In his autumn years Marx was anxious to keep his distance from certain pontificators who grotesquely misinterpreted his writings and yet insisted on describing themselves as Marxists. Had Mao Zedong been still around, the odds are he too would have a similar attitude towards those who parade as Maoists under the banner of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and indulge in otiose theorization alongside asinine bloody-mindedness in praxis.
The Maoists probably feel no remorse for the flip side of their record. For have they not achieved what no other pretender of a revolutionary formation has succeeded in achieving in post-Independence India? They have established solid bases across a substantial chunk of the heartland of India, stretching from Maharashtra to West Bengal. They have also apparently been able to set up a unified command system with a functioning communications network. At this stage, they are basically not much more than armies of the night, greatly dependent on surreptitious movements and hit-and-run guerrilla-style ‘actions’. They are no match for organized State power. Still, there is no question that they have spread fear and panic in the areas they lurk about. Normal administration is seriously disrupted. Time schedules for development projects of any genre have gone haywire. In Chhattisgarh, the senior executive of a corporate outfit has been arrested and charged with paying ransom to the Maoists to ensure smooth sailing for its on-going projects. Reports of the same nature keep travelling from practically the entire affected region. A few months ago, Maoists could take in, with seeming effortlessness, no less than a district magistrate in Odisha just as they had captured, two years ago, a ‘prisoner of war’ in the person of the officer-in-charge of a police station in West Bengal. Their public relations have been extraordinarily competent. And, of course, brutal sporadic killings and arson of hamlets and government premises go on round the year.
The prime minister now and then calls in chief ministers of the states under the Maoist shadow and exchanges views on what is to be done to subdue the Maoists. The home minister periodically summons state home secretaries and directors general of police to sermonize on the same theme. Combined operations by Central and state police and security personnel go on unabated. Chhattisgarh witnessed the phenomenon of Salwa Judum, a perfect instance of public-private partnership in the sphere of law enforcement, until the nation’s highest judiciary struck it down as illegal.
Nothing has worked. The Maoists provide no evidence of disintegrating and are, indicators suggest, further consolidating their position. State governments have routinely fallen back on requesting more and more of Central paramilitary units to cope with the increasing Maoist menace to supplement their own efforts and have got their requests granted. Forces representing State power are spreading themselves across the sensitive areas for search-and-combing operations. They are sometimes ambushed, encounters take place with Maoist cadres, casualties occur on both sides. Villages inevitably get ravaged. Huts and buildings are burned down. Menfolk flee the villages. Women and children stay back and face interrogations, often of an intimidating kind, from the forces of law and order. The incidents become grist to the rumour mills; stories that emerge do not exactly contribute to the goodwill of the interrogators. The police and paramilitary personnel occasionally succeed in capturing live one or two rebels. Sometimes, in the course of exchange of fire, one or two Maoists get shot through the heart or the head and die, just as one or two security police too are brought down by bullets aimed by insurgents. Because the State forces have superior firepower, perhaps the Maoists usually suffer the heavier losses. But the overall situation remains unaltered. The home minister has lately decided to despatch to the states several units of a new security outfit, the Specialized India Reserve Battalion, manned by jawans specially trained in skills called for to counter guerrilla insurgency. He and a few among the chief ministers of the affected states must have been further encouraged by the recent Supreme Court verdict in permitting Salwa Judum-type of operations in other states barring Chhattisgarh. In case circumstances turn more difficult, a few of the chief ministers might not be averse to inviting the army after completing the formalities of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Oddly or not so oddly, it is the Maoists who are likely to go more ecstatic at the latest tidings conveying New Delhi’s determination to intensify operations against them. In their particular reasoning, the more the intensity of State terror, the rosier is the prospect of their attaining the ultimate goal. Deployment of such elements as the Specialized India Reserve Battalions will lead to increased torture and persecution in the countryside, accompanied by greater killings, house raids and arrests. These, Maoists fervently believe, are bound to hasten the revolution. Their assessment is straightforward enough. Those who are killed or tortured almost all the time belong to the tribal communities. Whatever else happens or does not happen in the total war they have embarked on, for sure one consequence will be a sharp rise in the number of adivasis who are killed or maimed or who become victims of interrogatory raids or some other kind of harassment by police and paramilitary personnel. The cumulative effect will be disequilibrating beyond measure the tranquillity of tribal life and living all over. In many minds, the very mention of a Maoist evokes the image of a cruel, ferocious-looking brute of a man. When the picture of the dead or captured insurgent is printed in the newspapers or flashed across the television screen, it is usually the visage of a short-statured, harmless-looking, humbly dressed person bearing an adivasi surname. A sprinkle of non-adivasis occupy the decisionmaking echelons of the organizational structure of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), but the ranks of its foot soldiers over the years have been steadily swollen by tribal people. Here and there, in Hyderabad or Delhi or Mumbai or Calcutta or Raipur, the authorities may apprehend a bespectacled college lecturer or an electronic engineer, who may have superior class or caste roots, for the heinous crime of possessing Maoist literature . Or it could be an important politburo member, a Kamma from Telangana, who is gunned down near the Bengal-Jharkhand border. But the Maoist picked up in the jungle of Koraput or Saranda is an adivasi, the head blown away by a blast from the AK-47 rifle held by the Central Reserve Police Force jawan is again that of a tribal youth, the teenager hiding in the outhouse of an abandoned house in Purulia town, who could not escape the surveillance of the state police, is a Soren or a Mahato. The haggard woman, assaulted allegedly by a police havildar and left half-dead behind the mango bush, is of the local tribal community as well.
Without the rest of the nation having an inkling of what is happening, streams of adivasis are joining the Maoist camp; some do it out of deep conviction, some are victims of the herd instinct, often swayed by stories concerning, or direct experience of, police persecution and ‘bestiality’. That similar atrocities are perpetrated by the Maoists themselves on adivasis suspected of collaborating with State power hardly cuts any ice; these persons, hints are dropped, have received their just deserts for betraying the adivasi cause. This kind of a reaction is not surprising. In the early Thirties of the last century, the Bengali middle class reserved their best cheers for ‘the terrorist revolutionary’ who shot dead the despicable lout in the neighbourhood everybody thought was a police informer.
Almost as ritual, the authorities keep announcing alluring-sounding rehabilitation packages for the rebels who agree to surrender. The response has been poor. A few stray cases of surrender are turned into big photo sessions, but they fool few, certainly not the tribal communities. The growing alienation of the adivasis is not by any stretch an irrational development either. Jawaharlal Nehru was proud of India’s rich ethnic diversities and used to go into raptures over the tribal dance festival organized on Republic Day. No government at the Centre has, however, ever been serious about nurturing these diversities. It was thought enough to bribe clan leaders or tribal chiefs in the hope that they would keep things quiet in the adivasi belt. Despite pious assertions of intent and statutes to protect and advance the rights of the tribal people, encroachment on their habitat and traditional sources of livelihood has continued uninterrupted. Globalization-cum-liberalization has affected the coup de grâce. Adivasi land is needed for industry, adivasi sentiments must give way to mining, the Nelson’s eye is to be turned on adivasi protests where the interests of both mining czars and industry bosses are involved. One of the prime minister’s principal worries about the Maoist turmoil in Chhattisgarh is that it is delaying implementation of the government’s mineral export pledge to countries like the United States of America.
It will be absurd to go along with the Maoist claim that India is in the midst of a civil war where the ruling regime representing the rest of the nation is attempting to wipe out the other 10 per cent, consisting overwhelmingly of adivasis, of whom they are the lone defenders. Several foreign governments and international do-good outfits, not exactly oozing with goodwill for the regime in New Delhi, are, however, watching the proceedings in our country. Were the authorities to take some egregiously wrong steps which threaten to turn the Maoist unrest into a generic tribal problem, they are bound to mount a global hoo-ha. This, then, is the dilemma of India’s ruling classes: do they remain slaves to their narrow, immediate interests and persist with full-fledged liberalization, thereby decimating the tribal population, or do they draw back?
For those on the Left, but who detest the Maoists, the dilemma is even acuter. It will be a horrid historical error for them to identify with the most retrograde class forces in society in order to silence the Maoists if, in the process, they totally alienate one of India’s most exploited and persecuted communities.