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Bernard D’Mello: This insurgency actually goes way back to 1967. It is in the context of deepening underdevelopment, in particular in parts of India, more specifically parts of central and eastern India. The Maoist movement has evolved over time, it has learned from its mistakes, and it has regenerated itself in the context of neoliberal globalization. What you just mentioned, various mining and industrial projects and Special Economic Zones and so on — it’s the resistance of the weak to this process of industrialization and Special Economic Zones that is really underway. . . .
Since 2004-2005 — this is in the context of regeneration of the movement and its resistance to these industrial and mining and infrastructural projects and so on — tribal populations in these areas have been displaced and dispossessed, and this is happening on a massive scale. The government has launched a kind of counterinsurgency strategy. . . . This counterinsurgency strategy has to be seen in the context of neoliberal globalization. . . . Operation Green Hunt is basically, as I mentioned, a counterinsurgency strategy. It is state terrorism. . . . This is what tribal people and Maoists are resisting. . . . As for the present incident [of 76 Indian paramilitary troops killed by a Maoist ambush], security forces, central security forces, went hunting for the last three days, hunting for poor tribal people who are aligned with Maoists and hunting for the Maoists. They went on a hunt for three days, and they were returning, and on their return they were ambushed by the Maoists. That led to these 76 dead. . . . It’s a situation where, as part of this counterinsurgency strategy, the state has involved a civilian population, in the form of informers and in the form of civilian combatants. It’s a very dreadful, very brutal situation we are witnessing today in these areas. . . .
At the local level, it’s really the exploited and the oppressed — what we in India call the poorest of the poor — who are really with the Maoists. Beyond that, in the urban areas and so on, there are groups — I must say small groups — of students, intellectuals, civil liberties and democratic rights activists, artists, and so on and so forth who really sympathize with the resistance that is going on. That is the level of support. It is very small, but there is an effort also to seek international support in the context of what is going on. . . .
Besides the counterinsurgency, the state undertakes certain programs, which are development programs. Unfortunately, actually, what is done developmentally is really capitalist development, where modernization in the form of industrial projects equals to . . . highways, railways, various pipelines taking slurries of iron ore to the ports and so on — this is what constitutes development. Regarding the social welfare programs of the government like health, education, and so on, I’m really sorry to say that there is nothing like a public distribution system that distributes basic food grains to the poor, or primary health centers, or primary education and secondary education in these areas. It’s really more or less absent. In fact, in the context of this emergency, security forces themselves have occupied schools and primary health centers and so on. So people have really nothing to go by. In what they call guerrilla zones, where Maoists and security forces are contending, there is a kind of economic blockade which has been imposed by the government. So, people are really at the end of their tether, and it’s in this context where they are resisting the government forces. . . .
You’re right that, when you talk of the protracted people’s war, what really gets stressed — and I think unfortunately gets stressed — is the military part of the strategy. What really needs to be in command is actually the politics of it. Behind the politics of it is the establishment of what the Maoists call New Democracy. Now, New Democracy is really a form of capitalism, a form of capitalist development, but one in which big business and foreign capital and so on are expropriated, the properties and assets of big business and foreign capital are expropriated, the landlords are expropriated, sections of the rich peasants are expropriated, and the land is distributed to the poor and landless peasantry and so on. This is really the political program that is sought to be implemented — and implemented right in the thick of revolution — by the Maoists when they try to set up what are called base areas in which they will implement — they are seeking to implement — this political program. They hope to garner mass support, and when this idea of base area spreads — this area of areas where there have been victories in military and political battles and they set up the people’s government and implement this program of New Democracy and gradually gain mass support and spread the movement very widely — the end stage of this is really moving into the cities and capturing political power and then setting up a New Democratic regime. I must stress: a New Democratic regime is really capitalism, capitalist development, but capitalist development of the kind which makes capitalism more compatible with democracy. This can only happen when big business and foreign capital are expropriated, and this is what they intend to do. This is seen by the Maoists as a kind of transitional stage to socialism. . . .
The main [Left] criticism [of the Maoists] is about the strategy. The strategy as I mentioned has a military component, that of armed struggle. In the context of state violence, state terrorism, and resistance to it, what you see actually is this hunting down of Maoists and Maoists resisting and so on. This is leading to a terrible amount of violence, and the intelligentsia, including sections of the Left intelligentsia, have been very critical of the movement because of this escalation of violence. If you ask my opinion, I also hate violence, and I think most human beings hate violence, abhor violence. But one has to see the context in which this violence is being escalated. The typical view of the Left intelligentsia is what has been described as a kind of “sandwich theory”: what they say is that . . . the poor and oppressed tribals are really “sandwiched,” caught in-between, between the fire of the Indian state and the Maoists, and it is ordinary people here who are taking the brunt of the suffering and misery that this violence is causing. One cannot really dispute that many of these things are happening. In the context of violence surely there is a great degree of suffering and misery, death and destruction, that are taking place. But one has to see the context in which this is occurring. I’ll be very brief on this. Violence of the oppressed as I see it — this is my personal view, it is a view based on my little understanding of history in India and China and elsewhere — I say this as a proposition. I’d say that violence of the oppressed is always preceded and provoked by violence of the oppressors. This is the context in which you have to view this.
Bernard D’Mello is deputy editor of the journal Economic & Political Weekly and a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai. This interview was conducted by Asia Pacific Forum, broadcast by WBAI on 13 April 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview. See, also, Bernard D’Mello, “What Is Maoism?”; and Jayati Ghosh Interviewed by Paul Jay, “No Indian Miracle.”