Does Ideology Matter?

“There has been a systematic failure in giving tribals a stake in the modern economic system—the alienation built over decades is taking a dangerous toll”. . .

“The systemic exploitation of our tribal communities. . .can no longer be tolerated.”

(Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, Hindustan Times, 14/11/09, p.10)




A government report just released on the situation of India’s tribals blames the government itself and companies like the Tatas and Essar for the disquiet in the tribal “hinterlands.”  As you would expect, the latter have righteously washed their distinguished hands of the insinuation.


Brought out by the Ministry of Rural Development, the report (some tribute to aspects of Indian democracy) in a chapter titled “State-connived land alienation” speaks forthrightly of how land grabs in India’s mineral rich states—Orissa, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand—happen with “direct and indirect participation of revenue officials.”  To those must be added the more notorious segments of the political class, now most strikingly represented by the erstwhile chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, who, by all accounts, is alleged to have made a pile of some Rs.4000/-crores over a span of five or six years of ‘rule.’ That Mr.Koda is himself a tribal leader must suggest how enticing and promising  the dominant paradigms of ‘development’ are.


That the debate around the issue has penetrated the solid bastions of  capitalist theorists is rather hearteningly evidenced by the following sub-heading in the editorial of Hindustan Times of Nov.,16:  “’Tribal land grabs’ aren’t just an ‘NGO’ theory.”


Conceding that some 40% of all lands used for “development” belongs to tribals, the  report characterises the circumstance as “the  biggest grab of tribal lands after Columbus.”


I may recall that in an earlier column this writer had drawn attention to the significant coincidence that Naxalism afflicts precisely those regions which are richest in mineral wealth, where grabbers are the most active, and where poverty is the most abysmal (see India’s Left-Wing Extremism,” Znet, 14/11/09).


So you might well ask where ideology factors into the matter.


Look at the epigraph closely, and you would conclude that the statement may well have come from a Maoist ideologue, whereas infact it comes from the Prime Minister of India.


Caveat:  where the Maoist ideologue may have deduced from the language of the epigraph that exploitation and immiseration clearly identify themselves as India’s chiefest “internal danger,”  the Prime Minister, having used those words, concludes—and repeatedly—that the greatest “internal danger” is Naxalism rather than that which breeds it.


Thus it is that ideologues who represent differing class interests interpret one and the same words differingly.


And, doing so, they unleash differing orders of praxis upon the republic, fraught with  commensurate  consequence for millions of citizens.




Having gotten thus far in acknowledgement, the state now demands that it is willing to discuss issues with the Maoists provided they put an end to violence—a stipulation that is made even as unprecedented mobilization of central and state forces in underway to launch on the Maoists in their forested hideouts.


As a confirmed pacifist, this writer endorses every call, whoever makes it, for a world without violence.  I am on record as having more than once suggested to the Maoists that however righteous their armed struggle, violence is the wrong way to go about it. (see my India, Nepal, and Left Praxis”, Znet, June, 10,2006).


Yet, we must all alike countenance the question as to what it is that constitutes violence.  Why is it that what is violence to some is often mere administrative fall-out or collateral damage to others, if not just retribution?  And are the likes of the Maoists alone in making excuses?


At the extreme philosophical level, Gandhi never failed to underscore his conviction that violence is first born in a violent thought, so that even some of the kindest seeming acts of mankind can sometimes be vitiated by their origins in minds tainted with violence in other spheres of interest and activity.  Or that an act of kindness born out of a self-regarding consideration is in itself evidence of a mind still unfree of violence.  Often, as Marx was to point out, our charitable  acts are ultimately meant only to keep in place disequilibriums of social and economic power.  Something that the poet, Blake, was to formulate searingly in the couplet  “Pity would be no more/If we did not make somebody poor.”


But let that be.


Only a month or so ago, the Save the Children NGO brought home to us the following facts:


–one fifth of the children dying in the world are Indian;


–a total of 2 million die before their 5th birthday;


–one child dies every 15 seconds due to neo-natal diseases;


–more than 400,000 newborns die every year within a day of birth;


–one in three malnourished children worldwide is an Indian.


And a great deal more.


Ask yourself whether these are mere statistics or unconscionably violent consequences of state policy?


Whether some Malthusian order of nature can happily absolve the state of this violence?


Whether these and a plethora of other like exterminations—wrought upon Dalits, Women, and Minorities, in addition to the Tribals—on a daily basis since India’s Independence can or cannot be attributed to the active/selective intent of coordinates of governance, of the acquisition and distribution of wealth, in effect to the particular and concrete ways in which the democratic system in India has received guidance?


Whatever be your conclusions will will-nilly trace back to ideological  suppositions with regard to what it means to be “human” and to act as “human” subjects.  Try it.


For now, the question that begs itself is why is it that some forms of violence are never endorsed by the classes as qualifying to be called violence, and if called, duly remedied in lasting ways?


Let me offer just the most obvious reference (as we now consider forms of violence that are obviously active and gruesome, and involve killing and maiming on the instant).


By anybody’s reckoning, more numbers in Independent India have been killed and maimed in religiously-driven frenzies and pogroms and in industrial disasters than in Maoist shenanigans.  The Delhi Sikh killings of 1984 and anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom of 2002 alone between them may have vented more gruesome fury upon more numbers than the Naxals have killed since 1967 when peasant uprisings of post-Independent India first took shape in violent form.


And consider that the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of December 3, 1984 at the then Union Carbide factory from leaking Methyl Isocyanate  has to date involved, by official account, close to 20,000 deaths.  All of India’s  many insurgencies may not equal that number.


Yet we have never heard the state to say that such matters constitute any great “internal danger,” have we?  Or known the state to pursue the agents with any great resolve.


The reason is not far to seek, and the reason is, like it or not embedded in ideology.


Forms of violence that originate from the tactical or strategic requirements of the classes may evince moral outrage from the media, or sections of it, and sections of the citizenry, they are understood cannily, after all, to keep in place forms of social and cultural dominance needed to prop patterns of possession and distribution.  Just as they are also useful in ploughing wage workers and other disgruntled lumpen sections of the population back from class issues to helpfully divisive considerations of identity.


Just as the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on a more impressive scale was intended after all to keep the godly races safe from the evil ones.


Must there not be a reason why whether in India or abroad, violence thus perpetrated by class affiliates rarely draws either justice or retribution upon known and powerful perpetrators?  Justice and retribution are inevitably reserved for those whose violence after all proved insufficient and defeatable by greater violence.  Examples will suggest themselves dime a dozen.


There is clear understanding, therefore, that whereas the occasional religious pogrom, caste atrocity, state-driven excess can be used to good purpose on the one hand and shamed by pious hand-wringing on the other, what the Maoists are up to seeks fundamentally to overturn the benign dispensations along which India’s political economy thrives for the haves.


Far from “development” being an ideology-neutral issue, it is understood everywhere to be driven by the  existing and projected interests of the classes; and all opposition to it equally by the “anti-national” resistance of the masses.


And no greater ideological tactic than to say that in India all resistance to current patterns of “development”  is  ideological, and thus tainted.




We may then be excused for our inability to subsribe to sermons about this, that, or the other in the abstract, including about what constitutes violence.


What is clear to me is that nothing suits the Indian state as well as being opposed with the force of arms, just as nothing would have suited the colonial British to have been opposed likewise by the machete and the occasional bomb blast.


A reality that Gandhi understood to perfection.


It is the “naked newborn babe” that draws the most force from mankind, just as it did in that first of fascist exterminators, Macbeth.


How often is humane intelligence defeated by doctrine is a text worth the pondering.



At a time when from the lowliest to the Prime Minister and the Hindustan Times (and what it represents) acknowledges the force of the resistors’ argument, what a pity that the Maoists should be unwilling or unable to forge more imaginative and fruitful forms of engagement than peddling arms in hinterland hideouts. 



Dig human history where you will, and no social forces have ever succeeded in obtaining all; on the other hand, they have often settled for nothing after great losses of life.


Contrarily, any state that thinks that arguments however potent and acknowledged can be obliterated by the force of superior arms has little cause to think that it embodies the fine principles of republicanism.


And the time to weigh these matters on either side is now.


If indeed the “systemic exploitation  of our tribals cannot be tolerated,” as the Prime Minister has said, does it not follow that the system needs to be revisited?

[email protected]



Leave a comment