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Whose Battle Is It?

Everyone knows the conflict between the Maoist-Naxalite insurgency and the Indian government. Both attempt to employ efficient techniques to achieve their goals. Attentive eyes observe the use of structured violence, propaganda through literature and cinema, aid towards groups marginalized by the opponent, passionate slogans, and appeals to commonly held values. From an Archimedean point, probably the only difference would be about which side holds the power, or an edge. However, the issue is not so straightforward. The Maoists believe the Indian polity is a bourgeois democracy- an oligarchy only serving the interests of the ruling class; while the government thinks the violent tactics of Naxalites are counter-productive for national development. The government wants the Naxalites to fight their battles with ballots instead of bullets; while the other side is convinced that their dreams and demands won’t fit in ballot boxes.

The chief disagreement is based upon facts. Which side kills who and how many? Especially, to what end? The difficulty- one gets multiple accounts of these ‘facts’. For a population having media as the only source of information for the national affairs and which has an unyielding disposition to be easily moved by its influence, this is a problem.


Revolt against Injustice, Not Order- The Naxalite side

Indian democracy is the considered the world’s largest democracy. However, there are multiple disappointments in the last 60 years in terms of economic reforms and social justice that have to be addressed. Its failure to solve all the problems in its controlled geography may not be held against it, or so the apologists suggest. They argue whatever goals we have can and should be brought about through legal means, reiterating sentiments from Ambedkar’s quote,

 “If we wish to maintain democracy… [t]he first thing… is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives [and] abandon the bloody methods of revolution.”

Such platitudes have longed seemed vacuous to tribals who have been displaced by Indian crony capitalism working through introducing mining businesses, dam projects and much more where the homes of current Naxalites were. K.S. Subramanian, a retired IPS officer in his 2010 article in ‘Economic & Political Weekly’ said,

“Government programs for tribal development have had adverse consequences for tribal communities… [The] decision-making at decentralized levels is ineffective due to the unchanged character and mindset of the administrative and police organizations. [And] on security concerns the state often becomes a mirror image of the terrorist movement holding it necessary to use means that are illegal. ”

Not only has the reckless decision making adversely affected the handling of Maoist concerns in India but it has also been a catalyst in worsening it. Subramanian notes how the usual response to Maoist agitation has been widespread police harassment, abuse of human rights and the state acting undemocratically in its own territory. These sorts of responses reinforce the parallel drawn between the two sides in the beginning of this article. Of course, Naxalites won’t admit to being similar to the state in this aspect. But it is clear that their criticisms of the government aren’t unjustified.

Arundhati Roy, author, and political activist, has published an essay “Walking with the Comrades” about the accounts of her visit to Dandakaranya Forests where Maoists have their political base areas. She recounts the history as told by the tribesmen of how they have been struggling with the landowners and state forces demanding money for necessary resources. For tribals, the biggest landlord, as Roy reiterates, was the Forest Department, who in 1986 angered by the people’s participation in Naxalite struggle “retaliated by burning new villages that came up in forest areas [and] announced a National Park in Bijapur, which meant the eviction of 60 villages.” Even if there are now acts like The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 that protect the tribals from being dislocated, the past injustice has been too much to rectify. Many people who faced such problems in the 1980s are old now and cannot rebuild their and their families’ lives using these protective methods without disturbing their current lifestyle.

The Maoist sentiment finds its voice in filmmaker Sanjay Kak who in his documentary ‘Red Ant Dream’ says,

“Among the noisy arguments about ideology, flags, and morality of violence, it is easy to forget that these are fragile communities fighting to save themselves from annihilation.”

What Kak here means is that ultimately the people who constitute this insurgency are suffering from poverty, bureaucratic exploitation, continuous displacement, military and police aggression. The mainstream media treats the Naxalite force with utmost demonizing. But it is unreasonable to expect that the people who have undergone and endured the ills of democracy abandon their revolutionary cries of disobedience in such less amount of time.


The Road away from the Bloodshed- the State side

On Ministry of Home Affairs’ website, it is stated that Maoism

“glorifies violence and…cadres are trained specifically in the worst forms of violence to evoke terror [and are] indoctrinated to take recourse to violence as the only means of redressal.”

The statistics show that from 2011 to 2016, the Maoist violence has taken lives of more than 2000 people out of which 1614 were civilians. In spite of the only target of the Maoist insurgency being the administrative-political force, many of the civilians have become a part of the feud between the state and the Maoists. Maoist agitation lacks a clear leadership; it is spread throughout the country. Even if the Maoist project turns out just and politically desirable, their methods as they are currently practiced are at best imprudent and at worst destructive. The political inference from this was already drawn in 2006 when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh referred to Naxalites as “the single biggest internal security challenge" for India. In 2005, Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist militia was mobilized to counter the insurgency. For once, all political parties have agreed that such measures are essential to respond to the Maoists who in their view use their totalitarian ideology to convince disenfranchised into their delusional goal.

Security analyst Bibhu Routray from Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, observes,

“Among the 395 [Naxalites] who have surrendered till 30, September 2015 are leaders…arguably the outfit's most potent military division… [and other high-ranking in Maoist military hierarchy]. According to the Chhattisgarh police, over 140 cadres have surrendered between June and September 2014 in Bastar alone, partly due to the disillusion with the outfit's ideology and partly convinced by the police's method of highlighting the discrimination suffered by the local Chhattisgarh cadres at the hands of those drawn from Andhra Pradesh.”

Press statements from CPI-Maoist confess that the revolution is undergoing its hardest phase. Routray believes “the left‐wing extremism will continue to be a challenge, inhibiting growth, development, and governance”, but there have been effective methods now used by the state to tackle the Naxalites. In this endeavor, the Ministry of Home Affairs has deployed Central Armed Police Forces in the left-wing extremism affected areas. Apart from this, funding into media and public perception management is one of the key measures taken by the government.


Terror, Terror, Which Terror?

Political scientists Leonard Weinberg, Ami Pedahzur and Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler (2010) in their research mention the challenges in conceptualizing terrorism. In a time when each political faction refers to its opponent as a terrorist organization, there simply seems no objective standard for judging who’s who. What one group calls ‘terrorist’ is cheered as ‘freedom fighter’ by another. It is academically acceptable for some to categorize one kind of terrorism as ‘state terrorism’. This is certainly what Maoists in India empathize with. For them, the government has claimed its monopoly after extorting the resources of poor people living in areas of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, etc. This is similar to many of the scholars like Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman accusing USA of state terrorism. For many critics of AFSPA in India and the state involvement in the affairs of Kashmir, this is exactly what India does- state terrorism. But of course, there is no consensus among social scientists about the idea that terrorism can be something the state, especially one with a liberal democratic government, partakes in. Until such a motion is conclusively proved, the claim to authority of the Indian state is likely to stay.

On the other hand, Naxalism has been considered the infamous example of domestic terrorism in the country. Political leaders unanimously believe that building modern India necessitates practical policies and not ideological romanticism that justifies extremism. This sort of extremism is displayed by Maoists in India. But does that mean Maoists are equivalent to the terrorists such as ISIS or Boko Haram? It is important to understand that Naxalism or Maoism is not and cannot be exactly the same as terrorism. While Naxalite Maoism is an ideology, terrorism is a tactic. Does Naxalism display characteristics of a terrorist movement, or is it an attempt to rectify the injustice done on social and economic parameters? The aim of Naxalites is to capture the political power in India, ultimately turning the areas they control into “liberated zones.” Their belief that the government is “run by a collaboration of imperialists, the comprador bourgeoisie and feudal lords” is motivated by their resistance to state exploitation of the poor in the less developed parts of India. Even if the government has acknowledged CPI (Maoists) as a terrorist organization, there is a reason to be skeptical about it before we make a final judgment.


Asking for Peace?

Concerned intellectuals argue that innocent people in India are stuck in this war between the government and Maoists. Even those sympathizing with either side want peace ultimately. But peace can’t be achieved overnight. Political steps take efforts, even the willingness to bend. Violence is a part of many political programs- even for those who challenge its justifications elsewhere.

Arundhati Roy in the abovementioned article said that the Maoist history account is “For sure… a partisan’s version. But then what history isn’t?” The same applies to the governmental records, as well as most information that we come across pertaining to this issue. There is too much of a lack of transparency to say who exactly provides credible data. But from whatever is present at hand, we can say it is imperative to remember that mass reflection is the pre-requisite to any productive dialogue between those most concerned and those with power, if only people are ready to leave their prejudices behind.

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Written By Paresh Hate

I do social and political criticism of status quo because it has unresolved foundational issues pertaining to ethics and philosophy that call for scrutiny.

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