Manoranjan Mohanty is a veteran of Maoist studies in India and a reputed scholar of China. He brings to this book his skills as a political scientist, with a deep understanding of successive generations of Maoist movements in India. The most important statement in his book — some portions are truly seminal — appears on page vii of the prologue. It says, “[R]evolutionary violence is in response to ruling class violence as a part of political strategy to bring about comprehensive structural transformation of the unequal social order.”
This puts paid to Max Weber’s theory of the state enjoying a monopoly over violence. While Mohanty underlines that an “equalised” and just social order does not require violence from any side in the transactional analysis of power, all states have a penchant for dealing with protests that demand setting right unequal transactions with its citizens by resorting to violence, which it believes it has a monopoly over. The extended debate over the legitimacy of violence right at the beginning of the book is a good primer for all those who look at social justice as a battlefield fit for violence.
I have had a longstanding argument with fellow journalists about whether the current Maoist movement cannot be dubbed an extension of the Naxalite violence of the 1970s. The points of divergence between the two are many. The Naxalbari movement of 1967-69 was a people’s movement, till the point that Sonam Wangdi, the inspector who was the movement’s first casualty, fell to the arrows of the crowd. But the moment Charu Mazumdar decided to ape the Lin Biao line of Maoist guerrilla tactics of China, and expounded his small squad action theory, he robbed the movement of its engine of growth by divorcing popular participation from small, cadre-based groups belonging to various socio-economic classes. Mohanty focuses on this in some detail in his book. By pronouncing this edict, Mazumdar only added another dimension to the severe faction fights in the CPI(ML) of those days. These internal feuds were known as pro-Lin Biao and anti-Lin Biao factions that really struggled for and against the “class annihilation” praxis, which had the supreme leader’s signature.
On the other hand, the CPI(Maoist) that once controlled almost 250 districts of the total of 707 districts (2016 census) of the country — as former Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, had expounded in Parliament in 2011 — were actually a coalition of two Maoist parties that had no connection, or, at best, tenuous connections with Mazumdar’s CPI(ML). At its inception, the People’s War Group led by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah owed, at the most, a distant allegiance to the Mazumdar group.
In Bihar and Jharkhand, the Maoist Communist Centre was led by Kanai Chatterjee, who was an early dissenter against Mazumdar’s leadership. The two parties merged in the mid-2000s because the conditions demanded so, or they thought so on the basis of their analyses.
Finally, a point that Mohanty has highlighted in the book is Mazumdar’s tactic of basing his young organisers from the cities around embattled areas. The people he chose were mostly educated in elite institutions and were of high caste, while the CPI(Maoist) local level leadership was provided by Tudus, Murmus and so on. This gave an entirely different shape to the movement. In the (presently depleted) Politburo and Central Committee strengths of the CPI(Maoist), the Kobad Gandhis were an exception.
Recalling Marx’s line about the 1848 revolutions that swept across central Europe, and his reasons for not joining them himself, provides an important lesson in understanding the difference between Mazumdar’s party and the present CPI(Maoist). Can we call the CPI(Maoist) revolutionaries “Narodniks”? Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the CPI(M), should know.