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The Maoist Versus The State Of India

By Prakash Kona

12 October, 2010

It is not Pakistan that is the Indian state’s biggest worry. It never was in fact. Not the “terrorists” in Kashmir or the separatists in the Northeast. These are issues that any state needs to give the government a legitimate reason for existing. If there were no “enemies” there would be no state either.

The thorn that dares to bleed the Indian body politic to death is the Maoists with their haunting vision of an agrarian utopia in this part of the earth achieved through barrel of the gun. The Maoist knows the Indian state like he knows himself. The so-called terrorist is after all a victim fighting for justice and is susceptible to emotions like home, family and nation. With the Maoist it is more than that. He seeks to wage a relentless war against the state and its machinery at every level. Neither family nor nation stands in the way of the utopia. He is guided by ideology – an ideology that has no place for pity and compassion because it seeks to put an end to that embodiment of absolute injustice called the state. A relentless state has a relentless enemy – the enemy that speaks the language of the state and is merciless when it has the opportunity to be so. That enemy is the Maoist who wishes to destroy the government by turning it into an insomniac that has gone mad chasing shadows melting in the bitter heat of collision.
I’m sure there are diverse groups within the extreme left but I took the liberty of bracketing them under the term Maoists since more or less the fundamental aim of every one of these groups is the overthrow of the state and the means to that being armed insurrection. The rural landless poor, tribals in the forests, the utterly exploited and physically suppressed through violence of every imaginable sort form the base of the Maoists in India.

Maoism is a reality and Maoists are real. It’s like those heads of Ravana in Ramayan that keep coming back no matter how many times they are destroyed. Ravana must be shot in the heart and not in the head. If Maoism is a problem the heart of the problem is social injustice. As long as injustice exists Maoism’s hundreds of heads will continue to resurge much to the vexation of politicians, police and the army. The terrible neglect of villages and repression of tribals has made Maoism a force to be reckoned with.
Maoism like all forms of resistance has a context in this country. The middle classes don’t like the sound of the word “communism” that they associate with atheism and poverty and eccentric intellectuals who are failures at the emotional and social level. Not the least communism in India means disturbing that age-old institution called caste system and oppression of women. Bollywood films are responsible for the image of the stereotypical communist something close to the angry young man created by Salim and Javed in the movies of 1970s except that the angry young man is an angry “middle class” young man who ends up embracing the system. That is not the context for the rise of Maoism that Manmohan Singh, the bookish Prime Minister of India who knows all the facts but has no clue about reality, to his credit rightly recognized as the real danger in this country.

First and foremost, the police and the army are more to be dreaded than the most violent law-breaker because their power addiction knows no limits. It is addiction to mental violence that makes it possible for them to be physically violent as well. I see policemen on the streets. The way they behave with hawkers, street vendors, autorickshawwallahs and the other poor loitering on streets for lack of anything better – the absolute sadism of it – in an instant you know where Maoism gets its constituency from. Maoism is a real alternative to state-certified violence. To the brick the Maoist responds with a stone.

I’m not a rightist, leftist or centrist. I’m not an atheist or theist or agnostic. I’m not disturbed, confused or lost. I’m an ordinary person seeking clarification for a few doubts that bother me. How is that Mukesh Ambani can have a house worth two billion dollars while the poor on streets are not worthy of a roof on their heads? The moral is that in India you got to be a big criminal. You can’t be a small criminal. The small criminals are beaten to death or lynched by poor self-hating fools who have no other way of expressing their powerlessness as it happens in backward states like Bihar and UP. Big criminals like Mukesh Ambani appear in Forbes magazine which is a magazine for big criminals by the way. They’re heroes in this country. It means robbery works. You just have to rob so much that no one can touch you and you’re beyond the law. How can you respect a system that gives respectability to criminals merely because they’re big businessmen! This is the context to Maoism.

Liberalization has meant growth in some sectors. Not distribution of wealth that would lead to a healthy society. Even in dictatorships there is growth where one person or a small group has the whole nation at its disposal. But that is not development. Development is about all-round growth in every sector compatible with cultural needs and sharing the resources of the nation. It means growth not just in IT sector or telecommunications but also in food, agriculture and industry. Most importantly development means that common people are not subjected to violence of relentless private owners. That is not the development we’re seeing in India. Not all wild animals think like men except in Hollywood/Bollywood imagination which reflects the worldview of a certain section of people who don’t fit in the category called “human.”

Such is the inhumanity of global capitalism that if there is one last drop of blood in your body they would not hesitate to sell and make profit out of it. You toil and sweat every day of your life and you barely manage to survive at the end of your life! You play a few games for the Indian Premier League and you’ve a million dollars or more, enough for you to retire and holiday for the rest of your life! If I were poor I would be ashamed to call myself Indian. The shameless elites of this country, the slavish middle classes, the equally shameless media, they’re the true enemies of the poor.

Public opinion and collective memory are the two weapons we’ve in this country to fight fascism. There are enough deadly cobras and vipers in every political party without exception especially the right-wing nationalists who are determined to destroy this country. The media wants to shape public opinion to suit big business and erase collective memory by keeping people occupied thinking about cricket rather than their lives. Media fascism is the most dangerous of all forms of fascism. I’ve no doubt that there are individual journalists and reporters who are honest, patriotic, and conscientious and who go out of the way to bring the truth to the people. I may disagree with them at times but they’ve my genuine admiration and respect because I know how hard it is to tell the truth in a country like India where lying can be a way of life. That does not however excuse the fact that the media by and large is a part of crimes committed against common people in India.

The rise of the BJP in particular Narendra Modi in Gujarat is an instance of what can happen when people are drugged with lies. This is exactly how the Nazis rose to power. First come the economic crises and a large section of people are unemployed and without means of basic survival. Then, a sense of powerlessness along with a sense of doom that the world all around you is crumbling to pieces. Third, an imaginary enemy (the Jew in Europe and the Muslim in India. Also, the lower castes and the rural landless poor as in the case of the North Indians in Bombay targeted by Raj Thackeray). Last, but not least, institutionalized violence where the government joins the mobs resulting in fascism.

The Maoist is a utopian like the Jihadist except that earth is his heaven. No one chooses to die because he or she is tired of life. It’s the pain of injustice that pushes a man or woman to prefer fight dying than living in agony and experiencing slow death. Where there is injustice people will fight. The ways in which they fight may be different. In that sense Maoist extremism is a response to state extremism.

What sort of a world order will the Maoists create is the issue here. Revolutions stagnate with power and revolutionaries become defenders of the establishment. In fact they become an establishment unto themselves as in the case of Fidel Castro with Fidel equating himself with the state of Cuba. If history is any example I seriously don’t think that the Maoists will be particularly different in this respect. Utopias have been the sources of endless bloodshed that make human cruelty seem completely reasonable as in the case of Pol Pot and the Soviet Union under Stalin. A vicious “wild animal” state favors the Maoist. In a more benign social order people would naturally dissociate themselves from violence and be unwilling to compromise on the loss of civil liberties no matter how profound the cause. People would rather stay poor than exist without freedom. Saint Augustine says: “The purpose of all wars, is peace.” The point is that even the war-monger needs peace. The need to make peace is more natural to a human being than the need to go to war.

The line that separates idealism from fanaticism is almost invisible. Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago touches on this side of a revolution. The young idealist Pasha Antipov becomes a fanatic – an infamous executor of “traitors” - after the revolution eventually committing suicide, aware that the revolution has failed him as much as he has failed the revolution. Yeats’ poem “The Great Day” also deals with the failed idealism of revolutions and not without a bit of irony because ultimately one hierarchy ends up being replaced by another.

Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

In essence, the Maoists are confronting the state and not subverting it. Confrontation here means a head-on collision based on guerilla warfare with a powerful and illegitimate state. The illegitimacy of the state is obvious to the Maoist. In a direct confrontation everything is black and white. There is no gray area. The enemy is conspicuous. Subversion is when you reach out to the masses to educate them and create the conditions to expose the state as being illegitimate. It’s a slower and more dangerous process and works with the effectiveness of arsenic to destroy the enemy. This is why the confrontation of the Maoist is preferred by the state to subversion. In subversion the enemy is within the state. He or she works for the state as an active citizen but does everything possible to pull the state down. The Maoist and the state are in a perpetual struggle and given the might of the state in terms of weapons and the consent of the majority it seems impossible for the Maoist to succeed apart from causing a dent here and there.

Bourgeois society is built on hurt. Somebody wins but so many lose. People have to crush their souls to satisfy parents and neighbors and peer groups forcing themselves to live up to those false images we see on television. Not everyone who “succeeds” is happy about it. Not everyone rich is happy with the wealth that comes from exploitation. Not everyone is proud to be an “image” at the end of the day. People with no morality themselves do the moral policing. Love is built on what others think that you possess not because you’re worthy of it. Sensitive and individualistic people suffer and resort to various ways of self-destruction through alcohol, drugs etc.
Subversion plays on this terrible emotional unhappiness and spiritual vacuum that is the result of bourgeois life. Such people must be convinced of the meaninglessness of bourgeois society and the fact that there is an alternative to this meaninglessness. Maoism can never achieve this. That’s where it fails as a revolutionary discourse. It relies too much on the bullet. A person who believes that this system is illegitimate and exists to serve the powerful is more dangerous than the most powerful weapon on earth. With eleven disciples it took the teaching of Christ four hundred years to overthrow the evil Roman Empire. What Christ gave the world was only an idea – an idea that subverted the enemies and ultimately rendered them powerless.

The idea is that the most powerful state on earth is just made of men – ordinary men with ordinary thoughts and ordinary feelings. When these ordinary men project themselves as extraordinary and manage to convince the people that they are, the Hitler phenomenon is born and the state becomes an evil force with the complicity of the person-on-the-street. The German state was fascist because that’s what the German people had become. The Indian state is classist, casteist and patriarchal because that’s what Indians are.

People need to be convinced that everyone needs modern education, health care and a life that has space for innovation and change. The young need basic rights to choose what is best for them. We need clean water and more trees. These things are possible – that’s what we need to be convinced of if only we believed that what this country needs is not a few billionaires but collective wealth. The kind of class disparity that we see in India is a sign that there are two Indias – one for the rich and the other for the poor.

What I tried to offer is a context to Maoism and why it poses a threat to the Indian state. I don’t justify the means of the Maoist though I relate to most of the things they’re fighting for beginning with redistribution of land. Ken Loach’s seriously engaging movie “Land and Freedom” about the Spanish Civil War connects the idea of freedom with land. Malcolm X pointed out that all revolutions on earth are about land. In the same breath I say: this land is ours. This country is ours. In all its beauty and its ugliness. It does not belong to imperialists and colonialists. In all its sweetness and repulsiveness. It does not belong to wolves like the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis and foxes like the Thackerays and Advanis and Gowda and his sons whose claws go deep into the flesh of this sad and beautiful country. In all its brutality and compassion. Not to the armies and the police. Not to politicians and the governments. It belongs to the poorest of the poor whose labor goes each day to make life worthwhile in this country. This land is ours. Ours it will remain. “Let the doors close on forced labor never to open again./Let man stop enslaving man; this cry is ours./ To live alone, like a tree and free like a forest as brothers together,/ This longing is ours” (Nazim Hikmet).

Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently working as an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.