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Critiquing the Programme of Action of the Maoists

A response to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) comment (19 September 2009) on Sumanta Banerjee's earlier article (2 May 2009), raising larger questions on the CPI(Maoist) strategies and tactics.


Critiquing the Programme of Action of the Maoists

Sumanta Banerjee

polling” in Maoist-dominated areas in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, B ihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.thank the spokesperson for supplying us with alternative statistics (collected by his party) showing less turnout at polling booths in certain constituencies in those

A response to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) comment (19 September 2009) on Sumanta Banerjee’s earlier article (2 May 2009), raising larger questions on the CPI(Maoist) strategies and tactics.

Sumanta Banerjee ( is best known for his book In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India (1980).

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november 14, 2009

thank the spokesperson of the CPI(Maoist) for his response (“On the Election Boycott Tactic of the Maoists”, EPW, 19 September) to my article, “The Maoists, Elections, Boycotts and Violence” which enables me to raise some basic questions regarding his party’s strategy and tactics, that go beyond the immediate controversy over the boycott of the May Lok Sabha polls.

But let me first dispose of the spokesperson’s objections to my views on election boycott. I accept the explanation that the stoppage of the train at Hehegada station in Jharkhand was not a hijacking, but a stopping of the train, which as he says had nothing to do with the poll boycott. I share the anger of the villagers demanding a j udicial enquiry into the Central R eserve Police Force (CRPF) killing of five youths. But could not their anger had been directed by the CPI(Maoist) towards more effective channels (like encirclement of the district administration headquarters d emanding punishment of the guilty), i nstead of choosing a soft target like a train, holding it up for four hours, totally indifferent to the plight of the common passengers travelling by it? Have the Maoist leadership ever considered how many among them might have been patients g oing for medical treatment, or students sitting for some examinations, or some similar urgent work? The most horrendous example of such utter indifference by the Maoists to lives of the common people was the Kakatiya train incident (which the spokesperson now admits was a “blot” in his party history).

Poll Statistics

As for people’s participation in elections, I am being questioned for relying on the Election Commission (EC) statistics and the “Delhi-centric press” which had reported “moderate to high percentage of

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areas where the Maoists wield power. But then why is the party spokesperson d epending on figures from the same EC, regarding polling trends in the Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai of all places? He has selectively accepted the Commission’s statistics of 43.2% of voting in Mumbai and even less in Thane, to prove his point that his party’s poll boycott campaign had caught up in these areas. Do the Maoist leaders seriously believe that the low p ercentage of voting in Mumbai was in res ponse to their call for poll boycott? Do they claim that the 57% of the electorate of Mumbai who refused to vote were all inspired by their revolutionary theory of rejection of the parliamentary system – or was it sheer apathy and cynicism on their part (including the upper and middle class citizens)? Mumbai anyway is never known to be a base of the Maoist party’s activities or even propaganda.

If the EC’s figures for the Mumbai elections are acceptable to the party spokesperson, what prevents him from giving credence to its statistics regarding other states and constituencies also where the party’s poll boycott had no impact? The statistics indicate that the percentage of votes polled in the 2009 Lok Sabha election has not been any different from the 2004 election – hovering around 58%. CPI(Maoist) therefore cannot claim that its call for boycott of polls (described as a “dominant form of struggle” in its politburo statement of 12 June 2009) had made any impact on the vast masses of the electorate all over India. The percentage of voting was highest in Andhra Pradesh – 72 – a fact which even the party recognises when it attributes the “increase in polling percentage” to “a setback to the revolutionary movement” and “deployment of the police (which) can ensure a high percentage of polling even in Maoist strongholds”. Let us look at the polling percentage in a few other states where the


Maoists have a significant presence – the so-called “Red Corridor” stretching from the north to the south. In only Bihar the percentage was low – 44.85 – while Chhattisgarh (the main Maoist b astion) registered 55.30, Jharkhand 51.52, Madhya Pradesh 50.87, and Maharashtra 50.76.

What do these statistics indicate? At least half of the Indian electorate could have exercised their vote out of what the party spokesperson describes as “material and other incentives, caste, communal, ethnic, regional and other factors…” or a hope of some change through the electoral process. The other half which did not vote had either lost faith in the process, or had no respect for the candidates whom they were asked to vote for. In other words, large sections of the Indian people are not yet prepared for the rejection of the parliamentary system, lock stock and barrel, from any deep ideological commitment. As the spokesperson himself admits, it is only the “emergence of an alternative to the parliamentary institutions (that) will bring about a qualitative change in the perception of the people”. It will therefore be a long haul for the Maoists to win over these vast masses who have to be convinced first about the viability and effectiveness of governance by the alternative “organs of people’s power” that they claim to have established in their areas of c ontrol, and to be assured of the Maoist party’s commitment to humanitarian v alues and democratic norms in its operations in public.

On ‘Developmental’ Activities

As for the party’s policy towards the government’s “developmental” activities, I generally agree with its critique of the I ndian state’s model of “development”, and with its contention that the administration has taken up road-building at a hectic pace, primarily to “exploit the entire natural wealth from Raoghat to Maad”, and is using school buildings to “provide fortified shelters to the CRPF”. But while opposing these state-sponsored “developmental” activities, the party should take alternative measures to help the villagers to gain access to education, roads and power supply. It is reassuring that the CPI(Maoist), according to its spokesperson, had “ reviewed this and decided to take up such sabotage activities in a selective m anner with least inconvenience to the people at large”.

Dangerous Portents

Let me take off from this to go beyond the poll boycott issue, and take up the postpoll position of the CPI(Maoist). I am in general agreement with its assessment of the election results and the post-electoral scenario, as described in its politburo statement of 12 June 2009 (“Post-Election Situation – Our Tasks”). It is also good to see that the party has recognised its mistakes and is promising to “take extra precautions not to take up reckless actions, not to cause damage to people’s property or cause inconvenience to people…” There is, however, no evidence of such precautions, as apparent from the continuing “reckless actions” by its cadres like destruction of railway stations and tracks, disruptions in public life by frequent bandhs in the Bihar-Jharkhand stretch, and indiscriminate killing of poor villagers and their families including children, just because they happen to be supporters of the CPI(M) or some other political party in Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura in West Bengal.

Moreover, I find a dangerously opportunistic line in the CPI(Maoist)’s sympathetic assessment of ethno-nationalist insurgencies of a fascist nature (e g, LTTE in Sri Lanka and ULFA in Assam) and fundamentalist religion-based terrorist acts of vengeance (e g, by Taliban in Swat Valley and the north west in Pakistan), as expressed in the politburo statement, as well as certain utterances and statements by its spokespersons (e g, Koteswar Rao’s recent interviews in Lalgarh). Although it is well known that the LTTE hijacked the just cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils, dragged down the national liberation struggle into a personality-based (Prabhakaranled) autocratic militarist misadventure by ruthlessly decimating other Tamil representatives of the struggle and dividing the Sri Lankan Tamil community thereby, the politburo sheds tears over its failure: “The setback suffered by the LTTE and the Tamil liberation struggle in Sri Lanka also has a negative effect on the revolutionary movement in India as well as south Asia

november 14, 2009

and the world at large”. On the contrary, the revolutionary movements in south Asia should heave a sigh of relief at the elimination of a fascist chauvinistic party that had besmirched the cause of national liberation of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Let us wait for the emergence of a new Tamil leadership which may be able to reconceptualise their demand for selfdetermination in a new programme of strategy and tactics, committed to socialist and democratic reforms.

Sympathy for Terrorist Acts

The politburo statement also betrays a sneaking sympathy for the terrorist acts of Islamic fundamentalist forces. It includes such acts as part of “the national liberation struggles in the contemporary world”, by describing them as “militant uprisings in several parts of Pakistan such as the Swat Valley, North West Provinces, FATA and other regions…”. Still later, it bemoans that “the massive offensive on Islamic j ihadist forces in Pakistan” had been a “negative factor” in the present international situation. The CPI(Maoist) senior leader Koteswar Rao (known as Kishanji) has come out openly in support of the I slamic jihadis in a recent newspaper i nterview, where he said: “…we feel that the Islamic upsurge should not be o pposed as it is basically anti-US and anti-imperialist in nature. We therefore want it to grow.” When the newspaper reporter interviewing him pointed out at the loss of hundreds of innocent lives caused by the terror attacks in Mumbai, he came out with the amazing comment: “We do not support the way they attacked the Victoria station, where most of the victims were Muslims!” (Hindustan Times, 9 June 2009). As if had the majority of the victims been non-Muslims, even if they were i nnocent, it would not have mattered to the Maoist party!

Is such sympathy for the Islamic jihadist militants in consistence with the ideology of the CPI(Maoist)? By their own public statements, the Islamic jihadist forces (Taliban, Al Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant outfits operating in the subcontinent) had repeatedly made it clear that their goal is the setting up of an Islamic state based on strict religious shariat laws, which ban democratic political

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Economic & Political Weekly


a ctivities, curtail women’s free movement, impose orthodox feudal practices and c ustoms, etc. Judging by Koteswar Rao’s statement, the CPI(Maoist) is supporting these Islamic religious fundamentalist j ihadists, just because they are opposing the US. So, any stick is good enough to beat the US? The party fails to analyse their class character and opportunist p olitics, and forgets that the Taliban, Al Qaida, etc, which lead the “Islamic u psurge” today, were created by the US CIA to overthrow the pro-Soviet regime in A fghanistan. It is strange that the CPI(Maoist) supports these Islamic terrorist groups (who are totally feudal and anti-communist), but ignores the Latin American s ocialist f orces, both armed and parliamentary, who are putting up resistance against US h egemony in a more meaningful way.

A similarly dangerous opportunist line is evident from the CPI(Maoist)’s statements about ULFA and some other northeastern insurgent outfits. Koteswar Rao in another interview (taken by Romeeta D atta and Aveek Datta and posted by on 29 May 2009) said:

We support all outfits fighting state-sponsored oppression – the likes of ULFA, NSCN and PLA – because our enemy is common. We have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSCN, ULFA and PLA for helping each other in our fight against the state.

From both the statements and actions of the ULFA, it is quite evident that it is a xenophobic ethno-nationalist group, which while fighting for a separate homeland, is targeting non-Assamese innocent citizens (e g, migrant labourers from B ihar and other north-Indian places), as well as Assamese dissidents and democrats who dare to oppose their ideology. By entering into opportunist military a lliances with such outfits, the Maoists seem to be following the age-old unprincipled doctrine of “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, and justifying it in the name of supporting self-determination of n ationalities.

A similar expediency led the Maoists in West Bengal to get into underhand opportunist deals with the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee (who is now the Railways Minister of the UPA government), to make use of popular discontent against

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CPI(M) gangsterism in Nandigram. This fact was revealed, in an unguarded moment, by the same Koteswar Rao in an interview with the Bengali TV Star Ananda channel sometime ago, where he e xpressed the hope that Mamata would protect his party from police persecution since it had supported her in the past!

Need for Introspection

The basic debate therefore is not over poll boycott per se, but revolves around the Maoist leadership’s ideological understanding of the present overall Indian situation, and their moral integrity. Instead of recognising the various forms of struggles by which different sections of the oppressed people try to exhaust the available democratic opportunities, and accommodating these forms in an inclusive programme of action, the CPI(Maoist) leaders in an immature overestimation of the I ndian public mood are jumping the queue of options, and prioritising armed struggle as the sole means. In a further step of i mmaturity – which sad to say, also makes them morally culpable – they prefer to strike deals with ethno-chauvinist armed outfits, or opportunist politicians like Mamata Banerjee. It is these militarist priorities and political expediencies that are eroding the ideological commitment of their cadres. The latter (in West Bengal


October 31, 2009

t oday in particular) seem to be degenerating into roving gangs of paranoid r evengeful killers – recalling the dark days of the fratricidal warfare between the Naxalites and CPI(M) youth cadres in the 1970s. The party leadership does not seem to have any control over its cadres even in its own strongholds – as evident from the spokesperson’s admission that “the unfortunate attacks on poll officials (in Chhattisgarh) were an aberration…”.

Thus, despite its achievements in building up alternative “organs of people’s p ower” in a few spots in Chhattisgarh and neighbouring areas, the CPI(Maoist) has failed to expand its base – whether politically or organisationally – in the rest of India. Besides, the oft-reported acts of murders by its cadres (as gruesome as by the Indian security forces) have robbed the party of public sympathy. Taking a dvantage of the isolation of the party and its confinement to a narrow zone, the I ndian state is launching a massive military offensive against Maoist bases. While h uman rights groups are justifiably trying to rally worldwide public opinion against such an offensive that would result in the massacre of the rural poor, may I request the spokesperson of the CPI(Maoist) to persuade his leadership to have a second look at their hitherto followed programme of action?

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Women, Forestspaces and the Law: Transgressing the Boundaries Women’s Land Rights in South Asia: Struggles and Diverse Contexts Outside the Realm of Protective Labour Legislation:

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