India's Maoists aren't the idealised revolutionaries of the 1960s but thugs who indulge in extortion and murder. They are a fundamental threat to the country's body politic
(The article appeared in The Hindustan Times April 20, 2006)
Among the myriad of interesting facts and revelations in Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything, the one that stuck most vividly in my mind is about a very rare condition in which benign bacteria within our bodies turn rogue and begin eating us, inside out. No known treatment works. The only cure is to surgically excise the portion affected and, since it is random and can be any part of the anatomy, a victim can be left with the most horrific consequences.
India seems to have become afflicted by that disease, and hostile organisms are now eating the system from within. The rogue bacteria are the Maoist extremists, or Naxalites who have established their presence in a vast swathe of the country. Despite much talk and exhortation, no cure seems to be in sight. But those in-charge of running this country, both in the state and Union governments, have not done anything but routine and hand-wringing till now. Indeed, by their acts of commission and omission, the political and governmental system is probably contributing to the spread of the disease.
The Naxalite phenomenon is not new. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) led by Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar broke away from the CPI(M), which itself was a rump of the CPI. Following
the ‘Spring Thunder’ of 1967, idealistic youth took on the state with pipe guns and slogans. The movement was soon crushed and its leaders killed and imprisoned. In the past four decades or so, the generic Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) has split into several factions which periodically merge and split again. Some of its elements like the CPI(ML) Liberation led by Dipankar Bhattacharya has joined electoral politics and won a seat in the 1991 and 1999 elections to the Lok Sabha. Kanu Sanyal runs another faction which is also involved in electoral politics. Pockets of the militant movement, however, survived in Andhra Pradesh, via T. Nagi Reddy, an old-time communist leader of the state, and later resurfaced as the People’s War Group founded by Kondapalli Seetharamiah.
In Sept. 2004, the PWG merged with the Maoist Communist Centre, a group that had arisen in parallel to the Sanyal-Mazumdar CPI(ML). This merged entity is called the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and has consolidated its hold across large parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh with significant pockets of activity in Karnataka, West Bengal and Maharashtra.
The Naxalite of today is a far cry from the ill-armed zealot of Naxalbari. They have established sanctuaries in forest areas and are well armed, mainly with weapons seized from police personnel and have a well-knit organisation with an extensive cadre of sympathisers and supporters in the cities. Their strike capabilities come from their use of effective explosive devices which have taken a heavy toll of police personnel. Reportedly, the PWG reportedly learnt the use of such devices from the LTTE in the late Eighties.
But what the movement has gained in its ability to kill, it has lost in its ideology. Maoism has been definitively buried in its own home country, even if its prophet’s embalmed remains are used as a talisman by his successors to ward off the many evils he perpetrated. His Indian heirs are more focused on power, and how to obtain it through systematic brutality and extortion, all in the name of the Revolution rather than the fine points of Mao’s thought. In the process, unlike their forbears, they have sought to use the fissures of caste and community to serve their ends.
Failure of governance, effective policing and apathy of various state governments have enabled the scattered dalams and groups of the past to become efficient fighting groups sometimes operating in units of hundreds. In Nov. 2005, they demonstrated their capabilities in the spectacular attack on Jehanabad, a district headquarters, that succeeded in freeing hundreds of detained activists. In another attack in Giridih, they seized a police armoury by killing seven policemen and looting some 185 rifles and ammunition.
There is a time in every militant movement or insurgency when its operations are so scaled up, or when it consolidation is marked by an effective revenue gathering and administrative machinery. Insurgencies in large parts of the North-east have reached this stage. What happened in Punjab, or the present situation in Jammu and Kashmir are examples where this has failed to happen. While no one cause can explain why one fails and the other succeeds, one thing is clear — once a militant group is able to establish a parallel government with its justice dispensing and tax collection system, it is very difficult to dislodge it as it has now enmeshed a larger pool of sympathisers with a vested interest in the continuance of that system.
The Indian-State has to decide whether it wants to allow this state of affairs to continue and, as a first stage, spread to increasingly anarchic Uttar Pradesh, or do something about it. The time for a piecemeal response is over. With a united Maoist party operating in a ‘Compact Revolutionary Zone’ extending from the Nepalese border to Andhra Pradesh, there is need for a holistic response, as well as clarity in the ideological perspective of the Indian-State. Unfortunately, so thoroughly has the Indian political class debased the currency of secularism, socialism, social justice or any kind of justice that this is not any easy task.
On the other hand, the Maoists have been able to press their agenda with civil society groups and the intelligentsia in states like AP. Under their pressure, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy declared ceasefire in 2004 with the hope of negotiating a settlement. The Maoists used the respite to consolidate their operations and forge a tie-up with the MCC. Last month, when Reddy called on them to lay down their weapons before any talks, the cheeky Maoist response was that any ‘intellectual’ (read: civil society) push for talks would be “the equivalent of supporting the fascist rule” of the Congress. Their spokesman, Janardhan, also appealed to ‘civil rights organisations and democrats’ not to criticise Maoist ‘counter-violence’, but to be more understanding to why a revolutionary party took resort to violence.
To counter Maoism, we need to clearly understand its pernicious pseudo-ideology and the fundamental challenge the outfit poses to the body politic of the country. The Maoists are not seeking concessions, land reforms or social development — their aim is to seize political power. That possibility may be remote, but be clear about one thing: There is as much room for compromise with the Maoists as with Osama bin Laden.
The second item is the need for a quality response on the ground to, first, re-establish the writ of the state. Without law and order there is no chance that you will be able to either restore educational and public health institutions, build roads or undertake any development projects.
This is easier said than done because the Maoist dalams today are better organised, led and armed, than the police personnel in many of the states. There is obvious need for better training, leadership, and equipment. Under the cover of a qualitatively enhanced police effort a refurbished administrative and justice delivery systems can be reinserted and development plans executed. But all this can happen only if there is a realisation in the states and the Centre as to the life-threatening danger posed to the Indian body politic by the rogue bacteria eating us from within.