WHY DO NAXALITES SURVIVE?
The Naxalite movement was born on April 27, 1967 when the CPI (M) home minister Comrade Jyoti Basu’s police killed a few peasants in the village Naxalbari in North Bengal. From such a small beginning, today the Naxalites have spread to 170 districts in 15 States covering a population of nearly 100 million! This is about one-fourth of the country in terms of area and about one-tenth of the population. This is larger than many countries in the world!
The articulate section of our society has generally condemned the Naxalites. However some human rights activists and some people who have worked in rural areas seriously appreciate their efforts though not agreeing with them. The State has a mixed attitude. While generally opposed to Naxalism, sometime it treats it as a law and order problem and relies on the police and paramilitary organisations to deal with it. On the other hand, the State views Naxalism as a social and development problem, requiring socio-economic intervention.
Yet the fact remains that after nearly 40 years, Naxalites still survive and their numbers have grown. And even today there are only 12,000 trained cadres. Compared to the state, their strength and armament is miniscule. They have probably less than one per cent armaments compared to our faction-fighting districts and other criminal groups.
So how do the Naxalites manage to survive and grow? Who supports them and why? Where do the Naxalite cadres come from? Why is the state not able to control/wipe them out? This paper attempts to answer these questions. And the final section deals with the future of Naxalism.
I. The Naxalites serve a constituency
The Naxalites survive because they serve a specific constituency, which no one else is able to. These are the Dalit and tribal men and women and some other sections of the poor. The Naxalites have protected them and their women from the abuse and the violence of the ruling class and the State. Earlier, they could be exploited by them. Even minor functionaries of the police and revenue department used to ‘lift’ any of these women for their pleasure. The Naxalites have organised trade unions among them and have managed to increase the wages of the Bidi workers, the price of the Tendu leaves and other minor forest products. They have organised workers of mines and quarries and have waged successful struggles. And finally they have carried out land reforms in a limited way in the areas they control. The Naxalites have not always actually organised and led the struggle in all these situations. In many cases their mere presence and support enabled other groups and people to lead their struggles successfully. What gives Naxalites this strength and reputation?
Violence is necessary to serve this constituency
The answer is the Naxalite ideology, which permits use of counter violence against the state/class/caste violence, exploitation and oppression against the poor. Very often the Naxalites don’t have to actually use the violence. The very fact that they are prepared to do so and have demonstrated it on several occasions suffices.
The Naxalite constituency has been facing violence for a very long time. From the time of the Arthashastra and Manusmriti, that is around 2300 years ago, violence against them has been sanctioned by law. Only with the birth of the Indian Constitution, in 1950, that they have a legal protection. But as Dr. Ambedkar warned, unless this is translated into economic upliftment of the poor such protection has no meaning, and we are facing an explosive situation.
And this is precisely why the Naxalites are thriving. They are primarily militant trade unionists! Any one familiar with the history of trade union movement knows that the very formation of the trade union involves violence, particularly in the unorganised sector, in the rural and forest sector, in the mining sector and so on. They are successful in organising formal and informal trade unions among these workers and helping them get economic relief.
The Naxalites are more successful than others because it is not an ad hoc local effort. It is a large organised movement backed with a trained and armed guerilla force that can strike at targets of its own choice.
Recognition and use of this by others
Naxalites are not the only people working with this constituency. Historically Christians, Gandhians, and Ambedkar-inspired Dalit and Buddhists groups have been working with the tribals and Dalits. More recently a host of NGOs too have been working with this constituency.
When these groups work alone, they have no answer to the ruling-class violence. They neither believe in violence nor are they prepared to face it. When it happens they run to the press, human right activists and to the courts. Most of it ends in failure and dejection and frustration sets in. Some of them recognise and admire the Naxalites from a distance because they can see that in the Naxalite areas the poor cannot be insulted and humiliated easily.
Many of the NGOs get support and grants from the state and funding agencies as a measure of ‘counter insurgency’ towards the Naxalites. Sometime they come in conflict with the Naxalites, but in most cases they avoid and carve out areas of work that does not bring them in conflict with the Naxalites. There is also a trend to move towards ‘advocacy’ so that they don’t have to work in the field and face the Naxalites. In general they treat the Naxalite problem as a ‘social problem’ and think that their way of doing it is better.
Finally there are groups that informally collaborate with the Naxalites. These can be in the form of shelters, medicines, and food supplies, but more importantly they take up struggles of the people on issues that have Naxalite support. Thus an issue-based alliance is formed. Typically these can range from Tendu patta collection struggle, land to the tiller, human rights issues – beating, burning, murder, rape and so on, and more recently antinuclear struggle in Nalgonda district. After the recent peace talks the Naxalites set up a people’s land reform commission in Andhra Pradesh. Most of the members of this commission are not Naxalites and they are doing important work in finding out the extent of land available and strengthening their own struggles.
Who are the Naxalites?
In the beginning the Naxalites leaders were from their parent CPI (M) party. Initially a large number of university graduates also joined. However that period ended a long time ago. Today most of the cadres are from Dalit, Tribal and backward caste communities. Why do they join? Broadly speaking their conditions is quite intolerable. A small number of them have the courage/idealism to join, what appears to them, a revolutionary movement. Still there numbers are so large that a very few of them end up joining. For one there are severe tests. Secondly there are just so many that the movement can absorb. It is said that there is a long invisible queue of young people wanting to join the Naxalites and only the number of arms available limits it! One government estimate gives the number as 3000 for Andhra Pradesh alone.
II. The State and the Naxalites
Generally speaking the State is not interested in solving the Naxalite problem. A real solution would mean a revolution, which the present State is neither capable of nor interested in. The response of the state is mainly fire fighting and to keep its credibility. In the process many vested interests in the society use the Naxalite issue for their own benefit.
Hawks and doves
Hawks are those who want to treat the Naxalite issue as a law and order problem. These are mainly the arms industry and their users, the police and paramilitary organisations. Their very existence depends on small controllable wars in which the State won’t lose or win. There is a whole nexus generally known as the military -industrial complex. It can be the major part of the economy as it is in the U. S. A. There are arm dealers, their political agents, kickbacks, unnecessary/bad quality of arms and so on. Then there is the police department and its own special type of corruption - non-existent informers who are paid unaccounted money, sale of ammunition passed off as ammunition used, increased budgets and so on. Some encounters real or fake are regularly carried on to justify continued hawk posture.
On the other hand, doves are those who treat the Naxal issue as a social and developmental issue. The departments of social welfare, education, labour, rural development and forest are involved in it. Many NGOs too survive in the Naxalites shadow or what is called the ‘or else space’. That is if the NGOs are not there then the Naxalite will take over. In reality of course there is a peaceful coexistence with an occasional skirmish. There is a lot of ‘development’ in Naxalite areas in term of roads and other infrastructure. So there is a lot of business in the Naxalite ‘business’!
There is another aspect of development that is triggered by the Naxalites. Normally a large pool of semi-employed poor helps the employers to keep the wages low because of the competition among the poor. This has a tendency to pull down the entire wage structure from top to the bottom. Conversely, when the wages of the lowest wrung of the working class goes up this has the tendency to raise the wage structure. The tendency among the employers to keep profits high in the new conditions leads to some industries closing down and others changing over to new technology. Thus when the bottom is shaken the entire structure is affected.
The peace talks
There were peace talks held after a new government came in Andhra Pradesh. On the part of the government it was mainly a credibility gaining exercise. However, the hawks in the government derailed it very quickly. The interesting thing was that the lower officers of the police force did it, because their earnings were hurt. They could do it; the tail could wag the dog because the police chief himself was vulnerable. His wife is accused of selling orphaned babies to the foreigners! And the chief minister could only assure that he will try to restrain the police. He could not order!
The Naxalites were far clearer in their objectives when they began the peace talks and achieved more. They used the opportunity to have huge mass meetings all over the state including Hyderabad. This established their credibility. Then they united with the Maoist Communist Centre of Bihar and Jharkhand to create a larger party. They were prepared for the breaking of the talks and successfully put the responsibility on the government. They also used the opportunity to create links with other non-Naxalite organisations, particularly in the area of land reforms.
III. The Naxalite strategy in future
To continue to serve the constituency
Although the Naxalite discourse still talks of revolution, in practice their main activity is to directly serve their constituency, enable other groups to do so and stand as guaranty to be available with violence when needed. In this respect they are like the state. Any modern society is actually two nations. The state with its violent apparatus ensures that normally ‘law and order’ is maintained for the ruling and middle class. The Naxalites perform the same function with their specific constituency. The poor see them as a last resort. Hence even under torture they do not reveal information about them to the police.
To relate to other movements
Some Naxalite groups go for elections and form alliances with other mainstream political parties. This is referred to as joining the democratic process. Actually this is suicidal for them. The larger Naxalite groups PWG and MCC (now joined together as CPI-Maoist) do not believe in this. They do not seem to have an articulated position on alliances except the theoretical position of worker-peasant alliance. However in practice, as has been seen above, the Naxalites collaborate with a lot of local organisations. These are issues of militant trade unionism and land reform. In addition they collaborate on issues of ethnicity, Dalit, tribal and women’s oppression, alcoholism and antinuclear movement.
As a general rule, they seem to make local alliances or extend support on practical grounds such as struggle of people on various issues, opposing government development projects that serve nobody except money grabbers and harm the people. It will be interesting in coming days to see on what issues they collaborate with the others. Some of these could be from the agenda of NAPM- National Alliance of People’s Movement. It is not a new thing in the Communist movement. Immediately after the Russian Revolution, Lenin adopted the Agrarian Programme of the Socialist Revolutionaries since the Bolsheviks did not have much experience in these matters.
Some of the important issues will be relating to the forests, water, neo colonialism of the LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation) kind and economic and cultural imperialism like the presence of MacDonald’s, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. For example, they can take a stand against the timber mafia, they can support community-based conservation programmes, oppose big dams and so on. It is interesting to note that on most of these issues the initiatives are taken by non-parliamentary groups or what is called people’s movement. Thus the Naxalites are not alone in finding the parliamentary path not useful to the poor people. In that sense these groups are natural allies of the Naxalites.
April 27, 2005
Naxalites are effective in some areas in India because there are some glaring unresolved contradictions in our society. These are basically aspirations aroused in our society by the Indian Constitution and not fulfilled to date. And people’s movement alone can resolve them. In Kerala and West Bengal, which have long history of such movements, the Naxalite movement did not survive. So long as these basic contradictions remain unresolved in these areas, the Naxalite movement will survive. Naxalites have proved more effective than others because they have an ideology that inspires youth, an organisational structure and armed groups.
Is it possible that these so-called backward areas will develop and Naxalite activities will die down as in Kerala and West Bengal? Maybe, maybe not. The uneven development can accentuate these differences rather than reduce it. Some pockets of affluence in these areas and creamy layers from each section of the society can and do emerge but it only worsens the problem and does not resolve it. On the other hand, the so-called developed areas are also facing deep crisis. Kerala is a prime example. Everything is going wrong. The farmers are committing suicide on a large scale because the international prices of rubber have fallen to one-fourth. Tourism is creating child prostitution. The rate of crime against women is higher there than any other state in India.
In such a scenario, maybe the backward districts will show us what a sane society should look like.
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Published in Frontier, October 2-29,2005, Kolkata.