Calcutta Notebook


Ramachandra Guha, in his article, 'Chattisgarh-Continuing Conflict' (Frontier, June 16-22, 2013) makes important comments that merit serious discussion. First of all, let us take his remark, ‘The Naxalites are wedded to the cult of the gun. Their worship of violence is extreme. They are a grave threat to democracy and democratic values’. It is not clear which type of democracy Guha has in mind, and which Naxalites he is referring to. As Guha knows, in India, persons in charge of the various organs of the state e.g. the army, the bureaucracy and the police, are not democratically elected, and hence are not accountable to the people. Besides, money and muscle powers play big roles during the time of the polls. The money is provided mainly by the corporate tycoons and various other types of vested interests, and there seems to be a remarkable convergence among the major political parties in wooing them in the name of 'industrialization' and 'development'. When relatively non-violent methods of serving their vested interests do not seem adequate in response to the movement of the exploited, these vested interests resort to the politics of guns, which is often applied by the state in the name of maintaining law and order. Outfits like Salwa Judum are also instruments of this politics.

Are these political parties, or the bureaucrats and police chiefs who act in accordance with the dictates of the parties in power and big moneybags, friends of democracy? Before calling some political force 'threat to democracy' one should carefully analyze the functioning of India's 'democratic system.' One should remember that even after five decades of the functioning of Indian parliamentary democracy, economic inequality in this country has increased, despite many legislative measures apparently meant to serve the needs of the economically vulnerable sections of the society. Democracy has a class content, and the dominant classes, who thrive on inequality, never voluntarily give up their position of hegemony. Electoral considerations sometimes force their political representatives to grant some concessions to the people, while maintaining the domination of these classes. Persons like Guha should admit that the type of democracy that Indian democrats talk about day in and day out is very much crippled and that through it, the people can at best gain some temporary and partial advantages that may wither away at any moment.

Guha recommends a two-pronged strategy for tackling Naxalite challenge. One is 'smart police work, identifying the areas where the Naxalites were active and isolating their leaders'. Guha seems to forget that if one wants to isolate these Naxalite leaders, one has to take up issues reflecting the needs and desires of the masses under their influence, and practice a mass line that can unite all the exploited against oppressive corporate capital. They can effectively challenge these Naxalites only in this way. Does Guha think that the police forces, who live in isolation from the people, are capable of this? He seems to have forgotten that Indian policemen, ever since the days of the British Raj, are famous for their venality and other corrupt practices, and that this corruption often provides ammunition to the rebels, be they Naxalites or not, in the form of discontent of the masses. Unless these corrupt policemen, who make money out of the misery of the people, are punished, there is no possibility of isolating the leaders of the Naxalites by 'smart police action', until the Naxalites themselves alienate their actual and potential allies by their activities. Guha's use of the category 'Naxalites' is somewhat sweeping. The CPI(Maoist) represents one section of the Naxalites. But many of those who still consider the Naxalbari uprising of 1967 a landmark in the history of India's democratic struggles do not belong to this outfit, and are often severe critics of it, although they are against state repression against the people. This writer can recall a large convention held in Kolkata five years ago, in which the demand for banning the Salwa Judum and the release of Dr Binayak Sen were raised. The convention was attended by representatives of the Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha and by Dr Sen's mother. The organizers of the convention were by no means Maoists although they were known as Naxalites. Many non-Naxalite forces are also involved in the struggle against the state's forcible seizure of the land of tribals and other peoples. The struggle of Kalinganagar in Orissa is one in which non-Naxalites as well as Naxalites are seemingly involved, and the battle is against corporate capital and its patron, the state government led by Navin Pattanaik. These battles are just struggles for democracy, although they are not electoral battles.

Guha's reference to George Bush is not a happy one, and it is based on the illusion that the US administration was inherently capable of tackling the Iraq problem in a saner way. The US invasion of Iraq was actually the reaction against Saddam Hussain's refusal to hand over his country's oil resources to the US multinationals. In the past, such invasions and subversive activities by US governments have occurred many times and in many countries, and they are likely to recur as long as the USA retains her imperialist ambitions. US global terrorism, born out of the desire of achieving economic and political domination of the world, has given rise to its antithesis 'peripheral terrorism', which, in most cases, has unfortunately come to rely increasingly on religion or one may say, religious fanaticism. In some cases, as in Venezuela, strong popular movements have resisted economic domination of the USA and its lackeys, just as the people of Indochina firmly resisted US aggression in the sixties and early seventies of the last century. After that inglorious defeat, the USA retreated in the matter of outside intervention, although she did not give up her imperialist character. Ever since the nineties, the US rulers have reasserted themselves as the master of the world, because the other superpower collapsed. Those who want to impose their will on other nations by any means, and if necessary by employing weapons of mass destruction are inherently bloodthirsty.

There is a tendency to label any resistance to the attacks on the livelihood of the people a Naxalite or Maoist. Maoists or no Maoists, or Naxalites or no Naxalites, there definitely exist reasons for revolt on the part of the affected people, because successive elections have been almost of no consequence about their plight. Any sensible thinker must identify these reasons and devise ways of eliminating them, but even if he suggests reasonable and feasible policy prescriptions, it is likely that they would fall on deaf ears until the people rise in revolt and force the state to implement them. Otherwise, why should the people of several districts of Orissa come to be influenced by 'bloodthirsty' Naxalites? One may be a severe critic of these Naxalites, but these marginalized sections of the population certainly do not share Guha's characterization of them. The only way to wean them away is to go to them and practice among them an alternative democratic mass line that can be developed only through struggles of various sorts. Calling some political outfit 'bloodthirsty' simply does not help in isolating the Naxalites from the masses, because it can hardly touch the hearts of the latter, unless they learn it through their own experiences.

Vol. 46, No. 4, Aug 4-10, 2013

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