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28 December, 2009

Chidambaram’s poke-and-feel tactics with Maoists


Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a seminar in Kolkata on Tuesday, December 22, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said: “The government might set up an alternative government structure in the tribal areas, if Maoists come forth to negotiate with logical suggestions.”

“We know that they will not lay down arms. So we are not asking them to lay down arms. Abjure violence and come to (negotiating) table and we ask the state governments to talk to Maoists and address their grievances that requires alternative government structure in some of these tribal areas. We can explore that also,” he added.

"They are not terrorists attacking India from outside. They are rebels who have raised serious issues like lack of development (e)specially in tribal areas. We are prepared to discuss alternative structures of governance with them," Mr. Chidambaram told a meeting.

Nepal as an example?

The government of India, along with the scheming and devious Karat-Yechuri backroom boys, (overnight Mao supporters after years of kick-boxing Mao), put forth a pretty soiled and mucky hand in neutralizing the Nepalese Maoists and then confining them to a benign game of political billiards. The latest news is that the Nepali Maoist leader, while condemning India’s role, has resigned to talking to India, rather than talking to the ruling Nepali coalition. What a predicament! Mr. Prachanda has lost a lot of initiative. One hopes he will regain the stature that his name (means-- the fierce one) stands for. Mr. Chidambaram, on the other hand, knows that the Indian Maoists are not going to be a walkover. That is why day by day, Mr. Chidambaram carefully releases new offers, one at a time. It is like a poke and feel game. If the patient says “ouch”, Mr. Chidambaram will say “Ah!”And poke harder. If the patient slaps him back, he will apply some balm, somewhere else. In either case, Mr. Chidambaram is far from genuine. So far, the patient has not said Ouch. It was really a cakewalk to outwit the ever unpopular Nepali monarchy. In India Mr. Chidambaram, is in charge of the oligarchy, irrespective of the Congress’ thumping election victory. He knows whom he represents. He will do everything to preserve the coterie that he represents. (He no longer represents Enron, because those guys went to jail and closed shop and Vedanta is so discredited in Europe that he has also resigned from their Board).

Let us remember, that Mr. Chidambaram and his confreres have referred to the Naxalites as terrorists and killers in the immediate past. Subsequently, he said he was willing to talk to them if they abjure violence. Now he agrees that they have raised important constitutional issues and they are not terrorists. And finally, he is even willing to consider alternate government structures with them! Is there some turnaround happening here?

Definitely! Only the naive, the hidebound parliamentary “left” and those who secretly want the Naxalites to be destroyed while shedding crocodile tears for the democratic process, would think otherwise.


There are three MAIN reasons why Mr. Chidambaram has made this detailed overture, as opposed to the previous times, when he simply asked the Maoists to abjure violence, before there were talks.

First, (and not necessarily the most important) , it is because there is now worldwide recognition that something is happening in a vast swathe of land in India, which India wants to conceal, cover-up and hide from the worldwide marketplace, where Manmohan Singh is demanding a prominent slot of some sorts. Manmohan Singh wants to step aside from the G77, he wants to separate himself from Afro-Asian-Latin American solidarity and develop the new rump bloc with Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa and he does not want the world to talk about Human Rights violations, about the notorious and dismal record of the Indian Police and paramilitary forces, the documented torture and fake encounters that have been going on forever and right up to this very moment in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra and Dantewada. He does not also want to bring any more attention to the nearly 25% of India’s original citizenry, who after 62 years of Independence do not have any health, education, drinking water, road access and are in the worst conditions of sub-malnutrition (The Adivasis have the worst body mass index (BMI) amongst all of India’s poor) . We know that until now, they had been left alone to eke out whatever they could in India’s forests, rivers and mountains. They were generally being neglected. Benign would be the correct adjective. Their voice was not being heard loud enough in the pink corridors of the Indian Parliament.

Suddenly, the new-fangled, fat-cheeked, dough-boy, ghee encrusted, Kellogg’s Super-K chomping, neo-liberal hodgepodge humbugs that make up India’s nouveau riche, have “discovered” India’s Adivasis and the fact that they are sitting on so much uranium, copper, bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, water and lumber, makes them mighty angry! Who the hell are these negroid, australoid, big-nosed, fat lipped folks lurking around in “our” mountains and forests, they ask? So let’s call them all Maoists (used to be China –trained “hostiles” in the past) and shove them into the Salwa Judum internment camps. India’s first citizens have become DPs in their own land. And the world is beginning to find out. So, Manmohan Singh needs to do some damage control.

Manmohan Singh knows very well that with inclusion in elite clubs, comes discussion on civic society norms, juridical process reviews, general economic well-being and human rights issues amongst others. India routinely fends off the findings of Amnesty International and Human Rights organizations by making deflectionary statements or blanket denials. So does China. So does Russia. So does Israel, whom no nation really wants to openly align with except the US and Canada (and India, less obtrusively, though). India makes the US Patriot Act look like a bland mutter-paneer concoction when you compare the old POTA and its new avatar, the UAPA preventive detention acts. Detention without trial and use of “unlawful activity” as a blanket means to curtail any viable opposition is India’s forte from the time of the old PDA and the MISA, which were used against the first generation Naxalites. Despite routine parroting of India’s growth rate, the level of death due to poor hygiene (diarrhea) India heads the world. When it comes to Human Growth Index, India fares at the level of the Sub-saharan countries and India, since liberalization, has increased its number of hungry by 38%.

So, Manmohan Singh has told his sidekick and Corporate Home Minister (Thank you, Mr. Gladson Dungdung, the resolute journalist from Jharkhand--- for repeatedly referring to him that way) to cool his heels, get off his high horse and slow down the rhetoric on Operation Green Hunt. Now, all of a sudden, there has been no Green Hunt ever in the works! Poof! No Green Hunt to drop from anyone’s lips. (Even though the Police Inspector Generals in the affected areas are making repeated references to exactly that, to the embarrassment of Mr. Chidambaram, to this day). Suddenly it has dawned on the infinite wisdom of Manmohan Singh that you cannot bloody well ‘Hunt” down your own people and call them terrorists! That you cannot let law-and-order yahoos and “counter-insurgency experts” like KPS Gill act like “intellectuals” and do their told-you-so tough talk. All the big shot “advisors" from KPS Gill and right down to Thana chiefs, say one way or the other that the Police are uncontrollable and furthermore they will do "whatever they need to do, even if it impinges on the law" to destroy the Naxalites. KPS Gill provided special training to his police officers on how to make a murderous rampage look like an encounter and he openly boasted about it. India does not need these cowboys as national treasures. They should settle down somewhere else. I think Mr. Singh understands these issues.

Second, because Mr. Chidambaram wants to get on with the scores of MOUs that have been signed. It is not because the POSCOs, Tatas, Jindals , Vedanta etc are putting pressure, although they are the ones who have financed the Salwa Judum heavily and engaged in the Mafia-Police nexus to prevent journalists and environmental activists from entering the affected areas. The fact is that Mr. Chidambaram can afford to offer to reopen and reexamine all the MOUs that have been signed, because in the final analysis his outlook is long term. He needs to straighten out the current account deficit which is over 30 billion dollars and a new injection of FDIs could help at least generate some growth and the false foreign exchange reserves that he and Montek Ahluwalia are so gung ho about. Numbers matter and in the long run, if you could chip away at the road blocks, it would be perfect for his grand notion to move 85% of India’s population into urban areas. He wants these land acquisitions, even if it takes major compensation and even some compromises with environmental activists. He knows that the setback in the Narmada Bachao Andolan has actually channeled the anger of those who now are aligning themselves with the Maoists. He does not want a repeat. So, yes, he would like to come to a deal, reexamine the MOUs, make some compromises and eventually allow access to the ore to the TNCs and India’s aspiring bollywood-billionaire crowd. He knows that if he does not negotiate now, there will be no negotiations later. Evo Morales has shown one way on how to mobilize native people. India is much bigger in size and complexity. In India, the Naxalites may weave another pattern that is appropriate for India’s objective conditions. Mr. Singh and Mr. Chidambaram are acutely aware that history will record their names in infamy if they carry out a mindless Jallianwalla Bagh over such a large territory and aboriginal people. The Indian left is still analyzing the October Revolution and it may bypass them as well.

Third, despite the rueful outcry of some, the DEMOCRATIC IN-BETWEEN SPACE (between the Maoists and the state) in India exists and has had a serious impact on Mr. Chidambaram, and this space is not under any severe strain as such because of Maoist "brinkmanship" (as proposed by certain proponents of the sham debate on violence versus non-violence). This democratic space is led by very conscientious and courageous intellectuals, economists, writers, legal experts, Gandhian activists who have put their own lives on the line, and as well a vast number of grass roots organizations, of a new type. They are a new Left Democratic Opposition who do not subscribe to the CPI (M) worldview about the Naxalites or for that matter other left wing parliamentarian and non parliamentary "tactical" groups. These Indian patriots have made their presence felt and have directly intervened with Mr. Chidambaram. Mr. Chidambaram is listening to them, perhaps with reluctance. They are India’s conscientious objectors. They have refused the “draft” that is being attempted by the GOI and its apologists in the mainstream media to be with “us” or “them”. They have refused to be drawn in by the continuous branding of Maoists as terrorists, bandits and adventurists. They do not quibble in the pages of webzines and blogs about their "space" being usurped, but carry on their mass struggles and individual actions resolutely. They have a long term view of what real democracy should be all about and how it should be developed in the India’s predominantly rural space and they do not feel that the trappings of democracy make a nation in any way democratic. It is remarkable that the front paw and the most genuine sections of the Gandhian movement have been astute, focused and extraordinarily honest in their reading of the situation. They have not engaged in demonstrative acts of "ahimsa" as they used to often in the past, but have engaged in direct action (padayatra ) despite open hostility by police and Judum goons and have made clear in bold statements that structural violence is the fundamental problem, not the opposition to it. At the same time, they have not hesitated to critique the Maoists, whenever they felt it was necessary.

The “Sandwiched” entities

There is an ahistorical, non-political and hastily conceived understanding of the issues of diplomacy, negotiations and alliances at a time of guerilla war amongst a certain section of the NGO-left. Irrespective of one's criticism of the politics engaged in, by the Maoists, when it comes to asking for "dialogue" and "negotiations" during such a war, there are certain stepping stones. Building blocks. There has to be recognition from both sides and prior agreement on certain areas where negotiations can happen. "Reduced violence" is a ridiculous notion. The Indian State cannot control its police and paramilitary at all. Mr. Chidambaram knows that. Even yesterday, there are reports coming out of Orissa that the police burnt elderly villagers with electrical prods, severed the fingers of little children and shot down some of the mothers. I am sure that Mr. Chidambaram would not encourage such activities and cannot control it either. Yet his police and the police of the state governments are doing just that. Therefore simplistic allusions to "warring parties" "backward hinterlands" by those who want “dialogue” are regrettable and quite out of synch. In this case the imputation here again is the Eurocentric notion that the crème-de-la crème of revolutionary forces resides only in the factories and urban centers and subsequent paternalistic and insulting arguments about the gullibility of the tribals to exploitation by Naxalites is familiar shibboleth that is constantly repeated ad nauseum, including frequent references to Pol Potism to stir up a typical and well known aversion to "Asian despotism". All this does not bode well for the building up to a stage of real dialogue, which is concurrent with the stages of guerilla war, engaged in by the Maoists. You do not negotiate when you are resisting marauding forces, bullet by bullet, and defending vast sections of the population from state-terrorism. You bring the guerilla war to a stage of the strategic stalemate, whereby both the so-called "warring parties" are at a standstill and the intelligentsia, civic society demand to put a stop to the violence. The Maoists are not at that stage.

The Maoists?

Several Maoist leaders in interviews have clearly stated that they are willing to talk.. Even call a cease-fire. But they will NOT give up their arms. Previously, Mr. Chidambaram had demanded so, as a precondition. It is therefore a historic turning point that Mr. Chidambaram has recognized that these citizens of India have a right not to give up their arms, with which they have initiated a war of resistance. They have also openly invited the State to come in and engage in genuine development activities, build health clinics, and provide teachers for schools (instead of paramilitary personnel). Again this is not possible until complete safe passage is provided on both sides and the Maoists have also hinted that it may require International aegis.

It is however extremely important that the Maoists, also understand the following:-

1) That seizure of political power, even in limited remote areas are hollow victories, if they are not at the crest of a process of alternate development, which has already reached some level of maturation. Militarist bravado does not ensure any success whatsoever in the real world of political power. Political victory means having the fundamental support of the majority of the people, if not all.

2) That the alternate development must be such that the people of these regions will discover that after 62 years of neglect, a new form of government is giving them better wages, better price for their produce, civilian justice, especially women’s’ rights, arbitration with contractors, a due taxation system which transfers wealth to the poor, land rights, environmental protection, alternate energy development, clean water, decent roads, teachers for schools and health clinics with facilities and well trained doctors. This is what is worth defending by armed means.

3) The Maoists must also comprehend that ever since the Paris Commune, all attempts at building the norms for a genuine democratic and radical revolutionary organization has not succeeded. Neither the Soviets, nor the communes, nor the collectives or cooperatives were able to be run by people instead of apparatchiks. That is the stark reality. So clutching on to disparate extracts from Lenin or Trotsky, or Stalin and Mao from different historical periods, will not suffice for the Indian revolution. Radical democracy means that the poor must run the party. That should be India’s significant contribution to a new theory of radical democracy. The poor cannot be substituted by a powerful party machinery led by the intelligentsia. Even as recently as Chiapas, the attempts to build a real vanguard party led by the spirit and will of native, aboriginal people did not succeed despite the charismatic politics of Commandante Marcos.

Jal, Jameen, Jungle-that is the fundamental politics that must govern the mass consciousness of the Maoists. When Mr. Chidambaram wants to negotiate, it should not be with a Commander Kishanji or Commander Kosa. It should be with a Santhal/Munda or Gond commander, whose name is unknown (Mr. Citizen Number 1) and whose language Mr. Chidambaram does not speak and there will be the need for a translator. When that happens, the Maoists would have sent their message to the whole world.

4) It is pointless at this stage to hold the Maoists responsible for developing an alternate mode of production, to change the relations of production, to make an efficient alternate economic model. It is more important that they give birth to a need for radical democracy within their socialization and govern the needs of the people of the region with genuine democracy. That would be enough for now..

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