Letter From Brussels

JNU Rocks and it is Quiet in The Doon

Julie Robert

At last, Partho arrived. Partho is a landmark, a buoy on which I hang on to, in my attempt to understand better this universe around me. Straightaway, he took me to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to attend a meeting of 'Sanhati'. 'Sanhati' was formed in 2006 to fight neo-liberalism in India and more so in West Bengal, and to propagate a dissident spirit amongst the Indian masses. Upon my arrival at JNU, I was surprised at the number of posters, tags and notices for gatherings.

I knew that JNU is well known as a stronghold of the left. Many personalities, who later joined peoples' struggles, have been a product of the institution. However, I had not imagined that I would come across such a plethora of information on militant movements .Besides the cafeteria, I found bookstalls run by students where I could gather material on the history of the left and the radical left in India. The left students' organisation AISA, All India Students Association, holds a majority of seats in the students' union committee of the JNU. In its programme, the AISA denounces the colonial education system, the privatisation and commercialisation of the education sector, and advocates a democratic and cultural confrontation against the existing reactionary feudal, imperialist and capitalist culture in India. More widely, it is also integrating with all the people's movements in favour of land reforms, to uproot all neo-colonial exploitation, to struggle against all forms of discrimination and to organise efforts against new economic policies, privatisation and globalisation. All these struggles, I felt them in the atmosphere as I took a few steps inside the university, where a dozen 'Sanhati' members were meeting up.

The subject of the day is the broadcasting on the website of filmed interviews after recording the message delivered by some militants and people involved in mass struggles. In fact, all these people do not manage to have the time to write, so it could enable them to propagate their views instead of waiting forever for a text that they will never write. This debate opened my eyes on the 'weaknesses' of the group, which finds it difficult to sufficiently mobilise the militants in its entourage. For several hours, I heard them talking things more or less the same as the ones I have often heard or read in Europe. They regretted the lack of people's involvement and the lack of energy deployed in the struggle. I had never imagined that Indian organisations could face such a situation. At that moment, I realised that, in Europe, we, maybe, sometimes idealise a little the Indian militant movement, and that the revolutionary miltant left may not be all that strong. This feeling more or less stayed with me all along my journey. The few hours of discussion ended up with the decision to carry on in this way, to try to find someone who could take care of the video editing, to try to gather the equipment for the shootings and above all, to try to convince the people they want to interview that the idea is worth it. That evening, I put myself into bed torn between hope and despair, since I had imagined a strong and powerful Indian movement. There was hope, nevertheless, to see that the militants involved believe more than ever in the correctness of the struggle, and particularly, in their potential for a future victory against the enemy.

Its 5 am, time to get up! We are off to the North of the country, for the half-day sightseeing that I managed to negotiate with Partho. We are headed for the Rajaji National Park, hoping to see elephants and other denizens that inhabit the national park like Royal Bengal tigers. The park is half-way between Delhi and Dehradun, which is our next destination in my trip to understand the political situation of the country. The safari turned out unsuccessful so far as encountering exotic wildlife was concerned , but the morning in the middle of nowhere, in the silence of the jungle, proved to be a revitalizing moment in my otherwise tiring trip.

We then set off for Dehradun, the capital city of Uttarakhand, situated at the foot of the Himalayas, where we are to meet Sumanta Banerjee. The man, almost 80 years-old today, was a journalist at the time of the Naxalbari uprising, at the end of the 1960s. On the request of his publisher, he started writing a book devoted to the movement. He plunged into the movement with which he identified more and more, so much so that he finally joined the party and went underground. Later, back into 'civil life', he published 'In the Wake of Naxalbari', a piece of work enriched with his personal experience. I translated the book into French with great interest. Sumanta did us the honour of welcoming us at his home and knocking off a few glasses of rum. He also answered all my questions on the history of the Naxalite movement. I also asked him to give me his point of view concerning the present situation, and on his view of the potential evolution of the uprising against the growing repression. But I am faced with a kind of stonewalling. After all, I remain a stranger turning up with my questions, and the continuous state of repression probably imposes some kind of caution towards me. Sumanta is the first person I faced who gave me this feeling of a lack of confidence. I found this feeling again with many other militants. They don't open up. Of course, he tells me what is going on. Of course, he speaks ill of the government's neoliberal politics, of the lack of public investments in the tribal zones which allows the Maoists to build their base in those zones, but he doesn't tell me anything about what basically makes up the revolutionary movement. For that matter, no one will ever give any precise answer to my questions on that subject. Yet, I spent a delightful evening with a senior citizen who shared with me his history, and his present commitment.

Back in Delhi after a more than seven hour long journey by train, we spent the afternoon with Gautam Navlakha, also a member of Sanhati. The discussion centred on the coming elections, and the text of the statement they would like to put before the political parties contesting the election ( I have read a lot of Gautam's written work, and especially 'Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion' written after he spent a fortright, along with the Swedish author Jan Myrdal, with the guerrillas in the jungle. While reading this book, I became aware of the 'human-rightist' side of the man. The talk in person confirmed this almost unthinkable reality for me: this man, convinced of the struggle waged by the guerrillas in the jungles, is at the same time a keen defender of the bourgeois democracy. For instance, he explains to me that the new political party, the 'Aam Aadmi Party', launched in 2012 and whose programme is based on the struggle against corruption and bribery, could transform Indian politics if it gets any of its candidates elected. I am astounded by this views, but once again, I realise that the Indian reality has nothing to do with any European reality, and consequently, that this view can be credible. Because the Maoists make up the links in a chain of struggles which some people extend to the bourgeois system, even if it is far from being the case of all the militants who, for the most part, remain revolutionaries.

Unlike what I have already experienced, here, the boundary between revolution and reformism is not always obvious, it is shifting and sometimes, it is even difficult to perceive. To a lesser extent, in the course of my encounters, I realised that there is no trace of sectarianism in the mass struggles led by the Indian revolutionary left. I was amazed to see that despite their difference of opinion, both militants and other organisations are able to agree on specific issues to jointly struggle against. They regularly manage to produce common texts, to write joint calls regarding specific themes, which often turns out to be impossible in Europe. As a matter of fact, sectarianism in Europe is a very present reality. For the members of mass organisations in India, sectarianism is a very abstract thing. There are dozens of fractions within the Maoist movement and their internecine daily quarrels undermine their revolutionary work. However, virtual absence of sectarianism in the mass struggles in India clearly allows to strengthen the credibility of the actions led by the various organisations. After several discussions there, I concluded that the situation in India is so complex, the work to accomplish so tremendous, that the militants are kind of 'obliged' to show some collaborative spirit and to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, even if it means leaving aside some of their political beliefs to act concretely. It also quickly seemed evident to me that, even if no one ever brought it up, that some alliances are purely tactical, particularly in the general struggle against the Hindu fundamentalist forces backed by the government.

[The author travelled in India from 11 to 27 March, 2014]

Vol. 47, No. 25, Dec 28, 2014 -Jan 3, 2015