It is probably no coincidence that the state offensive against the outlawed CPI (Maoist) which controls a swathe of territory in the forested parts of central India has been accompanied by a focussed media intervention by human rights activists demanding an instant and unconditional cease-fire. That human rights groups make their appearance when state action is necessitated against terrorists and insurgents is all too familiar. This is not to suggest that all the earnest and well-spoken men and women who appear on TV chat shows to denounce “state terror” and shed tears on behalf of the poor constitute the overground faces of the underground. Yet, it is undeniable that these well-groomed ‘activists’ have a vision of India that is remarkably at odds with the national consensus.
It is a tribute to Indian democracy and the high level of social tolerance that there is a special attempt to accommodate dissenting voices, indeed put them on par with those who espouse common decencies. Despite assertions that India is a “sham democracy”, civil society treats contrarian positions with a degree of generosity that is sometimes absent from Western democracies. Unlike the boisterous protests that greeted the appearance of the leader of the racist British National Party on a BBC current affairs programme, no one bats an eyelid when the ‘activists’ emerge from the woodwork to defend either Islamist terrorists waging jihad on India or Maoists who behead policemen without inhibition and remorse. Likewise, despite the tut-tutting that greeted the outpouring of Marathi xenophobia through the ballot box, there were few who believe that legal activism is the way to check the forward march of Raj Thackeray.
However, it is one thing to accommodate ‘activists’ as talk-show guests, partly because they inhabit the same social circle as other media professionals, it is a separate matter to accept their earnest arguments.
The central plank on which Maoist-friendly activists rest their claim is the equivalence between the Indian state and the Maoist insurgents. By demanding an unconditional cease-fire, the champions of civil liberties have elevated a non-state player to the level of the state. Whereas all democratically-elected politicians assert a willingness to discuss all outstanding problems, as long as the Maoists abandon the gun, the activists deny the state a monopoly over violence. In short, they project the Maoists as a parallel Government exercising dual power in large parts of India. Conceding political parity to the Maoists would imply state recognition of dual sovereignty. It would open the floodgates of similar demands, not least in Jammu & Kashmir, the North-East and, who knows, even Azamgarh.
Accommodation of activists in TV chat shows is a measure of democratic generosity; acceptance of their demands is a recipe for national disaster.
The second point that is invariably made by the activists is that democracy and development have bypassed the poor and particularly the Adivasis. The marginalised have, consequently, risen in revolt against the state which, incidentally, has become an instrument of greedy multi-nationals and venal land sharks.
The most surprising facet of this caricatured projection of India is the number of gullible takers it has. The belief that the ‘roots’ of Maoism lie in poverty and underdevelopment is about as compelling as the belief that suicide bombers are actually protesting against social alienation (in the West) and an iniquitous world order (elsewhere). Left-wing extremism isn’t necessarily born out of poverty; it is sustained by those who take advantage of poverty. The Maoists have a direct political interest in preventing development works and improvement in communications. The common feature of Bastar, Gadchiroli and Jungle Mahal in western Midnapur is the systematic manner in which Maoist cadre have destroyed hand pumps, schools and prevented road-building. It is a combination of enforced impoverishment and physical isolation that create the conditions for Maoists to build a base. The fear of the gun does the rest.
There are a lot of things wrong with the Indian state and rapid industrialisation during the Nehruvian era was accompanied by Soviet-style disregard for those who were dispossessed by progress. However, political awareness and greater economic prosperity have contributed to some meaningful redistribution of resources that have benefited poor districts. In Orissa, for example, Kalahandi was the symbol of destitution in the mid-1980s. Today, it is one of the biggest contributors to the State’s rice economy. Would such a dramatic transformation have been possible if the Maoists had somehow managed to turn it into a red zone? On the contrary, every single development initiative would have been forcibly resisted and the state would have been painted as an instrument of oppression by the practitioners of ‘soft’ Maoism. Rolling back the Maoist menace is a precondition for progress.
Finally, it is important to stress that Maoism is addicted to violence as the means of political change. This is stating the obvious but it is worthwhile reiterating the insatiable Maoist thirst for human blood. An individual human life is viewed by the red terrorists as worthless in the context of the larger struggle. This callousness was a feature of Maoism in China and the spilling of blood is the thread that links the early-Maoism of Charu Mazumdar to the contemporary Maoism of the colleagues of Kobad Ghandhy. To some weirdos trigger happiness may seem utterly romantic; to decent Indians it is evidence of depravity, arrogance and inhumanity.