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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 50, November 28, 2009

Lalgarh and Jungle Mahal: Where are we Heading?

A Few Questions to Congress Party, Maoists and Marxists on their Worldviews

Saturday 28 November 2009, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

The events in Lalgarh and Jungle Mahal portend a grim disaster. Even if it is temporarily suppressed by large concentration of security forces, the resentment will be smouldering. More powerful and more widespread protest movements will emerge later. Unless handled with deep understanding of the genesis of the unrest and profound concern for the people, it can lead to a countrywide adivasi revolt in the first phase, which can develop into peasant-lower middle class-student revolt—in a word, a full-fledged civil war. The Neroes in the State and in the federal government are fiddling while this adivasi region is burning.

The West Bengal Government’s Chief Secretary has said “order will soon be restored”. He seems to think that people have been unruly without any legitimate cause, that the Maoists have incited them and therefore the protests will disappear like a bubble under the weight of the combined armed forces.

The State’s Chief Minister, too, has said: “The criminals shall not be freed.” Who are the real criminals, Mr Chief Minister? Those who have condemned the adivasis to aeons-long exploitation, deprived them of the bases of their sustenance and now threaten to destroy their habitat by mining ores and setting up mammoth plants which will bring them no benefits but pollute their air and water, make their soil toxic—are they not the real culprits? Is it not the State which, by fostering the elitist culture of wood panelling and luxury wooden furniture, has been encouraging timber depredation, destroying their biodiversity, drying up their drinking water sources, robbing them of their food, exposing them to newer and newer diseases and at the same time withdrawing more and more from spending on social sectors, is the real criminal? Is not the ruling party in the State, which lets it party cadres fudge the BPL (below the poverty level) cards and divert the food meant for the poor, which lets it zonal leaders to build mansions by pocketing the moneys meant for local development projects, the real criminal? Without self-questioning, the State’s rulers have been making statements like the Rumanian dictator, Ceausescu, before his fall.

Those who claim to be Communists ought to know that no power has ever been able to resist the people’s protests against existential threats. The failure of the alleged Communists to distinguish between the oppressed adivasis and the Maoists is also deplorable. The true followers of Marx’s humanism, breathing the spirit of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, were in the best position of winning over the misguided Maoists if only they themselves could locate the sources of the alleged Maoists’ ideological misconcepts. Unfortunately, they did not do the thinking for themselves. The Marxists and the Maoists have uncritically adopted certain aspects of Marx and Mao, while leaving other aspects out of consideration.


Let us take the Maoists first because they are becoming instrumental in exploiting the people’s spontaneous protest movements, warping these, and isolating the protesters from the rest of the Indian populace and getting them crushed. By indulging in ultra-Leftism, they are dissipating the people’s energies and causing heavy losses of lives. This is not Maoism: this is Lin Biao-ism in its worst form.

During the Kuomintang regime and also afterwards, Mao sought to build the broadest possible democratic front. Cadres, inspired by his teachings, patiently organised the people “by democratic methods, by methods of discussion, criticism, persuasion and education, not by methods of coercion”. India’s so-called Maoists have only picked up his one dictum “power flows from the barrel of the gun”, divorcing it from his other teachings to “be with the people, to learn from the people” and to “share people’s lives”. Our “Maoists” only excite the people to revolt and use the people as the shield for self-protection. They do this while consoling themselves that they are fighting for a classless society. They forget that this kind of gun culture means continuous division within one’s own forces leading to self-destruction.

Mao, it must be noted, had also some major strands of thought which, on one plane, met Gandhi’s thinking. Gandhi thought that if the Indian economy and Indian polity have to be restructured, it would be necessary to refashion the village communities as the ideal type and re-adapt these to the modern conditions of co-operation. Mao, too, encouraged mutual aid associations after having abolished landlordism, as the first step to cooperative agriculture. Gandhi was opposed to centralisation of the economy and of state power. Mao, too, expressed strong difference with the Soviet Union’s centralised planning. Gandhi wanted self-reliant and as far as possible self-sufficient village republics. Mao, too, wanted self-supporting village communes. Before seizing power in China, he had sought to build up Yenan as a self-sufficient province. Our Maoists possibly think that constructive work needs be taken up only after they capture state power.

This is not to say that Mao did no wrong. Even though he correctly diagnosed that the state power holders tend to become, like large property holders, an exploiting class, he sought to guard against it by launching a “cultural revolution” without creating the ground through a countrywide and sustained educational campaign for instilling socialist consciousness. This defeated the cause and paved the ground for the Deng Xiaoping-led counter-culture.

Prakash Karat, the General Secretary of the CPI-M, has said that the Maoists’ worldview is “warped, distorted and outmoded”. No doubt this criticism is correct. But has the CPI-M analysed its own worldview?

Karat’s party calls itself Marxist. Marx was no doubt an intellectual genius. However much his pro-capitalist critics might try to denigrate him, his conclusion—that the super-profit-driven capitalism will create a crisis of under-consumption of the masses and hence relative overproduction in the system and that this will lead to its fall under the people’s determined actions—is now finding near-universal acceptance, even though implicitly. But Marx was a product of European culture. “Smashing, crushing” came to him naturally as a cure for an evil system. Oliver Goldsmith was perhaps a rare English author who gave the concept of “stooping to conquer”. The soft approach as a cure hardly ever came to Marx. But it was in abundant measure in Mao and in the fullest measure in Gandhi, both products of Asiatic culture.


Let us now turn to other aspects of Marx. In his thinking, feudalism would have to take the form of capitalism for the development of productive forces; the industrial economy is invariably superior to the agrarian economy; European type of large-scale industrialism is an essential stage for transition to socialism. How correct are these concepts of inevitabilities? Is dictatorship of the proletariat a necessary stage for building socialism? Once dictatorship is set up, supposedly for the exercise of power in the interest of the larger majority of the people, how would you do away with the ingrained authoritarian culture without another revolution? How valid is the concept of exclusive state ownership of the lands and large industries for socialist transformation? Should the vesting of ownership in the state mean vesting it in the apex organ of the state? Is there any scope for co-operative ownership of lands and factories under socialism? What is the quintessence of socialism?

Marx himself had recognised that under near-perfect conditions of bourgeois democracy, as existed in Britain in the nineteenth century, the transition to socialism might be possible without recourse to a blood-spilling revolution. Under the present condition of India, where formal democracy exists but the spirit of democracy has been hijacked by moneybags, goons and unscrupulous politicians, what should be the direction of people’s movements to usher in a vibrant democracy where the grassroot people’s democratic rights are honoured? Should we, or should we not, seek to build village communities as village republics, largely on the Gandhian model? What should be the people’s orientation to urban growths?

Marx had recognised the crucial role that the genre of technology plays. Did he not say that handmills give rise to small-time proprietors while the steam-mill gives rise to capitalist entrepreneurs? What is the import of this statement? Today, it is recognised that there are two kinds of technologies—one is oriented to “conquering nature” and people-unfriendly; the other is nature-harmonic, eco-friendly, conducive to decentralisation, and people-friendly. Science paradigms, too, are of two kinds—one is reductionist; the other is holism-oriented. The latter kind of science paradigm and the latter genre of technology are potent enough to nurture to near-maturity such new productive forces within the womb of the exploitative society as would undermine its basis. What place should the political parties seeking egalitarian transformation, assign to these different kinds of science paradigms and these two different kinds of technologies? Have the Marxists, who talk of social transformation, given any space to these issues in their political programmes? Have such issues to be outside their worldview? In the context of global climate change which is threatening the very survival of life in this planet, which kinds of industries should be disallowed and which kinds allowed? And on which scale should the permitted industries be?

Marx had recognised the unique characteristics of ancient India’s village communities, which did not conform to the categories of primitive communism and which definitely retained their vitality, all least till Marx’s time. He said:

These small and extremely ancient Indian communities, some of which have continued down to this day, are based on possession in common of the land, on the blending of agriculture and handicrafts, and on an unalterable division of labour, which serves, whenever a new community is started as a plan and scheme ready cut and dried. Occupying areas from 100 up to several thousand acres, each community forms a compact whole producing all it requires. The chief part of the products is destined for direct use by the community itself, and does not take the form of a commodity. Hence, production here is independent of that division of labour brought about (later), in Indian society as a whole, by means of the exchange of commodities. It is the surplus alone that becomes a commodity.

……..Spinning and weaving are carried on in each family as subsidiary industries.

Since socialism is defined as planned production for use, were these not socialistic in essence? Can the remains of the traditional Indian village communities be taken as the basis and with the aid of the latest findings of life sciences and emergent nature-harmonic technologies, equitable communities radiating health and happiness be created? What kind of political restructuring/systemic change will be needed therefore?

If the CPM does not come out with answers to the above questions, the conclusion will be irresistible that it has not done its own thinking. While it accuses the Maoists of borrowing from China’s ultra-Leftist sectarian policy that prevailed during its “cultural revolution”, it itself has been borrowing from Deng Xiaoping’s policy of building capitalism under the garb of socialism.

Karat has said:

The Maoists could establish foothold in the tribal areas due to problems of displacement and loss of livelihood due to government policy.

Is it the policy of the federal government alone? Is it not the policy of the CPM-led West Bengal Government, too? How has the latter government distanced itself from the former’s policy? Does the CPM rule out mining or setting up mammoth industrial plants in tribal-inhabited forest areas? When humanity needs most the forests to absorb carbon dioxide (the largest in volume among the greenhouse gases), which side of the scale is more important for living creatures—forests or the mineral ores and their industrial products? There is no clear answer from the Marxists.


The same kind of opacity, indecision, and hypocrisy permeate the Congress-led Union Government’s thinking. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on November 4 last: “Systematic exploitation and social economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated.” “It cannot be said that we dealt sensitively with issues (affecting tribal lives) in the past. More could be done and more should be done.”

It is not a question of “more should be done”. It requires a complete upturning of the “development” paradigm. Our governments at the federal level have been aping the Western model, following a policy of aggregate national income (GNP) in total disregard of the GDBR (Gross Destruction of Basic Resource). These basic resources are the ecological resources, of which the forests are the foremost. Dr Manmohan Singh’s predecessor governments, too, had built big dams and mammoth industrial plants, the “modern temples of India”, by axing forests which are really the “most venerable temples” needed for the life and livelihood of all men and animals. Of course, the dams and industrial plants affected the tribals most.

Today also, whenever geologists find any ores in the forests, the government will rush to do the mining. Without learning lessons from the havocs that the big dams have been wreaking (by containing small floods but promoting bigger floods), it has not yet decided to drop plans for across-the-river dams and to build instead large numbers of check dams. The new big dams will continue to open up access to, and clear away, the forests. By building mega-thermal power plants, it will cause the forests to wither. Small-scale cogeneration power plants are not yet its priority. Solar programmes have not yet got the priority they deserve.

The kind of paradigm change that can do justice to the tribals and the common people demands a whole lot of changes in the concepts of architecture, transportation, energy generation and use, industrial planning etc. Utmost decentralisation of industrial plants, manufacture of better agricultural implements for higher productivity, and interweaving of industry with agriculture, sylviculture will be needed. Ecological resources, including the renewable energy forms, will have to be the main basis for the design of life, mineral resources playing a subordinate role to ecological concerns. A basic change in the concept of lifestyle and a ceiling as well as a floor for energy use in individual lives is the primary requirement for an egalitarian approach. In this age of climate change, learning from the tribals’ conservation ethics is the key to mankind’s survival.


After the above article was written, I got a copy of the Tehelka report on the press release issued by a 15-member fact finding team comprising members from the PUCL (Chhattisgarh), PUDR (Delhi), Vanavasi Chetana Ashram (Dantewada), Human Rights Legal Network (Chhattisgarh), Action Aid (Orissa), Manna Adhikar (Malkangiri), and Zila Adivasi Ekta Sangha (Malkangiri).

The documented stories about the atrocities by security forces are blood curdling. They have given names of the victims and the details of atrocities which can easily be verified. If these facts are correct, this country will find it difficult to hide its shame. It is strange that even though censorship has not been imposed, these horrendous atrocities have been blocked out by both the print and the electronic media. Our parliamentarians need to raise a demand for a statement from the Union Home Minister on the correctness or otherwise of the report. The Editors’ Guild needs to send a separate fact-finding team and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha need to send a Joint All-Party Parliamentary Fact-finding Mission.

If these reports are correct, India has lost the right to be called a democratic country. It is strange that in a country whose President is a lady, whose ruling party’s chairperson is a lady, whose Lok Sabha Speaker is a lady, such atrocities are happening stealthily. The perpetrators of such atrocities are the real breeders of terrorists.

Although by raising questions in my above article I have sought to appeal to our political parties to critically examine their own world-views and perspectives, I realise that they will take time to do a thorough examination. Meanwhile, the situation in the Jungle Mahal cannot be allowed to deteriorate further. For a turn-around, the government must withdraw all special armed forces, release all political prisoners of the affected area, order immediate ceasefire and begin the talks unconditionally because it is the rulers at different levels who have been the original sinners and the adivasis are the people sinned against. Justice demands that the original sinners retrace their steps first.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environ-mentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendranathg@gmail.com

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