We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn – Mary Catherine Bateson
Age catches up with everyone, and it’s been no different for ageing hippies and the Beatles generation. For some of us however, the half-century since Naxalbari has been the marker of a lifetime. Retired Naxals are unlikely to reach the centenary; so it was inevitable that we would be asked to write op-ed pieces for the media. As it happened, the Maoists killed 25 CRPF personnel in late April – a bloody anniversary in a violent history. Whatever happened to official conflict resolution? And to the red flag that Charu Mazumdar had prophesied would fly over Red Fort by 1975?
I’ve heard the phrase peace process from childhood – with reference to the Sino-Indian conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War, Biafra, Egypt-Israel, Palestine, India-Pakistan, Iran-Iraq, Yugoslavia etc. All were — or still are — embroiled in a ‘peace process.’ Not to mention the never-ending Hindu-Muslim peace process.
And then there was Naxalbari. Thereby hangs a story which I have related elsewhere, so will not recount here. But to begin on a tangent — radical wisdom was that everything is political. We used to say everything has a class character. I gradually learned otherwise. Truth does not have a class character; nor do love, laughter, grief and conscience. If they are rendered political they cease being what they are; and we would already be in an Orwellian universe. Air and water and grass are neither Hindu nor Muslim, neither proletarian nor bourgeois. But yes, extremist ideologies are fast becoming the opiate of choice for desperate people. If ‘the centre cannot hold’, it is because truth is fragile and of no use to anyone except in distorted bits and pieces. We refuse to stand on our own two feet. What sense may we make of this situation?
Bright future etc.
The Russian existentialist Nicolai Berdayev (exiled in 1922) said of Communism that “what is most terrible in it is the mixture of truth and falsehood.” We might rephrase this as the interplay of sociology and utopia. But this is a feature of ideology as such, not just its Communist version. Ideologies combine carefully selected verifiable elements with dreams and promises. Their sociological features pertain to real socio-economic problems and conflicts. The utopian feature assures us of a dream-like solution to those problems; a promise made by a vanguard which will lead us to the glorious new dawn.
There is a further dimension, the impulse towards geopolitical reality. Historically this was expressed in projects such as the Crusades, Dar-ul-Islam, Lebensraum, or even the American Century now drawing to a close. The New Medina, Khalistan and Hindu Rashtra fall in the same category, as does ISIS, the latest manifestation of Islamic utopia.
A century ago, the Bolshevik regime declared itself an armed camp of the world proletariat. The People’s Republic of China in its earlier phase saw itself as the red base for world revolution. In each of these cases we see a fragment of world spirit aspiring to unity, a part of humanity declaring itself the whole. These are dreams wherein the dreamer believes himself to be awake in contrast to ordinary mortals who are asleep. And in each the impulse to violent assertion is paramount, because only via murderous passion can such movements gain momentum.
Militarism is the secret of eternal warfare, to which capitalism has accommodated itself. There’s money to be made in conflict, ask any arms dealer, or foreign ministry. This is the ground shared by enemies, upon which every victory is a defeat for humanity. But what if there is inertia to violent conflict, fuelled by psychological, ideological and economic factors? As in the impulse to revenge, doctrinal cussedness, combined with material benefit to some major decision-makers? What if peace process is a chimera?
Militarism has a long tradition in India, evidenced most clearly in the activities of revolutionary terrorist groups such as Anusilan and Jugantar. Communal ideologies too, were obsessed with civil war. In November 1947 an AICC resolution warned that ‘the activities of the Muslim National Guards, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Akali Volunteers and such other organizations… represent an endeavour to bring into being private armies, (and) must be regarded as a menace to the hard-won freedom of the country.’
The proliferation of private armies after 1947 has proven the foresight of this warning. These formations include the Sunlight Sena, Khalistani groups, the Ranvir Sena, the Bajrang Dal, ULFA and jehadi groups in Kashmir and elsewhere. All paramilitaries enjoy some degree of protection by legal parties. In the early 1980s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi saw fit to encourage extremist activists in Punjab (Bhindranwale) as did her successor in Sri Lanka (the LTTE).
The carnage that followed her assassination in November 1984 opened the floodgates of state-sponsored hooliganism and the blatant subversion of justice. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP and Congress jointly supported the vigilante Salwa Judum to terrorise those who dared resist the takeover of mineral-rich lands by corporates. Despite a Supreme Court order in 2011 disbanding it, this state-supported vigilante force continues under a different name. Such is the respect for law shown by our political leaders.
The paramilitary RSS has forged a far more sophisticated method of overthrowing the Indian Constitution than the Maoists. This method is based on V. D. Savarkar’s directive of 1942, asking Hindutva cadre to infiltrate the organs of state. But it relies more upon ideological conviction than organizational affiliation. During the Babri Masjid demolition campaign, a retired DGP joined the VHP and called for India’s Muslims to be stripped of voting rights. This campaign cost the lives of some 1500 citizens in 1990 and 3000 in 1992. In the year 2000 a retired CBI Director extolled the Bajrang Dal’s activities at its annual function.
The Modi regime has afforded impunity to vigilantism in the garb of ‘love jihad’, ‘Bharat Mata’ and cow protection. Criminal cases related to terror attacks have been soft-pedalled where they involve RSS cadre. Interference with criminal justice has been attested to by the prosecutor Rohini Salian; and includes the Malegaon and Samjhauta train cases. The Hindutva lobby has used official clout to unleash captive mobs, hate-speech, push RSS cadre into state institutions and suborn security forces. The latter practice was noted by the Union Home Ministry in its February 1948 order banning the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
Elephant in the drawing room
It is time for the establishment to shift its gaze briefly from the stock-market and ask itself what it objects to in Naxalite activity. Is it lawlessness and contempt for the Constitution? But does Naxalism hold a monopoly on lawlessness? Every mainstream party carries a burden in this regard. Not just the Congress and BJP/RSS, powerful state parties too are culpable. The CPI (M) dispatched a vigilante force to Nandigram on two occasions in 2007. Killer gangs of the CPI (M) and the RSS operate in Kerala. Isn’t there a problem when people in authority misuse formal power to promote violence? The appearance on April 10, 2016 of Gujarat ex-DIG Vanzara, accused of engineering a fake encounter, on a podium with RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat signals something sinister – the relentless effort by the RSS to abolish the distinction between legal and illegal violence.
Those who want Maoist violence to stop must tell us what happens to their conscience in the face of the RSS’s contempt for the rule of law. The Sangh defends itself by flaunting its patriotism. But Naxalites are nationalists too – they see themselves as political inheritors of Bhagat Singh. When the Home Minister denounces the Sukma incident as cold-blooded murder, he needs to be reminded that that his political allies have been murdering people on some pretext or other on a regular basis.
Was not the murder of Pehlu Khan cold-blooded? Did not the NHRC indict the Chhatisgarh police in January for sexual violence against Adivasis? Did not RSS affiliates attack a police station in UP on April 23 and beat up policemen, even entering the residence of an IPS officer on one occasion? Does anyone believe that ‘the law will take its own course’ in these matters? We are on the verge of becoming an entirely lawless state, and who, pray, is responsible for this?
Undoubtedly there are police officers, magistrates and judges committed to constitutional norms. But it is clear that the Modi government and the RSS are interested in securing an ideological bias within the criminal justice system. Why are murder trials involving Hindutva activists collapsing? Why was Judge Jyotsna Yagnik (who convicted Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi) threatened and her protection withdrawn? Why was Rohini Salian asked to go slow on the Malegaon prosecutions? Why is the ruling party sponsoring an assault on judicial independence? Do we want the government of India to fall under the dictatorship of an ideology?
The Sangh Parivar and its supporters should understand this simple truth: the ideological corruption of justice will destroy India’s reputation as a law-governed democracy. Whatever the stock-brokers, contractors and corporate managers might think of this, the erosion of this reputation will drive India’s laboring classes and ordinary citizens toward desperation; and generate future insurgencies.
Violence is an outcome of humiliation, not of poverty. Those dreaming of Hindu Rashtra should study the ongoing disaster in the Nizam-i-Mustafa next door. Akhand Bharat and Hindu Rashtra are mutually exclusive ideals – if you get one, forget the other. If you love India, call off your hooligans and practice the non-violence that you preach to Naxalites.
Naxalite insurgency in India is propelled by three factors – the brutal injustice experienced by the rural poor; the vested interest of a powerful section of the establishment; and the utopian ideology of Maoist intelligentsia, compounded by the criminalization and logistical inertia of their military machine. The three work in tandem. Each is well documented – we need only recapitulate the 1986 Arwal massacre, the activities of the Ranvir Sena and Salwa Judum; the thousands of tribals in prison, the numerous allegations of unpunished molestation.
The scale of the humiliation undergone by the working population has to be acknowledged in order to understand insurgency. The Naxalite project will never succeed, but neither will insurgency disappear. Indian justice is a manufactory for insurgents. A major factor is that many powerful persons want it to continue. Thus, as recently as December 2014, a retiring DG of the CRPF stated that the continuation of Naxalite violence was beneficial for some state governments covetous of central funds. This has been corroborated by observers within the state apparatus.
However, people want the chance to get on with their lives – they want justice, but not at the cost of perpetual conflict. The comrades may well dream of going down in a heroic flame, but have no right to impose that dream upon others. Insurgent violence leads only to trauma and the desire for revenge. Dreams of liberation get smothered in cruelty; warfare mutates into a self-propelling automaton. The numbers of ordinary persons killed by Maoists is legion, but we may simply recall the names of tribal policemen Francis Induwar and Lucas Tete, tribal rights activist comrade Kenduka Arjun, NREGA activist Niyamat Ansari and journalist Nemichand Jain, all murdered between 2009 and 2013. Those interested can pursue the details of these unfortunates.
And the deliberate derailment of the Jnaneswari Express in May 2010 that resulted in over 140 deaths was a crime that no ideology could possibly justify. Was it collateral damage? When Communist actions become amenable to the Pentagon’s terminology, we can see militarism for what it is – a doctrine for sociopaths and a pathway to criminalisation.
Regardless of the ethics of the Maoist leadership, normal persons can understand why it is the height of irresponsibility to perform actions whose repercussions you know in advance: lifelong sorrow for families of the dead; repression upon the civilian population; a handle for the government to attack journalists and lawyers; onslaughts on democratic organisations struggling for popular causes; and steady erosion of constitutional governance. Some commanders like Sabyasachi Panda (arrested in 2014), had realized the futile nature of Naxalite warfare. The point now is whether the cadre can use their experiences to distinguish between a struggle for social democracy and a suicidal waste of lives.
Decades of ‘people’s war’ and the history of Indian Communism have much to teach us. What is the record as regards human rights, resistance to communal politics and the preservation of democracy? Is it not clear that a section of the Indian ruling class wants to destroy democracy? Are the comrades sure that there is no difference between constitutional democracy and a state under siege by the RSS? India does not need a violent revolution to overthrow the Constitution, but a mass satyagraha to defend it. And that requires a much greater mental and physical effort than organizing a vigilante force.
Communists could have made such an effort in other contexts. Consider what might have happened in 1971 if the Communists had made amends for the disastrous Adhikari resolution of 1942 (that supported the Muslim League), by initiating a reassessment of the anti-democratic Partition of 1947. The CPI (ML) could have launched a debate free of the hateful views of communalists, both Muslim and Hindu. But the leadership was incapable of upsetting Chairman Mao. Dreamers of a classless society found it too utopian to question the partition of India. Thus Naxalites became the only Indian party to support Yahya Khan, a bloody tyrant hated by his own people. Ultra-left communists turned out to be moral and mental zombies.
In 1990, if left-wing groups had set aside their differences in order to defend the Babri Masjid, they could have prevented the terrible atrocities unleashed by communalists. Till this day Indian Communism has produced no thorough-going analysis of communalism, the most grievous political issue for over a century. And, barring honourable examples (especially from Punjab during the period of Khalistani terrorism), the Naxalite movement has been reluctant to confront communalists.
Can Naxalites start afresh?
Democracy is a necessity for the workers movement – it is the ruling class for whom democratic institutions are a nuisance. The proper functioning of these institutions requires that people be able to exercise their basic rights without fear. Relief from violence would be a major gain for oppressed sections of society. Forcing Indian rulers to implement the Constitution is a major task that will require mass movements on an unprecedented scale; and statesmanship of a high order. Those who claim to work for the exploited classes must know that society desperately needs relief from violence. If Maoists had the courage to cast aside their futile dogma they could regain a decisive position in national politics.
The inheritors of Naxalism should lay down their arms and challenge the ruling class to adhere to the Constitution, reform the criminal justice system, root out corruption; punish the instigators of communal and caste massacres; disband militias including the armed wings of the RSS; repeal the SEZ Act; pass the Women’s Reservation Bill and develop the forest and tribal areas for the benefit of the people rather than corporate interests. Such a challenge, accompanied by an unconditional promise to stop the violence, will electrify the political situation. It will place them in a responsible political position; and save the lives of thousands of ordinary people. Too much blood has been shed. Violence is predictable, comrades. Fifty years after Naxalbari, do something unpredictable. It will bring smiles to millions of faces.
Speak the truth.
Stop the killing.