March 20, 2012
By Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
The parading of Suchitra, an important activist of the Jangal Mahal, by the Chief Minister of West Bengal before the media, and quasi-confirmation of the unofficial allegation that Koteswara Rao was betrayed by individuals close to him, brings to a conclusion another chapter in the annals of struggle of the people of the Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa border region for self-government. The people of Jangal Mahal had rallied in tens of thousands and their message had started to spread outside the forests to the fertile lands of the nabal. To begin with, the movement was directed against police atrocity, but emergent self-organisation started to lay down roots for a village committee level network of protracted struggle for an alternative power centre.
The CPI(Maoist) had long been active here, and, it would be strange if they did not have a close link with the leadership of the people’s struggle. Having granted this, one must accept the persistent signals of an intertwining of two disparate paths,
1. AYE. A movement which had proceeded to the stage of huge rallies, but only to the stage of rallies, and whose mass level leaders would soon be thinking of participation in elections.
This movement had political targets: the troika of local party leaders, government officials and the police, and bad gentry who controlled land, credit, business.
NAY. Attacks on camps of the state forces by squads of a guerrilla army and persistent killing of individuals belonging to other political forces as spies and anti-people criminals. The targets were military in nature.
2. AYE . Political propaganda and activity on people’s demands, including the building of schools, health centres and small irrigation projects. The mass leaders would be worried about preserving the struggle and participation in elections would appear as an option for political consolidation.
NAY. Mainly military activity and activity of guerrilla squads, with control over the umbrella committee of the PCPA, presumably through the party. An unchanged aversity towards tactical use of elections – election boycott.
3. AYE. A movement, in practice, mainly of the Moolabasi-Adivasi people, and dominated by the Santal and the Mahato.
NAY. The absence of any recognition of the special aspirations of the M-A people as well as the contradictions between them and the other groups of inhabitants.
4. AYE. The creation of a self-governing enclave from the districts of Bankura, West Medinipur and Purulia.
NAY. The creation of a guerrilla zone in the Jangal Mahal.
Now, there are two schools of thought regarding the above dichotomy :
AYE. The Maoists are cast as villains. The people’s movement, according to this school, was largely spontaneous, with rapid self-organisation. It would have achieved some objectives and gone on to flourish and spread as a pioneering movement of the A-M masss, largely autonomous, had the Maoists not changed their role of advisors and mentors to assume control over the ground level movement. The people were not prepared for the Maoist substitution of the mass movement by guerrilla squad activity, and, when white terror came, became passive and collaborationist.
NAY. From the beginning, the people’s movement was led by the Maoists who promoted both mass movement and guerrilla squad activity. There were mistakes in combining the two, a setback occurred. Setbacks do happen in the course of struggle, and a setback does not automatically mean that there was something fundamentally wrong with the line practised in the Jangal Mahal. The people are under severe repression, but they still support the cause.
Whichever version is closer to the truth, there is no gainsaying that there were two paths. Whether the mass movement was an autonomous people’s initiative, or was planned by the Maoist leadership, it was clearly distinct from the squad activity. The ebb tide of the movement accompanied the rise in activity against military targets and spies and hostile individuals. There was no dovetailing of the two paths into a people’s war.
The military activity of the squads remained disjoint to the activity of the masses.
The socio-economic colour of the struggle and the class question receded from the foreground of political propaganda which degenerated into justification of each incident among the spate of individual killings, in terms of the activity of the individual in question. Mass activity, even before, the ebb tide took over, became confined to passive programmes of bandhs, and there arose a scent of menace, almost a forced enforcement of programmes.
True guerrilla activity by the people was not seen. As white terror forced relinquishment of control over the crowd of activists around the party and its squads, there was some autonomous activity of the negative kind, murders and attacks on trains, hardly an epic of people’s resistance.
As the path of people’s initiative lost out, the movement contracted to incidents of sporadic killing. Instead of the activists moving like fish within water, armed with detailed information regarding the armed forces of the state, the forces received advance information regarding guerrilla presence and passage within the forest.
The major factor leading to the decline of the movement was the weakness (absence?) of leadership among the struggling people of the Bengal Jharkhand Orissa border. The working class of Bengal (and India) remained chained to the economic movement and failed dismally to lead the peasantry of the Jangal Mahal. It is a well-known lesson of history that the people’s struggle is taken forward by peasant uprisings, but the uprisings cannot deepen into protracted people’s war for social change without the leadership of the working class. It is the absence of the working class in the fray which allowed a left line of a petty-bourgeois and typically peasant ilk to dominate and destroy the movement. Multi-class civil society support was not strong but not absent, too, but this support was naturally unable to rise to the necessary level of consciousness required to fight out the left line.
Leadership of the working class definitely means the political and ideological leadership of the class, but it is a laughably metaphysical dream which envisages a working class leadership, composed only of intellectual giants like Lenin and Mao with zero physical presence of the industrial proletariat.
The peasants of India are fighting heroically, albeit over a sporadic geographic distribution, not only for their own rights, but also for social change, for the last half century and more. But, there is no effective worker-peasant alliance, no effective anti-imperialist front, and no sense of responsibility among the industrial workers for leading the struggles of the peoples of India. Winning a major defensive struggle in such a situation is hardly within the realm of the achievable.
The relief doled out by the Chief Minister and severe repression of leftist political opposition to the sarkari party in the Jangal Mahal will, however, solve no problem of the region. The people of the BJO border region will rise again, but unless the working class becomes speedily capable of providing vibrant political leadership, the struggle will, every time, peter out or stagnate because of petty-bourgeois lines and styles of work.
The interaction between a people and its leadership is a dialectical one. It does not mean, the leadership leads, period. The people must constantly question and criticize the leadership to hone out a path of struggle in tune with the objective situation and the actual balance of forces. If this communication fails, subjective errors will exact a big price. This dialogue is as much a responsibility of the people as of the leadership, and this is where class tells. In the mean-time the people of the region must review the struggle, not only the leadership.