Beyond Naxalbari

I present two articles which are from a special series published in
The Economic and Political Weekly

I recommend that everyone read these thoroughly for they are all well written
and even though sometimes critical, they still
give a honest and valuable evaluation of the Naxalite Movement.
Today I am publishing two articles out of the total ten articles

The rest will be published in the following days.
Don’t miss any of them !

Economic and Political Weekly July 22, 2006

Beyond Naxalbari

by SUMANTA BANERJEE

The route of the Naxalite movement that was mapped in 1967 at the
time of the Naxalbari uprising and adopted by the Communist
Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1970 – that of organising
peasant guerrilla movements as a means of capturing power – has
been reiterated in the programme adopted by its successor, the
CPI (Maoist) in 2004. But there is a need to combine guerrilla
warfare with the building up of united fronts with other democratic
forces in the political arena and civil society in order to
supplement the protracted armed struggle.

While after a decade of “people’s war” in Nepal, the
Maoists there have emerged as a decisive
national force compelling the parliamentary parties to offer
them space in the shaping of Nepal’s political future, their comrades
in India – even after four decades of a similar
Maoist experiment – still remain an isolated and persecuted lot,
confined to a narrow strip of the country, and with little clout in
the decision-making of the national ruling
powers.

The comparison however may be a bit misleading and unfair to the
Indian Maoists. Although sharing the same class base of the most
economically deprived and socially backward communities of their
respective countries – the Nepali Maoists and the Indian Naxalites
have been operating under different political systems, and
in different geographical settings.

In Nepal, a constitutional monarchy – once worshipped
by its people – degenerated into a dissolute authoritarian regime that
became unpopular among all sections of the population who totally
lost faith in the system’s ability to deliver the goods.

In India, a parliamentary republic, despite large-scale corruption and
criminality, still enjoys democratic legitimacy among wide sections
of the people and the major contending social groups who find the
multi-party democracy useful for ends that make sense
to them.

The system apparently has not yet exhausted all its potentialities
of exploiting the hopes and aspirations of the Indian
poor and underprivileged sections.

Territorially also, the situations are different. In Nepal, almost two-thirds of
Maoist movement in India the area (consisting mainly of unapproachable
terrain of hills and forests which had come under the sway of the Maoists)
had traditionally remained beyond the reach of
any development projects, social welfare
schemes, and agencies of administration
(including police).

In India, similar inaccessible areas constitute a thin piece of the
total geographical space. They are confined to isolated pockets
of backwardness in different states in north and west India,
and concentrated in a slender passageway running from Bihar in the
north-east, through Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in the centre, down to
Orissa and Andhra Pradesh in the south. It is this corridor that has
become the operational field of the Indian Maoists.

Its hilly and forest belt, as well its plains, which are marked by extremely
distressing socio-economic conditions, favour them with a secure and popular
base. But although the terrain and the popular grievances resemble
those of Nepal, the larger perspective – in terms of
both the territorial space and available
political options – poses a much more
serious challenge to the Indian Maoists.

The Maoists of Nepal (virtually occupying large swathes of territory
around Kathmandu and other cities) could dominate
the highways and disrupt the supply of essential commodities
to the capital for days together. It was an echo of Lin Piao’s
classical strategy of villages encircling the city, which brought the
monarchy down to an economic collapse. Compared to them,
what the Maoists in India control can be described as only a
bypass – a Red corridor that is encircled and besieged by well-knit
military highways and flyovers of the
Indian state.

Some among the affected states, like Chhattisgarh, are even planning
a counter-offensive of aerial surveillance and bombardment.

The hurdles in the path of the Indian Maoists are thus of a more
trying nature.
Their ideologue Charu Mazumdar, way back in
1967, reminding his followers of

the tangled skein of

“this vast country of fifty crore strong population” (which has
doubled since then), warned them: “It is only through long-drawn
hard struggles that the revolution in India can be brought
to its successful culmination.To think of an easy victory is
nothing but wishful thinking” (Deshabrati, October 26, 1967).

A few months earlier, in another article,
he had identified the main problematic:
“India is a vast country, and the peasants also are divided into various
classes. The degree of political consciousness therefore
cannot remain at the same level in all areas and among all classes”
(Document No 8, April 1967).


Tortuous Odyssey of Indian Naxalites

The history of the last four decades of the Naxalite movement in India
is a painful record of attempts – both heroic and loutish
at times – to bring about a revolutionary
transformation in the benighted economic and social living conditions
of the Indian poor. The chronicle of courageous battles against a vicious
state machinery followed by self-sacrifice by thousands of guerrillas,
and patient efforts by dedicated cadres to initiate land reforms and
social changes in their areas of control, has often been
marred by “lumpen” acts like extortions from petty traders
and contractors, and ruthless killing of innocent people suspected
of being police informers.

Both these affirmative actions and repugnant aspects of the Naxalite movement
owe their origins to the turbulent days of the 1960-70 period when the
communist revolutionaries broke away
from the parent Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) –
and along with others, formed the Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist).

More than 30 years after the adoption of the CPI (M-L) programme
in 1970, its faithful adherents (who had in the meantime formed themselves
into the People’s War Group in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa ,
Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra) sat with fellow – comrades
of another Maoist group – the Maoist Communist
Centre (MCC) – which was once
known as the Maoist Centre of Communist
Revolutionaries, had also launched a parallel
guerrilla movement in West Bengal
in the early 1970s that later expanded to
Bihar and Jharkhand).

In September 2004, the two groups decided to merge and form
the CPI (Maoist). The route of the movement that was mapped in
1967 at the time of the Naxalbari uprising still remains the
same.

The design of organising peasant guerrilla movements as a means of
capturing power was incorporated in the 1970 programme of the
CPI (M-L), and has been reiterated in the latest programme adopted
by its successor – the CPI (Maoist) in 2004.

Following the main contours of the 1970 programme, the 2004
programme too describes the current stage of the revolution as
“New Democratic Revolution”
(a variant of the “people’s democratic revolution”
of the 1970 programme)
“whose axis and content is agrarian revolution, rejects the parliamentary
path of participation in elections, and pursues the main objective

“to liberate the rural areas first and then having expanded the
base areas – the centre of democratic power in rural areas –
advance towards countrywide victory
through encircling and capturing the cities.”

This process was inaugurated in the late 1960s-early 1970s period
with the creation of a few bases in the hills and forests of
Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and Koraput in Orissa, and the
plains of Bhojpur in Bihar and Debra-Gopiballavpur and
Birbhum in West Bengal.

Here they succeeded in forming guerrilla squads of poor
and landless peasants, driving out landlords
from villages and setting up rudimentary
forms of governance, like people’s courts to redistribute land and
mete out justice.

But at the same time, the activists adopted a particular kind of
tactics that was known as “annihilation of class enemies”
– a term popularised by Charu Mazumdar
to describe the need for “liquidating the feudal classes in the
countryside”, like landlords and their agents. Over the years,
this degenerated into the Naxalite practice of killing
(often brutally by hacking or slitting throats) rich peasants and
small farmers, petty government employees, members of rival
political parties, or anyone suspected by the party activists
of being agents of the police (including even their own comrades who
dared to question their acts).

Although the present leadership of the CPI (Maoist) does not
appear to subscribe to Mazumdar’s theory of
“annihilation as a higher form of class struggle”,
reports from their present areas of operation in the Red Corridor indicate
that the heinous practice still lingers on.

Village patwaris, panchayat pradhans, school teachers – and even poor tribal
people branded as police informers – have been targets of the Maoists
in their guerrilla zones in Bastar, Jharkhand and parts
of Andhra Pradesh.
Last year in Purulia in West Bengal, they burnt to death a local
CPI(M) leader and his wife.

To go back to the first phase of the Naxalite movement, by the end of
1972 the bases in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal
collapsed in the face of severe police offensive
and dissensions within their own ranks.

In the years that followed, a new generation of Indian Maoists grew
up in the furrows left by the turmoil of the 1970s, and succeeded
in rebuilding bases in other parts of the country and expanding them
considerably.

Today, according to the Indian government’s official statistics, they have
spread to 160 districts all over the country,
their main strength concentrated in 76
districts of nine states where their 25,000
member – strong people’s militia operate.

There has however been a slight shift in the choice of the terrain,
as outlined in the CPI (Maoist) programme. It would be
interesting to examine in this connection
the historical background and the possible contribution of the MCC
to the formulation of the tactics in the new programme.

In 1970, Charu Mazumdar, inspired by reports of success in Srikakulam,
announced, “As every corner of India is today inflammable,
the armed struggle of Srikakulam cannot
remain confined only to Srikakulam….”
(‘Get prepared, march forward for a great upsurge”, October 1, 1970).

Swept off his feet, he forgot his own warning – made
in 1967 – about the uneven level of political consciousness that
stood in the way of “every corner of India becoming inflammable”.

Taking lessons from the failure of his over-ambitious project of spreading
the revolution all over India at one go, the MCC laid stress on selective
choice of areas for building up bases, which could
be defensible against enemy onslaught
(Bulletin of the Central Organising Committee
of the MCC, June 1974).

They chose as their base the Jangal Mahal area of Burdwan in
West Bengal, an inaccessible terrain covered with forests intermingled
with human habitation, from where in 1974 they launched guerrilla
warfare by organising poor tribal and scheduled caste
agricultural labourers who were victims of
fluctuating wage rates and landlord exploitation.

Although their original base in Burdwan dwindled by the end of the 1970s,
over the next decade they succeeded in moving over to the
neighbouring forest areas and plains of Bihar, where they took
up the cause of tribal and scheduled caste
poor peasants and agricultural labourers -which had helped them
to establish zones of influence and power over large swathes
of territory in Jharkhand.

This experience of the MCC has probably contributed to the
rethinking of the old Naxalite concept of an all-India uniform
revolutionary situation. The 2004 CPI (Maoist) programme
– jointly drafted by the erstwhile People’s War Group and MCC
– acknowledges that they
“can establish the guerrilla zones and the base areas in
strategically favourable areas…” where they can “arouse, organise
and arm the vast peasant masses on the
basic slogan of the agrarian revolution…”

Instead of immediately planning to spread the armed struggle
all over India, the party leadership thinks that “the forests and
mountainous areas quite naturally get priority as these are the
strategic areas where base areas can be set up”.

From here they intend to spread to “the other areas
and thereby ultimately encircling the cities from the countryside”
(interview with CPI(ML-PW) and MCC leaders in People’s
March, November-December 2004).

Today the base areas therefore stretch from the under-administered
plains of Bihar in the north, through the densely forested
zones of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, and the tribal-dominated Koraput
and Malkangiri in Orissa down to the southern
end of Andhra Pradesh. It is here that the Maoists have organised
the poor on demands for higher wages, redistribution of
land and other economic demands, as well
as helped them in obtaining education,
health facilities and essential services.


Land Reforms – Piecemeal or Thoroughgoing?

It may be relevant in this connection to
probe into the causes why the old Naxalite
bases of the 1960-70 period evaporated.
There is no sign today of any guerrilla
warfare – leave alone a Red base – in
Naxalbari itself. The Girijans of Srikakulam
– who formed the backbone-of the movement
at that time – do not appear to be a
threat any longer to the government. What had happened in the
meantime? Was it the police offensive alone, or some other
reasons that led to the erosion of Naxalite
influence in these areas?

It will be observed that from 1972 onwards, the government
resorted to some selective ameliorative measures in the
Naxalite-affected districts. In West Bengal, the comprehensive area
development programme (CADP) was introduced to supply
inputs and credit to small farmers and take charge of marketing
their produce.

Significantly, Naxalbari and Debra were some of the areas selected
under the programme. At around the same time, directives were
issued to government officials in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh
and Ganjam in Orissa to see to it that the debts incurred by the
tribal poor were cancelled and that loans were advanced to
them from banks and other sources for
agricultural improvement.

In West Bengal in particular, with the arrival of the Left Front at
the helm of affairs in 1977, reforms like the redistribution of
vested land among the landless, Operation Barga to ensure the
rights of the sharecroppers and increase in minimum wages for
agricultural labourers, to some extent benefited a large section
of the rural poor.

These beneficiaries began to distance themselves from their erstwhile
Naxalite leaders and their alienation led to the gradual dissolution
of the traditional Naxalite bases.

In fact, Charu Mazumdar, although often rash in some of his
observations, had the prescience to foresee the neutralising and
divisive effects of such officially sponsored
ameliorative measures on the peasantry.

In 1967, referring to the policy of land redistribution by the then CPI(M)
minister Hare Krishna Konar under the
United Front government in West Bengal,
Mazumdar warned: “…wherever there have been movements on
vested land, the peasant who gets the possession of the
vested land and the licence to occupy it, does not remain active
any longer in the peasant movement.”

Displaying a canny insight into peasant psychology, he added:
“..within a year (of the possession of land), the class character of the
poor peasant changes and he becomes a middle peasant.
He no longer shares the economic demand
of the poor and landless peasant. Thus, economism drives a wedge
in the unity of the fighting peasants and plunges the landless
and poor peasants in despondency”
(Document No 8, April 1967).

This is exactly what is happening in West Bengal today.
The limited and incomplete land reforms of the first decade
of the Left Front regime (e g, land redistribution,
Operation Barga, etc) led to the development of a rural
sub-elite from among the beneficiaries, wielding economic
and political power over the less successful who, unable to maintain their
lands (because of expensive inputs that they cannot afford) are selling them off.

Thus a new generation of landless people is emerging in the countryside.
Although still less in number than in 1967 (the year of
the Naxalbari uprising), their ranks are
likely to be swelled by the addition of those whose lands are being
bought over for the construction of development projects that
the West Bengal government is planning
on a large scale.

This move by the Left Front government has opened up another
dimension in the current debate over land reforms and
industrialisation.

Since the issue of land reforms is crucial to the CPI(Maoist)
programme of agrarian revolution, it may be worthwhile to
examine the past experiences and the future implications.

The land reforms undertaken by the West Bengal government
(which blunted the edge of Naxalite offensive in the 1980-90
period) have got bogged down today in a
sort of halfway house.

From the beginning, it was crippled by short-sighted measures
of immediate popular appeal (like “land to the tiller”),
without coordinating them with other necessary adjuncts (like building
up of an infrastructure of cooperative farming, input supply, marketing
network – which would have helped these tillers
to nurse their lands and increase their
earnings, and prevented them from selling
off as they are doing today).

Further, there was no long-term programme for the training
of the upcoming generation – the children of the beneficiaries of land
reforms – in skills that could help them in modernising
agricultural methods and increasing their income in their villages,
or in seeking employment in remunerative
jobs outside. In the absence of these supplementary
and follow-up measures, at the
end of the West Bengal government’s land
reforms programme, we find a situation today which is best described
by a veteran CPI(M) peasant leader of the state, Benoy Konar, who wrote
in his party journal sometime ago that
“more than 60 per cent of the population” in West Bengal were
confined “permanently in backward, narrow and scattered agricultural production.”

He acknowledged that this style of production
“in no way helps towards realising socialism” (People’s Democracy;
November 6, 2005). Konar forgot to add
that the worst sufferers were the underprivileged
communities in the backward tribal belt of Bankura, Midnapur and
Purulia districts who having been bypassed
by the Left Front’s land reforms, could not even access the few
benefits that the rural poor in other parts of the state received.

Significantly enough, it is this belt, which borders the Maoist
dominated areas in Jharkhand, where the Bengal Naxalites
have become active again today.

It is too late for the Left Front government today to make amends and
reverse the drift into which its agrarian programme has run. In
order to stem the rot and forestall a future outbreak in the countryside,
the government is attempting a mix of benefits for the
small and poor peasants in the rural sector,
monetary compensation and promises of employment for those who will
have to give up their lands for industrial enterprises,
and severe police repression against Maoists who may mobilise the marginalised
and disgruntled people who are left out from the officially organised
programmes of aid and succour.

As a result, the Left Front government has till now been able
to contain the expansion of the fresh outburst of Maoist activities,
which remain confined to a thin strip.


The Future Strategy


Can the West Bengal model be replicated in other parts of India to pre-empt
any possible Maoist “new democratic revolution” in the future ?

The model is based on the practice of doing things by halves, giving rise
to a pattern marked by successive repetition of familiar exercises.
In the agricultural sector for instance, temporary sops to selected sections of the
poor (usually members or followers of the ruling parties) while leaving out the rest,
create new class divisions.

Similarly, in the industrial sector, development projects
while uprooting the original inhabitants of the targeted sites and
throwing them out of their old occupations, create a new group
of homeless and jobless people, at the same time provide employment
to another group of hitherto jobless or underemployed people
(who are generally favoured for their loyalty to the party organisation).

Whenever the class divisions reach an explosive point, fresh
exercises are undertaken to dole out concessions to selected sections of the
aggrieved, thus fracturing their cohesiveness.

There is thus a continuing process of fragmentation of the labouring classes,
giving birth to newer and newer sections of beneficiaries and
another generation of newly born homeless and unemployed poor.

The capitalist system in India is today resourceful enough to
continue such a strategy of containing violent class conflicts
by a judicious mixture of dividing the opponents by selective
economic concessions and defeating them by ruthless
anti-insurgency operations.

It is no coincidence that the “pro-poor” national rural employment
guarantee scheme is being publicised along with the prime
minister’s warning that Naxalite violence
is the “most serious threat” today (betraying his shameless indifference
to the much greater potential danger posed by
the genocidal proclivities of the Hindu and Muslim religious fanatical
organisations) and plans by the chief ministers of the
Naxalite-affected states to coordinate
and escalate their counter-insurgency
operations.

In such a situation, the CPI (Maoist) confronts a state offensive
that is much more challenging than in Nepal. Instead
of encircling New Delhi by “liberated
zones”, it finds its bases being encircled by the Indian state.
The government is already breaching the inaccessibility of
these areas.

Promises of state-sponsored development schemes like roads, schools,
hospitals and industrial projects in these
areas are likely to wean away some sections of the tribal poor
from the Maoists.

Recent reports from Chhattisgarh indicate that these people
resent the Maoist opposition to development, as they hope that
such schemes will benefit them.
The state is taking advantage of the mood by organising them
in the notorious Salwa Judum gangs in its anti-Maoist operations
– yet another instance of the state’s success
in fragmenting the labouring poor.

In tackling such popular sentiments, the Maoist guerrillas often
betray an immature mind-set by intimidating them, instead of
patiently politicising them.
Burning of school buildings, killing of subordinate employees of
development projects, or disrupting train services – the tactics
employed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh and
Andhra Pradesh in recent times – appear
like impetuous knee-jerk reactions to the
counter-insurgency offensive launched by
the state.

Such actions detract from the achievements made by the Maoists
in their base areas and may lose them mass support
– as happened in the 1970s, when the Naxalites lost their popularity due to
indiscriminate killings in the name of
“annihilation of class enemies”. In this respect
-notwithstanding the situational differences pointed out earlier – the
Indian Maoists should take lessons from their
comrades in Nepal. In the course of their
armed struggle against the monarchy there,
the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
leader Prachanda cautioned his followers
against their rash actions:

“It can’t just be dismissed as a baseless charge of the enemy
and the opportunists that in the past some
of the annihilations have taken place flimsily
on the grounds of not giving enough
donations, not providing shelter and food,
having politically opposed our movement,
suspicion of being a spy, or having enmity
with our local team members.”

Advising them that “a certain minimum legal method
is adhered to” whenever such decisions are taken, he made it clear:
“It should be strictly expressed in both our policy and practice
that red terror does not mean anarchy.”

Further elaborating on the matter he said:
“It is against the principles and practice of the People’s War to
liquidate someone when encountered alone or anywhere on
the spot just because he earns a living in
the enemy’s army or the police force..”
(Maoist Information Bulletin 6,www.cpnm.org).

Conclusion

To put it in stark terms – while generations
of heroic revolutionaries may remain
committed to the strategy of a “protracted war”, the vast masses
of the common people may not always be prepared for it. Although
sympathetic to the revolutionaries who uphold their cause,
all of them cannot be expected to join the revolution and adhere
to the discipline of revolutionary cadres.

They vacillate when offered sops by the state, or may even squeal
when coerced by the state. They are caught in the crossfire
between two maximalist positions –
one adopted by the revolutionaries who are determined in their
well-meaning goal of smashing the present iniquitous socioeconomic
order and replacing it with a “people’s democratic state”, and the other
taken by a stubborn ruling class equally
determined to continue with the status quo
and suppress any resistance to it.

Of the two, the communist revolutionaries who claim to look after the
welfare of the poor and the oppressed, are expected to be more
humane in their choice of tactics and genuinely democratic in obtaining popular
consent for them – particularly when such
tactics affect the vast masses of uninvolved
citizens.

If in their drive for retaliation against enemy offensive, they stoop to the
level of the police or security forces and indulge in indiscriminate
attacks on soft targets (e g, blowing up railway stations,
or school buildings, or killing innocent
tribal people) totally indifferent to the
problems faced by the common people as
a result of such actions, they become indistinguishable from the vicious terrorist
acts by sectarian coteries like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
of Sri Lanka, and the various Islamic fundamentalist
outfits in west Asia – who have killed more
innocent civilians than the armed minions
of their respective states whom they target
as their enemies.

As responsible custodians of their goalof “national democratic revolution”, the
CPI (Maoist) should be aware of the danger lurking in the background.
If the Indian state succeeds in burrowing into the Maoist
bases – few and far between as they are
– by its reformist measures, and closes upon them from all sides by increasing
military incursions, these bases may again collapse as they did in the 1970s.

Given the tradition of the leadership’s reliance on
spontaneity and impetuosity among its ranks, in the face of such a defeat,
their resistance may take the same old form of occasional sporadic attacks
on soft targets – just to prove its flickering presence.

One earnestly hopes that things do not degenerate into such a state of affairs.
It is reassuring to find that the CPI (Maoist) leadership is aware of the
limitations. As one of them has acknowledged:
“..our subjective force is quite less than what is needed, and even of
that which exists, the strength in the urban areas and industrial
areas is far less compared to the
rural areas”
(interview in People’s March, November-December 2004).

Such being the case, the leadership should pause to reframe its tactics
to include these vast sections of the Indian people in their
programme of action.

Even while sticking to the final goal of a national democratic
revolution, they should find nothing objectionable
in exploring various other avenues that are available in the present
political system, in order to supplement
their protracted armed struggle.

It is through such flexible methods of combining
guerrilla warfare with building up of united fronts with other democratic
forces in the political arena and civil society that their comrades in Nepal have
been able to achieve success.

It is up to the CPI (Maoist) to similarly innovate tactics that would be
appropriate for the Indian situation.

Email: sumbiz@sancharnet.in

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2 Responses to “Beyond Naxalbari”

  1. rama Says:

    Revolutionary greetings! I am very happy to have discovered this blog. I look forward to visiting regularly and reading your posts, which provide valuable food for thought and action.

    I woulod be happy to read on your blog about the distinction between “Naxalism” and “Jehadism”.

    I also invite you to my sites to read and think about what I have written.

    Best, rama

  2. Mark K Says:

    This is a really great article. A point that is missing is to refer to Mao’s own thoughts on the relation of the revolutionary to the masses, which clearly run contrary to the excesses which are spoken of in this regard.

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