16 Mar 2010

India's Maoists: A doomed revolution?

It is India's most bloody, intractable and shadowy war in recent history.

Today 223 districts - India has 636 districts - in 20 states are "Maoist affected", up from 55 districts in nine states six years ago. Ninety of the affected districts, according to the government, are experiencing "consistent violence". PM Manmohan Singh calls it the country's "greatest internal security challenge".

As Maoist activity has expanded over a vast swathe of mineral-rich jungles and countryside where most of India's tribespeople - its poorest of the poor - live, the cost of the conflict has been huge.

The government says 3,457 civilians were killed in 11,642 incidents of rebel-related violence between 2003 and 2009. Nearly 1,300 security forces and 1,350 rebels have died in the war, it says.

As the toll rises, the conflict provokes a sharply polarised debate.

On the one side are the city-bred romantic revolutionaries. One perceptive analyst calls them a "Maoist-aligned intelligentsia vicariously playing out their revolutionary fantasies through the lives of the adivasis [tribespeople], while the people dying in battle are almost all adivasis". They protest against the government's plans to smoke out the rebels.

On the other, are supporters of strong state action who believe the security forces should annihilate the rebels and wrest back areas under their control. Collateral damage, they believe, is par for the course.

So India's Maoist rebels, in the words of another commentator, are either "romanticised, eulogised [or] demonised". It depends on which side you are on. It is time to ask some basic questions.

What do the Maoists want?

They want to establish a "communist society" by overthrowing the country's "semi-colonial, semi-feudal" form of rule through an armed struggle. The say they are fighting for the rights of the neglected tribespeople, an unquestionably laudable goal in a vastly iniquitous land.

So are they revolutionary Marxists? Are they anarchists? Or are they India's equivalent of historian Eric Hobsbawm's "social bandits", peasant Robin Hood outlaws? It is difficult to say.

1 comment:

Rancid Iodine said...

An interesting line from that article that gets you thinking - from the country that invented Ghandism: "Violence [has] the potential to make news and attract attention... satyagrahas [passive resistance], non-violent actions and human chains have been made completely ineffective and delegitimised by the state and the media," says political scientist Aditya Nigam.