India’s phoney revolutionaries

The question of who the Maoists are and how to deal with them has once again come to the fore after the massacre of the top leadership of the Congress Party in Chhattisgarh on May 25.
It was a chilling moment and a tragedy of far-reaching proportions. For the idea of democratic politics, the ambushing of political workers — for showing the gumption to be out campaigning in a so-called liberated zone to spread the message of development — is an affront to the country.
Had such an explosive occurrence — the slaughter of key Opposition leaders — happened in a city like Mumbai, Opposition parties may have by now bayed for and obtained the chief minister’s head. In New Delhi, they would be banging on Sonia Gandhi’s door.
That the perpetrators were criminal battalions, armed with improvised explosive devices and assault rifles used in frontline battles in places such as Pakistan’s tribal belt by jihadists, points to the enormity of the task of subduing them, not least since the spurious revolutionaries have been permitted through state inaction and benign societal indifference to spread their influence across forested belts in several parts of India.
Nevertheless, the recent outrage calls for a no-nonsense response, one that will be remembered as a watershed in dealing with the armed struggle variety of politics espoused by self-proclaimed messiahs — of the far Left or extreme Right — whose credentials are in need of careful examination.
The Maoists, or Naxalites, are not primitive rebels the renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote of. They are not Robin Hood-style do-gooders, after the medieval England bandit who, legend goes, robbed the rich to succour the poor. Nor indeed is there evidence that they are rugged fighters sprung from the ranks of the oppressed, gaining legitimacy from the depth of their concern for the poor and open public mobilisation for stated goals that can rally society, dispel despair and rekindle hope.
To glorify them as revolutionaries is to traduce the idea of a social or political revolution in the best sense of the word, no matter how much some romantic intellectuals and frustrated elements of the rising Indian middle class — taking shelter behind some empty notion of idealism — may exalt Naxalite violence as a fitting response to a heartless establishment.
For the indolent and intellectually supine middle classes — whose horizons haven’t expanded beyond coveting — the appeal of the Maoists lies in the latter’s capacity for violence, not in revolution; the intellectuals are, in effect, secret worshippers at the altar of the cult of Kali, whose followers have been noted for their blood lust. It is evident such elements will lose no time in divesting themselves of their Maoist sympathies if Maoists ceased to give violence pride of place. Then there will no more be any “marching with the comrades”.
More than anyone else, a figure from the recent past who, perhaps, bears the closest resemblance to Indian Maoists was the brigand Veerappan who stole, robbed, killed, made big bucks through big-time smuggling and collecting commissions from forest contractors, hoarded sophisticated weapons, and built a mini-state in the forests and intimidated forest dwellers into compliance or silence.
We thought Veerappan was a rebel without a cause and hence easy to pursue as no urban intellectual would spring an ambush in order to defend or lionise him.
But we were only partially right, for in the end Veerappan did gain adherents when he began to make noises about being a supporter of the Tamil Elam cause in order to extract sympathy from the Tamil populace and slow down his encirclement by the security forces ordered to hunt him down.
The Maoists have shown themselves to be much cleverer. They anticipated Veerappan by decades and began to wear wreaths of “pro-people” and “people’s war” slogans around their necks which they showed off with due fervour to win approbation.
With this they also fooled the poor tribal people who were made footsoldiers in an army trained to extract, facilitate smuggling and gun-running, develop links with a variety of dubious outfits that are of legitimate interest to the security and the intelligence establishment, and, of course, kill ordinary civilians and low-level government officials with a sense of accomplishment.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of CPI(ML) has sized up the phoney revolutionaries well. After the May 25 bloodbath, he was quoted in news reports as taking the Dandakaranya (Bastar region) Maoists to task, castigating them for not asserting the notion of democracy and not resorting to the politics of public mobilisation.
Violence by the state cannot be made a cause for the killing of state functionaries or members of political parties, Mr Bhattacharya noted. His is a satisfactory exposition of the democratic principle under which participation in public politics cannot include recourse to violence and killing.
While the CPI(ML) leader stood out for his forthright talk, a body like the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), the federation of numerous NGOs dealing with land, water, forest and other issues, chose to waffle, giving the impression of condoning the gruesome Chhattisgarh killing (while formally being critical) by balancing the Naxal violence with state’s violence (the use of capitalist methods of exploitation).
Astoundingly, their press note also spoke of the “land, forest and sovereignty” of the tribal people. Why “sovereignty” should intrude as an issue here is not clear. But can providers of such thought win our respect?
Since the 16th century, tendencies nurtured by the poor or led by their representatives (including the spiritual Bhakti movement) have had a strong progressive bias. Indian Maoism is the lone exception. It has promoted unremitting violence in the name of the “people” without setting out a philosophy of public welfare with appropriate goals, and scope for reasoned debate. In effect, it has misled the poor. It can only qualify as a gang of killers on the loose.
And yet, Union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh, should be careful. The Naxalites are not the same as (jihadist) terrorists. The ground beneath their feet can be cut if the fruits of democratic development are made to reach the poor. The terrorist will be silenced only when he runs out of ammunition.

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