Agricultural Labour Association (AAIALA) Ballia Third National Conference Document, 7-8 Nov, 2008.


4 Responses to “Maoism in India: Panic or Panacea?”

  1. Krip Krutope Says:
    June 20th, 2009 at 10:19

    Nandini Chandra has correctly analysed the issue. She has in fact succeeded in removing the “confusion” created by neoliberal intellectuals and CPM-type social democrats alike in a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the socio-political reality. Many thanks.

  2. Bharath Murthy Says:
    June 24th, 2009 at 13:54

    a razor-sharp indictment of the faults on all sides. But I keep reading conflicting reports about the success/failure of NREGA. Just last Sunday, The Hindu carried a big article on how it was successful, in part at least. Though I always tend to believe the negative opinion, I am not able to trust any report about this particular scheme. Perhaps I haven’t read the correct one yet. Could anyone point out?

    Nandini Chandra mentions the ‘tendency towards pure abstraction’ in her critique of the Maoists. V.S.Naipaul, in the 70s, talking to urban ex-naxals, noticed the same tendency. He read it as a symptom of a Hindu theological beliefs. My personal opinion is that Hindu theology does have the ‘tendency towards pure abstraction’, and clouds clear vision. It is a very powerful drug, this type of abstraction.

  3. Buta Singh Says:
    July 17th, 2009 at 23:45

    A brilliant piece on the socio-economic aspect of the Lalgarh resistace

  4. samir sardana Says:
    July 15th, 2020 at 04:17

    Some people think that the lower castes of Hindooland – called Dalits,are a man made creation,which origined as a necessity,derived from the laws of economics and division of labour – id.est., the laws of economics,as they existed 5000 years ago.

    Sadly,that is NOT true – but it is a convenient excuse,used by Hindoos in the USA, embarrassed by the depravity and inequity,of Hindooism.The White man and Muslims,do not probe further,as they know NOT, the bottomless pit of Hindooism.The logic appeals to the white man as it is an inferential,obverse deductive logic – akin to the economic logic,of the slave trade,by St Paul.

    The Creation,Permanence,Sustainance, Genocide and Degradation of the lower castes,is ORDAINED by an INJUNCTION,in the GITA.The Gita is not some OBSCURE or OBVERSE citation,in some archaic corner,of the Hebrew Bible,or a part of the NT fables.The Gita is the CORE of Hindooism – like the TORAH.

    The concept of classes of humans,ordained as such, EVEN BEFORE THEY ARE BORN, for the current birth and the next birth,wherein redemption is obtained,by perpetual misery and suffering of the lower classes,due to their sins,in the PREVIOUS births,would be the crowning glory,of Jon Stewart’s acerbic wit – were it not for the absolute genocide,of the lower castes.

    No religion preaches such a diabolical abhorrence,and even the Babylonian and Jersualem Talmud – treat Non-Jews as Goyim or Filth – but within their own – there are no classes or castes.

    This is the injunction of the Gita,delivered by their God – Krishna.dindooohindoo

    The Verse – 1

    “It is far better to perform one’s svadharma (prescribed duties), even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.” – Bhagavad-Gita 3:35.

    The Deduction

    If a Dalit does anything more than being a human scavenger – that path would be “dangerous”. That means he would be killed – and this is the theological justification
    for lynching.

    The Verse – 2

    “According to the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion, ignorance) and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society (Brahmin/KsHatriya/
    Vaisya/Sudra) are created by Me .

    The Deduction

    Created by “ME”.The Gods have created the Dalits “ONLY” for the FUNCTION OF CLEANING TOILETS,and SERVING the UPPER CASTES,like SLAVES

    The Verse – 3

    And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.” — Bhagavad-Gita 4:13.

    The Deduction

    Heraclitus said that “Change was the only constant”.The Hindoo Gods CREATED THE CASTES – and AFTER its CREATION – the Gods became the NON-DOERSid.est.,
    the system took over),and the CASTES
    represent the WILL of the GOD – who is UNCHANGEABLE (The Goa and his “WILL”) – and SO, THE CASTES are a PRIORI – for ever !

    WHAT WOULD BE THE PLIGHT OF THE DALITS – HAD THE MUGHALS NOT COME TO HINDOOSTHAN.It is the NOBLE DEED,of Converting 220 million Dalits, to Islam – which
    explains the Divine success of the Mughals,in India – inspite of ALL ODDS.

    Islam gave the Dalits empowerment,emancipation,security,redemption and salvation.Mao and Marxism did not provide the “salvation” is safe
    to say that the salvation and redemption provided to Dalits in India, by the Mughals,is has no peer or parallel in world history.

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