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Mainstream Vol. XLVIII, No 17, April 17, 2010

The Challenge of the Maoists

Monday 19 April 2010, by Surendra Mohan

The Maoists have got entrenched in the forested areas inhabited mainly by the Scheduled Tribes in the mineral rich areas of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Although the Naxalite movement had started in 1967 when the CPI-M adopted the parliamentary democratic path in the tribal packet of Naxalbari, it was quite active in Kolkata and other urban areas in the early 1970s. It struck roots in the plain areas of Bhojpur and Jahanabad in Bihar in the 1980s. However, gradually it has shifted to the forested areas and the hilly terrains which are better suited to guerilla warfare. This was the case with the People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh also. When a group of the CPI-ML led by Vinod Mishra broke away from it and the MCC unified with the PWG, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) came into being. Thereafter, the base of the new outfit got entrenched in these areas. Their struggle for radical socio-economic transformation got a big boost when the Union and State governments decided to invite the MNCs to develop these areas and a large number of MOUs were signed by the State governments of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh with the MNCs and, in order to implement them, they started land acquisition from the cultivators and other inhabitants, whether kisans and the adivasis. The scare of displacement, consequent unemployment and loss of community life compelled those likely to be affected to resist. The Maoists quickly moved in such pockets of resistance and tried to mobilise them. On the other hand, the authorities, bound as they were by the MOUs signed with the MNCs, initiated police action to acquire the needed lands.

The issues that the mineral wealth of the country cannot be given over to the MNCs for profiteering to the utter deprivation for the present and future generations, that displacement of a large number of people cannot be countenanced as there are no guarantees that they will be rehabilitated, that Schedule V of the Constitution, the Samatha judgment of the Supreme Court and the Panchayati Raj laws of State governments are going to be violated in the acquisition of the lands owned by the Scheduled Tribes or in the Scheduled Tribes areas got mixed up the resentment against the use of strong-arm methods by the concerned governments, including the Union Government. The statement made by the Prime Minister that the forest areas giving cover to the Maoists would be cleared of forests alienated sections of public opinion further. His was the same strategy which was used against the Naga rebels in the 1950s that if the fish were to be eliminated, rivers and ponds must be made dry. Then, a view expressed by some minions in the government gave currency to the rumour that the armed forces were to be deployed to confront the Maoists. The Chief of the Air Force added fuel to the fire by saying that the aircraft may have to bomb the troubled areas in self-defence, as if the Maoists had armed themselves with anti-aircraft weapons. The Union Home Minster made it a weekly fashion to threaten the Maoists. At no time did the Union Government thought it necessary to convene an all-party meeting or to publish a White Paper on the subject.

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The Maoists made excellent use of these developments to activate human rights groups and individuals committed to the defence of civil liberties, to build the pressure of public opinion and, in particular, the civil society, on the Union Government to stop its offensive and enter into an unconditional dialogue with the Maoists. Three separate meetings were held in New Delhi, within a fortnight, to discuss these issues. The first was organised by those who not only advocated that the government must stop its offensive and start a dialogue, but also wanted the Maoists also to give up their armed struggle. The other two meetings did not have this last proviso. In fact, the last of these meetings was organised by those committed to the Maoist path who are trying to build a coalition to continue pressure on the government.

The Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, responded to the Citizens’ Initiative for Peace, the organisers of the first meeting. He wrote letters to Rabi Ray, Rajindar Sachar, Rajani Kothari and Kannabiran, among others, that the government was willing to start a dialogue with the Maoists but they must, first, give up their violent activities. This was much short of the demand for unconditional dialogue. The recipients, or those who could immediately meet together, replied that the government must stop its armed offensive forthwith and it also appealed to the Maoists to give up violence.

Prof Randhir Singh of the Delhi University, who retired long ago after a brilliant and long teaching career, pointed out in these meetings that the main question was whether there could be agreement on the path of economic development to be followed. He said that the present path was a totally ruinous one and it was necessary to opt for a non-capitalist path of economic development. That would require that the MNCs and India Inc. are not involved in developing or exploiting India’s mineral wealth and that the policies which have been accentuating economic disparities must be given up. Whether there is a dialogue or not, it is obvious that these suggestions would be wholly unacceptable to the government.

However, in none of the meetings, the question as to the ultimate ends of the Maoists was raised. The simple issue posed was that they were defending the nation’s long term interests, championing the cause of the Scheduled Tribes and were being punished in these laudable efforts. The Communists, Marxists, Marxist-Leninists and Maoists—are all committed to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The internal party organisation follows the principle of democratic centralism. In the case of the Maoists, professional revolutionaries have to work in a clandestine manner, of course by necessity, to collect arms, to impart armed training and find suitable hide-outs for all their recruitment activities. Even if they were to accept democratic functioning as an organisational principle, they would find it impracticable. Wherever armed insurrections have succeeded, dictatorships have taken over. All those who desire that there should be a dialogue and who demand that the government renounces its present disastrous policies would also have to urge the Maoists to clarify their objectives.

Armed revolts started in free India in the late 1960s. This is not to count those which belonged to the secessionist groups. In a rough estimate, one might say that over a hundred thousand idealistic young persons have sacrificed their precious lives. Yet, such powerful mass movements which could bend the government to their will, did not come up under the inspiration of their martyrdom. Such a pheno-menon can take place through open mass activity conducted in a democratic manner. The Naxalites and the Maoists abandoned this road from the very beginning. Nor is there any hope that they will revise their opinions. There was a lone exception of K. Balagopal (he died recently of some ailment) who rejected the ways of the PWG and broke all association with it. Yet, he fought valiantly for human rights. With the rich experience of armed insurrections and their consequences, all human rights activists, while strongly and correctly denouncing the repressive policies of the government, should tell these groups to see the barrenness of their course of action, as Balagopal did. This is what the civil society desires of them. This is because they have idealism, possess courage and are dedicated to social transformation and might help strengthen all those who are fighting for a peaceful transition of society.

The author is one of the country’s leading socialist ideologues.

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