Is It Time For Indian Maoists To Be
A Force In Indian National Politics?
By Trevor Selvam
20 September, 2008
A revolutionary political movement that is serious about keeping the initiative, and not getting marginalized, needs to set its strategic sights on being in a position to call for negotiations, somewhere down the line. Going from one spectacular military effort or jailbreak to another and interspersed with intermediate losses can become a never ending cycle, unless some face to face reckoning with the larger polity is targeted.
Negotiations are a strategic objective. Not a fall back position or a just-in-case Plan B. At a certain point in time, negotiations should become the demand of the public and other political mass organizations and institutions, in response to not only the military successes of the revolutionaries but also demonstratable political success and effective amelioration of life of the rural poor in vast areas of the country under their control. The revolutionaries must be militarily unassailable and yet politically fully accessible and provide concrete evidence of an alternative society. Negotiations must be demanded very simply because in the eyes of the masses, Maoists will make sense in what they say and do, they will stand out for their dignified and professional approach to politics and most of all are effective and accountable for what they say. They are also deemed as ready for multilateral operations, uniting with a broader front on a selective basis, instead of unilateral action always. Maoist military successes must be overwhelming, singularly effective in the public eye and discerning in terms of choice of target.. They must not alienate any segment of society other than those who are entrenched in a socially backward, non-secular and openly fanatical or fundamentalist political milieu or those who are singularly responsible for carrying out repression and atrocities on behalf of the state.
A New Cultural maturity
A departure from old party cultural constraints and the creation of a new dynamic that is easy going and attractive, is necessary at this time. The propaganda of the revolutionary forces, in the new technological era we live in, must eschew the moribund slogan mongering of the past. They must attract the attention of the uninitiated, the "non-political'' but intelligent forces in the urban segments of society. These forces are intuitively ready for cold logic from cold facts and at the same time are open to changing cultural values. They may not however be open to ideological convincing. Political shibboleth and party jargon should get replaced by a new cultural maturity that appeals to the increasingly informed and expanding middle classes of India. Even small industry must feel the need to demand negotiations in order to conduct business in a safe and predictable manner in areas where access roads and industrial logistics demand it. That stage does not come about by accident, nor can its exact date be predicted. That stage should be planned. The alliances should also be planned. It requires a new type of cultural emancipation of those who lead the revolutionary organizations. It requires discarding some of the trappings of the old style rigidity and picking up a charismatic cultural presence. It requires the boldness to move out of a shadowy existence and present oneself in an open yet secure platform. Not as an over ground entity, but as an entity that can make surprising interventions and take the initiative away from the dull and the boring in public platforms. Including on national TV and important symposiums.
Alliances and Connections
The key element in all this is the word "alliance." Who to make the alliance with and who to make the alliance against? In traditional formulations of alliances, straightforward class based alliance formulae have been proposed in text book proposals. If you know which class props up the state, you align with those classes who do not want its perpetuation. In that formulation the "middle forces" are often considered vacillating and therefore often the last to join a grand United Front. In India, there is caste, religion, ethnicity, language and regional politics that straddle class lines freely and the middle class, the working class and rural poor could easily align with elements of a nouveau riche bourgeoisie, who are in a terrible hurry to make money and are not interested in always comprehending history and class lines. They align naturally with anyone who assists their money-making ventures. Such forces can rally behind the reactionary banner of caste, religious prejudice and obfuscation of the rights of minorities and underprivileged tribal, aboriginal and marginalized sectors..
Lately, minority bashing has made significant inroads not only amongst the middle class but also amongst the urban poor, slum-dwellers and also the organized working class. So the question remains-- who to align with? There are those who have stock answers from theoretical constructs and there are those who cite incidences of successful alliance that their party affiliations prod them on to regurgitate ad nauseum. Then there are those radicals who are yet to realize that radical transformation in India will not happen according to an iconoclastic leader's pronouncements about date and time of liberation. Even election results in India, do not follow a predictable pattern. The masses vote with surprising responsiveness when something bothers them deeply. The masses in India do not always follow the herd mentality during elections, even though during political demonstrations and rallies-- food, drinks, some payments and the attraction of a free ride into an urban centre play a major role in the mobilization.. It is almost inevitable in the case of India that a concrete analysis of each concrete situation and a practical tactical line pursued in each case may result in alliances and mobilizations that would have been considered impossible or sacrilegious in another country and in another context. For all this to happen, a new refreshing approach to capturing the hearts and minds of a growing middle class is required.
Who really runs India?
India is not an isolated island run by a military dictatorship, a mountain top kingdom run by a feudal oligarchy, a jungle-bound nation that relies on limited agricultural output or specific cash crops or an export dependent economy. Nor is India an insignificant nation in the current world stage in terms of political clout. The people who run India are not the people whose faces are seen on NDTV literally 24/7. It is neither the Prime Minister nor the President of a major party. Therefore to deal with those shadowy forces that influence the way India is governed it is necessary for revolutionary forces to identify the cultural and intellectual politics of those classes and meet them match for match unconventionally--- think without being weighed down by precedent , operating against the tide and in a manner that is inspiring to the general population.
The simplistic breakdown of India into a rural and urban dichotomy has misled political analysts for too long. The banal statistic that 78% percent of India's population lives in the countryside, does not amount to any workable formula for alliances. In between the big slum-centred cities and the lush green countryside, there is the factor also of a youthful population that resides in the mental space of the "towns" of India. Their numbers are destined to be 50% of India's population by 2020 according to some estimates. These forces are currently impressed by India's Nuclear initiative, uninformed as they are about its true worth and the implicit perniciousness of USA's real intent. How many people really understand that this 123 agreement with the US will provide only 12 % more electricity to India by 2020? These forces are teased, enticed and seduced by India's current growth rate and have developed an intense nationalist pride. These forces are also fertile ground for recruitment for the fundamentalist right, especially the Saffron Brigades. But as always in all such processes, there are inherent intellectual conflicts, contradictions of a principle and non-principle nature and major and minor contradictions that prevent a homogenization of political direction.
The Maoists in India will find it difficult to make a step by step progress towards achieving national stature and prominence on a countrywide platform, if they do not very soon find and create a distinguished, venerable, deeply respected and sophisticated presence in Indian mainstream politics. And it has to happen intellectually, culturally and with a certain dignified distance from the politics that is practiced in the corridors of power both in India's parliament, in the so-called South Block, and in the state capitals. The same youth (the majority of India's population in comparison to other countries) are also simultaneously looking for a dynamic, charismatic direction to inspire them and pull them away from the superficial propaganda about India's tiger growth rate and progress, or away from the disinterested cynicism and apathy in reaction to nationwide corruption. The national media and the general body politic of India is infatuated with sleaze, shock, disaster, sting and counter sting and horrendous racism, casteism, fanaticism and the now benign impact of rampant corruption/criminal extortion that goes on at every level conceivable. In India's parliament wads of fresh notes are waved around to give examples of the millions that were spent in making MPs cross the floor or have criminal investigations against them, lifted.
In contrast, the sneaky admiration at the journalist level and the frequently laudatory comments made by well-known politicians about Naxalites, is not a cause for celebration. Maoists should not feel complacent and comfortable because VP Singh, MK Dhar and the new age guru Ravi Shankar and a few others have said that Maoists and Naxalites are such admirable people! Such plaudits also happened in the seventies (top students, crème de la crème, etc) but all this does not translate into mass following, as is well known.
Anyone, without a BA in Sociology, will tell you that the "Naxalite menace" cannot be controlled by policing action and new helicopters. But, the Indian state and its provincial governments are arrogant and merciless enough not to care and flout even the most fundamental aspects of democracy by detaining the likes of Dr.. Binayak Sen, the civil liberties activist, despite worldwide appeals on his behalf, even by Nobel Prize winners. So let there be no illusions. Brute force will be used. Once again Naxalite blood will flow, massacres will happen in the woods and be registered as "encounters", but this time let there be a popular defiance to these measures by new and innovative alliances across class lines. And, that which is seen and heard in the popular media. The Naxalites need a national voice and a national presence.
The growing middle class factor
Various estimates suggests that India's middle class range from 200 to300 million. These include at least 50 million who somehow managed to come out of the UN defined concepts of abject poverty in the past decade. Irrespective of whether they have been replaced by the new abjectly poor, there is a town and city class whose consumer expectations have grown and their quest for "orderliness" and civic society rules is also growing. They also want colleges, recruitment, hiring practices and job satisfaction to happen along professional lines. They also want to be free of the stranglehold of feudal family pressures, cultural exploitation and dictated mores. Therefore innovative politicization includes looking into ensuring that at least a small percentage of them are mobilized towards civil rights and human dignity issues.
Thirty-five percent of India's population live below Rs 40 ($1) per day. Also, as stated earlier, it is expected that 50% of India's population will become middle class by 2020. What does a revolutionary organization have in its program to mobilize them? This population has mostly outgrown the inertia and statist culture of the older generations and tend to be ferociously competitive and seeking free innovative ways for better economic livelihood. What are their needs? What are their demands? What are their frustrations? Historically these forces do not join a revolutionary movement en masse. But in the case of India, they are becoming extraordinarily large and increasingly youthful. Can even a small percentage of them be mobilized (without having to join the Party) to engage in movements and tactics that put pressure on the state and its apparatus and essentially bring out the roadblocks and barricades that prevent the state from ramming through unpopular policies? In countries like Thailand, Korea and Taiwan, governments and military rulers have been brought to their knees by the significant mass participation of independent youth and student movements. There should be some lessons to be learnt from there. What mobilizes these students and youth in these countries? Too often, the various student and youth organizations are seen as extensions of the parties. This therefore must change into an alliance of student and youth associations, along broad categories. These categories are for opposing the rise of the Saffron Brigades, self-determination for Kashmir, against war waged by the US and its collapsing empire all over the world, for a new Afro-Asian-Latin American solidarity, for the defence of minorities especially Muslims, Christians and marginalized sectors of society and a major movement against graft and corruption in government and municipal functionaries.
India's Shadowy Rulers.
Who are the leading elements of the Indian ruling class? Who are the people who devise India's Science and Industrial policies, India's Trade policies, India's attempts to emulate China in the SEZ area, India's power sector and agricultural sector policies? Who are the people who so craftily vocalize India's posture on sovereignty in Nuclear collaboration and independence and in fighting at the Doha rounds for subsidies for third world farmers? Who are the people who quietly propose building alternative alliances with Russia, Iran , Brazil, Venezuela, China while sheepishly agreeing with the United States and Britain on neo-liberal economic policies? It is not the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister or even the members of the Planning Commission. There are shadowy forces, who write position papers, who work in strategic think tanks, who have the ears of certain key Ministers, who belong to International Institutes and multinational banking institutions and consultancies, who rub shoulders with the likes of both Kissinger and Soros, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. We are talking about those who go to Davos, hang out In Washington and Zurich and Geneva, who negotiate with the WTO and lobby the NSG. We are talking about people who are savvy to the problems of intensive bio-fuel technology and yet have a game plan that incorporates large industrial houses in their plans for India's energy and technological development. We are talking about people who know very well that India missed out on the hardware and manufacturing phase and do not gloat about India's "brain" power incessantly like the rest of the " incredible and shining India" crowd. The Maoists have to come to grips with operating at a higher plane than what they have been engaged in. And for that they need supporters and sympathizers to their cause, who also come from a higher plane.
By leading elements one is not talking about the "faces" that are the ministers, or popular parliamentarians and governors who are the obvious front in the media. Confining oneself to only fighting the backward elements in the enemy's culture (that is feudal landlordism, upper caste gangsterism, forest contractors, rural police criminals, the Greyhound or Black Cat Commandos and BSF helicopters, RSS, Salwa Judum and Sangh Parivar fascism or CPM goondaism) automatically gets revolutionaries to be tied down fighting an essentially inferior cultural force at an inferior cultural level. In the meantime the shadowy forces who operate at a somewhat elevated cultural context watch the fun from a distance and reinforce the superstructure they need. The Maoists, after having established a sound professional basis for reviving the revolutionary process, correcting many of the infantilism and adventurist amateurisms and as well as the egocentric divisiveness of the past, need to have a quantum change of outlook. Dealing with Mayawati, Lalu Prasad, Ram Bilas Paswan, Praveen Togadia, Buddhadev, Biman Bose , Mamata and Yechury could be debilitating. But dealing with Montek Ahluwalia, MK Narayanan, the Tatas, the Kamal Naths, Mani Ayers, the Institutes for Strategic Studies and retired Indian Armed Forces officers and Sonia Gandhi and her inner circle is slightly different. Because like it or not they are better integrated with the forces of International Capital than the former.
Therefore one needs a following in the Indian Administrative service, in the Diplomatic Corps, in the Services, in the world of academics, scientists, doctors, economists of international repute. That is where the higher cultural battles are to be waged. It is necessary for the Maoists to be culturally superior than the obvious political nexus in which Karat and Manmohan play. They must become capable of "negotiation on a higher playing field" with the most advanced elements in the state's cultural vanguard. Too often, getting bogged down in ideological argumentation with various elements within the left is also an unproductive activity.
The Maoists must therefore specifically cultivate relationships and also learn from intellectuals who are outside the Party's influence. This has all been tried before, has it not? But, a renewed effort is now imperative. One way it can be achieved is by strengthening the influence of the media and supporting independent journalism.
The Maoists must therefore look into innovative, new channels and initiatives to win over broader sections of the masses. They must get their word well circulated and discussed. The following are some areas where Maoists must demonstrate how to think out of the box and steal the initiative from the state.
1) International mainstream coverage by arranging renowned correspondents to interview supporters of the movement who are equally well-known. In the olden days, getting an appreciative and progressive journalist like Jan Myrdal or someone from Broadsheet to write a few lines would be considered a "coup." What is required today, is articles and visits to the movement from leading newspaper journalists and writers in New York, London and Paris in the NY Times, the Post etc.
2) Continuous despatches to alternative news media. Finding key international observers to report and visit the movement. At the present time, there is not even a serious website or blog that is continuously updated, nor is there a supporter's and sympathizer's blog. Links with alternate media are not sound.
3) Sudden, short and quick organized demonstrations in towns against Saffron brigades as a precursor to ones in big cities. Such patrol-like demonstrations in neighbourhoods were key methods of community awareness raising, during the Palestinian intifadas. In fact, the Palestinians carried out their marches, literally on the run, like a trot, introducing a new militancy and cultural style. The correct banners, the correct headbands, the tight formation and organization, all make a difference.
4) Carrying out significant military victories against Salwa Judum, Saffron Brigades especially in areas where minority populations would be mobilized. At this point in time, there is nothing more important than dispensing death blows to the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Nobody would dare to do it, other than the Maoists.
5) Negotiate common platforms with other left wing parties on selected issues, have an over ground functionality by having well-known people run as independent MLAs or supporting them. Well known TV journalists and anchor persons should be approached for a broad front participation. TV journalists have a certain charisma and mass appeal. Many of them are concerned, serious and reflect seriously on their role. It would be a major achievement if they run as independents in elections. In India, mainstream newspaper journalists will rarely be in a position to be continuously supportive of a revolutionary movement. Only independent journalists and foreign correspondents of repute, when they broadcast their reportage in mainstream media and alternative media on the net, will give prominence and sustenance.
6) Indian hygiene and health consciousness is pathetic. The Chinese spent 20% of the GDP on infrastructure which includes amenities for healthy life styles and also encouraging education for health and nutrition. India spent 5% of her GDP in infrastructure during the same time. The lack of hygiene and health consciousness in slum areas and townships require trained paramedical and medical personnel to provide alternate services. India's caste hierarchy also perpetuates unhygienic tendencies. Building a health, hygiene education and medical assistance program in areas of control and as well as in urban areas will be key to not only mobilizing people but also building an alternate non-caste value system for the future. Organized doctors in the rural areas and in slums who run clinics on selected days are key to developing a link between the town middle class and the rural masses. Revolutionaries cannot build the infrastructure that the state has failed to establish. But, they can develop a sense of what it would in an alternate society, by providing no-cost clinics for the poor in critical areas.
8) In Nepal, a segment of the revolutionaries attempted to develop a theory of military conquests as the basis for gaining the upper hand, building alliances and national political stature. Alliances were even subsequently sought with the feudal aristocracy to outwit middle-class parties, who had the backing of India. This may or may not have worked. Care must be taken to avoid simplistic trial and error attempts in building alliances. While sound military victories are a cornerstone of revolutionary practice, in a country as large as India a major action remains folkloric only amongst the ardent backers alone. Guerrilla-ism can become a problem if the movement stays in the mountains and jungles.
9) Sponsor or assist and encourage in making a 1 hour long documentary film on a visit by journalists to a guerrilla zone, interviewing fighters and ordinary masses and most important have the premier of the film in an international film festival outside India. It would be better if the film was even made by a film society or individuals from outside India, so that they would not be subjected o the Indian Censors..
10) Rural areas are desperate for power. Especially in the evenings and also during the day. It is possible for the revolutionaries in their areas of control to launch a drive to obtain indigenously manufactured portable solar panels and inverters. These units can charge during the day and be used in the evenings inside huts and for conducting classes, meetings and even heating in the winter, if required. It is simply a question of dedicating a team of volunteers and students to initiate such a project. This would be another alliance building process. The product is already available and it needs to be stripped and redesigned and made for a non-profit cause. The product can be manufactured on demand and shipped as required. Such initiatives develop a formidable alternative and provide a positive basis for an alternative political system, when compared to the dam making, flooding and nuclear fiasco that could result from centralized mega projects. At the same time, it also provides an opportunity for a section of the progressive middle class in engaging in alternate society building.
In the final analysis, the Maoists must not only be conscious of their image, in a web-based urban environment which has a large and growing middle class, a segment of whom need to be allied with; they must also focus their attention on the not-so-prominent shadowy advanced capitalist cultural class that are embedded with international capital and are important movers and shakers of the Indian development strategy.
Trevor Selvam is a freelance journalist, based in Chennai. __._,_.___
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