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Maoists in West Bengal: Terror and Political Degeneration

There is a clear alliance between the party of right reaction in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress, and the Maoists as they try out a cynical strategy of violence to defeat the state's Left Front government. By attacking the most organised and strong contingent of the anti-imperialist and left forces in the country, the Maoists are playing the role of being agents of the ruling classes. It is unfortunate that sections of the country's progressive polity and intellectuals have ended up supporting such dangerous politics.


Maoists in West Bengal: Terror support from the Congress or the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The Maoists chose
and Political Degeneration these very areas as their primary base. It was the Jharkhand Party at first, and now
the TMC which has actively facilitated the
entry of the Maoists.
Debasish Chakraborty Interestingly, many of the areas identi-

There is a clear alliance between the party of right reaction in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress, and the Maoists as they try out a cynical strategy of violence to defeat the state’s Left Front government. By attacking the most organised and strong contingent of the anti-imperialist and left forces in the country, the Maoists are playing the role of being agents of the ruling classes. It is unfortunate that sections of the country’s progressive polity and intellectuals have ended up supporting such dangerous politics.

Debasish Chakraborty (news@ganashakti. is news editor, Ganashakti, a Bengali daily published by the CPI(M).

Economic & Political Weekly

NOVEMBER 14, 2009

he Maoist assault in the three western districts of West Bengal – West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia – started years before the Lalgarh incidents crystallised, even much before the events in Nandigram. From 2001 onwards the Maoists (the Peoples’ War and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) earlier and from 2004 their joint party) have attacked and killed members of the organised left forces in Bengal. More than 100 CPI(M) workers had already been killed and hundreds forced to leave their homes in these districts when the Maoists, in November 2008, escalated violence to a different level by trying to kill the West Bengal chief minister with a landmine blast in Shalboni.

It is not possible to understand what is happening in these areas, unless one p laces it in the larger context of Maoist politics and strategy, and the specificity of West Bengal.

The CPI(M) has a strong political base in these districts based on extensive mass support built through long and arduous struggles on issues of land and livelihood and to break the old exploitative structures. After 1977, when the Left Front came to power, significant changes have taken place in the economic life of h undreds of thousands of people in these a reas while panchayats have empowered them. This has been the reason people here have supported the Left Front, even in the recent parliamentary elections.

Given the CPI(M)’s popularity based on these achievements, opposition parties found the armed attacks by the Maoists useful in breaking the CPI(M)’s hold and have encouraged Maoist violence. The details of political geography are important here. Despite large areas of influence, the CPI(M) has been weak in certain pockets, particularly Lalgarh and Binpur blocks in West Midnapore. Factions of the Jharkhand Party controlled these panchayats and even won a few assembly seats with

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fied as most backward in these districts were run by the Jharkhand Party-led panchayats and they lagged far behind neighbouring villages in implementing developmental projects. For the last six to seven years, it is the Maoists who have aggressively opposed development works in these areas, further adding to the peoples’ woes.

Lack of Development?

Of late, it has become fashionable to attribute underdevelopment as the prime reason and justification for Maoist m ayhem in these districts. While underdevelopment is a reality, it should be remembered that West Bengal has the best record of land reforms in the country. Up to 2008, close to 30 lakh landless have been given land rights on 10.36 lakh acres of land. In addition, more than 15 lakhs have been r ecorded as sharecroppers. Among those who got land rights, 5.36 lakhs are tribals while 11.05 lakhs are scheduled castes. Similarly, among r ecorded sharecroppers

1.64 lakhs are t ribals. This remains unparalleled in the country. West Bengal is the leading state in awarding forest rights u nder the newly enacted law, though much before it was enacted at the centre, tribals in West B engal have been given wide- ranging rights over forest areas.

In spite of remarkable achievements in these and some other sectors, poverty still persists. The Left Front government in West Bengal could, perhaps, have done better but it must be realised that it was working within the parameters drawn by the neoliberal policies of the Indian state which have further increased inequality all over the country. In a capitalist society like ours, development processes have an inherent class content, yet while fighting for a larger radical transformation of the socioeconomic structure, we cannot f orsake the struggles for immediate relief and nearterm development goals. The Left Front in West Bengal has been trying, with a mixture of success and failure, to do exactly that within the given limitations.


The Indian Maoists, however, reject the very idea of development and consider any development work a hindrance to their “revolution”. They oppose the laying of rail tracks, construction of bridges and establishment of power projects while blowing up schools and public health centres. Whose interest are they protecting by these acts? The entire stratagem of the Maoists is to use the intense poverty of the tribal population to draw recruits for their armed squads, not to demand development work which helps the tribals and the poor. They have reduced the complex relationship between development, or the lack of it, and forms of struggle to the straitjacket of “guerrilla warfare”.

Writing more than a century ago on forms of struggle in general and guerrilla warfare in particular, Lenin wrote:

Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of their own experience…Marxism, therefore, does not reject any particular form of struggle… Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim, whatsoever, to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers in the seclusion of their studies”.

Lenin continued, Depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely

to abandon the Marxist position (Lenin, C ollected Works, Vol 11, pp 213-14). However, in this age of AK-47, who

l istens to Lenin?

Class Enemies?

Even in their armed struggle, who are the “class enemies” the Maoists attack and kill? Of the over 100 CPI(M) activists they have killed in these three districts just in the past few years, at least 60 were either agricultural labourers or poor peasants.

Maoists justify such brutality by calling their victims either “agents of the police” or “exploiters”. What remains unsaid is that the Maoists have devolved to themselves the role of prosecutor, judge and e xecutor as if they have been conferred some divine right to kill anyone they want.

Numerous examples of the Maoists’ mindless barbarism are available. In an early incident in Shalboni, Maoists went to kill Vagyadhar Mahato, a CPI(M) activist. Not finding their victim, they killed his mother Puntibala Mahato, his neighbour Ichamati Mahato and her four-year old daughter Priyanka. On 31 December 2005, CPI(M) Purulia district secretariat member Rabindranath Kar and his wife were burnt to death inside their house. In Shalboni, a teacher Anil Mahato was killed in the school in front of his students as was Karamchand Singh some time l ater. More recently, Avijit Mahato, a college student was killed while on his way to an examination. Three poor villagers of Shalboni who were working in a project under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), were abducted and killed. Those who needed work in NREGA turned out to be critical “class enemies” of the Maoists! A medical van has been ambushed in Shalboni, killing a doctor and two nurses. In a horrific case, in June 2009, the bodies of Salku Soren, Naru S amanta, and Prabir Mahato were left in public to decompose and their family members were not allowed to even touch, let alone cremate, them.

Relations with Trinamool

What is shocking is the deliberate and conscious cooperation between the Maoists and the TMC. By now there is enough direct and circumstantial evidence to establish the contours of such a partnership. The Maoists have, in fact, evolved a theoretical perspective for this. In a December 2008 document, titled “Some Important Problems in Our Work and Their Solutions”, the Maoists asserted that the CPI(M) is a “social fascist force” and argued for

o rganising an “anti-fascist united front” with other ruling class parties, particularly the TMC, against them. This document says that TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee should be supported and Maoist cadres should work closely with her. Another

NOVEMBER 14, 2009

Maoist document claims that TMC leaders “fought the war” in Nandigram in close cooperation with them.

Even during the ongoing security operation in Lalgarh, Maoist leader M Koteswar Rao, alias “Kishenji”, has categorically stated in media interviews that Maoists helped the TMC in Nandigram and they want Mamata Banerjee to reciprocate by helping stop central security forces from entering Lalgarh. In a significant interview the Bengali daily, Anandabazar Patrika on 4 October 2009, Kishenji said that they want Mamata Banerjee to be the next chief minister of West Bengal. A ccording to his fanciful analysis, though the TMC has the same class character as the Congress, Mamata Banerjee, by the sheer force of her personality can override this barrier and can initiate radical reforms! Mamata Banerjee has reciprocated by demanding withdrawal of central paramilitary forces from West Midnapore and speaking in a manner which legitimises the brutality of the Maoists.

The complicity of the Maoists and TMC is clear even in the “Peoples’ Committee to Resist Police Atrocities” which was formed in Lalgarh after the failed assassination attempt on the chief minister last year. As late as February this year, Mamata Banerjee was sharing a platform with Chatradhar Mahato, president of this “Peoples’ Committee”, while CPI(M) cadres were b eing systematically killed and forced to leave their homes and party offices were being burnt and looted. Despite the very restrained response from the state government the Maoists escalated the bloodshed in a clear attempt to get a response from the police. It appears quite clear that the Maoists planned the (failed) assassination of the chief minister and the killing of CPI(M) activists on a mass scale to force the police to take armed action and the TMC played its role by opposing any intervention by security forces.

Chatradhar Mahato’s recent arrest and subsequent interrogation have only e xposed many of these linkages and facts. First, Chatradhar Mahato revealed that top Maoists were instrumental in forming the “Peoples’ Committee” to cordon off an area from the police and the administration. Following the Maoists’ dictums, the committee expanded its work from

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Economic & Political Weekly


digging roads to attacking CPI(M) cadre. It is apparent that the Lalgarh agitation was not much of a spontaneous o utburst of tribals, as it was depicted in a section of the media, but rather, was a well-planned disturbance to help the Maoists consolidate their base.

Second, the committee a cted as a convenient platform for the Maoists and TMC to work together. In almost every village where a “branch” of the committee was formed, both the active members of the Maoists and TMC worked in unison, providing support and shelter to armed Maoists. Third, according to reports in the Kolkata media, Chatradhar Mahato has confessed to huge amounts of money being collected by the committee as “donations” and “levies” during the last 10 months. While no clear estimate is yet available, these collections allowed Chatradhar Mahato to take out a life insurance policy of Rs one crore for himself.

Agents of the Ruling Class

The left movement in the country, even in its most advanced outpost in West Bengal, has many weaknesses and deficiencies. Despite that, the CPI(M) remains the leading contingent of anti-imperialism in I ndia. The attack on the party by the ruling classes, their parties, bureaucrats and media, was clearly evident on the question of US-India nuclear agreement. Further, the CPI(M) and left parties have been the most consistent and unwavering opponents of the neoliberal economic policies from the very outset. Finally, the role of the CPI(M) and the Left has been central in the fight against communal forces. It goes without saying that, despite its weaknesses and shortcomings, in every fight against reaction and in every progressive struggle the left remains indispensable. Therefore it is ferociously targeted by the ruling class and its corporate media, while every setback it suffers is cheered by them.

By targeting CPI(M) and the Left in West Bengal, the Maoists have consciously sided with these very forces. It is no coincidence that they enjoy, not only the enthusiastic company of the parties like TMC but also bonhomie with the anti-Left mainstream media in the state which glorifies them and regularly legitimises their acts of b rutality and wanton destruction.

In the 1970s, a term was popular in West Bengal: “Congxal”. It was used to identify Naxalite-turned-Congress hoodlums. Initially, they attacked CPI(M) activists, particularly in and around Kolkata, in the name of “revolution”. After the rigged a ssembly elections in 1972, a large number of them became Youth Congress activists and started a second phase of murderous assault against the Left. Their political a ffiliation changed from extreme left to right reaction, but their target remained the same – the poor cadre of the CPI(M). More than 1,100 CPI(M) activists were killed and more than 20,000 were forced to leave their homes during this semi- fascist terror period of 1971-77. The infamous Siddhartha Shankar Ray regime in West Bengal adopted a two-pronged strategy: on the one hand, a section of the Naxalite activists were brutally killed by the police and Congress workers, while on the other, another section of the Naxalites and Congress workers, or “Congxals”, was used as murder gangs against the CPI(M).

History does not repeat itself, and many in the Naxalite stream are severe critics of the present day Maoists too. However, history cannot be altogether forgotten either, especially when a similar political alliance between right reaction and the Maoists is again playing havoc in West Bengal in a cynical attempt to dislodge the Left Front government. It will be a shame if progressive sections of India’s polity and intellectuals provide legitimacy to such murderous and destructive politics in the name of exposing the shortcomings of the Left.


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