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Updated Strategies

"Neo-liberalism" to the aid of Maoists

Maoists are becoming less adventurous in their operational strategies, increasingly relying on joining popular protests against neo-liberalism, says K.V. Thomas, a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy.

Major economic reforms and myriad social changes in the post-liberalisation era in India have led to the Maoists, influenced by class relations, shifting operational strategies. Their emphasis now is on a defensive approach, aimed at protecting, preserving, consolidating and expanding their party organisation through a combination of armed insurgency, mass mobilisation and ‘strategic alliances’.

While Mao’s principles on social liberation and revolution continue to inform their strategies, the Maoists are now far more convinced that a “revolutionary communist party should not be impetuous and adventurist in its organisational work. It must adopt the tactics of advancing step-by-step, slowly and surely keeping to the principle of waging struggle on just grounds, having select cadres working underground and never adapt empty clamour and reckless activity that would never lead to success.”

The best example of this in recent times is the Maoists’ tactical intervention in the Nandigram-Singur-Lalgarh land struggles in West Bengal. While Maoists actively participated in the struggles under the banner of the ‘People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA)’, they also worked out strategic alliances with different groups and organisations including those ideologically opposed to them.

Almost in parallel, as part of their armed insurgency, Maoists demonstrated their cult of violence through the dastardly act of derailing the Jnaneswari Express in Midnapore district in May 2010, resulting in the death of almost 150 people. So, when the Maoist leader Kishenji claimed that “the mass Naxalite movement in Lalgarh had given the Naxalites a major base in West Bengal for the first time since the Naxalite uprising in the mid-1970s”, he was neither being rhetorical nor exaggerating. This Maoist resurgence is likely to shape political trends in Bengal.

The partial success of its strategy in West Bengal has given new impetus for the party to pursue this line in other areas, particularly in the South where the movement had taken roots in the past. For example, the movement was virtually decimated in Andhra Pradesh, its citadel for many decades, due to the Maoists’ “impetuous and adventurist actions”. The case was not much different in other southern States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where the movement during its early phase of the late 1960s and early 1970s had created strong ripples through violence.

In fact, the Maoists recently have opened new fronts in the inter-State tri-junction of those three States, where they have been organising campaigns on macro and micro level socio-economic and political issues, closely intertwined with the various sections of the people. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists have expressed solidarity with the ongoing agitation for a separate Telengana as part of its strategy to re-establish its control over North Telengana region.

The Maoists in the Andhra-Orissa Border (AOB) strive to build a mass base by taking up neo-liberal issues such as opposing the formation of Special Economic Zones, the acquisition of tribal/agrarian land and the signing of a large number of MOUs with multinationals. In Karnataka, their strategy is to exploit issues such as the socio-economic disparities among the tribal population and the rural poor in districts such as Dakshin Kannada and Kodagu, and the eviction of the tribal inhabitants from the Kudremukh National Park area, to make way for more iron-ore mining.

On the other hand, in Kerala their effort is to rebuild their support base among the tribal people by flagging issues such as malnutrition deaths in the tribal belt of that State and the delay in the restoration of alienated tribal lands. In Tamil Nadu, the Maoists are yet to make any deep impact since the repression by the State Police in the 1970s had contained extremist elements in erstwhile composite North Arcot district.

Thanks to some of the more overt political outfits like “Puthiya Thamizhagam” (New Tamil Nadu) floated by Dr. K. Krishnasamy, and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) launched by Dr. S. Ramadoss, subsequent extremist tendencies were partly contained, as these parties, to some extent, espoused issues that resonated among the marginalised and the underprivileged. Of late, the Maoists have made fresh bid to establish their pockets in certain areas like Gudalur, Theni, bordering Kerala, and Mettur, espousing causes of tribes and settlers.

Meanwhile, the release of the Western Ghat Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEPR), headed by noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil, has opened a Pandora’s Box, which will embolden Maoists to sharpen their campaign and propaganda, highlighting the adverse impact of liberalisation and globalisation on tribes and indigenous people.

Large scale deforestation in the entire stretch of the Western Ghats in contravention of the Forest Conservation Acts, harassment and extortion of money from tribal people and forest dwellers by forest officials in many districts such as Gadchiroli and Nandurbar, the construction of dams in many Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) areas of Maharashtra without environmental clearance, the expansion of commercial plantations leading to fragmentation of agriculture, soil erosion, degradation of river eco systems and extensive toxic contamination of rivers and water sources are some such major issues highlighted by that Report, inadvertently providing enough ammunition for the Maoists in the post-reform period. The Maoists in the AOB have also begun moves to re-build their bases in parts of Andhra Pradesh, taking up some of these issues, while political parties, environmental activists, NGOs and agrarian bodies are at loggerheads over the recommendations of the Western Ghats Panel.

In this setting, it is also relevant to point out that in the recent past, the Maoists suffered serious setbacks in their efforts to rebuild their bases in the AOB region, which is unique for its dense forests and difficult terrain. Sande Rajamouli, the Central Committee member of the CPI (Maoists), who was effectively running the party’s covert set-up in this belt was killed in an alleged police encounter in June 2007. In December 2007, Malla Raji Reddy, also known as Satenna, another Central leader from Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, who was assigned regrouping tasks, was arrested along with his wife by the Andhra police from a Kerala hideout. The arrest of Chandrasekhar Gorebal, another senior leader of the outfit in Karnataka in June 2010, was yet another setback for the party in their expansion moves in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. The subsequent regrouping efforts of other Central leaders like Azad (since killed in July 2010) and Kobad Ghandy (arrested from Delhi) with the help of local comrades could not make much headway.

As the Maoists change their strategies, the South West Regional Bureau and the Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee of the CPI(Maoists), which are entrusted with regrouping tasks in this region, are likely to come out with new tactics in the days ahead.

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