Economic and Political Weekly July 22, 2006
Maoism in India
Ideology, Programme and Armed Struggle
In spite of its expansion to new areas and a remarkable increase
in its military capabilities and striking power, the Maoist
movement led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) faces a
political-organisational crisis of sorts. The Maoists' goals - the
building of a "mighty mass movement against imperialism", isolating
and defeating the Hindutva-fascist forces, and building a "powerful
urban movement, particularly of the working class" as complementary
to armed agrarian struggle remain as elusive as ever. At a more
theoretical level, the programme and strategic-tactical line of the
CPI (Maoist) seem inadequate in coping with the complex Indian
reality in a changed international situation, and in the context of
the worldwide severe setback that socialism has suffered.
By TILAK D GUPTA
Addressing a meeting of the standing committee of the chief ministers
of the six Naxalite affected states on April 13 this year,
prime minister Manmohan Singh argued that factors such
as exploitation, artificially depressed wages, iniquitous socio-political
circumstances, inadequate employment opportunities,
lack of access to resources, underdeveloped agriculture,
geographical isolation and lack of land reforms contributed
to the growth of Naxalite movement (The
Hindu, New Delhi, April 14, 2006).
Manmohan Singh was really not far-off the mark, given the
agrarian programme of the Communist Party of India (Maoist),
the strongest Naxalite formation in the country. That the Indian
prime minister was in the same breath talking about setting
up specialised forces on the lines of Andhra Pradesh's 'Greyhounds', is, of
course, a separate question that we shall come back to, later on.
For the moment let us rather refer to the programme of the CPI (Maoist)
adopted during its formation in September 2004,
through the merger of CPI-ML (People's War) and Maoist Communist
Centre to see how it responds to the issues raised by
The Maoist programme pledges that once a new people's democratic
state is established by accomplishing the Indian revolution, "it would redistribute
land among landless-poor peasants
and agricultural labourers on the basis of the slogan 'land to the tillers'
and ensure the equal right of women over the ownership
Next, the programme promises to "ensure all facilities for agricultural
development, guarantee a remunerative price for agricultural produce
and wherever possible encourage the development of agricultural
cooperatives" (CPI (Maoist) Party Programme, published in Hindi by
the Central Committee (Provisional), CPI (Maoist),
September 21, 2004, translation ours).
Once we note the Maoist plans regarding land reforms and overcoming
of underdevelopment in agriculture, we may take a
look at its proscriptions regarding the twin problems of depressed
wages and inadequate employment opportunities.
According to the CPI (Maoist) programme it would
"implement an eight-hour work day, increase the wage rate, abolish
the contract labour system and child labour, provide social security and
safe working conditions and, in order to guarantee equal wages
for equal work, will abolish discrimination in wages on the basis of sex".
Further, it will "guarantee the right to work as a fundamental right and
move towards eliminating unemployment. It would introduce
an unemployment allowance and social insurance and guarantee improved living
conditions for the people."
As for the question of geographical isolation, raised by the Indian prime
minister, the programme promises to "take special
measures to proceed towards the elimination
of regional inequalities" (Ibid).
Without detaining ourselves in detailing the various other
measures promised by the Maoists to address the problems raised
by Manmohan Singh, suffice it to say that though neoliberal pundits
might grumble about public finance for the unemployment
allowance or warn us about the danger of inflation due to rise in wages, a large
chunk of the Indian political class should
have nothing much to quarrel about these
Maoist objectives, if we go by their election
manifestos and political documents.
To tell the truth, there is not much of difference between the
CPI (Maoist) programme and that of some other communist
parties functioning within the
country's parliamentary democratic system
so far as the clauses related to land reforms, fair wage for labour,
recognition of the right to work as a fundamental right,
improvement of farming methods, removal
of gender discrimination in matters of wage and the right to
ownership of land, and the promotion of peasant cooperatives.
To cite an instance, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in its
updated programme also commits to "abolish landlordism by implementing
radical land reforms and give land free of cost to the agriculture labour and
(CPI(M) Programme, New Delhi, March 2001).
This is not to suggest that no programmatic differences exist
between the Maoists on the one hand and the so-called
mainstream communist parties on the other.
Far from it, there are major dissimilarities between the two.
But that merits a separate discussion on another occasion. Here our
limited purpose is to argue a couple of
points. For one, it is necessary to stress that the Maoists do have a
political agenda of their own, including an agrarian programme
that they seek to implement by armed struggle. This needs to be
emphasised because a media that thrives on sex, violence
and crime has succeeded in projecting the Maoists as armed bandits
without any political and socio-economic
programme for the future.
But the Maoists themselves are no less responsible for such
a projection as they too seem to be more eager to propagate their
armed path of revolution than their revolutionary aims.
And it goes without saying that their political adversaries and those
in charge of counter-insurgency operations will see
to it that the Maoists are denied all legal and open opportunities
to publicise their immediate and long-term objectives.
Second, it seems ironical that though the government's diagnosis
of the agrarian problems faced by the rural poor appears
to be deceptively similar to that made by the Maoists, the two are
locked in a violent conflict across large tracts of south central
and east India.
However, once we look at the abysmal record of the Indian governing
circles in effecting agrarian reforms in favour of the rural poor,
the illusion begins to get separated from the reality. If we
ignore the official rhetoric about land reforms
(the union home minister's policy note tabled in March this year
on tackling the Naxalite problem also, just for the sake
of the record, identifies land reforms as a priority area)
and check the facts, it becomes evident that even the mild and halfhearted
pro-poor agrarian reforms very
tardily executed in most states have by and
large ended by the early 1980s. More to the point, the people at
the helm of country's economic affairs consider the land reforms
legislation of yesteryears as institutional constraints either for
the flow of agribusiness investment to the rural areas
or for acquiring agricultural, homestead and forestlands for a
variety of nonagricultural purposes. In today’s scenario,
official land reform measures have come to mean diluting old
land reforms legislation further to facilitate acquisition of
land inhabited or cultivated by sharecroppers, tenants and
Militant Struggles in Backward Regions
If the days of government intervention for land reforms from
above are virtually over, the pressures from below for agrarian
change are not too strong either on an all- India plane.
This is partly because peasant unity against landlordism is not viable any
more and growing unavailability of surplus land, particularly in
relatively developed areas of agriculture, limits the scope
for land struggles.
But the land and other agrarian issues of the rural poor are much
more alive in the comparatively backward regions. However, the major
left parties functioning within the parliamentary
framework have chosen not to concentrate in such areas and develop
sustained and militant struggles on agrarian issues concerning
the poorest of the poor.
And here, the CPI (Maoist) and some other Naxalite
organisations have come to play a significant role in partially filling this void.
As we see it, the major Naxalite contribution to Indian politics is that
they have kept alive the agrarian demands of the rural
poor through persistent but not-always successful struggles at
the ground level. Even the occasional official lip-service to
land reforms perhaps would not have come but for their initiatives
in this regard in some of the most backward regions where
either adivasis in the forests suffer at the hands of the trader-contractor-
moneylender nexus or the dalit and "other backward
class" (OBC) agricultural labourers and very poor peasants are
cruelly oppressed and exploited by bigger landowners and
And these are the regions where the local powerful cliques, backed
by government officials and the police, often respond with naked
violence to even most innocuous and lawful demands of the
powerless poor. And here again, Maoist insistence on armed
resistance to counter the violence of the oppressors has appealed
to a large section of the oppressed and impoverished population.
In some regions of the country the rural labouring classes
of OBC or even dalit origin could use the parliamentary space to
strengthen themselves to an extent vis-à-vis the traditional
But in many other regions and states they could not. And as for the
adivasis, the picture is indeed much gloomier. Thus, if the battles of
the rural wretched of the earth in the plains of Bihar or Telangana
target both class exploitation and caste oppression,
struggles in Dandakaranya or those in the Jharkhand forests seek to
combine class demands with that of selfidentity, dignity and
autonomy for the marginalised minority nationalities.
The CPI (Maoist) effort to help the adivasi peasantry or
dalit labouring classes in some very backward regions to emerge as an
independent political force freed from the influence of the affluent
landowning classes does represent a step forward in
democratising Indian society.
But given India's vast population, such Maoist experiments
cover only a small part of it. Yet the centre is worried that the "Naxal menace
now extends to a dozen states" and has
"spread to nearly 40 per cent of the country's
geographical area, with the affected population
going up to 35 per cent" (The Hindu,
Delhi, April 15, 2006).
Earlier in November 2005, the union home minister, Shivraj
Patil was telling the Indian Parliament that in states like Jammu and
Kashmir and the north-east, we have been largely successful
in bringing down terrorism but not so much in dealing with Naxalites"
(see The Hindu, Delhi, November 30, 2005).
While we may note in passing that Delhi, for whatever reasons,
tries to distinguish between terrorism and Naxalism, it is sparing
no efforts to tackle the "Naxal menace"
by marshalling the brutal greyhounds.
The prime minister as well as the union home minister now labels
Naxalism as the biggest security threat to the country. The
gearing up of military style actions by the
CPI (Maoist) as well the planning and execution of an intensified
counter-insurgency operation by the Maoist-affected
states with central backing and supervision
have also generated renewed interest regarding
Maoist ideology, politics and military capabilities in
political and academic circles.
Ideology and Politics
Briefly speaking, the CPI (Maoist) accepts Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
as its guiding ideology and is committed to completing a
"new democratic revolution" in India before passing on
to achieve its socialist goal. The revolution, says a press
statement at the time of founding the new
party, will be carried out and completed through an armed agrarian
revolutionary war, i e, protracted people's war with the
armed struggle for seizure of power as its central and principal task.
The statement adds that the countryside as well as protracted
people's war will remain as the "centre of gravity" of the party's work,
while urban work will be complementary to it.
The revolution will remain directed against imperialism, feudalism
and "comprador bureaucratic capitalism". The party also
supports the "struggle of the nationalities for self-determination,
including the right to secession and the fight against social
oppression, particularly 'untouchability'
and 'casteism' and will pay special attention to mobilising and
organising women as a mighty force of revolution".
Three brief observations require to be made here. One, the party
has added Maoism to be a part of their guiding ideology
without any convincing argument to justify it. Two, they have
heavily borrowed the strategy and aims of the revolution
from that of Chinese revolution completed 56 years ago and no
serious lessons have been drawn from the great setback to the
international communist movement, the collapse of socialism,
the big changes in the national and international situation
and the specificity of the Indian political system and economy.
Three, the press statement as well as the CPI (Maoist) documents
are keener to highlight the violent nature of its revolution than
the revolutionary aims. So we know how they propose to
seize power through armed struggle but remain less aware
about what they would do after the capture of power.
And that only reinforces its prevailing image more
as a guerrilla formation with considerable military might rather
than a political party with clear-cut short and long term
As we have noted earlier, despite its shaky ideological foundation,
dated political programme and a tendency to glorify
violence instead of treating it as a necessary evil, the CPI (Maoist)
enjoys a large mass following that is not much visible to
the outside world beyond its core area.
This is because no other political party in the country has taken
up the cause of the rural poor with such single-minded zeal
and devotion. Although according to official sources it has spread
its influence to 12 states, its real strongholds are in parts
of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa among the
adivasi peasantry and dalit labouring
classes in particular. However, the party and the various mass
organisations it has built have been banned by the governments
in all these Maoist-affected states and they are unable to openly
organise any propaganda or agitation on popular demands.
The Maoists in Andhra Pradesh were, however, able to show
their popular support when they were briefly allowed legality
during peace talks with the government in
July-October 2004. During that period they organised a series of
large rural meetings and three massive rallies at Warangal,
Hyderabad and Guntur that were widely
reported in the Andhra Pradesh media as well as a section of
the national media.
The ban on the CPI (Maoist) and its affiliated mass fronts was
reimposed in Andhra Pradesh after the failed peace talks.
The union home minister had also informed Parliament that there
would be no further peace talks with the Maoists unless they agree
to abjure violence.
Several press reports indicate that the Maoists, too, are currently
in no mood to reopen peace negotiations. Given such hardening of
positions on both sides, the chances are that the armed conflict
between the Maoist guerrilla formations
and the police and central paramilitary forces (CPMF) would
continue to escalate in the days to come.
As it is, the Maoists have significantly raised the scale of their
military operations during the last couple of years. Land mining
of police and CPMF vans and buses and ambushes on large patrols apart,
they have made daring raids on district headquarter
towns in Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar to
take away huge quantities of arms and ammunition and break
jails to free their comrades. But many innocent lives have
been lost when civilian transport had been
mistakenly land mined, particularly in Chhattisgarh.
Besides, some democratic personages sympathetic to the people's
cause have criticised the Maoist method
of killing those perceived as police informers
It does appear that because of its obsession with armed struggle and
unavailability of democratic space for spreading its message and extending
the movement through open and broad mobilisation
of the people, the CPI (Maoist) is willynilly becoming more and
more dependent on armed actions to intensify the struggle.
The "Greyhounds" - the specially trained commando wing of the
Andhra Pradesh police, notorious for its ruthless killings
of Maoists and their sympathisers, mostly in fake encounters -
best illustrate the government response to the Maoist insurgency.
Much has already been written about those so-called encounter
killings to show that these are not isolated aberrations on
the part of some trigger-happy individual police personnel but a
deliberate and planned state policy of annihilation of
The Greyhounds are said to be a law unto themselves and have the
requisite political backing to defy the directives of the Andhra
Pradesh high court and those of the National Human Rights
Commission. Unfortunately, however, the
Indian prime minister has chosen to cite
such a lawless band of policemen as a
model to be emulated by other states affected
by the "Naxalite problem".
Even more ominous is the fact that
the centre has now made a policy decision to promote
local resistance groups against Maoists, and if the experience of
Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh is any indication, such promotion
is tantamount to the building and arming of a lumpen force,
headed by the non-tribal contractor-trader-middleman
clique that has oppressed and exploited the adivasis over the ages.
And, as the Salwa Judum operation makes clear, it is also a
sure prescription for intensifying civil strife
and violence to an unprecedented degree.
At any rate, our reading of the Maoist movement suggests that
in spite of its expansion to new areas and a remarkable
increase in its military capabilities and striking power, it faces a
politicalorganisational crisis of sorts. First of all, the CPI (Maoist)
leadership must be acutely conscious that some of the goals they have
set for themselves, like building a "mighty
mass movement against imperialism", isolating and defeating
"dangerous Hindu fascist forces" and building a "powerful
urban movement, particularly of the working
class" as complementary to armed agrarian struggle remain as
elusive as ever.
Second, deprived of legal and open opportunities for propaganda and
agitation they find it extremely difficult to launch largescale
mass movements and demonstrations even in areas where they
still have considerable popular support.
And, at a more theoretical level, the inadequacies of their
programme and strategic-tactical line in coping with the complex
Indian reality in a changed international situation must be
slowly becoming clearer to them in the course of their arduous struggle
over the years.
For instance, a re-look at the agrarian scenario would instantly reveal
that the typical Indian countryside is neither
Dandakaranya nor Saranda forest and the question of wage,
year-round employment and disastrous anti-farmer policies under
the WTO framework are increasingly competing with the land
issue to catch political attention.
If the Naxalites, including the CPI (Maoist), have been the staunchest
allies so far of those landless underdogs threatened by starvation in
backward regions, now comes the challenge to take up
the issue of suicides by landed farmers as well in a purposeful way.
It is also perhaps time to remember that when Marx was stressing
the inevitability of violence for a revolutionary transformation
of society, he was predicting violence not preaching it.
As the late D D Kosambi once famously put it, those
who accuse that Marxism is based upon violence might
"as well proclaim that meteorology encourages storms by predicting
them". It may not be out of place over here to recall the view of the
Chinese Communist Party (CPC) delegation headed by Mao
Zedong concerning Nikita Krushchev's line
of peaceful transition from capitalism to
socialism at the 1957 Moscow meeting of
world's communist and workers parties.
The CPC delegation in a note to the meeting suggested that without
over-emphasisingthe possibility of peaceful transition, and
especially regarding the possibility of seizing power by winning
a majority in parliament, "it would be more flexible to
refer to the two possibilities, peaceful
transition and non-peaceful transition, than
to just one, and this would place us in a
position where we can have the initiative
politically at any time".
('Outline of Views on the Question of Peaceful Transition by
the CPC Delegation at the Moscow Meeting',
November 10, 1957.)
Nevertheless, it may be safely anticipated that Naxalism or
Maoism would continue to remain an attractive proposition
to tens of millions of our impoverished and oppressed masses
so long as the unfinished business of agrarian reforms
and solution to elementary livelihood problems remain
incomplete in vast parts of India. The massive transfer of forest and
agricultural land planned by various state
governments for developing industry,
mining, infrastructure facilities, as well as
for agribusiness, may only add fuel to the Maoist fire.
Be it Punjab or UP in the north, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal in the
east, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in the south or Chhattisgarh in
central India, the signals are all there of an impending land
transfer from peasant ownership to the
More pertinently, as the executive, the police and leading political
functionaries act together to silence the most legitimate and
peaceful movements of, say, industrial workers in Gurgaon or
evictees in Kalinganagar or Sardar Sarovar, often, by brute force,
the temptation to adopt non-peaceful means can only grow
This can be one explanation for the spread of the CPI (Maoist) influence
in so many states within a short period. The recent emergence of the
Nepal's Maoists as the hill country's leading
political force in the course of a 10-year old armed insurgency
and their subsequent decision to uphold multi-party democracy
and competitive electoral politics, of course,
adds a new dimension to the discussions
on Maoism in India.
The CPI (Maoist) is possibly the only political party in India,
which has consistently supported the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
and had close fraternal links with it when the
People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre
had a separate existence. That Nepal's top Maoist leader,
Prachanda, in an interview to an Indian newspaper rather
gratuitously advises that his party's line of multi-party democracy
also applies to Maoist movement in India, only complicates the matter.
As we have mentioned earlier, the case
for revising the ideological-political line
and the strategy and tactics of the CPI (Maoist) is quite potent
by itself because of the changed international situation and
above all due to the major worldwide setback to socialism.
But no self-respecting and sovereign political party would be
willing to listen to unsolicited advice conveyed via the mainstream
media by the party of another land.
This, however, concerns the question of upholding the principle
of fraternal relations between communist parties of two
different countries and may not be that
important for us. What is definitely of much greater
political significance is how the left parties in India decipher the message
emanating from the revolutionary practice of Nepal's Maoists.
Expectedly, the left parties functioning within the Indian
parliamentary democratic framework highlight only the
changed stance of CPN (Maoist) but remain silent about
the reasons behind its success in changing the balance of forces in Nepal in
favour of the left within a short span.
This is understandable because these parties have labelled
Nepal's Maoist insurgency as "terrorist activities of Maoist ultras" even
after the February royal coup d'etat
(see People's Democracy, February 13, 2005).
And while most of the Indian left was backing the CPN (UML) demand
for just restoration of Parliament, the CPN(Maoist) fought
almost single-handed to win popular support for its revolutionary
slogan of convening a constituent assembly.
India, undoubtedly, is a much more economically developed country than
Nepal, with a political system that enjoys greater legitimacy than
what the Indian Maoists would like to believe. While it
would be absurd to replicate the model of
Maoist insurgency of Nepal in vastly
different Indian conditions, the lessons from
that landlocked country, both negative and positive, need to be
deeply understood by all sections of the Indian left. Whereas the
Indian Maoists may have to learn something
from the CPN (Maoist) way of advancing popular political slogans
at different junctures of the rebellion led by it by grasping
the mood of the people, other sections of
Indian left may also have other things to
learn from Nepal's Maoists.
As we read a smug report in an Indian left organ about
the seven-party alliance's "major success
with the mainstreaming, so to say, of the
rebels", in Nepal (People's Democracy, April 16, 2006)
it does seem that some major left parties are still not even ready
to understand what is mainstream and what
is not in Nepal at this point of time, what
to talk of learning from Nepal.