Thursday, August 17, 2006

Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh

Economic and Political Weekly July 22, 2006


Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh

In a situation marked by severe state repression of the Maoist
movement in Andhra Pradesh, violent retaliation by the
Maoists, and the state's brutal counter-attack (led by
the greyhounds) to gain the upper hand, the Maoists are finding it
difficult to retain the support of the next generation
of the most oppressed. State-encouraged gangs, calling themselves
tigers and cobras have unleashed private vengeance, which has played
a major role in immobilising the substantial over-ground support of the
movement. But above all is the tragic loss of the lives of organic leaders
from among the most oppressed.

by K BALAGOPAL

Birpur, near the Godavari river in the northern corner of Karimnagar
district, is the native village of Muppalla Lakshmana Rao, better known
as Ganapathi, the general secretary of the central committee of the
Communist Party of India (Maoist). Before a road-building
mania took over the state in the regime of
Chandrababu Naidu, it was a village difficult
to access.

Today it is accessible by a black-top road from the temple town of
Dharmapuri on the incompletely laid out National Highway No16 from
Nizamabad in Telangana to Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh.
As you approach Birpur from Dharmapuri,
you see at the entrance of the village a fresh white memorial with
two pigeons atop, evidently intended to symbolise peace. The
white colour of the memorial and the
pigeons on top are in contrast to the hundreds
of red memorials with the hammer and
sickle on top that are strewn all over Telangana.

It was built recently by the police to signify what the police gleefully
regard as their decisive achievement in gaining an upper hand
over the Maoists in their major stronghold, the Godavari
river basin of northern Telangana. That it was built in the village
of the top Maoist leader and inaugurated by the most unlikely
symbol of peace, the superintendent of police, Karimnagar, is a
juvenile gesture that could have easily seemed merely tasteless
in a different context, but in fact symbolises
a disquieting fact: the politically juvenile
attitude of successive governments in
Andhra Pradesh towards the Naxalites.

Peace per se would be desired by many people in the area. But very
few are gleeful that the Maoists have been pushed back
as never before. May be they are unrealistic but the ordinary people
in their majority would want that the Maoists should be
around, guns and all, but there should be
peace in the sense of a life free of fear from
this side or that.

At the height of the six month farce of talks between the Maoists
and the government of Andhra Pradesh in
the second half of 2004, a common apprehension heard in most of
the long-term strongholds of the Naxalites was that the
talks was a good thing and it was hoped that some reduction of
violence would result from it, but "they won’t leave us and
go away, will they"?.

The fact is that in much of this area the first time the common
people experienced anything resembling justice was when the
Naxalite movement spread there and taught
people not to take injustice lying down.

Unlike the rest of the state where the Naxalites spread through
the armed squads, in northern Telangana there was a clear
period in the late 1970s and early 1980s of the last century when it
was the mass organisations, mainly the agricultural
labourers associations and the student and
youth fronts, that were the instrument for
the spread of Maoism as an ideology and
a political practice.

The phase was soon to pass and the people would start depending
on the armed squads for justice but the sense of attainability of
justice was a fundamental change. In very plain terms
the oppressors of local society, whether
upper caste landlords or insensitive public
officials, started dreading the wrath, initially of the awakened
masses, and later of the well-armed squads composed of cadre born
and brought up in poor families of the very
same villages.

Today the old landlords are no longer there but new local elites have
come up and there is this fear that if the Naxalites go away,
"the poor cannot survive". It is a matter of choice whether one
sees this as revolution in the mould of Robinhood, or merely as
one instance in the saga of a Maoist long march, which
is not to be freezed into a representative
moment.

State Repression

From the very beginning the attitude of the governments in Andhra
Pradesh was one of extreme hostility. Police camps
were set up in villages and the poor were
tortured most inhumanly.

It was always an explicitly political assault. The policemen
in charge of the areas never made secret of the fact that they were
not merely "maintaining law and order" as the expression
goes. They had the political task of protecting the landlords and
the medieval mould of society and they were executing
the task. The underground Naxalite activists
were no doubt armed, but their violence in those days was by and large
selective and in any case not much in
extent. On the other hand, it is said by everyone who knows -
including police officers at retirement - that the fight of
the Naxalites in those days was against
what is generally referred to as feudal domination, and the economic
oppression of the poor, and in this they were remarkably
successful.

Abolition of 'begar' and payment of some thing close to minimum
wages, two, impeccably constitutional tasks, were performed by
the Naxalites. The fight for land was not so successful
since the police would not allow the land left behind by runaway
landlords to be cultivated by the poor. Such land by and
large remains fallow to this day, but it is
not a very significant matter either way
because as a proportion of the total cultivable area of the districts, or
the land needed by the landless, it is slight in
extent.

More would be added to such fallow land in the days to
come when cultivation of land would be forcibly
stopped by the Naxalites, not to take over the unconscionable acres
of landlords, but as a measure of punishment imposed on
any landed person for having harmed their
cause, but even so the "land struggle" in the plains areas was not
an achievement of any moment. The encouragement
given to tribals in the forests to cut down the reserve forests and
cultivate the land was far and away the most successful
land struggle of the Naxalites, and not
any struggle against landlords.

Its extent in the five districts of Adilabad,
Warangal, Khammam, East Godavari and Visakhapatnam has been
plaintively estimated by the government as upwards of
four lakh acres, counting together the achievement of all the
Naxalite parties. However, after about the first decade and
a half the Naxalite parties came round to the view that beyond a point
such a land struggle is harmful to the forest-dwellers
themselves, and have since the mid-1990s
imposed quite a successful ban on the cutting of forests.

It is tempting to speculate what would
have been the result if the government had
appreciated this phase of the Naxalite struggle for what it was,
and responded by means other than repression. Forgetting
class interests and all that, and accepting the arguments made at
face value, one would perforce describe as one-sided the
argument that it would have legitimised
the use of violence for social/political ends,
which is unacceptable in a democracy.

A blanket condonation of the use of violence
by a group that lives by its own norms, which are enforceable
only by itself is no doubt unacceptable in any society, even
when it is declared to be for the good of the oppressed, but the
contrary argument that a positive response from the government
would perhaps have delegitimised the argument for revolutionary
violence was never considered. That was no doubt
not an innocent lapse, and the rulers had
their reasons for that.

The upshot was heavy repression on the Naxalite movement, in
particular the rural poor who were part of the movement or
its social base. Extremes of torture and
incarceration in unlawful police custody, destruction of houses and
despoliation of drinking water wells and fields, framing
of severe criminal cases en masse were the
norm.

And "encounter" killings began from where they left off the day
the internal emergency was lifted. It would again be
interesting to speculate what would have been the result if the
Maoists had decided not to hit back but concentrate
on exposing the anti-poor bias of the
government and extend their mass activity to a point that would
have given their aspiration for state power a solid mass
base. It would no doubt have been painful,
but the alternative has not been any less painful.

Maoists Hit Back

As it happened, the Maoists hit back. The first killing of a policeman
took place in June 1985 at Dharmapuri in Karimnagar
district. And then a sub-inspector of police was killed at Kazipet in
Warangal district on September 2 that year.

That was followed the next day by plainclothes policemen
going in a procession behind the subinspector’s
dead body killing Ramanadham, a senior civil rights activist, in his
clinic. "Encounters" increased and decapitation
of the limbs of police informers
followed. The police acquired better weapons and the Maoists
followed suit.

Sizeable paramilitary forces were sent to the state in the mid-1990s
but the terror they created was such that they were soon
sent back. Not, however, before they had a taste of the Naxalites'
newly acquired proficiency in blowing up police vehicles
at will.

Almost from the mid-1980s brutal
special police forces meant for eliminating Naxalites came into
being and were allowed to operate totally incognito, the most
successful being the greyhounds, which is
a well trained anti-guerrilla force that lives and operates as the
Naxalites' armed squads
do and is bound by no known law, including
the Constitution of India.

The armed squads soon became the
focal point of the activity of the Maoists, barring the two
short periods when they were allowed freedom to conduct their
political activity, both significantly in the immediate aftermath
of the Congress Party coming to
power after prolonged Telugu Desam rule, leading to credible
speculation about some pre-election agreement between the Congress
and the Maoists (known till two years
ago as the Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist) (Peoples War)).

Soon the Maoists declared the whole of northern Telangana,
and the eastern ghat hills to the north of the Godavari river,
guerrilla zones, followed later by a similar
proclamation for the Nallamala forests in the Krishna basin to
the south. With this the changed context of the movement was
formalised.

The immediate economic and social problems of the masses took a back
seat and the battle for supremacy with the state became the central
instance of the struggle. This brought its own imperatives,
which were no longer immediately congruent with the needs of the
masses who continued to be the base of the Maoists.

So much so that while the youth in the areas of their activity look
upon them as militant heroes even when they do not approve of
them, it is the elderly who talk of them with
affection. It is the parents' generation that
remembers the days when begar used to be demanded by the
landlord and a pittance paid for wage labour. Many of the youth
frankly say, they may be valiant fighters, but what have they done
for us except to bring the police to our villages?

The state has its difficulties dealing with mass movements but it has
tested strategies for dealing with armed struggles. It creates
informers and agents for itself from the
very masses the insurgency claims to
represent.

That is not difficult with the money and resources of power available
with the state. This is a trap the militants fall into. They kill or
otherwise injure those agents and informers and thereby
antagonise more of their own mass base,
in turn enabling the state to have more agents and informers.
Without exception, all militant movements have killed more
people of their own social base than their purported enemy classes.

This may be taken as one of the invariant laws of the sociology
of armed insurgencies. The very fact that this is true of the Naxalites,
the most politically sensitive of all insurgents, is
proof enough. And this is true even without the impatience that
comes with being armed, which results in more violence
against dissenters among your own people.

It is not as if they no longer addressed themselves to the social and
economic problems of the poor. They did and they
continue to do, but notwithstanding their claim that the village
committees (often semi-secret) established by them deal with
these problems, though not in the open as
in the past, the overwhelming reality, except
in totally isolated villages - and totally isolated areas such as the
Abujmarh hills of Bastar - where such committees can
actually function, is that it is the armed
squads that deal with the problems.

And they too often deal with them in a rough and ready manner made
easy by the fact that there is no possibility of any opposition
to them in society, so long as the police are taken care of. The people
for their part have come to look up to the squads as a
substitute for their own struggle for justice.

This has, on the one hand, created more enemies - victims of
revolutionary arbitrariness - than they need have made, and,
on the other, corrupted the masses into receivers of justice rather
than fighters for it. You only have to report to the militants
and get them to put up posters with appropriate
demands and threats, and you will get what you want, provided
that in the meanwhile the police have not made it
impossible for the militants to come to your area to hear your
pleas and put up posters.

Then, of course, you wait till the militants turn the tables on the police.
But even where such issues are addressed, the central place in the
practice of the Maoists has been taken up by the guerrilla
struggle against the state, aimed at weakening
its hold to a point where the area
can be considered a liberated zone.

This requires a range of acts of violence, which have no direct
relation to the immediate realisation of any rights for the masses,
though the resulting repression invariably hits at the masses.
The Maoists have developed considerable expertise of a
military character, which is admired even by policemen in private,
even as their political development has stagnated. The
state has met this with even more brutal violence, which has
bred further violence from the Maoists.

For at least about a decade now, each year has seen between
300 to 400 deaths in this gruesome game. The ability of the
state to obtain information on an extensive
scale, thanks partly to its resources, partly to the demise of values
at all levels in society, including the lower-most, and
partly to the large number of enemies
created by the Maoists around themselves
in the course of their battle with the state, the state’s ability for
the same reasons to inject covert operatives into the Maoist
ranks, and the very successful forays of the greyhounds deep
into the forests, has resulted in its establishing a clear upperhand
in this killing game for the present.

Retaining Support of the Next
Generation

But the difficulties faced by the Maoists do not end here. To discuss
the rest of them requires attention to considerations that
Marxism at its best would find difficult to deal with, given the lack of
any attention to an understanding of the human subject
of history other than the practically useless
profundity that “"t makes itself while making
history". And Maoism is not Marxism at its best, at any rate for
this purpose.

The strategy of providing armed support to the aspirations of the
masses succeeds at the first round without much difficulty, once
willing cadre are found, in areas historically subjected to extremes
of deprivation and oppression and neglected by governance.

But the very success means that a new generation is created, which
is freed from the severe disabilities its parents suffered from, and
is able to see and seize opportunities in the existing polity and
therefore may not be as hospitable to armed struggle as its parents.

The state too learns, and makes some efforts to draw the area
from out of neglect and into what is usually described as
"the mainstream" even as it suppresses the struggle by brute force.
The eagerness to join a life-and-death struggle is usually diluted to
some extent as a consequence. If, at that stage, instead of
toning down the armed component of struggle the radicals proceed
to fight the state over the heads of the masses, the
masses can withdraw further, and even
become resentful.

After the first immense success of the Maoists among the Gonds
of Adilabad district in the late 1970s and early 1980s, from the
next generation that came of age in the1990s one often heard
the honest query: are adivasis the guinea
pigs of revolution?

The temptation to which the Maoists have too often succumbed,
namely, to condemn all such doubt as arising from the
"petty-bourgeois tendencies" of a new elite only makes matters
worse.

In this sense the real challenge for the Maoists is not whether
they can militarily get the better of the greyhounds,
who have a clear upper hand at present, but whether they can
retain active support from one generation to the next
while retaining their Maoist strategy, or
even by recasting it to suit the changes in the needs and aspirations
of the new generation in the changed social context
created by their very activity and the state's
response to it.

Till now there is no sign of any thinking along these lines. Often the
first thing that happens to people who find political
awakening from a state of dormancy is to turn to a search for their
own social identity, whether caste, tribe or gender. This
has led to many ex-Naxalites becoming
Ambedkarites, or at least sympathisers of Ambedkarism, since any
way the overwhelming majority of them are from the
outcastes or backward castes of Hindu
society.

This does not necessarily mean that they have lost interest in revolution
as the communists understand it. But the Maoists have too often
reacted with a lack of sympathy to this phenomenon. So much
so that while their cadre, and leaders too, except a handful at the
very top, are from the dalit, adivasi or backward communities,
unlike the Parliamentary left which continues
to be a bastion of upper castes, and while
they have in the last few years inducted women into their armed
squads on a scale that will soon probably put to shame the
eternally unfilled promise of one-third reservation in the
legislatures, they remain not only theoretically but practically
too, hostile to any expression of identity politics, seen invariably as
opportunistic deviance.

Instead the Maoist response to stagnation
after the first round has been to transfer attention to a new area
amenable to initiation of their kind of politics - and there
are many such areas, thanks to the utter
neglect of vast regions by governance in the last 50 years, and the
current philosophy of governance which is a philosophy
of non-governance - and do the same
thing again. Other Marxist-Leninist groups have often criticised the
Maoists for this hop, skip and jump mode of revolution but
they have never taken the criticism seriously,
probably regarding their conduct as part of the strategy of
guerrilla struggle.

Leaving aside the political rights and wrongs of it, the practical
consequence has been a rapid spread to new areas such as
the area surrounding the Nallamala and other contiguous forests
in southern coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. This spread has
been mainly through the guerrilla activity
of armed squads, not preceded by anything
comparable with the mass activity that illuminated and remedied
much of the social and economic oppression people suffered
from in the Godavari basin districts of
northern Telangana.

But the spread has not been as smooth and successful as in northern
Telangana. Whatever Maoist theory may say, the
guerrilla phase of struggle involves establishing armed dominion
over society, often described by the police with exaggeration
as a parallel government. Such dominion is easier to establish in
areas whose social culture is characterised by a certain quiescence
than in factious areas.

The northern Telangana districts, of all the areas of the
state, do exhibit that characteristic whereas the south, especially the
region surrounding the Nallamala forests, is the most factious
area. Armed activity of any kind, with even
the best of intentions, can degenerate easily
into factious violence.

The fate of the Maoists in Anantapur in Rayalaseema is
a classic instance of this. More vitally, armed dominion in factious
areas calls up private vengeance which the state will not
hesitate to encourage. The 'Nallamala cobras' who have committed
three murders of democratic activists in the last nine
months and silenced much of democratic activity in the southern
districts constitute brutal proof of this.

We know that each mode of life is found attractive by persons of
certain character traits and in turn encourages certain traits
in those who partake of it. It is a species of conceit that refuses to
see that this applies to political strategies too. To speak
of negative traits alone, just as the Sarvodaya philosophy attracts
a lot of hypocrisy and the parliamentary strategy
of the Communist Party of India and the
Communist Party of India (Marxist) a lot of opportunism, strategies
of militancy attract unruly types who straddle the border
line between rebellion and mere rowdyism.

These types can, and have, caused considerable harm to the Maoists
and have constituted easy subjects for the state's
tactics of shaping covert operatives inside
their ranks.

Once outside the party they have fit equally well the role of
"renegades" as they are called in Kashmir. The conduct
of the Maoists who leave little room for appeal for persons whom
they brand enemies of the people has in turn created
cadre for the vengeful renegades, and the resulting gangs that call
themselves cobras and tigers of various kinds have played a
major role in immobilising the very substantial
overground support activity the Naxalite movement had.

Decimation of Organic Leaders

This is as far as the story of Maoist revolution has come in Andhra
Pradesh. Since there is little sign of any rethinking on either side,
one has no basis for expressing much hope about the future. What
makes it a tragedy is that the lives of lakhs of people belonging to the
lowest orders of society in terms of community as well
as class are involved in it.

Many dimensions of the tragedy are known or amenable to imagination
but there is one which is not usually commented on. This is that many
if not all of the lives that are being lost
at the hands of the police in this process
are lives that the oppressed can ill afford
to lose.

They are the organic leaders of the class, who have adopted a political
path of their choice. It is not all among the powerless classes that can
dare challenge the system and be ready to pay for it. It
is not everyday that the oppressed produce
such elements from amongst themselves.

The rights or wrongs of their choice has no bearing on the tragedy of
the decimation of this organic leadership. They chose to
be Maoists, but they could have chosen to be something else, and
whichever the choice, they would have added to the
strength of the oppressed.

The daily loss of such persons is a sacrifice the oppressed
cannot be called upon to put up with indefinitely.

2 comments:

  1. A nicely written balanced article.

    ReplyDelete

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