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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 26 New Delhi June 15, 2019

Agrarian Unrest, Insurrection and CPI (Maoist) Party Programme in India: A Critique

Monday 17 June 2019

by Nayakara Veeresha

Introduction and Context

India witnessed massive farmers’ protests and rallies all over the country since the last two years. On November 29-30, 2018 tens of thousands of farmers had gathered in the Capital city of Delhi and demanded from the government a special session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian issues. This is a timely and just demand in the wake of an unprecedented and acute farming crisis. It reflects not only the failure of the government, but also raises important questions about the government’s commitment to the farmers’ well-being.

The agrarian crisis has deepened since the post-economic reform period following the neo-liberal model of development. Since then the focus has shifted from agriculture to the services and manufacturing sectors. The effective implementation of a plethora of schemes/policies of the current and previous governments is not reflected on the ground. The various policies of agriculture have focused upon issues of crop insurance, minimum support price, low income and farm loans. However, they failed to address the structural issues, namely, poor land governance, especially land records, commercialisation of agriculture, problems of irrigation, inadequacies of the credit system including farm loans, dismantling the role of the middlemen in the APMCs.

The recent incidents of farmers’ protests, which sometimes turned into violent manifestations, signify the acute agrarian crisis that has seen unique farmers’ suicides in the countryside. This reflects the continued neglect of agriculture by the successive governments of all the mainstream political parties in the post-independence period, specifically in the post-economic reform period since 1991.

Research Questions and Methodology


Set in the above context of historical and contemporary neglect of agriculture by the mainstream political parties, an attempt has been made to understand and explore the agrarian programme of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), from now on the CPI (Maoist) party. The main objective is to appraise the political rhetoric of the CPI (Maoist), that is, armed agrarian revolution. The rationale for choosing the CPI (Maoist) for the purpose of analysis is that it is the only party in India which claims to bring revolution in the country on the basis of agrarian insurrection. In the light of contemporary processes in agriculture, in particular the alarming rise in the number of farmer suicides, a serious question to be asked is: why the CPI (Maoist) is unable to contain the agrarian distress and farmer suicides in the country? How to understand the CPI (Maoist) party’s agrarian programme and the agenda of ‘New Democratic Revolution’ through people’s protracted war? What is the role of peasants in the agrarian programme? The analysis has been carried out by using a process tracing the methodology supplemented by the techniques of content and discourse analysis.

Theoretical Propositions


The path of revolution, as stated in the party’s programme of the CPI (Maoist), make specific remarks with respect to the agrarian situation in the country. It is as follows:

The Indian state and society is semi-colonial and semi-feudal under the neo-colonial type of indirect rule, exploitation and control. The Indian Revolution, under the leadership of the proletariat will establish new democracy through the path of armed struggle by overthrowing imperialism and their running dogs—the big landlords and the comprador bureaucrat bourgeois classes. The axis of this revolution will be armed agrarian revolution.” [CPI (Maoist), 2004]

One of the task of people’s democratic state will be... confiscate all land belonging to the landlords and religious institution and distribute among the landless, poor peasants and agricultural laborers on the slogan of ‘land to the tillers’...taking agriculture as the foundation, it will advance towards building strong industrial economy...(Ibid.)

It also promises to “ensure all facilities for agricultural development, guarantee a remunerative price for agricultural produce and wherever possible encourage the development of agricultural cooperative”(Ibid.)

How does the Maoist party characterise the ‘semi-feudal’ nature of the agrarian economy and to what extent does it accurately represent the current agrarian situation in the country? The term semi-feudal indicates a transitory phase or an intermediate stage between feudalism to capitalism. On the basis of this characterisation of the agrarian economy the Maoist party has identified the following four major contradictions in the present-day Indian society.

1. The contradiction between imperialism and the Indian people;

2. The contradiction between feudalism and the broad masses;

3. The contradiction between capital and labour; and

4. The internal contradictions among the ruling classes.

The Maoist party’s programme indicates that among these four contradictions, the first two are the fundamental contradictions. Out of the first two, the contradiction between feudalism and broad masses of the people is the principal contradiction. It is true that even in today’s India there are some parts of the country where the feudal relations are still in operation between the tenant and the landowner. However, what needs to be understood is the changing nature of these relationships.

Analytical Discussion 

The development of capitalist relations in agriculture is one the major factors in the economy of the countryside. The capitalist development in agrarian relations is marked by the proletarianisation of the working masses of people. In a nutshell, tenancy as an institution of precaplitalist relations has undergone changes with the changing conditions of capitalist relations. Accordingly, the mode and relations of production have also got changed. The emergence of the market, private players in agriculture further facilitated development of capitalist relations. This was mediated by the state’s agrarian policies and programmes. The agricultural subsidies, farm loan waivers and crop insurance schemes by and large benefited the large farmers and big landlords.

The Maoist party uses the term ‘feudalism’ in the list of four contradictions and uses ‘semi-feudal’ while characterising the Indian state and society. The question here is: which one is true in the contemporary agrarian situation in the country? Here itself lies a contradiction in identifying feudalism and characterising the society in general as semi-feudal. This means that the party’s programme has not taken cognisance of the changes in the pattern of tenancy and the development of capitalist relations in agriculture. It is surprising to note that “The total rejection by Marx of feudalism in the Indian context. Marx first conceived of the process of stadial development from slavery to feudalism to capitalism to socialism. That he refrained from applying this scheme to Indian society.” (Rudra, 1981: 2145) A critical point here is that when Marx himself rejected the application of the concept of feudalism to the Indian situation, then how can the Maoist party identify feudalism as the principal contradiction in characterising the Indian society as ‘semi-feudal’?

Kudos to the wisdom of Marx. The archives and historical documents strengthen Marx’s rejection of feudalism to the Indian conditions. Coincidentally, these historical observations were made in the context of medieval polity in the Chhattisgarh State which is the epicentre of insurrection led by the Maoist party. To quote,

It is hard to give an exact definition of this medieval polity. It was not a purely political organisation, for it was rooted in the social life of the people. It was not a purely feudal system, for it bears many traces of the tribal organisation out of which it had developed... It is a system of feudalism superimposed on an earlier tribal organisation. The feudal element was imposed..upon a pre-existing tribal system.”(Wills, 1919: 255-56)

The above description of the medieval polity in the Chhattisgarh State indicates the absence of feudalism historically until it was imposed on the indigenous adivasi system. This also corroborates Marx’s restraint in the application of feudalism to India. However, this does not mean or convey the full absence of elements of feudalism in the Indian society. It can only be understood that the presence of feudal elements is a foreign origin to the backward areas where the Maoist party describes them as semi-feudal. This thesis does not hold good, at least in the case of the Chhattisgarh State where the Maoist party claims to be having ‘liberated zones’.

If this is the case, then what is the course of action that needs to be taken up by the Maoist party to chalk out the strategy and tactics in order to suit the current needs of the Indian society to achieve the goal of the ‘New Democratic Revolution’? It is highly improbable for the Maoist party to achieve their political objective of armed agrarian revolution as the vast farming community of the nation does not consider the armed method as the only option to contain the crisis and distress situation. A total of 13 protests by the farmers in the last two years indicate that they do not see the armed path as their option.

In this context, the following measures may be considered by the Maoist party in order to gain the strength of the farming community and to cultivate what is popularly known as ‘revolutionary zeal’. This does not preclude the achievements of the Maoist party, especially in providing protection to the forest dwellers and adivasis. It is to be noted that the Maoist party after gaining ground in the areas of Central India has shifted the focus from the agrarian issues to the issues of development. This is more so in the post-economic reform period of 1991. Although it is true that this might have come in the wake of the forces of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG). The international developments have pushed the economic reforms in the country, allowing the free market entry into agriculture, especially in the form of fertiliser and seed companies, while the promotion of technology in the agrarian practices has attenuated the farmers’ situation as the motive of most of these companies is to have a monopoly on the agricultural products with the prices of seeds and fertilisers pushing the farmers into the debt trap, in particular the small and marginal farmers.

Theoretically, the agrarian programme of the Maoist party does not include or take into cognisance these developments both at the national and international levels. The changing nature of relations of production with the changing times, more specifically the socio-economic dynamics in terms of availability of other sources of livelihood in the rural areas has shifted the focus of the rural working class of people from the armed path to the non-armed path to fight for their issues. Having said this, there won’t be any dissolution of the attraction of the masses of the people towards radical politics, including the Maoist party in the context of the acute agrarian crisis, lack of proper policies, disinterest among the youth to take up farming as their main economic activity, low income, rising cost of agriculture, land acquisition for the development proposed specifically for the mining, road and other infrastructural projects.

The years 2017-18 are a crucial juncture as far as the Maoist party’s path of armed agrarian revolution is concerned because farmers have demonstrated their discontent over the elected governments in addressing the agrarian issues and other structural factors affecting the farming community. This represents both prospects and challenges to the Maoist party. The challenges are two-fold: (i) theoretical revision of the principal contradiction and rethinking the characterisation of the Indian society as feudal or semi-feudal and (ii) accommodating the other forms of mobilisations in their strategy and tactics apart from armed methods. It is observed that

“A re-look at the agrarian scenario would instantly reveal that the typical Indian countryside is neither Dandakaranya nor Saranda forest and the question of wage, year-round employment and disastrous anti-farmer policies and the WTO framework are increasingly competing with the land issue to catch political attention. If the Naxalites, including the CPI (Maoist), have been the staunchest allies so far of those landless underdogs threatened by starvation in the backward regions, now comes the challenge to take up the issue of suicides by landed farmers as well in a purposeful way.” (Gupta, 2006: 3175)

Given the governance so far of the Maoist party functioning in Central India since three decades (1985) and the working experience of five decades of the Naxalbari uprising (1967) and more specifically the historicity of seven decades of the Telangana insurrection (1946-51), it is evident that the party is very slow in revising the strategy and tactics to achieve their intended political goal. that is, new democracy through armed agrarian revolution. The slow pace of reforms in the party’s programme, more so in the agrarian context, may be attributed to the loss of committed individuals to the political ideology. The motivations of the cadre and local members is also undergoing change in the wake of internal problems of democracy within the party and its leadership. The gap between the Central Committee and local cadres is widening with the political assertion of people belonging to the other backward sections (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the mainstream politics and administration. This gap varies in accordance with the social profile of the state. For instance, in Chhattisgarh the gap is between the Central Committee and adivasis who form one-third of the total population in the State. In Bihar, it is between the dominant social groups and OBCs. In Odisha, it exists between the dominant jaati (caste) and SCs, STs. There were reports in the media about the suppression of local adivasis from not moving into the higher positions in the party.

Apart from the rifts in the leadership and rank profile, the acute problem is the intellectual base of the Maoist party. Since 1967, the party’s programme has not undergone necessary revision. This has not happened even after the formation of the CPI (Maoist) in 2004. The deterioration of the intellectual base and ideological content has affected the party’s growth and expansion into new areas apart from the party’s much-claimed ‘liberated zones’ in the Bastar region. The party’s attempt to expand into the urban areas has not gained success so far. The Police Department along with the State and Union governments have been effectively curbing the party’s attempts in expanding the base into urban areas. The ideological dilution is directly proportional to the intellectual dilution in the party. Balagopal (2006: 2185) interestingly notes this pattern of changes in the people’s agenda of the Maoist party. He said that,

What is really happening is that the interests of the people and the Maoists’ political agendas start diverging from the day they declare an area a guerrilla zone, and more so, a liberated zone, a fact that should be obvious if one has not imported into reality the Maoist theory that the revolutionary movement as conducted by them is in the highest interest of the people.

From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that the Maoist party’s people’s agenda tends to get diverted once the first step of either ‘guerilla zone’ or ‘liberated zone’ is fulfilled. This indicates that the party is stagnating at the establishment of ‘liberated zones’ although one can understand the criticality of ‘liberated zones’ in an insurrection. The complexity of the Indian agrarian conditions is different from that of China and does not automatically establish what the party calls ‘revolutionary upsurge’ of the people to carry out the revolution. Although it is popularly reported that the Maoist party has established ‘Jantana Sarkar (people’s government)’ in the liberated zones.

However, it must be noted that neither the ‘liberated zones’ not the ‘Jantana Sarkar’ of the party is open to the outside world. This negates the party’s claim of working for the people and it is against the norms and values of democracy and legitimacy. This is vital to the party’s wider acceptance among the Indian masses and the working class of people around the globe to show that there is an alternative model of development for the state-led development. The point is that the party’s governance is not accountable to the open society. This hinders the party’s prospects in general and obstructs its contribution in introducing an alternative model of develop-ment. Inkeles (1964: 26-27) highlights that “only a nation which provides the conditions for free inquiry may with reason hope for the development of social-science knowledge which permits ever deeper understanding of man in society”.

The farmers’ march and protests all over the country since the last two years also provide a prospect to the Maoist party. This may grow given the context of state-led development and coercive mode of land acquisition for the purposes of various development projects. The unfinished task of land reforms, forceful eviction of the adivasis and other backward sections of the people in the Fifth Schedule areas, neglect of the government to provide even the basic needs, diversion of forest and agricultural land to the non-agricultural and industrial purposes all—these no doubt strengthen the party’s position at least in theory. At a practical level, it needs to be seen to what extent the new leadership of the Central Committee engages in the intellectual debate on revising the party’s programme and more so to the agrarian revival to address the concrete problems of peasants, agricultural labourers and landless people.

Action Points for the Revision of Agrarian Programme 

The CPI Marxist-Leninist (ML) party has conducted a study ‘Social Investigation of North Telangana’. In order to draw a revision of the party’s programme in general and agrarian aspects in particular the study offers some relevant findings. The study with respect to the changes in rural areas has observed that,

There were considerable changes in land relations. Market relations developed. The exploitation and oppression of the landlords is not like before. There is no exploitation of tenancy...The political parties (rich peasants) became dominant in the place of the landlords. The rapid entrance of capitalist relations destroyed the rural economic system. The landlord class no more dominates, oppresses or exploits through the various classes like in the past.” [CPI (ML), undated: 1]

So, according to the above changes we have to bring changes in the struggle and organisational forms. Since the semi feudal relations are affected, perhaps we have to make the anti-imperialist, capitalist struggle primary and anti feudal struggle as secondary. So we have to select some villages and analyse basing on facts. It is a fact that there is a lot of change from what we have written in the book on agrarian revolution.” (Ibid., p. 9)

This kind of studies, perhaps helps the Maoist party to fill the vacuum of “empirical studies on the Indian situation to enable a formulation that is acceptable to all the Maoist groups”. (Mohanty, 1977 : 84-85) It may be also useful in providing some inputs to discern the practical validity of the application of concepts of feudalism and the Asiatic mode of production in order “clear the path for the search of a typology more specific to pre-British India. Additionally, it might draw us away from Euro-centrism in the study of history.” (Kulke, 1997: 132-33)

Apart from this, supporting the struggle of adivasis and other forest dwelling communities in getting their rights over minor forest produces (MFPs), eliminating the middlemen in the sale of MFPs into the local markets, assisting the local governments such as Panchayats in creating awareness about their rights, especially land rights in Fifth Schedule areas, helping the villagers in getting the daily wages in time from local contractors and banks for the works done under the MGNREGA. Very specifically, addressing structural deficits of land governance by ensuring proper title to the adivasis and forest dwellers may go a long way in building the revolutionary upsurge among the rural masses to carry out the insurrection.

Concluding Observations 

The above discussion necessitates the CPI (Maoist) party to respond to the issues of farmers apart from adopting violent means for resolving land conflicts and discontents of development. The reluctance of the Constitution straight way may not yield the intended results to the Maoist party. The party can condemn the Constitution or, say, parliamentary democracy, but it can’t condemn or reject democracy as a form of government in the Indian context. The collection of taxes, levies from the corrupt local contractors, revenue officials, the big landlords, private and local mining companies explains the dependency and sustenance of the Maoist party on the very edifice of the Indian state which it critiques as ‘semi-colonial and semi-feudal’. However, it must be acknowledged that the accommodating capacity of Indian democracy with all its shortcomings have given space and autonomy for the Maoist party to operate in the deep forest terrain.

The strengthening of democracy within the Maoist party is essential for its internal stability and for external social acceptance by the people of India at large to achieve its goal of democratic socialism. A critical point is that the Maoist party has not explored all the available options before resorting to the armed path of revolution. The rigidity of the armed and violent methods of the Maoist party not only damage the party’s credibility, but also inhibit the democratic decentralised development in India. Revolution is not just armed methods, it’s the fighting spirit. The insurgents have to learn from the historicity of the adivasis spirit of rebel without evoking the violent methods to bring the desired change in the society. It is observed that the

Indian Socialism abhors violence and class war and pins its faith on non-violence, sacrifice, and dedication to the service of the poor. And as a natural consequence, its implementation is envisaged through parliamentary democracy and the rule of law rather than through a violent revolution or a proletarian dictatorship.” (Rao, 1982:101-02)

It is high time for the Maoist party to revise and restructure its agrarian assessment of the Indian society in order to chalk out its alternative development path by learning from the sustainable governance practices of adivasis.

[The arguments made in the paper are part of the ongoing doctoral dissertation work of the author. The research is being carried out at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru.

I am grateful to my Supervisor, Prof N. Sivanna, for his valuable guidance and support. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Doctoral Committee members, Panel of Experts for their valuable comments and suggestions during the research progress from time to time.

My special thanks to Dr V. Anil Kumar for his academic inputs during the Ph.D coursework.



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11. Wills, C.U. (1919), ‘The Territorial system of the Rajput Kingdoms of Mediaeval Chhattisgarh’, Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, New Series XV: 197-262.

The author is a Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru.

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