Friday, June 19, 2009

Marxists, Maoists... Is there a difference?

Marxists, Maoists... Is there a difference?
Balbir K. Punj
June.19 : The "liberation" of Lalgarh by Maoists is a logical upshot of the politics of violence and savagery that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) successfully practised against its political opponents in West Bengal for over three decades. The state, in the not too distant past, was known for its high intellectual content in public discourse. Today, violence is intrinsic to its politics.
While a part of West Bengal burns, two key actors in state politics, the Congress and the CPI(M), are busy playing the blame game. The ruling Marxists and their fellow travellers (in the media and numerous NGOs) are paralysed in this crisis because of ideological confusion. The rebel Maoists are doing in Lalgarh what the Marxists have been preaching and selectively practising while dealing with dissent in West Bengal and Kerala — the Left’s two stronghold states.
Of course, the Congress is living up to its record of hunting with the hound and running with the hare for short-term political gain, but this will cost the nation dearly.
The CPI(M)-Maoist nexus snapped when the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was sought to be assassinated by Maoists weeks before the recent Lok Sabha polls.
According to the latest news reports, the Maoists have dug up roads at several places and blocked others with tree trunks in Lalgarh. The houses and offices of CPI(M) leaders are being vandalised. Fresh violence has killed one CPI(M) leader and two party activists and left several others injured. There is a complete breakdown of law and order in the area.
Last week, people surrounded Marxist leader Subrata Kar’s house in Khejuri, in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district, asking the police to search the house for evidence of corruption in several state and Central government schemes. The police did not arrive so the people themselves ransacked the house and recovered some 20 National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) work cards meant for below-poverty-line families.
The CPI(M) branch office at Gholabari was burnt and in the debris many half-burnt government documents were found. In another party office in Kalaghachia there was an entire file regarding the appointment of 350 Integrated Child Development Scheme workers in Khejuri. A few months ago, fair price shops became the target of public ire as the foodgrain distribution system broke down and several leads linking shopowners with the CPI(M) were exposed. The CPI(M) domination that went on for over three decades survived and thrived mainly because people were afraid of revolting against their tyranny.
Newspapers reported that it was the discovery of government appointment files, NREGS cards and other benefit cards for the poor in the houses of prominent CPI(M) panchayat leaders that fuelled villagers’ fury against them. When the police was compelled to search these houses, it was found that most of them had also concealed illegal firearms and ammunitions. For instance, in Haludbari, panchayat chief Pranabesh Pradhan had to flee from his house as angry villagers surrounded it. His house, according to news reports, is the best in the village. Villagers said they knew that he was a corrupt man, but did not protest earlier for "fear of being booked by the police in false cases". The police recovered two guns and two pistols from his house.
There is a definite link between the Maoists in West Bengal with the ones in neighbouring Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Several well-planned attacks against police outposts have taken place in these three states recently. The administration seems to be unable to trace the supply of arms and ammunition to these Maoist groups. The heightened activity of these groups, read with the discovery of arms and ammunition at village level in CPI(M)-governed West Bengal, may provide leads in this dead-end investigation.
Nepal seems to be the transit point for these supplies. The Delhi police recently nabbed an Indian national who was a conduit for money, counterfeit notes, arms and recruiting agents for Pakistan-based militants operating from Nepal. Despite the election victory of the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, the increasing strength of Naxalites and Maoists in his state cannot be overlooked. It seems the whole of east India, extending as far as eastern Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is being run by parallel administrations of various Marxist and Maoist groups.
In West Bengal, the Congress-Trinamul Congress combine has successfully beaten the Marxists in their own game. So far only the Marxists had stoked violence against either "class enemies" or "deviationists" exploiting occasionally genuine but mostly imaginary grievances of the masses. While fighting a relentless battle against the Marxists, Mamata Banerjee has internalised many of these traits and in the process the Marxists are getting a taste of their own medicine.
Incidentally, what has happened to all the NGOs who had screamed hoarse following the roughing up of some young men and women at the hands of some ruffians styling themselves as activists of Ram Sene in a Mangalore pub? None of these rent-a-cause activists were seen when human rights and the rule of the law are being trampled upon in Lalgarh so brazenly. Their silence speaks loudly about their hypocrisy.
The occasional clashes between Maoists and Marxists, however, do not mean that there’s any real difference between the two. Both believe in dictatorship and snuffing out of dissent. They may differ on strategy, but not about goals. Also, at times, Marxists and Maoists kill each other, not because of sharp differences on fundamentals but because violence is central to their creed.
While the Congress in New Delhi celebrates its return to power, the ground situation is not improving in the violence-affected eastern parts of the country. In fact, the only state government that has succeeded in building up a counter-force to Naxalites is of Chhattisgarh, which is under pressure from Left intellectuals and the Centre to disband this counter-terror force. But now that the West Bengal ruling party’s secret storage of arms and ammunition at village level has been exposed, it would be worth watching how the Centre will act.
Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at,-maoists-is-there-a-difference.aspx

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

At work for war -- cooking CPM goose

At work for war
Maoists, state begin drill

June 17: Late last night, at a small camp in Lalgarh’s Kantapahari, six Maoists held a meeting when word reached that central forces had started arriving in Midnapore.
The meeting, headed by Bikash who runs the Maoists’ Lalgarh operations and guided over the phone apparently by Kishanji who heads their armed wing in the country, decided to set up the first line of defence by this morning.
The task was completed by the time home secretary Ardhendu Sen arrived in Midnapore to review the situation in Lalgarh.
By 9am, the only two arterial roads leading to Lalgarh from Midnapore town, capable of carrying heavy vehicles, had been dug up at 11 points. Each trench across the road was 4ft deep and 3ft wide, making it impossible for any vehicle to cross over.
The Maoists bragged of a more diabolical plan, too. If the police smash through the defences and reach Lalgarh, the rebels said, they would have a four-tier barricade in place.
In the first layer, there will be children, followed by women. Tribals armed with bows and arrows will bring up the third layer. Armed Maoists will position themselves in the fourth layer, they said, seemingly oblivious to the macabre irony in the “people’s war”.
Aware of the plan, chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti appealed to the people of Lalgarh not to allow themselves to be used as “human shields”. Police sources later said they would try to disperse the shields using rubber bullets and tear gas.
By the end of the day, the state government, too, announced that it would act. But the time of the launch is being kept confidential, not for tactical reasons alone — the state government has yet to overcome its indecisiveness.
After returning to Calcutta, Sen announced: “An operation against the Maoists will take place. It will be led by state police with the central forces providing the back-up. Our main aim will be to ensure minimum bloodshed. But I cannot reveal when it will take place.”
Sources said 18 companies would be involved in the operation, of which 13 will be central forces and five from the state police.
Each company has about 100 policemen who can go into action — which means around 1,800 personnel will be pitted against the Maoists. The rebels’ number is put at 250 but more guerrillas are said to be moving towards Lalgarh from Orissa and Jharkhand. Kishanji has apparently reached Belpahari, 20km from Lalgarh. Besides, the Maoists are counting on some of the villagers they have trained since November last year.
The police sources said it would not be a “swift and short” operation. “We know the area is mined and dug up, so we have to move forward carefully,” an officer said. “We will have a minesweeper at the head of the convoy and a truck carrying sandbags along with us. After the minesweeper has cleared the way, we will bridge the dug-up roads with the sandbags and then move on.”
The officer said the objective would be to “reoccupy” an area, consolidate their position there and then push forward. The plan is largely in tune with the tactics being focused upon since P. Chidambaram took over as home minister at the Centre.
In the police’s arsenal will be AK-47 and AK-56 rifles, grenade launchers and rocket launchers. Senior police officers from Calcutta, like IG (co-ordination), have moved to Midnapore.
The rebels acknowledge the police’s superiority in firepower and supply of ammunition but said they were banking on familiarity with the terrain and local support.
It was not possible to verify the claims by the Maoists. At every dug-up point, the Maoists said, they would be setting up “checkposts” which will be guarded by “50 to 60” armed supporters.
“They will all have cellphones and at the first sign of any activity, they will warn other checkposts along the way,” a Maoist leader said.
Knowing that the policemen will be wearing bulletproof jackets, the Maoist cadres have been trained to shoot at the face, arms and legs, another leader said.
If the police decide to skip the arterial roads and use forest trails, they may have to abandon armoured vehicles while ferrying themselves across the Kangshabati river in the absence of bridges.
The five CRPF companies stayed put at the Midnapore police lines today, drawing up maps to chalk out operational routes.