Mainstream, VOL LIX No 17, New Delhi, April 10, 2021
Gabriele Dietrich on D’Mello’s India After Naxalbari - Unfinished History
Saturday 10 April 2021, by#socialtags
Bernard D’Mello: India After Naxalbari. Unfinished History. Aakar Books 2018
This meticulously researched book deals with “a thread of history that mainstream historians have tended to either ignore or misinterpret. This account puts it straight into our history books.” Arundhati Roy
Bernard d’Mello is clearly not a mainstream historian.He has made extraordinary efforts to dig up this hidden history and to make it accessible to readers who are not afraid to face this history, which also reveals a lot of cruelty of the coercive forces of the State. In the acknowledgements it becomes visible that this book came into being in dialogue with a wide range of leftist intellectuals and it has also been published by Monthly Revew Press in the US.
One of the underlying questions is: How do we explain that a militant movement which came into being in 1968, has survived fifty years of struggle (at the time of finishing writing the book) without being crushed. The author wants to establish 1968 as a historical moment, because it saw many democratic struggles all over the globe.
He sees the Naxalbari uprising of 1967 as a part of a worldwide emanating spirit of “revolutionary humanism”, which led to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969. Charu Mazumdar, the founder of the movement, said in 1967“Naxalbari will never die.” 1968 was a year of uprisings worldwide, one of the most prominent being the struggle in Vietnam against American occupation and warfare, supported by students movements in the US and in several European countries, which highlighted the struggle of Ho Chi Minh. Earstwhile Tchechoslovakia had a struggle for democratic socialism,which was non-violent but was halted by Soviet tanks. In the Philippines, a Maoist underground movement struggled to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship, which was finally achieved in a massive popular uprising led by Cardinal Sin of the Catholic church in 1975. But new dictators have emerged, as capitalism could not be overcome. In the US, the Black Panthers fought against racism, and Mexico saw an uprising against the Institutional Revolutionary Party. All these streams came together in “revolutionary humanism”.
The CPI-ML emerged out of tribal peasant communities set up in a “semi-feudal” setting and engaged in an anti landlord struggle. The members were Santhals, Oraons,as well as tea garden workers, who were allied in a struggle for surplus land distribution. On the whole, death sentences were avoided, but arms were snatched and land was distributed. The aim was to abolish the feudal order. However, the United Front Government took harsh action against the uprising. Nevertheless, other rural populations got inspired to resist the violence of landlords by armed struggle.
The book is organised in ten chapters, three of them (Chcapter I, IV and VII) with the heading of “Spring Thunder!” giving an overview regarding the uprisings in different regions, as well as time spans in which the struggles happened. These chapters are accompanied by three maps , giving a picture of the geography in which these events happened.This is indeed very helpful to establish the history. Not only that, the author is careful in mentioning the names of the leaders and their social backgrounds, but he refrains from speculations about internal differences within the organisations, as these are not available in documented form. He points out that the movement had difficulties to implement the “mass line” ( from the masses to the masses),as it was difficult to form mass organisations alongside the armed struggle.(p.41) He also mentions “gross underestimation of the retaliatory power of the Indian State,” which turnrd out to be “the most monstrous repression unleashed on a political movement in post-independent India”(ibid.) He also mentions the isolation of students and other youth in the urban areas from the struggles of the Indian working class as a hindrance to broaden the struggle. Charu Mazumdar, who hailed from Siliguri, where it all started, was the leading force,even though he died in police custody due to withholding of medical treatment on July 27, 1972.
His ideas and struggle were carried forward by Kondapalli Sitharamaiah (KS), who hailed from the Telangana region and lived from 1915 to 2002. He was a veteran of the Telangana armed peasant struggle of the 1940s. He was a member of the pre-split CPI. He implemented mass line and gained recognition for taking the party to the masses. After the Chinese Cultural Revolution, he orgabised students in Warangal. He belonged to the Andhra State Committee from its inception. He encouraged revolutionary poets and encouraged the formation of Revolutionary Writers Association. The formation of the CPI-ML took place only on April 22, 1969.
The author contrasts the revolutionary humanism , which stems from solidarity with the underprivileged, like Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalised sections, with the ruthless use of violence by the state to hold down these uprisings. “That the most vulnerable sections of the people, Dalits and Adivasis...and those who could not remain unmoved by their plight and thus took up their cause, were subjected to the worst of the State’s and landlords’ terror- with a vengeance , and that this could happen in a liberal-political democracy, is hard to believe”.(p.42)
He also points out that the revolutionary moments in history occur when people lose their natural urge for self preservation and are willing to lay down their lives for a common cause. He feels definite compassion and solidarity with those who laid down their lives in the “Spring Thunder” phase, but also feels that the inability to develop class conscioudness and find a common cultural home for the revolutionary spirit added up to a great loss. But the author has no doubt that Spring Thunder I, though temporarily defeated, had sown the seeds for further struggles in the future.
At this point he turns to “1968” India as History.
1968 was indeed a year of revolutionary consciousness all over the world. The contrast between violence and non-violence was less emphacised than in the present situation. The common denominator was the goal of a society free from oppression, but there were different ways of how to get there.
The early seventies were the time when the Dalit Panthers gave themselves a new Manifesto and a new identity, inspired by the Black Panters Movement in the US, a powerful anti-racism organisation. The anti-colonial struggle in Vietnam, ravaged first by the French and then by the Americans, was a Marxist uprising, which drew support from student movements all over the world.
On December 24, 1968, forty four men, women and some toddlers, were herded into a hut in Kilvenmani, then East Thanjore Dt. (TN) and were burned to death. The struggle against the landlords was continued by both communist parties and by the Sarvodaya Movement, led by S. Jaganathan and his wife Krishnammal. The trigger for the outrageous violence was a wage struggle of landless laborers. But the underlying problem was landlessness of Dalis.
The early seventies saw the rise of the women’s movement, first over the Mathura case,when a young, illiterate tribal girl was raped in a police station in Chandrapur District in Maharashtra and could not get justice in the courts, because there were no physical signs of resistance on her body. Implicitly, she was punished for staying alive. This led to massive protests of women and to incisive changes in the rape law.
1973-74 brought the anti-price rise movement, because edible oil and kerosene had become unaffordable.This was followed by the railway strike, which was put down by numerous arrests under Defence of India Rules and Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). Even though the unions had been coopted by the government, they had to change their position under pressure of the striking workers. There was lack of support from other sectors of the working class.
However, the mine workers of Dalli Rajhara in Chhattishgarh, led by Shankar Guha Niyogi in the CMSS were a stronghold for the working class. The union was built when police firing killed twelve workers in June 1977. The union combined struggle with constructive work, e.g. they worked on technology, which did not make workers obsolete, but lightened the burden. D’Mello does not fully cover the constructive work of the union, e.g. the building of the Shahid Hospital with the help of supportive doctors from Bengal. Niyogi was murdered on Sept.28,1991 by unidentified assailants. Fifty thousand people attended the funeral and vowed to continue the struggle.
To explain the difficulties in organising the working class, D’Mello goes into an extensive analysis of the composition of the working class, divided into “floating”, ”latent” and “stagnant” working class and points out that the reserve army of labour is 2.1 times that of the active army of wage/salary based labour, which oviously has desastrous consequences for wages and labour rights (p.69). He diagnoses an alliance between mercantile credit and “semi-feudal” landowning classes and mercantile cum credit capital, that has preserved the status and prerogative of both. He summarises:
“Thus, without mincing words, it is possible to surmise here was an underdeveloped capitalist system that enabled labor exploitation of criminal proportions, utterly denying the rights of hundreds of millions of human beings to even a bare subsistence.”(70) The revolutionary struggle also made itself felt in the country side in East Bengal and only after this was transformed into a nationalist struggle by Mujibur Rahmans Awami League in alliance with Indira Gandhi, East Bengal became Bangla Desh on Dec. 16, 1971. The faint prospect of a possibility of a radically leftist, united Bengal had been successfully undermined. This contributed to an overwhelming victory of Indira Gandhi in the next Indian elections.
This period was also a time in which human rights organisations for civil liberties came into being in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, which were later known under the names of PUDR and PUCL, promoted by Gandhian leader Jayaprakash Narayan and Justice Tharkunde of the Bombay Highcourt, to oppose repression of civil liberties during the Emergency. This was an expression of the peculiar situation that in many places the jails held Gandhians as well Naxalites. But the Naxalites were denied recognition on the ground that they were seen as “violent” per definition.
The author points out that the colonial state just agreed to transfer power, while the content of colonial policies endured, despite a democratic constitution. Especially the “conspiracy” clauses of the Indian Penal Code (Section 121 and 121A) contributed to strangle the CPI-ML.
In March 1966, the Mizo National Front launched a revolt to achieve independence. The Indian government retaliated with air raids on Aizawl, which was a collective punishment, irrespective of political affiliations. The author sees this as another example of how colonial policies persisted after independence.
The remaining part of this chapter deals with the avoidance of land reforms during the Green Revolution, refusal to give land to the tillers, food aid under PL 480 and introduction of highly manipulated seed varieties from the American Rice Research Institute inthe Philippines, which needed a lot of chemical inputs. After the split of the Congress party in 1969, Indira Gandhi took to the slogan Garibi Hatao and nationalised the fourteen largest commercial banks in 1969.
In dealing with the peasant revolts, D’Mello draws on Ranajit Guha’s research, which diagnosed the fusion of the landlords and moneylenders and the Indian Sarkar. (p.84) He documented over 77 revolts between 1783 and 1900. He can clearly not be called a Naxalite. The revolts were against exploitative class relations and colonial rule and in a way culminated in the anti-colonial uprising in 1857. However, the peasant revolts could not lead into a democratic revolution.Independence became the transition of one ruling dispensation or the other, while much of the economy remained untransformed, subservient to the international capitalist system.”Socialism” remained a rhetoric, as much as “secularism”. (Yet, many members of social movements are relieved that these terms were inserted into the preamble of the constitution in November 1976.) Jaya Prakash Narayan , who had consistently opposed the Emergency, had the the lack of judgement to ally with the RSS, who took full advantage of his endorsement.
The author looks at the “longer process” of reforms, which in his view would not have been possible without the various armed uprisings. He admits that the latter often led to severe repression, but feels that even during Emergency there were the Chipko Movement, the Dalit Panthers, the Women’s Movement, the short-lived Dalli-Rajhara spring, the Nav Nirman and J.P. Movements, Sarvodaya and Socialists, the anti-imperialist upsurges of 1942 and 1946, and the Telangana armed struggle. D’Mello sees 1968 rooted in all these earlier struggles, some of them violent, but many others not. Ultimately these struggles led to changes in Land Transfer regulation Act, Land for the Landless,including homesteads and changes in labour and tenancy laws. While the Naxalites brought the agrarian question to the fore,the CPI-M reaped the political benefit, without being able to achieve the democratisation of West Bengal society despite holding power for thirty four years. Trinamul Congress party sticks to leftist rhetoric, but is unable to even envisage transformation.
The third chapter deals with “Unequal Development and Evolution of the Ruling Block”. It is very well written in elaborate Marxist terminology, which however the less initiated may find a bit heavy and hard to follow. However, the author explains it in simple language as well: “Underdevelopment is a system which creates poverty as well as wealth, misery as well as luxury, islands of prosperity in a sea of deprivation”(p.101). It reminds me of what some of our mainstream economists, who had honesty and integrity, have driven home since many decades: The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It reminds me especially of Dr, C.T. Kurien, former Director of Madras Institute of Development Studies in Madras, from whom i have heard this analysis in the early seventies and who has developed it ever since. (He recently published a popularising version under the title “Wealth and Illfare”.)
D’Mello’s chapter on Unequal Development not only shows the empoverishment of the peasants and artisans, but also traces the “formal subsumption”of agricultural labour to capital by lack of bringing techniques which would have increased the labour productivity and some of the surplus could have been re-invested in agriculture. However, this did not happen.
The author puts this down to the colonised mindset of the Indian educated classes, which India’s development over the last six or seven decades was steered by, an Indian big business-state-multinational ruling block, which followed the design of Thomas Macaulay, to be “Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes”.
While there were hopeful attempts to step up the economy without curtailing worker’s rights like the Mahalanobis plan, which together with the Green Revolution helped to overcome the stagnation in per capita net material product, “qualitative stagnation“ remained, as 70 % of the workforce remained in agriculture and livestock even in 1971. Only 6.7 percent of the workforce at that time was employed in “non-household manufacturing”. The working class remained in a precarious situation, undernourished from infancy.
D’Mello makes visible the composition of the working class, which is overwhelmingly situated in the unorganised sector and also has to cope with a disproportionately high number of a “reserve army”of labour, which drags down the capacity of the working class to struggle for its rights. The reserve army is given as being 1.3 times the size of the active workforce for 1911-12, amounting to 678.9 million persons or 56.1 percent of the population (p.133). Keeping this in mind, one feels it was highly astonishing how the migrant workers during the pandemic in 2020 determinedly asserted their right to go home to their villages. It resembled a strike and expressed the refusal to be reduced to be bonded labourers in times of desaster. The reserve army refused to fill the gaps.
D’Mello comes out as a “libertarian socialist”at the end of this chapter. His emphasis is on class polarisation, exploitation and “ceaseless accumulation of wealth by the ruling classes, the State as a major instrument of class oppression and the resistance of the victims.” (p. 138) He emphatically expresses the need for human rights organisations.
He also refers to Rosa Luxemburg: The Accumulation of Capital. He refers to her definition of imperialism as “ the political expression of the accumulation of capital and the competitive struggle for what remains still open for the non-capitalist environment”(quoted on p.135) This is indeed something we see unfolding in front of our eyes id we look at the Adivasi areas in central India.
The Spring Thunder II chapter deals with the emergence of the CPI(ML) PW in April 1980 and the struggles in North Telangana and Dandakaranyaka and adjoining areas in Telangana, Chhattisgarh (MP) and parts of Maharashtra and Odisha. This chapter makes visible how the state repression made the formation of mass organisations very difficult, but how they were formrd even under adverse circumstances. It was a phase where Dalit and Adivasi youths attained education and launched into mass work. One of the significant factors is women’s participation in armed struggle as well as in mass work.
The mass struggle of the Viplaya Mahila Sangham in the 1990 ies against alcoholism was captured in an extensive documentary, which was widely watched in the Indian Women’s Movement, without full realisation that this showed the struggle of a front organisation of the CPI(ML) PW. Women also seized cultivable land and gained land titles. Patriarchy had to be identified and fought in the party as well. Anuradha Ghandy (1954-2008) was one of the well remembered women leaders of the party.
There was also the necessity to rethink the caste question, which is given consistent attention by the author. An appendix on caste summarises the caste question for readers who are not familiar with its intricacies.
The second part of this chapter deals with expansion of the movement in what is now Jharkhand, where CPI-ML (Party Unity) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) were invoved. This was was a situation where the caste loyalty of middle castes often came into conflict with class solidarity, as rich landholders among the middle castes found ways to play out the caste loyalty among the poorer sections. It became visible that the implementation of the Mandal commission report did not benefit Dalits, which is not surprising.
The other unsurprising event was the rising suppression due to rising counter-insurgency operations.
This situation also led to mistrust within the organisation and created internal insecurity as well.It became more difficult to implement the “mass line”(from the masses to the masses). Insurgence resulted in severe counter insurgence. It became very difficult to carry on without base areas. From 1977 to 2003 the survivors of Spring Thunder Phase I had come together as CPI(ML) PW and MCC. They had succeeded to build people’s support in backward areas, but unified resistance resulted in severe state terror. The party suffered painful losses and no significant changes could be brought about.
The chapter on India’s 1989 is in a way the opposite of 1968, India as History. If 1968 was the hope of revolution, 1989 signified the sell-out to the capitalist forces. It is subtitled as “Financial
Aristocracy and Government a` Bon Marche. The French subheading is borrowed from Marx and signifies that the government can be purchased by the Financial Aristocracy. 1989 signifies the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had been built on 13th August 1961, in order to arrest the flow of refugees, who were eager to abandon the “Socialist State”. The “fall” of the wall came on Nov.9th,1989, at a time, when India was coping with ’rath yatras’ and ’shila nyas’ agitations.
D’Mello sees this event as a victory of US capitalism, but that does too much honour to the US. People were simply bored with their relatively convenient life: cheap housing, free education, functioning healthcare, but no free press or self-expression, no permission to travel outside the Eastern Block, no democratic participation in planning and public life. Building “the Wall” itself had been a bankruptcy declaration of the GDR. Walking out peacefully, without being shot, was hardly thinkable. Obviously, this was not the democratic socialism which D’Mello and many others are hoping for. It was the lack of freedom and the arms race between East and West which finished the Eastern Block. People walked out en masse.
It is the need for arms and armies which makes democracy and social justice impossible. This itself is also a central problem for any armed struggle, as well as for the suppression of armed struggles by governments, army and police. Democracy in Eastern Europe was habitually stopped by Soviet tanks, the moment people asked for free speech or even trade union rights or broad political participation. There was no libertarian socialism available in the Eastern block, though many citizens aspired it. They were not attracted by American capitalism.
D’Mello is brilliant in exposing the Billionaire Raj in India and the horrendous income inequality, which was analysed by Thomas Pickety and Lucas Chancel in a paper titled “Indian Income Inequality 1922-2014:” (see D’Mello pp.176-178). The point that D’Mello is making comes across very clearly. He also draws on the research of Professor Arun Kumar of JNU Delhi, who has extensively analysed the black economy of India and has updated his findings over the years.
D’Mello lists several projects in West Bengal (like Nandigram in West Midnapore Dt., where the CPI-M government wanted to bring an SEZ by the Salim group of India and Singur of Hooghli Dt in West Bengal, where the CPI-M government acquired 997 acres and leased the land to Tata Motors. The MNC Vedanta Resources wanted to set up bauxite mining in Niyamgiri and Kalahandi and Rayagada District in Odisha. POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi in Jagatsinghpur prevented POSCO from building up captive iron ore mines for a steel plant.
D’Mello shows how the privatisation of land “served” the interest of the companies, and even the new Land Acquisition Act 2014 still had the concepts of “eminent domain” and “public interest” to dilute the efficacy of the new law. The resistance against these policies came from local peoples movements and civil society organisations who joined hands to make the new law less damaging.
D’Mello shows that this privatisation of land was largely about the resources beneath. It happened also under Manmohan Singh, not because he was bribed, but because he believed in the building of private capitalist infrastructure and was also holding the ministry of coal between 2004 and 2009. Thus, the private sector benefitted from the public sector, which sold lands cheaply.
Conceptually, the author connects this process with Rosa Luxemburg’s question whether capitalism can survive without colonies. She answers this question in the affirmative, as capitalism can fall back on the internal colonies (like Adivasis, Dalits, women and unorganised sector workers and poor peasants and generally impoverished and disempowered people. This implies the important question of how to build alliances among the internal colonies.
Having dealt with the rise of the financial aristocracy, the author launches into ”India’s Rotten Liberal-Political Democracy“. He castigates the hollowness of Indira Gandhi’s slogan Garibi Hatao, which served as a smoke screen , while people like the Telugu poet Cherabanda Raju (Chera) invited persecution by the state with his poems.
In the meantime, the situation has much deteriorated. Former editor or The Hindu, Siddhart Varatharajan,has exposed that the election expenditure in the 2014 elections, the BJP would have surpassed what Barack Obama spent on his 2012 election campaign.D’Meelo summarises:”At no other moment from the time of transfer of power in 1947 has capitalism in India been more incompatible wth democracy...if the latter is understood as governance in accordance with the will of the people, -espedially workers, poor peasants, the oppressed nationalities, women, Dalits and tribal communities.” (p.205)
The author not only refers to the struggles against dubious development projects, but also to the violation of civil and democratic rights and violations of the rights of the working class in sweatshops at low wages and long working hours, while a new Labour Code is promoted, which does away with numerous labour laws, which were gained in arduous struggles of the working class. Of course the working conditions in MNCs are even far worse than in the garment workers places in the outskirts of Delhi.
D’Mello refers to the Forest Rights Act of 2006 as an example of the violence of the oppressed having had a democratic outcome. He acknowledges that the act was brought about by a broad alliance of democratic movements , but maintains that it was “officially” acknowledged as arising out of the need to undercut the core constituency of the Maoists.(p.213 and reference note 21 of chapter 6).
D’Mello gives frequent attention to the caste question. He is very critical of the Mandal Commission Report, as he feels the assertion of middle castes has had adverse effects on the rights of Dalits. He is critical of the Socialist Party in this regard and points out that even more disadvantaged OBCs deteriorated, as the more prosperous ones took advantage. He feels that the SP has reduced visibility of class contradictions by its focus on caste.
Having driven home his point on caste, the author makes clear his position on communalism. He is very critical of the opening of the “two locks” (the Babri Masjid lock and the opening of the economy to the international capitalist market, in the time of Rajiv Gandhi), which the Congress party is nowadays trying to deny. (It was a strange co-incidence that the 6th December 1992 was not only overlapping with the death aniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, but also with the date of Hitler’s demolition of the synagogues in Germany in 1938.) In 1993, anti-Muslim pogroms occured in Mumbai. In 1989 the BJP came to power at the Center. In 2002, ,after 9/11 had happened in New York, another pogrom on Muslims happened in Gujarat in Feb. March. It also has to be remembered that the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 (after the assassination of Mrs.Gandhi by her Sikh body guards) have never been fully owned, leave alone compensated and brought to book in a court of law.
D’Mello frontally attacks Brahmanical Hindu Communalism, which aims at building a Hindu nation, but he upholds “that Gandhi really stood out in his frontal opposition to Brahmanical Hindu Communalism” (p.220). He admires Gandhi for his courage to risk and lay down his life for Hindu-Muslim unity(ibid). He admires Gandhi for his determination to build a secular state, despite of his use of the term Ram Rajya for a just society.
Gandhi’s Hindu-Muslim unity was anathema to the Hindu Rashtravadis, while Muslim communalism transformed into Pakistan nationalism, and Bengali nationalism brought about Bangla Desh in 1972, supported by Indira Gandhi.
D’Mello asks how liberal-political democracy could have become saturated with blood and violence.He goes into the severe repression of nationality movements in Kashmir and parts of the North East and the severe violations of Human Rights under the AFSPA. The JKLF as a thoroughly secular organisation could not stand its ground, because it wanted real independence from India as well as Pakistan. The standoff between Muslim fundamentalists and Indian army created an extremely difficult situation for the civil population.
Spring Thunder III, which deals with the Maoist response to the accelerated globalisation policies after 1989, shows how the situation has aggravated during that period. This was a time of capitalist “development”, which affected people gravely. e.g. the building of Polavaram dam over the Godavari river affected 150 000 people, over half of them Adivasis, but of course struggles were mostly for compensation, as the overall damage could not be undone. It was a phase of “grab for yourself what you can” gripping the Indian business elite like never before, and this carried over into the new century. The mining sector and infrastructural development provided huge profits.But the presence of Maoists in the mining areas presented a problem.
Full swing capitallism had started under Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekara Reddy (YSR) went a step further. Though the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was ammended in 1984, it kept the concept of “eminent domain”intact, which depicts the State as the trustee on behalf of the people of all natural resources. Though consent of the panchayat was required, the government never consulted the people regarding the natural resources. This led to considerable resistance in Kammam District. Similar resistance also arose in the context of big SEZ projects, especially since they required road and rail transport and multilane roads, preferably close to a metropolis.
This led to illegal land deals and bauxite mining deals also became a big money spinner. Bauxite mining was eyed in an area stretching from Rayagada, Kalahandi and Korapur in Orissa to Visaka-patnam in the North of Andhra Pradesh. The A.P. Development Corporation was willing to sell the land to “private developers”. The Maoists had identified “surplus lands” (i.e. above the land ceiling) and demanded their distribution to the landless. However, Y.S.R. worked on the liquidation of the Maoists, who had to seek refuge across the state border in Bastar, the forest area of Dandakaranyaka
as welll as parts of Maharashtra, M.P./Chhattisgarh and Odisha. This chapter discribes some of the constructive work of the mass organisationslike Dandakaranyaka Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangatan (DAKMS) and Dandakaranya Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh (DKAMS). The Adivasis stood their ground against the corporate landgrabbing with connivance of central and state governments. The living memory of the Bhumikar peasant uprising of 1910 also helped to strengthen people’s resolve.
However, Salva Judum was launched, a state backed, private vigilante force , to cut the villagers off from the Maoists. Salva Judum (purification hunt) targeted the Maoists as a vermin, which needed to be exterminated, or perhaps a virus which needed to be isolated. This led to massive displacement , schools were turned into police campps, but after eight months the Maoists had raised the Bhumikal militia , which enhanced resistance at the local level and helped people to resume agriculture and collection of forest produce.
However, a counter offensive was launched in Sept.2009 by the Union Home Ministry in all the seven affected states(Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal),the strongholsds of the Maoist Movement. This campaign was called Operation Greenhunt, with Dantewada as its center. The Maoists launched a “tactical counter-offensive campaign, in retaliation for barbaric acts of repression, rape and murder by the state forces.. It is a very strange phenomenon that we come to know of the constructive work aspect of the Maoist mass movements onlly through the anthropological research , while the military campaigns of the government are made acceptable as “counter-insurgency”.
Even a mild-mannered P.M. like Dr. Manmohan Singh pursued an ambitious growth rate of 10-11 Percent per annum and believed in exploiting the mineral rich areas like Bastar , which the guerilla forces were trying to prevent.There were voices advising to employ the army on the frontlines in Bastar.However, there is a perception that people’s resistance against evictin is not going to cease, because it is vital for their very survival.
Yet, the government is determined to go ahead with the exploitation of mineral resources and is using drones and more and more military personel. Nevertheless, Tata Steel had to give up the plans for a five million tonnes of steel per annum steel plant in Lohadiguda in Bastar in the face of people’s resistance. It is all the more remarkable that constructive work in agriculture, health sector and education was carried out by village committees and mass organisations, all of it with substantial women’s participation. It is utterly distressing that the state violence on people’s organisations went on relentlessly.
This took on extreme forms when it came to destroying Maoist leadership. It is shocking to read the report on the torture and brutal murder of Kishenji, a spokesperson of the CPI (Maoist) on 25th November 2011, which was officially declared as an “encounter” death. However, the number and extreme character of injuries as well as the undisturbed environment of the place where the body was found, makes it impossible to perceive his death as result of an “encounter”. Activists of CDRO(Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations) saw the body before commencement of post mortem and concluded that it was unimaginable that such injuries could be acquired in an encounter (details p.248 ) .It is striking that it was the Telugu poet Varavara Rao, who brought the severely mutilated body of Kishenji to his native village. This may explain why the poet, despite advanced age,could not get bail during his present arrest in the context of the concocted Bhima Karegaon case and got Corona Virus in jail.
D’Mello insists that the Maoists took care of their prisoners and treated them fairly.He also refers to anthropological studies of Alpa Shah, who has documented respect and dignity as key values in the interaction between the Maoists and the local population. Sense of equality and even sense of humour in mutual interactions have been emphasised. Friendship prevailed over leadership.
This relationship is conducive to the building of mass organisations. However, there are many drawbacks. Posing a challenge to the most powerful capitalist state among the underdeveloped countries of the world, has led to increasing militarisation of the movement. This leads to a focus on armed confrontation. This in turn comes in the way of the close relationship with the people. There is also the problem of the absense of “base areas”, so that the full potential of the close relationship with the people cannot be realised. Moreover, the movement does not have a base in the plains and cities.
The movement has not addressed the urban poor and the mass of workers in the unorganised sector. Having focussed on tribal areas, it has not been compelled to deal with caste and class issues in a differentiated way, and it has not addressed the rising communalism and religious nationalism. The mass of rural poor outside adivasi areas and urban poor in the towns and cities have not been reached. Religion, ethnicity and nationality have not been addressed, while these are the factors played out by political parties and ruling classes to divide the masses. Police and army can be used against the people as long as there is no indication that the people’s struggle is going to win. In a way, this conclusion of the chapter reads like a “to do” list. But of course this would require very thorough re-thinking and re-organisation.
The author devotes another chapter to the Secular State , which he considers to be “Rotten at the Heart”. He makes clear that Article 25 of the Constitution, the right to profess, practice and popagate one’s religion, has very little in common with the kind of “positive secularism” which is supposedly rooted in the ancient Vedic culture according to the views of the present ruling party. D’Mello rejects this view and holds on to to the Post-Enlightenment version of secularism. (p.258)
He compares the attack on five churches in Delhi during President’s Rule Nov. 2014 to Jan.2025 with the destruction of Buddhist monasteries, in connivance with the State in the Sunga and Gupta periods (second century B.C. to seventh century A.D.) in early India. He also compares the claim to tolerance with the reality of the murder of rationalist Govind Pansare, a CPI leader, and Narendra Dabolkar, a rationalist activist, as well as MM Kalburgi, a scholar in Karnataka folklore. Nowadays we have to add Gauri Lankesh, Editor of Lankesh Patrikai, in Bangalore, murdered on fifth September 2017. Investigations have shown that all these cases are clearly connected, but justice has not been done.
The author refers to the anti-conversion laws in states like Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattishgarh and Himachal Pradesh. He reminds us of the mass conversion of Dalits to Islam in Minakshipuram in Thirunelveli District in Tamil Nadu, where the Dravidian reform movement led by Narayanaswamy Naickar (called Periyar) had a powerful secularising impact in the early twentieth century. D’Mello rejects the attempt to dismantle Hindutva by invoking “good Hinduism” because he feels that the political “use” of religion mustt be avoided. He gives an overview of mishandled court cases like the Malegaon bomb blast case of 2008, which was falsely put on Muslims. He deals with three kinds of terrorism: first, the terrorism of the State, second the terror of Muslims crushed by state terrorism and the forces of Hindutva nationalism and third, uncontrolled Hindutva terrorism, treated with leniency by the State.
D’Mello traces the murderous tendencies in the Indian political culture by presenting the Delhi riots of 1984 (against the Sikhs, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi). He records the anti-Muslim riots in Bombay 1993 by the Shiv Sena, under a Congress state government and the pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, February 27 up to May by RSS and its Sangh Parivar organisations, when BJP government was in power.
In the Bombay riots, loot, murder and arson went on unabated and “for ten days, the chief minister, defence minister, police, paramilitary and Army watched on.” (quote from a PUDR report, D’Mello p.268). This “New Normal” also prevailed in Gujarat end February to May 2002. While Narendra Modi was ostracised by international critique, his election as P.M. changed this situation drastically.
Bernard d’Mello goes beyond the Gandhian concept of “equal respect for all religions and demands that the practical egalitarian standard in each religion must be evaluated regarding issues of caste, class and patriarchy. Struggle for reform in various religious contexts must be encouraged.
The ninth chapter raises the question of what to do in a semi-fascist State with sub-imperialist tendencies. Significantly, the author deals with this question under the caption “Little Man What Now” after a play by German author Hans Fallaada, written at the outset of fascism just before Hitler came to power in 1933. Stormtroopers were used “to keep everybody in line”. The German term “Gleichschaltung” which the author adopts here, literally means “switching into conformity”.
This was applied to the bureaucracy, parliament, the judiciary, the military, local and provincial governments, the media, culture and educational institutions. Such compulsory conformity makes dissent nearly impossible.
The author exposes the deepening caste/class contradictions, extreme differences in income, which paralyse the economy, as the working class is lacking the capacity to consume, being largely without buying power. In such a situation militarism and nascent sub-imperialism tend to come to the fore.
This sub-imperialism is tied up with the interests of the US, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This analysis reminds of the analysis of Naomi Klein on “No Logo” and “The Shock Doctrine”, which D’Mello has not included in his analysis. He points out that the US strategic alliance with Japan, Australia and India is aimed at containing India’s influence. India is on the way of becoming the chief policeman of the Indian Ocean.. There is a high level of sharing information and technology with the US.This is a sea change compared to the situation in 1971 during the Bangla Desh war, when cruisers, destroyers and submarines of the Soviet Navy trailed the Task Force of the Seventh Fleet in the Indian Ocean to ward off US threat. A memorandum of Agreement for Exchange of Information was signed in August 2016, which led to much closer cooperation of militaries between US and India. D’Mello adds that this may mean including forward deployment of military material and personnel from Indian ports.
This chapter also goes into the history of Hindutva ideology, starting from V.D. Savarkar’s : Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, written in 1923. The identities of Bharat Varsha as Pitrubhumi (FatherLand) and as punyabhumi (Holy Land) automatically exclude Indian Muslims or Christians to be Indian nationalists, unless, of course, the secularism guaranteed in the constitution is truly lived.It also priviliges Sanskrit based languages and Sanskrit based Dharmashastras. D.Mello draws on Romilla Thapars concept of “syndicated Hinduism”, which she distinguishes from popular folk Hinduism, Bhakti devotion and the culture of Dalits, Adivasis and other groups at the lower end of the ladder. D’Mello points out that syndicated Hinduism was also to be found in the Congress party, when Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi had the locks of the Babri Masjid removed in Feb. 1986 to allow Hindu worship. This is of course off late denied in the Congress Party.
The destruction of Babri Masjid on Dec.6, 1992 was rationalised as avenging the destruction of the Somnath Temple in 1025 A.D., nearly thousand years ago.
The violence in Bombay 1993 and Gujarat 2oo2 was tolerated by the “Mitlaeufer ‘ population (opportunists, literally “walking along” population), which condoned the violence or did not object, lacking the courage to resist. There was also a certain contempt for minorities.
The research institutions like ICSSR and ICHR are now run according to the ruling ideology. The Supreme Court has learned to lean in the right direction, the media are “adjusting” to the situation. People are exhorted to follow the leader. The author warns that border conflict with China and Pakistan can develop. This has now happened during Covid 19 pandemic. Besides, the new Labour Code which the government proposes takes away a large number of labour laws for which the working class has struggled untiringly. This point D’Mello has not mentioned).
The Environmental Impact Assessment has been disastrously tampered with. It has become more detrimental than could be anticipated. Nevertheless, D’Mello takes a deep breath for a grand finale, the chapter titled “History, Memory, and Dreams: Re-imagining’ New Democracy’”.
In this chapter the author comes back to the question how the Naxalite Movement has survived for over fifty years and makes a brave attempt to imagine “New Democracy”. The chapter starts with a famous quote from “A Dream of John Ball” written by British Socialist William Morris, which raises the question of struggles achieving unintended ends and new generations having to continue fighting for the intended ends of a just society. He emphasises the need to listen to “ordinary people”, who are able to launch and sustain revolutionary struggles.. “It is in these struggles that ordinary people would remake society and in the process , themselves.”(p.300) The author explores the perspective of the “small voices” by referring to the Gudem Rampa uprisings over a long period from 1839 to 1924 and several other fituris, which went against the British colonisers and allied with Adivasi uprisings for land and forest rights , while the INC threw its weight behind the colonial forces.
D’Mello refers to the Russian and Chinese revolutions, which were also inspired by the French Revolution, which is accepted as a source of Human Rights, though the revolution itself was very bloody. The Chinese Revolution was achieved by an alliance of the working class, the peasantry, the urban middle class and the national bourgeoisie, led by the Chinese Communist Party under Chairman Mao. He assured that the revolution would not suppress individuality, as transformation of personality was essential for the success of the revolution.He envisaged that mass participation would reduce the necessity of violence.
One cannnot help feeling that the author has a somewhat romanticising view of the Chinese revolution, which was common during the sixties of the last century. He has not been consulting more critical views, which came up later, especially regarding the cultural revolution.
D’Mello is convinced that “New Democracy” cannot be achieved without understanding “the present as history”.The main adversaries are identified as Indian big business and US imperialism.
Internal enemies are bureaucratic mentality,hierarchical structures, secrecy, passive obedience and careerism.
D’Mello critiques the conceptualisation of the present mode of production as “semifeudal and semi-colonial”, because Indian big business is clearly capialist. The colonial state in India was over-developed and the important features of the State were maintained after independence, which was the reason “why this state, with all its modern, largely public-sector transportation and communication infrastructure and its massive armed forces , police and paramilitary, has been able to put down or severely impede all peoples revolts.”(p.306) In todays situation, “the peasant question is determined by the commodification of land and natural resources, the proletarianisation of labour and markets for money and finance. As Paul Poliyani has pointed out in his pathbreaking work The Great Transformattion, the sources of wealth get undermined, as human labour and nature are thoroughly exploited. The workers are degraded as toilers and de-cultured and nature gets commodified and thoroughly degraded. In this situation, the countermovement realises that it has to change the structures, not only remove the politicians.
The central question, according to D’Mello, is to deal with the “peasant question”. The peasant, according to Nirmal Chandra, is possessing “two souls”, - one of the proprietor and the other of the worker. The other contradiction lies in the need to reconcile personal ownership with sharing of tools and labour contribution in a cooperative way. There is a need for land reform and a combination of cooperative work and personal ownership (EPW 37, 20 p.1927), which cannot easily be balanced. Adivasis and Dalits are in a precarious situation because of exploitation of mineral resources and because of ecological destruction due to “development process”. Building Socialism from Below is of great importance, as capitalism has been thriving worldwide.
The author aims at imparting a socialist humanist culture in a multi-party political system. Governments and religions must be excluded from control of education, which must be in the hands of the people. This is a rather contestable aim from a practical point of view. Secularism is an important aim, but how to achieve it under Hindutva is a big question. Taking on religious nationalism and semi-fascism is an immense task. The author also hopes for a rapprochement between China and Russia. He makes it clear that “twenty first century United Front must include all sections of the Left and must be one where non-party but generally left-wing persons feel at home”. (p.317)He also reminds of Samir Amin’s proposal to form a Fifth International. He points out that secularism need not be anti-religion, as the major aim is of building comradeship. He suggests that the humanist base of any religion can be explored and strengthened for secularism and comradeship across religious differences to be enhanced.
The author admits that the prospects for democracy are at present dim. Yet, he hopes “to witness the times when those hundreds of millions of Indians relegated to irrelevance, heeding the ‘small voices’ of history and ‘the present as history’ decide to enter history on their own terms. Society, after all, is a human creation, subject to human influence, and so, a society of equality, cooperation, community and solidarity is still possible.”(p.320)
(Gabriele Dietrich is an independent scholar and a feminist activist who has long been associated with the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) in India)