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Monday, 5 July 2010

Dhondy on the Naxalites

Naxal Tantric Rituals
Jul 03rd, 2010 -- Farrukh Dhondy
“Pride, a stubborn donkey Conceit, a blinded mule
The flattered never realise The flatterer is a fool”
From Mughlai Ditties By Bachchoo
My father was once town engineer of Jamshedpur and my late brother-in-law Ramesh Bhasin, also in the employ of the Tata empire, was sometime vice-president of the Tata Iron and Steel Company in the same town. I don’t exactly know what Ramesh’s specific responsibilities were and haven’t bothered, while writing this to call my sister and ask, because it doesn’t seem relevant. He was a servant of the capitalist enterprise that seemed to require him to travel for days in the coal and ferrous mines of Bihar and what is now Jharkhand.
As an occasional visitor to Jamshedpur, deliberately disinterested in its narrow social round, I would be offered the option of taking some reading and writing and being driven to the remote “interior” where one or other of Tata enterprises had a guesthouse where I could spend a quiet solitary time.
These guesthouses had been built near the sites of mines, in places called Jodha, Jamadobha and Naomandi. I wasn’t aware at the time of an unrest in the indigenous population to whom this land traditionally belonged. Though I fancied myself a Marxist, I gave no time to analysing the precise economic or political contradictions or dimensions of these places. Ramesh was very aware that I would, in the presence of his friends and superiors (I remember inflicting such on Russi Mody), argue against the capitalist exploitation of the local populations. I engaged him in conversations about the make-up and demands of the Tata trade unions. He explained their inherent corruption and I became aware, as anyone living in Jamshedpur would, that Tata employees, cushioned by being allocated free accommodation, schools, hospitals and pensions, would be reluctant to jeopardise this position of proletarian privilege by supporting union militancy.
About the rural or forest population where I spent a few days or weeks at a time, I knew very little. While there, I would read and write and discuss the night’s meal with the caretaking chef and wander out on walks, wary of the wild animals who, I was warned, were quite capable of attacking and eating me. On several trips I found that the sadhus in or near the streams of the districts or looking after the isolated country temples, grew small allotments of cannabis for themselves and were extremely generous with handing out pocketfuls of ganja and equipping me with a chillum to smoke it in. “Shambho! Hai Shambho! Jai Shambho!” was the knowing and mischievous eyeball-rolling slogan and benediction I took away from those encounters.
Now Jharkhand is in turmoil. It is one of the territories where the exploitation of the natural resources by agencies completely alien from the native population has given the Naxalites a base of operation. These places are now a launch-pad of violence directed against the injustice of a settlement in which the natives get nothing but forced displacement. That the targets and victims of such violence and the counter-violence of the inept state are palpably imprecise has ever been the way with “class war”.
It is not even clear in a strictly Marxist analysis whether the violence and organisation one reads of in the papers can indeed be called class war. The aim of the party that directs the violence is to overthrow the state. The aim of the cadres they recruit is to get corrupt police and politicians off their backs and participate in the spoils their territories provide and in the general material advance of the country. Into this divergence of aims, there is the opportunity for the bourgeois state to drive a wedge — if it can generate the incorruptible will to do it.
I have no right or intention to editorialise on Naxalism. Before the Naxal activity took root in the places in which I blithely holidayed, the officials of the company that worked the mines felt no guilt about digging those mines or making that steel. The talk then was of the advance of the country as a whole, the generation of expertise to expand India’s capacity to exploit its natural resources and turn them to industrial and constructive use.
They had no idea that in a few decades the pace and direction of development of the country would be such that the sections of the population that could and would explore and seek to own the freshly discovered mineral wealth of the land would be, justly, characterised as agents of a lop-sided social equity — if not as downright crooked exploitative parasites.
The very democratic development of the country, one that forced the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand to come into existence, has resulted in an awareness and intolerance of such social and developmental inequity and iniquity. Hence the fertile soil for Naxalism.
The movement itself, with all the explanations forwarded by its apologists and by the hand-wringing “behalfists” who speak on their behalf, has always been a radical deviation from all forms of Marxism. Some of the propaganda perpetrated by the CPI(Maoist) party — and I admit that there could be willful distortions in the reports I have read — appeal more as tantric rituals of social cleansing than a Marxist programme for revolution. The derailment of trains and the killings at Dantewada, may serve some fantastic far-fetched strategic or recruiting purpose but in today’s world of aimless jihadic terrorism they appeal more as the slaughter of the hapless and the innocent. Lenin would not have approved.
At this time, all developmental and military factors considered, the Maoist Party is extremely unlikely to lead a peasant revolt or a Long March which will win the countryside and surround Mumbai and Delhi and wrest power at the centre for a Maoism that China has long buried. They may succeed, with very many voices now urging negotiation and compromise, in establishing themselves as part of the radical democratic make-up of the districts and states in question. If they take or share power in these states, will they annex the means of production, communise the land and its resources and share the proceeds and power as no other state professing socialism — not Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, the Kim family’s North Korea or Pol Pot’s Cambodia — has ever done?