Naxalbari throwback

Naxalbari throwback

Five years later, the Naxalbari peasant uprising was brutally crushed and its Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninst) leaders and cadres, mostly student intellectuals, jailed or killed. But it erupted in Srikakulam, followed by Debra-Gopiballabhpur, Birbhum and Bhojpur. By the 1990s, as India began to liberalise its economy and economic growth took off, violent revolution seemed more a quaint relic than a threat.

No longer. A small jungle redoubt on the borders of West Bengal and Jharkhand, Lalgarh, literally the red bastion, has turned itself into another Naxalbari, challenging the coercive might of the State and the thuggery of the CPM. The Naxalite resurgence began in 1999 when the Union Home Ministry formed the Coordination Centre of seven states affected by the Left-wing extremism. By 2004, the two biggest splinters of the original movement - one Marxist and one Maoist - set aside their differences and joined to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The combined force quickly consolidated across great swathes of India’s poorest regions, cutting across 13 states. The people there don’t just live on the edge of Indian society, they live beyond it, in a void that successive governments in New Delhi and in the states have neglected for decades. In this part of the country, far removed from Incredible India, there are no roads, no power, no running water, no telephones, no semblance of administration and no officials to answer desperate pleas for help.

Neglect’s child
There is no denying that the insurgency has prospered in areas of official neglect. In fact, in a statement in Parliament in 2005, then Home Minister Shivraj Patil summed up the official neglect, saying: The “Naxalites operate in (a) vacuum created by (an) absence of administrative and political institutions.” They “offer an alternative system of governance which promises emancipation… through the barrel of the gun”.

The Naxalites have taken to heart Mao Zedong’s maxim that “the seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution,” killing and abducting enemies and using coercion and force to win support among the very same villagers they claim to be liberating. According to liberation theologians like Jan Myrdal, Maoism is the rational alternative to a world divided between a rich and powerful few and a hungry and oppressed many. That strain of Maoism was witnessed in Cambodia with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, in India with the Naxalites, and in Peru with the Sendero Luminoso (or the Shining Path) and the Tupac Amaru to name a few. What, then, accounts for the survival and continuity of the Maoist movement even in the face of repression by the Indian state? The Maoists’ extremist voice and influence are now being felt across the length of a vertical corridor running from West Bengal to Andhra Pradesh which has been witness to ever widening material gap -- one of the most pronounced and growing cleavages in the contemporary Indian socio-economic system.

In states as diverse as Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, the continuity of the Maoist movement is explained by the persistence and exacerbation of the basic causes that led to its birth: an exploitative socio-economic system that engendered rural poverty, denial of the fruits of economic redistribution and consequent disempowerment of the indigenous inhabitants. This is underscored by a 2007-2008 Home Ministry report which says that “Naxalites  operate in the vacuum created by functional inadequacy of field level governance structures, espouse local demands and take advantage of prevalent dissatisfaction and feelings of perceived neglect among the underprivileged”.

Maoism was a symptom of a more profound process of deprivation and Maoist violence a response to the deepening poverty and injustice faced by the rural population. The economic paradigm adopted by the policy-makers created inequalities and coercive control which, in turn, defined the rural poor’s collective disadvantage: The economic and political differentials, which result from differences (between the beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries of liberalisation) in access to scarce resources and positions, and economic and political discrimination that systematically restrict the access of the marginalised to desirable economic resources and opportunities and to political rights and position. These differentials contributed to persisting social, economic, cultural grievances. Besides, the explicit grievances and demands of the rural poor and their Maoist leaders often involved the distribution of resources, creating, in Karl Popper’s words, a “problem situation”.

Pushed into extreme poverty, the rural poor, especially the adivasis, turned to the Maoists’ seductive appeal of a classless society, class enemies and overthrow of an exploitative system. In West Bengal, the ambitious land redistribution programme of the CPM in the seventies, instead of empowering the poor farmers economically and politically, fragmented the land further, leaving a legacy that can now be seen in the acute social and political crisis gripping the state. The Lalgarh uprising is but one manifestation of the real price of the failure of the CPM’s so-called land reforms programme which only benefited the party. In mineral-rich Jharkhand, the adivasis, bereft of leaders with integrity, have been reduced to work on less-than-minimum wage in stone quarries and sundry industrial units in the control of big business.

A more important cause for the Maoist resurgence was a free-market economic plan that was imposed without shock absorbers for the poor. It was only when policemen began to be killed and police stations, party office buildings and vital installations were blown up by the Maoists that the Centre woke up to the fact that years of neglect and deprivation now called for “implementing development schemes”. Over the past nine years, a number of review and monitoring mechanisms were sought to be put in place, and a slew of development and governance measures  thought up to attend to the people’s basic needs. The schemes ranged from the backward districts initiatives, backward regions grant fund, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Health Mission and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, among others. The principal strategy, however, was to eradicate the “greatest threat to the country’s internal security” by the use of force.

And yet the Maoist movement and its attendant violence continue to convulse the country.  The government continues to display lack of political will to meaningfully engage the Maoists and realistic solutions to the Maoist problem are far from equitable implementation. Lalgarh is not just an example of spiralling violence, but a beacon of hope and opportunity for the government to act. Fast.

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