‘The Dangers Are Great, the Possibilities Immense’1
Saroj Giri , Monthly Review
"What made Spence dangerous to the bourgeoisie was not that he was a proletarian nor that he had ideas opposed to private property but that he was both." — Peter Linebaugh.2
‘Poorest of the Poor’ and Politics
It is always easy to criticize and dismiss an argument in its weakest formulation. Attacking the policies of the security-centric Indian state establishment, particularly the Home Minister, today does not need much daring. So let us instead take the benign, almost humanist utterance of the Prime Minister in his address to state police chiefs in September 2009: don’t forget, he said, that the Maoist movement has support among the poorest of the poor in the country. Those on the left opposing the impending armed state offensive often invoke this quote from the PM to buttress their point about how these are really poor people, innocent civilians and ordinary villagers who will suffer if the offensive is undertaken.3
But when you look at the repressive face of the Indian state gearing up for the offensive, it is almost unbelievable that it is garnering all its strength to take on such poor suffering beings as constitute the adivasis of Central India! Is it only because the state is repressive in nature that it finds the poorest of the poor so dangerous or is it that they are ‘actually’ dangerous? Why does the same state, sometimes so benign with a progressive constitution, which also promotes NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), which also provides, even if most grudgingly, different rights, want to put its foot down in this case to eliminate the ‘problem’? Surely then the poorest of the poor must be dangerous people, there must be something about them, something fantastic, invisible to a flat, humanist, do-good perspective, which only sees them as ‘suffering’ and in need of ‘rights’!4 What is the power they have, which the mighty Indian state fears and wants to eliminate as soon as they can? I mean, one has to understand the power they have as precisely the poorest of the poor, in fact, over and above being Maoists or supporting Maoists.
The state fears not their guns, not their violence, not their taxing the local population, not that they will be another parallel power structure. What the state and Indian democracy fears is precisely that they are the poorest of the poor, that they have nothing to lose (and hence cannot be bought over or assimilated) and hence can launch and be the motive force for an unrelenting political transformation beyond their immediate grievances, the loss of their land or livelihood. Indeed the Maoist movement, or any adivasi formation engaged in armed struggle, does not even have a list of demands that can possibly be fulfilled or addressed by the government. A dynamic seems to be unfolding where they are not willing to settle down with even say ‘peace with justice’ but, like those who ‘have nothing to lose but their chains’, are aiming for ‘a world to win’.5 Surely if you are waging a war without any specific demands, you must be aiming for the world — a war waged by those who have no place in the world.6
Thus the Indian state does not fear this one Dantewada — in fact it has left Dantewada festering with the ‘Maoist virus’ for several years and only now is planning a decisive assault. It does and can tolerate it; a lot of people in fact think of the Maoists as just another power structure which acts at the behest of this or that power group, or on their own, doing extortion and so on, which means that the Maoists as only an armed group could be tolerated and assimilated.
However, if the poorest of the poor, as Maoists, are aiming for a world to win, then, fair enough, the Indian state must fear not this one (isolated) Dantewada as a local event, but that there can be not just one but two, three, many Dantewadas. Tebhaga, Telegana, Naxalbari, Srikakulam, Jharkhand, Dantewada, Lalgarh — aren’t these the many Dantewadas spread over India’s recent history? What if they were to come up simultaneously in different parts of the country — all at the same time? After all, these are people with ‘global ambitions’, present in neighbouring Nepal, who want to overthrow the Indian state singing the Internationale, are not only talking about tribal identity or tribal rights, support the nationality struggles in the North-East and Kashmir and hence have a much larger agenda, if not vision. If this ‘virus’ spreads this will not only weaken the Indian state politically, which it already has, but also militarily. Naxalbari in 1967 inaugurated this emergence of the poorest of the poor as precisely such a political subject: this legacy continues today in so many different forms all across the country but it is as part of the Maoist movement that the struggle against the ruling order has come to a head.
Innocent Civilian or Political Subject?
Large sections of the left seem to understand the repressive nature of the state and capital but not the political subjectivity of the poorest of the poor. A moral, almost subjectivist critique of the state as to its repressive ‘nature’ is however a bit too invested in presenting the poor as victims or innocent civilians — who then get preserved as that all along. Most denunciations of the state’s impending armed offensive therefore derive their power and legitimacy in being able to present the poor as victims or at best only protecting his homestead against rapacious corporates backed by the state. Or at best that they have been forced to take up guns since they had no other means, since they could not wait any longer for the state to deliver goods and services. There is a refusal to accept that the poorest of the poor might have short-circuited themselves out of being either the beneficiaries of some benign, welfare state or being just victims or innocent civilians.
Against this humanitarianism of sections of the left, it is precisely the conjugation of poor and political which needs to be imagined and asserted, and which the ruling classes fear.7 Referring to the radicalism of Tommy Spence, a proletarian in 18th century England, scholar Peter Linebaugh states that "what made Spence dangerous to the bourgeoisie was not that he was a proletarian nor that he had ideas opposed to private property but that he was both".8 Here is the formula, if you like: you can be rich and radical but not poor and radical — the ideal combination allowed in today’s rights-based capitalism is poor and needy.
Is the refusal or inability to view the poorest of the poor as political subjects another instance of how we can all gleefully laugh at Fukuyama’s end of history thesis and yet it is bloody difficult to actually make history today? Any attempt to make (universal?) history, we are sternly warned, will involve the use of force, violence, a party and will perhaps lead us to a totalitarian state. . . . So, we are told, the poorest of the poor are not a problem as such, it is their articulation as political subjects, as Maoists or Naxals, which is the problem, carrying the seeds of totalitarianism. And yet it is around the Maoist movement today that the political struggle of the poorest of the poor against the ruling order has sharpened and assumed new heights.
It is against the ‘repression’ of the political subjectivity of the poorest of the poor that we perhaps need to assert that they are not just fighting a battle to save their livelihood and resources and the armed offensive is not just going to kill and clear them from the way — rather the poorest of the poor in rising up are actually passing a verdict on the very political system and democracy in this country and the armed offensive is actually not just the voice of big capital but more fundamentally reveals the true nature of what passes for democracy in India. It is clear how it is today misleading to attack only Chidambaram and the hawks in the Home Ministry, IB and the Jungle Warfare vultures. It might be only the Chattisgarh DGP Vishwa Ranjan who openly calls for finishing the Maoists LTTE-style, but there seems to be a silent but wider consensus. None of the major political parties have launched any agitation in support of the poorest of the poor. Much like the Gujarat pogrom in 2002 or the numerous aerial bombings and killings in the North East, the present armed offensive can take place and Indian democracy will still go about its routinised, sterile normalcy. Indian democracy itself stands exposed as so many times earlier: the question today is whether or not we are willing to go with the political struggle against it that is raging in front of us.
More symptomatic is the fact that the right-wing Hindu parties, apart from some media-savvy strident declarations to go trample the Maoists challenging the Indian state, have been unable to convert it into a political plank for populist political gimmicks. When for example the Kashmiri movement gets active the BJP will publicly call upon the government to crush the movement there by sending the army, trying to mobilize support on this basis. On the Dantewada issue even the right wing is not too invested in publicly declaring or inciting war — the Naxal or Maoist issue with its poorest of the poor base is a tricky one, and Indian democracy feels frail to the core here. The best defense then is to present the militant adivasis and the Maoist movement as only challenging the actions and omissions of the Indian state and not really questioning the very idea of India, going much beyond the pet Hindu-Muslim question, secularism, and other more familiar obsessions.
People have pointed out that the adivasis, due to the wrong policies of the state, have become Maoist by default.9 What is more revealing is however the assumption that the poorest of the poor must always (by default?) only be interested in livelihood issues, implicitly assuming that they cannot go beyond them and get political. ‘Innocent trapped civilians’ soon enough feeds into a narrative where they are dependent on the support of the urban middle class left who can alone engage in politics by reaching out to them beyond its own interests. The default assumption seems to be that the poorest of the poor can be fully deserving of ‘rights’ and access to resources but they cannot be political — as though they are put in place, this far and no more!
The problem for the state is not just that the poorest of the poor are sitting over rich resources and mining treasure which they refuse to give up but that they are political, that they are, if I dare conflate, ‘Maoist’. Those on the left who are calling for peace, for ‘peace with justice’, find it extremely important to make the distinction between ordinary civilians or adivasis and Maoists. This distinction is both important and real. However, it looks like this distinction often derives from the refusal to accept that the poorest of the poor today carry the promise of a political revolution. Dantewada, Lalgarh — aren’t the political struggle around them today in some ways decisive for the prospects of political change and social transformation? Does one see only ‘violence’ and ‘armed conflict’, or only ‘livelihood issues’ and ‘resource grabbing by MNCs’, or ‘Maoist intolerance’ there, or a much larger political struggle which can inaugurate a wider mobilization of revolutionary forces across the country? Do the Maoists on their part see only expansion of their control and more areas to rule over, or do they see the possibility of radical change?
If therefore the Lalgarhs and Dantewadas are arenas sharpening the political struggle in the country, and not just looming humanitarian disasters due to ‘armed conflict’, then different struggles and resistance movements taking place in the country must therefore coalesce around this central fault line weakening the ruling classes, daring them to come out with some of their last lines of self-preservation. Pressure on the government to withdraw the armed offensive must be part of a larger, internal political solidarity with the ongoing movement, with the objective of taking it to a higher level.
Question of Violence and Political Struggle
What one should deeply ponder here is then why, particularly given that the Maoists do not have a base in urban areas, other left parties engaged in resistance refuse to align themselves with the resistance thrown down by the Maoists in different parts of the country. Thus for example the use of violence by the Maoists becomes such an important problem that one refuses to accentuate the political crisis for the Indian political order inaugurated by Dantewada today and instead sees only an impending humanitarian disaster in Dantewada. The poorest of the poor are seen only as in need for humanitarian help and goods and services: separating them from the ‘violent’, ‘intolerant’ Maoists only allows large sections of the left to overlook and indeed trash the political subjectivity of the poorest of the poor, or make it amenable to the given democratic order.10 But, in fact, the deep roots of the Maoists in the population are evidenced by the inability of the administration to recruit ‘informers’ from among the locals, say in Lalgarh.11
No wonder, in the case of Andhra Pradesh, it was only when the party leadership exposed themselves by coming overground during peace talks that the state was able to target and kill them. Today, the biggest problem for the state derives from just an opposite reading of the mass base of the Maoists than what the democratic left argues. One former Cabinet secretary suggesting ways of ‘dealing with the insurgency’ points out that "their (Maoists’) strong points are not their weaponry, but the support from large sections of the tribal community in whose midst and on whose behalf they operate".12 Further, unlike certain left commentators who argue that the Maoists like the LTTE are a mirror image of the present repressive state, a replicative state-in-the-making, the strategists of the Indian state hold that the Maoists are unlike the LTTE which "conducted itself like a state and paid a heavy price for it".13 Clearly, if, as the democratic left believes, it was so easy to separate the Maoists from the civilians, then the Indian state could have by now easily ‘drained the water and killed the fish’.
Overlooking the dynamic political revolutionary process which may have been inaugurated by the present crisis, where the Indian state and political order is forced to shed its democratic cloak and where the democratic legitimacy of the state is being exposed by the state’s own actions, leads directly to treating Dantewada and Lalgarh as just like some cesspools of violence and counter-violence, of some irrational forces working themselves out and hence needing the intervention of sane, democratic citizens of civil society. While it is true that the masses in these areas are not already ‘making history’, it is as of today far more than a struggle over economic resources, livelihood issues, or jal, jangal, jamin (Water, Forest, Land).14
The Tatas and Essars are of course out there to grab resources from the adivasis and the armed offensive is related to the interests of big capital. But this does not mean that the fight of the adivasis is only to protect ‘their’ resources, that they cannot go beyond ‘livelihood issues’ and the ‘struggle for survival’ and in fact inaugurate a larger political struggle in the country.15 Actually it is not they who cannot go beyond these issues, beyond livelihood issues, but it is large sections of the left and progressive persons who cannot.16 In reaching out (who are we to reach out, do we not have our own political struggle at hand? An element of performance is unmistakable here) to the trapped innocent civilians in Dantewada, we are trying to block from view the fact that they are actually reaching out to us, calling on us to join their struggle, by going beyond the livelihood issues and jal jangal jamin that we are bent on offering them. These sections of the left think that Dantewada and Lalgarh areas are or just waiting to become cesspools of violence and conflict; they do not see them as possible cauldrons of change that have dared and trashed Indian democracy and the existing political system — and proposed an alternative political system.
Ruling class strategists like KPS Gill seem aware of this when he states that the "Naxalites ideologue believe that they have an alternative political model to offer".17 Clearly, the poorest of the poor have thrown the ball in the court of the privileged democratic forces of the country, urging them to join a political struggle shorn of the political imbecility and juvenile belief in the nature and possibilities of the present democratic order. Is the democratic left in the country willing to accept that the poorest of the poor can try to rewrite the history of the country? Is that also considered too ambitious a project to be undertaken by the ‘masses’, in a country whose history has always been decided by the elite, by Nehru-Gandhi-Jinnah-Patel in round-table conferences?
And it is here that the otherwise legitimate question of use of violence seems like so much bickering to justify the refusal to accept the political content of the Maoist movement and the political challenge to the very nature of Indian democracy they put up today. Otherwise, it is an absolutely legitimate question to talk about violence and killings, the idea of the absolute worth of human life, the dangerous idea of ‘the enemy of the people’ and so on. Also the question of capital punishment itself must be debated thoroughly. One cannot dismiss this as just a bourgeois deviation as some Maoist utterances tend to do. However, it becomes ‘bourgeois’ precisely when these problems become a way to avoid the fundamental question of the political struggle, when it becomes the sole basis of judging the Maoist movement as a whole. For, at the end of the day, it is only against the background of the advancing political struggle that such questions can be addressed and not merely by calls ‘to eschew violence’ or abstract talk of the dehumanizing effects of violence.
Thus it is that the problem posed by the Maoists or the impending armed state offensive must and perhaps can be addressed in the course of the intensification of the ongoing political struggle. More Dantewadas, more Lalgarhs, more Naxalbaris — that is the solution. This need not necessarily mean more of the Maoists, more of the Maoists in the present form — one cannot rule out the transformation of the existing political forces or of the Maoists themselves. This cannot but involve more resistance at all levels, working class mobilization, middle class mobilization in the towns and cities, anti-caste struggles, gender struggles and so on.
In pointing out how engaging in violence can suck Maoists into a vortex of violence, into a repressive movement, Sujato Bhadro quotes Nietzsche about how if you look into the abyss for too long the abyss starts staring back at you (‘Open Letter to the Maoists’).18 Bhadra is right so far as it goes; however, why does he assume that the only abyss is the one of the state? Is there some other ‘abyss’ which we can gaze at apart from the state and which in staring back at us will mould or determine us, or at least show us the political way out? That is, what if Dantewada or Lalgarh or the Maoist movement is not just a mirror image of the abyss of the state but is something in its own right as well, an alternative to the present political order?
Indeed I myself am waiting for that moment when the Nietschean wish will be fulfilled: if Dantewada and the areas of the impending offensive are like an abyss and we are looking at it, all our eyes are pinned on it, then when will the moment come when the abyss will start looking back at us, so that the broad left will then relate to the revolutionary struggle without the mediation of the existing state and its ‘progressive’ determinations? We cannot really look at this abyss, we cannot go there or even visit ‘those areas’. Reports say that security forces keep a strict check on entry and exit in those areas. Chattisgarh DGP Vishwa Ranjan talks of ‘strategic hamletting’ in order to corner the rebels shorn of the support of the villagers: ‘drain the water to kill the fish’. Nobody is allowed to enter those areas. Even those fact-finding teams who visit seem to come with the all too familiar story of suffering, trapped civilians, but nothing really of these civilians as political agents imagining a different society.
Why can we not be allowed to go meet and be with the poorest of the poor? What is it about them that, even when a Gandhian organization works with them, it creates problems? Is the state stupid or is it just repressive in blocking off any contact with the ‘trapped masses’? But it looks like that the state has a point and is being politically perceptive here, since its class interests are directly at stake. Now it seems that, when a Gandhian goes and works with the adivasis in those areas, the Gandhian himself starts transforming!19 In fact some protagonists of non-violent struggles have severe problems with some of the Gandhians in Chattisgarh who go soft on Maoist violence! Has the Gandhian Himanshu Kumar, working in Chattisgarh for a long time, gone soft on Maoist violence, it is asked. Are the pro-Maoist poorest of the poor politically astute enough to morph the Gandhian into something like a Maoist Gandhian, if not a Gandhian Maoist?
I mean, what are we trying to do when we say that we must reach out to them? Are we not trying to protect ourselves from what they can teach us? We have a fear, and I wonder to what extent civil society activism in favour of doing something for the trapped civilians secretly derives its energy from blocking what they can offer us, how this activism sustains our unconscious refusal to join the ranks of the revolutionary forces. We either look only at the state, albeit with stern accusing eyes, or we look at the revolutionary masses by sanitizing them into innocent, trapped civilians — we are avoiding something there, saving ourselves in our present existence and preempting the advance of the revolution if there is one. We are scared that abyss will start staring back at us.
The state too does not want that we should be able to look at that abyss for too long — for the abyss starts staring back at us. Thus all that we can possibly know today is that the people there are trapped, they are suffering and so on. We heard the same thing about the civilians trapped in Darfur, in Sri Lanka, in Colombia. Indeed the same thing was also told about even tsunami victims, that they need immediate goods and services, food, shelter and so on. Thus the Dantewada adivasis as an undifferentiated, homogenized category of ‘trapped and suffering’ we already know: indeed that is part of the dominant humanitarian discourse. But, what else about them? This is where we cannot but acknowledge that the poorest of the poor in the Maoist movement have today thankfully lost their ‘innocence’, as they are on the cusp of transforming themselves into a political subject, placed as they are in the central vortex of the political, class struggle in the country.
K. Balagopal criticized the Maoists for being unable to make a dent in national politics, with a biting comment: "you can hold a gun to a landlord’s head but Special Economic Zones or the Indo-US Nuclear Deal have no head to put a gun to".20 Maoists of course are unable to do many things and have a very long way to go. However, while the statement is true as far as it goes, but what if one is not really opposing this or that policy of the state like SEZ or the Deal but challenging social relations as such that support the existing state structure and political order? (The CPI(Marxist) opposes the Deal, does it not?!) Does Balagopal suggest that there is no relationship between transforming social relations at the ‘local’ (he lets out a dismissive attitude to the local as opposed to the national) level and fighting so-called national issues? It is his inability to see the connection between the head of a landlord in some nondescript remote village and the more refined machinations of bourgeois democracy, between the landless labourer with a gun and a revolutionary political subjectivity, that led Balgopal to argue that Maoists are not interested in "defeating the state politically but (only) mobilizing against it militarily".
Balagopal was not just arguing, like the Nepali Maoist critique of the Indian Maoists, that the struggle was stagnating and not able to transform say from guerilla zone to base area with a strategic view of advancing the revolution. In spite of his most brilliant insights into the inner dynamics of the Maoist movement, Balagopal never gave up the dichotomies he set between the local and the national, the military and the political, and the poor fighting for their rights and the poor as a political subject. His work is thrillingly good since, even with his thorough knowledge of the flesh and nerves of the movement, he still upheld these dichotomies without ever tripping! Here again we hit upon the problem of separating political subjectivity from the poorest of the poor and their struggles that are apparently only local and livelihood-based and not national and political, no matter whether they are carrying a gun or not.
Deep Roots in the Masses
The state would rather take the blame of having massacred innocent civilians, understood to start with as ‘collateral damage’ (yet further — this time verbal — ‘aid’ from the U.S. military), and lose some of its democratic legitimacy, than allow this virus to spread. For this virus can potentially turn into a larger political crisis. The emergence of one two many Dantewadas would involve transforming the present struggle in Dantewada into a political struggle, into a rallying point for the entire revolutionary forces in the country. Not allowing us access into the political reality of the struggle, to contain the political struggle, is a foremost task for the Indian state. The Indian state would rather go ahead with the armed offensive, killing whoever comes in its way, than allow this political struggle to intensify. Now if the Maoists turn out to be no political threat, if they convert soon enough into another power structure negotiating and compromising, then it’s another matter.
But if at all Dantewada presents a real political challenge to the ruling order today, if the Maoists are the advanced detachment of the sharpest political struggle, then any state in its senses would go ahead with its armed offensive — or not go ahead, for reasons of effectivity, since it might miserably fail. In which case, the only way out for a progressive outcome is to look for ways for the Dantewada stalemate to inaugurate a higher political crisis for the ruling order. KPS Gill predicts that the Indian state will get stuck in a war against its own people, the way the United States got stuck in Afghanistan. Progressive publications are highlighting it as a real possibility, thus further challenging the armed state offensive and calling for peace and negotiations. What Gill does not realize is that while the Indian state might get stuck, Dantewada might not; it might replicate itself elsewhere, everywhere. The Maoists are not the Indian security forces, the masses are not just ‘combatants’ — it is a political struggle.
Now in so many ways a discursive field is being created today which in an innocuous way seeks to define a political field that precludes the emergence of a higher political struggle and wants to isolate it into something akin to a humanitarian crisis.21 If the hawkish state wants to do a LTTE to the Maoists, the humanitarian discourse too already anticipates, in a hidebound manner, a similar humanitarian crisis as in Jaffna possibly unfolding here. The possibility of a radical political situation emerging is not only not anticipated here but the humanitarians, in not anticipating it, seem invested in not allowing it to emerge in the first place. Like a pseudo originary moment, the very coinage of an ‘armed offensive’ elicits this understanding of the Dantewada crisis as primarily military, draining the politics from it and thereby framing the Maoists too as more or less only an armed group. Attempts to isolate the Maoists from the ordinary civilians and masses further fuel this narrative as an armed conflict between groups with civilians as collateral damage. Human rights discourse of the ‘innocent civilian’ reinforces this idea since it treats them as collateral to the political struggle and only ‘suffering beings’ waiting for peace and a constant supply of goods and services.
One of the ways in which the emergence of the adivasi Maoist as a political subject is precluded is portrayals of ‘democratic struggles’ as political and the violent struggle as militaristic, ‘undemocratic’ and even less than political – totally missing the point about how a political struggle can and does assume violent forms. Thus a ‘political solution’ to the crisis here need not be restricted to just attending to the humanitarian needs of the population. Such an understanding of a ‘political solution’ obscures from view how the poorest of the poor are, perhaps even in their subjective understanding, a political subject willing to fight the political struggle, fight the political battle, indeed become the most advanced detachment today of revolutionary transformation in the country. Far from being militaristic, when the poorest of the poor take up arms and fight a political battle, fight the combined and so long hidden fist of capital and state, it leads to an ultimate confrontation which does not displace the political question but actually takes it to its final resolution. The question is: are broad sections of the left ready to tread this path?
One of the ways in which Maoists as a political force are blocked from view is through not allowing the gaze, so that we do not even know what the Maoists are thinking. How are the Maoists viewing this armed state offensive? For one, they do not view it as a misadventure that the state is about to launch and which will further erode the democratic basis of the state. Instead, this is, CPI(Maoist) argues, "the planned State Onslaught on mass movements in general and in particular on the revolutionary masses, CPI(Maoist) Party and its armed detachment".22 The Maoists do not view the impending offensive in military terms alone and instead understand it politically. Mass resistance against the offensive is upheld without however giving up the revolutionary political struggle. They write, "while the PLGA forces are preparing to heroically resist the enemy, the Party and its mass organizations must seek to mobilise all possible forces to resist and fight back this impending attack. The aim of the enemy is to isolate us from the masses to facilitate the attacks, with the least protest by the progressive and democratic forces in the country. Our aim must be to prevent this enemy encirclement by building deep roots in the masses".23
Building deep roots in the masses is considered part of the same process as strengthening and preparing the PLGA. That is why the state’s strategy is ‘draining the water to kill the fish’. Maoist statements suggest that they do not view the armed offensive as only a military confrontation: and they know that getting isolated from the masses will only help the state eliminate them. Further they seem keen to reach out to a wider section of mass movements and resistance.24
However, broad sections of left seem oblivious of the possibilities of integrating themselves with the political struggle unleashed by the Maoist movement. Their gaze is obsessively fixed on the state, invested into exposing its militaristic designs but without seeking to mobilize the vast masses of people in the country in tune with the advanced detachment which is the revolutionary masses of Dantewada. Thus either the democratic left looks towards the state, or, when it looks towards the revolutionary masses, it sees only innocent civilians, victims waiting for the intervention of middle class activists. The present thrust of the peace initiatives today impedes the development of a revolutionary situation in the country, the sharpening of the political struggle through mobilization of different resistance movements in the country in support of the resistance in Dantewada.
Poor Home Minister?
Are we not putting too much pressure on the Home Minister in attacking him for concentrating on the military solution to the Maoist problem? Are we not missing something vital — a kind of coded message which we need to unpack for the good of all, rather than the minister himself and the larger Indian state? What if the minister is actually admitting that Indian democracy and its political system has run its full course and is teetering at its end, so that there is no democratic card in the arsenal now that can be equal to the task of keeping the Maoists at bay — so that the military solution is apt? While those criticizing the minister for adopting security-centric and not development-centric solutions might still believe in Indian democracy and its potential to keep the Maoists at bay, he and those within the system know exactly how much worth ‘our democracy’, or the socio-economic approach, is.
It looks like even ‘our’ best democratic policies are no match for the Maoist strategy of revolutionary armed struggle which seems more endearing to vast masses of people than say the decentralization policy or empowerment of gram sabhas or social policies like NREGA. Social movements with a clear non-Naxal, non-Maoist lineage today display serious exhaustion, if not failure. Maoists teach the masses that it is right to rebel, that Indian independence is a blackmail, that the real independence is yet to come, that Gandhi was a reactionary, that, quoting Mao, ‘without a people’s army the people have nothing’. Now what is a ‘democratic response’ to this which can be worked out by remaining within the Indian Constitution or channeled through social movements? The Home Minister has a real problem at hand. Between some rozgar yojana (employment rights) or ‘forest rights’ or getting 100 days of work, and being in the people’s army, the choice seems obvious for ‘the poorest of the poor’.
The Indian state can at best offer two square meals a day; the Maoists are offering a festival for the masses. Recall the armed action of the masses led by the Maoists in Lalgarh on June 15, 2009, we saw pictures of women and ordinary villagers, in public, openly celebrating as the house of the CPIM leader was being violently demolished. Didn’t the West Bengal government, after the ‘flushing out’ operation of the joint security forces, do all that a government can do in order to reach the tribals with welfare packages and deals? Did that bring down the support for the Maoists? Buddhadev Bhattacharya made it mandatory for all secretaries to go camp in god-forsaken Lalgarh to sincerely find out the problems of the people — and they most unwillingly did. But that did not wean the masses away from the Maoists.
Thus the present Indian democracy has run its course and is tottering under the Maoist menace. The present war need not necessarily lead merely to violence and counter-violence and the loss of the middle ground. Bereft of its democratic trappings, the state is revealing itself as no more than repressive deadweight against any real political change and so is at its weakest, politically speaking. A radical social and political transformation is therefore a real possibility today.
In other words, it might today actually be an option to push the tottering Indian democratic and state order, including our beautiful secular democracy, into the dustbin of history and initiate a revolutionary process of transformation and change. In which case, of course, one is talking about a ‘moving’ middle ground and a moving Maoist movement which can then merge at some point — totally isolating the military, security and growth-centric state. Given that the poor home minister is as much as admitting that the Indian political system is irredeemable and it can only respond with a military solution, is it not time for the real left to step in not to save the decaying system but to precipitate its collapse and the emergence of a better socio-economic dispensation? A ‘higher’ middle ground will necessarily involve unshackling our attachment to the democracy within the bounds of the repressive state, and instead pitch in for a new political future against this state order.
Bhagat Singh and his comrades once thought of a social and economic revolution, and not merely political independence. It is an unfulfilled task. But while the Maoists are surely the torchbearers of change are they a credible political force to usher in a revolutionary transformation of Indian society and state? One cannot dismiss the possibility that the Maoist movement can transform itself from being what looks like only a local political power struggle and come to articulate the search for a political alternative to the present socio-economic order and state system in the country today.
And it is here that the democratic and dissident left, including the very committed rights activists, will have a crucial role to play. Unless a democratic rights perspective, calling for an end to the military option, is in so many visible and invisible ways woven around the willingness to look for a political alternative to the present Indian state order, including its sham democracy, the possibility of the present state-Maoist struggle leading to merely a violent outcome will remain. The choice is clear: military option or political alternative? That is, as a Maoist document points out, this is a time of both great dangers and immense possibilities.
In turning towards the state and primarily and sometimes solely invested in exposing the state (on its own grounds), what you obscure is the possibility of a wider consolidation of revolutionary democratic forces. As a good instance of how you hear only what you want or like to hear, what today is not being heard and is totally obscured is that the Maoists, the poorest of the poor, are in fact calling upon all progressive democratic forces to unite to defeat the central government offensive: it is they who are trying to reach out to you even as you try to overlook it through your humanitarian concern for them. Or else Ganapathy is merely being rhetorical when he openly calls upon all to unite: "By building the broadest fighting front, and by adopting appropriate tactics of combining the militant mass political movement with armed resistance of the people and our PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerilla Army), we will defeat the massive offensive by the Central-state forces".25
Here of course the crucial contention will be if the armed resistance and the PLGA can be accepted as legitimate political actors by other left and democratic forces. But the fact of the matter is that for the Indian state and capital today, and not just its repressive armed wing, the armed resistance and the PLGA stand as a major stumbling block providing stiff resistance everywhere they exist. It does not at all seem preposterous to suggest that the adivasis under the leadership of the Maoists today have precipitated a political struggle where capital and state are forced to come out in their true unholy nexus disregarding all supposed democratic credentials and rule of law.
Numerous activists and commentators have pointed out how the interests of big capital are what really drives the actions of the state, given that the entire region is resource rich and contains enormous mine deposits. The convergence of capital and state is clearly visible in the political struggle today. It is the achievement of the Maoist movement and its work for years in the area that state and capital are forced to give up all pretense of democracy, rule of law and business as usual. State and capital today stand exposed in their bare exploitative, oppressive essence.
The point is that the oppressive nature of capital and the state do not reveal itself spontaneously, particularly to the vast masses of people. It is in places like Dantewada and Lalgarh that people have not only understood this nature of the ruling order but actually are willing to fight against it without any recourse to the democratic pretensions of this order. This makes the masses here and the Maoists an advanced detachment particularly now that such a sharp political struggle has created a crisis of national proportions. It is for these reasons that the PLGA, locked in the thick of political struggle, cannot be rejected as just a structure of violence or merely replicating the state.
Further, this is where the Indian state is weakest today. This is where large masses of the people have rejected the Indian state and its democracy, forcing it to come out to use armed force against its own civilian population, like a mafia state which everybody hates and hence must survive on the use of force and repression. This means that we should not only rush to the defence of the one front, Dantewada or Lalgarh, in the political, class struggle today but also replicate similar and not so similar bases elsewhere in the country. If not jettisoned, our humanist ‘concern’ (which somehow always readily gets pretentious) for the ‘trapped masses’ should be strategically used to democratically corner the state with a clear eye on converting the Dantewada experiment into a nationwide phenomenon.
Now the Maoists themselves have not been astute in expanding their struggle, in reaching out to urban masses, in overcoming their often sectarian attitudes and obsolete work methods and thinking. They do not seem to know what they can do to broaden the struggle in urban areas, relate to other political forces, respond to the more sophisticated machinations of ‘democracy’ and so on. Ideally, on a less rigorous note, one can say that the best for revolution in South Asia would be to combine the ‘flexibility’ of the Nepali Maoists with the ‘dogmatism’ of the Indian Maoists. But the Maoists are willing to change, if not subjectively, but, as we saw in Lalgarh and elsewhere, at least through force of circumstances. And change they must. However, what is of crucial importance is the larger revolutionary process of which the Maoists themselves are no arbiters nor even masters but only the more advanced elements and that too, so far, in the present conjuncture.
1 ‘Build the Broadest Possible Front against the Planned State Onslaught’, SUCOMO, CPI(Maoist) Letter on Growing State Terror to Party Members, 10 September 2009.
2 Peter Linebaugh, ‘Jubilating, or How the Atlantic Working Class Used the Biblical Jubilee Against Capitalism, With Some Success’, The New Enclosures, 1990.
3 See Arundhati Roy, for example, who stated that "we should stop thinking about who is justified. . . . You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed. I am sorry but it is like that. So you can’t extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other" (Times of India, New Delhi, 25 October 2009).
4 The humanitarian perspective which often goes under the name of being political and even left undervalues the poorest of the poor as agents of revolutionary change by framing them as deserving of rights that are no more than ‘animal rights’, rights for survival and to live. However, as Badiou shows. "if ‘rights of man’ exist, they are surely not rights of life against death, or rights of survival against misery. They are the rights of the Immortal, affirmed in their own right, or the rights of the Infinite, exercised over the contingency of suffering and death" (Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, London: Verso, 2001, p. 12). This in some ways opens the way to the idea of the proletariat, of being both poor and radical, class-for-itself.
5 Perhaps this is why they were not upholding the kind of democracy that Santosh Rana upholds when he points out how Maoists did not allow the functioning of democratic bodies and local self-government organs and instead replaced them with ‘people’s committees’. Unlike for the Maoists, it was important for Rana "to activate Panchayats and to exercise control over them through Gram Sansads and to demand more financial and administrative power in the hands of the Panchayats" (Santosh Rana, ‘A People’s Uprising Destroyed by the Maoists’, Kafila, 11 July 2009.
6 Different groups and radical organizations have put forth demands like withdrawal of big companies, cancellations of land transfer MOUs and so on from the area, but the Maoists do not work by presenting any specific demands for the government to fulfill.
7 You can of course be rich and radical, but you must not then side with the poor and radical. Isn’t that the reason why Kobad Ghandy, apparently from a well-off family, was indulged in by the media giving him massive coverage and yet consigned behind bars?
8 Linebaugh, op. cit.
10 Indeed just looking at the manner in which the Indian state intelligence has been unable to infiltrate the ranks of the Maoists by bribing local adivasis shows the deep roots they have with the civilian population. Several officials have expressed their frustration over this lack of infiltration. Part of the reason why the state is going for an all-out offensive in spite of all the dangers it involves for its own legitimacy is precisely the substantial mass base of the Maoists.
11 In Lalgarh a senior state officer was quoted as stating that "unless we have local sources, it is going to be extremely difficult to identify the Maoists, who have mingled with the villagers. Although these (new) men are from Lalgarh, we haven’t got people from the core area. Those villages are still out of bounds (for the state)" (Telegraph, 26 June 2009).
13 Ibid. For treatment of Maoists as mirror image of the present State, see for example Adita Nigam, ‘Mass Politics, Violence and the Radical Intellectual’, Kafila, 27 October 2009.
14 That is, they want to go beyond the progressive position of ‘peace with justice’.
15 That way the Maoist movement has no ‘demands’ listed for any government or power to fulfill, so that the problem can be solved. It is interesting how other left or civil society groups tend to substitute for this by throwing their own demands almost on behalf of the adivasis or Maoists! These are mostly calls for withdrawal of big capital mining and industrial projects, tribal rights over forests, ending Salwa Judum vigilante groups and so on.
16 This is the problem with say demands of ML groups like that of Santosh Rana who want to fight for tribal autonomy and identity, like their demand for an autonomous council in Lalgarh region. These are demands that can be addressed by the state and hence to that extent potentially involves dilution of the level of political struggle existing today. Rana seems to be missing the point when he criticizes the Maoists for not allowing identity demands to be taken up. Indeed Kanu Sanyal went to the extent of calling the Lalgarh uprising as an ethnic, identity-based uprising. There is an insistence on denying the political content of these movements and bringing them into some kind of a negotiable plane vis-à-vis the state and the present democratic order. See Open Letters Between the PCC CPI(ML) and CPI(Maoist), Sanhati, April-May 2009.
19 Himanshu from the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram apparently has ‘changed’, become far less critical of Maoist violence and critiques only state violence!
20 K. Balagopal, ‘Reflections on Violence and Non-violence in Political Movements in India’, South Asia Citizens Web, January 2009.
21 K. Balagopal critiqued the Maoists for being unable to make a dent in politics, in national politics.
22 ‘Build Broadest Possible Front’ op. cit.
24 See the CPI(Maoists)’s various appeals to other revolutionary and democratic forces and parties.
Saroj Giri is Lecturer in Political Science, University of Delhi.