Dialogue  April-June, 2005, Volume 6  No. 4

Naxalism: Beyond the Realm of Romanticism

Utpal Kumar

While watching a recently released well-acclaimed movie, Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi, an incident caught my attention. The film saw the agitation of “low-caste” villagers against the rape of a girl by the “landlord’s son”. But when this confrontation led to the heart attack of the “landlord”, the same villagers mellowed down and took him to the hospital.

Like the protagonist of the movie, I too was baffled. Why would suppressed souls give a lease of life to their suppressor? Why was the passion of revolution watered down just at the sight of a dying “landlord”? These questions threw me back in past when I was in a remote village of north Bihar. I saw my uncles, who could be termed “landlords” by the parameters drawn by the country’s intelligentsia, living harmoniously with the workers, sharing with them the secrets of their life and even finding solace in their company. Each understood the value of the other and, therefore, worked in a perfect harmony.

Probably, it was this understanding that turned India into a civilisation of “evolution”, and not “revolution”. This equilibrium continued throughout the Indian history: Whether it was the Brahminic urge to reform Hinduism after the rise of Buddhism; or the petition of the people of Delhi to Firuz Tughluq against the imposition of jaziya on Brahmins, and the willingness of the former to pay it on behalf of Brahmins. It was this mutual bonding that made Jean-Antoine Dubois declare that if Hindus were to be converted, the Brahmins need to be firmly tackled with. No wonder, the Brahmins became the whipping boy of the colonial forces, as the former was the adhesive that bonded the entire society and made it a “continuing civilisation”.

Then came Communism that reminded of Arthur Koestler’s observation of the “Darkness At Noon” as it theoretically emerged for the uplift of the poor, but ended up with the blood of humanity. In its eagerness of “smashing the old world”, Marxism only created chaos and anarchy. It smashed the tradition, but failed to provide any viable alternative. This created a vacuum that was felt wherever Communism ruled – Russia, China, and East Europe. No wonder, the demise of the “Only Fatherland” in the early 1990s saw the reemergence of traditional religion and culture in East Europe and Russia (even in China, the Confucianism and Buddhism is said to be gaining stronghold).

Communism, too, saw the Brahmins as the main obstacle in increasing its tentacles in India. They took the task of vilifying them along with the caste system. In a way, they moved forward the divisive colonial agenda of the British. They coloured the society in the contrasting shades of caste and class, and divided the country into two conflicting blocs – the upper class and the lower class – that could not lead to a harmonious coexistence. The Naxalite movement only took it to the logical culmination when it called for “the physical annihilation of class enemies”; or proclaimed, “He who has not dipped his hands in the blood of the class enemies can hardly be called a Communist”.

The Naxalite Movement

Tracing its roots to the May 1967 “peasant” uprising at Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, the Naxalite movement started when three sharecroppers lifted 300 mounds of paddy from the granary of a jotedar with the support of 150 CPI(M) workers, armed with lathis, bows and arrows. The movement lasted for 52 days in the area and that too because of the initial hesitation and prevarication of the State Government. After the initial dithering, the Government took a tough line and not more than 20 lives were lost in this phase of Maoist struggle that has otherwise been eulogised by the Chinese Communist newspaper, People’s Daily (July 5, 1967), as the “spring thunder over India”.

Strong police action coupled with the death of its chief ideologue, Charu Mazumdar, in 1972 decimated the Maoist insurgency in West Bengal. The operations were launched between July 1 to August 15, 1971 and were code-named, Operation Steeplechase. The broad strategy of the security forces was to cordon off as large an area as possible. The Army formed the outer ring, and the CRPF the inner cordon. The local police, accompanied by a magistrate, carried out thorough search operation of the area. It restored the confidence of the people in the strength of the administration. By the end of 1972, a police spokesperson of West Bengal called it “one of the most peaceful States in India”. But the Maoist menace spread to other parts of the country. At present, 76 districts in nine States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattiagarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Weast Bengal are affected by the Naxalite violence of varying degrees. Today, the CPML-PW and the Maoist Communist Centre of India continued to spearhead the naxal violence in the country, accounting for about 91 per cent of the countrywide violence and 89 per cent of resultant deaths (Annual Report, 2004-05, Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI).

“This bloodbath will continue as long as basic realities are ignored,” thundered a Naxalite leader from Andhra Pradesh. Some other regards “the Finance Minister to take hold of the Naxalite problem in place of the Home Minister” (as if the problem is just economic in nature). The crux of the liberal diatribe has been that the Naxalite problem is the consequence of the State’s abdication of its fundamental developmental duties. For long, the emergence of the Maoist insurgency has been regarded as a result of the exploitation of landless labourers by landlords, and the former’s struggle for social respectability and better wages. William Dalrymple writes in the book, The Age of Kali, “In some upper-caste areas, the burning of untouchables had become so common that it was now almost an organised sport. Various lower-caste self-defence forces had formed in reaction, and were said to be busily preparing for war in villages they had rechristened with names like Leninnagar and Stalinpur.”

But the man who created the organisational network of the Naxalite movement – Kanu Sanyal – had something else to say about the nature of the entire movement. He regarded the Maoist insurgency as “an armed struggle not for land but the state power”. Nowhere in the party programme, adopted in the year 1970, was any mention of the Naxalite’s struggle for the socio-economic uplift of the downtrodden. Instead, it explains in detail the development of the “guerilla warfare which is and will remain the basic form of struggle throughout the entire period of… democratic revolution”.

Besides, the Maoist violence was not the struggle for social respectability of the lower classes against landlords. According to a Naxalite document, “There is an unequal distribution of land. Only 10 per cent rich farmers of the village control 55 per cent cultivable land, 50 per cent irrigation facilities, almost total institutional loan and modern material cost and about two-third marketable produce.” This means about 10.05 crore people possess 55 per cent of about 13 crore hectares of land. This comes to about 15.5 acres of all kinds of land – irrigated, unirrigated, fertile, unfertile, etc – per family of five of the richest category of farmers (Sachchidanand Sinha, Naxali Andolan ka Vaicharik Sankat). But Mr Rajaram, the general secretary of the Indian People’s Front [a front organisation of the CPI(ML)]  believed that a farmer possessing 20 to 25 bighas of land (13 to 17 acres) could hardly provide proper food and clothing to their family members.

During the Kisan movement led by Sahajanand Saraswati and Karyanand Sharma (who later became the communist) in the 1930s, claims were made on the lands of petty cultivators having just 10 to 12 bighas of the same. Many claimants used to go to Kolkata for earning and would return seasonally to work in the fields. Therefore, Jaya Prakash Narayan and Rahul Sankrityayan didn’t like such claims on the lands of petty farmers during Kisan agitation in Barahiya between 1921 and 1938. There were 400 to 500 cases of CrPC 144 during the rabi crop by agricultural labourers, not farmers (Vishwanath Singh, Mera Gaon, Mere Log).

“On the night of February 13, 1992, 200 armed untouchables surrounded the high-caste village of Barra in the northern Indian State of Bihar. By the light of the burning splints, the raiders roused all the men from their bed and marched them out into the fields. Then, one after another, they slit their throats with a rusty harvesting sickle,” notes William Dalrymple. But Bindeshwar Pathak regards the entire episode, so painfully painted by Dalrymple as struggle for man-samman, as fallout of the undeclared war between Savarna Liberation Front and Maoist insurgents, which had nothing to do with the agrarian unrest. Not surprisingly, when the Lalu Prasad Yadav Government submitted the list of 157 existing landlords in Bihar in 1991 it contained not a single one from the bastion of Naxalism in central Bihar. Most of the listed “landlords” were found in north Bihar, which is a comparatively peaceful region.

Besides, there is a tendency to watch the Maoist insurgency through politically correct ideology. Thus, every time the Left violence occurs, one finds the outflow of the “liberal” assessment condemning Ranvir Sena for the entire mess up, as if the former has provoked the latter for the crime. They willfully ignore that the CPI(ML)’s “armed struggle” began long before the genesis of the Ranvir Sena in 1970. The Ranvir Sena, in contrast, came into existence in 1993 in the Bhojpur district of Bihar to negotiate with the Naxalites, who demanded Rs 20,000 from each farmer besides guns and a bigha of land. The negotiation failed and the Maoists made a blockade of their agricultural lands. Were the so-called landlords wrong in opposing the unlawful acquisition of their territory? Can an intellectual, justifying such criminal activities in the rural badland of Bhojpur, support the looting of their wealth by the poorer section of the populace in towns and cities? If any crime takes place in urban centres, we regard it as an act of goons, but when the same problem inflicts the rural areas it is being given the colour of caste and class struggle.

But one is startled when Mahasweta Devi, a well-known Bengali writer, calls for the CPI(ML)’s retaliation against the killings of the Ranvir Sena. Isn’t it a manifestation of selective sensitivity on the part of a writer who bemoans over the death of a Naxalite in her novel, Hazaar Chaurasive Ki Maa. This reminds of Pablo Quadra of Nicargua, who once observed: “How can a man (Gunther Grass) defend an institution in Nicargua, which he can't tolerate even for a moment.” This Nobel Laureate had earlier defended the tyrannical reign of Sandinista in Nicargua. No wonder, people like Samir Amin see the bright future of the humanity in his book, The Future of Maoism. A whole generation of Chinese might have lost its future to the mindless experiments of Mao Tse-Tung, but the Egyptian-born French scholar seems to have discovered the beauty of Maoism even without visiting China. This is the beauty of Marxism in general and Maoism in particular. Many of us were not surprised when, some years back, some Gandhians objected to the branding of the Maoist activities in Nepal as the act of terrorism. Noted writer Kamleshwar, too, observed that any organisation having solid socio-cultural base should not be termed as terrorist organisation. By this definition, can one call Al Qaeda as a terrorist organisation? I doubt.

Why is there such a great charm among urban intelligentsia for such a nihilist doctrine, which they would implement on anybody except themselves? This question brings us to the very issue of the nature of the Naxalite movement. The indiscriminate Left violence has always found greater acceptance and justification in the affluent societies of Western Europe and Japan. Even in India, the Maoist movement has flourished in central Bihar – Patna, Jehanabad, Gaya, Bhojpur, etc – that was characterised by “farm prosperity and literacy”. In his seminal work, The Naxalite and Their Ideology, Rabindra Ray locates the roots of the Naxalite phenomenon not in the poverty of the labouring rural population, but in the psychological traumas of the urban educated youth. Though the epicentre of the insurgency and its cadre are primarily rural, it was the intelligentsia that provided legitimacy and respectability to an otherwise nihilistic ideology. Now one can understand the riddle behind the existence of the Maoist violence in the region certified to be the land without landlords (central Bihar) by no other than the “messiah of downtrodden” (Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav), and a comparative peace in the region having a large number of landlords (north Bihar).

Prakash Louis regards the Naxalite movement in central Bihar as the People Power, as is evident from the title of his book. But is it really a struggle for the people’s power? Has the 50 years of the Naxalite violence in the Telengana region brought any substantial improvement in the lives of the people? About 90 per cent of the persons killed by the Naxalites are poor and labouring classes from the deprived section of the community, if the “Report of the Advocates Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh is to be believed. The Maoists have been killing civilians, mostly from the disadvantaged sections – Dalits, Girijans and Backward classes – by dubbing them as “police informants”. Nearly 80 per cent of the victims of PWG violence belong to the SCs, STs and BCs. Of 1906 peoples killed in between 1990 to 2002, 1129 were BCs, 216 STs, 139 SCs and 487 of other castes.

Mr Louis further gives statistics of the kisan movement of the CPI during 1948-84, which shows the upper-caste bias in the Naxalite leadership. About 57.8 per cent of leaders came from this section of the community, while only 25.7 per cent constituted the category of martyrs. In contrast, the SC represented only 26.7 per cent of leaders, but 34.3 per cent of martyrs. No wonder, Naxalite organisations do not give statistics of the leaders’ caste composition. Similarly, many Dalit high-level activists of PWG have quit the organisation over the issue of discriminations against them. They said, “The leadership did not trust us with guns.”

Thus, there exists an organisation that kills the backward people, discriminates against the poor for the post of the Naxalite leadership and still professes its allegiance to the well being of the oppressed and the downtrodden. Who is the actual loser in this game of mayhem? Obviously, it is aam aadmi (common man) who is adversely affected by such operations in the name of revolution. The people’s dilemma reminds me of the words of Nicarguan essayist Arturo Cruz Jr: “The (American) Left looks at us as noble savages, while the Right looks at us as savage savages. The Left thinks that we are poor, violent and corrupt because of the Unites States, as if we are incapable of making ourselves poor, violent and corrupt. Meanwhile the Right thinks that we have no capacity for redemption.”

But the question remains: If the Naxalite movement is so mindless, then how is it sustaining itself in different parts of India? If it is not the people’s sympathy and support, than what is the force that is carrying the obsolete concept of “revolution” in an era when the term has lost its relevance? Paul Wilkinson observes in his book, Terrorism and Liberal State, “Rebellions do not generally fade away. They have to be put down ruthlessly and effectively, if normal life and business are to be restored.” This is where the Government of India has failed to perform efficiently, as it never organised a consistent policy towards the Naxalites. At one moment the latter was hounded, and at the other they were pampered. Never was the struggle against Maoists carried to its logical conclusion.

In 1982, the then TDP leader, Mr NT Rama Rao, described the Naxalites as “true patriots who have been misunderstood by ruling classes”. But, by 1985, the increased Maoist menace forced him to assume a tough posture against them. In 1989, the country’s political horizon saw the reincarnation of NTR when the then Congress Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr M Chenna Reddy, too recognised the “patriotism” of the Maoists. The Left insurgency in the State again went on rampage that forced the next Chief Minister, Mr N Chandrababu Naidu, to impose ban on them that was again retracted by the current Chief Minister, Mr C Rajasekhar Reddy. It seems the current UPA Government at the Centre is indebted to the Naxalites for aiding the Congress achieve the splendid victory in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections. Many Naxalite leaders have already confirmed the existing unambiguous relationship between the Naxalites and the State’s political elite.

If Pawan Verma is to be believed through the analysis of his book, Being Indian, we Indians are quite sensitive to the calculus of power, and display great astuteness in co-operating with the existing centres of power. Such a meek submission was earlier seen when Punjab was bleeding in the late 1980s and early 90s. Whatever the “liberal” intellectuals say, Punjab became normal only when the people were convinced about the superiority of the State over terrorist whose life, as active participant in the acts of terror, was reduced from four years to mere 18 months. The people regained faith on the State apparatus and the situation in Punjab quickly returned to normalcy.

Despite the decline of Communism worldwide, the Leftist ideology continues to dominate India. Even today, the political correctness in the country is being dictated by the prevailing Left prejudice. We continue to follow the obsolete yardstick of the mindless search of the root cause of any incident, which precisely veers around the socio-economic factors. In the process, there is a tendency to lose sight of the primary element associated with the incident. Thus, while dealing with the Maoist menace we talk about trickling down of the socio-economic benefits to the poor without realising the fact that this process needs a semblance of governance in the region. Telengana continues to be under-developed despite 50 years of insurgency in the region. One needs to remember that any benefit could reach to the needy only when the rule of law is established in the region. It is in this perspective that the words of Rabindra Ray make sense: “If the Naxalite violence is to be checked, it demands the meeting of violence with violence.” Only then the socio-economic preventives would be effective in healing the malaise.