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The Azad Murder and the CPM: Biswajit Roy

September 6, 2010

Guest post by BISWAJIT ROY. Biswajit is a journalist based in Kolkata

The recent controversy over the Maoist top gun Cherukuri Rajkumar aka Azad’s killing by AP police has blurred the usual political division between the apostles of state security and human rights groups. P Chidambaram and AP police chief churned out the usual encounter death theory, but the Maoists and Mamata Banerjee as well as union home minister’s emissary to the rebels, Swami Agniwesh called it a cold-blooded murder and demanded judicial inquiry.

In the wake of Chidambaram’s refusal to ask Rosaiah government to go for a judicial probe, the Outlook investigation into Azad’s death and the forensic experts’ opinion on his post-mortem report only reinforced the suspicion about the fake encounter. While it is yet to be clear whether Azad will become Congress’s Sohrabuddin, CPM’s position on the issue is interesting if not unpredictable.

The CPM made a full-throated condemnation of the killing of Sohrabuddin and his wife by the Gujarat-Rajasthan cops and demanded punishment of Narendra Modi’s protégé and former state home minister Amit Shah for masterminding the murder. Also, the party general secretary Prakash Karat condemned the ‘brutal policing’ against the stone-pelting youth in the valley while counting the mounting toll of young lives during his recent visit to Srinagar. He demanded curbing of the ‘draconian’ provisions of Armed Forces Special Power Act which confer licence to kill while asking the Centre to ‘stop repression and start dialogue’.

But when it comes to Maoists, the Marxists heavyweights kept mum over Azad’s mysterious death – in the parliament and outside and virtually accepted the police version about his death. Pressed about the CPM’s stand on Azad death controversy, its leaders spoke with a forked tongue. The party central committee member and Bengal spokesman, Md Selim was evasive.
He said his party always wanted Centre to reveal ‘truth’ about all such deaths. But he stopped short of supporting the police version on Azad’s end arguing that they had ‘no information to counter the police claims’ or buttress the demand for judicial probe.

The CPM leaders are rather busy in training their guns on their bete noire Mamata Banerjee for diverging from Chidambaram’s line and cited it as another proof of her nexus with the Maoists. Sitaram Yechuri, Brinda Karat and Biman Bose skipped the core issue of Azad’s death in suspected fake encounter while demanding Prime minister’s statement on the cacophony in the cabinet on his death in order. Clearly, their move was aimed at mounting pressure on the Congress to tame Mamata and drive wedge between it and Trinamul. There is no denying of the fact that Mamata is making her enemy’s enemy friends with an eye to the crucial Bengal assembly polls. She wants to checkmate CPM’s ongoing low-key but successful armed offensive in reclaiming its lost ground in Lalgarh region on the heels of Centre-state joint forces now hounding the Maoists. In her Lalgarh rally, Mamata even made her political intention clear by mentioning the ‘40-50 (to be precise, 40) assembly seats’ in Bengal’s Jungle Mahal districts which the CPM and its allies were still able to retain in the Lok Sabha 2009 elections. Smelling victory in ‘ the final match’ in 2011, she is desperate in keeping the Maoists in good humour as Chandra Babu Naidu and YSR Reddy did in Andhra before their crucial assembly polls earlier.

It is also true that the agenda of the Maoists and Mamata have converged so far as both sides made the CPM as their common enemy despite Kisenji’s occasional reproach and complaints against Trinamul supremo. The bonhomie between Maoists and Mamata’s men in Nandigram is now an ‘open secret’. Consequently, the mutual hatred of the Marxists and Maoists, the ideological cousins-turned archenemies, has now resulted into total political bankruptcy in both the camps. The big brother of the mainstream Left has turned into apologists for extra-judicial killings and police atrocities against the Maoists and their supporters even if it takes place away from its home turf. The CPM leadership bothered little about the democratic niceties that makes it an imperative for all believers in the sanctity of the constitution, rule of law and universal human rights to protest the fake encounter killings, even if the victim is one’s bitterest political enemy and support the demand to probe his death.

In its more temperate political resolutions, the CPM may have stressed on its political battle against the Maoists and distinguished them from the LeT and other terror outfits. The official party line also condemned the UPA government policies for promoting plunder of land, minerals and other natural resources by the corporate capital and blamed the alienation of the tribals and other forest people on it. But in its efforts to outsmart and outgun the Maoists and hold on to power in Bengal, it has joined cause with former Vedanta board member and Enron’s counsel and now our hawkish home minister Chidambaram in his ‘fight-to-finish the Maoists by 2013’ campaign. Brinda Karats and Basudeb Acharias found their agony aunts in Arun Jaitley and others in the saffron brigade. The party’s constant harping on the prime minister’s description of the Maoists as ‘the biggest threat to the internal security’ and its support to Chidambaram’s Operation Green Hunt made the ‘doves’ in the Congress— Digi Raja, Mani Aiyar and Keshaba Rao, even Sonia and Rahul Gandhi— look like Maoist sympathisers. The CPM and its government in Bengal are not officially averse to the talks with the Maoists if the rebels ‘abjure violence’ as Chidambaram had put the condition earlier.

But neither Chidambaram nor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee now favours talks. The recent ‘successes’ in anti-Maoist operations by the security forces in Bengal have emboldened their hope in a military solution of the ‘Maoist menace’, at least in the state’s ability to bring the rebels at their knees. In addition, CPM disfavour talks now fearing that the security force-party cadres joint offensive will lose momentum and the party will lose its crucial poll plank if talks begin. That’s why the party leaders accused Mamata of offering ‘Oxygen to the Maoists when they are cornered’ while conceding that the Marxist cadres are ‘helping the security forces in Junglemahal.’

Yechuri and Selim might have opposed the draconian provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act at the time of its hasty passage in the parliament in the wake of 26/11. But today Bhattacharjee government is imprisoning poor tribals and non-tribals as suspected Maoists and their sympathisers under the same UAPA act with a vengeance. The democratic niceties about political battle stops at the door of Jungle Mahal as the state government has clamped prohibitory orders banning rallies and mass meetings in the Lalgarh region, except those organised by its avenging armed cadres and supporters. Even the green activists who have launched campaign against highly polluting sponge iron units in the region are now arrested for ‘waging war against the State’. For the CPM and its government, “Maoist’ has become a generic epithet for all those non-CPM, non-party critical voices whom it wants to gag.

If the CPM’s silence on Azad’s death revealed the party’s political opportunism, the Maoist leadership cannot play victims only. They must admit their growing alienation in Junglemahal mainly because of its wanton killing spree and its failure to reach out to the CPM’s residual support base among tribals and non-tribals. Neither Marx’s axioms on class struggle nor Mao’s military-political writings on protracted people’s war can justify the Maoists’ killing of CPM cadres and supporters, most of them tribal and non-tribal poor, in the name of weeding out police moles and unleashing ‘defensive’ red terror against ‘offensive’ white terror in Bengal’s Junglemahal.

The mutual hatred between the social democrats and revolutionary communists in pre-Nazi Germany and its disastrous outcome notwithstanding, the history of communist fratricide in Bengal is unique with no parallel in the country and beyond. The mutual killings of the CPM and CPI(ML) in the early seventies in Calcutta and rest of the state only helped the then Congress government in the Centre and state to unleash an unprecedented, ruthless police-para military repression on Bengal’s Left. Naxalites mainly bore the brunt of it, but CPM cadres too faced the atrocities by the uniformed forces as well as the Congress goons in those days. That pathetic history seems to be repeating itself now in Junglemahal. Interestingly, both the CPM and united CPI(ML) had denied political space and legitimacy to each other even if both the parties were ready to accommodate or tolerate other left forces. Today’s Maoists describe the ruling Marxists as ‘social fascists’ while the CPM refuses to consider the rebels as revolutionaries and describe them as a ‘gang of murderers, criminals and extortionists’.
The war of political supremacy in Junglemahal between the two parties has now turned into a battle for mutual physical destruction. But it is not only the CPM, but also non-Maoist Naxalite groups, active in some pockets of the Junglemahal since early seventies, have complained that the Maoists have turned themselves into the clones of the CPM and imposed their version of one-party rule in a more ruthless fashion.

According to them, the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities, an outcome of the popular uprising of the tribal and non-tribal poor that had underlined the CPM and the government’s almost total alienation from the locals, degenerated into a Maoist frontal outfit, though starting as a representative multi-party mass resistance forum. For many of these friends-turned critics of the Maoists, there is hardly any difference between the CPI(Marxist) and CPI(Maoist) if the denial of basic democracy, tolerance of difference and criticism are any indicators. The daily executions and maiming spree in the name of so-called ‘people’s courts’ have not spared some of the ‘former friendly people’, they said.

The security forces- CPM’s armed cadres combine’s successes in regaining the pockets of west Midnapore and Bankura and the increasing counter-violence of anti-Maoist Gram Pradirodh committee backed by them have made the Maoist retreat evident.
CPM’s recent recapture of Dharampur is quite telling. More than a year back, the PCPA and Maoists had detonated the pent-up furies of the local poor against the CPM’s local satraps and demolished the opulent building of local party boss Anuj Pandey and vandalised local CPM office with Kisenji’s deputy Bikash flauting his AK-47 rifle in camera glares. This time Maoists could not offer any resistance as Pandey made a victorious comeback leading a party procession on their D-day. For Maoists, expulsion of the ruling party’s leaders from Dharampur last year was a watershed as the rebels had for the first time announced their leadership in the anti-police, anti-CPM PCPA movement on that day before the media. It’s loss now should be pondered over with equal importance as many activists close to Lalgarh movement had accused Maoists of ‘killing the possibilities of an unique mass resistance movement’ by Bikash’s braggadocio and imposition of rebel’s own agenda and leadership on it decisively since Dharampur episode.

The CPM seemed to have learnt a lesson from Nandigram and used it in recapturing areas close to Lalgarh. After drawing flak over its high-profile armed ‘Sunshine’ in Nandigram three years back, CPM strategists are now wiser and run their clandestine operation at low key in Junglemahal. They had begun encircling the strategic entry points to the Maoist-PCPA strongholds by deploying its armed squads at fortified party offices close to the camps of security forces. Their armed men helped uniformed forces by gathering local intelligence regarding Maoists’ movements and their jungle hideouts and moved in the troubled zone after the security forces ‘sanitised’ the area. Political rallies and processions are being held simultaneously to assert regained political control.

Now that CPM secured some bridgeheads, Biman Bose and Md Selim are admitting the ‘co-operation’ between security forces and their men. The CPM leaders also admitted the existence of party-run camps after Chidambaram had confirmed it following complaints from both Mamata and Maoists. But they denied presence of armed cadres among camp inmates and claimed that the camps were meant for sheltering party supporters who had been evicted from their homes by the PCPA and Maoists.
Although the government side’s successes are highly dependent on ruthless armed offensive that included killings of key PCPA leaders including Lalmohon Tudu, Sidho Soren and Umakanta Mahato in suspected fake encounters, the political alienation of the Maoists and PCPA is becoming quite apparent now. The newspapers sympathetic to the rebels too reported increasing hostility of former PCPA supporters among villagers against their former protectors’ ‘highhandedness and penchant for indiscriminate killings’. The extent of local disillusionment with the Maoists and PCPA is yet be gauged fully.

But Nandigram and Lalgarh have proved that neither Maoists nor Marxists can sustain their political power by firepower or ‘counter-terror’ only if they lose people’s support. If the ‘wind of change’ that is blowing across Bengal now gets stronger enough to sweep the ruling Left off their seat of power in 2011, the CPM leaders and cadres are also likely to be at the receiving end of state repression. The Maoists are also to face the same fate, since their honeymoon with Mamata is likely to be short-lived as they had experienced in Andhra earlier with Chandra Babu and YSR.

So, Both sides should ponder over the changing reality and think twice before repeating the blunders of the seventies.
Unfortunately, the Maoist leadership, particularly its politburo member in charge of Bengal, Kishenji has always justified the killings of the CPM and other political adversaries and even claimed that more heads would have rolled had they acceded to the ‘people’s demands’. But if reaction of a sizeable section of the Outlook readers on Azad’s killing is an indicator, the mindless murders by the Maoists have horrified many people who were initially moved by the rebel’s revolutionary idealism and their identification with the dispossessed and plundered tribals and other marginals. But the earlier beheading of a Jharkhand policeman and the latest killing of another ‘POW’ police officer in captivity in Bihar (in total disregard of Geneva Convention) only made them further dismayed and disillusioned. Those who refused to share sympathy for Azad and justified fake encounter killings clearly supported the state’s shenanigans in the name of national security. But there were others who are not exactly Chidambaram’s co-travellers but felt that the Maoists were paid back in their own coin.

If this deadly logic of violence-justifies-counter violence gains wide currency, the vicious cycle of killings and counter-killings will numb all human feelings, stop pricking our middle class consciences and turn us disaffected spectators of a ‘dark war with no heroes’. This cynical and withdrawn mindset will only help the state to unleash more terror on those who challenged its might as we had witnessed in early seventies. The plunderers of people’s resources and their agents in the corridor of power will be more ruthless in silencing the leaders and activists of non-party people’s movements and organisations who are fighting against the structural violence and state atrocities without guns. Out of power in Bengal and clout in Delhi, Parliamentary communists will also face the music if they are really poised to fight the land-grab, corporate mining on tribal land as Prakash Karat assured after his party’s post-Singur and Nandigram course correction session in Vijayawada.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. mkrao permalink
    September 8, 2010 10:43 AM

    CPM is totally against for fake encounters at the same time killings of Maoists inthe name of police informers. All over India Maoists are killing cpm caders, and ordinary innocents is well known. why BISWAJIT ROY and like alites are not asking the Maoists ?
    mkrao, HYDERABAD.

    • September 8, 2010 6:16 PM

      mr rao should have the patience to go through my entire piece before accusing me for condoning the Maoists.it will be better if he scans the CPM mouthpieces and other newspapers to look for the party’s condemnation of Azad’s killing in suspected fake encounter or its endorsement of the demand for judicial probe into his death which the CPI leadership has done. For his record, I have criticised Maoists for killing CPM cadres and felt that mutual killings of Marxists and Maoists would only repeat the blunders of the seventies.
      biswajit

  2. Nirmalangshu permalink
    September 10, 2010 12:46 PM

    While agreeing generally with the sane (and anguished) observations of the author, I wish to focus on the mysterious killing of Azad. It is tempting to construct a variety of “conspiracy theories”. Short of that, one might as well raise a few questions. There are two stories to explain the killing: the police story and the maoist story. We look at them in turn.

    As for the police story, I am reminded of the observations of the famous gaia theorist Lynn Margulis. She suggested that we need not send (expensive) spacecrafts to the outer space to find out if there is extraterrestrial life. A simple spectral analysis of gases around the planets from here suffices. The remark seems to apply to the elaborate reports of the fact-finding committe, discussed in Outlook. The police story is so ridiculously false that it is unclear why a “fact-finding” mission is needed. According to the story, the police came upon a group of 25-30 armed maoists and firing began. After several hours, the maoists retreated leaving just the bodies of Azad and Pandey behind. So, the hapless Pandey was part of the armed group, the maoists did not drag the bodies away as they always do, and the police bullets found exactly these two (perhaps they had bullets with the names of Azad and Pandey written on them). No one else from either side was hurt. And all this when Azad was no.3 in the maoist hierarchy. If we want to believe that, we might as well believe in the parting of the Nile, and Ganesha drinking milk.

    According to the maoist story, in contrast–and it is important to remember that we have only the maoist word for it (as swallowed by anguished sympathisers)–Azad was loitering unarmed with the hapless Pandey at the end of his trip from ‘somewhere in the North’. Around that point in time, AP police picked him up, took him to the Adilabad jungles, and killed him. It is also said that Azad was to go Dandakaranya to give lessons. An alternative, not fully consistent with the above, is that he was going to meet his comrades to discuss Agnivesh’s plan. Where? Have the comrades shifted to Maharashtra? In either case, what was he doing at Nagpur, if he was to go Chattisgarh from somewhere in the North, assuming that the maoist leaders are assembled in Chattisgarh? More importantly, why should the police kill him after arresting him? He would have been a prized catch on par with Ghandy, Sanyal, and others to boost the morale of the state and the security forces after two big setbacks in April and June. An arrest would have increased Chidambaram’s bargaining power manyfolds. Instead, he is now faced with a range of problems after the alleged encounter, with glaring holes in the story as outlined.

    A third (sinister) alternative begins to raise its head as we listen to Agnivesh. In a detailed interview to Teesri Dunia (10 August, p.25), Agnivesh says: “A leader of Azad’s stature cannot be so careless. It is worth pondering if someone from their ranks did not want the peace process to continue. There are people who are against peace-talks both inside and outside maoist circles. It is possible that one of them informed the police.”

    If these people merely ‘informed’ the police, the police would have arrested Azad and taken the credit as suggested above. Who killed Azad? How did the police get access to the dead bodies? It is obvious that Pandey was killed because he was the sole witness. AND, whatever happened, the police is not going to tell.

  3. mkrao permalink
    September 10, 2010 2:27 PM

    mr.biswajit roy u need not worry about my patience. one thing should bring to your notice. Attempt on west Bengal cm mr.buddadeve by Maoists welknown fact. Maoist central leaders like Azad and nobody condemned it, why ?
    mkrao, HYDERABAD,10/9/10

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