India’s Left-Wing Extremism



Even as the Indian state ponders the situation along its international borders with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Nepal, it is increasingly challenged by the spread of left-wing armed extremism at home.


The strongholds of Indian Maoists are, not surprisingly, in the forested hinterlands of central states, such as Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, where the  Adivasis (originary tribals) have  through six decades of independent India remained almost wholly outside the consideration of the state, except  often as brutal victims of influential land-grabbers and aspiring mining and other corporates,  backed by the state in collaboration with multinational companies.



Extremist violence, popularly referred to as Naxalism or Maoism, indeed straddles as many as some 180 of India’s 600 or so districts in lesser or greater intensity, along an north-eastern arc stretching from Bihar through West Bengal to parts of Orissa, down to Andhra and Gadchirolli in Marharashtra that touches the Andhra border.  With Jharkhand and Chattisgarh as the heartlands.     



Were a map of India’s most neglected, impoverished and exploited regions be superimposed on another with the most natural resources, and then again on regions most afflicted by left-wing extremism, they would by and large all sit one over the other.  A triad of congruence  that tells its own social and ideological story.


That this congruence  is less and less amenable to denial is testified to by the recent statement of India’s prime minister himself : “The growth of naxalism in central India obliges us to look at what causes this sense of alienation among certain sections of the community, especially the tribal community.  It could be indicative of the deficiencies in the pace of development” (The Hindu, Oct.,12, ’09).



This, of course, is a good question to ask, and not a day too soon. 



What must seem problematic, however, is what follows this recognition:  “. . .but groups of individuals have no right to take  law and order into their own hands.  The designs of these groups are well known and we will take effective measures to counter them” (Ibid.,).


The “designs” part has reference to the Maoist objective to capture the state through armed struggle as opposed merely to seeking amelioration for the neglect and immiseration from the state as at present constituted.  That such designs do exist in Maoist literature is ofcourse true.


The further question to ask should have been as to how to persuade the tribals who support the Maoists—being the only state they have known—that India’s constitutional regime and parliamentary democracy is at their service as well.


Not an easy thing to do, given that over sixty years of independent existence the state has been unable to reach many of these districts with even the minimal evidence  of their inclusion in its “national” purposes.  Not a school, not a dispensary, not a policeman, not a land-revenue dispensation, not a government office, not a road, bridge or culvert, nor drinking water or assured supply of the barest modicum of food is to be found in places like Bastar, Dantewada, Koraput, Gadchirolli and so on.


And over and above all that, vast tracts of forest on which the survival of these tribes has depended are happily demolished to make way for the “developmental” activities of companies for whose convenience roads and other technical support structures materialize in no time, often with brutal coercion.


With variations, this has been the paradigm in large parts of India’s north-eastern states as well where, again not surprisingly, many insurgencies  have flourished over the last six decades.




Now as the Indian state seems all set to launch a concerted offensive against the Maoists, complete with helicopter gunships, and as phrases such as “enemy lines” etc., are beginning to sound on India’s electronic channels, this may be the only time for both the Maoists and the state to think beyond stated objectives.


If the “emerging superpower” where some 77% people sustain themselves at half a dollar a day is to be spared  wholesale collapse into an anarchy that may further the interests of neither the Maoists nor the state, least of all the interests of   tribal  populations on whose behalf the war-like contention is ostensibly in the offing, the state may do well to pursue its more sanguine introspections (as evidenced in the prime minister’s statement above) with due acknowledgement of complicity and failure thus far, even as the Maoists may need to evaluate without unrealistic self-regard the likely prospects of the course they follow.



As I read the prime minister’s  thoughtful poser (what causes this alienation?), I am reminded of the malaria inspector who first brought home to me the scientific fact that killing off any number of mosquitoes does not solve the mosquito-malaria problem.  For the simple reason that unless the waters where they breed are rectified, mosquitoes will never end. An insight applicable precisely  to  all theatres of human enquiry and action—from the smallest individual disability to autism, to cancer, to all forms of collective, social disaffection.  



Even in states of great happiness, it is not unusual to hear it asked, “ what causes this happiness?” And, just as the answer to that question can aid our efforts to sustain happiness, the answer to the mosquito question, as overarching metaphor, can help us root out the problem, or, at the least, deal with it where it requires to be dealt with.  Simply declaring war on mosquitoes may not do. Especially if the state is with  good  reason seen to be an instrument at the service not of all Indians but only of some.


Contrarily, the question for the Maoist ideologues to consider is whether armed struggle promises the best dividends for the people they speak for.  Can the India of 2009 be justly compared with the China of the 1940s?  Pragmatically, is the Maoist movement likely to gather enough support internally and enough reinforcement externally to make the capture of the state a likely possibility in some foreseeable future?  If not, what prospects do they see for the poorest of the poor from a praxis of  prolonged hit and run killing, in the face of a countering armed repression at an enhanced scale of operation?


In that context, this writer had, in his Znet column of June,24, 2006, titled “India, Nepal, and Left Praxis” made the following submission: “It would be intellectually remiss of India’s Maoists to simply ignore the enormous significance of the choice that their counterparts in Nepal have made.”  Three years later, I would still humbly press that thought for consideration.




It is entirely possible that some of us have turned timidly finicky about violence in an ontological way.  But it does seem a defendable argument to say that, quite apart from the philosophical/ethical dimensions of the question, look where you will, and violence, be it by the state or by forces opposed to the state, fails more and more to meet the objectives of either.  Be it Kashmir or India’s north-east, violence has produced few gratifications either for the state or for insurgents. Not to speak of Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan.



Not that parliamentary democracy has done too much better for India’s oppressed; what the praxis of violence has done, though, is to stymie what parliamentary democracy, even of our crass and venal kind, may be made to do through mass mobilization and use of what institutional tools it furnishes, however grudgingly, for its own  legitimation, for larger numbers of people in the light of day. 



Were the state to initiate back-channel contact with the Maoists, it would need to remember three  all-important things:  one, that Maoists are not “terrorists” of the kind that we know;  two, that it would pay a heavier price still if parleys were cannily to be conjoined with deception and elimination (as did happen in Andhra Pradesh)—heavier price, that is, on behalf of its own credibility among the downtrodden masses.; and, three, to resist that all-too-familiar paranoia which goads repressive states into suspecting contrary voices to belong to the nation’s  “enemies.”


Likewise, the Maoists would make a great contribution by suggesting to the state structural transformations in rural, tribal governance such as bear the promise of ridding the hinterland of venal exploitation both by privateers and state agencies.  This could include patterns of ownership and funding calculated both to make people’s democracy a workable reality on the ground, and to render onslaughts on it anathema to the nation’s conscience—sufficient to produce  mass mobilization and  proactive  revulsion on its behalf.


If it is agreed that neither the state, however it raves and rants, nor the Maoists can hope through violent means to corner the problem of neglect and immiseration  to their stated purposes,  how much more sensible it might be to stop the killings and  achieve something half-way for the people  whose fate for now seems to be either to starve to death or to die in unequal contest, often at he hands of  their own brethren (like the Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh) who have been  made captive antagonists by the state.

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