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Enemies of the State or ‘Gandhians with guns’?

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By a strange twist of irony, as a review ‘Hello, Bastar’, Rahul Pandita’s ‘untold story of India’s Maosist movement’ was being written, television channels across the country were celebrating Anna Hazare’s Gandhian victory over the might of the Indian state. It is difficult to comment whether the phrase ‘Gandhians with Guns’ was coined with extreme cynicism, or extreme irreverence (to the original Satyägrahi) or extreme facetiousness. Be that as it may, it has become a paradigm – not so much to describe the enemies of the state for whom ‘political power flows from the barrel of a gun’ – but to describe the mindset of ‘mischievous Cadillac communist[s]’, to quote Bharat Karnad’s mordant phrase, who hate the very democratic institutions that gave them the freedom to rant and rave.

Why is the intelligentsia – not just the deprived people at the lowest stratum of society – attracted to the idea of armed rebellion; to overthrow the state machinery and usurp power? Do they really envisage that the underground guerilla militia they created, will be able to shed the deficiencies that they accuse the state machinery is plagued with? Will it create the utopia, the land of milk and honey that the underground intelligentsia and their overground supporters – the Cadillac communists – envisage? Or will the movement end up as a caricature of the very society it seeks to replace, a caricature so vividly portrayed by George Orwell in his Animal Farm? Are there or are there not some ‘equal’ and some ‘more equal’ comrades in the underground kingdom they have created for themselves? Aren’t the protagonists of the classless revolution resorting to drug running, extortion and murder of innocent civilians as a means to subvert organs of the ‘other’ society which they seek to replace? Aren’t they running a parallel economy which undermines the welfare of their citizens too along with the rest of the population that does not subscribe to their philosophy of governance? Is it really possible to achieve a classless, self-governing, egalitarian society of ‘each according to his ability to each according to his needs as predicted by Marx? If it were possible, why did the Soviet Union collapse in just seventy years of proletarian revolution? Weren’t corruption, laziness and inefficiency the root causes that led to hunger, poverty and unemployment in the socialist panacea? Pandita’s book answers the first question, at least partially, but glosses over the others.

The Naxalite movement is as old as the independent Indian state. It had originated in Andhra Pradesh in 1946, although it was not known as the Naxalite movement then. Known as the ‘Telangana peasants’ armed struggle’ (Telangäna raithänga säyudha poratäm), it was originally a movement against the oppressive zamindari system. However, there is a sub-text to it, which is often airbrushed by the left-lib commentators as it does not fit into their meticulously fabricated secular themes. It is that the peasants’ struggle coalesced with the Hyderabad liberation movement led by Swamy Ramanand Tirtha’s Andhra Maha Sabha.  After 1945 when his administration collapsed, the Nizam acquiesced to pressures from the Muslim elite to start the Razzakar movement. The inappropriately named ‘movement’ let loose by Qasim Razvi’s rabid conscript militia – hence the name Razzakars – was intended to terrorize the state’s populace into submission. The Razakars (precursor to the present day Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or MIM) resorted to extreme violence, extortion and forcible religious conversion to subdue the nationalist aspirations of the people. The Hindus of the state, under the aegis of the ‘Andhra Maha Sabha’ led by Swamy Ramananda Tirtha fought back, resulting in bloody feuds, which ended when Hyderabad was liberated in 1948. The peasants’ movement, however, continued till 1951 and petered out thereafter as the agrarian reforms of the nascent Indian state took effect.

But the story did not end there. The movement made its metastasized manifestation in the Naxalbari area of West Bengal in 1967 and re-entered Andhra Pradesh the same year, this time as the Naxalite movement, in the Parvathipuram agency area of Srikakulam district. From there, with Parvathipuram and Telangana as the foci the movement spread to neighbouring states, Orissa, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, and from West Bengal to Jharkhand and Bihar forming what has come to be known as the red corridor. Along the way it morphed many times with the latest manifestation being named the CPI (Maoist). It forged alliances with various insurgent groups especially in the North-East. For the CPI (Maoist), it could be ideological cohesion but for its Chinese facilitator (of various types of inputs, not least being munitions) it could be more. China couldn’t have possibly asked for more. It serves its policy of realpolitik and keeping a potential competitor (or a potential enemy) at bay, allows it unhindered dominance in Asia.

Pandita’s book is well researched and narrates in racy style the origins and growth of the Naxalite/Maoist insurrection from its inception in Telangana till the present time. Pandita travelled extensively through Maoist-land, quite an arduous task and spent a considerable amount time in their company to gain first hand information about the insidious ideology and its practitioners. But, familiarity breeds affinity. Therefore, do we sniff at places in his book, a modicum of sneaking sympathy nay admiration, something akin to the Stockholm syndrome, for the ruthless insurgents? Was it the comrades’ ‘self righteousness’ that prevented them from seizing arms offered to them by police constables in 1968? (p. 30-31). Was it because of their innate magnanimity that they let off landlords or policemen ‘found guilty of minor offences’ like ‘refusal to pay heed to the guerillas’? (p. 32-33). Aren’t we reminded of the leftist historians’ glossing over Aurangazeb’s imposition of the punitive zaziya tax with a dismissive affirmation that ‘the Hindus were allowed to practise their religion and live peacefully by paying a small tax’!

One can understand the author’s difficulty in understanding Telugu and therefore errors in transliterating terms like Pilupu meaning ‘The Call’ (not Pillapu, p.38), Bathukamma (not Dakamma, p. 44) festival but surely the Kakatiya (not Kakati, p. 37) Medical College, named after the famous Kakatiya dynasty is well known. Similarly his commendable effort to research and collate facts is marred by the omission of a key ideologue of the Naxalite movement in its sixties phase in Srikakulam. It was Nagabhushanam Patnaik, a lawyer in Srikakulam who fought many legal battles on behalf of his ‘comrades’. He was awarded death sentence in five murder cases, but which was subsequently commuted to life. He died of renal failure, in Chennai in 1981.

The CPI (Maoist) party’s strategy to extend its reach from rural and semi-urban areas to the metropolises, presented in its ‘Strategy and Tactics Document’ in 2007, as detailed in the Chapter, ‘The Urban Agenda’ makes for scary reading and is a wakeup call for our complacent internal security mandarins and their political masters. Hitherto, politicians have been playing fast and loose with the Maoists depending on their immediate electoral interests; now being tough with them and now hobnobbing with them for political gains. If the Maoists are serious about their ‘The Urban Agenda’, then perhaps it is time our internal security managers did some serious thinking. Or else the nation is sure to slip into the quicksand of anarchy from which it would be difficult to extricate itself for a long time!

Pandita, Rahul (2011). Hello, BastarThe Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement. Chennai. Tranquebar Press, Westland Ltd. Pages: 202. Price: Rs. 250/-

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