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Appeal for talks with broader section of people’s struggles in the forest and mineral belt

March 2, 2010

Aditya Nigam, Dilip Simeon, Jairus Banaji, Nivedita Menon, Rohini Hensman, Satya Sivaraman, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar

In the light of the recent demands raised by sections of the intelligentsia urging the government to heed the CPI (Maoist) “offer of talks”, we insist that “civil society” should rather, put pressure on the government to initiate talks with representatives of all struggling popular and adivasi organizations. The CPI (Maoist) cannot be treated as the sole spokesperson of all the people in the forest and mineral belt, convenient though this may be for the state and for that party. Does the government believe that violent insurgents are the only deserving interlocutors?

There is a common pattern to the emergence of Maoist violence in many areas. First a non-violent mass organisation like the PCAPA in West Bengal or Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) in Orissa arises in response to marginalisation, displacement or violence against tribals by the police and paramilitaries. Then the Maoists step in, attempting to take over the movement and giving it a violent turn. The state responds with even more violence, which is directed not only against the Maoists but also against unaffiliated adivasis. At this point, some adivasis join the Maoists in self-defence, their leaders like Chhatradhar Mahato, Lalmohan Tudu, Singanna are either arrested or gunned down in fake encounters and large numbers of unaffiliated adivasis are branded Maoists or Maoist sympathisers and arrested, killed or terrorised by the state. Clearly, Maoist violence in these cases obtains legitimacy because of the unbridled use of force by security forces and violations of the fundamental rights of the local people. On the other hand, the unilateral and doctrinal use of the language of warfare by one armed group obscures the political agency of the ordinary people who have had no say in this declaration.  It also tramples on the human rights of the often desperately poor people who are obliged to seek a livelihood in organizations of the state. Furthermore, it is not clear that the CPI (Maoist) actually shares the rejection of this kind of “development” by the people of the area, or whether it only wants to wrest control of this process from the Indian state.

The counter-insurgency operations mounted by the central government in these areas has led to unprecedented bloodshed, massacres of civilian populations and rampant violations of constitutional rights in the area. The central government insists on treating the affected areas as a “war zone”, and has shown little inclination towards tackling the huge backlog of tribal oppression that has created fertile ground for such violence. It is also true that whenever the government has conceded space, the conditions for this have been created by mass movements, not by the military actions of the CPI (Maoist).  For example, the decision by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to put on hold the agreements with Vedanta and Posco in Orissa because of non-compliance with legal requirements for obtaining the consent of local adivasis, comes in the wake of sustained joint struggles by a range of political groupings.

We therefore urge all democratic sections to put pressure on the government to ensure that:
(1) Regardless of whether talks with the Maoists materialise, talks should immediately be initiated with those adivasis who are losing their land; and with representatives of the various mass-based organizations/mass movements, if necessary by securing their release from prison.

(2) round-the-clock security from attacks by both Maoists and state-sponsored groups and security personnel, is provided to these representatives and their families, as well as to witnesses in cases like the Gompad massacre and their families;

(3) the grievances voiced by these representatives be treated with the utmost seriousness and addressed as soon as possible.

Maoist violence flourishes in the foetid atmosphere provided by the destruction of the rule of law and rampant human rights abuses by the state. It is the task of the government to ensure that the rule of law is respected by all sides in the mineral and forest belt.  If the rights of the adivasis to freedom of association and of expression, including the right to oppose current “development” policies, are respected, and crucially, if this dissent is taken into account by the government, Maoists will lose credibility. The party’s violent methods, often designed to cause collateral damage, will lose the support it currently obtains among sections of the disaffected population in these areas.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. taki permalink
    March 3, 2010 7:20 AM

    This statement, which is highly prejudiced and almost juvenile, expresses an unhealthy call for more “law and order” as a political solution. In other words, the signatories appear to believe that the state is, or ought to become, “an umpire” as Milton Friedman’s famously put it (c.f., “government is essential both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on”). Accordingly, the signatories clearly assert that “[i]t is the task of the government to ensure that the rule of law is respected by all sides in the mineral and forest belt.” Such a position is not
    pro-people.

    Moreover, this position is especially odd in view of the fact that a few sentences earlier the statement asserts that the principal factors
    that forced the hand of MoEF were mass movements and a complex political alliance. If the signatories believe this premise, then a
    more sensible course of action would have been to assert that the appropriate decision now is to adopt a new strategy that would intensify this mass movement in some fashion. But they do not explore this possibility. They appeal instead for “round-the-clock security from attacks by both Maoists and state-sponsored groups and security
    personnel.” Who do they think will enforce this particular demand? The CRPF?

    Also, the claim that the state uses force only to resist the violence of the Naxalites is implausible, since it has been consistently using the police and para-military forces to suppress non-violent, Gandhian forms of protests (NBO, the anti-POSCO agitation and recently in Bhavnagar district in Gujarat) in many places.

  2. Indranil permalink
    March 3, 2010 12:25 PM

    While I broadly agree with the spirit of the statement, the assertion that PCAPA was a “non-violent mass organisation” is misleading. The non violent adivasi organisation which had started the agitation against police atrocities in Lalgarh was Bharat Jakat Majhi Marwa Sangathan. After a prolonged protest its leaders had arrived at an agreement with the administration. This is when the Maoists stepped in via the PCAPA, under the leadership of Chatradhar Mahato. The BJMMS was sidelined and a blockade was enforced under PCAPA leadership. When the BJMMS protested against this PCAPA takeover, the Maoists killed its leader Sudhir Mandal on 11 December 2008. Chatradhar Mahato was not a tribal leader. He was a Trinamul Congress functionary.

    The call to the Government to initiate dialogue with the adivasis and mass organisations working in the tribal areas is very apt. However, it would be better to specify whose “release from prison” is being specifically sought; since if it includes the likes of Chatradhar Mahato, who is self-admittedly a Maoist pointsman, the statement can be interpreted as the laying of pre-conditions for talks with the Maoists, which goes contrary to the other formulations of the statement.

  3. uday permalink
    March 3, 2010 1:32 PM

    “if this dissent is taken into account by the government, Maoists will lose credibility. The party’s violent methods, often designed to cause collateral damage, will lose the support it currently obtains among sections of the disaffected population in these areas.” Chidambaram are you listening? follow the instructions of this letter and you will contain the maoists in a non-military way.
    the signatories all seem to be part of the ‘how you can contain and crush maoists through non-military means’ lobby? how you can incite and unite other tribal organisations to marginalise the maoists? by the way wasnt that the rationale behind salwa judum? that is, organise other tribals against maoists. but that was also the US policy in nepal – finish off the maoists, involve other civil society groups, organisations. a crucial part of the US counter-insurgency operations. keep it up, great work!

  4. supriya permalink
    March 4, 2010 11:18 AM

    uday, i take your point that the signatories are following the salwa judum logic, in trying to mobilise non-Maoist tribal organisations in order to counter and marginalise the Maoists. but it seems to me that they are more anti-Maoist than anti-state since they are also appealing to the state to engage different organisations.
    but what i am uncomfortable with is the underlying assumption of the signatories that the Maoists are just an armed band of thugs or something. even the Indian state does not seem to consistently think so… in fact Maoists in popular imagination remains honest and committed activists – for example, in the acclaimed hazar chaurasi ki maa. the signatories come across as viscereal civil society-kinds elitist do-gooders. but uday your larger point is not clear to me.

  5. trevor selvam permalink
    March 5, 2010 5:32 AM

    Interesting indeed– the cant of the disenfranchised left! With NO RECORD whatsoever of any succesful progressive movement in their history, no organization that they have associated with that has built up any mass movement of any proportion that has had any significant impact on the GOI’s neo-liberal rampage, and at the same time frequently appearing in Arnab Goswami’s Foxtalk–these progressives choose to form another small club and want to be piggy-backed into the “negotiations.” Of course they should be. The Maoists know very well they are only the initiators of an upsurge. they do not pretend to be the “chosen people.” They have openly called for other progressives, patriots to be involved and so will Medha Patkar, Arundhuti Roy, Himangshu Kumar, Nandita Haksar and scores of other independent leaders who feel strongly enough to throw themselves in front of the ex-Enron lawyer’s paramilitary Israel-equipped hordes… But these signatories to this letter only want to be sitting around the table when PCC finally decides to negotiate (He will have to.) Piggy-backers par excellence.. It is also interesting that Goswami waves their letter openly on his trash show, telling off the other intellectuals how they should heed this letter!

  6. Anurag permalink
    March 7, 2010 4:28 AM

    I believe the RESPONSE to the appeal is missing a cue in the argument or deliberately trying to do so while trying to homogenize the Maoist violence with the local resistence. We know what their cowardly act in Lalgarh where they infiltrated into the mass uprising, then used the occasion to brandish their AK-47, issue “macho” statements like “ghush ke dikhao yahaan”….and then disappear into the forest when the Paramilitary came leaving the local people to bear the brunt of the state. Where the hell were they when the Indian State sent its COBRAS and GREYHOUNDS to shoot Sodhi Sambu??? You claim to be leading people into the “inevitable armed struggle”, put them in the warfront… leave them and run away. How dare you still call it a People’s War?? Are you protecting them from the JUDUM? Are you protecting them from Operation Greenhunt? NO….you are hiding in their jungles and watching the Judum burn, rape and kill them. If you call these academician’s appeal as an act of Umpiring, then why should your RESPONSE be considered anything more than an ADVOCATE of the Maoist violence?
    Please read and read carefully what the appeal says “It is the task of the government to ensure that the rule of law is respected by all sides in the mineral and forest belt. If the rights of the adivasis to freedom of association and of expression, including the right to oppose current “development” policies, are respected….” The signatories are not discussing the “essentiality of the government” as your Mr. Friedman puts it. Rather it is an obvious argument in their appeal that regardless of our reservations about the legitimacy of State, as of now there is an Indian State deriving its power from the Constitution, using (read ABUSING) it against its own people in the name of maintaining law and order. And how do you respond? You give its actions legitimacy through counter violence………and the corporate media plays your daredevil tapes over and over….until they convince people that unless “they are all killed, they will topple the Indian State by 2050” (Union Home Secretary,06 March 2010,THE HINDU).
    Further, the jug headed interpretation of “providing the security” only revels the shallowness of the RESPONSE which does not even consider the possibility of more inclusive modalities of the security like the community police and people’s vigilance groups that have proven effective in other instances like the riots in Gujrat . Even today some villages in India and Terai of Nepal have local people and State Security working together to keep the whole process transparent and effective. Argument is about remaining open to finding a solution to insecurity of the local people.….besides, even people of Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh pay for the food the CRPF eats and clothes they wear…the guns they carry….Why relieve them of their responsibility without holding them accountable???Hence, as an active member of the citizenry, the RESPONSE ought to be… “let us demand that as an organ of government responsible for security, the CRPF be made accountable for their security….” Well if one is only intending to make life easy for self then let CRPF get away with what they do…and what they DON’T DO.
    Point well taken about movements like Narmada Bachao Andolan and anti-POSCO movements…..and it is for everybody to see how much the Indian State has been exposed and criticized for how they have dealt with these movements……but don’t compare them with PCAPA, which was once a people’s committee….but due to the Maoists infiltration, has been reduced to one of its outfits….and today everyone once associated with the group…those who subsequently distanced themselves due to the Maoists interference….are being harassed by Army and Judum for being Maoists…and by Maoists themselves for (possibly) being informants as they choose not to join them……
    Just because the whole affair has different shades does not give anyone right to fish in the murky water and start making an unsubstantiated generalizations….for when they are subjected to public scrutiny of logic….they fall apart…Let it be known through this RESPONSE!

  7. Rajesh permalink
    March 7, 2010 4:47 PM

    It is the task of this government to ensure that the rule of law is not followed in the mineral and forest belt. The rights of the adivasis to freedom of association and of expression, including the right to oppose current “development” policies, are not to be respected, that is the substance of Green Hunt. This appeal will fall on deaf ears. It would be better to focus on the systematic violation of its own laws by the state in the forest and mineral belt, and strengthen the voices of democratic mass organisations while demanding the end of Green Hunt. The Maoists are of course doing incalculable harm to democratic mass mobilisation with their foolhardy actions. Intellectuals and mass organisations need to relentlessly criticise the Maoists for this. Criticising one without the other would be unbalanced.

    • Joe permalink
      March 9, 2010 4:59 PM

      Even though one can generally agree with some of the issues raised in the statements ,some caveats.
      If one raises the timing of this hurry-burry appeal and logical conclusions one can arrive at as to the intentions behind it, that cannot be completely ruled out. Especially so, when pronounced Marxists are also there among the signatories who unashamedly associated their names for a long time to all kinds of terror unleashed by their parliamentary left masters.While some others indulged in ever procrastination business of the never achievable revolution, despite being avowed champions of its verbiage. (in the process maligning all practicing movements in the world for not taking up their god Mr.Trotsky.)
      On the other hand the problem with Maoists too is acute. Despite posing to be the radical champions of subaltern they are not only being radical enough, but are of the same genetic stock of their parliamentary counterparts and foes when it comes to the realm of culture. See, for instance the statement made by Amit Bhattacharya in Jnu campus on 7 Aug, sympathetic to the maoists. According to him a revolution in Lalgarh is festival of masses. Good!. But, it is like Dusserah where a Ravan’s effigy is burnt by Ram bhakts,it seems. Excellent! See the ignorance of leftists on the vast corpus of literature on the polemics on Arya- dravida, north-south, dalit-brhamin issues.Even so-called ideologues are limiting themselves to the Brahmanical indoctrination of masses for years, cashed in on even by a BJP. With out settling scores radically in the realm of culture and history what are they up to? All this are despite the radical left posing to be subaltern and indulging in open self-criticism against Brahmanism.See how ignorant and apathetic these leftist scholars are (including CPM Brahmanism) shamelessly exhibiting even their casteists surnames to command intellectual authority. At least even a Mao attempted to demolish the Confucious feudal culture. It speaks for why their fraternal movement in Nepal on achieving limited success took a u-turn and unashamedly espoused openly national chauvinism and capitalism (unlike their CPM brothers who use revolutionary verbiage at least to hoodwink people). After all, one may tend to feel that, a V.T.Rajashekar was not absolutely wrong in dismissing all savarna led movements as bound to be reactionary in the end.

  8. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:39 PM

    Let us not lose sight of the following:
    1. Maoism is not a legitimate “mass movement”. As someone described above, ther job is limited to indulge in terrorist violence and conveniently escape into jungles letting the masses bear the brunt.
    2. They aim to gain Political Power through individual acts of heroism and terrorism, i.e., through cadre-based LTTE/Che Guevara-type of actions rather than concerted mass movements. Am not against violence, but only when democratic means are exhausted, which is invariably the situation when the masses are on the verge of capturing power from the bourgeois through legitimate means. Till then, violence is not only counter productive but results in a bureaucratic and oppressive Stalinst apparatus capturing Power.
    As independent Human Rights activists , Aditya and company are justified in calling the Government to withdraw its coercive forces and negotiate with people’s representatives. Please note the excerpt : “We insist that “civil society” should rather, put pressure on the government to initiate talks with representatives of all struggling popular and adivasi organizations” which does not preclude talks with Maoists if they are the genuine people’s representatives as I would imagine , to a large extent, in Chattisgarh but defintely not in Jharkhand , Andhra or West Bengal.

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