November 1, 2011
By Gautam Navlakha
A spate of crackdowns and arrests made by the security agencies in last two years in UP, Bihar, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal does suggest that Maoists have suffered setback, but it also shows how rapidly Maoists had spread in different parts of India! While not everyone arrested was a Maoist, there is no doubt that they had managed to spread to urban areas as well as having made sizable gains in the countryside. Their worst critics were proved wrong in claiming that their politics was leading nowhere. In Jangalmahal region of West Bengal they had managed to break the shackles and emerge as a strong fighting force of the people, just as they did in Dumka (Jharkhand). But they are weaker today than they were a few years ago. This needs to be explained.
Maoists are of course not rulers in the 21st century India and their rule in what they describe as their Guerilla Zone and Guerilla Base cannot be compared to what took place in China after 1949. But to the extent that area-wise seizure of power has enabled them to set up parallel administration they do combine a dual role as both outlaws and rulers. What they do as rulers impacts their Movement.
Area-wise seizure of power works best when Party spreads to contiguous areas and movement within this area becomes easier for their members. But when area-wise seizure takes place in areas isolated from each other, the problem becomes different. There is thus an inbuilt propensity towards decentralization, where party units work with a lot more autonomy. That is not a problem in itself. The problem arises when this lessening of central control carries on down to the squad level. Let me illustrate by quoting a document called “New Circular on Rectification” (undated but issued post 2007 Ninth Congress of the Party):
“a) In some areas, the lands occupied from landlords in the past are lying fallow due to government repression; when the landlords try to sell these lands, the rich peasants and middle peasants are purchasing them. On such occasions, instead of bringing pressure through the agricultural labourers and poor peasants, who occupied those lands, on those who purchased the lands and stopping the sales, the squads themselves have been thrashing the rich and middle peasants who purchased the lands.
b) In the struggle for the eradication of bad habits like liquor consumption, educating the people with a long term view is lacking; in the struggle to obstruct the manufacture of arrack, instead of rallying the people, especially the women, prominence is being given to squad actions only. Physical punishments are being imposed disregarding class basis.
c) When problems arise in man-woman relations, especially in matters relating to marriage, judgments are being given without taking into view, the social problems women face.
d) In various kinds of people’s ‘Panchayats’ instead of listening to the versions of both sides apart from gathering the needed information from others in the villages also, one sided judgments are being – delivered, under the effect of sectarianism.
e) When some among the people commit mistakes, when they oppose our mass organisations, or when they are suspected to be working as informers, punishments much beyond their wrongs are being imposed…”
Note the criticism of relying on squad action instead of mass mobilization to deal with class issues in areas dominated by the Party. The 9th Congress political report of the CPI(Maoist) has this to say about some areas:
“our grassroots Party organization is weak with insignificant party units at the village level. Some states have formed the Party units at the village level but they are non-functional. In many areas our Party activity is still squad centered. This makes the masses passive supporters and dependent on the squads for taking up struggles and in solving the issues at the village level”.
Could these mistakes cited in the document on Rectification, therefore, allude to what went wrong in AP as well as in parts of Bihar-Jharkhand ?
The issue of People’s War (October 2004-September 2005) carries a report from Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee on “Rectification”. The report is a sharp and frank indictment of certain practices that had emerged in some areas where the Maoists worked. It deserves to be quoted:
“In recent years, large scale relief and reform programmes launched by the government have created a huge battery of contractors and middle-men in the rural area. They are the social basis of various groups of ruling class parties. Locally, they maintain links with organizers (comrades at zone and even higher levels), appease them, assure block officials and engineers that they can ‘manage’ the ‘new government’ and get hold of contracts. During polls, these are the elements who wean away people to polling stations. That relation with such type of contractors have been maintained by party organizers is a matter of concern. Some of our comrades use such contractors not only for various work, but also the most secret work of the Party, and they also share their joys and sorrows. The tiffs between contractors over this or that contract has become a cause for contradiction between our cadres. Among cadres ill-feeling arise as they take sides between the contractors; different contractors even take recommendation letters of their ‘protector’ party comrades to Block development Officials and engineers in order to win in the competition for contracts. For eg in Chatra, the so called contradiction between Yadavs and Ganjhus is not a contradiction between toiling masses of these two castes, but between contractors and middle-men of these castes…”
Among the recommendations the report calls for is, ensuring that Party members do not have any “obligation from contractors” unless it is “first discussed in the concerned committee”. And calls for warning and then expulsion of cadres found to be violating Party’s rule of not hobnobbing with contractors and middle-men unless authorized, within limits set by the higher committees. Although this report was issued immediately after the formation of the CPI(Maoist) it is not unreasonable to believe that many of the problem cited in the report still remain, although it is area specific.
A mark of loosening of political control over gun is apparent in several areas. Maoists claim to have a Constitution for their JS. Under its Article 5(h) certain guidelines are laid down for carrying out death sentence. It says that before the People’s Court “implements death sentence the local people’s government have to obtain permission from the higher courts.” Take Niyamat Anasari’s death on 2 March 2011. He was beaten to death no sooner the verdict of death was announced by a summary trial, not even by the People’s Court. Thus this was a kangaroo court justice. As a result there was not even the formality of referring the matter to a higher committee for approval. So does it mean that the Janatana Sarkar (JS) Constitution is a document which is followed selectively? The summary trial is the very antithesis of a just procedure. The point is: when in Lalgarh (West Bengal) scores of CPM activists were executed was it carried out after the higher courts upheld the conviction? Did the higher instances apply their mind? Of course it is true that because a person is a political activist it does not mean that he/she is above law and morality. Only that Maoists needed to be circumspect and realize that blood-letting could rebound on them and would create a large constituency of aggrieved people.
The support for Jamui massacre of 12 poor tribals/dalits, including women and children with injury to 50 others at Phulwaria-Korasi village in Jamui district of Bihar, on February 17, 2010 by the guerrilla squad reflects woeful decline of discipline and absence of political control over guns. If the Party claims it is against mindless violence then commission of such mindless acts means that armed squads are not ruled by politics or necessarily disciplined. It is a break in discipline. The basic principle of revolutionary guerilla warfare is that politics must control the guns and not vice versa. It is also a principle of guerilla warfare that a tactical error by either the guerrilla or the government forces can cause a strategic defeat. Such acts aggrieve many people. And many more become vulnerable to manipulation. This is what the General Secretary (GS) of CPI(Maoist) said in his interview given to Rahul Pandita of Open Magazine and others in December 2010, on various charges leveled against his party:
“We do not have any hand in the Gnaneshwari accident. (Indeed even CBI did not accuse Maoist party for involvement: author’s comment.) In Induvar’s case, our party had given a clear explanation. While resisting the killer gangs and the endless cruel violence perpetuated on them, people may in some places, very rarely as an exception, resort to such acts as part of taking revenge. Unless we understand the uneven social conditions in our country, we will not understand this problem. The conditions in urban areas are different in one sense. In the remote rural areas, where there is the cruelest feudal and upper caste oppression, where people are suffering from the inhuman violence perpetrated by Salwa Judum, Sendra, Harmad Bahini and such killer gangs, where they are victims of the huge destructive campaigns of the state, the resistance of the people may sometimes take such forms too. Even in the urban areas, in the ‘bastis’ where people are victims of the notorious usurers, slum lords, politicians, mafia gangs and police officers hand in glove with the gangsters and politicians, the resistance of the people may take such forms too. The killing of the notorious rapist and goon in Nagpur by the basti women is just one instance out of many such incidents. This is just an explanation as to why such things happen and it is very clear that our party doesn’t carry on such incidents as a policy. Our attitude is that we should educate our people and ranks in this matter…. In the Jamui incident, a reactionary gang sponsored by the government had caught eight of our comrades in Phulwaria-Kodasi village and killed them in the most heinous, brutal manner by chopping off their limbs. When such incidents happen, we will never be able to safeguard our movement or our people if we keep quiet and do not act. That was why we were compelled to counter attack. In this attack, nine people died including three main goonda leaders. It is extremely sad that a woman and a child were caught in flames and had died accidentally. All the other seven were hard-core criminals, killers and lumpen elements. Our Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee had issued a clear statement on this. It was published in the Bihar papers and in the Maoist Information Bulletin-17.
On the whole, the governments and some paid intellectuals in their service who blow their trumpet are falsely implicating us and trying to defame us. In some incidents where we committed mistakes, they are not even bothering to listen to our explanation and are continuing the bad propaganda on us. So our request to the people and pro-people intellectuals is not to get deceived by the government’s psy-war. Our people’s army which had been formed to defend the interests of the people would lay down lives for the people but would never try to harm the people. So try to know the facts behind each incident. We are always prepared to accept any proper criticism and are always ready to correct our mistakes, if any.”
While the pent up fury of oppressed, as Azad too had opined to Siddartha Vardarajan of The Hindu in his interview, (14 April, 2010) is at times difficult to contain, and accepting that urban middle class perception could vary from that of the oppressed and exploited with their suppressed rage at gross injustice to which they are subjected – but the Jamui massacre can not be explained away as a consequence of a dirty war wherein people kill each other. Neither can the acts of revenge, massacre for massacre, is justified. The point is what does the Party do? Because what the killing represents points to a more critical lapse.
While the footprint of guerillas is large, the political presence of the Party does not necessarily match this. Absence of Party units at village level in some areas was observed by the 9th Party Congress, as mentioned above. Indictment of some cadres developing close links and relations with contractors and middle-men too was reported. How is it then possible to ensure in a long drawn out and area-wise seizure of power, that their political weakness does not manifest itself in a spate of mindless acts of violence and degeneration of elements within the Party? Obviously it is not the case that this problem is manifest in the entire guerilla zone or even is present everywhere with the same intensity. The very fact that they admit to these faults somewhere accords them capacity to be self-critical. And self-correct. But I suspect that recurring incidence of squads taking matters into their own hands, summary trial and executions mean serious lapse in political control, and increase in arbitrary acts marks the breakdown of discipline, which are, but two sides of the same coin. Refer to the excerpts from the document on Rectification and reference to squad action as replacing political mass action, which frequently occurs.
Thus, what is the nature of party’s control over squads if they carry out an act of summary custodial killing or an act of revenge as in Jamui? Because, it throws up the possibility that Maoist conduct of war and system of justice, can become cruel and arbitrary.
Admittedly, we, who live in urban centers and belong to the middle class, demand that the Maoists should behave with restraint and honorably. Wars, in particular civil wars, are brutal and cruel at times. And, our own experience shows that “goodness”, is not reciprocated by the Government forces and agencies. Maoists have risked much and lost much more being swayed by well-meaning individuals and their convictions that dialogue is possible. Again and again the State betrayed and violated its pledges, its own laws and negotiated agreements. Execution of the Maoist leader deputed for talks with the Government-appointed mediator Swami Agnivesh, refusal of the state government of Orissa to implement its part of the negotiated agreement which resulted in Maoists releasing the abducted district collector R Vineet Krishna, indifferent attitude towards releasing more than 644 tribals arrested on trumped up charges because they dared to raise questions about land grab, their displacement and lukewarm attitude towards other demands they had publicly conceded, all show that manipulation has become the second nature of Indian State. This lends credence to what Sumanta Bannerjee once wrote “such generosity (releasing hostages especially government officials) was being wasted on a ruthless enemy and at a terrible cost. It was like nursing back a dying snake to life, only to be bitten by it”. [In the Wake of Naxalbari pp 129]. Is it possible, therefore, that when one pushes the Maoists to accept Geneva Convention, especially its Article 3 and Protocol II, which apply to conduct of wars which are not international in nature, one may be exposing them to ‘venomous bites’ of the State?
But going by their own argument of a Protracted Peoples War and ‘area-wise seizure of power,’ which means that they believe they will be engaged in a long drawn out war, it is only fair that they set up standards or accept standards which oblige them to conduct their war like a pro-people force. Why? It is one thing for someone to die in the course of exchange of fire or combat, but quite another when that person is in your custody and then is executed. It is one thing to face brutal attacks from government forces but quite another for the partisan guerillas to respond in kind. Wars may be abhorrent to some and acceptable to others. But in real life when wars do take place it matters how they are conducted. And that is where the weaknesses of the subjective forces, euphemism for party organization and politically conscious cadres, become a problem.
Revolutionaries cannot emulate the State forces who by the very nature of counter-insurgency warfare fight a war of suppression which is a dirty war made up of massacres, arson, looting, rape, disappearances, torture…all aimed to terrorize the people so that they stop supporting the rebels. Nor can wars be fought by revolutionaries on the principle of reciprocity. Areas where the Party was confident to expand, it sees its prospect under threat. And instead of expansion, there has been shrinkage both in terms of losing areas of influence as well as depletion in the ranks of their political cadres because of killings and arrests. These arrests of party leaders and cadres is not only because of “informers” and intelligence agencies determinedly pursuing them, but also a manifestation of a problem namely eroding mass base and declining mass struggles in areas where Party was once dominant. Party cadres admit privately that it has become easier for government agencies to nab their cadres and leaders because unlike earlier when they moved around relatively freely because of mass struggles and their mass base, which provide the best protection, its absence has isolated them and shelters are few and movement riskier. Guerillas can only survive as ‘fish in water’.
Take Jangalmahal of West Bengal. Claiming credit for the movement in Jangalmahal proved to be a political miscalculation and out of tune with people’s own creative endeavors. The emergence of Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) backed by the Maoists was no doubt a great achievement and this development was on the cusp of taking the Maoists towards providing them with mass participation or mass action and actually getting around the proscription imposed on them against mass political mobilisation. But the urge to take credit and claim leadership of the movement or perhaps control it, only created a rift in the united effort comprising of diverse political persuasions in Jangalmahal and only helped in lending weight to the propaganda of CPM-led Left Front government in West Bengal and the UPA government at the Centre, about PCPA being nothing but a Maoists Front. This paved the way for “operation greenhunt”, when precisely for this reason and knowing fully well that such an offensive was imminent no sooner elections to 15th Parliament in India (May 2009) were over, they ought to have been politically restrained. Thus in some instances the Maoist leadership over-read the situation and went over-board.
Trinamul Congress leader Mamta Bannerjee was eulogized by a senior Maoist leader when he expressed his wish to see her become the Chief Minister of West Bengal. No sooner she took over she placed Maoists and CPM at par! And unlike the LF government of 1977 which released unconditionally all political prisoners the new coalition government has decided to delay the process and introduced conditions to the release of political prisoners. In the meantime PCPA members who were earlier encouraged to support/join TMC, in order to protect themselves from the CPM-led Harmads, find that the influence of both PCPA and the Maoists has declined. And it was strange that party members were split between supporting PCPA leader Chjatradhar Mahato while others were ‘tactically’ backing Trinamool Congress! And Trinamool Congress is distributing 10,000 weapons and raising their ‘Bhairav Vahini”. So the “space” has not lasted for three months let alone one to two years being bandied. So what kind of area-wise seizure of power is it where they lose the area where they were once strong and the political influence of the revolutionary movement gets whittled? What does it mean in terms of PPW? It is true that the movement has been dealt a blow but it has not ended. But tactical rigidity and arrogance have augmented their difficulties.
A key precept of ‘area-wise seizure of power’ is to hold on to territory. To prepare for revolutionary upheaval, building bases as firmly as possible, and to move to other areas when it was not possible to hold on to an area. But it pre-supposes that conditions would be similarly suitable in other parts of India. In other words the very circumstance which legitimizes partisan war in one region, the absence of similar conditions in other regions, makes it difficult to conceive of guerilla warfare as the only way. So how will they capture, let alone consolidate, their hold over territories in plains with a more advanced social relations of production? Besides, militarily, they are weak; their numbers are modest. This means that they have to be mindful of their politics. The same strategy which works in one area will not work elsewhere. It is not guns which fight but people who wield guns who fight. The limited armed strength of Maoists gets enhanced many times over because of the mass support where they run their JS. This only underlines the importance of mass support as a necessary condition for their expansion outside their areas of influence.
Does it mean that Maoists are averse to other forms of struggle and to organize working people ‘peacefully’? In the interview given to Siddartha Vardarajan (The Hindu , April 14,2010) by Cherukuri Rajkumar, a member of Politburo of CPI(Maoist) and designated person for talks with the Indian government (killed by the State agencies), drew attention to the fact that when (Maoist) party mobilized people against feudal landlords in North Telengana in 1970s and conducted social boycott central para-military forces were deployed against the party. When the party carried out peaceful anti-liquor campaign the police sold arrack and encouraged people to consume alcohol in order to “foil the anti-liquor agitation of the revolutionaries”. He recalled that when in the urban areas colliery workers of Singareni organized themselves under Singareni Workers Federation in 1981 the union was “unofficially banned within three years. An undeclared ban was imposed on the students and youth organizations, women’s organizations, workers organizations, cultural organizations and every form of peaceful, democratic space available protest was brutally suppressed.” He added that “it is not the forms of struggle and forms of organization adopted by the party that had led to imposition of ban but the very ban (whether declared or undeclared) on every type of open, legal activity including peaceful public meetings that had compelled the revolutionaries to adopt non-peaceful and armed forms of struggle and underground forms of organization”. It would seem that they are not averse to other forms of struggle. But the issue for me is that with such curtailment on their activities and their underground status, can they afford to be unmindful of the role of other groups, organizations etc working over-ground?
Because, in order to take a leap from the forest strongholds to the plains outside, military victories may be necessary but in themselves remain insufficient, because the question will be to sustain this politically. The freedoms people fought for and won, which are under attack now, can only be expanded not constricted. They will have to keep in mind that more than hundred years of struggle has won Indian working class, rural as well as urban, a variety of freedoms. Much of these freedoms have been legislated, exist on paper, or/and are today under severe attack and devaluation. Yet, if Maoists have to win over the working people in areas where they have no or little presence at present, will they not have to work for expanding these freedoms? How do they envisage taking this forward?
Without cognition of this Maoists can not survive outside their forested hill strongholds.
Democracy is not a tactical question, even when one critiques formal democracy as being unacceptable, participatory democracy is and must be the central concern of all revolutions. But what will be the nature of this “new” democracy remains to be seen because, real challenge lies ahead for the Maoists. The Revolutionary People’s Committees are embryonic forms of a system, in which people directly participate in making of their own lives. This is a step forward. But Dandakaranya has certain specificities of having been left out of State’s reckoning for centuries. There is also an imminent danger of Maoists playing a supportive and a catalytic role, one of enabling reform of the existing state. They may courageously survive for years inside the jungle strongholds but encirclement can strangulate them materially and intellectually. The main drawback of the Maoists is their strategy of area-wise seizure of power in 21st century India where guerilla warfare gets emphasized at the expense of mass mobilization of the people. True, a banned party cannot work openly to mobilize and organize people. And the war imposed on them leaves them with very few choices but to defend themselves. The witch-hunt to which they are exposed, the executions carried out by government forces or arrests of large number of cadres affects their capacity to work. However, they compound their problems by also antagonizing those working among people over-ground. Thumb rule of revolutionary politics is to reduce the number of opponents by winning them over to your side or by ensuring that hostilities do not afflict them. It is my firm conviction that without Maoists Movement the entire resistance would suffer critical setback. But their weaknesses and waywardness are acting as a brake in their progress. It would be politically naïve to dismiss armed struggle to capture power but it would be equally wrong to be unmindful of the plurality of resistance and therefore the need to build bridges.