And what do they want?
Arundhati Roy with Naxalite guerrillas
The following write-up by Rita Khanna, from Radical Notes (Nov. 2009), radicalnotes.com, adapted, edited and updated, is a brief exposition of the history, goals and strategies of the Maoist, also known as the Naxalite, movement in India. This does not go into the ongoing debates among communist revolutionaries about mode of production in India and over strategy and tactics for the Indian Revolution.
The Indian government has launched a full-scale war against the Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites (see later for origin of the name), and the people led by them in different parts of the country. The initial battles, without any formal announcement, started in 2009 under the code name of Operation Greenhunt. For this purpose, they initially deployed about 75,000 security personnel in parts of Central and Eastern India. The government intends to organize its regular air-force in addition to paramilitary and specially trained COBRA forces. The air-force has begun to extend its logistic support.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram declared in 2006 that the Maoist rebels were ‘the biggest internal security threat’ to India and a hindrance to ‘development’. The mainstream media seem to have taken them at their face value. Their publications and television programmes seem to be building a war-hysteria against the Maoist rebels regardless of the fact that this attack by the government will be directed against some of the most deprived of the Indian people. Indeed this has tured into a war of the state against its own people!
While admitting at times the notion that the current people’s insurgency led by the Maoist rebels has its root in decades of vicious exploitation of the poor, especially the dalits and tribals, the blare of government propaganda tries to convince us that the Maoist rebels are dangerous, blood-thirsty terrorists determined to establish their areas of influence. The Government is preaching that the Maoists can go to any extent to maintain their influence in these areas – by either preventing the government from undertaking development activities or using the power of their guns, killing disobedient individuals. Their ideology is to terrorise the common people, wrest power from the democratically elected governments and destroy the entire fabric of the society.
The government and the media want us to believe that the only people, apart from a few romantic misguided intellectuals, who willingly support Maoists are the poor, ignorant, uneducated, uninformed tribal people. They seem to claim that no sensible, intelligent person living in a society like ours would support them voluntarily. But is this a true picture?
Could it be that the Maoist rebels are supporting and organizing the poor, exploited people to fight oppression, to establish a more egalitarian society where the wealth of our growing economy will be spread among all, not merely among a very small minority? Could it be that in the name of suppressing the Maoists, the state is going all out to break the backbone of these poor peoples’ fight? Could it be that the government is planning to wage a war, in our name, against our own sisters and brothers to help line the pockets of the rich?
What do we really know about the Maoist rebels, their ideology, their plans and programs? Why does the government need to go to war against its own people and inside its own territory? Are the Maoists really blocking development? Who are these Maoists anyway and what do they want?
Let us take one question at a time.
Who are these Maoists?
The Maoists are revolutionaries mainly consisting of the extremely poor people including a large number of dalits and tribals. They come mainly from the toiling masses of India and they are trying to organize the vast population of such masses of this country. They seek to arm and train them so that these masses can resist the onslaught of the rich. In this effort they go beyond the idea that mass movements should focus on some specific issues like increase of wages, better health care, more honesty of public servants and so forth.
The view of the Maoist rebels is that the poor and exploited people must first and foremost establish their own democratic political power and their own state power in various places. This is because without controlling state power, the poor and the exploited can at most hope for only limited improvements in their living conditions, i.e., so long as it does not inconvenience the rich who usually control the state power. So, the Maoists mobilize the poor to fight against the existing state, even armed fight if possible, as they consider the existing state to be a set of agents acting for the big multinational corporations, rich landlords and the wealthy in general.
The fight is an extremely challenging and unequal one as the rich are aided by the government bureaucrats, the police and even the military. Also, contrary to what the Government and the mainstream media are propagating, the Maoist rebels are actually completely opposed to individual killings, they openly denigrate such stray terrorism-like acts. What they have been attempting to build up is a mass movement, even armed, to take on the violence of the ruling classes and its representative state machinery.
The Maoist movement, also known as Naxalite movement as mentioned before, was born in India in 1967, after a section of political workers broke away from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) because they felt the CPIM and its mother party, the Communist Party of India, had discredited themselves with their opportunist politics of placating and compromising with the rich. The term Naxalite comes from Naxalbari, a small village in northern West Bengal, where on 18 May 1967, the Siliguri branch of Kishan Sabha (Peasants Association) declared their support for the new militant movement and initiated their readiness to adopt armed struggle to redistribute
land to the landless. The following week a sharecropper near Naxalbari village was attacked by the landlord’s men over a land dispute. On 24 May, when a police team arrived to arrest the peasant leaders, it was ambushed by a group of tribals and a police inspector was killed in a hail of arrows. This event encouraged many tribals and other poor people to join the movement and to start attacking local landlords. The present Maoist movement has a 50 year history of development. The present party, CPI (Maoist), came into being in 2004 by the merger of a number of fraternal Naxalite organizations.
Is development in India arrested because the Maoist rebels are blocking it?
What is the state of the people of India at present? With its current high rate of growth, this is also a country of abject poverty and extreme inequality. Home to 24 billionaires (second largest in Asia according to Forbes), India can also boast of 230 million people who go to bed on a half empty stomach (World Hunger Report). (See several statistics elsewhere in this blog). Then how can we say that development in India is being blocked by Maoists?
Maoists do not oppose ‘development’ at all, they only oppose the ‘pro-rich development’ at the expense of destitution or often total destruction of the poor. For example, in Dandakaranya region of Chhattisgarh they oppose setting up of helipads but there, the poor themselves, led by the Maoist rebels, have built irrigation tanks and wells for help in agriculture something the Indian government did not bother to do. The Indian government routinely blames the Maoist rebels that they blow up schools! But what the Government tries to suppress is that these blown-up school buildings were actually being used or requisitioned to become camps for security personnel!
And what changes do they want? Why do they want these changes?
(1) Overhauling the entire structure of oppression instead of piecemeal reforms:
In addition to all the woes described above, India is also a country, where thousands of Muslims can be butchered in broad daylight by fascist Hindu forces (the most widespread and gruesome such pogrom in recent times happened in Gujarat in 2002), while the ministers and police look the other way. And these features are not stray results of the misdeeds of a few villains. The existing socio-political system in India has a built-in mechanism, which ensures that the common masses would be oppressed by a rich and powerful few. Widespread systemic violence is required and is routinely applied by the Indian state so that common people remain disciplined and do not revolt in the face of oppression.
(2) Land to the tillers and destruction of the landlord class
About 60% of the Indian population is still dependent on agriculture. However the primary input, land, is predominantly concentrated in the hands of a few landlords and big farmers. Close to 60 percent of rural households are effectively landless [NSS report]. The elite in the villages, by their collusion with the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats have blocked any meaningful land reforms. In the last four decades the proportion of households with little or no land (landless and marginal farmer households) has increased steadily from 66% to 80%. On the other hand the top ten percent rural households own more land now than in 1951 (Source: NSS report).The Maoist revolutionaries want to change this to ensure equitable distribution of land. They do not deter from collective armed fight of the landless and poor peasants and the poor rural labourers against the existing state power for achieving this goal.
(3) Freedom from moneylenders and traders
Indebtedness in rural India has been increasing by leaps and bounds especially in the recent decades. Public rural banks are closing down due to relaxation of government regulation. Therefore, instead of securing credits from public institutional sources, rural folk are now being forced to approach the village money lenders (who are often big landlords or rich farmers as well) on a larger and larger scale. Unscrupulous traders are adding to the misery of the poor peasants. They sell spurious inputs to small and marginal peasants at exorbitant prices. They also make huge profits by buying their harvest at throwaway prices and selling them in urban areas at a premium.
Not-so-well-off peasants, in this no-win situation, of course end up needing substantial credit. Private moneylenders and various for-profit financial companies take advantage of this situation by extracting enormous sums from peasants. Interest rate could be as high as 5% per month. The BBC News reported that more than 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997 under the pressure of such indebtedness. The Maoist rebels want to change this.
(4) End of caste system and eradication of untouchability
It is well known that the caste system is still thriving in India. Economically it keeps the overwhelming majority of the people in dire poverty and politically it suppresses their fundamental democratic rights. Often the lower castes are robbed of their human dignity. They are even denied access to public facilities like some sources of drinking water, schools etc. An expert group of the planning commission reports that in 70% villages lower caste people cannot enter places of worship and in more than 50% villages they don’t have access to common water sources (Expert committee report to the Planning Commission).
According to an NCDHR report, on average, 27 atrocities (including murder, abduction and rape) against dalits take place every day. The well-off landed sections in the villages still come mainly from the upper castes. They use brahminical ideology to try to keep all other sections of the population under domination. The same is true for usurers, merchants, hoarders, quarry owners, contractors-all mainly come from the upper castes. In short, the upper castes are still very much in command in all aspects of rural life. Often with their own private army of goondas they run a parallel raj. The Maoists want to break this stranglehold of the upper castes and ensure equal rights for dalits and adivasis.
(5) Freedom from exploitation by foreign multinationals and its local partners
Since 1991, foreign capital in alliance with big capitalists like Reliance, Tata and state bureaucrats, has penetrated vast sectors of the Indian economy. Every sphere of our life, starting from road construction, electricity generation, communication networks to food retail, health and education are under direct control of this coterie. In the name of ‘development’ thousands of acres of land are being transferred to big business and multinationals. For example, in Bastar, Chattisgarh, in the name of Bodh Ghat dam, tens of thousands of Adivasis are being forcibly evicted from their “jal-jangal-zameen” (water-forest-land). In Niyamgiri, Orissa the land which is the abode of several Dongria tribes has been handed over to the multinational Vedanta group which will completely destroy the livelihood of these tribes affecting more than 20,000 people. The state government and the mainstream opposition parties of the state are actively supporting such activities. The Maoists, over the years, have been resisting such plunder.
(6) Ensuring people’s democratic rights
It is well known that elections are often a sham in India. The parliament, as we have seen several times, is a bazaar where the rich and the super-rich can buy the MPs. According to ADR (Association of Democratic Reform), the average asset of an MP has gone up to 5.12 crore in 2009 from Rs 1.8 crore in 2004. In our democracy the erstwhile rajas and maharajas, like Scindias, are still proliferating and controlling the local economy and polity at many places.
And we also know the state of judicial system in our country. Salman Khans and Sanjeev Nandas can kill by running cars over common people and still they can escape the law for very long, perhaps forever. B.N. Kirpal, the judge, who arbitrarily ordered that Indian rivers be interlinked, ignoring the resulting ecological and human calamity, joined the environmental board of Coca-Cola after he retired. The Maoists want to establish people’s court where poor people can get true justice. In fact, such courts run in many places where the Maoist movement is strong.
(7) Self-determination for the oppressed nations
The Indian government ruthlessly suppresses national aspirations of a number of people. These people and their land became part of India by accident – because the British raj annexed their homeland or a despotic king wanted their land to be a part of India. Lakhs of Indian troops have been deployed in Kashmir and north-eastern states to curb such struggles of the people in these states for their national self-determination. Since 1958, AFSPA has been imposed in north-eastern states, which allows armed forces to conduct search and seizure without warrant, to arrest without warrant, to destroy any house without any verification and to shoot to kill with full impunity. In Kashmir, there is 1 military personnel for every 15 civilian. Cold blooded murders, like those of Thangjam Manorama Devi, Chungkham Sanjit, Neelofar and Asiya Jan, are carried out frequently in the name of ‘countering terrorism’. The Maoist rebels seek to establish freedom of self determination for all nationalities.
So, to sum up, the new society the Maoists want to establish will have the following components:
Land to the poor and landless. Later on cooperative farming is to be established on voluntary basis.
Forest to the tribal people.
End of rule of the rich and the upper caste in villages and uprooting of caste system. Uproot all discriminations based on gender and religion.
Seizure of the ill gotten wealth and assets of multinational corporations and their local Indian partners.
Self determination for the nationalities, political autonomy for the tribes.
Establish a state by the poor, for the poor where the present day exploiters would be expropriated.
Participation of people in day to day administrative work and decision making. Democracy at the true grassroot level with people having the power to recall its democratic representatives.
In summary: ensuring that many types of freedom, rights and democracy for all sections of toiling masses so that advance to socialism can be possible.
** Now read the Maoist Program in this blog
About 50% of Maoist guerrillas are women: