The New ‘Bush’ Doctrine: Nirmalangshu Mukherjee


A well-known left intellectual in Delhi, belonging to one of the naxalite “splinter groups”–the term is Arundhati Roy’s to distinguish the maoists from everyone else in the naxalite movement–recently advised me that, whatever be the objections to the CPI (Maoist), we must side with them in their struggle against the state. The argument obviously is that the historical choice is binary is character: either you are with the state or against it. And the underlying assumption is that those who are against the state are somehow “with” the people. Since the maoists are (apparently) against the state, they must be viewed as “with” the people, warts and all. In not siding with the maoists then, intellectuals like Apoorvanand and others in the Kafila forum are actually siding with the state, according to the doctrine.
The state certainly believes in the binary doctrine. Mr. Chidambaram has characterised all “civil society” forums that are strongly critical of his murderous approach to the “maoist menace” as maoist supporters since their criticism of the government is helping the maoists as. The doctrine was earlier put into actual practice in Chhattisgarh when the state applied CSPSA against Binayak Sen. More recently, the doctrine was applied at the street level when hordes of Congress and BJP workers attacked the peace mission undertaken by Yash Pal, Swami Agnivesh, Narayan Desai, and others; they were characterized as “maobadis” since the peace mission appealed to both the sides to stop violence. Gautam Navlakha and Sumonto Bannerjee adopted the doctrine from the other direction as they protested against the peace mission as well. The peace mission predictably collapsed.

The CPM has long held the doctrine. Although in private (and due to the unbearable burden of their leftist credentials) they do complain about the “security-centric” approach of the government–and have been somewhat critical of the Salwa Judum campaign–they are not prepared to voice these concerns in public because then they will be viewed by Chidambaram as anti-state; hence, pro-maoist. They would rather be viewed as siding with Chidambaram than with Ganapathi & Co.

The maoists are also strong supporters of this doctrine, especially during “war times”. And, as usual, they take their doctrines to the people, namely, the tribals they control. To cite from Apoorvanand’s recent piece, a circular issued by the ‘Janadhan Sarkar’ very clearly forbids the tribals from mixing with Jawans or police, inviting them to village for any event , providing them food or shelter, giving any service to the security persons, or travelling with them, including the police, CRPF , SPOs or the CRPF . They have also been asked to keep track of the number of policemen in their area and also the arms they carry and report to the ‘Janadhan Sarkar’ their movement and destination. The message is clear: if any tribal fails to obey these orders, the tribal would be viewed as not supporting the “revolution”; hence, the tribal would be viewed as with the enemy. It is the maoist version of UAPA, it turns an entire population of tribals into Special Maoist Officers. Not surprisingly, there is no protest against this from the promoters of “Campaign against war on people”.

As another grass roots worker–well-known in Delhi–from another “splinter group” told me, lessons from history help. He recalled that George Bush famously proclaimed, “You are either with us or against us”: choose between Bush and Bin Laden. In that instance, the comrade reminded me, the civilised world denied Bush his binary choices. Should we then have to choose between Chidambaram as he deploys his terror forces around tribal habitats and the maoist leadership as they push thousands and thousands of starving tribal chidren–dressed up as militias and guerrillas–to face Chidambaram’s forces? Did we take a close look at the face of Barsa Lakhma, the alleged “commander”, recently arrested in Bastar (The Hindu, 25 May)? How old does he look like? What are the choices now for the civilised world as Barsa Lakhma undergoes torture?

21 thoughts on “The New ‘Bush’ Doctrine: Nirmalangshu Mukherjee”

  1. Thanks for the mention of Barsa Lakhma but you didn’t give a direct link which I am giving:

    First, the photo is deeply disturbing. Second, the underlying story about the loss of a wireless set leading to the killing of 76 CRPF personnel doesn’t sound particularly plausible. Third, The Hindu has just passed on the statements of the police without comment which is even more disturbing. Given the history of the Chattisgarh police, one would have thought that the newspaper and its correspondents would at least subject the police to a few questions – how did the police capture the suspected killers? what led the police to these five? did the police capture them without resistance? and so on. Yet, we have nothing – not even a question about the age of Barsa Lakhma.


    1. The question about Barsa Lakhma’s age is discussed at
      In this piece I use the words “alleged” and put the words “leader” and “commander” in quotes. If The Hindu carried a false story as a leading head in the frontpage, they are answerable.

      In any case, true or false, Barsa Lakhma’s case opens up the wider case of Maoists’ use of children in combat.


    1. Saw the Times Now report. The trouble is, as I suggested in my Outlook piece, Barsa Lakhma cannot be allowed to be a juvenile because then he cannot be treated “properly”. Did you notice that wrapper around him? These wrappers always tell a story.


  2. To go with your argument.

    This morning there is news that Maoists in West Bengal derailed a train, killing scores of passengers (civilians and working class; rich Indians fly). The question of tactics and the relationship of the general and particular are raised here again. Such attacks, among others, have three results: 1) satisfy some of the attackers’ ‘demolition’ fetish; 2) undermine the support and sympathy from the civil society for the resistance; 3) lead to reprisals from the state and with it, to further militarization.
    Is this in the interest of the locals who are fighting particular battles over land, resources and caste or some combination of these factors depending on the context?
    One can foresee the might of the Indian state unleashed on the residents at large. Many will die, many more will be rounded up and tortured. The Maoist leadership will recede into the forests and bide their time; they are, as Marx and Engels put in the Manifesto, in it for the long haul. For them, militarization forces villagers and tribals into the ‘Bush binary’–you are with ‘us’ or with ‘them’. Escalation serves their revolutionary agenda.

    This point actually raises other questions about the strategy of ‘radicals’ everywhere. One theme that translates is related to the interests and place of the particular (in this case, tribals’ local battles’ or lets say, a workplace action) and the general (long-term goal of revolution). As radicals, we are mostly gladdened by escalations (IED blast; strike) and have little to lose–existentially–when the other side retaliates (torture; dismissals). We dust ourselves and move on to the next site of ‘action’.


  3. //What are the choices now for the civilized world as Barsa Lakhma undergoes torture//

    Dear Nirmalnagshu, “the civilized world” has always been another planet for Barsa Lakhmas and i am sure he expects nothing from the likes of us, for what can we give him? (I appreciate whoever took that point blank c/u of Barsa Lakhma. It sure disturbs us or should I say shames us). The ‘civilized world’ has always had choices, its people like Barsa Lakhmas whose always already narrow field of choices has been narrowed down further in the last few years or months to be precise. Recently, i happened to meet somebody considered a big shot in the englit world, an old pal actually, and he confessed on-the-rocks that Arundhati Roy has rattled many a so called literary reputations through her recent walk with the comrades. Literary appreciation of Arundhati or to be more precise, leisure class consumption, would no longer be that smooth. She has popped a bitter pill of quinine down the throats of those who are addicted to finer flavours of continental spirits.

    How old should one be to deserve a permit to fight for one’s existence in the jungles of Dantewada? Its an existential question. Should you be a constitutionally ratified adult or medically proven post-puberty adolescent? Or, is it, that you should be able to just handle a gun or least of all be able to chuck a stone at your enemies who threaten you with decimation? Since the ‘civilized world’ didn’t care for Barsa Lakhma should he care for our three penny intellectual mastication? Now, as for “The New ‘Bush’ Doctrine”: I think we should be all praise for PC, at least he is convinced that he is right and that there are only two positions in this historical struggle. He does not want the leisure class to enjoy its chilled beer and curse him too. You decide your side: he is trying to make the fence razor thin so that fence-sitters can no longer eat their cake and have it too. PC knows that there comes a time when the world should become b/w even if for a short while. I read you are a philosophy professor and as far as i know even if it were a pseudo problem it sure deserves a 32 page long philosophical rumination for Barsa Lakhma can’t invite anybody for a walk anymore.


    1. How interesting Pheeta’s admiration for Chidambaram. From the Islamic terrorists to the Hindutva goons and the Maoists, everyone hates those and only those who refuse to take sides with them. There is a larger affinity here among all these forces who want to become the only voice of those whom they claim to represent. And what better than to hide behind revolutionary verbiage and hot air, and put out Barsa Lakhma’s face up to hide your despicable game of armed gangsterism – the latest being now in Jhargram. Class struggle? Revolution? My foot.


    2. Your queries about the “proper” age for a child to take up arms was answered from a “marxist” perspective by none other than Ganapathy as follows.

      “As regards training minors under 18 years in the use of arms, we wish to make it clear that our policy and the PLGA [People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army] constitution stipulate that no one should be taken into the army without attaining 16 years of age. And this age limit is strictly followed while recruiting. In the specific conditions prevailing in the war zone [Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh] children attain mental and political maturity by the time they complete 16 because they are directly or indirectly involved in the revolutionary activity from their very childhood. They receive basic education and political training early in their lives and have organisational experience as members of bala sangam (children’s associations)…. When the enemy [Salwa Judum and police] is erasing every norm of international law, the oppressed people have the full right to arm themselves and fight. Making a fuss over age makes no meaning in a situation where the enemies of the people are targeting children too without any mercy. If the boys and girls do not do resist with arms they will be eliminated completely. The intellectuals of the civil society should understand this most inhumane and cruel situation created by the enemy and take the side of the people instead of pushing them more into defensive by raising all sorts of idealistic objections.” (Letter from Ganapathi, secretary general, CPI (Maoist), to the Independent Citizen’s Initiative, October 10, 2006, para. 5 (accessed February 20, 2008).

      I won’t be surprised if there are similar remarks by Prabhakaran. Looks as though the “Independent Citizen’s Initiative” and other “intellectuals of the civil society” were convinced by Ganapathy’s argument since I do not recall any further fuss—“idealistic objections”—by anyone thereafter. For example, PUCL produced an excellent document at about the same time, “Where the State Makes War on its Own People, A Report on Violations of People’s Rights during the Salwa Judum Campaign in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh”, 2006. Did they ever produce a document “Where the revolutionaries recruit children for war”? Needless to say, I will be much relieved if I am proved wrong about the silence.


  4. can someone send this work to arundhati? also, i would like the kafila people to read this not very famous book:the ethics of ambiguity by simone de beauvoir. and, perhaps, we could discuss it. thanks.


  5. Nirmalansanghu has become the mostly read philosopher in CPI(M) circles. Go to any CPM blogs and online sites, you will find Nirmalansanghu’s article. Great going, I must say.


    1. I will be indebted if you list those blogs and online sites please, since you are obviously more familiar with them than I am. I will love to look at them. By the way my pieces have appeared in naxalite journals as well such as Red Star. I sent the paper “Arms Over People” to Sanhati as well who failed to post it. Whose side are we on?


  6. Nirmalangshu Mukherji,

    In the age of the internet you do not need any external
    help. Go to google and give Nirmalangshu Mukherji CPI(M) and you will find references to your some of your articles in pro-CPI(M) websites. Indeed I know you will
    love to look at them.


  7. One down from NM’s hit list. He must be joyous?

    Azad’s was not a fake enough encounter I guess. Not enough to pick up the pen atleast. Whose side are you on, NM?


  8. Dear Nirmalangshu,

    May I ask if anyone has followed up on Barsa Lakhma? It is nearly four months since his “capture” by the Chhattisgarh police. Is he alive? Dead?

    I know probably not many care — not even myself. But once in a while, his face comes back to haunt me.


    1. Dear Suresh,

      Sorry about the delayed response; saw it today. I tried to follow that case too through contacts in Chattisgarh. I was told that arrested cadres are out of bounds for journalists, and lawyers are not very helpful understandably. The state is very protective of its catches; it is also concerned about its violations of UN conventions. The maoists of course don’t care, for there are plenty of Barsa Lakhmas in waiting.

      Reading Aman and Supriya’s reports from Dantewada, there’s much to haunt our comfortable studies in Delhi. I am greatly grieved that the country is not up in arms in outrage about what’s happening to the adivasis there. Is it because even rights activists do not quite think of the adivasis as citizens proper, but as cannon fodder for imagined revolutionary upsurge?


    2. A recent short study based on “interrogation reports” suggests that Barse Lakhma is “all of 25” although he joined the movement when he was 15. (See Saikat Dutta, “Was there a choice?”, Outlook Magazine, july 25, 2011.

      The reassuring thing is that Barse Lakhma seems to be alive. But do we know his age? What is deceptive, looks or police reports? Incidentally, Chhattisgarh police have a profound “anthropological” view on this topic. According them, these adivasis are not like “us”. Perhaps a different species altogether. They look younger when they are older, and older when they are younger. This causes all sorts of problems in dealing with them, naturally. See HRW report “Being neutral is our biggest crime.”


      1. Dear Nirmalangshu,

        Thanks for the update and the links to the article in Outlook and the Human Rights Watch report. For those interested, I am giving the direct link to the HRW report.

        As you say, it is reassuring that Barse Lakhma is alive but that is not much at all. At any rate, your point about the use of children in the conflict still stands because even by the Chhattisgarh police report, Barse Lakhma joined the Maoists when he was 15 years old.


  9. Dear Nirmalangshu,

    I appreciate your response though it hurts to think about the probable fate of Barsa Lakhma and many others like him.

    Your point that perhaps “we” (the elite, including rights activists) do not see Adivasis as “citizens proper” is right, I think, and reminded me of the speech that the great Jaipal Singh made to the Constituent Assembly which began As a jungli, as an adibasi, I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. But my common sense tells me that every one of us should march in that road to freedom and fight together.

    It hurts to see that little has changed for the Adivasis since that speech in 1946-47, a point made by Ramachandra Guha in his Adviasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy. As a side note, it is shocking that there is no biography of this remarkable man.


    1. Thank you, but I think I am trying to make a more specific point beyond “elitism” verging on racism. I talked to two prominent rights people about the plight of children under the state and under the maoists. The first launched into a historical lesson into China, Vietnam, and other theatres of revolution. The second–who is actually involved with maoist “problem”–suggested that there will be collateral damages until the violence ends. Hope this gives long term solace to the parents of Barsa Lakhma.

      I wonder if those–and you know some of them–who applaud the maoists for their military successes will send their own children to become guerrillas. I know of at least one case in which the concerned child attends an elite private school. Somehow Barsa Lakhma does not qualify due to his leafy location.


  10. Thanks, Suresh. I am grateful you are standing by these children in Bastar. The HRW report is a long one. Here is the actual quote. This is how the “famous” Superintendent of Police Vishwa Ranjan states the problem: “There are many reports of underage SPOs but it’s not true. Age is very difficult to assess. Tribal communities have a peculiar way of aging. They look very young even if they are not very young and then after a particular age, they begin to age very fast—so suddenly they look very old when they are actually not that old.” Also, “we cannot go by their height and looks because the tribal build is different.” (See Human Rights Watch, Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime, p. 128)..


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