Conflict between Maoist rebels and the government is as much a war of words that includes perspectives and propaganda as a brutal war on the ground
The conflict between Maoist rebels and the government of India is as much a war of words that includes perspectives and propaganda as a brutal war on the ground. From the rebel perspective, it’s now time for a two-year-long ideological binge.
Were I a rebel, I wouldn’t get too carried away.
Earlier in June, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Muppala Laxman Rao, who goes by the nom de guerre Ganapathy, put his name to an invitation to celebrate four anniversaries till the summer of 2018. It’s all big-ticket stuff in the leftwing rebels’ world: a window to reaffirm the faith, and recruit for India’s largest rebel enterprise currently under siege. Colleagues from smaller leftwing rebel groups in an arc from Jharkhand to Manipur could take the cue.
There’s the 50th anniversary of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution", which Mao Zedong used as a power move to terrifyingly reassert control over both his country’s communist party and the country, in 1966—a purge by another name.
The second is the impending 50th anniversary, in May 2017, of the Naxalbari uprising, which sparked a pro-farmer, pro-poor, pro-dispossessed conflagration that continues to this day, and embarrassingly continues to mirror India’s socioeconomic failings.
The third is the centenary in November next year of the Russian revolution, the political game changer that ‘dominoed’ Communism and leftwing revolution across huge swathes of the world from Latin America to Asia and Africa.
And the fourth is the bicentennial in May 2018 of the birth of Karl Heinrich Marx, the booster/creator of perhaps the most world-bending ‘isms’ of the past two centuries: socialism, Marxism, communism, Stalinism, Maoism and a horde of mix-and-match leftist enterprises, from healing wounds of the downtrodden, to creating hells on earth with as much brutal dedication as hells in the name of capitalism and freedom.
What will it add up to in the world of rebellion in India? Not much.
Media perspectives will offer pro/con views about the failure of communism. Of how—or not—the evil of Joseph Stalin and Mao matched or exceeded that of Adolf Hitler, and spurred evil ideological cousins such as Pol Pot in Cambodia and the third-generation circus of the Kims of North Korea.
Socialists and communists will hurl invective against capitalist enterprise having doomed the world to a cycle of exploitation and ruin, and receive invective in return from capitalists. And absolute religionists—the always right—will offer their own brands of fragile and increasingly dangerous solutions to worldly deficiencies.
But as a brochure for rebels, it’s already quite dead. The May anniversary of China’s Cultural Revolution, for instance, has come and quietly gone. Ganapathy’s request for celebration—“It aimed at bringing each and every sphere of the cultural superstructure in conformity with the country’s socialist economic base by arousing the vast working masses against bourgeois and other forms of reactionary culture"—would fool only the ideological imbecile and the uninformed.
Such syrupy description of pure terror and totalitarianism—along the informational lines of, say, a strip-mining company describing itself as eco-friendly—would hardly move the victimized adivasi and evicted and landless in India who primarily seek justice, dignity and livelihood, for whom ‘Mao’ is just a word, like ‘Modi’ may be just a word to many. The other anniversaries will likely remain just that—anniversaries, with discussions of cause and effect.
Last year I had suggested that the Maoist space is being limited not only on account of saturation deployment and pincer attacks by security forces in the rebel strongholds in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, but also the rebel leadership’s proclivity for sounding so last-century (The shrinking Maoist space, 25 September 2015). I stand by this assertion.
Equally, while leftwing rebels have kept pace with evolving issues—from fighting for farmers’ rights and caste discrimination in the 1960s, to subsequently taking up the rights of tribal folk and issues such as forced eviction to clear land for projects—they have been outpaced by the evolution of civil rights and human rights movements in India which daily fight against wrongs of the government and its cronies in business and elsewhere.
These battles are fought non-violently: through protest, and constitutional and judicial application and remedy. This movement, too, has martyrs. Several activists are killed across India each year, and many more victimized. Several have even been incorrectly labelled Maoists, truly an irony.
It’s a matter of marginal utility: pro-forma propaganda has been done to death.
Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations that affect businesses in India and South Asia, runs on Fridays.
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