Published in Uday India 21 August 2010 as Cover Story
Shall the Indian Maoists talk to the authorities? That too after the sudden demise of their erudite spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad in an alleged ‘fake encounter’? These are the questions which are doing the rounds in academic, media as well as political circles since the reports of Azad’s death surfaced in the first week of July.
In a letter to Swami Agnivesh, who is acting as a mediator for the envisaged ‘talks’ between the Maoists and the Home Ministry; Azad had stated his party’s intentions of holding talks with the government. In that letter, he pronounced : “Our Party is very serious about bringing about peace especially at the present juncture when lakhs of adivasis had fled, and are fleeing, their homes; when lakhs of adivasis are facing chronic conditions of hunger and famine….”
However, he was skeptical regarding the comportment of the Union Government. He felt that the Home Ministry was probably trying to create a veneer of ‘talks’ and was not at all serious about it. In fact, in that same letter he uttered: “the Home Monistry wants to somehow complete the formality of talks, if at all they materialise, in order to satisfy the civil society”.
Well, these are allegations and there are counter-allegations from New Delhi too regarding the non-serious approach of the Communist Party of India Maoist (CPI-M) toward settling the ongoing bloodshed through deliberations. Now the matter of concern is whether a set of talks is really possible between a banned outfit and the state? And if this is in the affirmative, then what can be the agenda of such talks?
Looking at the past, it would be natural for one to predict the futility of holding discussions with the CPI-M. The Andhra Pradesh government had gone ahead to have round table conferences with them but to no avail. Finally terror was met with terror and that in essence obliterated the militants from the province.
Actually the problem has a broader breadth and runs deep. The fundamental ideology of Maoism rests on a protracted people’s war in order to topple the so-called ‘reactionary bourgeoisie regime’. Similar movements, launched in Cuba under Castro-Guevara combo, in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas or in Peru under Guzman have all done exactly the same: followed the prototype model of the Chinese Revolution of Mao Zedong. Whether all these movements have been fully successful or not is not the point of debate, but the fact of the matter remains is that these insurgencies followed a set, well-planned model of “people’s war” under the ambit of ‘guerilla tactics’.
And forget about manifesto; ‘holding talks’ was never even in their agenda.
Only the Nepalese Maoists deviated to an extent by joining mainstream politics. However, that is held to be the ‘Prachanda Path’ and their Indian counterparts are still to accept it unequivocally. Moreover, Prachanda had a solid reason to abjure arms temporarily and join national politics. That was necessarily a “tactical alliance” by the Nepalese Maoists with the parliamentary parties in order to effect a strategic victory of capturing power at Kathmandu. The common enemy of all the parties at that juncture was the monarch and hence that ‘tactical alliance’ was meaningful.
Whereas in the Indian context, at present the Maoists have no ‘tactical partners’ in the mainstream political fray. Hence they cannot even contemplate to forge such an alliance. Oil price hike, inflation and Indian camaraderie with the Western Hemisphere can still be relevant issues of commonality among the different communist parties (say the Communist Party of India-Marxists) and the Maoists, but that cannot be the mainstay of their friendship; more so when each is killing other’s comrades.
Hence, what at best the Maoists can do by accepting the ‘offer for talks’ is to utilise the interregnum to bolster their party infrastrcture and acquire some breathing space as well as time. Furthermore, a ceasefire would give the rank and file of the ultras to regroup. But this argument holds good for the government too as had been pointed out by this author in this same forum (The Bad War, see April section of this blog). Moreover, a mutual ceasefire would not only be beneficial to both the parties, but also bring succour to the Adivasis who are caught in the crossfire.
Nevertheless, peace albeit for a brief period of time seems hard to come by. And that is due not only to the intransigence of the ultras but also due to fluctuating policies of the authorities. The Home Ministry ought to have clarified its stance in a much more categorical manner. What exactly did it mean by “the Maoists to lay down arms”? Did they mean a mutual ceasefire? And since that exactly was the point of disagreement, the government could have taken a bolder step by declaring a unilateral ceasefire and given the insurgents a time of the so-called 72 hrs to accede to that ceasefire. It would have been interpreted as largesse on the part of the Ministry and surely could have elevated its public image.
Yet, it can be well agreed that the ultras have their own set of demands. They want the release of their top leadership who have been incarcerated by the administration. Many senior politburo members like Kobad Ghandy are languishing in prisons. On this count, it is worhwhile to mention that the Maoists are aslo not very clear about their ‘pre-conditions’. In his interview given to Jan Myrdal and Gautam Navlakha, the CPI-M General Secretary Ganapathy had put in place three demands as pre-requisite for talks with the government. One among those was lifting the ban on the party and its mass organisation wings. The other one was the release of ‘their comrades’.
(left, Maoist Politburo leader Kobad Ghandy)
Later on, in his exclusive interview to The Hindu, spokesperson Azad had clarified the ‘prisoner release’ agenda. He in fact had diluted Ganapathy’s original staunch line and interpreted that demand to be a part of the talks; that is, leaders and other prisoners may be released as the talks proceeded toward a fruitful direction.
Hence it is clear that there are conditions and pre-conditions of going ahead with the talks from both the sides and none of the incumbents till date have really expressed their proclivity toward any amicable settlement of the dispute.
Furthermore, the death of Azad and now the death of Raghu Singh, a key Salwa Judum leader in Chattisgarh means that violence would go on unabated. Mediation by the civil society may not go in vain but is yet to extract anything meaningful in terms of ‘peace’ in the Red Corridor.
In this light, a hypothetical situation may be framed. Suppose if at all the ultras sit with the authorities, what can be their topic of discusison? The Ministry’s interlocutors would surely try to persuade them to ‘give up arms’ and buy as much time as possible. In the meantime,the police and the paramilitary shall try to enhance their intelligence network. Thus, the Andhra Model of Talks would be followed by the authorities. On the other hand, the Maoists would press the government to release some of their politburo members on the pretext of carrying out the talks as their other leaders are underground due to the ban imposed on the party. Hence both would create a façade of ‘gentlemanship’ and try to ensure tactical victories.
It must be borne in mind that nobody, be it Karl Marx, or Vladimir Ulanov Lenin or Mao Zedong, on whose theoretical principles the CPI-M bases itself, talk of ‘talks’. They stricty abhor partnering with the ‘bourgeoisie regime’. They speak of overthrowing the existing parliamentary democracy. They hate ‘revisionism’.
And the present Maoist leadership idolises the Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution of 1966 by Mao Zadong. They despise the deviationist line adopted by Deng Xiao Ping, the maker of modern China which espouses State controlled Capitalism.
Hence, there are fundamental differences between the Indian Maoist leadership and the political throught process prevalent in India. A synthesis does not seem to be on the cards, at least in the present future.
Uptill now, militarily speaking, the civil war going on in the Red Corridor is a low intensity conflict. Hence the policy makers are not really prone to any compromise at this juncture. Unless this conflict takes further ominous shapes, for instance, flows out of that geographical zone and engulfs the cities, the administration may not be really keen to effect a workable compromise with the rebels or even initiate such a process.
The author presumes that the Indian state is presently pursuing the policy of ‘annihilation’ of the top brass of the Maoist leadership, either by imprisoning them and hence alienating them from their rank and file or by simply eliminating them physically. It has been a well tested policy of the 1970s when it worked quite well against then Naxalites. Azad at Adilabad and now Sidhu Soren at Jangalmahal were netted in that venture.
The present party structure of the CPI-M after the merger of People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre in 2004, is a far more organised and bolstered command hierarchy compared to their rudimentary formation of 1970s. Nonetheless, a jolt to the ‘central command’ is something which shall test not only the enthusiasm of the foot soldiers but the ‘power of replenishment’ of the organisation.
The Indian government may as well follow another policy in hand with this ‘annihilation’ regime. It is a well known fact that ‘piecemeal legislative concessions’ bestowed upon a disgruntled populace can deviate a sizable quantum of the ‘peripheral’ followers of a ‘puritan’ armed movement. And that is exactly what the state should attempt to do: eat and wean away a sizable portion of the workers of the ultras; in this case the Adivasis.
Guerilla warriors feed on the people, and in turn are camouflaged by the people. And it is these ‘people’ whom the state should target; in a benevolent manner however.
Though the ultras, on the other hand acknowledge the fact that they are militarily weak compared to the state forces; but that very fact impels them to carry forward with the guerilla warfare and slowly progress toward building a People’s force which would engage the state forces in a conventional war. That may take decades, however.
Nevertheless, the Adivasis, the main pillar of strength of the CPI-M are no ideologues. They hardly can appreciate the literature of Marx, Lenin or Mao. Their ‘consciousness’ of revolting against the state is fuelled by not merely by inflammatory speeches of Ganapathy et al. but basically because of the ‘callousness’ of the authorities. Lack of education, lack of penetration of the outside world, lack of empowerment and consequent ‘alienation’ of these people are the nodal problems behind the present insurrection. This has happened since the colonial era and just went on undiminished.
Apparently it seems that holding talks with the present Maoist leadership and pursuing peace is like chasing a mirage. So what shall the state do? Shall it annihilate the top brass of the Maoists as was done in the case of Azad or Soren? Will that eat away the ideological aspect of the revolution and hence render it rudderless?
On a positive note, an implication of the policy of ‘annihilation’ by the state can be that the rank and file of the Maoists may get subjugated and give up arms as had happened with the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka. The other possibility can be that shun of ideological moorings, the cadres can go berserk and indulge in isolated acts of terrorism. Lumpen elements may spread wanton acts of terror. Moreover, what is the guarantee that elimination of the present leadership would not produce fresh minds? In fact, that has what has happened since the death of a Charu Mazumdar or a Kanhai Chatterjee.
Thus it may be suggested that ‘talks’ are the most viable option for both the parties, even at this juncture. A temporary peace in the Red Corridor shall usher in happiness for the Adivasis. After all, they are our own ‘people’ and not the ‘other’. However, with the deaths of Azad, Singh and Soren, and with the ongoing para-military operations in the Red Corridor; the atmosphere is too vitiated. To expect anything moral or proper at this stage is simply preposterous.