Experiences of Engaging with the Maoists
[Our assessment of the CPI(Maoist) is based not just on a macro level theoretical study; it is informed by decades of practical experience of engagement with them since the MCC-PU-PWG days. We bring you glimpses from this practical experience. Ed/-]
Isolation and Decline of Semi-Anarchism in Bihar
In the course of the rise and spread of our movement and organization in Bihar, we have historically had to face hostilities from different quarters – the feudal forces, the state as well as the ‘Maoists’. In the Magadh region of central Bihar (especially in the districts of Patna, Jahanabad-Arwal, Gaya and Aurangabad), where the predecessors of today’s Maoists too had pockets of operation and influence, we had to withstand a spate of attacks and killings unleashed by both the MCC and the Party Unity group (CPI(ML) Central Organising Committee) which had merged with the PWG before the latter combined with the MCC to form the CPI(Maoist).
Till date we have lost no less than 224 comrades including our supporters, activists and leaders in these attacks. In Jahanabad-Arwal alone, 127 comrades have lost their lives, at least 70 in Patna, 17 in Gaya, and 7 in Aurangabad. The attacks and killings did stop for a while after 2005, but of late we have again lost 3 comrades in East Champaran and most recently a long-standing comrade and member of Party’s Barachatti block committee, Comrade Arjun Patel Yadav was gunned down by Maoists in Gaya district. In Jahanabad-Arwal, COC (Party Unity) killed 66, MCC 21 and PWG 40 of our comrades. Anarchists have perpetrated as many as 16 massacres claiming the lives of 85 people: 48 people in 7 massacres in Jahanabad-Arwal, 31people in 7 massacres in Patna, 3 people in one massacre in Gaya and 3 in one massacre in East Champaran.
The list of comrades killed includes popular cultural activists like people’s poet Virendra Vidrohi (Kurtha, Jahanabad, killed on 30 January 1993) who had ignited the imagination of the people of Bihar by blackening the face of Congress CM Bhagwat Jha Azad in the late 1980s and Rameswar Muni of Aurangabad; popular elected representatives like Comrades Rajeswar Mochi (block pramukh, Dulhinbazar, Patna), Vijendra Prasad (mukhia, Berhama panchayat, Punpun block, Patna), Raju Singh (mukhia, Charma panchayat, Masaurhi, Patna), Yogendra Bind (mukhia, Issebigha panchayat, Jahanabad) and district/local Party organizers like Comrdaes Rajeswar Prasad (DCM, Patna) and Jaipal Singh Yadav (Member, Paliganj Area Committee, Patna).
Collusion with Feudal Forces
While the MCC had been following a militarist line from the very beginning, the COC (Party Unity) had initially waged some mass struggles under the banner of Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti (MKSS) against feudal hegemony especially on the issue of land. This is the reason why we were involved in joint actions with the COC (Party Unity) in the eighties, but it was not possible to do so with the MCC.
In the 1980s, the Party Unity too fought against the Bhoomi Sena [BS] in Jahanabad district and managed to erode the power of the feudal forces to an extent. In this phase our two organizations even waged some successful joint resistance against the BS. Under the banner of Daman Virodhi Sanyukt Morcha (United Front against Repression), a massive historic gathering was organized in Jahanabad against state repression unleashed in the name of Operation Task Force in the mid-1980s. The call for the historic gherao of the Bihar Assembly in August 1986 (in protest against Arwal massacre, April 1986) was also given jointly.
But this joint action could not be sustained for long. Gradually, criminal and lumpen elements and feudal forces began to join the PU organization. Things reached a critical point when the PU’s involvement was exposed in Nonhi Nagma (16 June 1988) and Damuha Khagri (18 August 1988) massacres in Jehanabad district in which 31 poor people were killed. As a result, our party had to end all relations with the PU. At Kumhawa, Sikaria, Bistol (Jehanabad), feudal forces became their main support base and at their instance, assault upon assault was perpetrated on the poor masses to uproot the CPI(ML). Following their merger with the PWG, such attacks became more frequent. Former BS elements joined them and many of our leaders and activists lost their lives in these attacks. PWG swiftly spread to new areas. At Kosiyama (Kako, Jehanabad), they fired on us in league with feudal forces to wrest 62.5 acres of Mutt land on which peasants led by our Kisan Sabha had staked their claim.
MCC had substantial influence in Gaya district. When land struggles erupted under our leadership and our organization began to expand in Gaya, the MCC in collusion with feudal forces sought to block us by unleashing violence. In order to wrest control over 400 acres of ceiling surplus and government land of Pipra Estate in Dumariya from people under our influence, they killed our activist Chandra Deo Prasad. To stop our struggle over 1300 acres of bechiragi [without chirag or lamp, i.e., deserted village land] and forest land grabbed by coal mafia and feudal lord Awadh Behari Singh, and 100 acres of ceiling surplus land of the Bodh Gaya Mutt, they brutally killed our activists Ram Narayan Yadav and Shibbali Mistri as well as the 70 year old parents of comrade R N Yadav.
Collusion with Bourgeois-Landlord Parties
Collusion with feudal forces below is incompatible with opposition to bourgeois parties above. Their camaraderie with bourgeois parties is by now common knowledge [we have discussed this in Part II -- AS]. Thus when comrade Kunti Devi won the Zila Parishad seat (2003 by-election) from the so-called “base area” of PWG in Jehanabad, the latter indulged in several attacks on us at the instance of RJD leader Munilal Yadav. In a similar incident, a Maoist squad gunned down five of our comrades including the Block Pramukh of Dulhinbazar comrade Rajeswar Ravidas right inside our Paliganj office on 18 August 2004 – at the instance of the local RJD MLA Dinanath Yadav. Following the near-total collapse of the Bhoomi Sena, some aggressive kulaks of Kurmi caste too joined the PWG to terrorise the struggling rural poor even as they enjoyed the political patronage of the JD(U)-BJP combine.
How We Dealt with Semi-Anarchists
First, the entire party rank and file was mobilized ideologically and politically through an intense education campaign about anarchism.
Secondly, we would politically expose many of their actions. Major political initiatives would be taken against such incidents: for instance, a large mass meeting was held at Paliganj after the attack on our Party office.
Third, as opposed to their anarchist activities, we concentrated on struggles on the issues of the poor and would involve their mass base too in such struggles.
Fourth, we never discriminated between the mass base of the anarchists and ours, and always worked as a party of the entire rural poor. Especially when feudal forces, criminals or the police attacked their mass base, we always came forward to resist.
The Assembly gherao against the Arwal massacre was a shining example – the victims of the infamous Arwal massacre were MKSS supporters, but the CPI(ML) and Indian People’s Front spearheaded the massive protests that rocked the then Congress government in Patna. Some fifteen years later, it was once again our Party which organized a militant gherao of the Bihar Assembly and challenged the discredited Lalu-Rabri regime following the massacre of MCC/RJD supporters by the Ranvir Sena in Miyanpur of Aurangabad district. During the struggle against Ranvir Sena (RS) the mass base of PWG was killed on a large scale in massacres at Lakshmanpur Bathe, Shankar Bigha, Narayanpur and Sendani. We took the lead in offering multi-pronged resistance to the RS and pushing back the feudal forces. This resulted in improving our relations with their mass base and eventually played an important role in drawing them into our fold, thereby isolating the anarchists.
Fifth, whenever their squad members were killed in fake encounters, we came out on the streets in protests.
Sixth, in spite of their attacks on our mass base, we never retaliated against their mass base. Instead, we responded with a policy of political exposure, mass resistance and selective military actions. In fact, on some occasions, their squads were spared in spite of their having attacked us. At Dariyapur (Masaurhi), a PWG squad tried to capture a fish pond which was under the control of our supporters; the masses resisted and encircled that squad. Had the people wished, they could have killed the entire squad, but when the latter surrendered, they were allowed to return with a warning. Generally our policy has been one of selective retaliation and encouraging the people to mete out punishment only to notorious criminals and killers involved in heinous incidents like, for example, the murderous attack at Paliganj office or the killing of comrade Virendra Vidrohi.
The limitations and ineffectualness of the anarchists were exposed even more in the course of the struggle against Ranvir Sena, which enjoyed broader and more vocal political patronage compared to all other private armies. It was not possible to deal with them merely through military actions but the anarchists, especially MCC, had excessive confidence in their own military prowess. Previously they had demoralized the feudal forces by organising massacres at Dalelchak-Baghora and Bara. Drawing on this experience, they indiscriminately killed many peasants belonging to the Bhumihar caste at Senari. But the RS immediately retaliated by killing many supporters of the MCC at Miyanpur and they could do nothing. In the same region, we successfully fought against the RS at Lodipur (Tekari, Gaya) and this prompted many MCC villages to join us.
As a result of our painstaking and consistent efforts of the last 20 to 25 years, the anarchists/semi-anarchists have eventually suffered disintegration in their own former fortresses. At present nowhere in Bihar can one see the Maoists take up any activities on the issues of the people or wage any struggle against feudal forces. They say this would cause tension in rural areas and curb their armed activities. Under this pretext they have come to an undeclared compromise with dominant feudal and kulak forces and in the name of “struggle against state power”, they now only attack the police and the railways.
Our Contention with the ‘Maoists’ in Jharkhand
In its early days, the PWG (then operating under the banner of its predecessor, COC(PU) established roots through struggles against feudal forces and had a significant mass presence in Garhwa district in particular and the entire Palamu region in general. Gradually, armed struggle became their exclusive concern and in this phase clashes with us increased. The feudal forces and middlemen against whom we were building mass struggles would use the anarchists against us very often. In recent years more than 30 comrades have been killed by the MCC and the PWG and the CPI(Maoist). Most shocking is the reported involvement of a Maoist squad (as mentioned in the CBI chargesheet) in the dastardly assassination of Comrade Mahendra Singh during the January 2005 Assembly elections.
The Maoists have always been notorious for attacking mass movements and colluding with sections of the ruling parties. On 17 September 1996, an armed MCC squad surrounded Gondlitand village at night and killed 7 leading comrades. In 1998, they surrounded and attacked a mass meeting at Amkudur and killed 9 comrades. In early 2003, while we were fighting against Inder Singh Namdhari (then Speaker in Jharkhand Assembly) on issues of corruption and loot in Chainpur block of Palamu district, a PWG squad attacked a mass meeting being conducted as part of this campaign on 23 February at Karso village. Comrades bravely resisted this attack but comrade Jubrail was martyred. This attack was protested all over the district; questions were raised in the Assembly about this incident; and comrade Mahendra Singh even resigned from the Assembly in protest. The leader of this squad Naresh Yadav was reported to have close links with both Namdhari and prominent RJD leader Girinath Singh. Maoists have always allowed themselves to be used by such forces, especially during elections, when much money would change hands.
Gradually, masses were won over from the anarchist fold through regular initiatives on people’s issues. Lacking popular support and faced with growing resistance against their anarchist activities, the PWG/MCC/Maoists increasingly shifted to the jungles and interior areas. In many areas previously or partly under their influence, people would invite us to come and build up organisation in their villages.
By 2003, in most places we managed to halt the advance of anarchist forces. Since the formation of CPI(Maoist), they have experienced several splits, many of their leaders have left their party while many others fell prey to state repression. Today, they do indulge in sporadic actions and attacks on police, but their areas of operation have shrunk quite a bit. Many anarchist groups have developed from within their own organisation – such as Tritiya Prastuti Committee (Third Preparatory Committee or TPC), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (Jharkhand Preparatory Committee or JPC), Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) and Jharkhand Liberation Force (JLF). They all talk of revolution but their main preoccupations are extorting levy, and attacks on opponents. As part of its counter-insurgency strategy, the state is cleverly using these groups – giving them protection and pitting them against one another.
Anarcho-Militarism versus Revolutionary Communism: Orissa Experience
PWG enters Orissa
From their base in AP, the PWG spread to districts like Raygada, Gajapati, Koraput, Malkangiri in mid-80s. Initially they conducted a few annihilations (relatively soft targets) for tilting the balance of terror in their favour and organised selective military action against police or para-military forces. For rapid expansion they would stand by one side of a contradiction among the people or one group of villagers, without caring for class line. As in other places, they collected huge amounts of money from forest contractors, businessmen, and landlords.
Our Counter Campaign
CPI(ML) Liberation also started its journey from scratch in mid-80s under the leadership of Comrade Nagbhusan Patnaik in districts like Gajapati and Rayagada. A few specific cases of ceiling-surplus or government land illegally occupied by landlords or other vested interests were identified through investigation and some 100 acres of ceiling- surplus government land was captured and distributed among tribal and other landless people.
The party emerged as a powerful trend since the mid-1990s. The following factors contributed to this particular development: first, nearly 1000 acres of ceiling-surplus, temple, government or forest land were captured from illegal occupants and distributed among the landless; second, conducting regular political campaigns; third, winning over the support base of anarchists through militant mass movements combined with effective political campaign including participation in elections. To cite a few major struggles and achievements,
a) We faced the organised terror of a group of landlords in collusion with administration and ruling parties in Padampur in 2002 and in Bissam Cuttack in 2005. But with consistent people's resistance combined with a state-wide protest campaign, this attack was repulsed. To break the terror in Bissam Cuttack a huge militant resistance rally was organised on 7 November 2005.
b) A powerful political campaign was organised with the demand of convening a special assembly session on land reform, culminating in a militant Assembly Gherao in 2005.
c) In 2002 a militant protest was organised in front of Gunupur jail gate by thousands of rural poor after the arrest of their popular leader comrade Tirupati Gomango. The administration was forced to allow comrade Tirupati to address the masses and he announced the call of a 12-hour subdivision bandh. We also organised a protest campaign against police terror on innocent tribal people and organised legal aid for those who were arrested.
e) We participated in elections in Koraput LS seat as well as assembly segments of Rayagada and Koraput districts and polled more than 50,000 votes in Koraput (ST) LS seat in two consecutive elections.
f) We have been able to develop a batch of young party cadres from tribal and dalit background.
After failing to develop a consolidated area in Rayagada-Gajapati belt, Maoists tried to build a corridor in Orissa to link Dandyakaranya and Jharkhand-West Bengal-Orissa border region. This was taken care of mainly by the armed squads of Jharkhand.
Over the last 5-6 years Maoists organised two major military actions in Orissa to seize large amounts of arms and ammunition --one in Koraput police HQs and the other in Naygarh state armed police training centre. In both cases they mobilised their best possible armed forces from several states. However, the only visible result of favourable balance of terror thus gained has been their success in mobilising huge funds. But this led to tensions and bloody conflicts within the party-cum-military hierarchy regarding control over this fund.
Maoists condemn our practice as trailing behind ruling class reforms rather than taking up radical land reform, i.e., seizure of ‘legal’ land of landowners. Ironically, their phrase-mongering got exposed when they discussed land distribution within the framework of ruling class reforms during the so-called peace talk with Rajshekhar Reddy government in AP. They only recognise military action as class struggle and neglect or negate the scope of exploring class conflicts operating at every level in a class society. We by contrast would advance the existing level of class struggle in the process of implementing land-laws through popular struggles, thereby promoting the politicisation of backward people and advancing the cause of communist party building. Maoists neglect these painstaking tasks and emphasise building armed forces alone. Thus the crucial question raised by comrade Mao about politics in command over the gun gets diluted. By contrast we put the highest stress on party building – with ideological work at its core – among the rural poor as the key to advancing the revolutionary struggle.
More military action, more favourable balance of terror, less mass resistance, more reliance on big money, more degeneration – such is the vicious cycle of the Maoist practice. Our South Orissa practice, based on mass resistance and political awakening of the rural poor in general and tribal people in particular, constitutes a lively and positive rebuff to this. Our experience has confirmed that while backwardness does provide a favourable condition for the growth of anarchism, it is perfectly possible to develop a more robust revolutionary response in these regions.
The Rise and Fall of ‘Maoism’ in Eastern UP
The activities of Maoists came into notice in the latter half of the 1990s in the Naugarh block of District Chandauli and Nagwa block of District Sonebhadra, which are predominantly inhabited by tribals and are adjacent to Bihar and Jharkhand. The tribals eke out their living by collecting Tendu leaves, Mahua and firewood from the forests. The forest department along with mafia elements has been trying to seize the traditional forest rights of the tribals. Sexual exploitation of women has been rampant. Maoists promised to fight against these and killed or beat up a number of junior forest officials. Impressed by the instant justice delivered and the aura of the gun, many local youths joined the Maoist squads. They also developed links with some feudal forces and criminals in the name of extracting levy.
After a few encounters with the police in 1998-99, there was a major encounter with the police in Karki Minor of Sonebhadra in 2000 in which two policemen were killed. The police retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror. Fake encounter killings and arrest of innocents became common. In a fake encounter in 2001 at village Bhawanipur (District Mirzapur), 16 unarmed youth were killed in cold blood. Although there were no party contacts in this region, a weeklong strike of landless labourers was organised in Mirzapur-Sonebhadra-Chandauli belt against this, culminating in a Bandh on 14 March 2001. The bold initiative of the Party at the opportune moment was widely appreciated by democratic circles and dalit-tribal communities at large.
The CPI(M) had led powerful land struggles in some pockets of Mirzapur district, in course of which Comrade Ramadhar Singh (who was earlier active in ML movement) was killed by feudal forces in August 1998. While the CPI(M) leadership failed to respond, Maoists used this situation to spread their influence in that region, especially among tribals. Almost the entire district committee of CPI(M) became Maoist sympathizers. Many of their party members joined the squads, but after the Bhawanipur massacre most of them returned to the parent party. The Maoists looted a PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) camp in Khoradih village in November 2001 and escaped with a few rifles. This attack was a manifestation of their ‘Hit and Run’ tactics. They were hoping that this military action would break the reign of state terror and more cadres will join them. This was not to happen. On the contrary, the state retaliated with more repression. The Maoists were nowhere to be seen during those terrible times. Gradually, people were beginning to lose the faith they once had in the Maoists. The CPI(ML) intervened by organizing the rural poor against state terror. People could appreciate the difference between the ‘Hit and Run’ tactics of the Maoists which left them defenceless in the face of state terror and the mass mobilization carried out by CPI(ML) to repulse the state terror. Side-by-side, the basic issues of land, wages and dignity were also addressed while championing the cause of democracy. Our Party thus launched a two-pronged struggle against the Maoists.
The Maoists failed to rectify themselves and resorted to another major adventurism. In 2004, they mine-blasted a PAC truck in Hinaut Ghat area of Naugarh block. About 18 jawans were killed in the attack. The police picked up Maoist cadres and sympathizers and killed them in cold blood. Many, who had already parted ways with the Maoists and were leading a normal life, were arrested from their homes and jailed. Once again, the Maoists leadership was nowhere to be seen. This was perhaps the last major action that the Maoists could carry out in this region. Their mass base is inclined towards us while some of their erstwhile leaders are working for BSP and SP.