27 July, 2016

Examining a Tactical Alliance between ISIS and India's Maoists

Is There an Alliance Between ISIS and India's Maoists?

The question of a tactical alliance between the Indian Maoists and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is perhaps no longer irrelevant. On July 19, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) submitted in a charge sheet before a special court in Delhi that ISIS was planning to procure weapons from the Maoists in order to carry out terror strikes.
However, on April 27, India’s minister of state for home affairs had intimated to Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house, that there is no nexus between ISIS and India’s various Naxal groups, even as far as training and seeking weapons from the Naxalites are concerned.
Interestingly, Abhinav Pandya speculated in The Quint on July 10 that there was a growing possibility of Bangladesh and West Bengal based jihadis joining hands with the Maoists in the Red Corridor to destabilize India. The author nevertheless did not provide any cogent evidence to substantiate his conjecture.

Though direct evidence of ISI-Maoist collaboration has been hard to discern, the unholy influence of ISI as a third-party entrant through the northeastern gateway of India is quite plausible. There exists direct linkage between Maoists and the northeastern terrorist/insurgent outfits like the Paresh Baruah-led faction of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) or Manipur’s People’s Liberation Army, which in turn would have had no qualms in seeking financial and logistical help from ISI.
This is, however, not the first time that a possible nexus between foreign elements and the Indian Maoists has been highlighted. In an analysis for Stratfor, Ben West on November 18, 2010 reported an alleged meeting between the Maoists and members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In his report, West referred to top police authorities in the state of Chhattisgarh saying that two LeT operatives had attended a Naxalite meeting in April or May 2010. It is noteworthy that West was cautious enough to mention that Stratfor was yet to see significant changes on the ground which would lend any credence to the scenario of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) colluding with the Maoists.
In late 2014, however, the Maoists spoke out against the state authorities linking Naxalites with the ISI. They have even accused the government of trying to hatch a “conspiracy” to establish their links with Islamist extremists and Pakistan’s ISI.
That reaction from Maoists is only natural.
First, the Maoists, as guerrilla fighters, lead the life of a fish in the sea of people. A nexus with anti-national, communal, and terrorist forces like ISI or ISIS or al-Qaeda, if established, is sure to tarnish their credibility as secular, communist revolutionaries. The masses in the rural and tribal heartlands may lose faith in the left-wing ultras because of their alleged association with unpopular forces. In this manner, the Maoists would jeopardize their source of nourishment, which by all means they would not desire.
Second, the Maoists are bound to lose the ideological support of intellectuals if any perceivable partnership with the ISIS terror mongers is found. The extreme left-wingers would hardly be willing to risk this either.
Third, the fundamental ideology of the Maoists is an antithesis to the basic doctrine of purely communal-terrorist forces like ISIS. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism focuses on class conflict and loathes religious discourse as a “poor man’s opium.” Jihad as advocated by ISIS is infinitely distant from the ideational position of the Maoists.
Though the age-old adage of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” still holds ground in the postmodern age of geo-economics, Maoists would in all probability interpret the saying in conjunction with reality. The Maoists are bound to experience an existential threat if they form an alliance with either ISI or the deadlier ISIS, even if as some analysts may term that as “tactical alliance.” After all, they have always upheld their presence in the sub-continent as indigenous insurgent group, born out of lack of governance and consequent exploitation on the tribes and backward castes by the bourgeoisie-comprador sections.
It is a fact that the Maoists have tendered vocal support to the Kashmir insurgency, to the extent of the right to self-determination of the people of the region. Further, they have also expressed philosophical support to the balkanization of the country if required to meet the aspiration of the people. But it would be indeed ludicrous for them to come out hand-in-glove with an anti-people fundamentalist terrorist network like ISIS.
Does this mean that Maoist-ISIS tactical alliance is a non-starter?
ISIS operatives in India can always contemplate joining hands with the Maoists, since for them it would be a beneficial situation in terms of logistics, arms, ammunition, and training. It is also a fact that any arms or logistics supply deal with ISIS would financially embolden the Maoists, who at present are very much under pressure from the security forces and would find any monetary transaction as oxygen for their “new democratic revolution.”  But it is unlikely that the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Maoist hierarchy would acquiesce to such financial greed.
However, the administrative grip of the core leadership on the fringe groups located in various parts of the country is not guaranteed. Hence a tactical alliance of ISIS operatives with fringe Maoist elements or breakaway factions consisting of lumpen cadres always remain a possibility.
There is, however, one issue on which the Maoists find common ground with ISIS, and that is an insurrection against the perceived imperialistic juggernaut of the United States. But it is noteworthy to quote what current Maoist General Secretary Ganapathy had to say in that regard:
Islamic jihadist movements have two aspects: one is their anti-imperialist aspect, and the other their reactionary aspect in social and cultural matters. Our party supports the struggle of Muslim countries and people against imperialism, while criticizing and struggling against the reactionary ideology and social outlook of Muslim fundamentalism.”
The upshot is clear and obvious. A Maoist-ISI connection may still be in the cards through the northeastern insurgent outfits, with the latter being an arms-cum-logistics supplier, but a Maoist-ISIS tactical alliance is simply not a marriage of convenience for the Maoists. It goes against their very basic principles and theoretical standpoint. Nevertheless, if any cooperation of that nature occurs in the future, then the four-decade-old insurgency would provide its weakest façade to the security forces for final demolition.


Dr. Uddipan Mukherjee, IOFS  is Dy. Director at Ordnance Factory Board, under the Ministry of Defense, Government of India. He has been published widely in various national and international think tanks and magazines since 2009. He specialises on insurgency related issues and specifically the Maoist problem in India. The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Indian government

12 March, 2016

Fragile Peace in Colombia

Will March 23 be a historic day for Colombia? Possibility is not high since President Juan Manuel Santos was curt in saying that he prefers a no deal rather than a bad one. He was referring to the peace negotiations with the Communist guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC. Most of the issues have been chalked out but one – the contentious issue in any insurgency rolling into peaceful transition – that is, disarming the erstwhile ‘rebels’. The peace deal is being mediated by Cuba and the initial announcement of March 23 deadline nicely dovetailed with the extraordinary visit by the US President Barack Obama to Cuba on March 21 – 22. 

A poll conducted in October 2015, writes ‘Colombia Reports’, quite interestingly shows that majority of the Colombian people have expressed optimism in the peace negotiations with the country’s oldest and by reasonable estimates largest guerrilla group. The peace talks began rather secretly in late 2010 after President Juan Manuel Santos assumed authority in Colombia. The death of FARC’s military commander ‘Mono Jojoy’ was another reason which pushed the rebels to the discussion table. They were expected to gain some breathing time which is a natural tactical component in protracted guerrilla warfare.  The talks however continued despite the elimination of rebel leader Alfonso Cano in 2011 and consequently a sharp increase in retaliatory attacks by FARC.

On the psychological turf, President Santos openly proclaimed that Cano’s death was a big blow to FARC and it should be prudent for the leftist rebels to seek refuge in peace talks. Journalist Jeremy McDermott writing for BBC News from Bogota shared that although the psychological impact of Cano’s death for the Marxist rebel movement was huge; however, it was unlikely to destroy the group, or indeed, even cause a serious interruption in its operations. McDermott opined that the structure of the FARC was designed to withstand the loss of leaders. Since 2008, four member of the guerrillas' seven-man ruling body, the Secretariat, have died or been killed. Nevertheless, every time a leader died, another stepped into his place.

May be McDermott was theoretically correct, but Santos’ tactics worked in the long run – at least in the present circumstances, it seems so since ultimately the guerrillas have zeroed in on the discussion table with the state. In August 2012, Santos and the FARC announced to be moving onto formal peace talks by October. In fact, by November that year, the rebels sent a number of its top commanders to Cuba where the two conflicting parties would work out the specifics of a general accord to be formalised before the final talks. However, this was not the first attempt to draw a peace accord with the ultras. Several forays in the past since 1980s had failed – and on occasions giving rise to renewed conflict with more violence.

In that backdrop, in the last week of September 2015, when media images flashed of Cuban President Raúl Castro holding the hands of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and top leader of FARC, Rodrigo Londono 'Timochenko' announcing the culmination of an agreement; it evoked usual doubts in the minds of ordinary Colombians, but nonetheless it was a pleasing sight. Both sides had said in March last year that the transitional justice process was the hardest to negotiate. Talks nearly broke down within a month over arrangements for trials and a reconciliation framework. In September 2015, however, only one of six elements in the talks remained to be finalised, i.e. decommissioning and disarmament. The parties affirmed that once the likely final accord is signed, FARC will lay down its arms within 60 days. Furthermore, FARC’s commander, Timoleón Jiménez, posted an interview saying: “We are willing to take responsibility for our actions during the period of resistance.” The documents pertaining to the peace agreement clearly spelt out that there will be no special consideration for drug-trafficking crimes that are “unrelated to rebellion”.

The [Un]Civil War

As gleaned from the fact sheet published by the ‘Colombia Reports’ on the Peace Process in Colombia, the conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government began in 1964. But political violence closely related to the current conflict has its roots decades earlier. Historically speaking, Colombia has never had much of a stable democracy. In its more than 200 years of existence, the former Spanish colony has had more than a dozen constitutions. Attempts to consolidate political and economic power by the two major political parties of Colombia – the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, led to several violent confrontations, wars, and periods of political exclusion between the late 19th century and the 1940s. The violence with far more radical leftist forces did not take place until after World War II, when a populist liberal politician, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, opposed the Conservative government and began initiating a mass movement, threatening the status quo.

Gaitan’s murder in 1948 sparked a period called ‘La Violencia,’ a decade-long brutality in which more than 200,000 Colombians were killed. The streak of violence ended in 1958 when the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party agreed to divide power – to hold public office and control the economy every four years. This agreement was called the National Front. However, the left wing of the Liberal Party, along with the communists influenced by a wave of socialism-influenced revolts across the continent, did not accept this National Front. In the countryside, where inequality was a perennial problem, farmers began revolting against the Bogota-based political elite. And it was from this movement that the FARC germinated. Initially, they were a handful of peasants. In 1964, FARC declared itself independent, forming ‘The Republic of Marquetalia’ in a tiny village on the foot of the Nevada de Huila mountain range.

The conflict further escalated in the 1980s when several leftist rebel groups became active. Also drug trafficking revenue was financing weapons across the country, and right-wing self-defense forces began to protect private interests from the increasingly powerful guerrillas. In alliance with the Colombian Communist Party, the strengthened FARC began to have political ambitions at a national level, posing a serious challenge to the political status quo. In 1985, the Colombian government began peace talks with different rebel groups.

Peace Talks
The current peace talks are following an agenda that is made up of six issues.  These aspects attempt to cover both the causes and the effects of the conflict that exclusively may not have involved the FARC and the state. The issues regarding rural reform and political participation can be seen as an attempt to solve the fundamental causes of the conflict. Drug trafficking, one of the main pillars of the insurgency-related violence, is also a part of the agenda. Each of the agenda points needs to be signed by both the parties before a final peace deal can be reached. The FARC, and later followed by the Colombian government, began publishing the partial agreements on rural reform, political participation and illicit drugs in mid-2014. The government and the rebel body later made the documents publicly available. Partial agreements have been inked on Rural Reforms, Political participation and illicit drugs.

According to the United Nations, Colombia’s conflict has left more than 7 million victims. Political violence has been wreaking havoc since the 1940s and has left at least half a million Colombians dead. This matter on the victims of the civil war is being negotiated. Further, while negotiating the end of conflict, the two parties have to discuss the abandonment of arms by the FARC and the measures to be adopted in order to help reintegrate the rank and file of FARC. The most contentious issue now longing to see the logical end is the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of some estimated 20,000 FARC fighters and non-armed activists. When the implementation phase begins, Colombia’s government will ask the public to approve the peace deal in a formal vote or plebiscite. Once the electorate approves of the agreement, the government can formally sign peace with the FARC and all previously arranged deals will become valid.

In fact, Colombia’s attempt to end five decades of bloodshed was about to be derailed, after FARC units appeared to have breached a four-month-old unilateral ceasefire by ambushing a military patrol on 14 April 2015, reportedly killing eleven soldiers and wounding another twenty. According to official sources, the soldiers were ambushed with grenades, explosives and firearms near the municipality of Buenos Aires (Cauca), while carrying out an unspecified night-time “territorial control” mission. FARC did not give an alternative account of the incident but justified their actions as a “legitimate reaction” to continued counter-insurgency operations against their troops.
The incident led many in Colombia to speculate that FARC may have tried to use an ambush to pressure the government into an immediate bilateral ceasefire. This, however, was relatively unlikely. The government had repeatedly rejected such a deal ahead of a final agreement. But things were at least moving in the right direction, when President Santos in March temporarily stopped air attacks on guerrilla camps and renewed that decision just days ahead of the ambush. The immediate and predictable consequence of the Cauca attack was that Santos declared it as a clear rupture of the ceasefire and ordered resumption of the bombing.
Most analysts had then opined that it was rather unlikely that the crisis would lead to collapse of the negotiations. “It’s one of the most difficult moments in the entire negotiations process," said Markus Shultze-Kraft, a conflict analyst at the Icesi University in Cali. "However I would say it is above all a big political issue. It’s not a military issue, it’s not a security issue, it’s a political issue, and as such it should be dealt with politically," he said.

On behalf of the Colombian government, Sergio Jaramillo was the chief interlocutor. “You need to be incredibly aware and lucid. So it is useful sometimes to read challenging things that keep you sharp, like difficult poetry, Rilke or Mallarmé,” said the 48-year-old academic-turned-politician.

“First of all, you have to have a plan. You need from the very beginning to have the clearest vision of where you want to get to,” he says. But then
“As Sun Tzu would say, study your enemy,” he opines. “I had studied the FARC quite thoroughly and spoken to hundreds of demobilised members, so I have a reasonably good idea of what makes them tick...they are very cunning and wily negotiators.”

Jaramillo contented that wide reading, and lessons from successful peace processes in South Africa and El Salvador, helped him to shape up the modalities of the talks. Advice from other peace negotiators, such as Jonathan Powell, the British civil servant who led the Good Friday agreements in Northern Ireland also provided him the necessary intellectual wherewithal. Colombia’s breakthrough came in September 2012, when the government and the FARC announced after seven months of secret talks that they had agreed on a road map. With the Havana-brokered negotiations reaching a climax, it appears that breakthrough is finally reaching fruition.

Any lessons to be learned?

The future disarmament and reintegration program with FARC has its perhaps closest historical antecedents, both within Colombia and without. In the early 1990s when Colombia clinched deals with five guerrilla forces, such modality had to be undergone. The 1990 agreement of the Colombian government with the M19 paved the way for accelerating talks and eventual peace deals with the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) and the Quintín Lame Armed Movement (MAQL), signed between January and May 1991. Some three years later, the Socialist Renovation Current (CRS), a dissident group of the National Liberation Army (ELN), followed their steps. In addition to this, Medellín-based urban militia groups also agreed to give up arms in 1994 and 1998.

An important instance outside the Colombian territory and yet contemporary, is the disarmament and consequent reintegration of the Maoist rebels in Nepal – a process which definitely was jittery, but nonetheless path-breaking. A successful reintegration can by all means serve as a pioneer solution provider to similar conflict situations in the world.

Another strategic lesson to be gleaned from these peace talks is the fact that rebels – especially communist ultras who believe in protracted guerrilla warfare, come to the negotiating table either when they see a victory on the horizon or are cornered in the military sphere and find peace as the viable alternative to survive as well as to exist. The Maoists in India coming to talk with the authorities under the tagline of the famous 2004 ‘Andhra Talks’ is an instance of the latter while the Nepali Maoists’ peace offer was a typical example of the former situation. In the Colombian case, an unprecedented military offensive – first under President Álvaro Uribe from 2002 to 2010 and continued with minor adjustments under Santos – reduced FARC’s total strength. The military onslaught has also dramatically reduced FARC’s territorial control, pushing the guerrillas into ever more remote and sparsely populated hideouts, often close to territorial or internal border regions.

Now, the moot question is whether such a nuanced combination of hard-line security approach along with an option for talks being kept open only when the Indian government is in a ‘position of strength’; will work in the sub-continent – in order to tame the communist insurgency which is ongoing almost along similar time frame as the FARC rebellion.  Nonetheless, the Colombian peace process, if finally found successful – at least to the point of laying down of arms by the FARC, can serve as a Conflict Resolution Model for the sub-continent. One issue, however, is worth to be noted here – though the strength of the FARC rebels diminished over the years, yet the civil war was still very much ongoing. It created ripples down the Santos administration and that meant Colombian government was way too eager to resolve the conflict, even through negotiations mediated by a third party – in this case, Cuba. On the other hand, the Maoists in India are cornered due to loss of leaders and cadres. They are stretching and attempting to spread their tentacles to other parts of the country – in the north-east and south, but it is more with a long term perspective. The Indian government is not under any serious threat so as to even sit near the discussion table.

Moreover, the authorities appear confident to weed out the insurgency through security-cum-development model. The Maoists too are not eager to ‘talk’ because the government has laid down the condition of ‘laying down arms’ as a pre-condition for talks. Hence, the ultras are not keen to put across the idea of talks suo-moto and lose grounds in the negotiation at the very outset. And above all, third party mediation is out of question now – at least the issue has not snowballed into a Kashmir-esque problem so as to pull in world’s major powers. All said, the peace process in Colombia will be closely watched by journalists, analysts and policy makers across the world – especially from insurgency affected states. Whether the Colombian peace lasts long or turns out to be fragile, would surely provide an empirical evidence to benefit conflict resolution on the whole.

About the author:
Dr Uddipan Mukherjee, IOFS, is Deputy Director, Ordnance Factory Board, under Ministry of Defence, Govt. of India. Views expressed, if any, are personal.

07 February, 2016

State, Violence and Maoists: Elusive Peace?


Violence is an irresistible instrument for the insurgents – more so for the Maoists as their philosophy, strategy and methodology compel them to tread the path of violence. Violence could be cathartic to the protestors, at the same time it challenges the edifice of state-structure. In this complex matrix, the paper attempts to discern the chequered path of peace.

International state-system, with centralisation as its chief component, emerged in the late seventeenth century with the rise of the absolutist monarchies in Europe. The organisation of bureaucracies was a major accomplishment of the absolutist monarchies. However, warfare continued to play an integral role and armies of the states grew dramatically. And with the era culminating in the Napoleonic wars, bulkier armies with overwhelming numbers drew applause from the ally and evoked consternation in the enemy camp. After all, massed warfare was the key in defeating the enemy in a conventional war or at least what the ‘little corporal’ had mastered on land. The sea, however, was a different playground altogether, with the British navy flying their flags high since the days of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and riding on the laurels of Drake, Howard, Nelson and the ilk. Though under Napoleon France crusaded along Europe, among other things, to spread the cherished ideals of the revolution, least it knew about the people’s war it would have to fend off in one of the more autocratic states; viz. Spain. A historian’s morphological dissection of Napoleon’s ‘Spanish Ulcer’ is dovetailed to the present-day analyst’s not so luxurious forays of unearthing the intricacies of an insurgency.


Francis Fukuyama asserts that the monopoly of legitimate power that states exercise allows individuals to escape what Hobbes labelled the “war of every man against every man” – that is, the rudderless state of anarchy. As if to buttress the argument of Fukuyama, comes in to the rescue the sociologist Max Weber’s definition of the state as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. Friedrich and Brzezinski (1965) described the “totalitarian” state – which tried to abolish the whole of civil society and subordinate the individuals to its own political ends. It had both right as well as left wing expresssions – Nazism, Fascism and Stalinism being the representative variants.

Though totalitarianism ended, Fukuyama further delineates that the size, functions and scope of non-totalitarian countries increased. Such nascent, yet ‘large’ governmental structures gave rise to inefficiencies which further led to vigorous counter-reaction in the form of “Thatcherism” and “Reaganism”; a feature of anti-thesis which is palpably normal in a dialectical model. Such counter-reactions, as Fukuyama sketches, were characterised by the re-ascendance of liberal ideas through much of the developed world. Meanwhile the world saw the emergence of the “Washington Consensus” – a package of advice offered by the triumvirate of International Monetary Fund [IMF], World Bank and the US government in which was emphasized the reduction of the degree of state intervention in economic affairs – a ‘neo’ extension / avatar of the laissez faire mechanism of the hey-days of mercantilism. And as Fukuyama informs, the consensus was teased by its ‘detractors’ in Latin America as “neo-liberalism”. It goes without mention that the architects of the ‘consensus’ hardly had the notion of its debacle in the form of the ‘Second Great Depression’ – the US Sub-prime Crisis aka Global Meltdown! Fukuyama, however has an opinion to offer on this aspect: “There may not have been everything grossly wrong with the Washington Consensus per se. However, the relative emphasis lay very heavily on the reduction of state activity, which could often be confused or misconstrued as an effort to cut back state capacity across the board”. [pp. 6-7, Fukuyama]

Surely there was no mandate to compromise on the state activity in the matter of law and order. Neither the “Washington Consensus” nor any other scholarly treatise of its opposite camp, to whatever extent they may bicker on the economic issues, congruence is to a logical extent guaranteed in the matter of law and order – after all, a safeguard of life and property is an expectation which can hardly be eroded from the minds of the human race and the belief in the contention that it’s the state which can provide the essentials. Futile at this juncture is to speak of the anarchists though, more so when the analysis which the paper is trying to posit does not encircle islands of anarchic thought. And as explicitly stressed by Fukuyama, the essence of stateness is, enforcement: the ultimate abililty to send someone with a uniform and a gun to force people to comply with the laws enunciated by the state [p.12, Fukuyama]. Beyond all reasonable doubt, be it a lathi-wielding Daroga in colonised India or an upgraded version of a policeman in post-colonial India, is there any wonder why both are symbols of authority – reasons being manifold.

While addressing the question “how much of the structures of the Indian state after independence was inherited from the late colonial times?“, the doyen of Indian political thought Partha Chatterjee opines that the Indian state in its first two decades post-independence was more centralised than most federations elsewhere [Chatterjee]. However, if it is surmised that he alludes to USA – the prototypical federation and sometimes an exemplar sort of, then the author would be interested in referring to Fukuyama once more as he intimates the known that USA has a plethora of enforcement agencies at federal, state and local levels to enforce everything from as trivial as traffic rules to as significant as commercial laws and fundamental breaches of the Bill of Rights. It is also a fact that the US has a less extensive state than France or Japan or may be China for that matter. USA may not have an elite bureaucracy like grands ecoles of France but the quality of its bureaucracy, as Fukuyama avers, is considerably higher than most of the developing countries. And if Fukuyama implicitly refers to India in this context, then it could always be contested from the perspective of merit of the bureaucrats but if it is argued through the prism of final glory of the state, then the space of contestation gets blurred.

Coming back to Chatterjee, he writes that the basic apparatus of governmental administration in independent India was inherited from the colonial period. Indeed, the administration consists of a small cadre of Indian Administrative Service [IAS] aided by the Indian Police Service [IPS] specifically for law and order: both as All India Services (the personnel are allotted a ‘cadre’ or a province), provincial civil services and Central Civil Services for specialised functions like railways, defence and the like. To say that the working of the High Courts and district courts, as Chatterjee claims, “maintained an unbroken history from colonised times, continuing the same practices of legal tradition and precedent”, would surely be close to exaggeration, but nevertheless the assertion is hard to negate on all fronts even now; and not at all may be at least in the first two decades, till 1967. State and politics in India from 1947 – 67 was a period of the formation of a developmental state. It implied significant intervention of the government in the economy through the progressive taxation of personal and corporate incomes and the consequent provision by the state of public services such as education, health and transport. And Chatterjee exonerates the Indian state thus: “This was perhaps the principal governmental function that legitimised the post-colonial state”.

But a sad fact remains that the 1960s saw an acute food shortage in the country. There was also a severe foreign exchange crisis, exacerbated by the hugely increased defence expenditures in the wake of the wars with China and Pakistan in 1962 and 1965 respectively. With high food prices and slowing down of growth, as a natural corollary, economic hardship skyrocketed. Data too corroborates the affirmation – the CPI Inflation in India was 17 per cent and 14 per cent in 1964 and 1966 respectively. Pockets of the hoi polloi were cut and this was reflected in massive, and often violent agitations all over the country. Marxist accounts/narratives, according to Partha Chatterjee, explained these conflicts and the repressive use of state power as systematic features of Indian democracy. However, as Chatterjee argues, much of the Marxist literature were by theorists working within rigid frameworks laid down by party programmes and was dominated by a sterile debate over what was called the class character of the state. Though India had a liberal democratic constitution – its character was different from that of the advanced capitalist democracies of Europe or USA. This was, as conjectured by Chatterjee, since the Indian capitalist class did not have the social power to exercise hegemony. Hence, it had to share power with other dominant classes, including the traditional landed gentry.

The effect of inflation and the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ were ostensible in the political lanes too. Indian National Congress [INC] lost control in six provinces and for the first time in post-colonial India it lost in West Bengal. The United Front – Left Front [UF-LF] coalition emerged victorious. The main members of the coalition were Bangla Congress – a breakaway faction of the INC and the Communist Party of India – Marxist [CPM]. The Bangla Congress leader Ajoy Mukherjee became the fourth Chief Minister of Bengal. Mukherjee was a participant in the Quit India movement and hailed from Tamluk in the politically volatile Midnapur district of West Bengal. The leftists too had their man in Jyoti Basu, the urbane London-educated barrister as the Deputy Chief Minister. As history would have it, Basu went on to distinguish himself as the longest serving Chief Minister of any province in India. In fact, Basu and some others in the LF thought that CPM could shape the government’s policies from within. The ‘cheroot-chomping’ Promode Dasgupta, [as M J Akbar would later describe him in an article; Akbar, 2011], on the other hand, thought that the party should never have joined the government at all. Dasgupta’s position was reported by none other but Basu himself in his Memoirs, writes Ramachandra Guha. However, as Guha narrates, that an early reflective gesture by the CPM as if to ‘appease; its yearning cadres, was to rename Harrington Road in Calcutta as Ho Chi Minh Sarani. [Guha, 2007]

The crux of the problem in then West Bengal was land [Banerjee]. The UF-LF government was pledged to bring about the long overdue land reforms – a contentious issue which the communists were championing since the 1940s. Incidentally, a veteran CPM peasant leader Harekrishna Konar donned the role of Minister in charge of land and land revenue. He announced a policy of quick distribution of surplus land among the landless and prohibiting the eviction of sharecroppers. However, as Banerjee lets us understand, that CPM was unsure of the modus operandi of recovering the land transferred by landlords under the “benami” head. The enthusiastic Marxist government – facing the allegation of revisionism from within its own quarters and outwardly being bound by its pro-poor image, found it hard to negotiate the issue of land distribution in a realistic scenario. The legal hassles were not too easy to circumvent.


Late 1960s and especially 1966-68 is a period which modern history so peculiarly boasts of revolutions, cutting across regions and continents and a phase when student agitation gained unprecedented ground. Whether it was Berlin or Paris or Calcutta, intellectual stimulus had engineered student movements, highly radicalised in thought and action. Blame it on the zealot-philosophers Frantz Fanon, Herbert Marcuse or Jean-Paul Sartre ! Fanon passed away due to leukaemia in 1961, but before that his firebrand writing achieved what it could. In his monograph ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, he wrote: “..........this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities”. Fanon believed, as Peter Reed illuminates, that society had to be changed and could only be changed through violence, and violence was a personal cathartic – an individual could only find true expression and release in violence[Reed, 1985]. It was a period of the rise of the ‘New Left’. Marcuse believed that man in Western capitalist society was every bit as enslaved as his counterpart in the totalitarian societies of the Soviet bloc. The New Left rejected both western capitalism and Soviet-esque communism. According to the New Left, the state maintained a dominant class interest through violence, psychological as well as physical. Hence, it was ‘just’ to use violence against the state as an instrument of emancipation [Reed, 1985]. The colonised however needed no justification at all in using violence as Fanon had already deliberated. The discourse on violence and the state was further extended to newly independent yet underdeveloped societies like Philippines and India.  Along with the adrenaline rush provided by the New Left, the success story of Mao Zedong catapulted the glorious revolutionaries to take up the bow and the arrow and immerse in a bloody agrarian revolution against the allegedly semi-feudal orders. To better describe the New Left, it is always pertinent to take excerpts from the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm and coalesce a passage [Hobsbawm, 2011]:

“The radical wave [of the New Left] was peculiar in several respects. It began as a movement of young intellectuals, who were, specifically, students, whose members had multiplied enormously in the course of the 1960s........................ It was an extraordinarily international movement: 1968 is a year in the history of Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia as well as Mexico, France and USA. Like the 1848 revolution [however], it rose and fell with great rapidity.”

Nevertheless, violence was glamorous and in the post-1967 world, as Reed opines, rugged good looks and violence came together in the ideal poster: Che Guevara. Heroic failure was more potent than success [Reed]. 1967 was an eventful year – death of a student in Berlin in a fracas with the police which later on assumed deadly proportions in the rise of the Baader-Meinhoff gang and its series of abductions and high-jackings, the death of Che Guevara in a Bolivian ravine and the commencement of the historic Naxalbari uprising in India’s eastern province of West Bengal.

On 18 March 1967 to be specific – 16 days after the formation of the UF-LF government – a peasants’ conference was held under the auspices of CPM’s Siliguri sub-division in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The conference called for the ending of monopoly ownership of land by the landlords, redistribution of land through peasants’ committees and organisation and arming of the peasants in order to destroy the resistance of landlords and rural reactionaries [Banerjee]. The conference further cautioned the landless to be prepared for a protracted armed struggle. Eviction of Bigul Kisan by a jotedar in spite of a court order in his favour acted as a spark for the melee. Naxalbari quickly came to enjoy an iconic status among Indian revolutionaries [Guha]. ‘Naxalite’ became shorthand for ‘revolutionary’, a term which evoked romance and enchantment at one end of the political spectrum and distaste and derision at the other. [Ray,1988].

As Banerjee informs, Charu Mazumdar was a frail heart patient. However, he emulated the likes of Mao, Guevara, Castro or may be the monstrous Cambodian dictator Pol Pot in unleashing the ‘Eight Documents’. He attempted to substantiate the use of violence against the Indian state by positing his Theory of Annihilation of class enemies. In “What Possibility The Year 1965 is Indicating?”, Mazumdar erupts:

“The revolutionaries will have to give conscious leadership; strike against the hated bureaucrats, against police employees, against military officers; the people should be taught — repression is not done by police stations, but by the officers in charge of police stations; attacks are not directed by government buildings or transport, but by the men of the government's repressive machinery, and against these men that our attacks are directed”.

In the same piece, he goes on further, unrelenting, resolute:

“The working class and the revolutionary masses should be taught that they should not attack merely for the sake of attacking, but should finish the person whom they attack. For, if they attack only, the reactionary machinery will take revenge. But if they annihilate, everyone of the government's repressive machinery will be panic-stricken”.

While building the theoretical framework of the movement; partly Marxist-Leninist, else anarcho-communist and verily fanning the sentiments of the youth and the dispossessed by glorifying violence; Mazumdar blew the trumpet: “Make the 1970s the decade of liberation”. Even the filmography of that period brings to the fore strong messages and a portrayal of the existing socio-economic conditions in Bengal; Oscar awardee Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pratidwandi’ (1970) as a part of his Calcutta Trilogy or Mrinal Sen’s much acclaimed ‘Calcutta-71’ (1971) or for that matter ‘Interview’ (1971) depicted the pathos in their unique styles and consequently inflamed passions of the urban youth – grappling with unemployment, price rise, food shortage yet a delectable mirage of liberation from the shackles of the state giving a clarion call to their romantic thought process and igniting their revolutionary consciousness. Bengali novels too rose to the occasion – Magsaysay award winner Mahasweta Devi’s 1974 manuscript ‘Hazaar Churaasir Ma depicted the turbulent upheaval, may not be graphically accurate but definitely emotionally piquant. The Presidencies and the Jadavpurs spilled out into the rural backyards of Bengal to ‘spread’ the revolution – with an apparent Cuban-styled ‘foco-ism’ without however, explicitly and unequivocally accepting the modus operandi. Nonetheless, violence was the fuel – driving the engine of revolution. The class enemy was not clearly defined, but the ‘annihilation’ campaign was on – which was sometimes grotesquely evidenced in the form of ‘police-wallahs’ being murdered in broad daylight, often while not on duty and unarmed. Rag-pickers being branded as informers were also not spared the ‘fasces’ in the name of the revolution – or may be at the altar of Rousseau’s ever misconstrued General Will or the new-found Maoism which over enthusiastically claimed ‘Chairman Mao as Our Chairman’; a term strongly objected and refuted by the Chinese.

Along with the tumultuous demonstration in Calcutta though, the countryside remained the main arena of the movement. Annihilation of usurious landlords through small squad actions, operations which were bloated to be guerrilla warfare, were carried out with impunity – with the fervent hope that such numerous gory actions would definitely raise the revolutionary consciousness of the masses. Rather, to the contrary, such dissolute actions by the Naxalites only hastened their loss of connectivity with the people and paved the way for their eventual defeat in the first phase of the movement and triggered the dismemberment of the party – along the pro-mass line and the pro-annihilation line. The chief architect of the Annihilation Theory, Mazumdar was finally arrested by the Calcutta police on 16 July 1972 and lived only 12 days after his arrest [Banerjee]. Was indiscriminate use of violence the fundamental cause of the demise of the romantic revolutionary vision? Indubitably, it was one among others, if not the primary reason.

Violence, Hannah Arendt argued in her essay On Violence published towards the end of 1960s, had not generally been regarded as essential to revolution until relatively recently. While Georges Sorel and Frantz Fanon gave violence a defining role in revolution, theorises Christopher Finlay (2006), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had regarded it as incidental.

While summing up, Arendt in her seminal essay writes: “............politically speaking, it is insufficient to say that power and violence are not the same.........Violence appears where power is in jeopardy.” In this context, it would not be inconsequential to re-depict the alleged brutality of the police/state during the first phase of the Naxalite movement:

“...the CPI(M-L) girls were stripped naked, their bodies – the neck, the breast, the stomach and other private parts not excluded – burnt with cigarettes.” [Banerjee]

Violence was ruling the roost – inter-party murders, assassinations of police personnel, and torture of the Naxalites in the physical realm while an ambience of fear, feeling of being in a war-zone in the psychological sphere. The debacle of the Naxalites, however, was critically dependent on the lack of armed preparedness and the imperfect development of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army [PLGA]. Military affairs were given secondary weightage vis-a-vis political indoctrination by the Bengalee bhadralok revolutionary – again a gross misunderstanding of the Maoist souvenir. Kanu Sanyal differed ideologically with Mazumdar’s line in as far as developing the mass organisations were concerned. 

Interestingly, this dichotomy would turn out to be the seeds for the next level synthesis of the Naxalite/Maoist programme in India, though after considerable bloodshed and energies sapped and time consumed. And as Banerjee described, the movement fizzled away with a “farrango of factions” and gradually the scene as well as the leadership rotated outwards to Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. The baton of the race which was left unattended was picked up by two disconnected groups – the Kanhai Chatterjee-Amulya Sen faction giving rise to the Maoist Communist Centre [MCC] in Bihar whereas the three Andhra groups – led by Nagi Reddy, Chandra Pulla Reddy and Kondapalli Seetharamayyiah [KS, in short] finally in the 1980s reflecting the KS-bred People’s War [CPI (M-L) (PW)] as the major faction. MCC was enmeshed in caste-related problems in Bihar-Jharkhand region and violence was venerated in regular massacres of upper-caste militia [the Ranveer Sena] and veritable counter-bloodshed of the Naxalites. However, as Bela Bhatia had analysed, the MCC slogan of Apni Satta, Apna Kanoon (Our Power, Our Law) somehow generated new found energy in the rural proletariat [Bhatia, 2005]. The decisive turn and the much required expansion were carried out by the KS group. The movement in Andhra traces its genesis from the Srikakulam days of 1967 when it led Charu Mazumdar to pen his famous article “Srikakulam – Will it be the Yenan of India?” [Venugopal, 2013]. The original CPI (M-L) that led the Srikakulam struggle almost disintegrated. However, by January 1974, Venugopal narrates, the Andhra Pradesh State Committee took lead to form the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Central Organising Committee (COC). By November 1974, the COC had developed a new document on Strategy and Tactics – which suggested several changes in the methodology to bring about the revolution. As could be drawn from Venugopal, a participant observer in the movement himself, the corrections in the strategy and tactics included setting up mass organisations and adhering to the mass line without however leaving armed struggle. The document continued to advocate the boycott of the parliamentary path, which along with armed struggle were the two distinct features of the Naxalbari-Srikakulam path.


From the spreading of the movement in Andhra during 1978-85, coming under heavy state repression in 1985-90 and again resurgence in 1990-92, and culminating in a ban in 1992; the Naxalite movement was not only given a fresh life but also a new direction. On 22 April 1980, the CPI (M-L) (P-W) was proclaimed on a formal basis. Among other things, around 1982, the group formulated an important document called the Guerrilla Zone Perspective and attempted to enter Dandakaranya [p. 93 Venugopal; Choudhary though informs that the said document was prepared in 1979, p.93]. Former BBC journalist Shubhrangshu Choudhary tells that a Bengali from Hyderabad, Tushar Kanti Bhattacharyya was sent by the group to form the first squad in the strategic junction of Karimnagar district – a tri-junction where the borders of Andhra, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh meet. [Choudhary, 2012]. Actually, the document was an imperative in order to launch guerrilla warfare against the state – something which was lacking during the early days of the movement. In fact, presently too, though the Maoists are under heavy doses of police and paramilitary vigilance, if mainstream media reports are to be believed, they are trying to create similar guerrilla bases in the Sahayadri mountains and in the Malabar [The Hindu, The New Indian Express, 2014]. Interestingly, the Maoists have of late, especially in the last couple of years, have time and again in various forums acknowledged that they are under severe constraints.

The choice of Dandakaranya was strategically obvious – a geographical area which sprawls across Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra (now also Telangana) and Chattisgarh. To ‘create’ the bases, KS sent seven teams of seven members each towards the region. Incidentally, one team was led by Ramji aka Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji. The guerrilla zone was to be realised through an undeclared, yet implicitly evident foco-theory popularised by Che.

Foco-ism [Spanish: foquismo]

Wikipedia enlightens thus: “foco-ism is the vanguardism by cadres of small, fast-moving paramilitary groups and can provide a focus for popular discontent against a sitting regime and thereby lead a general insurrection”.  Che, the proponent of the theory, aimed the following:
·         The theory was tailored for developing countries
·         Guerrillas had to look for support both among the workers as well as the peasantry
·         The vanguard guerrilla was supposed to excite revolutionary consciousness – and not to take control of the state apparatus itself
·         The internal regime had to be overthrown without any perceptible external / foreign aid
·         In the advanced stages of the insurrection, the guerrillas were to be supported by conventional armed forces
·         And most important, revolutionary conditions could be ‘created’ – no need to wait for it.

As if to echo the sentiments reflected in the theory, the 2nd Havana Declaration said:
“The duty of the revolutionary is to make the revolution. To push history, to catalyze, is the function of the revolutionary.”
Further, Che in his magnum opus ‘Guerrilla Warfare’, draws the fundamental lessons of the Cuban Revolution:
·         Popular focus can win against the professional army
·         Insurrection can create the conditions of the revolution; rather than to wait for the conditions to develop
·         In under-developed America [Latin America], the countryside is the basic area of armed struggle

Again to quote Che from Guerrilla Warfare; “In my opinion, considering the normal desertion and weakness in spite of the rigorous process of selection, there should be a nucleus of 30 – 50 men..........”

The vanguard ‘foco’, however, does not solely radicalise the peasantry; in addition, the peasants serve to politicise the guerrilla fighters and vice-versa in a symbiotic revolutionary relationship. Although the proletariat does not play the primary role in the insurrectionary stage, its participation will be fundamental in the post-revolutionary period. It is also a demand by Che that foco theory discovers Marxism naturally and it accords primacy to military actions over political ones. However, Guevara’s increasing theoretical rigidity is seen in the prologue he wrote to Vo Nguyen Giap’s “People’s War, People’s Army” – wherein he claimed that in Vietnam too, the liberation struggle began with a mobile guerrilla foco. Che’s theoretical premise is supposedly bolstered by the French intellectual Regis Debray:

The presence of a vanguard party [as Lenin had proposed] is not an indispensable pre-condition for the launching of an armed struggle.” [p. 53, Debray]

And in p. 106 of his ‘Revolution in the Revolution’, as if to conjure a wedding of Leninism with Focoism, Debray comments:
Under certain conditions, the political and military are not separate, but form one organic whole, consisting of the people’s army, whose nucleus is the guerrilla army. The vanguard party can exist in the form of the guerrilla foco itself. The guerrilla force is the party in embryo.”

Did KS and his seven squads create the revolution in Dandakaranya through an insurrectional foco? It is not unlikely, at least on the theoretical plane. But on the ground, it had to be a combination of mass organisations, squad-level operations and consequent formation of local militia, under the banner of a vanguard party – a theoretical merger of Leninism, Maoism and Guevaraism – and in the process re-discovering Marxism in their own way as Che had said about the Cuban revolution:”This revolution is Marxist because it discovered by its own means the path that Marx pointed out” [p. 247, ‘Development of a Marxist Revolution’]. The guerrilla zone has been established though and a protracted people’s war against the state is on in Dandakaranya at present. The passing of the leadership to Ganapathy in 1991 and the merger of the PW with MCC in 2004, just at the commencement of the Andhra Peace Talks, surely provided fresh turns to the movement. The Naxalites started to be called as Maoists and the movement turned more organised and hence hierarchical and more militarised. Incidents of Jehanabad in Bihar (2005), Nayagarh in Odisha (2008), and Dantewada ambush of the 75 security personnel (2010), along with scores of others, pointed to the new-found vigour of the Maoists inasmuch as undertaking massive operations were concerned. And they were bolstered by the unity of the Bihar and Andhra groups – accepting the role of a vanguard party (Leninism) and the need for a Protracted People’s War (PPW) through guerrilla warfare as tutored by Mao Zedong (Maoism); notwithstanding the fact that the fundamental theoretical backdrop was always Marxism.

Regular ambushes entrapping the security forces at Dantewada (Chattisgarh) or Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) or Jharkhand evinced their capabilities in guerrilla warfare techniques and moreover gave a clear expression to the fact that the guerrilla zone had been established – and this couldn’t have been done without a thorough knowledge of the topography and without winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local populace. The lack of governance as a historical factor in these backward, yet resource rich regions was the prime factor for the Maoists to intrude. Furthermore, it is germane to mention that whether pre or post-independence, government officials aka state was reportedly notorious in dealing with the tribal population; whether it was alleged sexual exploitation of tribal women or open abetment of the oppression of the local non-tribal gentry. The success of the tendu-leaf movement of the tribals against the contractors is a case in point. The irony of the situation though is now the Maoists themselves demand revolutionary tax from the tribals – once emancipators, turned exploiters. The post-2004 Maoists did face violent repression – both from the state which was desperate to station its infrastructure and other democratic moorings in the region and also from non-state actors like the erstwhile vigilante group and now banned (according to a verdict of India’s Apex Court) Salwa Judum or ‘Purification Hunt’ (in Gondi language). If recent media reports are to be given any weightage, the Maoists are lamenting the non-existence of Salwa Judum – since due to lack of oppression, a steady stream of recruits into the Maoist camp has been clogged. It’s again to re-iterate that violence sustains the movement and the movement further augments violence – a spiral energising itself. Needless to mention that perpetrators of violence in this theatre have vested interests to continue it, foment it, nurture it – after all it’s a protracted war, a war of attrition, and the endgame is clearly unclear; it’s certainly being fought by the people, a tribal, a policeman or a jawan of the Central Reserve forces; whether it’s being fought for the people is a matter of intense debate however.


The messiah of peace, non-violence and truth – Gandhi too was pragmatic in his approach while spearheading the Indian National Movement – he followed a methodology of Struggle-Truce-Struggle so as to reserve the energy and focus of the masses and on every occasion unleash the Satyagraha on the British Raj with renewed vigour. Absolutely sensible and tactical. After all, his was also a protracted war by and for the people. If the people were drained of their adrenaline too soon, even though it was a non-violent movement, the very purpose would hardly have been served. Now the Maoists are no Gandhians – even if they preferably choose to be with guns or if dramatically some commentators or authors elevate them to be; as far as strategy and tactics are concerned, they are unequivocally conspicuous. Periods of peace are to be treated as punctuation marks in the path of the Protracted People’s War [PPW], suitably adjusted, keeping in view the relative power exercised by the state and the insurgents. Talking with/to the state authorities is a viable option, rather a tactical choice when the period is a downslide for them or if they plan to re-group/re-orient/re-configure. Peace is definitely an asset in times of distress or more technically speaking, Strategic Defence. At other situations, when the Maoists claim to push the ground towards a Strategic Offence, peace is a liability. However, during the middle phase of a guerrilla war – Strategic Stalemate, choice of peace is decided by several factors, sharply analysed and thereafter decided. Moreover, considering the geographical spread of India and the consequent ‘spread’ of the Maoists, it will be hard for the insurgents to come to a definite conclusion at any particular abscissa of time if it’s a Strategic Defence, Stalemate or Offence since the situations would be different in different regions. For instance, if there happens to be a Lalgarh ‘bull’ for the insurgents, then it could turn out to be a ‘bear’ of Operation Anaconda in the Saranda forests at the same time. The Andhra Talks of 2004 and the Bengal Talks of 2011 need to viewed in this phenomenological backdrop.

A straight lift from Gautam Navlakha’s paper is essential here:
If holding talks in Andhra was wrong, then did the CPI-Maoist approach the talks in Bengal along the majority line at the Unity Congress 2007 on the issue of talks in Andhra Pradesh, that is, ‘to utilise the relaxation [emphasis added] in the enemy’s repression in order to complete the preparation for confronting future offensive’..............?”
[p. 311, Navlakha]

However, there are ‘scholarly’ arguments regarding peace which put forth the perspective of the insurgents:

Every time the authorities say they want to initiate a peace process, they want their armed adversaries to ‘abjure violence’. This peace without categorical guarantee of safety from the government’s onslaught is dangerous for underground Maoist leaders...............Clearly the state policy all along have been to liquidate illegally its Maoist opponents in the name of peace talk.................Peace talks with the Maoists have become a ploy for trapping and killing them in cold blood.”
[pp. 18-19, Amit Bhaduri]

Intriguingly, such rhetoric fails to appreciate the fact that for a compact modern state to flourish the ‘monopoly’ of using force lawfully must be with the state itself and allowing armed groups to loiter around is a clear signal of the failure of the state apparatus. Furthermore, it’s strange to expect peace negotiations to commence while a parallel war is going on. A mutual ceasefire is a pre-requisite to any ‘talks’ with the adversary. The luminaries who spew venom against the state regarding the latter’s approach towards peace talks again seem to have a poor memory – abysmally failing to grasp the diplomatic manoeuvres adopted by the Indian state in dealing with the Maoists in the Andhra Talks and with several insurgent groups in North-East as well as in Jammu and Kashmir. To put toppings on the pizza of analysis, the following extract from a write-up of Sujato Bhadro - the West Bengal based historian and TV commentator, who was interestingly also an interlocutor during the Bengal Talks of 2011, is essential:

To our dismay, the Maoists, even after our contact with them had been established and a round of peace talks with them was completed on a positive note on 28 August, took the lives of three activists [of other political parties] in a ruthless manner. This justifiably made the otherwise difficult situation tougher, resulting in enhancement of the administration’s prevailing mistrust of them. On September 29, however, thanks to the government’s willingness to continue the dialogue process, the peace talks got a chance....................the Maoists did not include the withdrawal of joint forces [state police and central reserve police forces] and release of political prisoners [obviously, belonging to their fold] as demands to be fulfilled as pre-conditions for the talks.”
[p. 62, Bhadro]

Further, Act 5 of the Joint Declaration (on behalf of the Bengal government and the Civil Society) issued in July 2011 stated: “In Jangalmahal, and the whole of West Bengal, all parties have to withdraw arms.” And as another interlocutor Chhoton Das predicates, ‘all parties’ implied the Maoists as well as the government – and obviously not the government only! The joint forces started operation in Lalgarh on 18 June 2009. A week later, as Das writes, the mass organisation, Lalgarh Mancha issued a press statement whose main point was: stop joint forces’ operation in Lalgarh and begin talks. There was no demand of withdrawal of the joint forces. In fact, the CPI-Maoist state secretary in a statement issued on 30 September 2011 demanded just one condition for the creation of a congenial environment for peace talks and that was the government’s promise to halt joint operations for one month [pp 73-74, Das]. To ask for halt of operations and later on dissolve the talks on the allegation against the state that it reneged on the promise of ‘withdrawal’ of the security forces is to play a ruse.

Kunal Chattopadhyay teaches Comparative Literature in Jadavpur University. He seems sceptical and to a large extent cynical about the fertility of the peace talks. He argues that the Indian state uses the pretext / bogey of the Maoist insurgent to unleash violence on the Adivasis. Naturally, as per Chattopadhyay’s analysis, the Indian state would be reluctant to engage in ‘true’ talks. On the other hand, the Maoists too, are not serious about talks since they are built on the solid platform of Stalinism-Maoism – which hardly believes in the precepts of socialist democracy.  Chattopadhyay continues on the CPI-Maoists, “given its ideology, which involves the belief that any struggle other than ‘armed struggle’ is revisionist, a sell-out to the ruling regime, the Maoists cannot engage in fruitful peace talks” [p. 179, Chattopadhyay].

In this regard, the international scenario also needs to be re-viewed. In August 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the government was engaged in exploratory peace talks with the violent leftist insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a bid to resolve a nearly 50-year internal armed conflict. The secret, initial dialogue between the Santos government and the FARC’s leadership led to the opening of formal peace talks with the FARC—the oldest, largest, and best financed guerrilla organization in Latin America [Beittel, 2014]. These talks began in Oslo, Norway, in October 2012 and thereafter moved to Havana, Cuba, where it is currently underway. But violence has continued in the country as both sides agreed not to hold a cease-fire during the negotiations. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reiterated this decision even in September 2014, saying he would not agree on a cease-fire until a peace agreement has been reached. The fighting between the Colombian government, right wing paramilitary groups and leftist rebels began in the 1960s, and over 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced [telesur, 2014]. Such peace talks could be peculiar to the Colombian approach but one thing comes out unscathed – even after 2 years of dialogues that too being brokered by third parties, peace remains elusive in Colombia. Another glaring example comes from the Filipino case. The International Crisis Group reports that talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which negotiates on behalf of the Communist Party of Philippines – New People’s Army [CPP-NPA], have been intermittent and inconclusive since they began under the Cory Aquino government in 1986. Even decades later, they have scarcely touched on substantive issues. Indeed, the civil war is still on in the interiors of Philippines. And if the Nepal phenomenon is something to cheer about, then it could be seen more of an aberration than linearity or something which the Indian Maoists could disdainfully castigate as ‘armed revisionism’. Further, after watching the manner in which the democratic process has unfolded in Kathmandu and the way the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) [UCPN (M)] have held onto their positions, serious questions could be raised regarding the intent of the Maoists to resolve the political stalemate.

However, on a rather positive note, Peter Sederberg of the Department of Government and International Studies, University of South Carolina, comes up with the war model and the rational actor model – through which he shows that these models actually incorporate conciliatory strategies while the state negotiates with the terrorists; though the researcher acknowledges that conventional wisdom suggests that regimes should never bargain with terrorists. Sederberg also notes that conciliatory strategies have been used, sometimes with considerable success. In the paper, he identifies a number of tactical factors that might affect the choice of conciliatory strategies – though keeping the field open for future research [Sederberg, 1995]. Stephen Stedman, at the Centre for International Security and Arms Control of the Stanford University, too appears optimistic. He agrees that the greatest source of risk in peacemaking comes from the spoilers – that is, leaders and parties who believe that peace threatens their power and necessarily use violence to undermine attempts to achieve peace. But as Stedman points out, not all spoilers do succeed in stalling peace processes. In support of his argument, he cites the cases of the Mozambique National Resistance and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – the latter being more pertinent to this discussion as it represented the most obnoxious form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And speaking from an American perspective, Daniel Byman asserts that talking with the insurgents is often a necessary first step toward defeating them or reaching an acceptable compromise. Moreover, along the lines of what the Colombian government and the FARC rebels had been doing, Byman further states that these talks must often be done even as insurgents shoot at U.S. soldiers, and they in turn, shoot at them. More apposite to this discussion is how Byman cogently concludes:

Talks with insurgents are politically costly, usually fail, and can often backfire. Nevertheless, they are often necessary to end conflicts and transform an insurgent group into a legitimate political actor or wean them away from violence. Policymakers and analysts alike must recognize that the conditions for success are elusive”.
[Byman, 2009]

Are the Indian Maoists interested in peace? To put forth a far more feasible question, are they amenable to negotiations? As highlighted in this paper already, they are more concerned in ‘hoisting their Red flag of revolution over the historic Red Fort’. They are far more interested in materialising their New Democratic Revolution (NDR) within the periphery of Marx’s historical materialism. They are obdurate in donning the combat role against the Indian state. They are eager to push forward, sometimes trudge as a tactical move, in this asymmetric yet long war. They might have the vested interest in prolonging the violence, pinching the state structures so as to initiate a reaction which could so speciously be termed as “state repression”. However, in this carefully engineered process, the Maoists – specifically the leadership - intellectuals or no-intellectuals or even pseudo, are cautious in winning the hearts and minds of the Adivasis and other native inhabitants of the Red Corridor – keenly adhering to Mao’s maxim: “The Guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish.....”. The moment the guerrilla loses the safe havens, the movement fizzles out – after all, it’s a war for the people and has necessarily to be fought by the people. This is exactly where the fundamentals reside. The Indian state needs to and is knowledgeable enough to target the real stakeholders in this war – a rather ‘bad war’. The Adivasis in Chhattisgarh or the deprived lower-castes in Bihar-Jharkhand or the malnourished in Amlasole and Lalgarh in West Bengal; they are the real stakeholders and needs to be targeted as far as proper governance and developmental schemes are concerned. In a Euclidean parallel, the leadership of the Left-wing ultras could be pruned – systematically, as a strategy. However, extreme caution is to be ensured in not unleashing a spectrum of violence – at least in a scale which affects the population, and in turn depletes intelligence gathering by the security forces. Violence or power as the interpretation may go could be skilfully used by the state to diminish the movement without however indulging in humanitarian excesses, and rights violation so as to lose the war of propaganda in a mammoth scale both in the national as well as in the international arena.

With Al Jazeera getting interested in the insurgency and interviewing the 1960s Debra-Gopiballavpur veteran but now de-scaled and politically stigmatised Ashim Chatterjee, with young scholars in top notch US universities trying to script their Master’s and Doctoral theses on this insurgency and even articles on the issue popping up in established and stylised magazines like the Foreign Policy or the Yale’s; it’s certainly serious. For the Indian state, it is important to contain the insurgency – but far more important is to win the war in the media, print or otherwise. And for that, an unrestrained use of violence devoid of rationale could be catastrophic. At the same time, sitting mum would be scoring a duck in the cricket field – which the state can ill afford. In this context, it will add to the wisdom what India’s Home Minister categorically expressed:
“There is no question of any talks now. We will take a balanced approach. But the forces will give a befitting reply if the Naxals launch attacks,”
[Indian Express, 27 June 2014]

The same reportage further referred to a Union Home Ministry official / officer that talks with the Maoists will be held only when the rebels shun violence and come forward for dialogue. A rather old position held by the state. However, such admission remains unofficial at this juncture. In fact, the Union Home Minister exhibited his seriousness on the issue by saying that the Home Ministry will fully fund formation of Special Forces on the lines of the elite anti-Naxal Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh and initially such squads will come up in the four states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar. It’s hardly too old to trigger a lapse of memory that Greyhounds succeeded in flushing out the insurgents from Andhra. And it’s probably no wonder why the freshly recruited IPS officers are being given a gruelling training of counterinsurgency warfare as an attachment with the Greyhounds unit. They are enduring a few days [seemingly months to the officers] in the jungle and living the life of a guerrilla so as to fight the guerrilla. Later on in their careers they would be taking on an enemy whose cadres take pride in being inflicted with malaria once in three weeks if they are staying in jungles and terms the disease as men’s menstruation [Choudhary]. After all, a snake-soup is not uncommon to the guerrillas in the thickly forested areas of Dandakaranya. To get conditioned in such adverse situations is a pre-requisite to win the war. And if tomorrow’s unit-level and district-level leaders are equipped, then the cause of worry would be minimised – obviating the obvious difficulties of ‘eating soup with a knife’ as was deftly described by the Lawrence of Arabia and later on re-stressed by the acclaimed counterinsurgent John Nagl of the US Army.

In Sum

If one goes by the British Military Doctrine (1987), insurgency is defined as “Illegal measures including the use of force to overthrow a government”, whereas from a scholar-activist perspective, insurgency during the days of the Raj (which to an extent holds ground even today) as defined by the subaltern historian Ranajit Guha, “was a motivated and conscious undertaking on the part of the rural masses”. And if it is indeed the case that neither the Adivasis nor the peasants of the plain ‘drift or stumble into’ the rebellion, then the state needs to revise, rethink and remodel its counterinsurgency doctrine. Surely, what the military strategists during the Vietnam days had suggested won’t work.

 “The solution in Vietnam is more bombs, more shells, more napalm...till the other side cracks and gives up.” 
MG William Infantry Division, 1966 [as quoted by John Nagl]
How imbecilic this sounds:
We’d shoot at everything, men, women, kids and buffaloes” - John Paul Vann, 1965  [as quoted by John Nagl]

To drive home the point, peace is desirable by both the warring parties - the state as well as the insurgents. It’s also not a half-baked truth that both the insurgents (Maoists) and the state commit violence – with the definition of the term being accordingly interpreted. The violence by the insurgents is justified by the radicals within the realm of the construct of ‘state repression’ – when a bus is blown away in Dantewada by the ultras, the Maoists expect to be morally exonerated by raking up the fact that it was boarded by Special Police Officers of the Salwa Judum variety. An interesting work by Vani K Borooah (of the School of Economics and Politics, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland) may be referred to in which she asks the question: Is there more violence in Naxalite / Maoist affected districts compared to districts which are free of Naxalite / Maoist activity? And the answer she gains after meticulous research is that there is a direct correlation between Maoist activity in a district and the level of violent crimes in it.

The Maoists envisage peace in the environs of a successful New Democratic Revolution and the state persistently experiments with the development-cum-democracy model where peace evolves as a bountiful corollary. The quest for peace further exposes the unattractive social cleavages in the otherwise serene heartlands of the Indian landmass. A mutually agreeable peace is elusive, scrupulously sequestered from the ‘round table’ of strategic discourse, the lexicon of the insurgent and a coerced counterinsurgent gearing up to the requirement – and miserably failing to achieve the workable concordance which could have streamlined the functioning of the democracy. Finally, another indiscriminate Chhoto Pelia of November 2008, a frail, 55-year old Chintamani Murmu and her lost eyesight, some more inflexibility – are what the state understands would be detrimental for establishing the contours of democracy in the ‘fragile islands’, and Lalgarhs, Nayagarhs and more such ‘garhs’ could be the rigid fortresses for the Maoists. Invariably, no one likes to eat soup with a knife!

About the Author:
Dr Uddipan Mukherjee, a writer and researcher, is presently an IOFS [ADMIN] Officer, working under the Ordnance Factory Board, Ministry of Defence, Govt. of India. Any opinion(s) expressed in this paper is solely that of the author.

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