INDIA is in the midst of a familiar debate in the world: How far should a nation use force to protect the rule of law? The question has arisen because the Naxalites, the extreme leftists, have come to control almost one-sixth of the country where the civil administration had failed. Their place has come to be termed as the red corridor.
The central government has woken up to the challenge aimed at its authority rater late. The Naxalites, also called the Maoists, formed themselves into a political party in the late 1960s when India began to have problems with China. Formally, the communist party of India (Maoist) has declared a war against the state since 2004 and has indulged in violence here and there in a limited way.
Today, what can be called guerilla warfare, has gathered so much strength—and support—particularly in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and, to some extent, in Andhra Pradesh that the Naxalites have joined issue with the state publicly and defiantly. They stopped this week the Rajdhani Express in the midst of a jungle in West Bengal and detained the train for hours. Television channels were alerted to get endless publicity throughout the country.
A few days earlier, the Naxalites released a West Bengal police officer-in-charge with a paper pasted on his chest in bold letters, POW, meaning that they had let off a prisoner, taken during the war between the Naxalites and the state. In fact, this was their reply to New Delhi’s appeal to them to abjure violence, without surrendering their arms, and start a dialogue. The civil society is overwhelmingly against their methods which negate the creed of non-violence that Mahatma Gandhi employed to win freedom.
But the civil society generally agrees with their demand to improve the living conditions of a vast majority of people. (Twenty-two per cent of the country’s GDP is reportedly controlled by 20 per cent corporate houses). The society’s support on economic matters is turning into the Naxalites’ strength. Most people travelling in the hijacked train were “impressed” by the Naxalites’ protest and said so. The use of peaceful tactics was in a way meant to convey that they did not use violence indiscreetly.
The armed revolution to “liberate” the country and ousting of poverty are entirely different issues. The Naxalites have been able to confuse the two. One relates to the use of gun and the other to the development. That the different ruling parties have failed to implement the directive principles of the constitution to remove deprivation is absolutely correct. Yet, it is equally correct that democracy enjoins upon the people to pursue the rule of law, not violence. The Naxalites’ ideology that power emits from the barrel of the gun has been rejected again and again. An armed revolution does not fit into the nation’s ethos, however frustrating the democratic ways are.
The Naxalites are wrong when they believe that they have liberated one-sixth of the country. No doubt, they have given a better deal to the Adivasis, but the latter are also afraid to defy the Naxalites’ guns. And the state’s apparatus can neither give the Adivasis their livelihood, nor save their national resources which are being sold by carving out Special Economic Zones.
In fact, whatever the Naxalites are trying to convey is only hardening the intelligentsia’s opinion against them. Bullet cannot replace the ballot. If it were to happen, the state with unlimited bullets would have the last word. Why the state alone? Others can also pick up the guns. In fact, it is already taking place on a small scale in some parts of the country. What ultimately the Naxalites are re-emphasising is the theory of the survival of the fittest. Capitalism also preaches in the economic field that the weak have to go to the wall.
The central government which is fighting against the Naxalites is itself indulging in excesses. There are umpteen numbers of examples. The northeast is littered with them. The withdrawal of one lakh cases against adivasis recently indicates how the police had picked them up on petty theft, like cutting the wood. The women against whom the West Bengal government withdrew the cases to placate the Naxalites were above 75.
Violence was of little use in revolution in Hungary during World War II. Nationalism changed the complexion of that movement. In India, Mahatama Gandhi commended the bravery of revolutionaries and praised Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru who were hanged by the British, but differed with their methods. We have the example of Sikh militancy which lasted for a decade. It ended when people turned against those who were killing the innocent.
The adivasis and some others are taken in by the Naxalites in particular areas because of the atrocities committed against them and because of the forced alienation of their land. They were helpless. Nobody except the Naxalites reached them. When a landlord takes away a villager’s wife, keeps her in his house to sexually abuse when he pleads with him for returning his wife and two of his children, what is he supposed to do?
This example can be multiplied. In most tribal areas such an atmosphere is prevailing. The objection is not against the protest raised by the Naxalites but the manner in which it is being done. The use of violence may give them a temporary victory in a limited area. But this is not revolution and nowhere near the ideology of Marxism which is a quest for justice. This has been convincingly elucidated in Tristram Hunt’s latest biography, Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels.
The two Indian communist parties have also said that Naxalites are not leftists, although the two praise Stalin who killed millions of innocent. The ideology should not to be confused with force or the ambition to come to power without elections. You require people’s willing consent. Justice loses its purpose or purport when attained through force.
Violence in India can lead to such developments which may go out of hand. There are too many fissiparous tendencies. The outcome can be anything; dictatorship of the right or India’s disintegration. That the system needs to be changed does not have to be overstated. When even after 62 years of independence, two-thirds of people remain poor, the overhauling of the polity is essential.
Should the ballot box change it or the bullet is the question. True, the ballot box has done little. But the fault is also that of liberals. They got a chance in 1977 when the Jayaprakash Narayan movement with the slogan of parivartan (change) defeated the Congress in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections. It was a revolution indeed. And those who won wasted that opportunity.