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State's ambiguity has restricted its anti-Maoist progress

May 28, 2013 09:00 IST

The State’s ambiguity has resulted in a stalemate in the crucial fight against the creeping progress of the Naxalite movement in the country, notes Nitin A Gokhale.

Our aim is to overthrow this ‘democracy’ and ‘parliamentary rule’, which are nothing but means for the dictatorship of the feudals and comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie, which stand in complete opposition to 95 per cent of the population’s interests, using armed force, to establish a new people’s power. We feel it is a wonder of wonders to say that these elections and Parliament are sacred and that the present rule is the highest form of democratic rule (sic)'.

'CPI-Maoist philosophy of armed struggle to overthrow the Indian State is not acceptable in our parliamentary democracy and will have to be curbed at any cost' (ministry of home affairs, 2011).

These two statements sum up the extent of the Maoist problem that India faces today.

Despite India’s remarkable growth story over the past two decades, it faces serious challenges: A big question mark looms over its ability to sustain eight to nine per cent growth and development in the future years.

The greatest possible threat to its progress is posed by Naxalism -- a violent Maoist movement -- spread across the eastern and central areas of the country. The Maoist rebels of course earn the name ‘Naxals’ or ‘Naxalites’ from the Naxalbari movement of the late 1960s.

Over the past decade, Maoist activity has grown in its scope, breadth, and intensity. Of the 28 states and seven Union territories that constitute the Republic of India, Maoist rebels now control and run a parallel government in as many as 10 states. Over the last few years, beginning 2007, more people have died as a result of Maoist insurgency than due to any other kind of militant movement in India.

And the movement’s front organisations -- those that covertly or overtly support it -- are present in all states. India’s effort to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty is, and will be, determined by how well it is able to handle the Maoist insurgency. The current Maoist movement, though different in its nature and level of maturity, is on a continuum generated by its previous avatars.

If the era between the 1950s and the mid-1970s can be termed as the first phase of the Maoist movement in India, the years beginning from 1975 till about 1990 form the second phase of the movement. The second phase was dominated by splits and counter-splits, reflecting divisions of ideology. Nonetheless, it wasn’t without gains for the Maoist movement. It moved from believing that people would spontaneously join a revolution without the party having to exert itself to a thought process that says people will have to be organised to revolt against the State.

Mupalla Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathy, general secretary of the People’s War Group, on the eve of the formation of the CPI-Maoist -- of which he would later become general secretary -- in an interview published in the party magazine, said, 'However, in this long period, the revolutionary movement has developed and expanded, and the People’s Guerrilla Army/People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army got formed and guerrilla zones have been set up with the perspective of establishing Base Areas'.

In the period beginning 1991 and lasting till about 2003, the Maoist movement in India went through a process of rediscovery, consolidation, and amalgamation. It was during this decade that the PWG, Maoist Communist Centre, and the CPI-Party Unity together emerged as the main Maoist front in India. The PWG, set up by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, an old Charu Mazumdar acolyte, followed the philosophy of class annihilation and took up largely agrarian and tribal issues -- starting in the Telengana, Karimnagar, and Khamman areas of Andhra Pradesh and slowly expanding into the adjoining states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa.

The MCC and the CPI-Party Unity grew to entrench themselves in Bihar. However, the movement in Bihar was as much along caste lines as it was along class lines. By the late 1990s, both the Maoist parties were under pressure to sink their differences and come closer. On October 14, 2004, the two parties merged to form the CPI-Maoist.

The Maoists’ strategy

The aim of Maoist movements -- earlier and now -- remains the same: overthrow the Indian State, seize political power through an armed revolution, and install a ‘new democratic revolution’, or a ‘people’s dictatorship’ through a ‘protracted people’s war’.

They were, and are, committed and draw heavily upon Mao Zedong’s ideology. But, in contrast to the earlier phases of the movement, the strategy of the current CPI-Maoist driven enterprise is much more refined and sophisticated. The biggest difference is that the earlier naive belief that people in India will spontaneously revolt without being organised, or that armed revolution will be successful in overthrowing parliamentary democracy, is completely shunned by the CPI-Maoist.

While the previous phase of Maoist movement can easily be termed as enterprise of romantic hotheads, pursing a dream of a class-less society, the current leadership seems to believe in a much more staggered path to revolution. The leadership of the CPI-Maoist today puts much stress on organising people on economic issues and doesn’t follow the path of class annihilation as the most effective means to overthrow the Indian State.

The CPI-Maoist document, Strategy and tactics of the Indian revolution, issued by the Central Committee of the CPI-Maoist in 2004, clearly says that the path followed by Lenin in Russia -- that of “capturing the urban area... establishing revolutionary authority in the urban area, and thereafter, capturing the villages and establishing the revolutionary authority in the whole country,” isn’t suitable for India.

Rather, it says that the Indian revolution will have to start in just the opposite direction -- from the far-flung backward villages towards cities. The idea of building bases in the rural areas, and then encircling cities is a well-known tactic advocated and adopted by Mao Zedong. But, what is different in this movement, is that, unlike Charu Mazumdar, who in 1971 famously said that the “Indian liberation” would happen in just four years -- the present leadership of the CPI-Maoist advocates a protracted people’s struggle that will stretch over decades, going through these phases: 'stage of strategic defensive', 'stage of strategic stalemate', and 'stage of strategic offensive' -- indicating a much more pragmatic and meticulously planned approach.

How to overthrow the Indian State?

The Maoist strategy to overthrow the Indian State revolves around the simple yet lethal idea of exploiting the contradictions in the polity, economy, and society. The protracted people’s war to realise a ‘New Democratic Revolution’ is to be fought by exploiting and deepening the contradictions.

For the Maoists, there are four major contradictions or chasms in Indian society: (a) The contradiction between imperialism and the Indian people; (b) The contradictions between feudalism and the masses; (c) The contradictions between capital and labour; (d) The internal contradictions among the ruling class. The first stage of the people’s war comprises establishing ‘liberated zones’ in the countryside, and then moves towards a gradual expansion till cities are surrounded, followed by a final push into urban areas.

It is to this end that the Maoist strategy says, 'The revolutionary war has to begin in those regions that are relatively more backward and where the social contradictions are sharp'. Not surprisingly, therefore, the primary concentration of the CPI-Maoist is on poor rural communities in remote areas, and the tribal populations that predominantly stay within or on the fringes of the forests. 'The inadequacy of the transport and communications system and isolation of the remote countryside' also make them an ideal base for a nascent Maoist guerrilla army.

If the disconnected rural areas of India form the initial setting for the Maoists’ agenda, contradictions found in the urban centres provide the second stage. And supporting the many separatist movements in India based on identity, religion, and caste politics is their third area of concentration. The Maoists, for instance, have supported the separatist movement and separatist groups in Kashmir, and the dozen-odd insurgency movements in the seven north-eastern states of India.

In fact, the ninth Congress of the CPI-Maoist passed a resolution saying: 'This Unity Congress -- 9th Congress -- unequivocally supports the right of self-determination of all the oppressed nationalities, including their right to secede from the autocratic Indian State'.

Support for separatist and insurgent movements, for the Maoists, also translates into sharing military and technical know-how. Despite denials ('We shall certainly defeat the government'), analysts believe that the CPI-Maoist has received considerable weapons-training from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

On the other hand, linkages between the CPI-Maoist and the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (insurgent movement in Manipur seeking to secede from India), is well documented and growing. The recent arrests of PLA and Maoist cadres have revealed that the Maoists are using the PLA to source weapons and are also enlisting it for training.

The urban programme, front organisations

The current Maoist movement is pivoted on 'three magic weapons' (Strategy and tactics of the Indian revolution, 2004, p. 78). The first two are: a) Party, or a strong organisation and (b) the army, or a body of fighters. The third is the ‘United Front’. It stands for the alliances and linkages of the Maoists and groups that would facilitate its ultimate goal -- overthrowing the Indian State. The United Front aims to unite disparate disgruntled groups in the urban areas to 'build up a broad struggle against the ruling classes'.

Image (left): Kobad Ghandy

A more comprehensive understanding of the nature and role of the United Front emerged with the arrest of Kobad Ghandy in Delhi in September 2009. Ghandy’s past is as striking as his present activities. Born into a rich Parsi family in Mumbai, he went to the elite Doon School and earned a Master’s degree from the United Kingdom.

He was also a member of the apex body of the CPI-Maoist; he was associated with the central committee and in-charge of building coalitions with disgruntled elements in urban areas. Interrogation revealed that he was functioning out of New Delhi, liaising with revolutionary parties in Belgium, Peru, Philippines, Turkey, Germany, and Nepal and, most importantly, building up the Maoist movement in the urban areas of India.

Ghandy was also a key member of the secretive Tactical United Front, and was engaged in forming coalitions with groups opposed to the State and willing to oppose it through ‘peaceful’, political means. He was also involved in broadening the group’s support base.

At the time of his arrest, Ghandy is believed to have told his interrogators that he was coordinating and directing about a dozen such alliances. These included workers in the telecom and power sectors, most of who were migrant labourers.

Interestingly, one of his most important tasks was to identify and create a group of sympathetic lawyers who could then be used to fight legal cases in the courts.

Shocked at the manner in which the Maoists had crept into the national capital and were using perfectly legal organisations deviously, the ministry of home affairs changed the law to include suspected Maoist front organisations in the list of banned terror outfits under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 2006.

The TUF functions directly under the Sub Committee on Mass Organizations, which is a subset of the all-powerful Central Committee of the CPI-Maoist. The TUF is mainly engaged in expanding the 'overground cadre strength', and incorporates them into organisational work, mainly in urban areas; and also acts as 'a good cover' to evade the State’s net.

The Maoist front organisations can be categorised as secret revolutionary mass organisations, open and semi-open revolutionary mass organisations, open legal mass organisations, which are not directly linked to the CPI-Maoist.

In an 800-page charge-sheet against Gandhy, the Delhi police said that at least three well-known civil rights organisations -- the People's Union of Democratic Rights, the People's Union of Civil Liberties, and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights -- were guilty of helping Maoists.

K P S Gill, one of India’s most well-known counter-terrorist practitioners, writing about the front organisations, observed that 'civil rights groups have been transformed into weapons in the hands of various terrorist and insurgent formations in India, engaging in a campaign of harassment and disruption, undermining the capacities of State forces, and often paralysing the state's agencies…' In essence, the key aim of the United Front is to set up a web of organisations with the aim to harass and subvert the State at every possible front.

Crippled by contradictions

The biggest hurdle before the Indian State is perhaps its inability to determine the nature and scope of the Maoist movement. The Indian establishment analyses the problem through two contrasting lenses -- the Nehruvian compact of a welfare State and the market view.

The first one -- subscribed to by a large section of civil society, political leadership, and a portion of the government as well -- sees the Maoist movement as a result of the State’s failure. Seen from this angle, the Maoist movement is nothing but a reaction to the lack of social and economic development arising from deprivation, loss of livelihoods, lack of employment opportunities, and abject poverty.

The Maoist problem, according to this view, is a result of the State abdicating its role as a guarantor of welfare. The solution to this, therefore, must lie in addressing the socio-economic development deficit. And, insomuch, the Maoists can partner the State in addressing the deficits.

The view from the right, however, looks at the Maoist movement as necessarily a challenge to the manner in which politics and governance are organised in India and, therefore, needs to be addressed as enemies of the State  -- militarily, without sympathy.

This crucial division in placing the Maoist movement in proper perspective has reduced India’s ability to address the issue effectively. The State’s ambiguity has resulted in a stalemate in the crucial fight against the creeping progress of the Naxalite movement in the country.

The author, a veteran journalist with 30 years of experience in reporting and analysing conflicts in Indian sub-continent, is the co-author of a forthcoming book on Maoist insurgency in India. The article first appeared in Defence and Security Alert

Image (top): Maoist carders in the jungles of Chhattisgarh

Photograh: Reuters 

Nitin A Gokhale