The Che Guevaras of Telugu Society

May 4, 2014

By Bernard D’Mello

Review of Understanding Maoists: Notes of a Participant Observer From Andhra Pradesh by N Venugopal (Kolkata: Setu Prakashani), 2013, pp 319, Rs 375.

I don’t know what struck me while reading the book under review, but I was reminded of what Eduardo Galeano, author of the trilogy Memories of Fire, and of Open Veins of Latin America, said about Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries: “… Ernesto Guevara in search of America, Ernesto Guevara in search of Che. On this journey of journeys, solitude found solidarity. ‘I’ turned into ‘we’.” So also, one might add, it must have been about the young Cherukuri Rajkumar’s and Mallojula Koteswara Rao’s explorations in the “go to the villages” campaigns of the Radical Students’ Union (RSU) in Andhra Pradesh (AP) in search of Azad and Kishenji, the former, once “the most powerful and articulate voice” of the Maoist movement in India, the latter, the one who led the Long March of that movement from Jagityal (in the district of Karimnagar in north Telangana) to Jangalmahal (in West Bengal). Just like the young Ernesto “grew increasingly aware of the pain of many others and he allowed it to become part of himself”, as his daughter Aleida Guevara March puts it, so also Cherukuri and Koteswara, like Ernesto when he found himself in Che, tried to bring about the social change that would enable the damned of the earth “to live with the dignity that was taken from them and trampled on for centuries”.

Foco Theory’ and Maoist Practice

The similarity of Azad and Kishenji with Che that we are drawing is a simple one – Azad and Kishenji, and the Maoists of Andhra Pradesh, whom the book under review tries to understand, were/are practical humanists in the revolutionary spirit of Che. The personal sacrifice, the heroism, and the selflessness of Che serve as an ideal, and indeed, profound inspiration, for all revolutionaries.  Nevertheless, despite this revolutionary spirit in common, the followers of Che Guevara and those of Mao Zedong part ways. In essence, the former expect the guerrilla struggle to politicise the masses – in the metaphor of the Foco (the Spanish for focus, the point of the greatest energy of an eruption), the guerrilla force, if organised as a highly cohesive group, was expected to set the masses into motion, laying the groundwork for the seizure of power via an urban insurrection. In other words, the foco is the catalyst that creates a revolutionary situation. In a sense, this “Foco theory” elevates the military over the political, even subordinates the Party to the guerrilla force.[1] In contrast, correct Maoist practice advocates that it is absolutely necessary to build an organised and politically conscious mass base alongside the guerrilla force. Indeed, even the latter has to have, within it, political-Party cadres who will guide the guerrilla force. And, the bulk of the guerrilla force and political-Party cadre must be from the area of operation itself. Moreover, even the best fighters must be politically educated; after all, it is the Party that must exercise its leadership and control over the guerrilla force.

All the same, just as it was about Latin America, wherein its elite knew little about the “things his (Che’s) eyes looked into” that made Che, so also, it is the component of Telugu society which has been “vibrant, progressive and defiant” (p 13) for long that has made the Andhra Maoists.  The author, N Venugopal, editor of Veekshanam, a Telugu monthly magazine published from Hyderabad, first seeks to provide the context, in Section I of the book, focussing on the social, political, economic and cultural elements of Telugu society that provided, and still provide, a “fertile base for the spread of the [Maoist] influence”. He views social movements as the “motive force of Telugu society”.

Venugopal highlights the paradox of the coexistence of modern techniques and outmoded social relations in AP, for example, modern communications paraphernalia as channels of the spread of reactionary and obscurantist ideas (p 20). Also of great significance is the channelling of the agrarian surplus of the coastal districts into real estate, the production, distribution and exhibition of cinema, finance, the alcoholic beverages business, the mafia, and transport, in the process, creating a new class structure of the ruling classes. The mafia entered real estate and the politicos quickly followed the mafia. Hyderabad, the corporate health capital of the country attracts patients from across the globe, while in the hinterland not too far way, thousands of helpless adivasis die of ordinary fevers and malaria. And, of course, the World Bank dictated neo-liberal restructuring after 1994 is called attention to, with Chandrababu Naidu as the self-designated CEO of AP, who was accountable, in the main, to his World Bank financiers (chapters 3 and 4). Venugopal here highlights the change in the value system that was brought about as a result (p 55) – what I would call the grab-what-you-can-for-yourself capitalist ethos.

Agrarian Transformation

But what of the agrarian transformation that has presumably been brought about over the last three decades? Let’s examine the author’s attempt to refute the argument that “there are a lot of changes in agrarian relations and (therefore) the original thesis of Naxalbari”, related to semi-feudalism, “does not hold water now” (p 75). In chapter 7, Venugopal makes a comparison of aspects of the forces and relations of production in 1980-82 with the same in 2010-11 “to check what changed and what didn’t”. This comparison in two villages (where the survey is repeated in 2010-11) is interesting, especially the facts regarding the drastic fall in the number of “farmhands” (labourers almost bonded to the landlords and rich peasants), the rise of the middle peasantry (Tables 1 and 2 on p. 122), technological progress, re-investment beyond agriculture, the emergence of new creditors and the absence now of the landlord as moneylender, the rise of a non-cultivating rural gentry, and migration but with no jobs in industry for the migrants.

But what is totally missing is any reference to rent.  In fact, the figures on landholdings in Tables 1 and 2 refer to land owned and not land operated.   In my view, in the Chinese communist understanding of semi-feudalism (Mao Zedong, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party”, 1939), it was the landlords who were dominant in the countryside – they owned a very significant portion of the arable land, leased out large parts of it under very high rates of rent (not typical of capitalist absolute ground rent), and were also usurers, and military & political officials. At the other end were the poor peasants (a large proportion of the rural population) who eked out a living by intense labour on small plots of, mainly leased in, land. This is the core of semi-feudalism, and any such parallel seems to be absent in the two AP villages, in 1980-82 and in 2010-11.

As things stand, at the all-India level, the big landlords own a relatively small proportion of the total arable land and semi-feudal tenancy is only a minor part of the system of land tenure, though poor peasants eking out a living through intensive labour on small plots of land that they own, low crop yields, inadequate reinvestment of the surplus, caste oppression/subjugation, usury and high merchant margins, are all widespread.[2] Overall, I think Venugopal, like the CPI (Maoist), despite the facts of change that he presents, seems to emphasise continuity rather than change. Indeed, in the conclusion he indicates “absence or inadequacy of a qualitative change in the relations of production”.

But, the disappearance of vetti, the absence now of landlords as moneylenders, the appearance of a new non-cultivating “gentry” and a drastic reduction of “farmhands” are indicative of some qualitative change in the relations of production.  In fact, from the information the author provides, one can infer that the usurer today is no longer the semi-feudal one of the past, the mortgaging of the poor peasant’s land has perhaps replaced the feudal obligations that she/he had to adhere to in the past, and the rich peasant’s and landlord’s capital has overshadowed the landed property that they had inherited.  Isn’t all of this capitalism in its historical coming-to-be?

Indeed, in my view, it is the Maoist movement and capitalist development that have brought about the changes that Venugopal highlights over the period 1980-2010. More generally, and rightly so, over a longer period, in the author’s account (chapters 1 and 2), a series of people’s movements are given their due in his explanation of the process of progressive social change. These are the Rampa rebellions (of 1862, 1879 and 1880), the Manyam struggle led by Alluri Seetaramaraju (1922-24), various anti-zamindar peasant struggles like in Mandasa, Challapalli, Venkatagiri, Bobbili, Nuzvid, Muktyala, etc, tribal struggles led by Ramji Gond (1860) and Komuram Bheem (1941), the Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle (1946-51), the Visalandhra movement (1948-53), the movement for the safeguarding of the Mulki Rules (in operation in Hyderabad State since 1919), the struggle for a separate state of Telangana (which began in 1969),  the movement for justice in the case of the couple, Ahmed Hussain and Rameejaa Bee (illegal custody, custodial killing, custodial rape) in 1978, the Indravelli (Adilabad district) massacre in 1981 and the rise of tribal militancy, the killing of six dalits in Karamchedu (Prakasam district) on 17 July 1985 and the growth of the dalit movement (alongside its internal fissures), the women’s movement spurred on by the massive anti-liquor agitation that spread from Nellore, the Singareni colliery miners struggles, and so on. The author suggests that, since the late 1960s, there is hardly a significant progressive movement in AP in which the Naxalites/Maoists have not made a mark.

Naxalite Movement: The Mass Struggle Phase

Now, to the extent that I am expected to guide the reader intending to make sense of this book, I would say, taking my cue from the late Marxist-Maoist teacher R S Rao (on page 303), that one should not merely examine the events recounted but try to understand the way in which the author views the processes of which they are a part, and therefore need to be unravelled. Also, and this is again advice from R S Rao (p 308), the forms that the struggles of the oppressed assume are, in the main, also determined by the repressive acts of those who govern on behalf of the ruling classes. For, after all, the violence of the oppressed is always preceded and provoked by the violence of the oppressors.

And, of course, the Naxalite movement has also encompassed revolutionary changes in art & literature, and when the artists, writers and poets have mingled with those who have been kept unlettered  over generations, the latter have begun to demonstrate that literary and artistic creativity is not the prerogative of the upper caste-class elite alone (pp 253, 258, 274).  Hence, Section II must be read alongside Section III on state repression of the movement, Section IV on revolutionary culture, and Section V on some significant Maoist intellectuals/leaders, departed friends of the author. One must keep in mind the links/interconnections of each of the sections with the others.

There have been two streams of the Naxalite/Maoist movement in AP, one following from the Srikakulam armed struggle of the late 1960s and the AP State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(ML)], whose main inheritors in the CPI(ML) (Central Organising Committee) [CPI(ML)(COC)], went on to form the CPI(ML)(People’s War) [CPI(ML)(PW)] in 1980 after a self-critical appraisal, and with mid-course corrections, ultimately formed the CPI (Maoist) in September 2004. This stream, I must add, should be highly indebted to persons like Kondapalli Sitaramaiah (KS, 1915-2002) from the late 1960s to 1987.

The other rivulet of the movement stems from the AP Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries led mainly by Tarimela Nagi Reddy (“TN” as he was called, 1917-76, the author of India Mortgaged) and Chandra Pulla Reddy (CP, 1917-84), who didn’t join the CPI (ML) when it was formed in 1969. The two subsequently went their own way, with TN’s followers (then led by D V Rao) in the Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India (ML) [UCCRI (ML)] and CP’s supporters in CPI (ML) (Vimochana). Readers interested in keeping track of the splits, amalgamations, splits again, and subsequent mergers as regards the second stream of the movement may look at the flow chart on page 104. Suffice it to say, for our purpose, in AP in 2005, on the one side, the CPI (Maoist) overwhelmingly represented the first stream; in the other, the CPI (ML) (Janashakti) was the foremost Party.

The movement in Srikakulam took the path of armed struggle in late 1967 (in a more organised manner, in late November 1968) under the local leadership of two school teachers, Vempatapu Satyanarayana and Adibhatka Kailasham, with armed squads in self-defence and a Ryotanga Sangrama Samiti to seize political power in the villages. Indeed, Charu Majumdar (1918-72) – author of the Historic Eight Documents, principal theoretician of the Naxalite movement in its first phase, and soon to be founder General Secretary of the CPI (ML) – visited the area in February-March 1969 and expected it to blossom into the Yan’an of India. In the spirit of Che Guevara, a number of middle-class youth, like Panchadi Krishnamurthy, joined the armed squads. And, of course, there was the celebrated guerrilla-poet, Subbarao Panigrahi, whose Jamukulakatha (theatrical rendering of songs in a folk idiom) later inspired the well-known balladeer Gaddar. State repression followed and the leaders were “summarily killed without any judicial process”, but the government was forced to bring in “an amendment (popularly known as 1 of 1970) to the existing Land Transfer Regulation Act of 1959 to prohibit transfer of tribal lands” (p 86).

‘Mass-Line’ Politics

The CPI (ML) (COC) in AP, which took over the tasks of the AP State Committee of the original CPI (ML) when it split, critically reviewed the experience of the Srikaulam movement, and also went on to develop a new strategy and tactics document called “Road to Revolution”, whose first seeds sprouted in Karimnagar and Adilabad districts, especially in the Sircilla and Jagityal taluks of the former, soon after the Emergency was lifted. These taluks were declared as “disturbed areas” in October 1978, and it was here that Mupalla Laxman Rao [the present general secretary of the CPI (Maoist)] and Mallojula Koteswara Rao found themselves in Ganapathy and Kishenji respectively.

It was struggles such as these that formed the groundwork for the formation of the CPI (ML) (PW) in 1980. The preliminary works include the formation of the Revolutionary Writers Association (RWA, or Virasam in Telugu) in July 1970, the Jana Natya Mandali in 1972, the RSU in 1974, and the Radical Youth League (RYL) in May 1975, and later, the Rythu Coolie Sangham (RCS) and the Singareni Karmika Samakhya (Sikasa). In all of such “mass-line” (“from the masses, to the masses”) politics, it is my view that when a careful history of the Naxalite movement comes to be written, the significant contribution of KS and his close comrades will have to be acknowledged.[3]

All the organisations of the CPI (ML) (PW) worked in close concert, and it was the Indravelli massacre – police firing on 20 April 1981 on a group of tribal people who had gathered to attend a district-level conference of the Girijana RCS that killed “anywhere between 13 and 60 persons” (p 93) – that signalled the stifling of all the Party’s mass outfits. The Sikasa, of course, helped build the proletarian base of the CPI(ML)(PW), which would lend a hand in then cementing the worker-peasant alliance. As Venugopal puts it (p 94):

Since the coal belt … [adjoined] the areas of ongoing peasant struggles and most of the mine workers came from those peasant families, the working class in the coal belt was both influenced by Naxalite politics and offered a much-needed working class composition to the movement.

But by 1985, it became clear that the state was not going to allow any open, legal political work of the CPI (ML) (PW) and its mass organisations. The “go to the villages” campaigns of the RSU and the RYL then became a thing of the past. The period 1985-89 was marked by severe repression of the movement, with “encounter killings” (extra-judicial killings) even taking place in the villages and towns, where previously they were confined to the forests, and Latin America-style “missing” (forced disappearance) was added to the state’s counterinsurgency tactics. There was, however, an interregnum when the then Party in the opposition (to the Telugu Desam in power), the Congress, made an electoral promise to relax state repression and restore democratic rights, and when it did come to power, the CPI(ML)(PW) and its mass organisations could once again practice open, legal, mass politics. For instance, in May 1990, the RCS’ state conference in Warangal culminated in a mass meeting that “was attended by a record 12 lakh people” (p 95). The call for land occupation and re-distribution got an overwhelming response.

‘Republic Killing Its Own Children’

What followed were a ban on the Party and its mass organisations (on 21 May 1992) when the government realised that the Naxalites were indeed a political “force to reckon with and if … allowed to grow, the movement with its expanding mass base would sweep the ruling politics completely” (p 96). The open political activity of Sikasa ceased; after 1992, with “barbaric repression”, Maoist/Naxalite politics could only be clandestine, and even this “was crushed with an iron heel” (p 167).

But in July 1996, in a High Court judgment on a TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) case involving Naxalites, Justice M N Rao commented that even as “’leftwing extremism is viewed as a problem by the administration, it is increasingly perceived as a solution to their problems by the alienated masses’” (p 171).  The judgment recognised Naxalites as a solution, called for an immediate cessation of police encounters and violence by the Naxalites, and asked for a meaningful search for a permanent solution (p 172). Subsequently a Committee of Concerned Citizens made concerted efforts to bring the government and the Naxalites to peace talks.

In spite of these developments, however, in December 1999, the government executed the infamous “Koyyur encounter” where three Central Committee members of the CPI(ML)(PW), Nalla Adi Reddy (Shyam), Arramreddy Santosh Reddy (Mahesh) and Seelam Naresh (Murali) were picked up in Bangalore, brought to Hyderabad, tortured and killed, and their bodies thrown in a Karimnagar forest to make it appear as if they were killed in a real encounter, the police even killing a militant from a nearby village to make its version seem more credible.  When the CPI(ML)(PW) retaliated by killing the state’s home minister in a landmine blast in March 2000, the state government offered to initiate the “peace process”!

The preconditions for the initiation of the peace process put forward by the CPI (ML) (PW), in essence, insisted that the government in office, with whom the Party was going to talk, having taken an oath of office to stand by the Constitution and the law, must adhere to that pledge made to the people. But the Party was castigated as presenting “unreasonable demands and preconditions”! Basically, whenever the Party has come to talks, it has seen this as an opportunity to articulate some of the real issues, those relating to “land to the tiller” and livelihoods. There’s liberation too that the Maoist movement is fighting for, but this involves the “overthrow of the existing exploitative and oppressive system to bring in an egalitarian social order” (p 164), which, of course, cannot be the subject of talks.

The government in power and the state did all they could to liquidate the persons who articulated such questions, the cold-blooded assassination of Azad on the night of 1-2 July 2010 in Adilabad district being the prime instance of such counterinsurgency practice. Azad, “the most powerful and articulate voice of the revolutionary movement”, was killed along with a freelance journalist, and their bodies were thrown in a forest in Adilabad district in order to make it appear that they were killed in a real encounter (p 294). Such savage repression has been the response of the government to the real issues posed by the movement – land, livelihoods, and liberation. Even poetry has been deemed illegal and proscribed, something that even Pinochet’s regime in Chile didn’t do, especially when the poems run like this (the following verse from Cherabandaraju, the “poet who questioned August 15”, in the book, on pages 279-80):

Oh my dear motherland

Yours is the chastity that flirts with thugs
Yours is the beauty whose every limb is pawned in the world market
Yours is the forgotten youth that sleeps in the rich man’s embrace

You are the lush prosperous land that feeds no mouth

Yours is the woe that fails to comfort
The children crawling over your barren breasts.

‘Departed Friends’

The expression of deep anguish in the face of the realisation that the freedom officially proclaimed in 1947 has been a fraudulent one, and the search for a way out of this hopeless predicament, led an increasing number of persons to take seriously the questions of land, livelihood and liberation posed by the Naxalite movement, as also issues related to organisation and forms of struggle. But this only doubled the resolve of the repressive apparatus of the state to crack down on the movement and its intellectuals. The AP Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) evolved from the defence committees of lawyers and other activists in the wake of the bloody state repression in North Telangana, especially in Srikakulam and Warangal, beginning in the late 1960s.  It came into being in 1973, and Venugopal remembers the eminent civil rights lawyer and “humane philosopher”, K G Kannabiran, one of the foremost defenders of civil liberties in AP. Listen to what Kannabiran told a judge when the latter asked him as to why the Naxalites should be given Constitutional protection when they do not believe in the Constitution (p 294):

‘It is for the Constitution, not to the Naxalites. The Constitution was not selective and did not say that it wouldn’t apply to non-believers. It was meant to be universal. We have to decide whether the Indian judiciary can protect the democratic value system proposed by the Constitution – whatever may be the beliefs of the accused.’

But, the Indian state and successive governments have cared a damn for such council counsel. The repressive apparatus of the state has gone on cold-bloodedly killing Naxalites/Maoists, despite an assurance – “We cannot allow the republic killing its own children” – by a bench of the Supreme Court, while responding to two public interest litigations related to the fake encounter of Azad and his journalist associate Hemchandra Pandey, when the matter came up for hearing. The state’s utter contempt for the law was once again on display in the brutal, cold-blooded manner of Kishenji’s assassination on 24 November 2011 – the CPI (Maoist) unambiguously stated that he was killed “after capturing him alive in a well planned conspiracy”.

Remembering Kishenji, Venugopal writes (p 319):

He had a wonderful understanding of how to deal with people, how to explore their creativity and capabilities. … He stood as an inspiration and guiding force for thousands of people joining (the) revolution or helping (the) revolution in whatever way they could. He revived the optimistic spirit in hundreds of disillusioned comrades on the verge of leaving with his powerful arguments and unfathomable affection.

… He began his journey in Peddapalli and Jagityal, continued in Karimnagar and Adilabad districts to spread (the movement) all over Andhra Pradesh. From there he crossed the Godavari, entered Bastar … (extending the movement) to Abujmarh. His journey continued to Jharkhand, West Bengal and to (the) North-East. … He was the new human being created by the revolution.

India is a multinational country, and just as Latin American society and the Cuban revolution made Che, so also, Telugu society, the Maoist revolution (in the making), and Indian society (as the movement extended from AP) made revolutionaries like Kishenji. Composed as a series of notes from a participant-observer, the book must be viewed in that light. All I have tried to do over here, in the light of Venugopal’s book, is to try to give you a feel (which is all I have right now) of the making of AP’s Maoists from what the author calls a “vibrant, progressive and defiant” segment of Telugu society. Like Che, the Maoists are revolted by the obsessive worship of money, wealth and power, but have come to know, again, like Che came to know, that one cannot hope to be a revolutionary socialist and be safe.

Further On Mass-Line Politics

Let me then elaborate on some of the thoughts that came to my mind after going through this participant-observer account of the Naxalite/Maoist movement in AP. Also, there is a dire need to explain the severe setback that the movement has faced in AP since 2006.

I am particularly enthused by what I have called the mass-struggle phase of the movement (1978-85)[4] and I want to bring to the fore certain aspects of this phase that Venugopal has not sufficiently emphasised. Compared to the establishment left, Naxalites/Maoists have been particularly sensitive to the caste question. The 1970s was a period when, among the so-called lower castes and dalits in Telangana, perhaps the first generation of youth in many families were making their way into higher education, and it was a part of this section of youth that joined the RSU and the RYL. Their grandparents or great grandparents had been one or the other of the following: carpenters (vadla), blacksmiths (kammari), toddy tappers (goudas), barbers (mangalis), dhobis (chakalis), potters (kummaris), landless labourers of the Madiga and Mala “jatis” among the dalits, known as vetti madigalu and vetti malollu, and poor peasants, etc.

The Party [the CPI (ML) (COC), and particularly later on, the CPI (ML) (PW)], unlike the CPI in Telangana in the 1940s, made a conscious attempt to draw these people into the movement. In the “go to the villages” campaigns in which the RSU, RYL and the JNM coordinated with the rural mass organisation (the RCS in the making, and later as a full-fledged organisation) to win over the rural poor, it was the lower caste and dalit students that were prominent as activists, and later on, many of these student-youth activists assumed local leadership positions within the mass organisations and the Party.[5]

As far as the struggle went, it was tactics such as social boycott and public hearings (the latter also a feature of the CPI’s forms of struggle in Telangana in the 1940s) that were the principal non-violent means. Refusal to perform certain tasks in the social division of labour could paralyse the “rural gentry”, and public hearings highlighted the different forms of oppression and exploitation, including usury, evictions, forced labour, usurpation of common property resources, payment of pitiably low wages, etc., as well as atrocities. The rural gentry, of course, organised private militias to break the network the RCS had established with the RSU, RYL and JNM, and, indeed, to wipe out the RCS itself, and when they couldn’t accomplish the task on their own, the repressive apparatus of the state was brought in, and the Suppression of Disturbances Act of 1948 was applied to designate the zones of activism of the CPI (ML) (PW) and its mass organisations as “disturbed areas”.[6]

Spiral of Violence

One could view the whole unfolding process of counterrevolutionary and revolutionary violence thus: The Naxalites’ popular mobilisations precipitated a crisis of sorts for the rural gentry, and the state then came down on these mobilisations with a heavy hand, which led the CPI (ML) (PW) to enhance its military power, to which, the state, in turn readjusted its counterinsurgency tactics and, thereby, provoked a modification of the Party’s response. It was a sequence of moves and countermoves, with the two adversaries trying to anticipate each other’s actions well in advance.  As encounter killings and cases of “missing” went up, the Maoists responded with kidnaps of state officials and ruling Party politicians to get their missing comrades produced in court; as police camped in the villages, the guerrillas raided some of these camps; as the combing operations of the security forces were stepped up, landmines, remotely controlled by the guerrillas were used to instil the fear of death among the marauders; as more Greyhounds and fortified police stations came into existence, platoons and companies of the guerrillas with more sophisticated armaments were organised. The spiral proceeded upwards.

Now, the Maoist strategy of protracted people’s war (PPW) necessarily entails taking recourse to both violent (a tragic necessity) and non-violent means, the latter, in the form of the mass line. Unfortunately, however, the Indian state was/has been largely successful in not allowing the non-violent means to unfold. Going by classical Maoist principles of revolutionary organisation, strategy and behaviour, armed struggle plays a crucial supporting role on the road to liberation. But it has been/is the strategy of the Indian state to reduce the movement to violence alone.

Indeed, I wish Venugopal had thrown some light on the series of so-called encounter killings after the “Koyyur encounter” of December 1999. In the absence of this, the severe setback suffered by the Party and the Maoist movement in AP remains unexplained. To fill this gap, I cite some recent instances of the killings of Telugu Maoist leaders:

  • Settiraju Papaiah (alias Somanna), a member of the Special Zonal Committee of north Telangana, was allegedly abducted by the APSIB in Bangalore on 29 June 2006, brutally tortured, killed on 1 July, and his body was thrown in the forests of Warangal.
  • Burra Chinnayya, alias Madhav, state secretary of the Party, and seven of his comrades were killed on 23 July 2006 when the Greyhounds and a special police force of a battalion size attacked the headquarters of the AP State Committee in the Nallamala forests. The attackers had precise information; it is said that they even knew the exact tent in which Madhav was an occupant.
  • Raghaulu – member of the AP State Committee of the Party – who came from a poor peasant family and grew up as a cattle-herd boy – and eight of his comrades were killed on 8 November 2006 in a forest area in Cuddapah district.
  • Chandramouli, a Central Committee member of the Party and a member of its Central Military Commission, and his wife Karuna, a barefoot doctor, were cold-bloodedly murdered in the Eastern Ghats on the Andhra-Orissa border on 29 December 2006, when they were on their way to the Party Congress.
  • Patel Sudhakar Reddy (alias Suryam, Vikas), a Central Committee member, and his comrade, Venkatayya were picked up in Nasik (in Maharashtra) on 23 May 2007, airlifted to Warangal, brutally tortured, murdered the next day, and their bodies were thrown in the Lavvala forests there.

In an interview published in July 2007, the Party General Secretary Ganapathy admitted that in Andhra Pradesh, “the enemy has the upper-hand from the tactical point of view”.[7] The Party, of course, fought back, as was evident from the stunning attack on two platoons of the Greyhounds by a company of its People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army on 28 June 2008 in the Sileru River on the Andhra-Orissa border.

The Political and the Military

But practically an important section of the top leadership of the Party in AP was brutally eliminated, and how does one explain this severe setback suffered by the Party? It is our hypothesis that the AP State Intelligence Bureau seems to have penetrated/infiltrated into the Party’s political structure, and this has perhaps been more easily accomplished because of deficiency in the political education of cadres, otherwise how else the above-mentioned diabolical operations could have been masterminded. The Party has suffered a severe setback in AP and in Jangalmahal, and in these the worst of times, there seems to be a tendency to subordinate the political to the military as if a mass revolutionary consciousness can be forged in the armed struggle itself. Such a perspective is Guevarist, not Maoist, as we have explained earlier on in this essay, and it needs to be internally critiqued. The Party should not forget that its cadres are formed in political struggle, in ideological struggle (against revisionism), and yes, also in armed struggle; the latter should never be overestimated. It may be recalled that in the mass struggle phase of the movement in north Telangana, 1978-85, it was the winning of the solidarity of the people that was the cause of the relative success of that phase. This was because the Party and its mass organisations involved the people in the process of revolution. Political mass participation in the revolution was emphasized. Today, the RSU is a shadow of its former self. Yet, if there’s any hope, this has to be placed in the younger generation. Recall the deep emotion in Mao’s words to Chinese students in Moscow (in late 1949 or early 1950):[8]

‘The world is yours, as well as ours. But in the last analysis, it is yours. You, young people, full of vigour and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed in you.’

Frankly, the guerrilla warfare of the Maoists has assumed an erratic and ineffective character because of the absence of base areas,[9] this, even after 47 years have gone by since the launch of the movement in Naxalbari in 1967, heralding the unfolding of a strategy conceived in terms of the area-wise seizure of political power.  Some of the guerrilla zones – which the Maoists are striving to convert into Red Areas – have been converted back to White Areas by the paramilitary forces of the Indian state backed by the mainstream political parties, and this seems to suggest that, given the geographical and topographical features of these zones, as well as the “caste-in-class” and ethnicity-class structures of the resident populations there, the present strategy & tactics and political programme of the Maoists do not offer a definitive answer to the re-occupation of such territories by the state’s forces and their conversion back to White areas.[10] It must be remembered that it was Mao and the Chinese Communist Party’s creative adaptation of Marxism-Leninism (M-L) to the Chinese context that accounted for the success of the new democratic revolution over there. The Maoists in India have fought really long and hard, and dedicatedly, based on their strategy of PPW, but now, it’s high time, in the light of their experience so far, they adapt M-L to the Indian context, and blaze a trail in Marxist theory and practice in India.


[1] Jose A Moreno, “Che Guevara on Guerrilla Warfare: Doctrine, Practice and Evaluation”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol 12, No 2, April 1970, pp 114-133.

[2] See Amit Basole and Deepankar Basu’s “Relations of Production and Modes of Surplus Extraction: Part I – Agriculture”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol XLVI, No 14, April 2, 2011, pp 41-58.

[3] KS was a veteran of the Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle of the 1940s. He led a Party unit in the struggle against a minor zamindari at the border of Krishna and Nalgonda districts. Early on, he was recognized for his organisational abilities, especially in taking the Party to the masses (implementing the mass line). Later on, inspired by the Cultural Revolution in 1966, he began organising students in Warangal, especially those of the Regional Engineering College there. Following Naxalbari, he was, later on, a prominent member of the state unit of the CPI(ML) when it was formed in 1969. He propagated the Charu Majumdar line and coordinated with the movement in Srikakulam. He played a leading role in the collective learning from the failure of Srikakulam, diagnosing its basic lacuna in its failure in implementing the mass line. KS had a significant hand in the creation and building of the mass organisations – the RWA, the JNM, the RSU, the RYL, the RCS and Sikasa ­– as well as in the formulation of the fresh tactical line called “Road to Revolution”, the creation of the CPI (ML) (PW) and the expansion of the movement in the 1980s. (This brief account of KS’ active political life draws on a conversation I had with the eminent radical Telugu poet Varavara Rao over the telephone on 27 June 2011.)

[4] In the following brief account of the mass-struggle phase of the Naxalite movement in north Telangana I draw upon K Srinivasalu, “CPI(ML) and the Question of Caste: Dynamics of Social Mobilisation in Anti-feudal Struggles in Telangana”, in Pradip Basu (ed), Discourses on Naxalite Movement, 1967-2009: Insights Into Radical Left Politics (Kolkata: Setu Prakashani), 2010, pp 222-237.

[5] Writing on the “Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh” in this magazine in 2006, K Balagopal lamented the tragic loss of lives of “organic leaders” from among the most oppressed and doubted if, in the face of the repression, the Maoists will be able to retain the support of the next generation of the most oppressed (EPW, 22 July 2006, pp 3183-87).

[6] I must remind the reader that in the post-independence period, the rural gentry, both the old and the new, besides being able to summon the state’s repressive apparatus at the district and bloc levels, now unduly gained from access to, not an insignificant part of, the state’s expenditure allocated in the name of “development” – for the various development programmes, agricultural extension services, agricultural cooperatives, etc. – cheap credit from the rural banks, the various contracts (e.g., road building, collection of forest produce, etc) awarded, and later on, even gained political legitimacy though the panchayati raj institutions (Srinivasulu, op cit, pp 228-29).

[7] See “Interview with Comrade Ganapathy”, The Worker, No 11, July 2007.

[8] This quote, in Red Guard study materials of the Cultural Revolution period, is from Enrica Collotti Pischel, “The Teacher”, in Dick Wilson (ed), Mao Tse-Tung in the Scales of History: A Preliminary Assessment Organised by The China Quarterly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1977, p 165.

[9] Base areas are self-administered, liberated areas, miniature “new democratic” republics of the revolutionary forces, albeit under siege, but serving as places of refuge and remobilization for the Maoist people’s army.

[10] Guerrilla zones are tracts where the agrarian revolutionary movement is strong, but where the Party and its mass organisations are in power only as long as the guerrillas have the upper hand over the state’s forces. Power reverts to the Indian state when the guerrillas are forced to retreat. A White area is one where the Indian state is in power, whereas a Red area is one where the revolutionaries are in the saddle.



5 Responses to “The Che Guevaras of Telugu Society”

  1. Karthick RM Says:
    May 5th, 2014 at 07:43

    The Maoists seem to have some sort of contempt for urban areas and an indifference to the industrial proletariat. I remember reading their urban perspective plan (I think it was dated 2004) which is actually a brilliant document for party organization in urban centers. But I am afraid that it has been only on paper and never been put into practice. I do fear that if they do not take urban trade-union and mass front action seriously, they will just end up as a cute, adorable, particularities loving movement like the Chiapas struggle.

  2. ARUN Says:
    May 11th, 2014 at 23:11

    A must read

  3. Harsh Thakor Says:
    May 24th, 2014 at 14:45

    A very commendable essay.Bernard d’Mellow defends the C.P.I.(Maoist) and the erswthile C.P.I.(M.L.)Peoples War Group as a genuinely revolutionary democratic force.He immaculately defends it’s achievements and the need for armed resistance as a necessary perquisite.He illustrates the importance of the phase of 1978-85 when mass organizations were formed.Arguably after 1969 till 2004 when it merged with M.C.C.I.the C.P.I.(M.L.) peoples war group played the greatest role by any revolutionary group which created the foundation s of the current movement in Dandkaranya which is the closest to forming a base area,and resembling base area Hunan in pre-revolutionary China.The organization superbly blended aggression and defence at various junctures in 1984,1988 or 1992 withstanding the opression of the state.

    Bernard has also highlighted the major weaknesses where Mao’s concept of protracted peoples war was not properly applied or Mao’s mass line.To combat the insurmountable repression the C.P.I.(Maoist) has not built mass mobilizations but relied solely on military retaliation which is not akin to Maoism.The greatest lessons on massline were taught by Tarimela Nagi Reddy and D.V.Rao who fought against the left adventurism of Charu Mazumdar on the theoretical and practical plane.In certain stages they led struggles of the massline.Correctly Bernard points out that base areas have not been created.

    What Bernard forgets is mentioning how even when mass organizations were formed they were basically deployed as front organizations of the party and not given sufficient independence in functioningSome of the most important lessons on this were taught by T.Nagi Reddy and Harbahajan Singh Sohi from Punjab.He also overstimates the subjective conditions .Bernard also has an erroneous view on the current mode of production ,claiming it is capitalist .India does not have a fully developed capitalist structure and is still primarily semi-feudal,although not to the same degree as pre-revolutionary China.

    To me the subjective conditions do not exist for carrying out all out armed struggle against the state or the red army.Armed struggle should be carried out in the form of deploying resistance for self -defence of their land against landlords with traditional weapons .The formers struggles of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti in Bihar in the mid 1980’s in Jehanabad and of the Malkangari Adivasi Sangh in Orissa are a testimony to this.No doubt the C.P.I.(Maoist) has superbly adapted itself with the subjective factor against it’s achievements can compare with any Maoist party in the last 50 years. The Peoples Liberation Guerilla army has defied all the odds traversing the most turbulent of rivers and fighting like tigers coming out of an ambush.However it has not developed base areas as in China or in the Telengana armed struggle from 1946-51.

    Neverthless red salutes to the Maoists who have made immortal sacrifices and gains.

  4. Mohan Says:
    June 4th, 2014 at 19:19

    The reviewer does not deal with the dichotomy at the heart of the tactics of the CPI Maoist, and its earlier versions of PW, COC. Combining individual, small group terror and annihilation and a permanent line of boycott of elections with mass mobilisation will only lead to swings and flipflops. Something the party has been know to perform, including quite credible speculation of collusion with the Congress in opposition in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana. Later displayed in open endorsement of the Trinamul in Bengal.

    Nor is there mention of the fact that in recent decades the Maoists straddle an uneasy divide bentween gangsterism and revolution, inflicting brutal treatment on civilians and their own social base on the merest pretext of collusion with the state. Nor have they spared activists of other ML parties, ndulging in fundamentalist style maiming, beheading and murder of activists right from the late 80’s.
    Their role in AP/Telangana has included arson of trains, widespread destruction of properties and public buildings and arbitrary killings of people.
    Issues, the late Balagopal had pointed out with documented cases nearly two decades ago, and which have been reported more recently by human rights organisations.
    AS for the potential of the militarise politics to spread, their bases are confined to tribal regions both remote and with a rudimentary class development. Their proletarian base was even in the past confined to semi-rural mine workers straddling the worker/peasant divide.
    It is fanciful to envision this practice to ever spread and even surround urban areas which are well connected and are centres of political, administrative, commercial, military and ideological power with significant dominance over the hinterland.
    The Maoiist/ML praxis has reached a dead-end and is politically hollowed out.

  5. Nancie Fron Says:
    February 4th, 2020 at 18:25

    British journalist Sean O’Hagan has described Che as “more (John) Lennon than (Vladimir) Lenin .” Taking the opposite hypothesis, Mexican commentator and Che Biographer Jorge Castaneda Gutman has proclaimed that: “Che can be found just where he belongs in the niches reserved for cultural icons, for symbols of social uprisings that filter down deep into the soil of society.”

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