[News] Rebel armies tap into popular grievances in India

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 4 16:02:07 EST 2007

Rebel armies tap into popular grievances in India

Jason Motlagh, Chronicle Foreign Service

Sunday, December 2, 2007

(12-02) 04:00 PST South Bastar, India -- Two 
years ago, Comrade Sunil spent his days studying 
in a school classroom and toiling in corn and 
rice fields in his ancestral village. But life 
abruptly changed one night after he returned to 
find his home torched and his older brother shot 
dead by a state-sponsored civilian militia on the 
pretext that he had been a rebel sympathizer.

Now, warming his hands by a campfire deep in the 
mountain jungles of southern Chhattisgarh state, 
the 18-year-old member of the People's Liberation 
Guerrilla Army promised never to give up the homemade rifle lying on his lap.

"The government does not care at all about the 
people here, and armed revolution is the only way 
to change this," said Sunil, who refused to give 
his real name. The movement "is getting stronger 
because they know we fight for them."

In the shadow of Bollywood and the info-tech 
boom, a little-known guerrilla war is being waged 
in at least 16 states across India by insurgents 
known as Naxalites. Estimated to have 20,000 
fighters backed by a network of tens of thousands 
of villagers, they control about one-fifth of 
India's forests and are active in 192 of the 
nation's 604 administrative districts. Currently, 
20 of India's 28 states are affected by 
separatist conflicts, with Naxalites fighting in 
about 16 states, according to the Institute for 
Conflict Management, a New Delhi think tank.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called these 
rebel armies "the single greatest security 
challenge ever faced by our country."

The word Naxalite comes from the West Bengal 
village of Naxalbari, where a rebellion against 
landowners broke out in 1967. After nearly being 
wiped out in the 1970s by security forces and 
waning popularity, the movement splintered into 
armed factions. The two largest groups, the 
People's War Group and the Maoist Communist 
Center, merged in 2004 to form a Maoist political 
organization called the Communist Party of India.

In the beginning, the Naxalites fought on behalf 
of the rural underclass against feudal 
landowners, but have since become adept at 
tapping into other popular grievances, said 
Srinivas Reddy, an expert on the Naxalite 
movement based in Hyderabad. One such grievance, 
Reddy pointed out, is the displacement of 
thousands of farmers by multinational companies 
intent on exploiting India's natural resources 
such as coal, timber and other minerals.

As a result, the guerrillas have opted to disrupt 
investment in resource-rich areas.

Posco, the South Korean steel company, planned to 
invest $12 billion in a new plant in Orissa 
state, potentially the largest foreign direct 
investment in the manufacturing sector. But 
Naxalite violence and local protests have kept 
the project at bay for nearly four years.

In five central states that account for about 85 
percent of the nation's coal reserves - India 
remains highly dependent on coal - rebels have 
blockaded railroad tracks, causing an energy 
shortage in those areas. In June, a two-day rebel 
blockade shut down key rail links, coal and 
mining operations, leading to losses of about 
$37.5 million in Jharkhand state, according to state officials.

"Naxalism puts almost half of India's total 
energy supply at serious political risk," said a 
recent report by the Institute for the Analysis 
of Global Security in Washington.

Economic warfare is part of a broader strategy to 
carve out so-called liberated zones in the next 
20 to 30 years that will become staging grounds 
for attacking major cities, rebel leaders say.

"This revolution will be carried out and 
completed through armed agrarian revolutionary 
war, encircling the cities ... and finally 
capturing them," Ganapathi, the secretary of the CPI, has said.

To be sure, most rebel-related violence occurs in 
remote areas inside the dense forest belt - 
sometimes referred to as the red corridor - that 
runs north from Chhattisgarh state to Nepal, 
where Naxalite rebels are consolidating their 
foothold among dirt-poor tribal communities, some analysts say.

"The Maoists have moved to fight in areas where 
there are almost complete administrative 
neglect," said Ajai Sahni, director of the 
Institute for Conflict Management, based in Delhi.

In March, a predawn raid on a police outpost in 
Rani Bodli in Chhattisgarh state left 55 security 
officers dead in a hail of gunfire and gas bombs. 
A new report by the Asian Center for Human 
Rights, a think tank based in New Delhi that 
monitors insurgent groups, said violence in 
Chhattisgarh accounted for 208 of 384 
conflict-related deaths - civilians, security 
forces and insurgents - between January and September.

On Oct. 27, guerrillas shot 19 people at a 
village cultural event, including the youngest 
son of the state's former chief minister, the 
latest in a series of attacks singling out 
government officials and their relatives.

Analysts say it is no coincidence the guerrilla 
strength is concentrated in Jharkhand, 
Chhattisgarh and other poor Indian states such as 
Bihar, Orissa, and rural areas of Andhra Pradesh 
and Maharashtra - where poverty and high 
illiteracy rates among tribal and lower-caste 
groups offer fertile ground for recruitment.

The absence of trained security forces has also 
emboldened the Naxalites to switch from 
hit-and-run strikes to "swarming attacks" 
reminiscent of their Maoist counterparts in Nepal, according to Sahni.

Capt. Rajesh Pawar, a veteran of 
counterinsurgency operations, underscored the 
lack of manpower and munitions, saying at least 
twice as many men are needed than the 10,000 men he has to secure the region.

More important, Pawar says, soldiers must be 
trained to fight a guerrilla war. "The Indian 
army is not prepared for this," he said, standing 
by a roadside depression where a Naxalite land 
mine killed three of his men earlier this year.

Critics say the Chhattisgarh government's 
decision in 2005 to turn to civilian militias - 
often no more than rifle-toting teenagers - has 
been a huge mistake. A July report by the Asian 
Indigenous and Tribal People's Network, an 
alliance of rights organizations in New Delhi, 
says the so-called Salwa Judum (peace movement) 
militias are guilty of rape, extrajudicial 
killings, burning villages to the ground and 
forcing about 50,000 tribal villagers into nearly 
two dozen makeshift refugee camps of mud walls and sheet-metal roof barracks.

Dornapal, the largest refugee camp, is home to 
more than 17,000 tribal villagers who live under 
the supervision of police and militia members.

"We are scared to go back to our homes," said 
Kumar, a refugee who refused to give his last 
name for fear of reprisals. "The Naxalites come 
at night and the militia come by day. They both threaten us."

Back in the rebel's camp, a group of 30 soldiers 
belt out the daily war cry: "Long live the Maoist 
revolution, Long live those who died for the 
revolution, Down with Salwa Judum." The cadres 
then split into groups of six to conduct 
village-to-village patrols. Two hours later, in a 
quiet hamlet, farmer Gani Ram Baghel poured his 
guests palm-leaf cups of a milky liquid made from mashed corn and rice.

"We don't want to fight or leave our homes," 
Baghel said. "We only want to live like we always have, a natural life."

Comrade Sunil, however, does not share that 
sentiment, saying he won't be returning to his life as a farmer anytime soon.

"I am prepared to stay out here and fight like 
this for the rest of my life," he said, while a 
dozen other guerrillas nodded in agreement.


This article appeared on page A - 17 of the San Francisco Chronicle

I was studying in the 9th standard in
Kolkata. My teacher was a CPI member
and my two maternal uncles were very
active in the CPI. It was then, at that young
age that I was introduced to Marxism; I read
Emile burns ‘What is Marxism’. The reports
of the Tebhaga movement inspired me
much. In those days communism was very
popular amongst the workers and petitbourgeoisie.

That was the years 1957 to
1960. Any communist was treated with
much respect. In 1957 a batch of students
propagated for the CPI candidate Narayan
Rai who was implicated in the Alipore
conspiracy case. I was part of that group.

My mother very much encouraged me. She
was involved in the agitation in Kolkota in
support of the Tebhaga movement that was
fired upon. I have been active since 1957.

At that time my family economic
conditions were not good, so while
studying, I had to also support the family.
In college, I was a member of the SFI. When
the leadership came back after meeting
Stalin they put forward a Strategy and
Tactical Line which was basically
supported by the CPI(M). An alternative
group of cadres (supported by as section
of the leadership) circulated a document
clandestinely in the party that gave more
stress to agrarian revolution. Today there
are still groups that distribute this
alternative line. It was even distributed at
the 30-year Naxalbari celebrations.

There was a debate on Tehbhaga
movement; the general view was that the
struggle was economist and merely raised
the demand for the peasants to get two-thirds
share of the produce. But in the
course of the struggle the landless
peasants raised the slogan of seizure of
power, particularly in North Bengal. The
Suderbands was a major centre of the
Tehbhaga movement and a doctor was the
leader who became a legendary figure.

With the China conflict, a fierce two-line
struggle began in the party fallowing
the debate between China and the USSR in
the International Communist Movement.
Some supported Khrushchev revisionism
and some opposed. During the India-China
war all CPM cadre were arrested; CPI cadre
were also arrested but then released. Terror
was unleashed against the communists and
hysteria whipped up against China.

Nationalism was whipped up with the
slogan: counter China, counter
Communism. We introduced the debate that
a socialist country does not attack another

But, by Oct.1966 a big food crisis hit
the country and there was no kerosene
available to cook food. We organized the
students and launched a struggle for food
and kerosene; this we started from the
suburbs of Kolkata, from the Barasath area.

Police opened fire and one student was
killed. But the movement spread. Then,
there was a massive upsurge against the
government and the goons were thrashed.

There was firing and tear gas attacks on
the people on a large scale in Kolkata and
all suburban areas. There were regular
pitched battles with the police. The military
was called in and they too began operations
against the movement. It was like a huge
urban uprising with massive people’s
support; people came out of their houses
offering water to the agitating people.

Finally the government accepted all the
demands and also released all the political

In 1966 the CPM leaders came out of
jail said there was no need for violence and
we will force the government to hold
elections. Elections were held in 1967 and
the United Front government came to
power. The CPM said, if voted to power it
will bring a Bill that will give land to the
tiller and factories to the workers.

By then I joined a government job in
1967 and was part of a worker’s cell of the
party. From 1967, for about three years there
was a massive worker’ s movement and the
‘Gherao’ form of struggle became their
most effective weapon. The CPM opposed
the worker’s militancy.

It was amidst this general peoples
upsurge that in May 1967 the Naxalbari
Upraising broke out. This became a turning
point. Many comrades form the CPI and
CPM supported the movement; but much
of the leadership said it was anarchy,
putschism. Pramode Das Gupta said Charu
Majumdar was mad and someone must
restrain him. After Naxalbari, the two-line
struggle came to the forefront. Then the
Naxalbari Krishak Sangram Samiti was
formed and all revolutionaries joined it. All
the youth, particularly the working class
responded enthusiastically. Students
joined in huge numbers. The flames of
Naxalbari spread all over the country. Then
the AICCCR was formed. In this there was
a big debate on whether to form mass
organizations. Lot of small journals
participated in the debate. The Asit Sen and
Parimal Das Gupta lines were defeated.
I was with the Lal Jhanda Group, which
had comrades like Phani Bagchi as leaders.

There was massive support and money was
never a problem. In 1969 there was a
massive land movement. Crop seizures
were taking place on a gigantic scale and
the CPM could not oppose it in its bid to
befool the people. During this period most
of the wasteland and ceiling land was

At this juncture, there was a very
powerful legal trade union movement but it
was not oriented towards the rural area or
armed struggle. The youth were going
enmass for the armed struggle. But there
was no concrete plan for it. The cardinal
question was how to reorient all these
movements for the armed struggle. The
AICCCR call to go to the rural areas resulted
in thousands of youth from every district
going to the rural areas.

Everywhere there was debate chiefly on
what stand to take in the Great Debate and
the GPCR. There were huge processions
every day in Kolkota against the war in
Vietnam. When the President of the World
Bank, Robert McNamara, visited Kolkota
he had to be taken form the airport in a

During the Bidhan Roy government and
the severe food crisis, the CPI had formed
an anti-famine committee. To press the
government for food there was a massive
rally in Kolkota. The CRPF was deployed
to stop people from entering; yet lakhs
came. There was a lathi-charge, tear gas
and police firing — 81 died on the spot and
hundreds were wounded. It was like
Jallianwalla bagh. Charu Mazumdar had
later said it was wrong to have mobilized rural
people to Kolkota. It was important to mobilize
people for struggles in their own areas. There
was talk of developing squad actions against
jotedars, but a real plan was given on how to
build the struggle for the seizure of power
and develop the peoples’ army.

Meanwhile the armed struggles
developed and there was need to lead
them. The AICCCR was insufficient. The
need for forming a party was felt. Within
the AICCCR most did not even know that a
party was to be formed. It was suddenly
announced at a rally May 1st 1969. Even
Asit Sen who was leading the rally was not
aware that the party formation would be

Many workers supported the movement
and some also went to the rural areas. The
Gherao movement continued. Many came
out of the revisionist trade unions and
formed groups within the factories in
support of Naxalbari and the CPI (ML). Party
cells were also formed. But there was not
much consolidations as attention was not
given to organizational forms. Higher level
party committees were formed but nothing
below (what we call ACs today).

The students went to the rural areas in
large numbers in all districts of West Bengal
and made investigations and found out the
jotedars. They formed squads to annihilate
them. In the first stage they tried to integrate
with the people. But later the line developed
for squad action directly. It was thought
that this would automatically lead to the
formation of the PLA. It was thought that
this was the only revolutionary form in the
rural areas. It was not thought as we think
today. These youth dared to do anything;
the political commitment was immense.

They even went outside the state. From
the students many leaders developed. It
had a positive impact on the rural people
as they took revolutionary politics to them.
But many felt that the declaration of the
formation of the PLA was premature. Some
came out of the party, but without alternative
activities; and some came out and formed
new groups. We also opposed this line in
the party. But then most were arrested.

There was the July 20th Vietnam rally
and after com. CM’s martyrdom, a one-page
issue of Deshbrati was printed and widely
distributed. Deshabrati, the Bengali organ
of the party was brought out clandestinely.
Initially 35,000 copies were brought out;
but later the mechanism broke down.

In Kolkota the idol smashing programme
started spontaneously. It was com Saroj
Dutta who theorized it. The massacres that
followed were helped by the CPM. One side
of the lane would be blocked by the CPM
and the Congress goons and police would
unleash the brutal killings. In the initial
phase the women would go to the police
station and get the youth released. There
was a big participation of women —
relatives of male comrades. Many went to
the villages, were in the squads; many were
in tech work doing couriering work. There
were one or two women who rose to district
level leadership.

By the time of the Bangladesh war the
movement was already in decline. After com
CM’s death I was with the Liberation group
led by Madhav Mukherjee in Bengal until
my arrest in end 1973. The person who was
to meet me was arrested the previous night.
I was in the custody of the Intelligence
Bureau for three months. Five conspiracy
cases were clamped on me. In the IB lock
up we were 15-16 comrades. We faced three
months of severe torture. But here we met
others arrested from various places. About
80% of those arrested surrendered to the
police. We began to re-think the wrong
policies; but it was difficult to hold
discussions with the comrades who had

Once in jail we formed the commune and
there were good discussions. And it was
through this process that we developed our
line. In the jail we studied, read poetry and
gave slogans. I was in three jails at different
times. In the Bardhwan jail there were 25 in
the commune; in the Hoogly jail 50 in the
commune; and in the Presidency jail there
were 1,000 Naxalites. Here each ward had a

In the jail there were two views. One
view was for staying with the common
prisoners; the other view to avail of the
class status of being educated comrades
and get that status. The first line was very
helpful” for jail breaks, couriering, getting
books, etc. On April 19th there was an alarm
to beat every one of us. I was kicked until I
became unconscious. This happened twice
in Presidency jail. In Hoogly jail we were illtreated
by the comrades as we opposed
the annihilation line and were isolated from
the commune.

We then developed relations with
others. When we came out of jail in July
1977 we tried to join the COC of Suniti
Kumar Ghosh for nine months. But we were
not successful. We were 12 comrades, ten
of whom were form jail, who formed the CPI
(ML) (Party Unity). We decided that without
activity no unity could be achieved. Of the
12, some went to Bihar; I went to Nadia
district of Bengal. And so the PU grew and
the rest of the history is known.

{As this interview was taken in 2001,
this was before the formation of the CPI
(Maoist). Com Ajayda went on to be a CC
member when the merged CPI (ML)(PW)
was formed and again when the
CPI(Maoist) was formed, until his


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