[News] India - Who are India’s Maoists, and What Do They Want?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 2 10:56:21 EDT 2010

are India’s Maoists, and What Do They Want?


Rita Khanna

This is meant to be a simple and brief exposition 
of the goals and strategies of the Maoist 
movement in India for people who may not have 
much awareness about it and are confused by the 
propaganda in the mainstream media. This does not 
go into the arcane debates about mode of 
production in India, the debates among communist 
revolutionaries over strategy and tactics etc. 
This aims at people who, for example, are 
perplexed why the Maoists, instead of trying to 
ensure safe drinking water like an NGO, rather, 
often resort to violent activities against the Government.

The Indian government is launching a full-scale 
war against the Maoist rebels and the people led 
by them in different parts of the country. The 
initial battles, without any formal announcement, 
have already started. For this purpose, they 
intend to deploy about 75,000 security personnel 
[the current figure is over 200,000] in parts of 
Central and Eastern India, including 
Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. The 
government will organize its regular air-force in 
addition to paramilitary and specially trained 
COBRA forces. The air-force has begun to extend its logistic support.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister 
P. Chidambaram have declared the Maoist rebels to 
be ‘the biggest internal security threat’ to 
India and a hindrance to ‘development’. The 
mainstream media seem to have taken them at their 
face value. Their publications and television 
programmes seem to be building a war-hysteria 
against the Maoist rebels regardless of the fact 
that this attack by the government will be 
directed against some of the most deprived of the 
Indian people. Indeed this is turning into a war 
of the state against its own people!

While paying lip service at times to the notion 
that the current people’s insurgency led by the 
Maoist rebels has its root in decades of vicious 
exploitation of the poor, especially the dalits 
and tribals, the blare of government propaganda 
tries to convince us that the Maoist rebels are 
dangerous, blood-thirsty terrorists determined to 
establish their areas of influence. The 
Government is preaching that the Maoists can go 
to any extent to maintain their influence in 
these areas – by either preventing the government 
from undertaking development activities or using 
the power of their guns, killing disobedient 
individuals. Their ideology is to terrorise the 
common people, wrest power from the 
democratically elected governments and destroy 
the entire fabric of the society.

The government and the media want us to believe 
that the only people, apart from a few romantic 
misguided intellectuals, who willingly support 
Maoists are the poor, ignorant, uneducated, 
uninformed tribal people. They seem to claim that 
no sensible, intelligent person living in a 
society like ours would support them voluntarily. But is this a true picture?

Could it be that the Maoist rebels are supporting 
and organizing the poor, exploited people to 
fight oppression, to establish a more egalitarian 
society where the wealth of our growing economy 
will be spread among all, not merely among a very 
small minority? Could it be that in the name of 
suppressing the Maoists, the state is going all 
out to break the backbone of these poor peoples’ 
fight? Could it be that the government is 
planning to wage a war, in our name, against our 
own sisters and brothers to help line the pockets of the rich?

In this hour of crisis, we must ask those 
questions that the government seeks to suppress.

What do we really know about the Maoist rebels, 
their ideology, their plans and programs? Why 
does the government need to go to war against its 
own people and inside its own territory? Are the 
Maoists really blocking development? Who are 
these Maoists anyway and what do they want?

Let us take one question at a time.

Who are these Maoists?

The Maoists are revolutionaries mainly consisting 
of the extremely poor people including a large 
number of dalits and tribals. They come mainly 
from the toiling masses of India and they are 
trying to organize the vast population of such 
masses of this country. They seek to arm and 
train them so that these masses can resist the 
onslaught of the rich. In this effort they go 
beyond the idea that mass movements should focus 
on some specific issues like increase of wages, 
better health care, more honesty of public servants and so forth.

The view of the Maoist rebels is that the poor 
and exploited people must first and foremost 
establish their own democratic political power 
and their own state power in various places. This 
is because without controlling state power, the 
poor and the exploited can at most hope for only 
limited improvements in their living conditions, 
i.e., so long as it does not inconvenience the 
rich who usually control the state power. So, the 
Maoists mobilize the poor to fight against the 
existing state, even armed fight if possible, as 
they consider the existing state to be a set of 
agents acting for the big multinational 
corporations, rich landlords and the wealthy in general.

The fight is an extremely challenging and unequal 
one as the rich are aided by the government 
bureaucrats, the police and even the military. 
Also, contrary to what the Government and the 
mainstream media are propagating, the Maoist 
rebels are actually completely opposed to 
individual killings, they openly denigrate such 
stray terrorism-like acts. What they have been 
attempting to build up is a mass movement, even 
armed, to take on the violence of the ruling 
classes and its representative state machinery.

The Maoist movement was born in India in the late 
1960s, after a radical section of political 
workers broke away mainly from the Communist 
Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) because they felt 
the CPIM and other such parties like CPI, RSP, 
etc. had discredited themselves with their 
opportunist politics of placating and 
compromising with the rich. The movement has a 
long history of development. The present party, 
CPI (Maoist), came into being in 2004 by the 
merger of a number of fraternal organizations.

Is development in India arrested because the Maoist rebels are blocking it?

What is the state of the people of India at 
present? With its current high rate of growth, 
this is also a country of abject poverty and 
extreme inequality. Home to 24 billionaires 
(second largest in Asia according to Forbes), 
India can also boast of 230 million people who go 
to bed on a half empty stomach (World Hunger Report).

A country whose economy grows at 9% cannot feed 
its own population – at least 50% of the people 
live below the official poverty line and 47% of 
children below the age of three are underweight 
(World Bank report, Undernourished children: A 
call for reform and action). In this so called 
‘hub of knowledge economy’, only 11% of the total 
population can afford higher education and 50% of 
the students drop out before class eight to start 
living as casual labourers (Education Statistics, 
Ministry of Human Resource Development). This is 
true of most of India not just the areas where 
Maoist influence and control is high. Then how 
can we say that development in India is being blocked by Maoists?

Maoists do not oppose ‘development’ at all, they 
only oppose the ‘pro-rich development’ at the 
expense of destitution or often total destruction 
of the poor. For example, in Dandakaranya region 
of Chhattisgarh they oppose setting up of 
helipads but there, the poor themselves, led by 
the Maoist rebels, have built irrigation tanks 
and wells for help in agriculture something the 
Indian government did not bother to do. The 
Indian government routinely blames the Maoist 
rebels that they blow up schools! But what the 
Government tries to suppress is that these 
blown-up school buildings were actually being 
used or requisitioned to become camps for security personnel!

And what changes do they want? Why do they want these changes?

(1) Overhauling the entire structure of oppression instead of piecemeal reforms

In addition to all the woes described above, 
India is also a country, where thousands of 
Muslims can be butchered in broad daylight by 
fascist Hindu forces (the most widespread and 
gruesome such pogrom in recent times happened in 
Gujarat in 2002), while the ministers and police 
look the other way. And these features are not 
stray results of the misdeeds of a few villains. 
The existing socio-political system in India has 
a built-in mechanism which ensures that the 
common masses would be oppressed by a rich and 
powerful few. Widespread systemic violence is 
required and is routinely applied by the Indian 
state so that common people remain disciplined 
and do not revolt in the face of oppression.

(2) Land to the tillers and destruction of the landlord class

About 60% of the Indian population is still 
dependent on agriculture. However the primary 
input, land, is predominantly concentrated in the 
hands of a few landlords and big farmers. Close 
to 60 percent of rural households are effectively 
landless [NSS report]. The elite in the villages, 
by their collusion with the corrupt politicians 
and bureaucrats have blocked any meaningful land 
reforms. In the last four decades the proportion 
of households with little or no land (landless 
and marginal farmer households) has increased 
steadily from 66% to 80%. On the other hand the 
top ten percent rural households own more land 
now than in 1951 (Source: NSS report).The Maoist 
revolutionaries want to change this to ensure 
equitable distribution of land. They do not deter 
from collective armed fight of the landless and 
poor peasants and the poor rural labourers 
against the existing state power for achieving this goal.

(3) Freedom from moneylenders and traders

Indebtedness in rural India has been increasing 
by leaps and bounds especially in the recent 
decades. Public rural banks are closing down due 
to relaxation of government regulation. 
Therefore, instead of securing credits from 
public institutional sources, rural folk are now 
being forced to approach the village money 
lenders (who are often big landlords or rich 
farmers as well) on a larger and larger scale. 
Unscrupulous traders are adding to the misery of 
the poor peasants. They sell spurious inputs to 
small and marginal peasants at exorbitant prices. 
They also make huge profits by buying their 
harvest at throwaway prices and selling them in urban areas at a premium.

Not-so-well-off peasants, in this no-win 
situation, of course end up needing substantial 
credit. Private moneylenders and various 
for-profit financial companies take advantage of 
this situation by extracting enormous sums from 
peasants. Interest rate could be as high as 5% 
per month. The BBC News reported that more than 
200,000 farmers have committed suicide in India 
since 1997 under the pressure of such 
indebtedness. The Maoist rebels want to change this.

(4) End of caste system and eradication of untouchability

It is well known that the caste system is still 
thriving in India. Economically it keeps the 
overwhelming majority of the people in dire 
poverty and politically it suppresses their 
fundamental democratic rights. Often the lower 
castes are robbed of their human dignity. They 
are even denied access to public facilities like 
some sources of drinking water, schools etc. An 
expert group of the planning commission reports 
that in 70% villages lower caste people cannot 
enter places of worship and in more than 50% 
villages they don’t have access to common water 
committee report to the Planning Commission).

According to an NCDHR report, on average, 27 
atrocities (including murder, abduction and rape) 
against dalits take place every day. The well-off 
landed sections in the villages still come mainly 
from the upper castes. They use brahminical 
ideology to try to keep all other sections of the 
population under domination. The same is true for 
usurers, merchants, hoarders, quarry owners, 
contractors-all mainly come from the upper 
castes. In short, the upper castes are still very 
much in command in all aspects of rural life. 
Often with their own private army of goondas they 
run a parallel raj. The Maoists want to break 
this stranglehold of the upper castes and ensure 
equal rights for dalits and adivasis.

(5) Freedom from exploitation by foreign multinationals and its local partners

Since 1991, foreign capital in alliance with big 
capitalists like Reliance, Tata and state 
bureaucrats, has penetrated vast sectors of the 
Indian economy. Every sphere of our life, 
starting from road construction, electricity 
generation, communication networks to food 
retail, health and education are under direct 
control of this coterie. In the name of 
‘development’ thousands of acres of land are 
being transferred to big business and 
multinationals. For example, in Bastar, 
Chattisgarh, in the name of Bodh Ghat dam, tens 
of thousands of Adivasis are being forcibly 
evicted from their “jal-jangal-zameen” 
(water-forest-land). In Niyamgiri, Orissa the 
land which is the abode of several Dongria tribes 
has been handed over to the multinational Vedanta 
group which will completely destroy the 
livelihood of these tribes affecting more than 
20,000 people. The state government and the 
mainstream opposition parties of the state are 
actively supporting such activities. The Maoists, 
over the years, have been resisting such plunder.

(6) Ensuring people’s democratic rights

It is well known that elections are often a sham 
in India. The parliament, as we have seen several 
times, is a bazaar where the rich and the 
super-rich can buy the MPs. According to ADR 
(Association of Democratic Reform), the average 
asset of an MP has gone up to 5.12 crore in 2009 
from Rs 1.8 crore in 2004. In our democracy the 
erstwhile rajas and maharajas, like Scindias, are 
still proliferating and controlling the local 
economy and polity at many places.

And we also know the state of judicial system in 
our country. Salman Khans and Sanjeev Nandas can 
kill by running cars over common people and still 
they can escape the law for very long, perhaps 
forever. B.N. Kirpal, the judge, who arbitrarily 
ordered that Indian rivers be interlinked, 
ignoring the resulting ecological and human 
calamity, joined the environmental board of 
Coca-Cola after he retired. The Maoists want to 
establish people’s court where poor people can 
get true justice. In fact, such courts run in 
many places where the Maoist movement is strong.

(7) Self-determination for the nationalities

The Indian government ruthlessly suppresses 
national aspirations of a number of people. These 
people and their land became part of India by 
accident – because the British raj annexed their 
homeland or a despotic king wanted their land to 
be a part of India. Lakhs of Indian troops have 
been deployed in Kashmir and north-eastern states 
to curb such struggles of the people in these 
states for their national self-determination. 
Since 1958, AFSPA has been imposed in 
north-eastern states, which allows armed forces 
to conduct search and seizure without warrant, to 
arrest without warrant, to destroy any house 
without any verification and to shoot to kill 
with full impunity. In Kashmir, there is 1 
military personnel for every 15 civilian. Cold 
blooded murders, like those of Thangjam Manorama 
Devi, Chungkham Sanjit, Neelofar and Asiya Jan, 
are carried out frequently in the name of 
‘countering terrorism’. The Maoist rebels seek to 
establish freedom of self determination for all nationalities.

So, to sum up, the new society the Maoists want 
to establish will have the following components:

-Land to the poor and landless. Later on 
cooperative farming is to be established on voluntary basis.

-Forest to the tribal people.

-End of rule of the rich and the upper caste in 
villages and uprooting of caste system. Uproot 
all discriminations based on gender and religion.

-Seizure of the ill gotten wealth and assets of 
multinational corporations and their local Indian partners.

-Self determination for the nationalities, political autonomy for the tribes.

-Establish a state by the poor, for the poor 
where the present day exploiters would be expropriated.

-Participation of people in day to day 
administrative work and decision making. 
Democracy at the true grassroot level with people 
having the power to recall its democratic representatives.

In summary: ensuring that all types of freedom, 
rights and democracy for all sections of toiling masses.

What have the Maoists-led people’s struggles achieved so far?

Information in this section is taken, purposely, 
expert group report to the planning commission, which is available on the web.

Contrary to what the media try to portray, the 
government’s own report says that the movement 
led by the Maoist rebels cannot be seen as simply 
blowing up of police stations and killing 
individual people. It encompasses mass 
organization. Mass participation in militant 
protest has always been a characteristic of such mobilisation.

Although the Maoists by their own admission are 
engaged in a long term people’s struggle against 
the oppression by the present India state, their 
movement has already achieved some short term 
successes in improving the condition of the poor people.

Maoist movement in India was built around the 
demand of ‘land to the tillers’. Numerous 
struggles, led by the Maoists, have been fought 
all over the country especially in Andhra 
Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, to free land from 
the big landholding families. In many such cases 
landlords have been driven away from the villages 
and their land has been put in the possession of 
the landless poor. But the police and 
paramilitary do not allow the poor to cultivate 
such lands. In Bihar, landless Musahars, the 
lowest among the Dalits have struggled and have 
taken possession of fallow Government land. This 
has had the support of Maoists.

Under the leadership of the Maoists the adivasis 
have reclaimed forest land on an extensive scale 
in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, the Vidarbha 
region of Maharashtra, Orissa and Jharkhand. The 
adivasis displaced by irrigation projects in 
Orissa had to migrate to the forests of 
Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh in large 
numbers. The forest department officials harassed 
and evicted them on a regular basis. The movement 
led by the Maoists put an end to this.

In rural India the Minimum Wages Act remains an 
act on paper only. In the forest areas of Andhra 
Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, and 
Jharkhand, non-payment of the legal wages was a 
major source of exploitation of adivasi labourer. 
Maoists-led struggles have put an effective end 
to it. These struggles have secured increases in 
the rate of payment for picking tendu leaves 
(used for rolling beedies), washing clothes, 
making pots, tending cattle, repairing implements 
etc. The exploitation previously had been so 
severe that as a result of the sustained movement 
led by Maoists the pay rates of tendu leaves 
collection have over the years increased by fifty times.

The movement has given confidence to the 
oppressed to assert their rights and demand 
respect and dignity from the dominant castes and 
classes. The everyday humiliation and sexual 
exploitation of labouring women of dalit and 
tribal communities by upper caste men has been 
successfully fought. Forced labour, begari, by 
which the toiling castes had to provide 
obligatory service for free to the upper castes 
was also put an end to in many parts of the country.

In rural India, disputes are commonly taken to 
the rich and powerful of the village (who are 
generally the landlords) and caste panchayats, 
where the dispensation of justice is in favour of 
the rich and powerful. The Maoist movement has 
provided a mechanism, usually described as the 
‘People’s Court’ whereby these disputes are 
resolved in the interests of the wronged party.

Why then, does the government need to go to war 
against its own people led by these rebels 
instead of hailing them as true patriots?

There is a simple answer. Chattisgarh, Orissa are 
rich in mineral wealth that can be sold to the 
highest multinational bidder. The only obstacle 
standing between the corrupt politicians and ALL 
THIS MONEY are the poor, disenfranchised tribal 
people (and the Maoists leading them). So, this 
war. This is not something new in India or for 
that matter in other parts of the world. Mobutu’s 
corrupt regime selling off the Belgian Congo 
piece by piece to the US, Belgium and other 
countries comes to mind. In the sixty years of 
independence from direct colonial rule, the 
Indian state has been doing the same. It has 
systematically impoverished the overwhelming 
majority to serve the interest of a powerful few and their foreign friends.

The impending war to evict the tribal people from 
their villages, in the pretext of eliminating the 
Maoists, will be fought at the behest of big 
corporations, who want to control and plunder our 
resources such as mineral, water and forest. It 
is high time that we recognize this pattern of 
waging war which will be fought by the poor on 
both sides, but will benefit only the big 
capitalists and their cheerleaders in the government.

Notes, November 19, 2009

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