New left still maintains the old heroes

7 07 2008

Wednesday June 18 2008 09:25 IST
Francois Gautier

WHEN we were young, our heroes were Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, or even Pol Pot. Of course, in time, we learnt about the crimes of Mao, who killed millions of his own people — Pol Pot, of course was even more of a monster. Stalin was not much better.

Thus, in most of the world, communism is practically dead. One cannot call China anymore a communist country —indeed, there may not be a more ruthless capitalistic nation today — and even Cuba is inching towards free trade. In India though, not only is communism not dead, it is flourishing ! You find communist governments in West Bengal, partly in Kerala or Tripura and the present Congress government owes its survival to the communists.

In a way, it is positive. You see a youth like Nandan, filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s son, who was a “Red Volunteer” at a recent CPI-M meet in Chennai. Or you come across an ardent communist like Dr Binayak Sen, now in jail. Communists often live a simple life and are committed. Witness the youthful leader Sitaram Yetchury.

Unfortunately, there is also a darker side : Indian communists have totally aligned themselves with Lenin and Mao, to the point that not only they are antispiritual, particularly targeting Hindus, but often anti-Indian. They will never criticise China and even take sides with the Chinese in case of tensions between Delhi and Beijing.

There is an even more dangerous angle: when communism takes on an armed face. In India it is naxalism. The naxal movement, basically a Maoist-inspired armed struggle, began as a violent peasant uprising against the landlords at Naxalbari village in West Bengal on May 25, 1967. It is true that naxalism may have risen out a wounded sense of injustice, seeing how there are still unforgivable disparities in certain parts of India which have suffered for centuries from caste discrimination, exploitation by landlords and the lethargy of the administrative and political system.

However, the naxals are clear about their objectives. They freely quote from Mao: “Its (Maoism’s) purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and to replace them with a completely new structure.” Indeed, if one looks closely at naxalism today, one sees murder, rape, kidnap, extortion, money laundering and human rights violations.

Today, 16 of the 35 States and Union Territories have Maoists operating. This affects 192 of India’s 604 districts. In the last twelve months, naxalism has redoubled its efforts to break up Indian society. On March 15, 2007, Maoist rebels massacred 16 officers of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force, 39 Special Police Officers and injured 12 others at Rani Bodli village. On Oct 27, armed naxals massacred 17 people including a former Jharkhand chief minister’s son in Chilkhari village of the state’s Giridih district. On Dec 16, in a daring jailbreak, 110 naxalites escaped from Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada Jail. There are many other examples.

Sometimes, the press says that the menace is on the wane. Nothing could be further from the truth. The naxalites have a budget of Rs 60 crores for their armed struggle during 2007-09. This is raised abroad by NGO in countries like Norway, where there is some sympathy for them. Furthermore, emboldened by the Maoists in Nepal who have not only conquered the countryside, but come to government, Naxalites in India have recently released a stunning declaration:

* We pledge: To coordinate the people’s war with the ongoing armed struggles of the various oppressed nationalities in Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and other parts of the Northeast.

* To build a united front of all secular forces and persecuted religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.

* To build a secret party apparatus impregnable to the enemy’s attacks.

* To build open and secret mass organisations among the workers, peasants, youth, students, women and other sections of the people.

* To build the people’s militia in all villages in the guerrilla zones as the base force of the PGA (People’s Guerrilla Army). Also build armed self-defence units in other areas of class struggle as well as in the urban areas.

The Government of India has tried everything to contain the naxalites: negotiation, counter-insurgency, arming the tribals, but with little result. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation has started a dialogue with the naxalites to show that the gun is not only solution.

His teachings and initiatives have transformed many villages in the naxalite-dominated areas of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. During his visits to Bihar, more than 100,000 youths from warring factions such as Ranvir Sena, People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre vowed to spread the message of non-violence.

He also recently initiated a much needed peace and reconciliation conference in Oslo, Norway, on April 11, which focused on the internal armed conflicts of South Asia, particularly naxalism, and discussed possible solutions and means to solve them. Norway’s special envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Members of European Parliament Erika Mann, Nirj Deva and Aud Kvalbein, Deputy Mayor of Oslo were some of the prominent European speakers in the conference.

Finally we can only conclude by quoting Ajit Doval, Former Director, Intelligence Bureau : “Taking the trends of the last five years, we can build a model of the security scenario for the year 2010. Over 260 districts, nearly half of India, would be naxal-affected where the government’s writ hardly runs.”

Is the naxal dream of a Red Belt, from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh, become a reality? We hope not. For the ancient Indian way of life, the Dharma, offers other solutions.

The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of La Revue de l’Inde. He lives in India.