What happened with the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani? Reflections on Dissent and Violence

From passengers’ eyewitness accounts, and those of the driver and assistant driver of the train (congratulations, for once, to Times of India and to Indian Express reporter Debabrata Mohanty for going beyond statements from police and other officials of the Indian state), this is what happened:

The train was running on schedule when the driver noticed logs on the tracks and a large mob of about 300 waving red flags,  rushing towards the train. As the train screeched to a halt, stones were pelted (some passengers reported minor injuries from shattered window glass) and some men climbed into the driver’s cabin.  Said the driver, K Ananth Rao and his assistant K G Rao to the ToI reporter, Sukumar Mahato, “They said they were holding up the train because the state had waged a war on tribals. We followed them and sat by the tracks.”

[The Indian Express story by Ravik Bhattacharjee and Kanchan Chakrabarty, unattributed to any source, claims “The Rajdhani Express was intercepted by a 1500 strong mob and its driver and his assistant were taken hostage.”]

The PCAPA (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities) claimed

a) it was not hostage-taking, but a rail abarodha (a blockade) of the train for flouting the rail roko call, when an indefinite bandh against atrocities by the joint security forces in the district had begun since morning.

b) it was meant to draw attention to the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato, the PCPA leader.  One of the slogans sprawling in red letters across the side of the train says, in English, Chhatradhar Mahato is a good man.

The passengers generally conveyed that they never felt a threat to their lives from the men, saying things like: “After about an hour they took pity on us since there were so many children with us, and they let us get back on the train” (Himanshu Patra, in Indian Express); “the commander said that we should report any attempt to harm us or loot us directly to him(Harish Verma in ToI); “They asked us to come down with our luggage one by one” (Hamid Khan, to ToI); “We thought they would loot us. But they did not harm anybody after we followed their orders” (Susanta Das, DNA)

What did they loot? Samosas, sandwiches, water cartons, blankets. State property in this case, it being the Rajdhani Express.  Food, water and warmth – basic necessitites of life that most “citizens” of India cannot expect as a matter of course. The mobiles and walkie-talkies they took from the drivers were returned to them.

Most of the men were armed with tribal weapons (axes, swords, bows and arrows); some were carrying fire-arms.  When security forces arrived, there was some firing from the forests, and then the crowd melted away.

The general sense among those who speak in the public domain (including fellow-kafialite Aman Sethi, with whom many an argument has been had in the past!)  is that the Maoists have “learnt a lesson”.

But perhaps we need to be alert to something else altogether?

The PCAPA is not the CPI (Maoist), it seems worth stating. (Nor are all Maoists with the party that calls itself  CPI-Maoist.  One of the most pernicious conflations carried out by the mass media and the government – as well as unknowingly by intellectuals of integrity –  which suits the CPI-Maoist very well,  is the complete non-differentiation of of tribals taking up arms, Maoists in general, “Naxalites”,  and the CPI-Maoist). This operation was not a Maoist one, it has all the hallmarks of a tribal action. No blowing up rail tracks, no hostages, no demands to blackmail the state with the lives of innocents – these are not the signs of a Maoist operation. There were Maoists among them, the PCAPA is now “backed” by CPI (Maoist), and why did it need this backing?  Because a legitimate mass movement in Lalgarh against police atrocities in the wake of the bomb blast on Buddhadeb’s route, has been consistently demonized, dubbed Maoist, its members arrested without cause, and thus, step-by-step, driven by the state into the hands of the CPI (Maoist) – exactly what the bomb-blast was intended to accomplish.  It was not meant to kill anybody, but to provoke the state to do what it does best –  launch its war on terror so effectively as to make the most violent alternatives to democratic mass movements look like the only effective politics possible.

The arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato has been widely condemned, even by Left Front partner Forward Bloc. State general secretary Ashok Ghosh told PTI that Mahato, who has been in open contact with political leaders for some time and was issuing statements regularly, could have been arrested three months ago through the same process as today.  So why now? Whom does it help?

The arrest was illegal (of course, most arrests in India are) – he was arrested by policemen posing as journalists, flouting a judgement of the Supreme Court that says that during arrest, arresting police must be in uniform and bear the official badge.

Mahato is no criminal, there are no criminal cases against him, he is the leader of a democratic mass movement against indiscriminate state action. The arrest is unacceptable by any standard or argument, whether strategic (‘why now’) or democratic.

What we now see emerging in the Rajdhani incident is a legitimate people’s mass movement protesting state atrocities, that had contained the CPI (Maoist) within its formation for months, now being driven into the control of that party.

Can this be the beginning of the democratization of CPI (Maoist) under the pressure of being part of a mass movement?

I doubt it.  What many of us fear is really the case, is that the mass movement is going to come under the control of the inherently anti-democratic thrust of armed revolution as strategy to overthrow state power.

Let me be very clear, I’m not arguing that violence as such is “inherently anti-democratic”.  I am not a pacifist. Spontaneous violence against the structural violence of the state and structure of private property, violence in self-defence, even pre-planned violent  action designed to redress a specific situation – all of these possibilities always simmer just below the skin of normal society, and must be understood within the context of hideous, unrelenting, never-addressed injustice. As Eduardo Galeano puts it in The Upside-Down World:

“The killer instinct is an essential ingredient for getting ahead, a human virtue when it helps large companies digest small and strong countries devour weak, but proof of bestiality  when some jobless guy goes around with a knife in his fist.”

Such acts of violence I will insist are justifiable political violence – from the long and glorious history of adivasi uprisings against repressive power, to the battered wife with an endlessly abusive husband, waiting for him to fall into a drunken sleep before stabbing him to death.

But make no mistake – this is not the violence enshrined in parties like the CPI-Maoist.  Armed revolution as a strategy to overthrow state power involves two things – working towards becoming the state, and in the process, intense, paranoid secrecy.  Both of these are what are inherently anti-democratic.

And to be fair, the CPI-Maoist is very up-front about its plans.  Here are excerpts from its document, Urban Perspective, available freely on the web:

“In order to mobilize the broadest possible sections in struggle it is absolutely essential that we should utilize all possible open and legal opportunities for work (and not reject the use of legality). Broad mass organizations help the Party to have wide contact with masses, so that it can work under cover for a long time and accumulate strength…Broad, open and legal forms of organizing the masses have, however, to be combined with the strictest methods of secrecy, especially with regard to the link between the open and underground organization….

Thus we must be clear that the open revolutionary mass organization cannot be a permanent form of mass organization in the urban areas. It can and must be utilized in the periods and situations of legal opportunities, and we must be ever alert to make use of such opportunities whenever they arise…

Fractional Work – Here the Party works through the numerous traditional mass organizations that operate in the urban areas. These traditional mass organizations are the organizations normally set up by the masses to fight for their sectional interests or otherwise fulfill their needs. The Party, through its members or other activists, penetrates such organizations without exposing any links with the Party. Through the activities of the organization, the masses, while being mobilized for their sectional interests, are attempted to be drawn towards the revolution. This method of organizing, if properly conducted, offers the best opportunity for cover work for a long period of time… Once we have decided to do fractional work within an organization we should strive to achieve a leading position in it. This means we should be in a position to influence and guide the decisions of the organization. If it is necessary to takeover office bearers’ posts in order to achieve this influence, then we should make attempts to do so. Whether we take up office bearers’ posts or not, the important point in fractional work is the skillful exposure of the reactionaries and reformists leading or participating within these organizations. This exposure is essential to draw the masses away from their influence. This must however be done without exposing ourselves to the enemy. The forms of exposure will thus differ depending upon the concrete situation. In vast areas where risk of direct exposure of our fractional work activists is low, we can use propaganda by the secret revolutionary mass organization or even direct calls by the Party. In smaller areas like a single factory or slum we may have to mainly or only use word-of-mouth propaganda. Sometimes we can create artificial banners like ‘angry workers’, ‘concerned slum dwellers’, etc. for doing our propaganda. Very often we may have to use a combination of various methods. Whatever is the method it should be applied carefully, skillfully, and consistently… It should ensure that the masses are drawn away from the influence of reactionaries and reformists…

Party-formed Cover Mass Organizations – It sometimes becomes necessary for us to directly form mass organizations under cover without disclosing their link with the Party. Mostly, such a need arises due to the absence of any other suitable mass organization within which we can do fractional work…The methods of mass work too are not very different from the areas of fractional work. The main difference is of course that we do not have the task of exposure, as when working within the reactionary and reformist organizations…

Legal Democratic Organizations – These are the organizations formed on an explicit political basis with some or all aspects of an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal programme, and with a programme of action and forms of struggle that broadly fall within a legal framework. …The scope of the legal democratic organization is very wide, extending to the broad coalitions and alliances formed against repression, globalization, Hindutva, and right up to the all-encompassing bodies formed with the banners of anti-capitalism or people’s struggles. ..The legal democratic movement itself too can grow from strength to strength and remain on the correct political course only if we concentrate sufficiently and simultaneously on developing the secret Party core within it.”

In short, take over existing mass organizations when you cannot set them up, work towards subverting their exisiting processes by producing secret propaganda about those who are influential in it, and so on and on – always, always, utilize people towards a secret end that you know if you reveal out in the open, very few will be with you.

Having participated over the 1990s in many broad non-party, non-funded formations in Delhi against the state in general and against Hindutva politics, the inexplicable and bitter break-up of some of them is now tragically crystal clear to me.

And yet, my democratic instincts insist, even the CPI-Maoist must be given its place within the spectrum of political dissent. As one element of the spectrum.

The problem is, the party in its turn has no notion of legitimate dissent to its politics. If you’re not with it, you’re with the state. If it declares war on the state, it commits everyone within range – willing or unwilling, knowing and unknowing – to that war. And this war is no metaphor. The entire document quoted above is a document of war strategy – there is the party, and there is the “enemy”. The rest are to be utilized.

Another voice must emerge. Based on a critique of the state – of any state, of this state, of corporate greed in partnership with institutions masquerading under cover of democracy. But insisting also, always, on the legitimacy of dissenting voices within the dissent to the state.

20 thoughts on “What happened with the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani? Reflections on Dissent and Violence”

  1. Dear Nivedita,
    Many of the “broad non-party, non-funded formations in Delhi” of the 1990s (and earlier) did not form and break up because of behind the scene machinations. They emerged really and truly spontaneously because of people just coming together because of the the urgency of the situation and then as the urgency died down the need to come together not remaining so urgent they just became defunct. Not everything is a conspiracy and bitter break ups happen in the best of marriages.


  2. let us face it – if any party and its members are free to spread their politics and organise people without being persecuted or exterminated, then there is no need for secrecy. are we able to provide such an atmosphere? is it not that the experience of doing mass work in urban areas have led to severe losses?
    their practice could have been absolutely wrong. but it is also true that the state will not tolerate dissents of certain nature. is it difficult for us to understand that ? by picking on pieces of text and not reflecting on it in totality is insincere politics and amounts to purposeful misreading. how different is it from the govt’s proclamation that the maoists want to cease power through violent action citing some recent document of the maoists ?

    while you accept that the rail roko was a mass action, why is it difficult to accept that the maoists may be experimenting ? they may not be as mechanical as you wish to portray. perhaps they are creative.

    failure in tackling dissent is surely a huge problem. i agree with that.

    if you want to oppose because you want to oppose, then nothing can be done.


  3. Rupak, you say, “while you accept that the rail roko was a mass action, why is it difficult to accept that the maoists may be experimenting?”.
    Why is it so difficult for you to accept despite all evidence to the contrary that PCAPA began as an independent mass movement, the CPI-Maoist was not formally a part of it though Maoist cadre was present (would have “penetrated” it), and PCAPA is not a CPI-Maoist front – not yet, at least. Not fully in their control. But both the state and media are projecting it as such so that they can destroy the movement; and of course, as I said in my post, this suits the CPI-Maoist very well because it wants what the state wants – decimation of the middle ground.
    The party and all parties like this one, require secrecy not just from the state, but to penetrate democratic mass movements. It requires to maintain secrecy from the masses in the movement, a secret core has to commit the movement to courses of action dictated by the party from afar, not emerging from the situation on the ground. The secrecy is directed at the mass movement and to its subversion as much as it is to the state. And the ultimate aim of this party and others like it is the capture of the state to become the state itself. This vanguardism is what I and many others in movements oppose, and “want to oppose.”
    Joseph, of course the citizens’ initiatives of the 1990s-early 2000s emerged spontaneously in response to specific situations of crisis for democracy – communalism, anti-bomb, anti-war, workers’ rights. I was present at the founding moment of all the ones I was involved in. And of course not all of them dissolved due to this specific factor, such formations have a life and energy of their own and sometimes die naturally, in a sense, after a period of quite effective intervention.
    I said in my post that “some” of them broke up due to this and I maintain my stand – some certainly did.


  4. Rupak, you say that:
    ‘let us face it – if any party and its members are free to spread their politics and organise people without being persecuted or exterminated, then there is no need for secrecy. are we able to provide such an atmosphere?’
    ‘but it is also true that the state will not tolerate dissents of certain nature. is it difficult for us to understand that ?’

    I am amazed at the demands (and expectations) of tolerance that ‘revolutionaries’ – in this case the Maoists and their supporters – have of the liberal democratic state, considering that they have not even the slightest compunction in physically eliminating their political opponents. I do not know of a single Left regime (except may be Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia today) where ANY dissent is tolerated – leave alone an armed struggle. And our Maoists have implemented this intolerance with political opponents without even having state power. So, (and here I also address Joseph’s comments elsewhere on this blog) while we will still demand certain minimum rights even for terrorists of all hues, is it not a trifle hypocritical to evade any discussion (on this evading of discussion) on the place of dissent and tolerance in revolutionary politics?


    1. Dear Aditya,
      I am not advocating any avoidance of debate on the place of dissent and tolerance in revolutionary politics. I simply disagree with Prof Nirmalangshu Mukherjee’s opinion that the letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh protesting the “military offensive” is the place to play out this debate.
      I also object to the branding of people speaking against the state’s military offensive as “Maoists and their supporters” (from your comment above) or “sections of elite, urban, and ‘radical’ intelligentsia in Calcutta and Delhi who have impressive connections with some Indian intellectuals settled in universities abroad, as the statement you endorsed highlights” whose “imagination” have been “captured” by the CPI Maoist (from Prof Mukherjee’s open letter).
      What I am trying to do, and obviously failing miserably, is to delineate the space occupied by civil rights activists who mobilize opinion against undemocratic acts of the state without necessarily being a supporter of the party, organization or individual affected at that particular point of time.
      I have re-read my lengthy interventions on this issue and can’t say anything else without repeating myself. If this simple point cannot be acknowledged then Dylan’s words in his “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” seem to be true today “And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads/Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows/Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways/You can touch and twist/And turn two kinds of doorknobs.”


  5. “The secrecy is directed at the mass movement and to its subversion as much as it is to the state. And the ultimate aim of this party and others like it is the capture of the state to become the state itself. This vanguardism is what I and many others in movements oppose, and “want to oppose.”
    I’m afraid this statement is both right and wrong, in differing ways.
    I doubt that Maoist political line is just about capture of state to become the state itself .It might be a reductionist understanding of questions linked to people’s armed resistance against mighty war machines run by capital.

    Nevertheless, the tendency to mimic the ways of repressive stateas seen in many actions of Maoists must be challenged by democratic voices.


  6. Oh come on……
    “Let me be very clear, I’m not arguing that violence as such is “inherently anti-democratic”. I am not a pacifist. Spontaneous violence against the structural violence of the state and structure of private property, violence in self-defence, even pre-planned violent action designed to redress a specific situation – all of these possibilities always simmer just below the skin of normal society, and must be understood within the context of hideous, unrelenting, never-addressed injustice.”
    This is the logic and language used naxals. Does the author belong to some other faction of the ML which claims that they are the true represntatives of the tribals and Dalits?
    To be heard in kafila kind of circles, it seems one has to identify some “pure” innocent violence and justify it. Otherwise how would one be called a radical.
    I wonder whats wrong in being a pacificist (which is different from being gandhian).
    I agree with other points made by author in the post.


  7. Dewan, there’s nothing “wrong” with being a pacifist, and there’s no uniform position in kafila on anything. Some kafialites do indeed identify themselves as pacifists and or/Gandhians. It’s just that I am not one, but my argument is for recognizing a variety of voices within the spectrum of dissent to the state.


  8. On the issue of role of violence as tactic and ideology in political struggle, it should be recalled that both the CPI(ML) in Bihar and JKLF’s Yasin Malik in Kashmir (he in fact claims JKLF has adopted gandhian non-violnce) are on record stating that they have lost more cadre to state violence after they declared mass moblisation as central to their ideology in place of armed struggle. The point they are making is that state is more scarred of non-violent mass mobilisation than armed struggle. thats why it tends to brutally supress non violent movements. but ofcourse such struggles are less romantic for certain middle class intellectuals. The sight of tribals with bows and arrows and its association with some pure and instinctive violence is far more exciting……


  9. The more explicitly we outline a spectrum of positions, the more the insistence on fitting everything into one kind of black/white or the other. Deewan insists on violence/pacifism, others on Maoist/state…
    And deewan, are you some kind of “middle class intellectual” too, “romanticizing” one kind of struggle over another? Or have you escaped all these pitfalls that befall ordinary mortals?


  10. This is a wonderful piece. And actually, i think ,one of the contributions of this post is in being able to seriously interrogate an essential mode of organizing political activity within Left political Parties[Secrecy] and the viability of this mode continuing as a truly democratic enterprise. Recently Javed Alam had written a piece in EPW..critically interrogating democratic centralism…and had located secrecy as a necessity in a historically specific location of Tsarist Russia…interestingly that piece was intended to undersatnd the drawbacks in the mainstream left(CPI M, CPI and so on)…

    However, I think your piece has raised a question not just on the Maoists…but it is a larger question…about whether Left political parties need to relook at the mode of organizing political activity…because this same paranoid secrecy…although does not translate into violence in the case of the mainstream left, but does engage in the age old expulsions and purges spree that we are all so familiar with…secrecy is a tool that is used by Left political parties not only against the bourgeois state but also against its own constituency…and this feature does not set apart Maoists…Maoists engage in this secrecy paranoia violently and other Left political formations express this paranoia in a more indirect manner…

    But then again the issue is that secrecy becomes sometimes essential for any political party, operating in a political field that clearly has an oppononent or electoral competitors, who seek to misuse information about the inner workings of a political party…

    So i think what i am wondering is exactly how should we frame our question vis-a-vis this question of secrecy?


  11. Thanks so, so much for this piece. It’s a hugely important intervention, willing to go the length and defend an ‘illegal’ and militant technique of agitation, while preserving its distance from false revolutionary certitudes. The commonest tactical gambit of the state and its puppies on prime-time TV is to shout themselves hoarse over violence with one and only one end in mind – the delegitimization of any kind of militant dissent that refuses to accept the rules of the game they play. So blocking a train without harming a single person is slotted into the same moral space, and is spun to manufacture the same outrage, as a beheading, or a bombing.

    This is the blackmail that has to be refused. Like many others, I’m horrified by the Induvar killing, and by the administration and celebration of ‘revolutionary violence’. I’m as repulsed by the dogmatism of the CPI-Maoist platform (‘violence is a non-issue’) as anyone else who has intervened on this blog. But I’d still insist that distinctions need to be made. I think it’s inconceivable that the Maoists can possibly ‘win’ on the terms that they define this war, whether those terms recall Mao, or Che, or the Shining Path. The twentieth century is over, and the models of twentieth-century revolutionary socialism are exhausted: in any case, ‘revolutionary socialism’ became, at its core, an exceptionally painful transition from capitalism to capitalism. What would the ‘revolutionary rising tide of people’s power’ mean in a context where global financial markets and huge globally interlinked bureaucracies control so much of contemporary reality? Only a genuine mass uprising with a genuine vision for the future can confront that – and a party platform committed (whether from necessity or from design) to secrecy cannot possibly deliver that uprising. In other words, the spectre of a comprehensive and lasting takeover of state power by a revolutionary dictatorship or a ‘people’s democracy’ is simply that, a spectre, a fantasy. As such, ‘condemning’ it may serve the purpose of preserving a moral distance from unacceptable acts of violence – a distance that is necessary – but it is hardly a political intervention, at a time when the state is concentrating its fire on the jungles precisely in order to flush out Maoists (and eliminate any backward tribal vermin that come in its way).

    I agree that the politics of individual assassination and killing are abhorrent. At the same time, I absolutely refuse to believe that they represent something ‘beyond the pale’ of Indian liberal democracy, as the Barkhas, Arnabs,and Chidambarams Inc. would have us believe. Look at the recent PUCL-PUDR et al report on Dantewada (21 October). A 70-year old woman who was killed by security forces after her breasts had been cut off; a near-blind man (also 70) stabbed and killed in his bed; a young man shot and beheaded; and, most charming of all, a two-year old’s tongue was sliced off along with four of his fingers. So if we want to look for relevant comparisons with Maoist violence, we need only look at the Indian state and no further: we do not need to go as far as Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. When it comes to the delicate arts of killing, torture, and humiliation, no one has anything to teach our police, paramilitary,and army. So the horrific, sadistic and sickening murder of Induvar does not in any sense represent a ‘deviation from the mainstream’ of Indian politics: if anything, it symbolizes the embrace of that mainstream. Maoist violence resembles that of the state it confronts: nothing could possibly be a more damning accusation that that.

    The rational temptation here is the more-or-less futile logic of equivalence, which has some basis in fact: the state’s war on the adivasis and the Maoists’ ‘revolutionary violence’ may well produce incidents equal in their horror (say, Induvar balanced off against Madvi Deva in Dantewada, a 25-year old shot thrice and beheaded by security forces at Gachanpalli on 17 September). At the same time, I think the structural logic of the state’s programme will yield a violence beyond the imagination (and even the moral compass), let alone the practical capacity, of the most hardened Maoist. To say this is not to endorse Indian Maoism, but to point to its inherent limits, limits not suffered by Chidambaram’s armies. The world will watch on approvingly, as it did in Sri Lanka, while a benign-looking, democratically mandated Prime Minister and Home Minister orchestrate a bloodbath. (Or, as the ever-genial Swapan Dasgupta comfortingly put it recently, ‘a strong military offensive’). No doubt the Maoists will turn even more brutal, paranoid, and lose whatever organic links they may have built up with the adivasis in a campaign of counter-terror. But they’ll lose: you cannot beat the state in a straight fight. And Chidambaram will win and he’ll be applauded for it – maybe they’ll give him the Nobel Peace Prize for it; stranger things have been known to happen.

    Which is why, however tempting an absolute condemnation of Maoism might be (and however justified) it must be tempered and qualified a hundred times over. While I entirely share the view expressed so often on this blog that the politics of individual murder are both morally reprehensible and a detractor from any real radical politics, I do think the hesitation of many people – including Arundhati Roy – to condemn Maoist violence stems from this: that such a condemnation, if made, must at all costs, both analytically and rhetorically, refuse even the POSSIBILITY of a shared ground with the strategists and executioners of Operation Adivasi Hunt.

    The way spokespersons of the ‘acceptable’ left have been elevated to figures of authority by NDTV et al is revealing: it confirms the Party’s full-hearted embrace of a ‘democratic consensus’ that is perfectly at ease with state terror and perfectly oblivious of the realities of Chidambaram’s war on the adivasis. The CPM’s spokespersons are, of course, right in their condemnation of the killings of their party members in Lalgarh (which also gives them an easy way of lumping the PCAPA and the CPI-Maoist together). And the stories are truly horrific: a CPM supporter killed and his body not buried for over three days; another person killed and his tiny daughter, trembling, forced to write ‘my father is a traitor’ upon a wall….nothing can ever justify such terror. What is objectionable is not the moral outrage at incidents like this, but the wilful naivety that would have us believe that this represents something beyond the West Bengal CPM’s preferred forms of politics. Keshpur and beyond, the politics of murder is something the Party has stoked and fostered, just as its rivals have. And the real horror story of Nandigram was not the 14 killings but the systematic, repeated, mass rape that represented the fulcrum of the strategy of the people who villagers called the ‘police-cadres’ (i.e: party cadres disguised as police). These rapes are well documented: look up the report of the Citizens’ Tribunal. Add to that the fact that the West Bengal unit of the CPM has been perhaps the principal stormtrooper of neoliberalism in India (New Rajarhat, Singur, Nandigram, Nayachar, Salboni, Operation Sunshine, in no particular order) and you come up with the obvious: from nowhere within the ‘legitimate’ political spectrum, from the RSS to the CPM, is a condemnation of Maoist violence anything but laughable and hypocritical.

    Blogs like Kafila are another matter: the emergence of a space discernibly on the left, that refuses to blind itself to the grim and horrific realities of a violence that dresses itself up as necessary and revolutionary, is absolutely imperative. Such a space cannot be anything other than partisan – and in that partisanship it must refuse the double blackmail of state and Maoist propaganda. Any capitulation to the idea that a beheading might, under any circumstances, be ‘necessary’ is to part with any meaningful definition of the left, or any struggle for a less hideous world. The reverse, however, is even truer. Any condemnation of the Maoists must START from a condemnation of Operation Greenhunt, not as a token gesture but as an analytic imperative. Any other perspective is dishonest and counter-productive.

    This brings me, after what I know is a long and hysterical detour, to the Bhubaneshwar Express – it is necessary to see ‘violent’ incidents that involve no unprovoked bloodshed with eyes unblinded by NDTV/UPA/NDA/CPM blinkers. As Balagopal observed, as ever presciently, in one of his last pieces before his death, ‘There is no option but to devise ways of stopping the system in its depredations. Since Indian democracy has not learnt to respect reasoned criticism unless it is armed with the strength to physically prevent the execution of policies criticized, ways of achieving such strength must be sought by agitational movements.’ This is the answer that must be given to the nauseating smugness of Prasenjit Bose (‘Let them fight elections like we, the CPM, do!’) and Praveen Swami (‘I know our democracy isn’t perfect, but I’ll take it’) on a recent episode of ‘We The People’. In other words: join the democratic mainstream; just make sure you make no actual difference – for we won’t tolerate that.

    The architects of the train blockade, whoever they might be, probably understand the hollowness and hypocrisy of such exhortations. Does the blockade (which involved no loss of life, no physical violence, no ‘terror’, merely ‘inconvenience’) represent the stirring of an agitational form of the kind Balagopal might have endorsed, which mobilizes people in a genuine mass movement, rather than consigning them to the politics of a secretive, paranoid and vanguardist (more precisely, substitutionist) revolutionary elite? Or was it a temporary tactical manouevre in Maoist strategy, as Aman’s article suggested? Does it embody the difficult re-negotiation of alliances, strategies and tactics within a long struggle? Or was it a one-off incident, easily exhausted, easily dealt with by the state, and easily spun into yet another gory tale of Maoist evil by the media? None of us know the truth of this. But whatever the truth might be, Balagopal’s point, and the burden of this article, are powerful, and the questions they raise for state, capital, and Maoists alike are unanswerable.


  12. Dear Joseph,
    I should clarify that not all of what I said in the comment was meant to be a response to your comment/s. However, there are still a few points I would like to go into, considering that we are having a long deferred debate at the moment.
    I agree with you that between the Goliath of the state and the oppressed Davids, I would direct my demands to stop the violence at the former. However, my problem is:
    (a) that it is not the oppressed tribals who have risen in arms but a particular party that has been at war with the state independently, ever since its inception. And Joseph, those of us who have been in politics long enough know that when this happens, ordinary people (the oppressed in whose name the battle is being fought) are the worst sufferers. I do not need to tell you that armed dalams come and carry out their ‘action’ – either under cover of darkness or under forest cover – and disappear, leaving the poor and oppressed to deal with the state’s security forces. The dalams and the vanguards who carry out their actions know full well that they are thus throwing an unarmed civilian population to the wolves. They are not only not perturbed by it; they rejoice in it, for they ‘know’ that this will push these hapless people into their arms.
    (b) That the arms of the Maoists are NOT being deployed always against the state. In fact more often that not, they are being deployed against ordinary people – either because they are ‘suspected’ of being ‘informers’ and ‘agents of the state’ or because they choose to carry out their ‘action’ on some unsuspecting people. And you know it as well as I do that these ‘informers’ are people who are hauled up by the security forces to reveal the whereabouts of the ‘guerrillas’ who carried out X action (even though they may or may not have revealed anything). For the Maoist revolutionary, revolutionary manhood consists in executing such people SIMPLY ON GROUNDS OF SUSPICION.
    (c) Thus, as far as I am concerned, there is a sleight of hand involved in reducing Maoist violence to violence of the oppressed. It is the violence of a party that is blackmailing us to fall into line, ably assisted by many who have lately discovered the romance of ultra-Leftism (and here I do NOT mean you).
    (d) You say in one of your comments that
    ‘Civil liberties and democratic rights activists try to create, preserve and enlarge this liberal space; striving to ensure that the state and its agencies are forced to act within the ambit of rule of law and the tenets of natural justice.’ I am afraid this rings hollow in the light of the above for what are we demanding: We are demanding – correctly – that the state respect the rule of law and principles of natural justice and even terrorists be given a fair trial. But we are are also demanding, wrongly, that not only we ourselves, but others too, maintain complete silence when ALL tenets of natural justice are trampled underfoot by a revolutionary army – mere suspicion is enough for them to pass their sentence and execute their unarmed captives. And they are captives, make no mistake, unless the decide to leave their village and everything else behind.
    This is a problem many of us have had with the civil liberties and democratic rights organizations – and let me stick my neck out and say this: their credibility today is at its lowest because they are seen to pass over blatant violations of all precepts of ‘natural justice’ by one set of actors, training their guns only at the state. The liberal space needs to be protected and expanded in the face of threat from all quarters and silence in the face of non-state threats to it will not exactly cover the democratic rights movement in glory.


    1. Dear Aditya,
      Whether civil liberties and democratic rights organizations/opinion are at the lowest ebb of credibility or not is a matter of perception and even if your statement is true it need not just be a function of the nature of stands that these organizations (and people who have this perspective) take, it may also be a general climate in which for some strange reason people have moved away from good liberal democratic principles (remember I do not consider that a gaali).
      I reiterate my stand that liberal opinion should focus on the state and acts of the state. My formulation on violence holds true for all forms of private violence in which I have I have held that only physical violence used in self defence is justified. Unlike Nivedita (who in this posting writes that some “acts of violence I will insist are justifiable political violence – from the long and glorious history of adivasi uprisings against repressive power, to the battered wife with an endlessly abusive husband, waiting for him to fall into a drunken sleep before stabbing him to death.”) I had written that even this was not justified (“A violent attack by marginalized sections of society on elite sections for me falls within the rubric of vigilantism which to me while not justifiable would not be termed an atrocity.”) Having said that
      Aditya I have nowhere equated/reduced “Maoist violence to violence of the oppressed”.
      Amongst the various positions articulated in the variegated range of stands and opinions within civil liberties and democratic rights organizations, the strong current that I place myself in, holds that the state needs to proceed against all such acts of private violence as per the (I repeat) rule of law and tenets of natural justice. Those amongst the civil rights movement who share this perspective have a deep and abiding faith in this basic liberal principle. Your accusation that civil liberties organizations “are seen to pass over blatant violations of all precepts of ‘natural justice’ by one set of actors, training their guns only at the state” is misleading. The civil liberties and democratic rights movement has in the past, in the present issued and will in the future issue statements condemning acts of private violence that are particularly significant — the problem is that these are never given prominence. The civil rights movement reserves its right to concentrate its energies on the state; seeing in its powerful apparatus and its immense almost patrimonial legitimacy the personification of the biblical Goliath, in front of whom all the perpetrators of private violence are Davids (the story is not a metaphor for oppressed/oppressor but of powerful/weak).
      As an academic you may hold a view (and it is very legitimate) that the liberal space needs to be protected from threat from all quarters. In fact I had urged Prof Mukherjee to expand his critique on the Maoist movement further. However for civil rights organizations in the actual practice of mobilizing support and opinion, within a non-funded context, and in most cases without any paid wholetimers, depending on voluntary efforts and working with this liberal position I do not think it unreasonable to choose the state to focus their energies. I think it is uncharitable on your part Aditya and the part of Prof Mukherjee to view without at least a modicum of sympathy, such a civil rights position. The legitimacy of civil rights movement may perhaps stem from the fact that the organizations/people whose cause have been taken up in the past, currently and in the future cover an unmatched range of political viewpoint including masses of people who remain unrepresented by anybody or any organization.


  13. “The general sense among those who speak in the public domain (including fellow-kafialite Aman Sethi, with whom many an argument has been had in the past!) is that the Maoists have “learnt a lesson”.”

    Back the Train Up! When you use quotations- you should quote.
    At no point in my piece have I said “learnt a lesson”.

    Secondly, I do not even imply that they have “learnt a lesson”. As my comment this morning makes clear (i was forced to explain my piece as no one seems to have even a ghost of a sense of humour) I am indicating a that the Maoists are changing tactics – which is very different from learning lessons.

    (the latter might lead to the former, but i am not claiming any such thing.)

    To quote myself (the best kind of quoting really) “The piece gestures towards a change in tactics – on both sides – a point where the Maoists are now entering what we call the Prachanda phase – kishenji is now making demands on television, journalists now have access to him, hostages are being taken fed biscuits and returned safely with a slap on their wrists.”

    We can continue to disagree on other stuff; but at least dont make me sound “willfully naive” – (naive is fine, but “willfully?” surely u jest)


  14. Arre oye, when I called you naive, or wilful, or both?
    And if I didn’t, and you didn’t say “learnt a lesson”, are we quits?


  15. I just felt you were tarring me with the same brush as it were.
    But am happy to agreeably call it even


  16. Aman: just to clear up the confusion, I’m afraid I’m the guilty party, I can’t find any other comment that used the term ‘wilful naivete’. Nobody’s fault but mine. :)
    Needless to say, it wasn’t directed at you, or at anyone who’s been posting on Kafila: its targets were pretty clear. The West Bengal CPM on the one hand, and, much more urgently, the Barkhas and the Arnabs on the other.


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