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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 48, November 14, 2009

Why Panic about the Prefix ‘Maoist’?

Tuesday 17 November 2009, by Sankar Ray


Posters on the walls of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University of the Progressive Students’ Democratic Front, a pro-Naxalite outfit, have one common theme—indignation against giving a prefix—Maoist —to every expression of protest. The CPI-ML (Liberation), which still has pockets of influence in south Bihar, Jharkhand and Karbi Anglong, tries to prove that Maoism and Mao Zedong Thought are mutually exclusive. Some political analysts find a common tactical agenda in both—protection from the threat of arrests and long detention under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2008. The more parties the like CPI-ML (Liberation) or student organisations such as the PDSF lose their mass base, the more they waste time in illogical arguments that the CPI (Maoist) is neither neither Maoist nor Marxist.

This writer has abiding faith in Marxism, but is disillusioned with all forms of official Marxism including Mao Zedong Thought and Stalinism (although not sure whether Stalinism is a separate ideological category or a systematically heterogeneous assortment of quotes from Marx and Lenin). But I strongly believe that one has every right to support any ideology from Stalinism to Mao Zedong Thought, neo-liberal capitalism to the Sangh Parivar-brand of Hindutva. To support the CPI (Maoist) does not mean involvement or moral support to the violent activities of Maoists who “believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian state”, as Arundhati Roy bluntly but truly stated. And indeed, the violent legacy the Maoists pushed forward annoyed their staunchest supporters until the other day.

But why does the Maoist influence spread, despite retreat or at least temporary defeat in Andhra Pradesh, once the citadel of the Maoists, built under the leadership of the quasi-legendary Kondapalli Sitaramaiah? Ajay, one of the present spokesmen of the party, in an article in its central organ, People’s March, shot back at some intellectuals who characterise Maoists as terrorists for ignoring “violence in their own lives”. India, argues Ajay, “is probably one of the most violent societies in the world, with violence on a scale not probably seen even in any backward country”. Admitting that it can’t be compared to social violence or butcheries in Iraq, Afghanistan and Latin America by the US, he asserts:

Not just excruciating poverty, but the varied forms of humiliation, oppression and intolerable discrimination, is something that our intellectuals should feel even if they do not experience it.

The Maoists side with those subalterns to whom social status and filial economic self-reliance remain a light year away even after six decades of independence and even in West Bengal under the CPI-M rule for three decades. Reacting to the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Chidambaram, who made a policy statement that there be restoration of law and order first, development later, a top-ranking legal practitioner, Partha Sengupta, at a public meeting of intellectuals and civil rights activists in presence of Shyamal Kumar Sen, the former Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court, and erstwhile Chairman, West Bengal Human Rights Commission, questioned the Union Government as to why there was no perceptible economic development during the decades of peaceful situation. Sengupta branded the UAP (A) Act as a copy of the Patriot Act during the George W. Bush era in the USA.


When the joint operations by the Central paramilitary forces along with the West Bengal and Kolkata Police as well as Rapid Action Force—codenamed Operation Green Hunt—was extended to Lalgarh and around, Dr Sharit K. Bhowmik, Professor of Labour Studies and Dean, School of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, apprehended that it would give a shot in the arm to the Maoists. In a communication to this writer, Prof Bhowmick elaborated his point convincingly:

The police action in Lalgarh against Maoists is directed mainly against the ordinary citizens of the village. There are two major issues that arise from these actions against the villagers. First, does not the CPI-M Government know that use of brute cannot tame people? Instead they become more hostile. Secondly, the current police action is literally playing into the hands of the Maoists. This is a common tactic of any terrorist or violent organisation. At first they attack the state and its institutions. This means that the police or government offices are the targets of violence. The state, in its characteristic hard headed reaction, uses the police and paramilitary organisations to quell the revolt. This means that lots of innocent people who have no links with Maoists are brutalised by these organisations. They are dragged out of their houses and beaten or they are made to face humiliation in different ways in public. The police and paramilitary forces may fool themselves that they are taming the rebels. In actual fact these people who have faced police brutality become hostile to the state and turn to the terrorists for support. This is exactly the design of these underground organisations, including the Maoists. In other words, police brutality will be driving the innocent peasants into the arms of the Maoists for protection. Hence brutal police action actually helps underground groups to gain support from among the people. He was prophetically right as even after four months no leader of the CPI (Maoist) could be arrested.

Ajay Dutta, veteran civil rights activist associated with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, is of the opinion that the UAP (A) Act, being totally against the preamble and spirit of Constitution of India should be withdrawn and joint operations be stopped; but at the same time killings by Maoists or any outfit be stopped to initiate a people-oriented development programme. Before his arrest, CPI (Maoist) Polit-Bureau member Kobad Ghandy told in a radio interview:

Wherever we work, we tell the tribal people to boil drinking water. It has reduced diseases and death by 50 per cent,

There must be a will to disseminate welfare programmes in an egalitarian way.

Mischievous ways of gagging peaceful dissent are on, thanks to the equivocal role of a section of intellectuals who took part in the historic march in Kolkata in November 2008 against atrocities in Nandigram. Consider the words in a poster at same parts of Kolkata and around: Maovadi dakatder kabar din—CPI (Maovadi) [Consign dacoit Maoists to the grave—CPI (Maoist)]. Needless to say, it’s a fake poster, put up either by the CPI-M or the police.

During the by-elections on November 7 (coinciding with the 92nd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution), Prof Sunanda Sanyal was assaulted in front of a polling booth at Kolkata’s Salt Lake by CPI-M hired goons with police cops playing the role of onlookers. Democrats who fight for freedom of expression are yet to expose such things. One never knows whether plans are being hatched to kill some intellectuals with two motives at least—intimidating the civil society and vigorously slandering the Maoists. Democrats who fight for freedom of expression dauntlessly are yet to expose such moves. Expansion of the Maoist influence and the milieu of ‘sanguinary convulsion’ can be turned into advantage if the major parties in the parlia-mentary area demand a dialogue between the Maoists and the governments—State and Central—without any precondition, as hinted by Chidambaram (though he has also asked the Maoists to declare that they were abjuring isolence) to pave the way for a non-violent polemical exchange of ideology and practice. Who knows this may reverse the history after the collapse of the Soviet Union and revitalise the inspiring legacy of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917?

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