Response to Arundhati Roy: Jairus Banaji

This is a guest post by JAIRUS BANAJI

Arundhati Roy’s essay “Walking with the Comrades” is a powerful indictment of the Indian state and its brutality but its political drawbacks are screamingly obvious.  Arundhati clearly believes that the Indian state is such a bastion of oppression and unrelieved brutality that there is no alternative to violent struggle or ‘protracted war’. In other words, democracy is a pure excrescence on a military apparatus that forms the true backbone of the Indian state. It is simply its ‘benign façade’. If all you had in India were forest communities and corporate predators, tribals and paramilitary forces, the government and the Maoists, her espousal of the Maoists might just cut ice. But where does the rest of India fit in? What categories do we have for them?  Or are we seriously supposed to believe that the extraordinary tide of insurrection will wash over the messy landscapes of urban India and over the millions of disorganised workers in our countryside without the emergence of a powerful social agency, a broad alliance of salaried and wage-earning strata, that can contest the stranglehold of capitalism?  Without mass organisations, battles for democracy, struggles for the radicalisation of culture, etc., etc.?  Does any of this matter for her?

In Arundhati’s vision of politics the only agent of social change is a military force. There are no economic classes, no civil society, no mass organisations or conflicts which are not controlled by a party (or ‘the’ party). There is no history of the left that diverges from the romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari and its legacies, and there is, bizarrely, not even a passing reference to capitalism as the systemic source of the conversion of adivasis into wage-labourers, of the degradation of their forms of life and resources and of the dispossession of entire communities.  In Arundhati, the vision of the Communist Manifesto is reversed. There Marx brings the Communists in not to prevent the expansion of capitalism but to fight it from the standpoint of a more advanced mode of production, one grounded in the ability of masses of workers to recover control of their lives and shape the nature and meaning of production. The primitive communism in terms of which she sees and applauds the programme of the CPI (Maoist) recalls not this vision of the future but the debates around the possibility of the Russian mir (the peasant commune) forming the basis for a direct transition to communism. On that issue Marx was, as always, profoundly internationalist, speculating that ‘if the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for the proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land [the mir] may serve as the starting point for a communist development’. That didn’t happen, the revolution in Russia remained isolated, it was subverted internally by the grip of a leadership every bit as vanguardist as Kishenji, and if we don’t learn from history, we cannot truly speak as the beacons of hope that Arundhati sees the Maoists as. It is not hope but false promises that will lie at the end of the revolutionary road, aside from the corpses of thousands of ‘martyrs’ and many more thousands of nameless civilians who of course had no control over ‘the’ party.

60 thoughts on “Response to Arundhati Roy: Jairus Banaji”

  1. The radical left would have got n number of problems and lacunas as they themselves may admit, at least in moments of introspection, I believe. But I think the position from which one critique their contradictions do matters a lot. Intellectual giants like Banaji, with all respects, I should say, being vehement champions of Trotskysm has a history of looking down upon all currents of popular Marxist movement in the world for not paying obeisance to Trotsky. I very well remember Achin Vanaik deliberately evading all queries on the then very popular radical left in Nepal, a decade back, in a meeting in JNU . It was very much before the capitalist deviation of the radical left in Nepal. The Trotskysts had always derided all non Totskyst left movements in the west. With great respect to the intellectual stature and contributions of this people, I think, I should say all this translates to a sort of sectarianism.


  2. Yes , reading her article one might get a glimpse of the rebel life. Personally I think its romantic. But what is her real intention behind writing this essay???

    Points to be noted here is she has been with a particular tribe who traditionally are against the state, for whatever reasons. What lacks in her article is biasless documentation of people who are really affected by the ongoing war in the area, people who refuse to take sides, people who are increasingly finding it hard to decide who is their enemy : The Capitalist state OR a gun-trotting regime whose ideology is as alien to them as for our fat-bellied corrupt politicians.

    More than the data though there are some bone-chilling accusations, the story of a school designed like an army-bunker is frightening. Does anyone bother to reply to her accusations?

    Guess Not.

    We feel the comfort of our room conditioner as an absolute truth.

    But arundhati Roy should be encouraged by alternative political media , she should be heard to , only thing is she needs the touch of a Human rights observer, I know its non-communist approach but madam, Its all about life and continuity.


  3. Far from `looking down upon all currents of popular Marxist movement[s]’ that Joe is saying, Jairus Banaji’s note on Arundhuti Roy’s article has raised the contents of what is said in the article to a comparative historical and a theoretical level. Arundhuti Roy’s `seeing and applauding’ the CPI [Maoist] `terms of primitive communism’ `recalls the debates around the possibility of the Russian Mir [ the peasant commune] forming the basis for a direct transition to communism’ is by no means `sectarian[ism]’; it puts the views and ideas articulated in the article within the perspective of a debate that Marx carried on for over last ten years of his life. The debate on the Russian agrarian commune had started in Russia since 1861 emancipation of serfs, which intensified in 1870’s, especially in the aftermath of Paris commune in which all shades of political standpoints and programmes from Russia participated. For most of his last decade Marx spend studying older, primitive communities/communes including India where he held British officials as `offenders’ responsible for dissolution of communal ownership of land, though his involvement with Russian commune and politics remained central. This debate remained obscure for almost the whole of 20th c. except for the last decade but now its significance is well recognized. There is nothing amiss and deplorable about recalling the debate on the destiny of agrarian communes in the light of contemporary assault by state and capital on adivasi communities, common property, tribes, nomadic and pastoral communities, etc. in India. Also because of considerable inter and intra level heterogeneity in adivasi, tribal communities experiences due mainly to the colonial past and uneven-ness of capitalist dynamic singular or individual or specific cases have to be compared simply because, for example the field of experience in north-east differs from central India.

    At issue here is the interest and concerns of citizens and institutions of civil society. It is not like some arid academic concern at all. Neither is the intent limited to intelligentsia or any specific professional group. It is not as if some spectacle is on display in serial order in which Maoists and the state are engaged in a fight unto death and the vast majority of citizens are spectators to the show, living out the effects, so to speak. This entire habit of staging the politics of spectacle can be opposed by self-education and intensified public-social interaction which defines democracy. It needs to be said and emphasized that as democracy gets engulfed by the politics of spectacle and its sphere restricted by accumulating representations crowding few `official’ events then the only solution is practical in the fullest sense of the term. The point is that adivasis are very much a part of the public and civic sphere and their alienation is not unique.


  4. Strange and misplaced critique, Mr. Banaji. I am not for a moment arguing that Roy’s article is above critique; there are certainly some things I am uncomfortable with, or want time to think about. But your peculiar, tendentious reading of Roy’s article tells me more about your own history as a communist (I am assuming you have been one, or are still allied with the Left; please correct me if I am wrong), your inability to shake Marxist teleology regarding the mir and the urban proletariat, and the simultaneous fear and fantasy of adivasis being converted to wage labour through capitalism; than anything Roy has actually said in the article. I say fear and fantasy because its always double-edged isn’t it, the response of Marxism to capitalist evolution…

    Point is, not once does Roy claim to put forth a programmatic vision of politics for the entire country. Nowhere does she purport to answer questions about the ways in which the Maoist phenomenon links to the urban dispossessed, or to the future of India. What really puzzles me is, why are YOUR questions heading in that direction – of the future of revolution for the entire country? In other words, why does India loom large in your imagination? Because it certainly is absent except as an occupying force in the areas Roy is talking about. I can only understand your response as a concern over actually existing, or viable revolutionary strategies for the whole country. But that’s not the terrain Roy’s article, and she would want to convince us, the Maoists and their tribal supporters inhabit. Their terrain is one of desperate, at times blind, at other times clever guerrilla warfare deriving its force from local issues of land, displacement and dispossession. In my opinion, its a futile, if not slightly bizarre exercise to imagine the guerilla into constitutional existence at this moment, to ask what kind of government they would form. These are questions we debate amongst ourselves, within our locations, and rightly so. Would the Maoists be as corrupt and as violent as the Indian State if they came to power? In all likelihood, yes. Indeed, Roy herself points to it in her article.

    So why do we push India’s limited success with constitutional democracy in Roy’s and the Maoists faces? Why do we push what we know as India into that experience at all? Because not only are many of us committed to imagining post-nationalist political states (not simply supra-national but also infra-national), but there is not even a passing family resemblance between us and them – those in the heart of darkness. Remember the article recounts the curious, somewhat anxious questions about the outside world posed by the comrades to Roy? It seems to signal an attitude of cautious curiosity about urban India, nothing more than their experience of being on the run in the jungle allows them. They (and I am talking of everybody except the top Maoist leadership here, which I believe is a fair thing to talk about) haven’t taken the task of theorising publicly for the country, not yet (when they do, they’ll mutate into another animal, and we’ll respond then). They certainly haven’t located themselves in a teleology of adviasi to wage labour to revolutionary proletariat. Is it inconceivable, given the colossal history of dispossession in their region, that they simply couldn’t care less about, as you put it, “the emergence of a powerful social agency, a broad alliance of salaried and wage-earning strata, mass organisations, battles for democracy, struggles for the radicalisation of culture?” Arundhati Roy reports that they perhaps don’t care. Perhaps. We don’t know enough from this article. If you are mad at her for ignoring the good radical work of the Left of all kinds in cities, among urban proletariat and other strata, by all means, be mad. But at the risk of repeating myself, nowhere is it apparent to me that she takes this task upon herself, of adjudicating between different revolutionary and leftist strategies, nationally and internationally. She tells the story as she sees it, in Dandakaranya, with her warts and moles and biases clearly visible. If we have to critique her article, critique it on the terms on which it is written.

    Strange also that you indict Roy for not mentioning capitalism. In an article replete with references to mining companies and their blatant alliance with the State, and stinging indictment of the bogus idea of corporate social responsibility, is Roy’s fault a school examination one – of not using the word ‘capitalism’? I believe you suffer at her habit of not describing a capitalism you recognise – the one in which revolution follows the expansion of urban wage labour and the intensification of its contradictions. This primitive, rapacious bounty capitalism that Roy has done a sterling job of capturing so beautifully in all her work, fits nowhere in that teleology, or fits weirdly. So you assume mistakenly that Roy is arguing that peasant communes can jump into socialism or revolution. Its absurd, this assumption, this recalling of old communist debates. If Roy has expressed the hope of the tribals, its the desperate hope of a local army, with all its desperate violence, standing up to a force that has history on its side. Nothing more, nothing less. Violence itself is a strangely abstract word, obfuscating more than revealing about actual battles, but thats another story…

    As for democracy being an excrescence on a military state, YES, thats exactly what it has been for those in the areas Roy has visited. Again, she isn’t speaking for the whole of India, certainly not for us who have been fortunate to see its humane side. So lets make our India-wide revolutionary strategies and certainly lets learn from whatever bits of communist history may have direct relevance to us, but lets not so easily assume that the Dandakaranya forest is India. It is and has always been enemy territory – a self-fulfilling prophesy of colonial and postcolonial governments. Its not the job – yet – of the people in Roy’s article to be answerable to our ideas of democracy and revolution; it seems their ambitions are modest in this regard for the moment. Ours, on the other hand, are suffused with national and international revolutionary goals. Its a question of scale, of what the world may seem like from that forest. The way in which international communism filters through into guerilla struggles worldwide is the subject of books and theses, but I can mention here Roy’s description of the poster of Mao at Bhumkal – she indicates an ongoing local renegotiation of his legacy in the naxals’ response.

    If I take your response, Mr. Banaji, and Anirban’s response also on Kafila, the storm seems to be hingeing on four things –

    One, the question of violence vs. non violent methods. Long debate, but again, I don’t think Roy is making an argument for violence per se. Clearly she opposes the violence of the state. She is trying to understand what the lifeworld of somebody who has accepted violence as legitimate means of revenge on a completely impervious regime appears to be. Does she sufficiently express the ethical and moral dilemmas in this regard, of herself or those she writes about? No. Does that take away from the power of her description of that lifeworld? To me, no. About democratic methods succeeding in the world those in Dandakaranya inhabit, perhaps in a thousand years. Until then? I don’t have answers, but in the meanwhile I am wholly unsurprised by this one. When the cycle of violence has already been inaugurated by the State decades ago, its going to take the State to really stop it – an offer the Maoists are waiting for.

    Two, who has the right to represent ‘them’? Roy’s jumping in here, in her characteristic style – messianic to some, brash and self-promoting to others – has irked many. Perhaps I can understand that – she writes as if there is nothing else going on – just her and the Maoists in the jungle. And there is some self-celebration going on – when she mentions her interview being part of their collection of books and articles from the outside world. But its a writer’s representation, at the end of the day. And mighty powerful, compared to others. Its propagandist, so lets critique that. But the gap between us and the world inside Maoist-controlled forests is so yawning that nothing short of poetic, propagandist writing may bridge it. I wonder, if the whole thing was written as a poem, what would our response be? Since she writes prose, in a mainstream magazine, she is automatically drawn into larger debates about the history of communism, violence as a political means, etc. I am not sure that’s useful.

    Three, is her portrayal of community romanticised? Maybe, although she does indicate tensions and rifts (between the women and men for instance, and here she minces no words, reporting that some tribal traditions were oppressive enough for women to join the Maoists as an escape, only to be disappointed at being denied equality here too). But is it equally possible that we simply have no access to a world of experience which is not alienated individually? We can only scoff at Roy’s upper class romanticism, while still being unable to imagine forms of community other than our own very cynical, fragmented one (which we love, make no mistake, and wouldn’t have any other way, since it has given us what we have come to think of as precious freedoms)?

    Four, and related to point two above, Roy’s relation to the Left, radical, progressive, still- invested-in-democracy sections among us, to the Maoist leadership, their press machinery, their urban counterparts. Maybe all this controversy tells us its time for a debate, but that’s not the mandate of this article.


  5. I must confess I found the highly reputed Jairus Banaji’s response to Arundhati utterly disappointing and irrelevant. I will simply raise a few questions against his reading of Arundhati’s article and leave it there.

    Banaji asks, “But where does the rest of India fit in? What categories do we have for them?” –

    Well, the irony is, the rest of India does “fit in” somehow, somewhere, in the scheme of things, unlike those hungry tribal boys who eat up their bananas on their way to meet a “kaamraid” and understand defending life with guns. Unless these tribals are psychopaths, I don’t understand any meaningful explanation for them to live the way they are doing. And as far as the “rest of India” is concerned, the “categories” of civil society and all such civil discourses keep the academia, the media, the law, and the government going. Why should civil-society suddenly, deliberately feature in a debate which is precisely about people who are forced to lead an un-civic life?! Why should pro-civil society intellectuals behave like judges in their suggestive remarks about the tribals being innocent victims of (Maoist) politics? Are we to believe that the whole debate which involves the life and death so many poor people needs a kind of judge-versus-vanguard quarrel?! I feel “Who are with the Maoists?” isn’t the question we face. The question we face is: Who are with the tribals?

    Says Banaji, “In Arundhati’s vision of politics the only agent of social change is a military force.” –

    This is a totally misguided misrepresentation. I don’t think Arundhati means it at all. Only a “civic” anxiety could have mis-read what Arundhati painfully tries to make us see. That certain people are not living under conditions we can even imagine unless we witness and hear it. Does human life have to carry as complex a message that intellectual discourses carry?! What the hell do we mean by “social change” when all that it can mean is something of a middle-class passport to “conscious political” livelihood?! Whereas, the SOCIAL itself is UNDER THREAT in certain societies and CHANGE can only mean either daily annihilation or resistance?!

    Banaji says, “In Arundhati, the vision of the Communist Manifesto is reversed.” –

    But why should the understanding of any political situation strictly follow the grammar of the Communist Manifesto? Why can’t, in other words, the “vision” of the Communist Manifesto be REVERSED if the historical juncture demands it? Are people belonging to the left forever condemned to live on such a fixed notion of vision? Is that the kind of respect we have for human thinking? Are we supposed to read history backwards, through the neat efficacy of texts, and not hear the jarring voices of the present?

    Banaji again accuses Arundhati of siding with those for whom: “There is no history of the left that diverges from the romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari and its legacies” –

    This is again a deliberately old trick of an argument. To condemn the “extreme” as romantic (un-democratic?), and create its normal/normalised opponent as a “viable” option for left politics. I think the rejection of romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari or any other need not mean the rejection of conditions and genuinely political motivations which create such “extremes” in the first place, against whose light, the “viable” left has to often, uncomfortably see and justify itself. Because any revolutionary idea of politics can only emerge out of social/political phenomena which threaten to “blast open the continuum of history” (to use good, old Benjamin). Or else, we are merely being the academicians of history and politics – and to hell with us and our perspectives and retrospectives.


  6. Sunalini is simply making use of some personal barbs and invective to badmouth a proposed level of debate. Sunalini is basically attempting to pre-empt the frame of reference by attacking the `Marxist teleology regarding the Mir and urban proletariat’ because according to Sunalini the adivasis `in the heart of darkness’’ haven’t `taken the task of theorizing’, that they `haven’t located themselves in a teleology of adivasi to wage labour to revolutionary proletariat’. Likewise Sunalini mentions how `beautifully’ Arundhuti Roy `captures’ a `primitive, rapacious, bounty capitalism’, that the article is `replete with references to mining industry , their alliance with the state’ and her rubbishing of `corporate social responsibility’ for making the point that it `fits nowhere in that teleology’ according to which `peasant communes can jump into socialism and revolution’. Sunalini presumably thinks it is `absurd recalling’ an `old communist debate’.

    It was not just a `communist debate’ but a debate on present and future of agrarian communes in which numerous shades of Russian `populist’ theorists like Chernyshevskii, Lavrov, revolutionaries, activists, economists, journalist like Herzen, scientists, independent historians like Kovalevskii, Boris Nikolavskii, Bakunin inspired anarchists, social revolutionary party, The People’s Will that included emotional revolutionaries, strong upholders of revolutionary ethics, and others who were involved had invested their mind and body. Marxists of Second International, Russian Marxists and the subsequent communist party tradition remained aloof from the entire debate and it was not till 1980’s that the first comprehensive book on the subject, subtitled `Marx and the peripheries of capitalism’ [ed, T Shanin] was published in English. The debate is not old either, but made to look old by an ignoramus. Marx’s involvement was very discontinuous to his earlier preoccupations with his work on Capital, a sharp departure from west European theatre of capital accumulation to entirely new areas of resistance and revolt against oppression, by north American Indians, Australian aborigines or the Russian commune. A reality not of the industrial proletariat became Marx’s major preoccupation.

    This shift clearly shows that it did not follow from anything close to linear evolutionism of ideas that Sunalini dresses up as `teleology’. The succession of categories, as in the continuum – tribal-wage labour-industrial proletariat – does, by no means indicate `teleology’. This is a continuum that typically exemplifies strong linear deterministic assumptions wrapped up in evolutionism, much like stages of historical development that used to be dished out by mechanical materialists and Stalinoids, from primitive communism to slavery to feudalism and so forth. The existential dread of `fear and fantasy’ about the `adivasi converted to wage labour’ is the property of Sunalini’s own, unique property of consciousness that Sunalini imagines inhering in the adivasi `life-world’ but non translatable to any meaningful statement of political economy. Teleology deals with cognizing ends as immanent determination of nature and though not an invalid form of comprehension, the reason why teleology gets reproached is not due evolutionism but because it ends up in trifling things and triviality in its extramundane considerations , or it gets limited to a search for external ends and purposes only. That is why, a distinction of internal purpose is made, which opens up the concept of life as idea as with the individual pursuing universal ends implicit in `genus’ while also mediating the particularity of species existence. But this has nothing to do with any of the ways in which the term is bandied about by Sunalini.


  7. Arundhati Roy’s writing brings issues into the ‘public domain’ and she has been contributing to the search for alternatives precisely by writing in mainstream media. She brings to the notice of ordinary urban people who would otherwise not have known some versions of the truth. Ordinary people who would never have questioned, and would always have privileged other versions the media surrounds them with.


  8. Banerjee bhaisahib, main un saari kitaabon aur vaad vivaadon se vakif hoon, jo aapne itne pyaar aur itminaan se hamein yaad dilaaye hain.

    The question of my being an ignoramus and not matching up to the ‘proposed level of debate’ aside, please point out in exact quotes from my response where I have used ‘personal barbs and invective to badmouth’ Mr. Banaji. One thing Kafila is very clear about disallowing is personal barbs, and I follow the policy, so as I said, please do point it out. I don’t know Mr. Banaji at all, maybe thats what irked you. The fact that it wasn’t personal. Personally admiring. In fact, I found your response personal for the number of times you used my name and said things like ‘ignoramus’…but nevermind.

    About your comment, I will respond to just a couple of your points, because I feel we aren’t on the same planet right now, leave alone the same page. One, I am well aware of the fact that ‘communists’ and the history of communism/communist debates are complex categories – I know of the populists, the narodniks, the Trotskyists, the Luxemburgians, the Bakunin-inspired anarchists; and have an idea who you mean when you use the rather vague term ’emotional revolutionaries’. I know of the long, tortuous but incredibly creative disagreements in the movement, the trajectory from Lenin to Stalin, the critique posed by Alexandra Kollontai, the revisiting of determinism and mode of production debates by the end of the 20th century with the Poulantzas-Miliband exchange, etc. etc. I am also aware of the difference between determinism and teleology, and used the word teleology consciously.
    I am saying this not to show off (because I am sure there are much more learned people on the matter, so it would be a futile exercise) but because proving sufficient Marxist lineage seems to be a pre requisite to entering this debate, from your point of view. I won’t defend that lineage any more except to say I am firmly on the Left. But please explain to me, how the movement from adivasi to wage labour to urban revolutionary consciousness is non teleological in the way Mr. Banaji expressed it.

    Second, I never said that Marx’s own ideas follow a linear evolution; I am again aware of his very intense rethinking of the dreaded ‘Asiatic mode of production’ formulation, and other brilliant journalistic writings on the national question. In fact, you pose his ideas as linear when you say “Marx’s involvement was very discontinuous to his earlier preoccupations with his work on Capital, a sharp departure from west European theatre of capital accumulation to entirely new areas of resistance and revolt against oppression, by north American Indians, Australian aborigines or the Russian commune.” Sure, but the tension in his work between seeing capitalism as lateral and discontinuous and non-linear; and seeing capitalism, even introduced through colonial rule to the natives as a liberatory force that would eventually lead to socialism remains in a bulk of his work, from start to end. As you would expect from any thinker of his range and complexity.
    My point is not to deify or demonise Marx, but to force us all, in the early twenty first century, to specify which Marx we are working with, when we think about the Naxals. And further, to dare to suggest that working with Marx and Marxist debates does not exhaust the field of understanding as far as the war in Dantewada is concerned.
    Third, about political economy. Roy’s understanding of the adivasis is explicitly political-economical, and is located in (if you want to work with Marxist categories) the idea of primitive accumulation. And the reason it makes no sense to invoke urban revolution or social alliances here is because we are dealing with a situation in which the adivasi goes from being adivasi to beggar/homeless/criminal on the streets of Raipur, not wage labour. The trajectory followed by hundreds of Narmada adivasis. Which Marxist category used by Mr.Banaji can accommodate this trajectory? I don’t know, you are more learned, so do educate us. Plus, the fine distinction between teleology of external purposes and internal ends, and species and genus. I am a little lost.

    To sum up, I don’t believe it is ‘amiss and deplorable’ to invoke old communist debates (these aren’t words I used). I believe it is absurd to use it in this particular manner, of seeing it in pre-prepared categories of (to use Banaji’s language) – primitive communism, more advanced mode of production, conversion of adivasis into wage labour and so on and so forth.

    Can’t resist adding – Mr. Banaji’s sentence to condemn Roy – that she sees democracy as mere excrescence on a military state – nothing could be more Marxist than such a view.


  9. Debabrata has made a critical intervention against Sunalini’s response to Banaji. My humble provocations –

    The relative autonomy of certain moments/levels in the history of capital should allow us to distinguish between the larger process of captalism’s continuities on the one hand and the specific, fragmentary interventions on the other. How else can we be able to map the precise situation about what is at stake in the confrontation between capital and labour’s “life-world”?! The point here isn’t simply one of re-cognizing the duality of the historical scheme of things, but about what produces the rupture between the general and the specific in the first place. The question is, what forced Marx to pay attention to the question of agrarian communes at a later period. I think the question is no longer situated within the purview of capital accumulation alone or at least how it was understood earlier. The technologization of life-worlds and of the economic process, where certain industrial logic has been rammed into economies which have lived “side-by-side” along with urban, developmental economic trajectories, has to be taken into account. This has been Arundhati’s concern as well, though her language and emphasis may not lie within the theoretical concerns as discussed here. The question of linearity or the lack of it regarding Marxist “teleology” isn’t the issue. There is an underlying attempt here by Debabrata, of RE-COGNIZING the current economic (and political) situation of the tribals into his own theoretical assumptions regarding the “fate” of certain economies. So his accusation against Sunalini’s manner of cognizing is a defensive strategy. And now comes the real problem of Debrata’s formulation, utterly incapable of going beyond its own, rigid structure –

    The moment any “cognizing” of a historical moment of rupture vis-a-vis the larger discourse of capitalism and state takes place – how easily it is plugged into the rhetoric of infantility. Indeed, a stark exposure of the limits of the discourse of reason. The manipulation of the “real encounter” with economies and concerns which threaten one’s historical knowledge of things, begins by such infantile accusations of infantility. The effect here is one aimed at producing “existentialist” worries in the name of “fear” and “fantasy” – but being unable to control the betrayal of oneself being subjectively impervious of all cognitive biases and assuming a more OBJECTIVE position for oneself. I think a post-Deluzian world would laugh at this. But also be equally terrified of its violence. The lack in your re-cognizing your own fantasy is our fear.


  10. A late clarification. Sunalini had indeed used the terms ‘fear’ and ‘fantasy’ in her critique of Banaji, and these words were thrown back at her by Debabrata in this manner:

    “The existential dread of `fear and fantasy’ about the `adivasi converted to wage labour’ is the property of Sunalini’s own, unique property of consciousness that Sunalini imagines inhering in the adivasi `life-world’ but non translatable to any meaningful statement of political economy”

    My response was to this formulation of Debabrata’s. The point I wanted to make is, Sunalini spoke about the fear and fantasy as “double edged” in terms of “the response of Marxism to capitalist evolution”. This is a provocative point and has no subjective accusations against Banaji’s thinking. While Debabrata gives the existential twist to point it against Sunalini’s “consciousness”. So we are faced with a Sartrean accusation of “bad faith” here! This is what I found problematic –

    To individualize the accusation of ‘fear and ‘fantasy’ and make it existentialist when one is debating certain political phenomena is to deliberately play, both a psychological as well as an ideological game – induce the element of guilt in the other person and de-legitimize the political importance of the argument.

    To cut it short: As if Sunalini speaks at the level of consciousness and Debabrata speaks at the level of being (and of political economy). The structure of being has had its years. Time for understanding the consciousness which exceeds being and is stranger to it. Back to the history of the future – and the postponement of it by the present crop of intellectual thinking.


  11. Sunalini, to clear up a misconception first, “Inability to shake Marxist teleology”; I take it you’re not a Marxist, don’t see yourself as one, so that teleology for you seems to be intrinsic to all forms of Marxism and is dragged in as a sign of their sheer debility. In Marx’s vision of history, the only teleology at work is the worldwide creation of a working-class by capitalism that can take over from capital once the basis exists, again worldwide, for that kind of momentous transition. You can always scoff at the idea and dismiss it as ‘teleology’ but frankly no better vision has been offered of human emancipation from the suffocating grip of capital.

    You can’t possibly believe that I believe that the debate about the mir has any concrete meaning today. It was brought in to illustrate the extent to which the vision of maoist politics Arundhati offers is irrelevant.

    ‘Fear and fantasy’; hardly either. The vast majority of the subcontinent’s population had been converted into wage-labourers by the closing decades of colonial rule. The forms in which they lived their condition of utter dispossession and forced survival varied of course, but only in the fantasies of some of the left, the maoists included, could this be reversed by transforming them all back into a class of small property-owners. (‘Today, Comrade Venu says, there are no landless peasants in Dandakaranya’. The breathtaking naivety of this statement shows how even a brilliant writer of fiction can churn out pulp fiction if she lacks any grasp of the issues.)

    ‘Why does India loom large in your imagination?’ Because I live in it, Arundhati does, so do you and so do all the millions of adivasis she writes about, however much you want to construct a Chinese wall between them and the rest of the country. Dispossession and the shattering of communities is not peculiar to the tribal parts of India, even if it takes starker more visible forms there. Nor is state violence, nor is oppression, nor is patriarchy, etc, etc. Arundhati at least has a wider frame of reference, calls in Kashmir, communalism, the nature of the Indian state, and so on, but you are less compromising. It is absurd to imagine that the forest areas are govered by different laws of political evolution, even if forests and mountains everywhere ‘resist the march of history’, as Braudel told us, ‘or they accept it only with reluctance’. You say, ‘It’s not the job – yet – of the people in Roy’s article to be answerable to our ideas of democracy and revolution’. And Kandhamal? Is that also exempt from the norms that seem, to you, natural for the rest of India? Were the tribal aggressors there simply childish hapless victims of the conspiracies of others?

    ‘They (and I’m talking about everybody except the top maoist leadership here…)’ . So what are we talking about? Communities, masses of ordinary people who never in their wildest dreams hoped for the war of liberation they now have to live with, or the hardened leadership and middle-rank cadre of a well-honed war machine that emerges from the fissured history of the Indian left, fragments a hundred times over before it regroups into Kishenji’s brand of party? If you’re a party sympathiser, the distinction scarcely matters, it is ethereal because the party is the people, the relationship of representation is one of immediacy and faith, the way the Tigers ‘were’ the Tamils of Sri Lanka even when they went around slaughtering every other Tamil group. Arundhati, you want to say, is only interested in the former, in the people themselves, and the totalising brutalities of capital and state and the way these are destroying them. Fair enough, that is why I began my comment with a reference to her ‘powerful indictment of the Indian state and its brutality’. One British sympathiser, a trotskyist to boot, writes that her essay is a ‘call to civil society’ to halt the impending terrors of ‘Operation green hunt’. But it is a strange essay, to say the least, if that is its sole drift. Why exalt Charu Mazumdar as a ‘visionary’ when she herself finds his more famous statements ‘spine chilling’ and ‘almost genocidal’? And why do that if you’re trying to win the support of much wider sections of civil society against an impending holocaust? Why shuffle between tribals and maoists as if they were the same amphibious creature, as if no independent organisations and movements and struggles of adivasis exist that are not controlled by Kishenji’s party, that have even publicly denounced infiltration by them, and that the governments can easily brand ‘Naxalite’ to murder their leaders and activists in cold blood? A good demonstration of the difference between the maoist elements and the people’s movement is the piece that Sumit and Tanika Sarkar wrote in EPW on Lalgarh ( “They (the maoists) come into an already strong and open mass movement, they engage in a killing spree, discrediting the movement, and then they leave, after giving the state authorities a splendid excuse for crushing it. One wonders how and why the so-called leader Bikas could arrange the entire media – press, state and national TV channels – to gather around him as he claimed to represent the Janasadharaner Samiti and not have any state forces to be around as he spoke.” Arundhati can’t take this on board, witness her recent interview on Democracy Now where she tells her audience ‘Actually, the Maoists are tribals, you know, and the tribals themselves have had a history of resistance and rebellion that predates Mao by centuries, you know? And so, I think it’s just a name, in a way. It’s just a name. And yet, without that organization, the tribal people could not have put up this resistance. You know, so it is complicated.’ It certainly is, if that’s the kind of clarity with which you’re going to think about these issues!

    Would you want to respond to this by saying, clarity doesn’t matter, only description does? ‘It’s a writer’s representation, at the end of the day’. And does the writer’s representation include the prerogative of telling us that our apprehensions about an authoritarian future shouldn’t ‘immobilise us in the present’?

    The CPI (Maoist) are not isolated from the rest of India, even if you’d like to think the adivasis are. They are part of a struggle for state power. They emerged from a wider left movement that spoke initially in terms of ‘agrarian revolution’, ‘new democracy’, etc., so many meaningless abstractions that have lost all relevance to the desperate struggles in terms of which they now seek to survive. If Arundhati ends up wielding her mesmerising prose to give political backing to those ideas, that could well be a counterfinality, something she never intended. But her interventions flow into a public domain where they are received and used precisely in that way, to bolster the bizarre illusion that ‘protracted war’ can mutate into some wider transformation of India during which, presumably, millions of other people will be galvanised by, what? something she herself describes as the ‘stiff unbending’ rhetoric of the ideologues? Isn’t that ludicrous? And isn’t that why you have to try and construct a sort of rigorous exceptionalism for these parts of India? Aren’t you simply saying, this is it, this is the best you can hope for in the tribal areas, given that democracy is never going to come there, not in a ‘thousand years’.

    No one is asking the maoists in Dandakaranya to be accountable to anyone except the tribals who Arundhati sees them ‘representing’ in some pervasive way. They have built what looks like a formidable war machine and their form of accumulation, of survival or expansion, needs the incessant flow of young tribal recruits whose political level is so abysmal that they have no hope in hell of ever raising issues about ‘the’ party, the leadership, programmatic concepts, etc. etc. They are simply cannon fodder.

    Finally, who says ‘we’ are “unable to imagine forms of community other than our own very cynical, fragmented one (which we love, make no mistake, and wouldn’t have any other way…)”? Who exactly is the ‘we’ here? The urban elite that Arundhati comes from and mixes with? That you belong to? I literally have no idea who you are talking about and lumping together in this way. I have worked with workers and unions in Bombay and they certainly had notions of community that are very different from the ‘we’ you posit. Those were not ‘cynical’ and ‘fragmented’, they were rooted in astonishing solidarity and self-sacrifice. It is those workers who will create a new India, it is from their struggles and experiences that a new social model will emerge which is less obsessed with power (the ‘seizure’ of power, the ‘capture’ of power, the wielding of authority and control over others, the hideous culture of violence) and capable instead of undermining capitalism through the sheer weight of numbers, through wide-ranging solidarity, through powerful and creative solutions, in short, everything that Marx called ‘control over production’.


  12. If the Kafila moderator could ensure that, apart from not using personal insults, those writing on this page could use simple, straightforward English to convey their points?

    Whatever other problems there may be with Arundhati’s article she manages to communicate all she has to say in clear, sparkling prose- and that too straight from the flaming fields. While obviously she is a master at such things those critiquing or discussing her can help their cause by not dropping names like ‘Marx, Lenin, Russian, Kollontai, Sartre, Camus’ or undefinable, quasi-religious terms like ‘capitalism, socialism, communism’.

    In fact the more problematic parts of Arundhati’s own piece are where she uses mysterious concepts like ‘Party, Revolution’ and stops describing what she sees and hears around her.

    The Indian Republic and for that matter the people of the world have suffered enough from the endless theological discourses such loaded words have spawned whereas all they want is to hear about much simpler and direct concepts like nutrition, health, drinking water, shelter, jobs, individual rights and plain human decency and who is going to do what about these needs.

    Again, on another note, while the tribals of central India are certainly among the most deprived people of this country one does not have to go to such exotic locations all the time to discover misery either. Just looking out of urban windows onto the street outside is sufficient. Question again is a practical one- what is anyone doing or going to do about such misery- apart from giving long, learned lectures that is?


  13. This debate is fascinating, and necessary. For a long time we have been caught up in the binary opposites of all kinds within the left, where despite the concrete situation existing the left has always shied away from articulating a clear voice on at least certain issues that are fundamental. I agree with Jairus that the vision of Marx has not been bettered. However i think the point Arundhati tries to make is simple, democracy as is obtained in this country does work only for the priveleged, who are the gravy train or are latched on to it. It does not work outside of it. It will not work because it is part of the larger process of this capitalist system which has in the name of ‘democracy’ subsumed all. So for those for whom it does not work today have rallied around those who have worked with them. They happened to be the Maoist, they could have been anybody. For those of us in the comforts of our institutional spaces and drawing rooms the idea of democracy works. And therein lies the problem. Jairus, Arundhati is not a marxist ideolouge, she is a sensitive person, a writer and a women. So she writes from heart and with passion, something that marx did when he wrote the Manifesto. Let us not train our ideological hair splitiing affect our larger sentiment! However in this globalised world the struggles too would be global and there cannot now be another Yenan, point noted.
    Arundhati writes from heart, academics from head, the choice is ours!


  14. Jairus, thanks for your wonderfully clear response, and staying with the issues, which has been difficult in such posts. I really mean that. First, I am actually a Marxist, as I clarified to Debabrata above. Not your kind maybe, but that should be ok with both of us I think. Second, about teleology, I already specified that I am well aware that Marxism and teleology are not co-terminus, but your mode of description is in fact teleological, and if you are willing to defend it, great. But what I see around me is not, in your words, “the worldwide creation of a working-class by capitalism that can take over from capital once the basis exists, again worldwide, for that kind of momentous transition.” What I see is far more messy, fragmented and chaotic, the phenomenal rise of individual crime, especially crimes against property, ethnic and religious based movements, terrorism…in short revolution through other means, most of which have only a fragile relationship to international proletarianisation, in any Marxist revolutionary sense of the term. About the mir, I believe you are reading that history into Roy’s account – the future in her account looks shaky, uncertain, not a confident reversal of the adivasis into small property holders, Venu’s statement notwithstanding. There’s a sense of impending doom as well as hope in her piece, but I am not sure she speaks as if she really can see the contours of the future.

    Why on earth would I argue that ‘dispossession and shattering of communities’ is unique to the adivasis? You yourself accept that it takes starker forms there, but say no Chinese walls can be drawn. Ok, would you make the same argument for parts of the North East or Kashmir? I would say all of these are outside the ‘India’ that we normally inhabit, that we need an exceptionalist account to capture the extent of police and state brutality there. Simply because I haven’t mentioned Kashmir is no reason to assume that its not part of my frame; but the frame is of exceptionalism, you correctly infer. Compared to the dispensability of the adivasis and the Kashmiris, large sections of the urban poor for instance seem positively privileged. As for conversion of the vast majority of the subcontinent into wage labourers by the end of colonial rule, I am wondering – wasn’t 70% of this country’s population still rural till very recently? A population that lived to a huge extent in family owned farms? The rural peasantry or landowner class is not wage labour in any neat way, in my humble understanding. Ok, even if I accept that you are right, what is our response for the remaining sections – those that still subsist below the wage labourer class, would those not experience an exceptionalist form of exploitation by your own linear/teleological account? You accept Braudel’s statement that forests and mountains everywhere resist the march of history; I would add James Scott’s thesis about why states and civilisations have found it difficult to climb hills. But you say its absurd to imagine that forests would escape the “laws of political evolution”. Please spell out the laws for me, because I would again make the mistake of assuming this is teleological. I just want to place those words before you again – fragmented, chaotic, messy. I don’t know what political evolution means for the regime that the adivasis live under. Mentioning Kandhamal here is so problematic I don’t know how to respond – what’s the point? That under the wrong political leadership, the adivasis will become murderers? Sure, but that’s true of anybody right? Or are you suggesting that left to themselves, they will turn murderers, because that would be indefensible according to me, and to you, from what I know of your politics. In any case, how does this help our debate? Maybe you think I am arguing for a pure state of innocence for adivasis; let me clarify that such a condescending view would be anathema to me.

    I completely agree with you that Sumit and Tanika’s work is of crucial importance, but I think it can be counterposed to Roy’s in a diametrically opposed way only in this particular reading of Roy, where she appears to be suggesting an India-wide revolutionary relevance for the Maoists and indeed a monopoly on revolutionary activity. Unlike those like you who see Roy’s article as failing for its shaky political manifesto, I see it as having a much more limited mandate – to describe to an urban audience what the hell could be going on in the mind of the average adivasi Maoist (again, let me clarify I don’t think these two are the same always, but they are the same in hundreds, even thousands of cases, which is the realm of the article) who takes up arms. Why does this have to push out critique of the Maoists from public debate is beyond me. That critique has been made and should continue to be made. If in your words, public debate is constituted in a way that allows “her interventions to be received and used…to bolster the bizarre illusion that ‘protracted war’ can mutate into some wider transformation of India during which, presumably, millions of other people will be galvanised by…something she herself describes as the ‘stiff unbending’ rhetoric of the ideologues”; then at whose door do we lay the blame? Not clear to me at all that it should be Roy. The trajectory by which our media and public space came to be dominated by celebrities is a long and sad one, but is that Roy’s fault? As I said in my first response, Roy is not above critique. She seems definitely to be getting enamoured of the Maoist solution; and that can be challenged publicly. But as I said, on different terms from those here, of foisting a coherent political programme on her writing, of assuming she has a plan for the whole country. I agree with Satya above when he says that in fact the political parts of her writing are the weakest. But the rest of it is powerful, as you yourself suggest. The best parts of her writing are the voice of the madman-poet, capturing the desperation, the apparent and ongoing tragedies of those who have chosen to kill and die, and hope but also fear of the future. I see a deep ambivalence towards revolution, or at least a tension in Roy’s writing. Its nowhere apparent she has a Plan.

    Also, Mr. Banaji if you seriously think I am callous enough to suggest that the adivasis should just rot under this protracted battle because that’s the best they can hope for, I can’t even begin to counter it. But for the sake of others who may read this, I was only saying I was wholly unsurprised at their picking up of arms, since they don’t see even the ‘d’ of democracy where they live. Your point about Maoists being a country-wide phenomenon, and other Left organisations having worked in the adivasi areas is very well taken, but I don’t think my comments on exceptionalism rule out acknowledging this. Last, about the ‘we’ that can imagine or not imagine as the case may be, other forms of community, I meant the readers and commentators on Kafila, and particularly Debabrata who I was arguing with at that point. I am very glad you have interacted with those who can imagine other forms of community; its exactly what I was saying is possible, but I didn’t find that voice on this debate. There are several other points you have raised of course, but for now I feel the planetary gap between us too much. Until later, then, and I thank you again for your clarity.


  15. Manash is of course most free to conjure anything from my response to Sunalini even though I have said nothing of the kind that he thinks I am saying, implying, holding back, playing with and so on. I did not see the response as a `critical intervention’ since I know the difference between that and a `critical response’ where I have tried to be as brief as I could. In my two posts I have said that Jairus Banaji’s response to Arundhuti’s article has the merit of demarcating/clarifying and raising the subject , namely the current offensive of state-capital-ruling elite combine in tribal `forest’ regions in central India and Maoist politics of armed struggle about which Arundhuti Roy has written in the context of the concerns of citizens, politics and institutions of civil society. The political drawback which strikes as `obvious’ is her belief that there is no alternative to violent struggle and protracted war. I have also talked about the politics of spectacle in the early post which is the alienated political space of civil society, which all socialized, non-cynical [human]segments and organs of civil society should confront.

    I have referred to the debate on agrarian communes as both a valid and relevant level where the subject of tribal communities could be discussed, though that is not the only level. I have not been too mistaken about that either as subsequent responses show such as Sunalini’s further response disclaiming ignorance though here I should say that it was not the universe of Marxist debates and discourse that I was talking about but one in which the predominant participants were basically non-Marxists, i.e., shades of Russian populists and other tendencies in which Marx actively participated. Later Marxist tradition actually ignored this debate – here bringing up Asiatic mode of production is irrelevant, given that during those years Marx did not use that category even once even while talking about destruction of Indian communities. Actually that is precisely my point. The discontinuity I refer to is the shift in the subject, from the working-class of the first International to agrarian communes, as a real historical one and not out of non-linearity’s which obtains in Marx’s method. The discontinuous moment was made possible by the working-class that had proclaimed the Paris commune, having smashed the alienated political sphere for the social one, which the commune embodied. The `specificity’ that Manash refers to as the `rupture’ with the universal or capital in general [ I assume I am right in figuring out what is said] makes no sense in the context of Mir, precisely because it did not live in isolation, was contemporaneous with capitalist production, without undergoing its `frightening vicissitudes’, nor falling prey to conquests. There was no `rupture’ while the social system of the rural commune stood intact in the face of the conflicts, antagonisms and disasters of capitalism. The question, `what forced Marx to pay attention to the question of agrarian communes at a later period’ has its answer in the historical specificity of the Russian commune which did not meet the fates of all other forms of communal organization. There was a positive element in the dualism of the Russian commune – where the private, individual was freed of primordial ties of kinship and blood and its social organization and communal ownership of land allowed it to transform fragmented, individualistic agriculture into collective agriculture, jointly owned meadows, co-operative labour suitable to large scale mechanized cultivation. Nothing `forced’ Marx to pay attention’ as the question has it as much as the specificity of the Mir presented the possibility of a humane, socialized, non-barbaric alternative path before humanity where the individual already had a free basis to flourish, in which socialization could not only incorporate advanced science and technological achievements of humanity unlike capital that is in conflict with them and uses them in a subordinate, ideological way but could also be the mode for appropriating the alienated political sphere.

    There is no point standing on judgment over some polemical and critical exchanges, and at any rate I am not `character-armoured’. The point is whether the polemic is carrying or driving any point home. The latter post by Manash makes no sense. If at all anyone is interested in scaling arguments then I am speaking at the level of the concept that has subsumed being and existence as its past moments.


  16. What I find a bit exasperating in some of the Marxist responses above is the quasi-theological devotion to filtering every form of domination and exploitation into the overarching all-encompassing determinate unity of Capital(ism), which like God is the One that is Many, and thus the Marxist critique of it can explain everything with some additions, modifications, variations. Rather than acknowledge – as Sunalini’s brilliant responses may be read as pointing out – that what we have are far more fragmented and diverse forms of power, exploitation and appropriation which are of course not mutually exclusive, but globally link up into an exploitative governing regime for which various abstractions like Capital(ism), Empire, the Global Race/Gender system, Colonial Modernity (etc.) can only be partial names, each illuminating some crucial aspect but becoming more mystifying than anything else if called upon to explain the whole.
    Witness the sidelining if not complete subsumption (within the larger heterogenous yet seemingly unified whole of ‘capital’, of course) of caste and gender as structural issues that have a lot to do with situations in the ‘Red Corridor’, and thus also the lack of much reference to feminist scholarship (Western or South Asian) as having to say much about issues at hand, let alone Dalit critique, and so on. There is also perhaps the anxiety that if we question fidelity to any one metanarrative we fall into some sort of empty valorization of multiplicity or difference (e.g. of modes of resistance) and inevitably lose sight of the larger picture of power and more globally applicable forms of ‘revolution’ or struggle. Whereas Roy’s articles… despite its shortcomings and dangers of romanticization etc. … is perhaps productive precisely in that it invites us to step back from those pre-given larger frames to reconsider and rethink from locations that may appear to us as ‘states of exception’. Those need to be mediated, thought through before any claim for larger articulations can be made.


  17. Sunalini bahinji, impatience lies at the root of half-baked theorization, impatient in understanding the posts you are directing your critical remarks, polemic or whatever your preferred choice of term. In the practical field of politics, similarly marked impatience can produce deadly results. That is how I see Arundhuti Roy’s article. Spending a week or ten days for the first time in the specific area [Dantewara] per se is not the sort of experience to make judgements [which is what the article is so full of] that have been made. No human social scientist would feel bold enough to go that for unless she is plain dishonest to herself. To say that the situation in the Bastar region is comparable to Waziristan or Afghanistan is not just irresponsible but carries a deadly import for the tribals. [Arundhuti’s interview in Democracy Now!] If she thinks that she is representing the interests of the tribals of the area then the bit piece of 10 pages is just that, a representation on behalf of the spectacle in her head. This is the sort of piece that is deadly to the tribals simply because it is not written for them, it is not responsible to them, hardly anybody from them is ever going to read it directly because they were not told that she is writing an article for them. Only the Maoists knew that she was writing for them, the precondition for `touring her around’ was the assurance that she was of them and who the Maoists are responsible to happens to be their politics. The subject of their politics is the same state power that they are fighting, from bottoms up and not anything remotely resembling liberation from repressive shackles holding down life or any human social emancipatory project. Had that been the case we would not be wasting our words. The marked impatience of her writing stems from a compromised position and please don’t tell me that she has the credentials or whatever to make such weighty universal judgements from a practical field she terms as `war’ zone either on the subject or the politics that obtains in Maoist affected areas because that has little to do with her credentials as a literary flunkey or a prize winning author; the credentials are collective, they belong to the brand termed Maoists. I am not among those enamored of her style nor do I find poetic ideas gushing through her prose. But aesthetic judgments are free not binding, unlike ethical ones. That there is sufficient consensus against Maoist brand of politics within the tattered fabric of democratic India is enough; just as much as there is a general consensus against communal politics.

    As for you impatience, I should say that your oft-repeated use of the term teleology is basically flawed, contrary to your insistence. Teleology in ancient metaphysics was about purpose of cognition or cognition as a purposive activity as understood by the nature of the concept. The purpose of nature was seen in terms of immanent determinations of itself in the concept but the mechanical revolution contradicted that cognition by determining nature mechanistically, externally, objectively and not as immanent self-determination. Yet mechanism could not remain indifferent to teleology, which was then included under `natural necessity’ since the concept as immanent self-determination did not exist.. Mechanism ends up with states of natural forms of finitude or closed systems as they are known. Though these closed systems do not seek to go beyond finitude yet they seek to expand themselves into a formal totality through the concept of cause or the whole of reciprocal causes or force or the sum total of forces, which are partial reflections of abstract universality. This striving towards totality is also an end and in seeking to grasp nature as a whole mechanism did not have the subject as self-determination in unity with the concept in that end . Further reflection can only proceed when the end is defined as a formal totality of the infinite. This contradiction between teleology and mechanics is expressed in trifles or trivial objects of teleology that stopped with external purpose. It was Kant who posed this antinomy between mechanism and teleology under the judgment of reflection. He got teleology out of the woods by introducing the further distinction of inner purpose, meaning external and internal purpose as antinomies of reason which he explicated under the third conflict of transcendental idea. This is the antinomy of reflective judgment and determinate judgment. Reflective judgment is the middle term between universal reason and individual intuition but the determining judgment subsumes the particular under the universal. Basically by introducing reflection as middle term [as in a syllogism] Kant was able to bring in the means in relation to ends and show these means as superior to finite ends of mechanism+teleology. The tool or a plough last for a while ends are immediately consumed and forgotten. With the means no violence is needed to relate to the object, sufficient resolve is enough for any means to determine itself, which then posits the externality of ends in the object , as alienated, objectified, null, etc. Inner purpose follows from the individual subject, for whom the universal is only implicitly an end, the end as implicit good. Individuality must mediate the externality of the particular sphere which can be seen as the species process, say human species. But this species is also subsumed by the universality of the genus as in classical taxonomy. In the genus relationship humans may be classified with other earthly creatures on legs like horses, dogs, tiger or under the mammalian criteria or by newer genetic classification with bipeds etc, but in all instances the universal is life and the cognition of life [ here there are no double cognitions created as hybrid forms of `re-cognition’, which Manash implies in a post]. This is how the teleological movement is like, to be brief. The working-class does not emancipate itself but humanity and all life that is threatened by organically monstrous forms of capital and this it is in a position to do with the fullest development of individuality. The free development of each as the condition for the free development of all is certainly more than what it has meant in the Marxist universe of discourse. I hope it is clear that I am not giving any objectivist accounting, and reference to Kant is made insofar as there obtains in the third critique a subject-object parity, instead of domination of subject by object as in theoretical reason or domination of object by subject as in practical reason. Hegel of course develops the position to subject-subject identity in difference, but that is another matter.


  18. This has so far been a most illuminating discussion on a burning issue. And its bolsters my faith in willful mutual misreadings of each others’ declamations. For the ensuing dialectic forces a clearer articulations of the positions occupying the discursive field. I do not claim to butt in here with any profound knowledge of either Marxist theory or the past and present histories of communism(s). So do indulge me as an ‘ignoramus’.

    If the object and launchpad for the above discussion is strictly Roy’s stirring essay, then I must admit straight up that my bias tilts more towards the position that Sunalini and Manash seem to be espousing.

    Before subjecting Roy’s piece to critiques at higher levels of theoretical abstraction, which is no doubt necessary and required, it behooves us to consider it sympathetically, within its own mandate. In that, Roy’s undertaking is quite specific; the essay is an extremely sensitive ethnography of adivasi Maoist cadres in Dandakaranya, written in nimble and sparkling prose that straddles the poetic. Though the first-person intrudes upon it, at times problematically, as people have already pointed out, the piece is more of a phenomenological description of the everydayness of being-Maoist for tribals of central India.

    Such an exercise is methodologically very different from the Marxist ideology-critique through which Jairus Banaji would like to enter the debate surrounding Maoism in India. The questions that this latter line of enquiry poses are necessarily different from the concerns of the former. This is not to say that Banaji’s concerns do not have any merit; only that they, in their specific modes of articulation, reference very different means and ends. No wonder then, Roy’s account–and it is more an account than an analysis–falls short for Banaji, as I am sure Banaji’s would for Roy.

    Among other things, Banaji points out, quoting the Sarkars, that Maoists have cannibalized spontaneous expressions of tribal resistance and solidarity, Lalgarh being a case in point. But one also has to ask that if such a solidarity has to politically sustain itself beyond the immediate cause of mobilization, then what are the options available to them within India’s political structure? Even if for the moment one allows for a distinction to be drawn between the tribals and the Maoists–a separation that if not false in the first instance, becomes a false one in the process of tribal politicization–it appears to me that Maoists provide the only real political-institutional option for the former; an option that at least promises a direct redressal of grievances accumulated over centuries past and the mind-boggling abjectness of the present. In this sense, howsoever draconian and hierarchical the Maoist party structure might be, the rapid expansion of its cadre-base in India can be read as the exercising of democratic choice on a very different register; a register outside the pale of electoral democracy that is precipitately degenerating into merely a ‘technique’ that India can bandy about in claiming its exceptionality vis-a-vis the other nation-states that colonialism left in wake of its retreat from southern Asia.

    Having said that, for me, the greatest tragedy of the whole thing is the fratricidal violence that the State in the era of late-capital has been able to manufacture within and between historically oppressed communities that otherwise ought to stand in solidarity against the both the so-called liberal democratic state and capitalist exploitation. It has been able, until recently when it has directly entered the arena, to successfully rent out the writ of violence, whereby in a confrontation between, say, Salwa Judum and the Maoists, there is very little to differentiate between the dead, besides perhaps their respective uniforms. Or, if one checks the casualties so far in West Midnapore and Purulia, whether felled by a Maoist bullet or CPM counter-violence, it will be, I am quite sure, overwhelmingly ‘tribal’, belonging to both sides. All this, while the Siddhartha Sankar Rays and Runu Guha Neogys of the world roam free in the streets of Calcutta. In this lies my critique of the CPI (Maoist), for in a strange paradoxical way it seems to be doing what he State wants it to do, even as it holds a beacon of hope for a people who are not very different from those for whom rings a death-knell.


  19. Jairus Banaji has clearly missed the central point of Arundhati Roy’s article ,which is about issues related
    to the struggles of the Adivasis in Chhatitsgarh under
    the leadership of the Maoists. As far as I can tell, Roy
    does not even pretend to address the question of forging a link between these struggles and other struggles, particularly those by the workers in the urban areas. If Banaji is interested in knowing the views of CPI (Maoist) on this and related matters, then he could
    look up the interview that Ganapathy, the party’s
    general secretary gave to Jan Myrdal and Gautam
    Navlakha. It is available on the net and so is CPI (Maoist)’s “Urban Perspective Plan”. He could
    perhaps advance the debate on issues related to peoples struggles by critiquing these documents
    instead of misrepresenting Roy’s positions.

    I reproduce below, some of the comments made by
    Banaji in his response to Sunalini:
    “No one is asking the maoists in Dandakaranya to be accountable to anyone except the tribals who Arundhati sees them ‘representing’ in some pervasive way. They have built what looks like a formidable war machine and their form of accumulation, of survival or expansion, needs the incessant flow of young tribal recruits whose political level is so abysmal that they have no hope in hell of ever raising issues about ‘the’ party, the leadership, programmatic concepts, etc. etc. They are simply cannon fodder.”

    I doubt if one would ever find a view of the Adivasis
    more bigoted than the one expressed above. Kafila
    has a policy of not tolerating personal attacks, but
    presumably that doesn’t apply to the Adivasis.


  20. Even other websites have started debating the Kafila debate on Arundhathi(see radical notes).But I think, the debates from various classical positions-Trotskysm to different streams of naxalites- are re-visited by many in this caophony, of course with the incomprehensible jargon of post marxism


  21. A few points of clarification in this debate:

    Many of the interventions above seem to want to contest a political reading of Arundhati’s essay as opposed to what the last discussant calls ‘an extremely sensitive ethnography of adivasi Maoist cadres in Dandakaranya’. If this were true, I for one would have no quarrel with it. The descriptive parts of her essay are certainly powerful and revealing. However, the essay has more than just description in it. In particular when she says, ‘Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded…has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India,’ this is not just description, it is propaganda. Someone who writes like this should expect to be cross-examined about what kind of revolution exactly that dream refers to. We get one answer from Ganapathy’s interview with Jan Myrdal, which took place at roughly the same time as Arundhati’s walk with the comrades. (Ganapathy is General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist) ). When Ganapathy says that ‘at present our condition is different from that of China in mid 1930s in which CPC formed an anti-imperialist united front against Japan imperialism’ you can’t help breathing a sigh of relief that he’s willing to acknowledge that India is not under Japanese occupation! Because in every other respect, the formulas are the same. But isn’t it seriously misleading to project an image of India’s capitalist class today as a purely dependent and peripheral formation, such as the term ‘comprador’ suggests, when its ambitions are driving it into international markets and it sees itself having a substantial stake in a future military-industrial complex? And who are the small capitalists who are supposed to be part of Ganapathy’s revolutionary class bloc? Aren’t they among the worst exploiters of the poor? Ganapathy himself explains they are the traders and contractors from whom the CPI(Maoist) exacts protection money. And this, by the way, is not a vision just for the forest belt, but for the whole of India!

    If we fast-forward to the present, we can see that the Chinese revolution has finally resulted in replacing imperialist domination and pre-capitalist social relations with a powerful capitalist state. But in India in 2010, when we already have a powerful capitalist state, what sense does it make to think in terms of any kind of Maoist political programme? Arundhati also implies, and states more explicitly in her Democracy Now interview, that there is no distinction between the CPI(Maoist) and the tribals. This, too is propaganda, given that there are numerous other political tendencies – including other Maoist tendencies and those who have split away from the CPI(Maoist) – while the majority of adivasis in the forest belt are unaffiliated to any political party. It is also notable that the leadership of the CPI(Maoist) does not include any adivasis. Adivasis are only the foot-soldiers, the cannon-fodder. ‘Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die’.

    A second line of argument is that even if the strategy of armed struggle is inappropriate for India as a whole, in the specific context of the forest belt it can serve as self-defence against state brutality and an effective mode of asserting adivasi control over their own habitat and resources. Again, if this were really true, I would have no objections. Yet the very opposite seems to be the case. In Lalgarh, a non-violent popular mass movement kept the police and state security forces at bay for seven months, but that resistance collapsed when the CPI(Maoist) stepped in. All the significant gains, like the passing of the Forest Rights Act, have been made by popular unarmed struggles. Even the announcement by the Ministry of Environment and Forests that the MoUs between Vedanta and Posco and the state government of Orissa had been put on hold because they failed to comply with constitutional and legal requirements to obtain the consent of local adivasis was the result of mass struggles.

    The assumption underlying this feeling that armed struggle may be the solution in Jangalmahal, even if it is not the way forward in the rest of India, is, according to Sunalini, that there is ‘not even a passing resemblence between us and them – those in the heart of darkness’, and therefore ‘It’s not the job – yet – of the people in Roy’s article to be answerable to our ideas of democracy and revolution’. Fine. But is it not their job to be answerable to the adivasis’ ideas of democracy and revolution?? The interview with an activist in Sumit and Tanika Sarkar’s article, ‘Notes on a Dying People,’ (which, incidentally, is written with the same passion as Arundhati’s essay), revealed the existence of an amazing system of grassroots democracy in Lalgarh prior to the takeover by the CPI(Maoist), reminiscent of historical examples like workers’ councils and soviets. The hierarchical organisation of the Maoists is a great leap backwards from these advanced forms of organisation.

    This assumption of a great gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ should surely be discarded. Arundhati herself describes the struggle over the price of tendu leaves between the adivasis and the traders who employ them. This is a form of wage-labour in which the employers – like the employers of the women homeworkers who roll those tendu leaves into beedis – try to pass off their employees as self-employed in order to evade any responsibility for them. These workers could, like some of the women homeworkers, unionise and fight not only for higher wages but also other benefits and facilities due to them as workers. The National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, which fought for the Forest Rights Act and continues to fight for its implementation, is affiliated to the New Trade Union Initiative, a federation of independent unions which includes urban and rural, formal and informal workers. Organising solidarity between unions is not easy in a climate where the adivasis are only the most oppressed section of the labouring poor, and so many others are also struggling for survival from one day to the next. But it is absolutely necessary in the present context.

    On the other side, the traders and contractors from whom the CPI(Maoist) extract protection-money are linked either to the state or to various companies, including predatory ones like Vedanta and Essar. The arms they buy with that money are linked to the military-industrial complex. In Lalgarh, in the words of Sumit and Tanika Sarkar, ‘State terror and Maoist terror seem to be strangely interdependent, both working for the same results: the brutal end to a popular democratic struggle’.

    What practical conclusions can we draw? Certainly, solidarity with the adivasis is imperative, but not in the form that Arundhati seems to be advocating. Some of us have already appealed to civil society to put pressure on the government to initiate talks with representatives of all struggling popular adivasi organisations, to treat their grievances with the utmost seriousness, and address them with immediate effect. This does not mean that the government should close the option of talking to the CPI(Maoist). It means that it should not treat this party as the sole representative of the adivasis (as Arundhati seems to do), but should also initiate immediate negotiations with other mass organisations and movements of the adivasis, whose demands are not only achievable within the framework of the Indian constitution, but actually call upon it to deliver on its promises.


  22. Debabrata Banerjee is a conservative Kantian who is clearly not interested in politics qua politics but wants to understand politics in Kantian terms – which is hardly political. Yes philosophy has its place but not on issues where Kant can only serve as a mediator – not as someone who can “inform” politics – but you Mr. Banerjee think so because your secure place in history is not disturbed by politics and some kind of Kantian philosophizing can only extend your clout. But when people are discussing politics – in the most philosophical sense – a certain radical honesty is demanded which is totally missing from you. So please stop this unnecessary posing. Write a good piece on Kant. That will serve you and us more. Don’t try to reduce Arundhati to such obfuscating tendencies.

    And your response to Sunalini is meaningless. Sunalini is trying to understand the political – you are trying to blur and evaporate it with your analysis.


  23. Though this is for the first time that I hear someone calling me a Kantian, I have no problems even defending Kant against your gibberish. It’s not my problem if you insist with misreading, starting with your first response.

    For the sake of general clarification, Kant understood teleology, as a category of reason. So did Marx and neither gave it a bad name, using it pejoratively, as though anything teleological needs to be shaken off. In Kant’s antinomy teleology is nullified by internal purpose, and Kant’s third critique had the infinite merit for showing means as superior to finite ends. By the way, for all his grinding of mustard and pacing up and down while doing so, Kant was generally seen as the philosopher of Enlightenment and French Revolution, which is how `radical’, if you insist with this term, you could get in the 18th c.


  24. All practicing schools of Marxisms in the world have committed heinous and unpardonable blunders/crimes. But at least they can hide behind the excuse that they were attempting to practice something. Even a CPM has a history of some genuine and successful struggles at least in its hey days, before it’s current phase of total degeneration. But amidst such collection of errors the Trotskysts always walked tall as infallible. Despite some brilliant theoretical contributions and always in the forefront to critique other erring schools, I am ignorant of any successful sturggles waged by them in the world. So, I pray, somebody with the necessary capacity/knowledge take up the task to take stock of these academics, their real works with ‘labour‘, struggles , in this context , in a non-doctrinaire vein.


  25. I’ve been reading and learning, and thought initially I wouldn’t come back with more comments because the discussion has been so rich I didn’t think I had much more to add. In the past three or four days I also went back to previous debates on this issue on Kafila and elsewhere. So let me just respond to a few things, taking Rohini’s very helpful critique as a point of departure. I think the thing we are struggling with, fundamentally and even viscerally, are the related questions of what is the political (as Manash has been pointing to), and the question of political subjectivity, of the Adivasis, but also of ourselves. First off, can I say here that the mud-slinging about each other being urban, bourgeois intellectuals/radicals is terribly unhelpful? As I wrote on Anirban’s post on Kafila too, by material, political-economic standards, very few of us can escape that charge. I am not arguing that our class positions are unimportant; on the contrary I am arguing that our class positions are crucial, and further that we are in fact a class – those who have access to particular technologies of knowledge production and dissemination (big media, other media, universities, libraries) and the leisure to process these and respond. I think here the distinction between the democratic and ultra-radical left becomes specially problematic – the democratic left may accuse the ultra-left of playing out their revolutionary fantasies through half-baked dreams of revolution in which somebody else (the adivasi, the landless, the dalit) always has to die; or conversely, the ultra-left may accuse the democratic left of being content to write about democracy when somebody else (the adivasi, the landless, the dalit) is dying. How does this help; as far as I can tell, if we are able to type on our computers, we are not dead or wounded by the state/big capital. This may be sounding facile, but my point is really about representation. Its inescapable; the task of representation, if we are to write/comment at all, but its also extremely fraught. A way out is to be absolutely, relentlessly forthright about our own subject positions, and our degrees of distance or proximity to the subject we write about. This is also easier said than done, because while Gayatri Spivak’s declaration of the subaltern’s inability to speak may have launched a thousand journal articles and discussions, we are, truth be told, nowhere close to a resolution or even a partial solution yet. I also believe that our modes of writing, speaking, debating (public or less public) are not always up the task of ‘outing’ what is always going to be mediated representation. This is where I think Roy’s article draws me in, as a reader. Not because she somehow manages to tread that very fine line of neutrality, but because as I hinted earlier, she indicates her distance from her subject quite rigorously, and repeatedly. All along, we know the view is of somebody (clearly elite – she has never hidden this) from our world who has gone into the forest, for a few days, during which she struggles to keep up literally (when she is unable to walk anymore) and politically (when she listens to their accounts) with her Maoists informants. By the end when she falters, slips off the path of her narrative and starts making more explicitly political assessments (most clearly her sudden discovery of the value of Charu Majumdar, which has dismayed many here), it is still clear to me she is an outsider. Not once do I feel she is speaking for everybody there, so the subjectivity of the actual subaltern there (the Maoist adivasi cadre) is nowhere subsumed under hers. And this is why I am saying ‘explicitly political assessments’ because, contrary to the emerging dichotomy between ethnographic/writerly and political, Roy’s article is in fact, political. Not political in the sense of programmatic, solution oriented politics…For somebody of Roy’s location, who has access to a big chunk of the public sphere including debates and learned theses on Maoism (even if she hasn’t read all of it), it seems to me to be a political choice to even tell the story the way she does – first person narrative. A narrative that I think slices right into the heart of the media hysteria about the ‘Maoist’ menace. I’ve been arguing, it does nothing more, but also nothing less than that.

    As for the question of whether the adivasi and Maoist are interchangeable terms, clearly not, as I have already clarified. But do they overlap in hundreds, even thousands of cases? More confusingly, is there a continuum between Adivasi and Maoist as seems to be emerging even from anti-Maoist sources like mainstream journalists and government reports that despair at the local support that Maoists enjoy? It seems to me that there is a range of positions (as Aditya’s recent post of Kafila also seems to be arguing) between adivasi as ‘cannon fodder’ and 100% committed Maoist. There are supporters, sympathisers, pro-Maoist informants, distant observers (I agree this is a position that may become more difficult to sustain as Maoists gain strength). Even more disturbingly, we may have to admit that even reactionary outfits like the Salwa Judum have committed adivasi supporters. I just find this idea of the adivasi as having an abysmal political level deeply problematic; are we willing to extend this denial of agency to, say, the suicide bomber in Palestine? I think Roy’s article for all its flaws shows us a glimpse of adivasi-Maoist agency – if that’s a form of politics we disagree with, we have every right to say so, but to confidently assert that it doesn’t exist – agency – I don’t believe we have enough access to make such a statement. A comment on Anirban’s post about the adivasis using the Maoists as much as the Maoists using the adivasis comes to mind. If the Maoists have sustained themselves for as long as they have, the adivasi has to be seen as more than cannon fodder. Would the adivasis be better off without the Maoists? Many of them, undoubtedly so. For many others, the Maoists offer a means to live and even die with a dignity not afforded by any other power at this moment. Does their dying make us uncomfortable? It should, and I am glad it does. But do we have enough access to their subjective assessment of the risk of death that the Maoist movement offers them to condemn it unequivocally? I don’t believe so. Do the Maoists run a violent, extortion-racket based revolutionary movement? Yes. Does that give me an authoritative position to criticise the adivasi joining them? No.

    Here I must state one more provocation – if the argument against Maoists is made on the ground that the State and Maoists seem to depend on each other for their very existence, can the same not be said about the State and human rights activists, NGOs, democratic Left and so on? I am not being oversmart here; I am saying that if the Maoists seem to feed off the violence of the State, we (non-Maoists) feed off the benign largesse of the State that is nevertheless sustained by the bureaucratic-military-industrial apparatus. And the State requires our existence to appear democratic; it occasionally treats us as allies (even if that’s not what we want) and occasionally as irritants (Chidambaram’s short-lived ballast against intellectuals) but its a largely symbiotic relationship. Nothing wrong with that; not as if we can magically wish these larger dynamics away, but it would be disingenuous to forget them even for a moment. How would I negotiate this in my politics? It boils down to the degree of cynicism about the State; mine happens to be extreme. Rohini’s call to appeal to civil society and put pressure on government to provide constitutional protection for the Adivasis is unimpeachable, if not for that cynicism. Can I be student-like and ask for a list of successful popular agitations against the recent, brutally determined round of capitalist accumulation? Lalgarh, ok. Anti-Posco and Vedanta? Call me hopeless, but the MOUs are only temporarily on hold; they will be brought back in (possibly through micro-regulations rather than large, politically problematic behemoths) when our attention is diverted, and villagers have been divided through differential compensation. Plachimada? The coca-cola company refuses to even recognise the authority of the nine-member expert panel recommending compensation, and is probably going to challenge it in court. May go the way of Bhopal. The Forest Rights Act – as Rohini and others here would already know, the Act diluted the original Bill and significantly short-changed the interests of the adivasis by clubbing them with non-adivasi forest dwellers, providing no redressal for adivasis charged under cases of accessing minor produce and so on. Plus, how much energy is civil society going to expend in implementation of the Act, which will be slow and tortuous? What about the issue of major forest produce, including minerals? Pen, Raigad – there was a recent report on the training of adivasi girls to be airhostesses as part of the multi-pronged social justice/compensation scheme there for poor families – government brainchild. The girls have been sitting at home because airlines said they lack the physical attributes of airhostesses, and cannot shake off their strange accents.

    I am completely in agreement with those above who have argued that its absurd to see the Maoist appeal merely as a ‘lack of development’ issue. Its a too-much development issue in most cases; if by development you don’t mean good schools, hospitals, local government and a high degree of autonomy over local decisions. Its also about dignity, and rage, and denial of history, and the narrowing of choices in every area of their lives. While parties of all kinds including the Maoists will continue to frame all this in India-wide terms (and in progressive movements, that can be a wonderful thing), I think there’s a specificity and untranslatability to many subaltern experiences, including experiences of exploitation that many of us don’t always have a grip on. Those of us who have some grip have every right to demand as Rohini does that the government should be speaking to many groups, not just to the Maoists. I don’t believe any of us including Roy would be inclined to oppose that. I’ll end by saying, but the government will talk when it wants, how it wants, and to whom it wants, especially when the stakes are so high. And I won’t be surprised if the best-meaning words of civil society and democratic left organisations float freely out of context, evacuated of their force and content and redeployed to serve capital. Happy to be wrong.


  26. And Debabrata, since we are now irresistibly linked by the polemic between us (!), I can’t help responding to your latest comment about Kant. You say Kant was as radical as one could have been in the 18th century. I say sure, if you are a famously reclusive, white-skinned university lecturer and writer in the tiny town of Konigsberg (then in Prussia); indeed, you would be the beacon of the Enlightenment. What if you were an African slave in Kant’s household? I am asking because we are not talking about Kant’s radicalism per se. We are asking how he helps us to understand the issues at hand. For a quick primer on Kant’s delightful racism on non-Europeans (which I am afraid, read rather teleologically in the sense that he believes we natives haven’t ‘developed’ to the level of the Europeans yet), please skim through some nuggets of his available on Nivedita Menon’s reply to Zizek (on Kafila).


  27. For Sunalini : There is a difference of expression involved in telling somebody to be mindful about language and to deliver from the position of a know-all a parting or `provocative’ shot like, `hey, don’t tell me you are still stuck up with that’ or, `you’ve not been able to shake that terribly anachronistic `word’ like `teleology’! The latter is usually said with the confidence of addressee, meaning that you know what is so old-fashioned or objectionable about `teleology’. But, when it so happens that you are yourself in the dark about the word that you want somebody to shrug off, then that amounts to giving the word a bad name; it becomes a barb. Further insistence [ `I’m using the word teleology consciously’, without even questioning if it is just a word or something else like a term or category], then that barb turns out to be an invective. Clearly there is confusion involved, which that affects the prose to the point of sounding self-obsessive much like a lover’s quarrel or something trivial

    I would have easily avoided naming Kant but that would have been dishonest of me given that I took the trouble to check out on some of my old notes for explaining teleology by somebody whose explication of the term is not just proper but profounder than in a dictionary or some third hand interpretation, since it is not just a word but also a term of reason. However, I have a wider readership in mind which is my dialogic imagination. Despite what you mention as some `fact’, facticity [ without a shred of evidence, not that I wont accept such evidence as any counter-factual], which faintly reminds me of E Said’s Orientalist rebutting of the `big other’ as also of a piece of anti-Enlightenment rhetoric -none of this robs Kant of having accomplished the much awaited `Copernican revolution’ in philosophical sciences. Then again, there’s a problem with the valet view of history, because for the personal valet the `great’ historical person must appear with warts, epileptic fits and all. But it is one thing to already know that as inessential and quiet another to follow the valet’s reduction. We all know that despite his astounding genius Aristotle accepted the slave society in which he lived, but that does not mean that everything he said and wrote was tainted with that `original sin’. One has to be really presumptuous to be able to think so.


  28. Debabrata, since you already know everything I have said to be ‘inessential’, I just want to state one new, and hopefully final, disagreement. Lovers’ quarrels are not trivial. And self-obsession is not a preserve of lovers. I mean, look at us!


  29. I would be sorry if i’ve hurt any feelings on this but I was actually reminded of Magritte’s comments on Lenin’s collected works, i.e., that they read like interesting love letters. At any rate, this is said in a very light shade.


  30. Sunalini,
    You seem to be completely going off into some tangent in trying to stick to your point at all costs (which you seem to strangely insist on calling ‘learning’). So when you talk of the non-efficacy of mass democratic struggles you say:

    Pen, Raigad – there was a recent report on the training of adivasi girls to be airhostesses as part of the multi-pronged social justice/compensation scheme there for poor families – government brainchild. The girls have been sitting at home because airlines said they lack the physical attributes of airhostesses, and cannot shake off their strange accents.

    Surely this was not an issue before the struggle and referendum? The struggle was, according to all accounts, on the SEZ. And are you suggesting that the Maoists will force them to be taken as airhostesses? Is that part of the Maoist agenda as well?

    You say:

    Can I be student-like and ask for a list of successful popular agitations against the recent, brutally determined round of capitalist accumulation?

    Maybe you could also enlighten us about at least one Maoist led success story (that is even half as successful as the ones you deride) and one that has entailed any less casualties and deaths.

    And finally, your statement:

    Lalgarh, ok. Anti-Posco and Vedanta? Call me hopeless, but the MOUs are only temporarily on hold…

    Can you name any permanent victory by the Maoists? Is it your claim that they will ensure a permanent victory now, or are you suggesting something like a takeover of state power?


  31. Sorry, I may be missing the point here. It seems to me, however, that the Maoist phenomenon is not anywhere as near as simple as many make it out to be. Part of this, I think, stems from the very heavy weight of the non-violence philosophy. In a sense, for anyone to suggest that under certain circumstances organised armed resistance may be required, is to make a moral blunder in the eyes of the progressive urban intellectuals who live in ‘secure’ compounds and whose lives are founded on the consumption of the very minerals that lie at the heart of the conflict. It is this lack of understanding revealed by so many who write here that I find so shocking. Am I against violence? Yes of course! I don’t want a world with violence in it! But that doesn’t mean that I will simply condemn violence willy-nilly.

    Perhaps there is a need for more unified thinking about what these struggles for justice are really about. So many of those writing here have taken binary logics to the same kind of extreme as Arundhati Roy is accused of doing: it’s either ‘democracy’ or ‘guns’, etc. This IS NOT the point. This is also NOT THE POINT of her writing. Those of you so tangled up in these movements have become blind to the bigger struggle and appear more concerned with condemning, proving your rightness, etc. than actually seeking to understand. There is a need to take a step back.

    If we look at civil society today, we will see that there is a great deal going on. All manner of organisations and movements and political formations have sprung up and all are clamouring for something. What are they clamouring for? Are you listening? Or can you only hear your own voice?

    Under different contexts, struggle, resistance, whatever you want to call it, will take different forms. Can we acknowledge this? There are situations in which writing a letter may be appropriate. Others may demand making use of a court of law. Some may be resolved through peaceful dialogue while others may demand armed resistance. The question is: what are you doing about it besides waxing eloquent. Do you understand what is at stake? Do you understand the logics of the system and what it means? Do you understand why the Maoists have gained the stronghold (some may see it as a stranglehold) that they have? Just the other day 14 tribals were killed in a non-violent protest against a Tata Steel factory in Kalinga Nagar, Orissa, countless others have been arrested and even beaten by militarised police forces who are trying to quash the tribal resistance movement to the dispossession of their lands and lives. If this is not an invitation for the Maoists then please tell me what is.

    The fact that in this situation, the Maoists could actually help the tribals strengthen their resistance, doesn’t seem to be one that anyone is bothered by. What displacement means for tribal people is also something that is barely considered or discussed anywhere in any of the media. But does the fact that I or anyone for that matter can acknowledge that in some situations non-violent resistance will not work mean that there is no place for non-violent struggles in other places and on other platforms? Of course not! And Arundhati most certainly isn’t saying that we should all just jump into a violent struggle. Those who read this in her words are lost. There is a huge task at hand and it is by no means an easy one: to bring justice to a corrupt and dysfunctional system (not just India, by the way, the Indian problem is actually a global one). But please, please stop being absolutist. If you were squashed in corner wouldn’t you kick and bite and pull hair and scratch to break free? If you’re not sure about this, why don’t you try getting beaten into a corner somewhere?


  32. Andreling, you are absolutely right in thinking, “Sorry, I may be missing the point here”. You are.
    No one in these debates has suggested that Maoism is “simple”, and certainly most writers critical of Maoists on kafila have not posed it as “democracy” versus “guns”. Non-violence has not been posed as the answer to state violence in either of the two recent posts and not on earlier posts in kafila critical of both Maoist ideology as well as the rapacious Indian state. (You might take a minute to read those earlier posts, including by naxalites like Santosh Rana, who are nowhere near a politics of non-violence).
    You ask, “if you were squashed in corner wouldn’t you kick and bite and pull hair and scratch to break free?” – yes, of course. But some of us do want to go beyond this level of understanding of politics. To see Maoist politics as merely “kicking and scratching” when cornered, or as “helping tribals strengthen their resistance” reveals breathtaking innocence of political understanding, but combined with the kind of impatient self-confidence with which you brush aside all complexity, it is downright maddening.
    “Under different contexts, struggle, resistance, whatever you want to call it, will take different forms” – that’s deep. But the thought has occurred to some of us before, and we have acted on it too.
    There are different lines of critique of Maoism as well as of Arundhati’s recent piece – don’t take the easy way out of conflating pro-corporate plunder/Indian statist positions with non-pacifist Left critiques.
    Try and listen to the conversation here…


  33. Sorry. Points taken. Impatience strikes again. I think my biggest blunder was to include those words ‘so many who write here’… And I apologise to all for that misplaced accusation. I have just been reading again and again (not just here!) the same kinds of critiques of Roy’s piece all over the place and then I read the main piece and a couple of snippets of other comments, and I just blurted out an angry rant. It probably belongs somewhere other than on Kafila, if indeed it belongs anywhere at all. If I dare venture a future post it will be after paying more attention to what has already been said.


  34. Andreling – thanks for listening with such generosity. There is so much at stake personally for so many of us in this “debate” which goes far beyond intellectual “fashions” and scoring points. So welcome, do keep reading and commenting, and I promise to do some work on my own impatience!


  35. Nivedita Menon – Thanks for accepting my apology… And I was actually referring to my own impatience (for ranting before reading) – not yours! Having gone through the posts, I realise you were justified in what you wrote. Thanks again.


  36. Thank you, Aditya, let me clarify – I’m not equipped to evaluate the long-term prospects of Maoism as a large-scale revolutionary movement (too many unknowns), but in general, my cynicism extends to large revolutionary projects too. That is the reason I used the words messy, chaotic and fragmented above (replying to Jairus) to describe the world; this includes the revolutionary universe as much. I also repeatedly used the words ‘desperate’ and ‘local’ in my comments to describe the adivasis involvement; so my intention could not have been to glorify their struggle in optimistic programmatic terms, in any demonstrable capacity to carry out “a takeover of state power”. In fact I have been saying that Roy’s article appears to me to be similarly tentative, even modest in the business of political prescription, except for some sentences where she seems to sway (which I have pointed to). Furthermore, I was saying that her style of writing is valuable, because it allows me to distinguish her voice from her subjects, even while providing what is an ’embedded’, close account.

    If you can come to trust that I am not seeing the localised armed struggle by the adivasis as shining political Utopia, but as brutal war that has local, sometimes untranslatable dynamics, then perhaps you wouldn’t read my statement on Pen the way you have. I offered the airhostess example as an ironic comment on one, the the utter absurdity of well-meaning NGO intervention among adivasis in this area; and two, the indignity and marginality of a position (adivasi) whence both the intervention and its subsequent failure flowed ‘from above’, entirely out of the hands of the adivasis. That is why, if you see my comment above, I spoke in the next sentence about how I don’t think the adivasi issue is just a development issue, its more fundamentally about dispossession, indignity and rage.

    You will rightly respond that the Maoist intervention also ‘flows from above’ and I will say absolutely. But its an intervention that, for now, expresses the anger and desperation of at least a section of the adivasis. My sense is that rather than evaluating the nation-wide success or failure of these forces, adivasis seem to be making a locally-determined choice to take up arms in order to reclaim some dignity and protect their lives and habitats in desperate circumstances; and Roy gives us a glimpse of the human beings making that choice. I was arguing that for that reason alone, it would be misplaced to read Roy’s article in terms of long-term programmatic success of either the State or the Left of all shades including the Maoists.

    Since I really do believe my task is of learning, I am going to say no further on the issue.


  37. I could be wrong about this, but it strikes me that most likely, Arundhati Roy is the only person among all of us, who has been anywhere beyond 15 kilometers from Dantewada in recent times.

    That does not give her an authenticity which we should all defer to. But her essay does open up a world that few of us have entered. It is overseen by a superintendent of police, the highest representative of the Indian State conceivable in that context, who is candid enough to observe that the real problem for the state in Dantewada is that it is confronting a whole bunch of people who are not trained in greed – the one prerequisite quality Indian citizen to become a member of the civil society. He says he has been telling his bosses that the lasting solution does not lie in guns but in instaling TV sets in the huts. ! (Did I hear someone mention seduction?)

    She describes the world that this SP lords over as one where everything is upside down !. And it indeed it is so. But before someone pounces on me for supposedly suggesting that the tribal world will always be incomprehensible to us (untranslateable – to borrow an expression from Sunalini) , let me quickly assert that I am not doing anything of that sort. It is just that it is a world into which people like us gain only conditional entry – contingent on many factors. You have to connect with messengers who do not follow previously agreed rules. And soon after you cross it, the pathway behind you is closed off for retreat with landmines (or IEDs as the technically correct squad member pointed out) . Seduction does happen there. But it is the kind of seduction that only a few of us have direct experience of and when it is granted to us, it is on the condition that we not be predisposed against what we will be made privy to. You are seduced as much by the will to survive and to kill as you are by the guilelessness with which people can take to the wonders of technology, state craft and consumption. And when I say guilelessness, it is as an attribute of the Maoist cadres as well. In their self imposed exiles they are in fact doubly vulnerable to the artfulness of state, capital and civil society – in sharp contrast to us who wear our well practised cynicism on our sleeves – oh yeah drop me a postcard when the beheadings start; oh yeah, let me know when the police tell the truth!! That seduction has little in common with the aestheticized politics of the small town folks that the RSS represents.

    Sorry Nivedita, the problem is not that you and the others at Kafila are treating Maoism as a simple affair. It is that most of the commentaries are going on as if we are talking about a fully conscious bunch of calculating individuals advancing this or that coherent line of thought in Marxism – Arundhati Roy and ourselves included. So much of the tireless commentary here goes on as if the tribals and the Maoist cadres and we can all somehow easily share a worldview. The truth is we cannot do so in any straight forward way and definitely not through these debates. There is no immutable barrier here but there is a barrier and we have to acknowledge it if we hope to ever engage with the ideological formation that we know as Maoists. For all her limitations, which are toomany to list here, Arundhati Roy engages. At the conscious level, she may appear to have swallowed hook line and sinker what that the spokespersons of that world told her. But then she goes and undermines it through a discursive essay allowing all the contradictions, the puzzles, the confusions to show through the cracks. It is those cracks that we must keep our eyes on if we hope to enagage with that world without actually risking life and limb. Jairus Banaji does not engage. I dont blame him. He is standing up for what he knows the world to be, has always known the world to be – he could have written this response 20 years ago!! He cast his lot with the working class (dare I say in Western India) as the leading edge of the revolution long time ago. The tribals of central India who cannot have a class consciousness of their own at the moment, should be allowed to catch up. That is quite generous of him.

    The thing that most of the commentators here do not seem to have an inkling of is that the Indian state that the tribals and the Maoists on that side of the Indravati River experience is just not the same as what any of us can know. Listen to what Kishenji says in Arundhati Roy’s story: “Of course, we will attack. Otherwise people will beat me ” That remark sends a chuckle through the ranks. There is a tacit understanding here between the ranks and the leader. If you cannot or will not retaliate against an attack by the ruling classes – and their apparatuses and agents – you have no business being there. You could argue that all that is very fine. The leaders – the Maoist caders should be able to explain to the adivasis that they should not be wanting to retaliate. It is uncivil. But it doesnt quite work like that. To know how it works you have to be in a village a few hours after 15 people have been killed and raped. You have to come face to face with someone who has to sleep with the forest contractor to get paid her measly wage for the tendu patta collection. When that woman says to you, well what are you going to do about this, now, Right now; you have to come up with an answer. Pick up the mobile phone and call up your colleagues in Delhi ? But what if you dont have a job in DU ? What would you do ? That is where the Maoist cadres are born. In places where the state does not even do its dirty work of being a decent broker between capital and labour.

    The point is that the Maoists are not driven by theory. They are driven by compulsions. Few of them have the time read Mao or Lenin or Marx. A handful of them used to manage to do that in the 70s and 80s, but these days, the state does not bother to keep them in jails. It just kills young people even if they smell like people who might insist on answers to their questions. Some read even now. When incessant rain makes it impossible to move. When in the summer the forest is thin and movement could be easily detected. So they stay put and read. That is about it. For the rest, they are going on their hunches and marching on their stomachs. We can of course say that they see compulsions because their eyes have not opened to the possibilities of civil society; to the follies of 20th century communism; to the possibility that Fukuyama may afterall be right or that we have now entered a new world where revolution can only happen in the city. I am willing to go with that. But, then it takes a lot of hard work to create spaces of imagination in such conditions. And it has to start with convincing ourselves. Seriously, howmany of us here (Banaji excluded) have such great faith in civil society ? Howmany of us here have the force of conviction to throw our weight behind any alternative ? To stake our reputations leave alone life and limb on a clear formulation of a new pathway out of this morass – at gun point – yes, I mean Maoist gun point !

    We are such an enlightened public here – we want to offer the revolutionary possibilities of the city , nothing less – to tribal shifting cultivators. If these pesky Maoists had not been so obstinate and so perverse, we would have straightened out the state by now and accomplished our revolutionary mission. Look how efficient we are – we have even outsourced our own civic responsibilities to NGOs. But wait a minute. May be that is where the real problem is. We really have a lot of time on our hands and we are so bored so we are going on and on and on tearing each other to pieces.


  38. Well, YOU clearly “have a lot of time on your hands” ExCon, to write such an endless comment, but that’s not true of everybody.
    Also, you ARE wrong in thinking nobody but Arundhati has gone within 15 km of Dantewada. For years and years, right up to today, committed scholars like Bela Bhatia, Naxalites of various hues, Gandhians like Himanshu Kumar and democratic rights activists most of whose names you would never have heard because they are not media-friendly, have been engaged in the area. The difference now is that someone of quiet and determined conviction like Nandini Sundar is kept out by the Indian state (See kafila for her statement on what happened when she tried to visit the area recently), and she will not be escorted into the forest by the Party because she has shown herself not too amenable to being gently guided in the right direction by either the state or the Maoists.


  39. thank you for that, excon. its always refreshingly amusing to read a lecture on the problems with having too much time to give a lecture!

    perhaps you are unaware (though i highly doubt it) of the fact that there are hundreds of battles being fought across the country that have a tense and complicated relationship with what you simply dismiss as civil society. these movements engage with, pull away from, and even challenge the very foundations of civil society. they live and fight every day on the (to use a much-used word) “messy” terrain of politics. they organise those who are conventionally considered ‘workers’ and those who are not; they build up mass movements to enforce and revoke laws; they engage with and at the same time critique the state in ways far more devastating than the blowing-up of nondescript persons who may or may not be in uniform; they immerse themselves in the harsh realities (and trivialities) of everyday local existence but at the same time address questions of state and capital with rigour, not hysteria. you might wish us to believe that such movements can flourish everywhere Except dantewada, but in that case what you wish us to believe is actually what you wish you to believe. the myopia of accounts like yours produce a wonderfully imaginative picture of the state, but simply miss the leakages. you simultaneously produce a monolithic version of state and civil society, and then position the maoists as providing imaginative answers. unfortunately, what might be termed at best the hypocrisy, and at worst the dishonesty, of the maoist movement’s relationship to civil society serves to contradict the entire basis of your argument.

    please go through any random selection of petitions being circulated on, for instance, the highly glitzy website of (note the words): ‘International Campaign Against War on the People in India.’ (sound much like an NGO? perhaps one addressing issues of civil war?) not only are the majority of signatories to such petitions – and supporters of such campaigns – members of ‘civil society,’ but most of them are either individuals or organisations without even the suggestion of a mass base. all this would be fine, if only the maoists – and their ardent defenders like yourself – came out in the open and admitted that when necessary then your political stance is articulated not in People’s March but in Outlook and the Blogosphere; your press conferences are held in air conditioned press-rooms in delhi and not the jungles of dantewada; and your petitions are signed by ‘prominent’ members of civil society, well known faces and names – not comrade x, y, z.

    none of this would be an issue if you and your ilk stepped back from your in-depth ethnography of the forest and clarified, clearly, that the state and its apparatuses – including sections of civil society – function in more complicated ways than you give them credit for. instead, on the one hand you collapse all civil society with the state, and on the other you use this supposedly bankrupt platform to articulate the emancipatory possibilities of your revolution.

    now, of course you might read this and claim with great confidence that i am (as is typical of us too-much-leisure-on-our-hands-types) excusing state violence and retreating into theory (for which, apparently, the MAOists have no time.) such a (mis)reading would only further strengthen the argument that in spite (or because?) of your tremendous powers of imagination, the obvious escapes you. to suggest that the maoists are the only ones capable of offering hope to tribals is ignorant – ironically, given your myopia – of local politics. to refuse, at a time like this, to question the very basis of this kind of representational politics, and to choose instead to side with the only group that makes all the noise, seems to me to be an abdication (dare i say it) of our ‘responsibility.’ if ‘authenticity’ and ‘experience’ are supposed to be the only barometers by which opinions are taken seriously, then speech itself is rendered useless. and so too, i am afraid, are the voices of those prominent faces who sign (y)our many statements.


  40. Anirban,

    I am puzzled. You are bordering on being abusive – when you merely suspect that your interlocutor may be disagreeing with you – you do not even need any evidence. You dont need the patience to ask any questions. You hit back. And yet you hold forth eloquently on Maoist violence!!

    I have not said anything dismissive about the civil society. If I had to say anything at all, I would have said that there is no room for civil society in Dantewada on the ground. What you need there is something very modest – a few months of gun-free time so that some kind of a public space can be cleared for people to talk without fear of butchered by one side or the other.

    If that happens ever, it will definitely not be due to people who are so full of themselves as you and not due to those who delude themselves with what they think is even-handed criticism of the state and the maoists. The kind of even-handed criticism that we have seen coming from Delhi in this context is just somuch muddleheadedness -never mind the fact that it may be coming from groups that may be seeing themselves as polar opposites. Thats all.

    Let me spell out for you what my assessment of the Maoist movement in India is: The Maoists are stuck with peculiar military imaginaries and an organization that is built for it. The ground they are standing on is rapidly giving way – so they are looking for new grounds. But in a weird sort of way they do fill a vaccuum in some places at the moment and they will go down fighting. The truth is that they are not very different from you in their theory or in their practice.

    Their only USP is that they believe that violence is as natural to the productive forces in this (the post-independence Indian economy) – as stripes are to the big cat. You dont plead with the big cat. It is no use. That is what they understand.

    Lived experience teaches many people in India something very similar. That is how Maoist organizations attract support at particular times and places. There is a pattern to it. It happens when the dominant powers are particularly nasty and violent, and there is need for undermining dominant power blocs; and nobody else has offered anything else that is particularly useful in those circumstances. Once they find a hospitable place, their activities do transform the way in which the productive forces behave. In some ways they make them more nasty, in some ways they contain them. But on the whole there is a big transformation over a period of time. Some good and some bad. There may be other ways of doing it. But I see no point in being hypothetical about it.

    It is the kind of commonsense with which they work, that is the issue at stake in these places. It is at the level of practice that one has to intervene. That is why it becomes important that one must be involved at that local level to bring about a change in the way the Maoist organizations behave.

    Arundhati Roy’s essay gives us a useful map of that terrain – an imperfect one, but a map, nevertheless. I am saying we should keep our eyes on that map and spend less time on the foibles of the mapmaker and the people who dot that territory.

    The far superior arms and surveillance power of the Indian state along with the capillary circuits of capital – via NGOs and microfinance and self help groups etc., will tear apart what remains of the proto-state imaginaries of the Maoists in due course. When the command chain is broken, some of the couriers and sympathisers will be squashed and the others will turn rogue and mercenary for a while until they are rehabilitated as civil society members. That is how things transpired in other places where Maoists have waged war in the past. That is how things are moving in Chattisgarh and in Bengal and many of us with our ears to the ground can feel it. It is a question of time and timing.

    Question is, do you Anirban , do you have some kind of a viable constructive intervention in mind – something that can force the currents in a new direction, something that can build something from the embers which will turn into ashes – five years, ten years from now ? I have heard no hint of that in what has been said so far. May be I do not quite know what to listen for.

    I will not deny that I have been dismissive. I hinted that you do not have the moral courage to stand between the two guns in the name of the civil society that you believe in. I could be wrong about you. I know the idea of civil society does not inspire such conviction in me. But it is precisely that kind of courage that is required in Dantewada today.

    Well, Please, can you at least explain to us how the complex civil society in Chattisgarh is actually working out its connections and what voices it is speaking through ? That will be of some use.

    Jairus Banaji does have that kind of quaint courage — but the source of it is not in the idea of civil society. It comes from some other inner source. He has won the right to say what he said above, even if I dont find it particularly helpful. That is why I am deferential towards him. But then he does not even visit Dantewada.

    Himanshu has something that comes close to such moral courage. I dont know when you last heard him. He is walking a tight rope. He will be polite, but I will be really surprised if he would associate himself with anything that you have written here.

    I would be very surprised if Bela Bhatia after her very insightful writing on the Maoists would sign on to your exposition either.

    I looked carefully through what you wrote to see if I could figure out what your moral compasses are – I have no clue as of now. But I will remain open minded about it. Keep it coming.


  41. ExCon, You are a great one to wax eloquent about courage, when you cannot even come out to make a comment in your own name. And by the way, one can admire someone’s courage without necessarily endorsing his/her politics. The men who blew up the Twin Towers showed “courage” too.
    Also, I find this idea of ‘earning the right’ to speak/ criticize a particularly obnoxious one. Are you – and if I hear some of the other comments here correctly- saying that if you have not ‘earned the right’ (by what means we do not know), you can only admire the Maoists? Is that supposed to be the default position? The obverse of this is that you can sit in the US or Britain or anywhere else in the world, enjoy the luxuries of first world life and criticize ‘Delhi wallahs’ for their elitism, IN THE NAME of Dantewada or Lalgarh. That is how a right is earned, is it?
    You say: “It is at the level of practice that one has to intervene. That is why it becomes important that one must be involved at that local level to bring about a change in the way the Maoist organizations behave. ”
    It is precisely groups and individuals who have actually done this at the local level who have been eliminated by the Maoists. Whether it is Himanshu, who is now VERY “polite” indeed (your word), but who learnt his politeness at the point of Maoist guns, as he once was constrained to write about publicly (in EPW, for example) but now, caught between them and the state that destroyed his ashram, he has chosen the best alternative as he sees it. Physical elimination has been carried out in instances where such politeness was not learnt – innumerable tribal leaders and activists have been killed as Marshal, who left the Party in disgust, has confirmed.
    You say: “What you need there is something very modest – a few months of gun-free time…”
    Who’s “you”? “We” dont need that, the Maoists do. They appeal to “civil society” when it suits them (“ask the govt to stop their guns, please”), and pour contempt on this same “civil society” when it shows itself to be independent of both state and the Maoists.
    Any journalist in the region knows that the Party tolerates corporate plunder as long as they pay their dues to the Party. What will the Party do if it “wins” in the area? Rationalize mining and ensure a “proper” extraction of resources. Want to bet?
    It’s an old old strategy of armed “revolutionaries” – discredit/eliminate all shades of alternative politics including – especially- other NON- “non-violent” forms, and then claim there’s just us, and we ARE the people.


  42. excon, my ears have been, and are closer to the ground than you might think. just because i do not produce counter-narratives from my ‘experiences’ doesnt mean i have none to offer.

    the fate of ‘civil society’ – those funded demonic NGOs as well as those non-funded groups and parties in and around the area in question – should be well known to you since your ears are clearly in the right places. my issue is with the simple continuum those like you draw between state and civil society, given that today the state is almost as hostile to sections of civil society as the maoists.

    when himanshu was being threatened, not so long ago, by members of the cpi(maoist) because of his human shield effort, those who are so well disposed towards him today had less than a kind word to say. there are of course, no sources to cite for such blasphemy as i am indulging in, but irritation with ‘this nonsensical gandhianism’ was rife among maoist sympathisers at the time; sympathisers who went as far as to say he should be grateful he was being given the space he was by them. the rapid transformation in this relationship – and is this a coincidence? – occurred after himanshu’s ashram was destroyed.

    at a more recent public meeting it was amply clear to several of us present that the maoists and their urban sympathisers had little if any desire to allow a sustained mass movement of any kind other than theirs anywhere beyond raipur.

    we know also, again through sources we cannot cite – but those your ears undoubtedly are attuned to picking up – that the maoists are not really the model revolutionaries they are made out to be. or that they make themselves out to be. their extortionist practices against the same (working) people they claim to defend and represent, their tacit agreements with corporate capital when it suits them, and their often less than honest recruitment methods are probably, or should be, familiar enough to you.

    on another note, in the initial days of the crpf marching into lalgarh, it was telling how dismissive the maoist sympathisers in calcutta were towards any criticism leveled at them. in one meeting, which lasted over five hours, their ‘cadre’ jeered and shouted till every voice of opposition was silenced. a range of people – from santosh rana to many who were active in the lalgarh agitation from 2008 (and were also not altogether in agreement with rana’s positions) – said one thing without much doubt: the maoists and the state had both been (equally) keen to disrupt negotiations. they all agreed, in spite of their sharp political differences, that once the development question was raised, once concrete issues like forest rights, nrega, the panchayat system and the like were foregrounded beyond the level of rhetoric, the space for co-opting the movement would be over. none of these people had their ears very far from where you seem have your ears right now.

    i go into a postmortem of lalgarh not because i have nothing to say about dantewada. the point is rather simple: a flourishing mass-movement of any sort is not what the maoists and their supporters want. as many of their left critics have been sharp enough to catch on to, the power of unilaterally declaring ‘civil wars’ and challenging the state diminishes qualitatively when you arent the only players in the arena. as of now, the maoists seem to have two uses for members of ‘civil society’ – or indeed mass movements of other sorts: either to give them guided tours of their habitat in dandakaranya, or invite them for ‘fact-finding’ missions. the politics of fact-finding aside (and you may run some google searches to find recent controversies – and here again, i speak as erstwhile participant, not mere observer,) these tactics only illustrate the use-when-you-need-them basis on which the maoists function vis-a-vis civil society.

    to put to rest, finally, some of your doubts regarding morality, excon, let me assure you i have no moral compass of any sort. my ethical compass however is firm in its refusal to side with one extortionist over another. i would venture an answer about possible constructive interventions, but i fear i might not have “won the right” to say it yet.


  43. Iftekhar,

    You must be kidding. The Maoists do not need gun-free time. They need the state to put away its guns, so that they can build cadres and train them. The state needs the Maoists to put away the guns so that it can take control of places from where Maoist cadres are recruited.

    Himanshu Kumar needs gun-free time. Gun-free time is needed so that he can speak and others who do not wield guns and hatchets can speak up without fear of physical brutality. That is where civil society processes can begin.

    If you think you dont need it, civil society does not need it, and only Maoists need it, then you must be seeing civil society as some kind of a power-broker – which can do (or withhold) favours to Maoists.

    So long as the civil society members see themselves as such, they will be of course be used by the Maoists. But it is mutual. It earns social capital for civil society members. And that is what I meant by greed being a preprequisite of membership to this civil society. You and the Maoists are made for each other.

    As far as I know forums like Kafila do not require us to produce character certificates. So of course everyone regardless of their moral rights can speak. But we are all entitled to, and obligated to use our judgment as to what is morally right. Arent we ? I dont know why my nickname matters here – so long as I am transparent about what my moral universe is.

    I have a sense of Jairus Banaji’s commitments to moral and intellectual universals. I know what mine are. From your intervention, if I have to surmise, I dont feel very good about yours. Toomuch spleen. Other than that, for all I know you could be Jack the Ripper’s grandson using a pseudonym. I couldnt care less.


    1. ExCon, your smugness about your own “moral universe” is revealing. I’m not interested in this kind of juvenile name-calling. The issue is too serious to be reduced to your need to “win” at something.


  44. A revoltingly naive outsiders response, which is not intended to be disrespectful (far from it these debates are proliferating all the way from kafila to (gasp) facebook:

    The other thing Jairus, I probably should say. To me the outlook article (really the same in India as Newsweek or whatever) expressed views which are really pretty decent in that context.

    These are views we’ve both come across. A suspician of the existing organised left (lets face it hardly without reason) combined with an admiration of those percieved to be doing something about it.

    Is there an element of naivity? Perhaps. But this is not kafila this is not an argument for those of us who have the huge benefit of having been on the left for thirty years (god how tragic not to have been involved in this).

    If there were not many thousands of people with views like this we would not have anyone to argue with. I certainly back some of the points you make in terms of arguments on the left, But there is this problem of basic orientation in terms of the reality of what is going on.

    There is a huge witch hunt which is going to be launched of anyone who asks questions about what the state is doing. We will have many political things to say about the traditions we need to look to. But thats a different argument to an argument about whether civil society (believe me I have a critique of the concept) has a right to ask questions.
    I enjoy reading Kafila. But who the hell are they talking to? In terms of naivity I do wonder whether Arundhati has a somewhat better idea of this then Kalifa does. Not wanting to take away from a blog I very much enjoy and learn from, but nevertheless.


  45. Why did Arundhati Roy not ask the Maoists about the source of funding for their landmines and guns? Too afraid of being summarily executed, as is the Maoist custom of dealing with dissenters?

    And why no questions from Arundhati about the Maoists’ use of child soldiers?


  46. Jairus rocks!!!!! Possibly the most articulate Marxist in South Asia and theoretically the most rigorous.


  47. Strangely enough, the debate has taken a path, a long and tortuous one by now, which hardly emerged from Roy’s piece. The situation in Dantewada has been redefined, and finally rehabilitated into a playground of Marxist vanguardism. Between Jairus and Anirban, a selection committee seems to have been prepared, sitting around the round-table, declaring how suitable the different candidates—peasants, tribals, urban-working classes, Maoists, civil-society organizations—are for engendering revolution, or even the ‘proper’ resistance to capitalism. The judgment of this committee bears out a form of clarity, which comes close only to the world of belief of a religious fundamentalist. The tribals are therefore dismissed by Banaji as having a ‘political level which is so abysmal’, while the Bombay workers are selected with flying colors due to their being “rooted in astonishing solidarity and self-sacrifice”. The Sarkars, in the committee, make the Maoists fail the examination, for being involved in a ‘killing spree’ and ‘discrediting’ a mass movement. Anirban, hell-bent on selecting ‘civil society’ for the race to resistance, is forced to qualify his initial enthusiasm after the ordinary performance of ‘civil society’ in its task, but nevertheless makes room for it in the final instance as having a ‘tense and complicated’ but authentic role in ‘building’ resistance.

    One wonders, did Roy’s piece, even once, even claim to be engaged in this battle-field of claims over the authenticity of the agent of resistance. One further wonders, from where does this ammunition of vanguardist bigotry emerge in a world, where questions of subjectivity are, as it is well-known, too complex to venture into a search for a Protestant ethic, a people divided between the ‘elect’ and the ‘damned’.

    This doesn’t mean that I advocate a philosophical impossibility of reconstructing the subject. I only ask you to vacate your arrogant analytic of representabilty, and at the same time not vacate Dantewada. Let us all return to that place, where complex subjectivities are at play in actively determining what ‘agency’, ‘resistance’, ‘development’, ‘being-human’, ‘state’, ‘maoism’, ‘civil society’, ‘working class’ mean.

    Can we have a discussion on the ‘history’ of the Maoist presence in Dantewada? Roy has a version of it which she has, at the outset, declared partisan. In that version we have seen how the Maoists, when they first entered the area, mobilized the tribals, into a movement for better wages, as they worked in the beedi and bamboo industries. Let us re-introduce the categories which are being discussed here at this point of the partisan history and examine their veracity.

    For example, did the ‘tribals’ become ‘wage-labourers’ over these kinds of political mobilization aided by the Maoists? Did the form of capitalist extraction, operating through bamboo and kendu-leaves industry, effect formation of class identities, which Jairus’s narrative suggests? Was there a history of broad-based ‘civil society’ resistance in Dantewada among the tribals, in collaboration or contest with the Maoists? If yes, was it forced to recoil and get subsumed by a strategy of armed resistance after the aggressive invasion of a state-corporation nexus bolstered by Salwa Judum? How to critically assess the question of the relationship between the figure of the ‘tribal’ and an associated enigma of ‘violence’, in light of Roy’s remark of the ‘tribal’s’ age-old, almost eternal propensity towards armed resistance, or other kinds of representations like colonial ones which always represented the ‘tribal’ as savage and thereby naturally oriented towards ‘violence’? How far homogeneous categories of subjectivities like ‘maoist’ and ‘tribal’ can be usefully retained in a population which by way of life has started challenging several processes of governmental subjectification, as Roy’s piece suggests, by abandoning a settled, sedentary existence, and adopting a number of names? What is the strategy of the Maoists towards the ‘tribal’ identity-elements of this population? While the Maoists promote a feeling of tribalness by ritual performance of the cultural reservoir of different tribes, as Roy’s article brings out, they seem to be suspicious towards many parts of that ‘tribalness’, especially those related to religious behaviour. By what principle does the Maoists make the choice of preserving some aspects of this ‘tribalness’, while discarding others? What has been the posture of civil-society movements in Dantewada earlier in negotiating the issue of ‘tribalness’ in the context of politicization of the ‘tribes’?

    I don’t want to suggest that we make the debate here an expertise-based, research oriented academic discussion. All I want to say that let us have an embedded polemics. Let us stage our positions, only after being a little more informed and sensitive about politics and life in Dantewada. Let us at least halt a bit, if we can’t put a total stop to, our much-adored intellectual affectations.


  48. Discussion on this post is now closed as comments are merely repeating, from increasingly self-righteous positions, what has already been said scores of times over. This last comment even attributes a statement to Jairus that is not there in his post – “The tribals are therefore dismissed by Banaji as having a ‘political level which is so abysmal’ “. Try finding the phrase in quotation marks in Jairus’ piece.
    So much for being ‘informed and sensitive’.


  49. We have received the following communication:

    Aditya Nigam,
    If you would you like to know where Jairus Banaji has written “whose political
    level is so abysmal” with reference to the Adivasis, then please look up his reply
    to Sunalini on 24 March. You certainly MUST APOLOGISE to Upal Chakrabarti.
    Please also see my response– it appeared on 27 March. Do consider publishing
    this email in the Kafila website.

    Uday Singh


Comments are closed.