Thursday, August 25, 2005

The crackdown on Maoists was waiting to happen

There is nothing to be surprised by Andhra Pradesh's decision to outlaw the Communist Party of India-Maoist. The state government and the People's War Group (PWG), as the CPI-Maoist's dominant face was earlier known, came together for mutual selfish reasons when they decided to talk. Naturally, a parting of ways was only to be expected.

When the Congress party took power in Andhra Pradesh last year, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy decided to invite the PWG although it was fairly well known that there would be no meeting ground with the Maoists. The guerrillas' ideological prism prevents them from making peace with a state run by "class enemies". However, both sides had a limited interest in going for a dialogue.

By the time the Telugu Desam Party led by N. Chandrababu Naidu lost the assembly elections in May 2004, seven years of repression by the state had considerably weakened the PWG. Many of its cadres and supporters - the PWG puts the number at about 2,000 - had been executed. Its armed units were up against the wall because they were scattered and holed up in forests. Communications between some units had snapped. Its overt supporters were in dread of the state. Its biggest task was to keep alive its chief, Muppala Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy, and it succeeded there.

The PWG needed a breather very badly. When the elections were announced, it decided not to oppose them. Instead it allowed people to vote freely. In a state where there was considerable anger against Naidu's economic policies, this delivered considerable votes into the Congress-TRS kitty, particularly in the populous Telengana region where a PWG boycott call could have hurt the Congress more. The Congress won hands down. Many in Andhra Pradesh believe that Reddy lifted the ban on the PWG as a way of saying 'thank you' to the group.

The Andhra Pradesh police, especially its anti-Maoist unit Grey Hounds, also had a reason to see the PWG ban lifted. The reasoning was that this would tempt PWG cadres, including those in the senior level, to come out in the open. Any attempt by the PWG to start legal activity in towns and cities would expose those sympathetic to it and those whose identity was not known thus far. This did happen and to that extent the police strategy succeeded. At the same time, the PWG gained a breather it was desperately looking for. The PWG, however, did not let Ganapathy and other top leaders to come out of hiding.

The peace talks began with some optimism but predictably started to wobble. By the end of last year, pro-PWG activists were accusing the police of killing PWG cadres in cold blood - a trend that started in the late 1960s. The PWG demanded that the government distribute to the landless excess land held by the state and rich farmers illegally. An Andhra Pradesh police officer said the rebels backed this with statistics that surprised the administration. But the peace process collapsed in January, leading to more violence from both sides.

The PWG, which has since merged with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) to form the CPI-Maoist, is wedded to the concept of agrarian revolution as enunciated by Mao Zedong. It has no faith in parliamentary democracy and regards other Maoist groups now taking part in elections as renegades. It has considerable support in Andhra Pradesh, where leftwing politics go back a long way, and it has no intention of coming to any settlement with the state. From that perspective, the peace talks were a farce.

In one sense, the renewed ban on the PWG does not matter to the party because much of its structure remained underground even during the talks. The party was expecting the ban. But its decision to revive its frontal organisations such as Roytu Coolie Sangam, Radical Youth Front and Radical Students Union in a big way has suffered a setback. Besides Virasam, which groups intellectuals sympathetic to its cause, these are the most vibrant pro-PWG outfits.

Andhra Pradesh is bound to see more bloodshed, and the security forces are bound to go all out against the Maoists. What will probably work against the government is the formation of the CPI-Maoist, whose tentacles now grip several states. There was a time when the MCC and the PWG were at loggerheads and the police took advantage of this. Now, the PWG faction of the party can take refuge in MCC bastions in other states, particularly Jharkhand. Consequently, Andhra Pradesh, which last year lifted the ban on the PWG amid criticism from other states, would now be looking for a concerted all-India strategy to take on the Maoist guerrillas who now enjoy considerable close links with their counterparts in Nepal.

Source: Manorama Online

No comments: