Let the sons of the revolution not die being peace-trapped
Let the sons of the revolution die fighting, as they always do. Let them not die being peace-trapped. One can say that the Maoist nature is characterized not only by its unwavering devotion to the cause of a humanely better future, but also by its credulity of a suicidal kind. A little more than a year back the Maoists had put their faith in Mr. Palaniappan Chidambaram; the outcome was the gruesome murder of Cherukuri Rajkumar Azad by the security forces. Now they put faith in Ms. Mamata Banerjee, the outcome is the grisly murder of Mallojula Koteswar Rao, better known as Kishenji, India’s second most wanted Maoist, by the same notorious security forces.
One cannot overlook the fact that Mr. Chidambaram and Ms. Banerjee moved pawns of the same type – peace talks – and the Maoists were checkmated. On the first occasion, they lost Azad, their spokesperson and one of their brilliant theoreticians, and this time their loss is Kishenji, a politburo member with extraordinary organizational skill and military acumen. Ironically enough, although the primary objective of the Maoist rebels is the overthrow of the existing political system by violent means, it is in the prospect of peace talks that they like to be trapped into. Peace, more than war, keeps doing incalculable harm to the Maoist rebellion. It also commands the importance of run-on focus in any discourse related to the resistance and revolutionary movements.
Before delving deep into the issue of how peace, more often than not, signifies a dormant state of violence, I would like to turn my attention to the very man and his activities, the man whose brutal killing forces on us some serious reflections on the ongoing revolutionary struggle.
Some words on Kishenji
What seems to be of foremost consideration is that the greatness of Mallojula Koteswar Rao Kishenji should not be traced to his martyrdom alone. We have to bear in mind that he was one of the representative figures of the current day Maoist movement and the features, major and minor, of this movement manifest themselves through his lifetime activities and in his death. He was a type of a movement and the party that leads it, and at the same time, he was the same type individualized.
By its irreverent rejection of parliamentary opportunism and by its stress on the importance of armed mass struggle for the seizure of political power, the Naxalbari peasant uprising had brought about change of the most fundamental kind to the communist movement in India. Nevertheless, due to its relative indifference to mass movement and the boycott of mass organizations, and due to its one-sided stress on armed action leading to sporadic individual annihilation of class enemy, the movement found itself in tatters by the mid seventies.
After the setback in the Naxalite struggle, the resurgence of the radical movement came to take place in Andhra Pradesh with the historic Jagtial Peasant movement in Karimnagar district. It was a movement against unrestrained feudal exploitation of the landless poor. The people used to live in such ignominious conditions that they, to quote from Rahul Panditia’s Hello Bastar, “were not even allowed to wear slippers in front of the landlords”. Under the influence of the ‘Go to the Village’ campaign by student rebels, the Dalits and the landless poor began asserting themselves with demands for higher wages, the abolition of free labour and distribution of land among the poor. Like a wave, the movement grew from strength to strength. The following excerpt from the book just referred to will be of help to get a picture of what could be called the climax of this movement:
On 7 September 1978, over one lakh agricultural labourers and other poor people from 150 villages took out a march to Jagtial town…The same day, the district collector of the area issued a letter which said that land reforms in Karimnagar should be implemented on a war footing…Some of the landlords later retaliated with the help of Police. Village after village was raided by a joint force of Police and goons of the landlords…By end October 1978 Jagtial was declared a disturbed area. But the men who led and supervised the Jagtial march were a contented lot. The shackles had been broken. That evening in Jagtial, as the poor masses took to the streets two men would look into each other’s eyes and then hug each other. One of them was Ganapathi and the other his friend who would later become his trusted lieutenant Mallojula Koteshwara Rao alias Kishenji.
So from the days when he came to prominence as a political activist Koteswar Rao Kishenji was not a gun-totting Robin Hood but a Maoist revolutionary shaped and seasoned by the militant mass struggle.
The first thing to learn from this revolutionary is that all through his life Kishenji was not only a ‘for-the-masses’ revolutionary, more importantly, he was an ‘among-the-masses’ revolutionary. Never for once was Kishenji a benevolent stranger to the people, always and everywhere, he spoke and acted from within the heart of the people. Armed action in isolation from mass movements was what he never deliberately promoted, rather active and enormous participation of the people in any type of progressive movements accompanied by planned and precise armed action is what he tirelessly highlighted. This was how, carrying the true legacy of the Naxalbari, Kishenji emerged to be a brilliant exponent of the most fundamental aspect of his party line, i.e., vigorous insistence on mass organization and mass movement without belittling for a second the importance of the armed action in asserting the rights of the oppressed and in transforming existing social and class relations.
Having taken their political and ideological inspiration in the Naxalbari peasant uprising and in the political programme of the CPI (ML) Party founded by Charu Mazumder, Kishenji and his comrades during the last three decades or so have gone past their great predecessors in building up a struggle of the most wretched of the soil across a vast expanse of the country, thus growing to be the biggest internal threat to the Indian state.
The combination of two Maoist formulations is the key to the success of the Maoist party. One is: “Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun” and the other is: “from the masses to the masses.” If the CPI(Maoist) were a nothing more than an armed band with a few indoctrinated brave warriors, the Indian ruling class would have nothing much to be afraid of. But hundreds of thousands of people armed and organized under their leadership, actively participating in the movements for jal, jangal, and zamin has made the party the gravest threat to the state. How skillfully they have blended these two aspects can be understood from the fact that the same party which, through its frontal organization Rythu Coolly Sangham, had in May 1990 organized a mammoth rally considered ‘to be the biggest political show of strength in recent history by any party in Andhra Pradesh’ (See ‘What Is Maoism and Other Essays’ edited by Bernard D’Mello), had also been able to raid Koraput armoury with clinical precision in February 2004, taking away all 528 weapons.
In Bengal, the combination of the barrel of the gun with mass line has had its best expression in Lalgarh where we find Mallojula Koteswar Rao Kishenji at his best and finest. Looking upon Lalgarh as the handiwork of Kishenji is far from being myopic. This is by no means promotion of individualism discarding the role of other fighting rebels and the people at large, but it is actually an objective recognition of the role of the individual in social dynamics. Kishenji emerged to be an iconic figure speaking and breathing Lalgarh and the movement that swept across it. It was through Lalgarh that Bengal came to feel most convincingly what Maoism is meant to be in its practical aspects; and it was in Kishenji Bengal came to witness the spirit and the vision of the upsurge that is Lalgarh.
Lalgarh went far beyond Singur and Nandigram in as much as it not only built up parallel centres of people’s power in its most embryonic forms, but also introduced a new and alternate model of development. Development not in the sense of setting up corporate-interest serving industries, but development in the sense of irrigating canals, making roads, digging bore wells, establishing mobile health centres with the help of voluntary labour of local people and in cooperation with the sympathisers of the movement from outside the Jangal Mahal. Viewed so, in leading Lalgarh struggle Kishenji was found to unmistakably represent the brand of leadership of the party he belonged to. Because wherever and whenever the Indian Maoists consolidate their base, they, while concentrating on political and military effort, initiate people into development ventures meant for public welfare. Dandakaranya stands as the best example of it. The moment the Maoists anywhere start getting momentum, alongside political and military programmes development initiatives for the people’s wellbeing takes off. Jangal Mahal also was no different.
Not all is right with the CPI (Maoist), so not all was right with Kishenji. He was no less a partisan in terms of mistakes and lapses also. The mistakes undoing the successes of the Lalgarh struggle cannot escape careful and critical analysis. But that not being the focus of this article what we can say for the present, in a somewhat cursory manner, is that in the course of the struggle Lalgarh, rather Jangal Mahal, saw gradual replacement of mass political mobilization with armed squad action, perceived intolerance to dissenting views, summary execution of the suspected informers often without holding so called people’s court, propensity towards finding military solution to a problem instead of political one, and, last but not the least, the apparent and incautious alliance with Trinamul Congress.
Lalgarh and Kishenji stand synonymous. Perhaps no political upheaval in India after transfer of power has been so inextricably associated with the name of one individual except that of Charu Mazumder with Naxalbari. It is for history to decide how the people of Jangal Mahal will remember him, but the Lalgarh struggle, being the signature achievement of Koteswar Rao Kishenji, has some unique Kishenite flair that must not be glossed over.
I do not know whether any revolutionary leader, straight from the heart of the battlefield, made contact with the pillars of the administration he warred against. Violence, for Kishenji, was not the only way to mount pressure on the state. During the heyday of Lalgarh uprising in a midnight interview to Tusha Mittal of Tehelka in November,2009, he told in a very candid manner: “In Lalgarh we are trying different strategies. We have recently made concrete development demands…We’ve asked for 300 borewells and 50 make-shift hospitals. I have also knocked on the doors of Left Front parties—Forward Bloc, RSP, CPI and even CPM. I’m even in touch with ministers within the Bengal government.” He even spoke to the very man who had been at that point of time hurling hatred of the most ferocious kind at him. The man was the ex-Chief Minister of Bengal, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. To quote Kishenji once again from the same interview to Tehelka: “I’ve spoken to the Chief Minister himself… I told him to stop state brutality and said we have mailed our development demands. He said he is under pressure from his own party and from Home Minister.” The whole course of events evinces the ultimate of tactical flexibility to reach strategic aim.
Revolutionary intellectuals like Samar Sen and others, with perceptible sympathy towards the Naxalbari uprising, had to face fury of criticism from the leaders of revolution in the seventies for the slightest dissent or deviation. But the contemporary Maoists do not hesitate to share platform even with people like Swami Agnibesh. From the point of view of tactical flexibility, CPI (Maoist) has made a clear departure from their early leaders, and Kishenji having made contacts with the ministers within the government and with the leaders of the mainstream political parties, has lifted the question of tactical flexibility to an even newer plane, unprecedented in the history of revolutionary movement in India. Whether his party approved it or not, whether it succeeded to bolster the very movement—these questions need separate discussion. Nevertheless, incontrovertibly, it put the question of tactical flexibility in a much broader spectrum than ever before, resulting in making the arena of revolutionary praxis larger than what it formerly was.
To say that Kishenji was a media-savvy person and to stop saying anything more about the subject is to say nothing at all. The nature of the relationship that Kishenji built up with the media, both print and electronic, demands some more words to be written. When the Lalgarh struggle was at its peak Kishenji became the most prize target of the media and he made the media stand in favour of the movement. He spared no pains to make use of the media, particularly electronic, to send the message of the struggle into countless drawing rooms across the state, himself growing to be a household name in Bengal. The way he interacted with the TV anchors in live telecast in a number of popular Bengali channels on the day the joint forces moved into Lalgarh and the way he talked to the mother and the wife of the kidnapped Officer-in-Charge of Sankrail Police Station, and shared their worries, again in live telecast, seem to have a permanent place in the memory of the people of Bengal.
Whether Kishenji’s media presence was party-approved or not, whether the individual using the media seemed to appear more important than the movement—such kind of scepticism kept cropping up and it can still be found to smoulder. However, it would be more judicious, in my opinion, to approach the issue from an altogether different track. The media was made to be at the beck and call of Kishenji when the struggle in Lalgarh touched its zenith. He used the media at will without giving the media the slightest chance to spread sensational stories about his personal life. People living far away from the heat and burn of the war-zone came to know directly from the voice of its commander, what the people of Lalgarh aimed to do in particular and what the Maoists want to do for the country in general. It was due to Koteswar Rao Kishenji’s deft handling that the media was made to be a part of the ongoing struggle. For the days ahead, the present and the future generations of the leaders of the resistance movement and that of the Maoist revolution have a lot to learn from this exclusively Kishenite phenomenon.
Let the sons of rebellion not die peace-trapped
Finally, let us go back to the initial point of this writing: that the price of peace or, to be precise, peace talks, proves to be highly fatal for the Maoists.
Peace, by standard definition, is the absence of a situation of violent confrontation. But it should not be looked upon as something separable from war. If it is something otherwise, a peaceful situation could not have been converted into war and war into peace. Viewing peace or talk towards peace one-sidedly, without taking into consideration the warring situation and cunning hostilities of the enemies, might cause irreparable damage.
It is evident from Maoist writings and interviews that they do not lack the understanding that peace and war are dialectically combined to form an integral whole. However, in the practical field, the balance of peace talk or attempts towards it has never tilted in their favour. Peace talks must still be considered a factor (perhaps not the major one) to cause the setback in Andhra Pradesh. Again, in the case of Azad, peace was the most despicably devious ploy cunningly set out by Mr. Chidambaram and his murderous gang to draw him out of his hideout and strike the deathblow.
Now Kishenji has been butchered. The stage was Lalgarh and adjoining areas. Here there was no hero, but a heroine. She was, as we all know, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, who once again was true to her nature – a nature characterized by stinking hypocrisy and sickening falsehood, uncouth megalomania and abhorrent arrogance. The director, however, was the same, Mr. Palaniappan Chidambaram. Kishenji has been butchered while the government- appointed interlocutors were trying for months together to facilitate a dialogue between the two sides. Words have been flying in the air that Kishenji had been assured of safe passage, again, for peace talk, and then caught and killed. However, there is no emphatic official proof of it as was the case with Azad. What has already been confirmed is that while the mockery of attempts towards peace talk was going on, the central and state intelligence was not sitting idle but was busy tracking the routes of the interlocutors to meet the Maoist leaders and identifying the hideouts of the rebels (See ‘A Death. And the Message in the Bullet’, Tusha Mittal, Tehelka).
The Maoists are often accused of not having genuine intentions of peace. It is also said that peace talks for them offer an intermission for regrouping themselves and for breathing easy for a while, when they feel that they are in a position of disarray and weakness. The Maoists have their own arguments also to counter this allegation. However, now it is time for the rebels to understand that if they are really in a position of weakness they cannot expect the Indian state to respond positively to a call for peace talks. The state will take the advantage of talks to intensify its hidden form of war to eliminate the front liners of the revolution. If felt weak, what the Maoists can look for is not peace talks but tactical retreat. Peace talks have taken so far a heavy toll on the Maoist movement.
Therefore, it is not wrong to say in a loud and clear voice: “No more chance to PEACE, at least for the time being”. Let the sons of the revolution die fighting, as they always do. Let them not die being peace-trapped.
- By Sandipan Mitra