Footfalls of Emergency

What began as the drive in the late 1960s to crush Naxalbari did not stop until the imposition of Emergency by the Congress Government in 1974.
Today, the pretext is somewhat different. But the overall picture is eerily similar.
The Government has announced a virtual war on Maoists. There is much talk of new firepower, new weapons, and even the possibility of ‘retaliatory’ aerial bombardment. The sheer futility and ineffectiveness of such an approach to insurgency has been proved and proved again in the North East; and of course the collateral damage of non-combatants (ordinary adivasis) in such a war boggles the mind.
But even more significantly, as we look around us, it is clear that the targets of this war are not merely the Maoists in their jungle hideouts.

Chidambaram’s Hidden Agenda?

“He has represented many companies with business interests in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, he was a director of Vedanta (a multinational with mining ambitions in Orissa) until the day he became finance minister in 2004. The idea of this war by the government seems to be to use propaganda to get tribal areas vacated for corporate companies, just as George Bush used a false campaign on weapons of mass destruction to grab Iraq’s rich oil wells for American business houses.” – Supreme Court Advocate Prashant Bhushan at a Press Conference addressed by signatories of the Open letter to the PM (see box) on October 19 in Delhi

he incarceration of Binayak Sen by the BJP-led Chhattisgarh Government seems to have served as a sort of blueprint for the Chidambaram Home Ministry. Leaders and activists of democratic movements are being branded as Maoists and arrested; intellectuals threatened with arrest for demanding the release of the above; printing presses sealed; intellectuals warned, Bush-style, that if they were not with the Government ’s war, they would be treated as being with the Maoists....
Hidden behind the smoke and sound and fury of this ‘war on Maoism,’ an older, more protracted war steadily intensifies – the war on the adivasis who happen to live on top of forests and rich mineral deposits that have been signed away in MoUs to corporations; the war on workers to disarm them of their hard-won rights. And every time these people resist, even their most democratic movements, not just in fields and forests, even trade union struggles in factories, are instantly lumped together with ‘Maoism’ to justify the most draconian crackdowns. 
And ‘Maoism’ provides the best pretext to turn purported enemies into friends. Congress, BJP, CPI(M), TMC, RJD, JD(U) – all are either openly or tacitly part of a grand ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in the virtuous war which claims its goal is to eliminate Maoist terror and save India for democracy and development.      
The Maoists, meanwhile, with every reckless anarchist act, with every barbaric beheading of a police officer, with every reduction of a mass movement into a typical Maoist military confrontation, alienate and antagonize the general democratic opinion and provide more fodder for the state to drum up support for harsh measures of repression. (In future issues of Liberation, we will carry more detailed discussions of Maoist ideology and tactics.)  
Let us trace the ominous tread of the jackboots of Emergency.      
Solidarity with People’s movements = terrorism
In West Bengal, on the heels of the ongoing paramilitary offensive in Lalgarh, came the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato, leader of the PCPA, the platform against police atrocities that led the struggle at Lalgarh. A new low was reached when Mahato was arrested by policemen masquerading as journalists. Several journalists of West Bengal and beyond have condemned this blow to the credibility of the press. 

Open Letter to Indian PM 

October 12, 2009
We are deeply concerned by the Indian government's plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigeneous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states.  The stated objective of the offensive is to "liberate" these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens.  To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious.  The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced.  The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.
Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India's adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s.  Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other "development" projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc.  The geographical terrain, where the government's military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations.  The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas.  We fear that the government's offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions.  It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor.  Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.
We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances.  Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world.  We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations.  We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.
National Signatories include Arundhati Roy, Author and Activist, Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, CESP, JNU, Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate, Nandini Sundar, Delhi School of Economics, Anand Patwardhan, Film Maker, 
Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, Sumit Sarkar, Historian, Tanika Sarkar, Professor of History, JNU, Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, EPW and many others. 

International Signatories include Noam Chomsky, David Harvey, Michael Lebowitz, John Bellamy Foster, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Mira Nair, Howard Zinn, Gilbert Achcar

The PCPA’s foundational plank was that police officials guilty of atrocities against adivasi people (including women) should apologise and be punished: with Mahato’s arrest, are Chidambaram and Buddhadeb telling us that to demand accountability from the police force amounts to extremism?
Subsequently the West Bengal Government has also arrested two activists of the Lalgarh Solidarity Platform, and has threatened to book intellectuals and activists who have provided guidance, support or funds to the Lalgarh movement, or even who have merely demanded Mahato’s release, under the draconian UAPA. Clearly, even solidarity with mass movements, raising issues of democratic rights, or certain intellectual trends, is now being construed by the West Bengal Government as ‘abetting terrorism’. This is McCarthyism with a vengeance – an ideological Operation ‘Red Hunt’ to match the military ‘Green Hunt’. Even the press where the CPI(ML) Bengali state organ Deshabrati used to be printed – a press known to be used by various left-of-CPI(M) groups – has been sealed and its proprietor threatened with arrest. The CPI(ML) was asked by the Home Secretary to seek clearance from the Special Branch of the Detective Department before publishing Deshabrati. It is ominous that a party registered with the Election Commission of India is being asked to run to the Special Branch for permission for publishing its mouthpiece. In West Bengal today, all political activities are being subjected to intense surveillance, all public meetings are being taped and all posters are being photographed.
The CPI(ML), AISA and RYA have held and participated in several protests against the arrest of Mahato and the muzzling of democracy – in Kolkata as well as in other districts. On 13-14 October, the People's Forum against State Terror held a two-day long sit-in in Kolkata on the same issue. 
For Corporations, Unionisation= Terrorism
Anti-worker managements are increasingly taking a leaf from Chidambaram’s book to justify their assault on workers’ rights. Any protest by workers is being equated with ‘Maoism’ or ‘terrorism.’ Let us examine exactly what it is that managements define as ‘terrorism.’ 
In The Hindu dated June 4, 2009, a spokesperson for Pricol said “The management has adopted a stand in principle not to recognise the Maoist-Leninist outfit. The recent ban by the Centre on Maoist outfits justifies our stand as our own actions were based on upholding the peace and harmony of the society as a whole.”
In the Business Standard dated Wednesday August 19, 2009, Vanitha Mohan, Executive Director, Pricol was reported as saying that a labour problem started by a union “following the ideologies of CPI-ML” in 2007 had had a severe impact on the company's performance for the last two years.
What exactly were the workers at Pricol doing that was threatening social “peace and harmony”; that was equivalent to banned activities of ‘Maoists’; that was ideologically motivated by their allegiance to CPI(ML)? Ms. Mohan went on to say that the workers had struck work “demanding that only permanent workers be involved in direct production activities.” Is this demand in any way motivated by ‘radical’ or revolutionary Left ideology, let alone ‘Maoism’? Is it not merely the letter of the law passed by India’s ruling class in Indian Parliament?

Misleading a Mass Movement:

When Midas touched something, it turned to gold (an unfortunate development, rendering live things lifeless, as he found to his cost). 
When Maoists touch a vibrant democratic people’s movement, they seem to transform it quite soon into a clone of their usual brand of anarcho-militarist actions; the movement loses all its specific character and appeal, and becomes indistinguishable from any of the Maoist actions anywhere in the country.  
Take Lalgarh.  
The struggle began in November 2008 – involving the mass of Lalgarh’s adivasi villagers under a platform (PCPA) with one major democratic demand: that of apology and punishment for police for atrocities committed on innocent adivasis in the course of a raid following a Maoist landmine blast. Till the demand was met, they said, police would not be allowed entry into the village.
Some have tried to equate such tactics – both at Nandigram and at Lalgarh –with the Maoist ‘liberated zone.’ Actually nothing could be further from the typical Maoist tactics. In the so-called ‘liberated zones’, one has guerilla squads armed to the teeth, not mass movements conducting an open struggle with a specific, one-point democratic demand (against police atrocities/corporate land grab). Like the people of Nandigram, adivasis of Lalgarh voted enthusiastically in elections; their only stipulation (with which the Election Commission complied) being that booths be located outside the village so that police need not enter the village.   
The State Government was on the defensive: it was wary of repeating a Nandigram-type bloodbath by sending in police. Its investigation had revealed that the allegations of police atrocities were true – but it offered mere cash compensation rather than the apology and punishment justifiably demanded by the adivasis.     
Once the Maoists entered the picture, everything changed.
In the first place, the Maoist leadership began to replace the PCPA – appearing directly on TV with masked face and rifle on back. On June 10, 2009, a national daily carried an interview with one leader boasting, “I personally ordered the attack on the chief minister.”   
Immediately, the focus shifted away from the key democratic issue of justice against police atrocities to the attempt on the CM's life (a typical, generalised brand of Maoist action, be it in AP or West Bengal), and the State and Central Government gladly went on the offensive.  
Then came the sensational attacks with often typically barbaric features: such as letting the body of a CPI(M) leader rot in public for days.
The Maoist leadership’s warning (“Let them try (a military offensive) once. It will be the last time they will eye this territory” turned out to be an irresponsible and empty boast.
What really happened is now public knowledge; State and Centre triumphantly did what the State Government had been unable to do for months: send in troops to Lalgarh and crush the mass movement, pushing it underground.
Irresponsible statements continue to apear daily in the media, displaying the Maoists' shallow outlook.

One recent gem: “If the Taliban attack India, we will stand with the people and rally against the attack.” (HT, October 21) In order to prove their 'patriotic' credentials, it seems the Maoists are willing to feed into jingoistic rumours of a “Taliban attack on India.”

Quite clearly, for Pricol, the very right of workers (moral as well as eminently legal) to form a union of their choice could, in the wake of the Centre’s war-cry, be mischievously be equated with ‘Maoism.’ And the management which is violating the law could then virtuously count itself in the company of those defending the “peace and harmony of society.” 
In this connection we can recall that just the other day, Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways called his pilots who formed a union 'terrorists'. And he withdrew the terrorist label and embraced them as prodigal sons as soon as they returned to work, leaving aside the issue of union for the time being.
Recently, union leaders representing workers who were on a hunger fast at Gorakhpur were brutally beaten up in presence of senior police officials and arrested after being called by the district administration on the pretext of talks. After the arrest, local media began to carry stories quoting the district administration as well as industrialists and the communal fascist MP Adityanath branding the labour leaders as ‘Maoists’ and claiming that ‘objectionable’ literature and a ‘pen drive’ had been found on their person. ‘Objectionable’ literature is anything Marxist, and a ‘pen drive’ is, naturally, proof positive of terrorist intent!  
Hold a Dharna-     Be Kicked out of the District    
CPI(ML) held a dharna on 19 September at Lalkuan Tehsil, District Nainital, to protest against the failure of the district Administration to take preventive measures to stop the spread of dengue. After this, the deputy district magistrate, served CPI(ML) leader Bahadur Singh Jangi a notice based on a police report recommending that he be outlawed from the district for a year for ‘disturbing the peace’ (Sections 107 and 116). The notice accused Comrade Jangi of ‘threatening and intimidating people to attend a dharna.’
This is no isolated instance. The identical notice has been served to two CPI(ML) leaders at Dharchula, Pithoragarh – Jagat Martoliya, Convenor of the Uttarakhand Porters’ Union and Kundan Singh Bhandari, Gram Pradhan of Bungbung village.
Amousi Massacre: False Cry of ‘Naxalite attack’
When the recent massacre at Amousi, Khagaria in Bihar hit the headlines, TV channels screamed their shrill echoes of the Home Ministry ads: ‘Naxalites are cold-blooded murderers.’ Instances where Maoists have owned up to actions like the recent beheading of a police officer in Jharkhand have been condemned by most democratic voices. But the media, emboldened by the Centre’s propaganda drive, has scant concern for establishing facts. The massacre at Amousi, it turned out, was not a Maoist action: it was the outcome of a land dispute attributable squarely to the Bihar Government’s failure to ensure possession of their rightful land to dalit Musahars (see CPI(ML) fact-finding report later in this issue.) Not only did the Maoists deny the action, even the Chief Minister of Bihar admitted that the massacre was not by Maoists. But not a single channel issued a retraction or regretted their misleading and patently false propaganda.
Women in Bastar: No Justice against Rape
Six women of Bastar have alleged that they were all raped by the SPOs, Salwa Judum and security forces, during the massive ground clearing of 644 villages of mineral rich district Dantewada that has begun since 2005 (coinciding with the formation of the Salwa Judum) accompanied by burning of whole villages, loot and murder.
They have, after failed efforts at lodging FIRs through the Superintendent of Police, and appealing to the Human Rights Commission, now filed private complaint cases before the Judicial Magistrate at Konta.
In spite of repeated intimidation by the rapists and the SPOs of three nearby Salwa Judum camps - Dornapal, Errabore, and Injaram - who hover round the court freely, these women and their witnesses have recorded their statements. But the Magistrate, has for the past several months since then either simply absented himself on the relevant dates, or has simply declared a new date. He is clearly delaying to pass an order on registration of these cases – simple and automatic judicial procedure. 
Meanwhile, in their reply to the petitions pending against Salwa Judum in the Supreme Court, the Chhattisgarh Government has declared the women to be liars, motivated by Naxalites to malign the government. They have witnesses to prove the women are liars, they say. Who are these witnesses? The very men who stand accused of rape! We “questioned the accused who insisted they were innocent”, claims the Government !

There is urgent need for a nationwide democratic counter-offensive to the ongoing assault on democracy..