Monday, March 01, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Maoist Upsurge and the Development Strategy


Monday 1 March 2010, by Rakesh Gupta

Maoism In India: Reincarnation of Ultra-Leftwing Extremism in the Twentyfirst Century by Bidyut Chakravarty and Rajat Kujur; Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series, Routledge, Taylor and Francis, London and New York; 2010; pages 250.

The book under review has seven chapters, six appendices, a bibliography and an index. The first three chapters are of historical and organisational import. The last one is on the future of the movement. The intervening two chapters are on the movement in Orissa. The third intervening chapter is on the state’s responses to it in Orissa. The first chapter is preceded by an introduction. It is the scalpel to unravel the gut of the movement.

Two quotations from the introduction are given to provide the reader with the quintessence of the work under review. On page 4 it is said:

The increasing democratisation (whether through electoral politics or otherwise) resulting in the participation of the socio-economically peripheral sections in the political processes therefore seem to have articulated alternative discourses by challenging the state-sponsored market-centric neo-liberal policies.

From whatever perspective one sees this sentence, one cannot help but say ‘three cheers for Indian democracy and its development strategies’. The chapter on the genesis also critiques the Nehruvian perspective of development in favour of the Gandhian decentralised perspective. Both strategies then seem to have contributed to this movement. Quite a clubbing this is. Both market and state intervention have failed.

The second quotation is from page 10. It reads in contrast to the 1967 anti-feudal Naxalbari movement thus:

the Maoists in Orissa and Chattisgarh draw on ‘displacement’ of the local people due to zealous support of the state for quick development through ‘forced’ idustrialisation.

This sounds like, perhaps, the forced displacement of the Stalinist Ural-Serbia industrialisation. I am not sure if the authors would like to go that far. I do not think they have in view that kind of state terror. Both the word displacement and the word forced are in inverted commas. If the authors subscribe to the view that this is the natural course then it need not be in contradiction of their implicit case for Indian democracy. But if they do subscribe to it, then they have come very near to thinking of the Indian state within the authoritarian framework. The feel of the book does not convey that idea to me at least.

But no, they are running like the railway engine on all the wheels—creaking and well-oiled. Their chapters on the marginalised then and today are the creaking wheels and their endeavour to deal with state responses, choice for slow track neo-liberal agenda, less corruption, Gandhian governance are the well-oiled wheels that Indian democracy may and could adopt, or is adopting. They approvingly quote the Prime Minister on his focus on development to reach the people.

The authors have deftly woven in one voice many tunes. India continues to be semi-feudal, and the neo-liberal agenda caused suicides. In both cases it is alienation, they say. The tribals are angry owing to the fact that the environment policy and the forest policy leads to their being alienated from their subsistence economy and land rights. Both economy and ecology are creating this mess. Rootless people of the forest then are the backbone of the Red Corridor where there is an enlargement from fiftyfive districts in nine States in 2003 to 170 districts in 15 States in 2006. The administration does not know how to deal with the strategy of Maoist violence of different forms simultaneously. In such wool-headed muddle the Naxals have ‘developed organic roots in these areas’ presumably because of their success in securing the minimum wage for the tribals and also the abolition of ‘the practice of forced labour under which the toiling castes had to provide free labour to the upper caste’. This is the finding of the Official Committee quoted on page 164. Then one may assume that the state does good work but the credit is that of the Maoists.

Malkangiri symbolises the democracy-development syndrome and alternative to the problem. The authors say, as per police records, more than 100 quintals of marijuana is produced in Malkangiri. Its worth is Rs 60 million. The production is controlled by the Maoists. This is distributed to neighbouring States like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. People also resist the authoritarian functioning of the people’s courts. (p. 33) It is here that multiple Maoist strategies of violence are adopted. The Maoist authoritarian methods of justice are linked with the high finance of marijuana money. Its ideology is a mix of Maoism, Naxal-style individual assassination, religious and communal killings and splits in Maoist organisation around religious lines. This then is the boiling pot from which resistance to maldevelopment, lopsided development or no development smokes its strength. This happens for the Maoist leadership maintains that ‘The State’ does not exist when the people need it. The authors must say which development shoe pinches the wearer (tribal).


The incidents of violence have increased manifold between 2002 and 2007, namely, from 1465 in 2002 to 1565 in 2007. The historical survey of the genesis of such a violent movement is traced to the peasant uprisings in Tebhaga, Telangana, 1967 Naxalbari revolt, the subsequent splits and the current Maoist consolidation. The earlier movements were peasant uprisings in the nature of kisan movements all over India in the 1930s. Even earlier there were the revolts of the Santhals and Moplahs, the Wahabis and the Farazis. The authors needed not only to go back to these movements but also to look at the differences. Like them similarly the UP No-rent campaign, the Bakasht struggles of Bihar and the Kheda struggle of Gujarat were peaceful but anti-feudal movements. In a brief description they needed to evaluate these. This does not, however, take away from the significance of the work.

These anti-colonial anti-feudal movements were under the over-determination of the struggle for independence. In that the agrarian question got submerged. The post-independence survey of land tenures by the Agricultural Commission held the view in 1969 that there was no more land to be redistributed. The current movement is related more to market forces than to land tenures.

In the 1970s the West Bengal Government implemented ‘Operation Barga’. That did not satisfy the locals in Jalpaiguri and Siliguri. The CPI-M had to split. These former Naxal areas are now infected by the violent struggle over land on behalf of the Rajbanshis and others who are, perhaps significantly, not committed to Maoism. How would the authors account for such movements or the movements of Dalits? All of the latter are not committed to the Maoist dictate of violence. They are also not committed to structural reforms. They are for more development funds. Is it then possible to think of change in India minus Maoism? The authors, who have a keen eye on Opposition violence, need to ponder over the issue of agrarian structural reform, market with its Janus-faced liberal and neo-liberal strategies.

They hold the view that

given the appalling socio-economic circumstances in which the vast majority of the Indian population stays alive, it will not be an exaggeration to suggest that Maoism is likely to strike roots since it provides the struggling masses with a powerful voice defending their rights for survival.

(p. 60)

This implies that those who survive also struggle.

Yes and no, I would imagine. Yes, where the Maoist movement is entrenched, if it is not scorched by forest fires of state intervention and or communally divisive politics. All this could be in the name of management of conflict to give a lease of wind to Indian democracy. No, since in other parts of the country where teeming millions live and lack common equities not individual freedoms, the former category, that the authors uphold, lacks the marijuana/ganja/or such syndrome of resistance. Finally, it must be noticed that the authors are supportive of the Gandhian vision.

If Indian federalism finds a new reorganisation step towards decentralisation supported by caste, class and the middle classes, perhaps as in Telangana now and Andhra earlier, Maoist politics may, after all, not take root. Gandhian fasts may continue. The misery may still stalk the ribs of the proverbial peasant since the in Gandhi’s vision for the petty peasant, there is nothing by way of abolition of landlordism, semi-feudalism and structural reforms. Even in the North-East that the authors cover, violence sans Maoism may hold the sway if the Nagas and ULFA do not eschew violence. They hardly practice proletarian politics. Movements in both places have suffered splits that are irreversible. They are for acquisitive politics of the elite around primordial loyalties. These are not Maoist to the hilt. Here again conflict is being managed by the state for its version and not their version of self-determination.

My own feeling is that different parts of the country may offer many forms of systemic challenges. The ones that are anti-systemic may get scorched. After a generation they may resurface as is the case with warfare politics of any genre—state, oppositional, individual and organisational. The state does in practice adopt warfare politics and its tactics. It was said sometime back that K.P.S. Gill did in Punjab what the Naxals had done earlier. So the government agencies may call it a law-and-order problem but actually treat it as warfare. The authors are absolutely right that there is no point treating this problem as a law-and-order one. The counter-arguments to Maoist politics do find a place in this scholarly book.

The part on Orissa is efficiently worked empirical base in terms of poverty and details about Maoist organisation. The beauty of the book is that it relies on the official texts and sayings of Maoists to critique the Indian course of the developmental strategy. It has an easy style, a dispassionate tone and is unburdened with academic or Maoist jargon. The book would be of immense importance to scholars, ordinary readers, and students, journalists of all hues, policy-makers, bureaucrats and police forces. The problem will still remain what mix of the state and the market is the right choice in thinking that small is beautiful.

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