23 December, 2011

The Maoist movement in India – government apathy, tribal insurrection or ideological dogmatism?

The following is an interview given by me to Ms Vironica Fernandes, a post-graduate student of Media and Films at New York, USA in November 2011. She will be using this in her thesis & her film on Naxalites. The text is to appear in the coming issue of the WILL magazine. 

Q1. Kindly layout the history of the Maoist movement in India briefly

ANS: The Maoist insurrection shot into prominence in India in the form of the Naxal uprising in a remote village of Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of the eastern Indian province of West Bengal. It was way back in 1967, when a sharecropper called Bigul kisan attempted to take hold of his land with a court order. He was thwarted by the goons of the zamindar. Thus, he and his fellow farmers retaliated with spears and other indigenous weapons.

The movement that followed was called Naxal rebellion. It was spearheaded by the intellectuals based in Calcutta. The initial phase of the movement faded away in a matter of 4 years with the incarceration & killing of its top leadership.

It disintegrated further with ideological schisms. However, in the 1980s, the mantle of leadership was transferred to the intellectuals of Andhra. Kondapally Seetharamaiah took hold of the leadership. By then, the Naxals had 2 major factions:

a.   Maoist Communist Centre (active in Bihar-Jharkhand)
b.   People’s War group (active in Andhra)

In 2004, the 2 factions re-united and formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist). After the re-union, the impact due to the rebels has gone up by leaps and bounds. Presently, they are active in almost 1/4th of the Indian landmass.

Q3. How did you come about being an active voice to this movement? Explain to us your involvement/participation to give a voice to this movement?

ANS: I would define myself to be an ‘external’ viewer of this movement. I analyse, theorise and then strategize regarding this movement. I do not lend any ‘voice’ to this movement. I try to develop analytical tools to understand the reason behind this insurgency. I attempt to postulate the various modes of counterinsurgency and compare the Maoist insurrection in India with insurgencies in other parts of the world; specifically the communist upheaval in Phillipines.

To understand the plight of the tribal people of India run in parallel to the above study.

Q4. How exactly in one word would you term the current Maoist situation in India?

AND: Always difficult to describe the situation in one word. But if that’s the case, then let it be: “Grave”; at least as far as rural India is concerned.

Q5. What exactly is the current situation in the maoists areas? And can you give us some clarity on the spread of the Maoists in the country.

ANS: In the Maoist strongholds, they run their ‘own’ form of government: called the ‘Janathana Sarkar’. They call their areas as Liberated Zones. The interior districts of Chhattisgarh, parts of Jharkhand, Bihar, western part of West Bengal, eastern Maharashtra, Andhra-Orissa border are mostly ‘dominated’ by the Maoists.

In these areas, there goes on a constant struggle between the Maoist guerrillas and the police & para-military. And caught in the crossfire are the hapless tribals

As far as spread of the guerrillas is concerned, I guess I have spelt that out in Q2. To re-iterate, out of 604 districts in India, about 150 are Maoist-affected.

Q6. Is there a political structure that the Maoists follow? What is their hierarchy? What is their belief and ideologies if any that follow?

ANS: Yes. They believe in setting up a proletariat-led communist society. 

They have adopted the doctrines of Karl Marx and the warfare tactics (guerrilla warfare) of Mao Zedong.

They believe in a vanguard party; having a strictly regimented structure with a General Secretary at the helm of affairs. Presently, it is Ganapthy, their general secy.

They want to dismantle the bourgeoisie–led democracy in India. They attempt to defeat the Indian state through guerilla warfare. Now they are in the stage of strategic defence. After that, they would go to the stage of strategic stalemate, before finally going into strategic offense.

Q7. The tribal villagers today feel torn between the police and maoists? How did this come about?

ANS: The Maoist movement, as I said previously, had started off in urban areas, specifically in Kolkata. Thereafter, the comrades desired to branch out in the rural areas. But that didn’t work due to mismanagement and wrong reading of the doctrinal principles of guerrilla warfare.

After 1980, the Naxal movement regained its strength. But this time it was from Andhra Pradesh. Now, they targeted the tribal zones of India in Central India and Andhra-Orissa border regions.

Once the movement gathered momentum in the Adivasi heartlands, it was natural that the tribals shall be the pawns for both the maoist guerrillas and the police.

Q8. The Maoist movement began for the people then how did it happen that the villagers also feel threatened by the moats in addition to the police?

ANS: See, it’s difficult to give a black-and-white answer to this qs. The leaders of the movement still claim that it is for the people, of the people and by the people. The people are to the guerrillas as water is to the fish.

So, never will the Maoist rebels want to be alienated from the masses.

What, however, happens is in a war zone, some villagers would necessarily be caught in the crossfire; willingly or unwillingly.

Nevertheless, is it state repression or naxal menace, which acts as a  greater threat to the ordinary Adivasi, remains a matter of debate and research.

Q9. Have the movement today become less about the people?

ANS: Again, as I just said, opinions would vary. In fact, the Naxalites of the 1960s and 70s would vouch that the movement has become bloody and less pro-people. But the present Maoists are reluctant to accept that thesis.

Q10. What are your views on how the police are currently handling the situation out in these areas?

ANS: The police are involved in counterinsurgency/counter-terrorism operations. They normally try not to antagonize the rural populace. But the history of police forces in India is abysmal. Endemic corruption and political interference has marred the credibility of police forces in India.

Q11. Do you think the government and the police are justified in their actions? Or do you think the maoists are justified in their actions?

ANS: Again, we need to appreciate that this is a civil war. And in a war, atrocities are committed by both parties. However, that does not exonerate either party.

Q12. How does one expect the adivasis and the tribals in these regions to survive and fight the heavily armed government and the maoists?

ANS: Now, we need to understand that there are always NOT three parties to this war. I mean: not always the division of the war zone into Adivasis, Maoists and Security forces.

A clear-cut division is not always discernible. But those Adivasis who want to remain free of the fight against the state, join the state as either ‘informers’ or pump up the fight against the Maoists as militia in  the form of Salwa Judum (in Chhattisgarh). Very recenty, Supreme Court of India has banned the Salwa Judum militia.

Q13. How do the Maoists fund themselves for their operations and equipments? Do they have external links and support?

ANS: Their main sources of funding are:

a. internal revenue collection from the Adivasis and the backward classes in the zones which have been ‘liberated’ from the Indian govt.

b. extortion from the MNCs which try to set up businesses in the liberated zones.

c. They also steal the equipments and ammunitions from the police, after an ambush/raid is successful.

There are always possibilities/allegations that the Indian Maoists may have external links/support; e.g from Nepal, China, Phillipines and even cross-border terrorists in Pakistan. However, no substantial proof have been posited as of yet.

In fact, WikiLeaks dismisses such link-ups; though even that assertion is NOT beyond doubt.

Q14. What have been the various government approaches to tackle the maoists over the past few years?  And how have the maoists and the people reacted to it?

ANS: Indian govt’s approach has been two-pronged:
a.   Development      &          b. police-cum-paramilitary operations.

The Maoists have reacted sharply; continuing with their guerrilla war. The people have either joined the Maoists or the govt. or remained neutral.
A tribal militia called Salwa Judum was also set up to tackle the civil war. It has been banned by the Supreme Court.

Q15. What and how do you foresee the future for this movement?

ANS: As per my analysis, the Maoist movement would continue to flourish in the tribal/backward regions till governance could be restored there.

Since this is a low-intensity conflict, it shall continue for quite a number of years to come. Another 10 - 15 years of sustained fight could probably see the movement splurge into the Indian cities.

Till that happens, the Indian Maoists would be in no formidable position to challenge the might of the Indian state.

Q16. Are peace talks even possible today?

ANS: Peace talks took place in Andhra Pradesh in 2004. Didn’t work out. Even of late (2011, 14th November’s news); the Maoists have spurned the offer of negotiations from the Chief Minister of West Bengal.
More thought on this could be gained from here:

Q17. The rich will continue to exploit the masses and the government will continue to support them. Where and how do you see this headed?

ANS: Well, this is true in many cases, but not always and outrightly. India basically suffers from the malaise of corruption. Democratic movements have shot up to counter such mal-administration. Naxal ideology could be seen as one of the forms of protestations.

For a heterogeneous country like India, disparities are bound to exist and no magic-wand seem to emerge in the foreseeable future

Q18. The feeling is that, if there is anything else that the Indian government does not want the world to know about besides Kashmir is the Maoists movement. Comment?

ANS: Well, why only the Maoist movement, no democratic polity would like to expose its weaknesses. And India always has maintained the position of not interfering in other country’s internal problems and hence expects the same from others.

Q19. What according to you are the main problems and the solution to this long violent struggle?

ANS: As I have already said, there are no magic solutions. Problems have been already discussed, I presume.

However, the govt. ought to proceed with its winning hearts and minds counter-insurgency programme coupled with the targeted killings/incarcerations of the top Maoist leaders. That could provide dividends in the long run.

Q20. The middle class across the country seem to be ignorant about this issue and even if they are aware they seem to just brush this aside as another atrocity which they do not want to hear of (given that the media only feeds them information in bits and pieces so that they are not able to get a complete picture and hence kept in the dark)? Why do you think the middle class behave in this manner? What can be done to make them aware and question the information that is fed to them by the government and the media?

ANS: It’s a wrong assumption that the media news is mostly fed by the Indian state. Rather, the middle class is open to news from all sections.

However, it would be callow to expect the burgeoning Indian middle class to venture out of their confines of comfort in the cities and nourish the Adivasis. 

Till, as I said, the insurgency hits the cities in a big manner, the middle class won’t be shaken from their comfort zones.

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