Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma



The Dantewada massacre executed by the CPI (Maoist) highlights the contradictions latent in Indian society. Various descriptions of the CPI (Maoist) philosophy and reasons underlying their actions have appeared over the last few years; the Maoist violence has an appearance of a qualitatively different character, characteristic of movements like LTTE in Sri Lanka and Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan. What is the essence of the Maoist movement and what is its future?


The killing of 76 CRPF personnel in an ambush in Dantewada by the CPI (Maoist) force highlights once again the difference between the Maoists and other political organizations that also claim to be working for social justice and the rights of the poor and oppressed in rural India. The fact that it happened just a few days after Arundhati Roy’s romantic travelogue in the Maoist heartland appeared in Outlook magazine shows her naïveté; her subsequent remarks about India being a “fake democracy” reinforce the impression of her as a loose cannon rather than a serious political analyst. The ambush and killing, however, also brings out the contradictions latent in Indian society and the persistence of Maoists in the Indian context in the mere fact of the continued survival of this movement more than 40 years after the initial uprising in Naxalbari in 1967.


Various descriptions of the CPI (Maoist) philosophy and reasons underlying their actions have appeared over the last few years, particularly after Manmohan Singh described them as the most serious internal security threat to India. Some commentators have claimed that in one respect Maoist violence is not much different from what many other political groupings in India do, including the established political parties, which all have their muscle-men to intimidate political opponents.  However, the violence other parties indulge in is subordinate to other goals, mainly, winning elections by fair or foul means. The Hindutva parties practice this for example by fomenting communal riots wherever and whenever they feel that violent campaigns against minorities will arouse passions that will allow them to reap an electoral harvest at election time.


However, since Maoists do not take part in elections the violence they practice has an appearance of a qualitatively different character; it is mainly perpetrated against local state functionaries, policemen or forest officials, perceived political opponents, as well as individuals who may have crossed them in some way.  The origin of this violence goes back in part to the late Charu Majumdar’s call to “annihilate” class enemies as an integral part of building a revolutionary movement in the countryside based on the Chinese path to revolution developed by Mao Zedong; protracted peoples war leading to the encirclement of the cities by the countryside as part of the strategy of overthrowing a semi-colonial, semi-feudal, comprador capitalist regime. While many of the original comrades of Charu Majumdar repudiated this strategy after a few years, the current Maoists continue to implement it; quite selectively, of course, as the definition of class enemy remains fluid and arbitrary. However, compared with the original Naxalites, the Maoist emphasis on a militaristic as opposed to a political approach has grown very significantly in the last decade allowing them to execute sizable actions such as the Dantewada massacre.  This is characteristic of recent political movements in South Asia, such as the LTTE in Sri Lanka (before it was destroyed, of course) or the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which have tended to focus almost exclusively on violent and militaristic means to attain political objectives.  As a very recent editorial in the Economic and Political Weekly stated:


“The CPI (Maoist) claims that it has been forced to take up the gun because over the past four decades central and state governments have violently suppressed the Naxalite movement whenever it has been able to organise the poor. Suppression by the State is a fact but this is an erroneous explanation, for the gun is central to the Maoist politics of waging an armed struggle to overthrow the State. The constant use of violence to protect and expand influence has inevitably begun to define the character of the party. The result is that the CPI (Maoist) now has more of a militarized identity than a political one.”


Another feature of Maoist movement in India worth mentioning is its endemic nature. In this respect it is characteristic of a whole category of violent conflicts in India that have remained unresolved for many decades and do not show any signs of being resolved in the near future either. Most of these conflicts have an ethnic dimension, such as the ones in the North-East, stretching from Assam through Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, etc., where the core issue relates to a desire for secession or independence; the Kashmir conflict has an additional religious identity dimension arising from the “unfinished business” left over from the partition of India carried out by the British Raj in an atmosphere of frenzied violence, mistrust and communal hatred.  These conflicts remain unresolved for various reasons; while it is usually acknowledged that a “political solution” is necessary to end them, either the necessary political will or a sufficient consensus is lacking or a host of vested interests have been manufactured in the very course of the conflict whose pecuniary, power or related interests have become closely involved in its continuance.


The Maoist movement operates in one of the most economically backward regions in the country which also happens to possess considerable mineral wealth; the Maoists keep themselves in business, as it were, by running extortion campaigns on mining companies in the tribal regions, which are their base of operations.  This is acknowledged by numerous observers and is admitted in the EPW editorial also; as Digvijay Singh, former chief minister of MP, writing in the Economic Times of April 14 put it “the Maoists are thriving on collecting dues from forest and civil contractors, the mining industry and other industries in the affected zone.” It is no coincidence that the prominence of the Maoists has occurred in the time frame of liberalization and globalization, which has created a strong and growing demand for the mineral resources of the Chotanagpur region, and therefore offers expanded possibilities for various methods of extracting rent from the wealth that has been created in the wake of the boom.  The fact that liberalization has happened along with and sometimes accelerated the weakening and withdrawal of state institutions and political governance leading to the emergence of various groups ranging from Hindutva parties to assorted private interests like the mining Mafiosi has created an opening that the Maoists have seized and utilized for their benefit.  In the article quoted above, Digvijay Singh pertinently asks “how does the BJP win from most of the polling booths controlled by the Maoists? BJP, which has been in power in Chhattisgarh since 2003, has supported Salwa Judum and has taken a ‘tough stand’ against the Naxalites still managed to get the Maoists’ support in the 2008 Vidhan Sabha and 2009 Lok Sabha elections.”  On occasion, when there is a convergence of political interests, the Maoists have also rented out their muscle-power to other parties like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, which wants to disrupt and uproot the CPM-led state government.  


It is undeniable that the Maoists have created a strong base of support among the exploited and neglected tribal population in the contiguous Adivasi dominated areas of MP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, and Bengal.  But their current operation and approach indicate that it is the gun which commands their politics rather than the other way around.  Apart from some ritual incantations of Maoist slogans, their socio-economic pronouncements hardly ever mention the word “socialism”; rather they talk about bringing in a fairer “market economy” in the rural areas, which has vague connotations of returning to a kind of petty commodity production at the village level.  This probably sounds admirable to some of their left-liberal supporters in India for whom small really is more beautiful, but if their movement prevails it would be a rare, if not unique, case of capitalism-in-reverse or history going backward if large-scale industry, the basic premise for socialist transformation according to Marx and Lenin, is replaced by small-scale village manufacture.  What is more likely to happen though is a scenario on the lines of the fate of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, where their increasingly militaristic approach met with complete destruction at the hands of the state in a brutal, no-holds barred, conflict, that also exerted a horrible civilian toll. 

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