Excerpt from “Whither Maoists?”

“The sheen of Maoist political ideology seems to be wearing off . . . do we have an instance where Maoists have stopped mining operations in affected areas or have taken up the cause of the tribals for higher wages or better living and working conditions for them?  If they have done so sometimes, the issue has been resolved amicably after some deal was struck.” — Digvijay Singh criticizing Chidambaram’s hawkish approach to Maoists

“They are no enemies. . .  We must talk to our Naxal (Maoist) friends.” — Congress leader Keshava Rao in the Rajya Sabha

. . . [W]ith Digvijay Singh’s recent article, ‘Re-think Counter-Maoist Strategy’, attacking Chidambaram and his pro-corporate ‘law and order’ approach, there are signs that a more cool-headed and concrete appraisal of the Maoist phenomenon is taking place in the ruling circles. . . .  [N]ow that the Maoists do not seem to be fizzling out anytime soon, nor getting decimated by Operation Green Hunt or military actions, they might as well be engaged with, if not accepted, as a stakeholder of power, at least as a structure of command, control and power which the dominant ruling classes must reckon with. . . .  Further, Congress leader K Keshava Rao announces in the Rajya Sabha, post-CRPF massacre, that Naxals are no enemies and we must talk to “our Naxal friends”.  What is needed is a ‘political process’: thus former Chief Minister of Chattisgarh Ajit Jogi points out in support of Singh that “there are three aspects to the Maoist problem: the socio-economic, the law and order side and the political process”.  It is important to note that ‘political process’ is the new addition to this discourse.

This is already in addition to Mani Shankar Aiyar’s extremely vocal statements against the hawkish approach and ‘1000 per cent’ support to Singh’s article.  Further, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi seem to be tacitly even if ambiguously supporting these voices.  The two Gandhis have either avoided saying anything much on the Maoists or have pointed out lack of development and just government policies as the real problem — what also seems in line with the Congress’s aam admi [common man] approach. . . .

[T]he conflict and competition between these two [aam admi and hawkish] factions within the ruling bloc means that the Maoist gets portrayed in different ways by each of them.  Now the first kind of enframing coming from the Chidambaram faction that the Maoists are out to violently overthrow the India state, and are against the very idea of India, is clearly applauded by large sections of the upper middle classes.  The BJP fully backs this up and so do large sections within the Congress.  Arun Jaitley was overly shrill in the Lok Sabha calling upon the Congress to rally behind the Home Minister and his hard approach towards the Maoists.  What is it about the Maoists that allows such a hawkish approach to be adopted by a large section of the ruling classes? . . .  This means that the Maoists are indeed to a large extent on the path of protracted people’s war — testified therefore by the Indian state’s antagonistic and repressive actions against them.  Or, for the more skeptical, they are at least arraigned against corporate interests and waging some kind of struggle, perhaps a class struggle.

While then this first enframing follows from Maoist revolutionary politics, the second seems to offer a different picture — of Maoists who have lost the sheen of their political ideology.  The second enframing is of course the left-liberal one propounded by Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and in fact large sections of liberal civil society and democratic rights groups.  And here we have Singh himself in his article.

He makes three points.  One, he challenges the narrow approach of the Home Minister, who “is treating it purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals”, issues of “governance and livelihood” and instead “converting the serene and calm environment of Bastar into a battlefield”.  Interestingly, another Congress leader Amaresh Mishra, close to Singh, had written elsewhere how “the Congress’s reformist agenda however was not liked by a powerful lobby of upstart corporate interests”, clearly pointing fingers at the Chidambaram lobby.  Second, Singh presents an ambiguous picture of the Maoist approach towards corporates, and towards mining and other activities.  There is no “instance where Maoists have stopped mining operations in affected areas”.  And if at all the Maoists raised issues of wage increase for tribals or better living conditions, “the issue has been resolved amicably after some deal was struck”.  Third, Singh calls for focusing primary attention on the plight of the tribals on issues related to governance and development, land and resources, and the need for benign policies in order to undercut the Maoist base.

While the contention between these two corporate factions in the Congress is evident, what is interesting is how this contention not only centres around working out the right approach in countering the Maoists but also offers a new appraisal of the latter.  This new liberal-left appraisal does not just say that Maoists cannot be treated as a law and order problem and must be treated as primarily if not exclusively a socio-economic problem — implement PESA, the Forest Rights Act and so on.  It says something more and this is new: it says that the Maoists are not against corporate interests and in fact are quite well integrated in the local economy and business as usual wherever they are strong.  “The sheen of their political ideology seems to be wearing off” as they facilitate business as usual.  Thus “traders, forest contractors, industrialists and mining companies carrying on their business without a problem, in fact, quite merrily, in the Naxalite dominated areas. The Maoists, simply, are collecting protection fees.”  In fact, after the massacre of CRPF jawans, when you would imagine that corporates are going to run for their lives from Maoist areas, Tata Steel MD H. M. Nerurkar calmly tells this about their steel venture in Chattisgarh: “We are not dropping the project on account of the naxal problem.”

Now there are two aspects to this issue of Maoists not being seen by sections within the ruling circles to be as radical as the ideological claims they make.  One is of course the actual activities of the Maoists and their relationship with corporates in the different areas they are strong in.  This is one which needs empirical verification which we cannot do here.  The other aspect is the imperatives of the ruling parties that drive them to view Maoists as such, as fulfilling a particular role and function which is in consonance with the internal needs of the particular faction — and the liberal-left faction cannot present itself as going soft on a force which is openly against corporate capital. . . .

The more Operation Green Hunt fails to decimate the Maoists and the more Maoists are able to expand and proliferate, the more assertive the liberal-left is going to get, proffering their approach and solution.  No wonder Singh’s article comes after the massacre of the CRPF jawans, when it seemed like Operation Green Hunt is not taking off.  The Maoist presence and Chidambaram’s failure to eliminate it will clearly bring cheers to the liberal-left and allow them great leverage within the corridors of power.  If this happens of course this might mean a larger realignment within the ruling bloc in favour of more people-oriented policies and applying some restraint on private capital and economic reforms — thanks to the Maoist presence! . . .

Thus in terms of the internal composition of the ruling bloc today there is a possibility of talks and dialogue between the Maoists and the government, in fact of reconciliation too.  However, as we saw, the enframing horizon within which such dialogue and reconciliation is envisioned clearly means co-opting the Maoist challenge in order to revive and refuel the old Nehruvian left ideals in the times of corporate globalization.  No wonder arch-Nehruvian Aiyar declared his ‘one thousand percent’ support to Singh’s critique of Chidambaram.  Social movements and civil society groups too have become more vocal demanding proper implementation of PESA, Panchayats, gram sabhas, different progressive Acts.

What is interesting, and a paradox if you like, is that the Maoist movement, far from rekindling a radical left or Marxist imagination consonant with the Naxalbari legacy, has instead fuelled and activated generally welfarist, left-of-centre sections — and in fact increased their bargaining power vis-à-vis those favouring corporate capital and a strong state.  Is Maoist revolutionary subjectivity at the service of reformist movements? . . .

In this realist account of the model of armed struggle, then, the rebels first establish themselves as a major power network (as a revolutionary force); the state and established order then try to dislodge them; if they can’t, then there is a tendency to accommodate them; talks and negotiations begin, figuring out possible outcomes and compromise positions.  But even though Maoists have emerged as a structure of power, not easily dislodged, the government today is not readily willing to negotiate and is putting strong conditionalities like ‘abjure violence’ and so on.  This has of course to do with corporate capital’s strong linkages with the state.  Companies like Vedanta, Arcelor Mittal, Tata Steel, Essar are openly and brazenly promoted by the Indian state.

More importantly, the government today feels that it does not lose its democratic legitimacy in making ‘war on its own people’.  And that has to do with the upper middle class support base which is cheering on Chidambaram to go ahead and finish off the Maoists.  Calls for using maximum force to finish off the ‘anti-national’ Maoists, egging on Chidambaram to go on no-holds barred, were on full display in the aftermath of the killing of 76 security personnel in Dantewada.  On this count, negotiations are still not so much on the cards for the Indian state.

The other reason is also of course that, precisely due to such a nature of the upper middle classes and intense corporate hegemony even among the lower classes, radical resistance among urban workers is extremely sporadic and falls short of acquiring a critical mass.  And if they are unable to expand, Maoists might be more willing to go for talks and negotiations as a way out of being restricted in limited areas or expanding in sociologically homogeneous areas (forest areas, or among adivasis only) — thereby reinforcing the armed struggle model.  It is the confidence and continued legitimacy of the state and its policies among the upper middle classes that allows it to ignore the Maoists as a legitimate force even when Digvijay paints them as not so dangerous, well integrated in business as usual, collecting taxes from local traders, contractors and businesses and so on. . . .

Saroj Giri is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Delhi University.  The text above is a short excerpt from a long article “Whither Maoists?” (Sanhati, 28 April 2010); it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.  Click here to read the full text.  See, also, Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977).

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