The recent spate of Maoist attacks – the killing of 76 security personnel (6 April) and over 35 civilians including Special Police Officers (SPO) (17 May) in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh – has considerably intensified the specter of Maoist violence in India. The latest Gyaneshwari train tragedy on 28 May in Maoist-affected West Midnapore district of West Bengal is yet to be investigated. The meticulous planning and brutality of the killings, seen as a sign of the success of Maoists, sparked debates over use of air power/force and further intensification of security operations being conducted by the state. At the same time, these killings also considerably dent the moral support amassed by the Maoists among the civil society at large, questioning the inexcusable killing of local villagers and tribals. How does one understand this violence against civilians in context of the broader goals of the Maoists as also its impact on the course of the people’s war – do these reflect intensification or weakening of the people’s war being waged by the Maoists?
To begin with, the above attacks need to be understood as a result of the ‘militarized’ climate now prevailing in the south of Chhattisgarh since the launch of state-backed Salwa Judum in June 2005 where violence and counter-violence is the order of the day, and must not acquire a quality of ‘coming out of nowhere’. The Maoists and their sympathizers claim that such attacks are an “unfortunate fall out of the government’s willful policy of pursuing Salwa Judum first and then Operation Green Hunt.” Such claims contain a degree of truth, for, the above mentioned attacks were, in fact, carried out on forces returning from area-domination or combing exercises. Moreover, it is also true that the violence in south of Chhattisgarh spiraled only after Salwa Judum campaign, whereas prior to that, the Maoists were basically engaged in mobilizing the tribals of the undivided Bastar region to fight for their rights.
Having said this, however, the centrality of armed struggle in the Maoist strategy of protracted people’s war needs to be highlighted. Traditionally, ‘annihilation of class enemies’ has been the dominant tactic of the Maoist armed struggle. Earlier, these included landlords and corrupt government functionaries who were specifically targeted; today, however, the enemy is no longer individuals but an entire force constituted largely of the very tribals and villagers that are also the largest support base of the Maoists. To this extent, therefore, the above suggests that the spate of violence unleashed in parts of central India is as much due to the very objective and strategy of the revolution rather than simply a response to Operation Green Hunt. Had the operations not been launched, the Maoist violence would have been directed at another ‘enemy’ class; the operations in fact, might have served the cause of the revolution by providing the Maoists an ‘enemy’ class against whom the masses can be mobilized.
Given the centrality of such attacks in the Maoist strategy, how has it impacted the cause and course of the revolution? To begin with, the fact that the enemy conglomerate today also constitutes the very tribals that the Maoists claim to be representing has put the Maoists in a situation where an intensification of their armed struggle against the ‘enemy’ also inadvertently mars the movement’s moral and social support. For instance, a common principle of the strategy of protracted people’s war is ‘decimation of dissenting voices and attempts of implementing alternate participatory politics’ other than that advocated by the Maoists. This is evident through several fact-finding reports from Lalgarh, Dantewada and killing of ‘police informers’ elsewhere. Such tactics, however, have created a rift among the masses against the violence of the Maoists as is reminiscent by the anti-Maoist rally carried out in the wake of the 17 May killings. A heightened sense of helplessness is palpable among the masses as they are increasingly getting caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the government without any improvement in their living conditions. Although this sense of helplessness does not benefit the state, it also proves to harm the Maoists, especially, as analysts have argued, the people cannot be expected to put up with their abysmal condition for too long.
Above all, the most harmful impact of such brutalities is on the image of the Maoists as benefactors of tribal welfare. Several tribal organizations leading struggles against the state have openly rebutted their conflation as front organizations of the Maoists. The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) working in Koraput district in Orissa on illegal grabbing of adivasi land, for instance, held a protest in Bhubhneshwar against the conspiracy of the government to falsely brand them as Maoists.
Ultimately, the Maoist politics of violence together with their inability to deliver on social services generates little hope that a state under the Maoist will be any different from the inefficient democratic state they are fighting against. The movement, therefore, is fraught with several ideological and moral dilemmas that today seem to be harming the path of revolution instead of advancing it.