A lesson in statecraft, for Mr Varadarajan

Nepal is Nepal, and India is, well, India

“If the Indian Maoists have something to learn from their Nepali comrades,” Siddharth Varadarajan argues, “the same is true of the Indian establishment as well. While Nepal’s erstwhile ruling parties are building peace with their Maoists, India is stuck with the disastrous Salwa Judum.”

Now the use of Salwa Judum by Chattisgarh is wrong, and is the most obvious indicator of the UPA government’s failure to develop a cohesive strategy towards subduing the Naxalite movement. But it is also important to remember that Salwa Judum is a relatively new phenomenon (India’s Naxalites have been around for almost four decades) and is restricted to just one state. So to equate India’s long war against the Naxalite movement is more misinformation than analysis. Mr Varadarajan ignores the anti-Naxalite strategies adopted in other states and at other times. For instance, under Chandrababu Naidu’s chief-ministership, the Andhra Pradesh police almost broke the Naxalites’ back. That advantage was lost not because the use of force by state authorities didn’t work. It was lost because the Congress Party decided to lower the heat and attempt negotiations. The Maoists used the opportunity to regroup and before long, returned to their armed struggle.

But what of Mr Varadarajan’s lesson in statecraft, from Nepal to India? Well, he argues

“If the Indian establishment wants the Maoists to give up their armed struggle and take part in elections like their Nepali comrades, it will have to rely on more than political osmosis. For the Nepali ‘model’ is not just about the Maoists adapting creatively to changes in the national and international arena; it is equally about the ‘bourgeois’ parties there demonstrating a degree of statesmanship that has so far been completely absent in their counterparts south of the border.

Indeed, so backward is our political culture in relation to Nepal’s that instead of seeking ways of peacefully ending the naxalite insurgency, the Government of India has actually fuelled a new civil war.

In Nepal, the political parties and the Maoist rebels realised that the civil war in their country would not be resolved militarily. The king was the only one who failed to recognise this reality and paid the price for his folly. In India, however, despite the military stalemate which prevails, both the establishment and the Maoists continue to believe in the supremacy of arms.” [The Hindu]

Mr Varadarajan, like some other people who write in the opinion pages of the Hindu betrays a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Indian state. He fails to understand the fundamental difference between legitimacy of a democratic republic and that of a sometimes-absolute, sometimes-constitutional monarchy. Even if one were to ignore the immense differences in the state’s hard capacity—in the ability to muster up economic and military resources—the government of India enjoys a moral strength (of course, the Naxalites and their apologists will deny this) that no government of Nepal ever had. [See There are alternatives to Naxalism]

In other words, unlike Nepal, the Indian state won’t simply lie down and surrender. Here Mr Varadarajan would do well to learn some lessons from Indian history: in the end, it is the insurgents who cry Momma. The second lesson for Mr Varadarajan is that the democratic nature of the Indian state allows these militarily defeated insurgents to honourably enter mainstream politics.

Indeed, Mr Varadarajan might discover the ultimate lesson of statecraft were he to examine how Nepal’s Maoists came to power. Narratives of Indian pusillanimity apart, does he really believe that Pushpa Kumar Dahal would be so close to political power, and legitimacy, if the ‘Indian establishment’ hadn’t allowed it?

It is not as if negotiations haven’t been tried in India. They have. That they have not led to the Naxalites dropping dogmatic armed struggle and entering mainstream politics tells you where the problem lies. It is understandable that Mr Varadarajan is heady with vicarious triumphalism due to the success of Nepal’s Maoists. He should restrict himself to savouring the moment. As for lessons in statecraft, there’s a lot that Maoists—on either side of the India-Nepal border—have to learn.

12 thoughts on “A lesson in statecraft, for Mr Varadarajan”

  1. Acorn,

    You should not take apart Siddharth Varadarajan’s ramblings because,

    (a) there are too many of them that are poorly argued, and analysing them could rob you of all your time
    (b) the inconsistencies in his arguments are all too apparent, and INI should focus on more weighty issues
    (c) any other reason.

    Well said Acorn!

  2. Naxalite problems have been the bane of Indian democracy for a long time now. IMHO the strategies employed to address this problem so far have failed because the naxalite problem has either been viewed as a problem of law enforcement (hence the use of police force), or as a political problem (and hence the attempt to carry out negotiations). Neither of the two are right. Naxalism is a social problem. Any police style action will only fuel it further, and any negotiations will only legitimize it. If the problem can be seen as one of social issues, and the appropriate issues addressed, the problem could be handled far more effectively.

    Siddharth Varadarajan makes the same mistake of treating naxalism as a political problem, and that IMHO is the biggest flaw in his argument.

  3. Semantic Overload,

    As one who believes that the government has little business (and little competence) to handle purely social matters, I am interested in knowing how and by whom do you think the problem will be solved.

  4. Semantic,

    How do you draw the line between – or draw circles around – a law enforcement problem, a social problem, a political problem? Is your idea of these three problems distinct boxes or circles that overlap in various ways? Because these words by themselves mean little. If by social problems you mean all problems related to society, then the Naxalite problem must involve law enforcement as well as political measures. and by no means can it be said that the Indian government has approached Naxalite/Maoist violence as a purely law enforcement problem isn’t it?

  5. Actually, the guy Siddharth Varadarajan is on sabbatical in the US, the so called ‘imperial power’ that he often likes to criticize! It is ironical that armchair academics like him find so much to love in the Maoist success.
    His gratuitous advice to India belies the reality that unlike in Nepal, the Maoists would probably lose in an Indian election were they to try and compete against legitimate political parties which also explains their unwillingness to enter the democratic process.

  6. Wait wait. The naxal/maoist movement in India is 40 years old, and let’s forget any illusions about the Indian state ever being soft on them. Right from the start, the cadres were hunted down by police and extra-legal groups. In fact respecting the Indian constitution is precisely what Mr. Varadarajan is advocating for the Indian state. The initiatives like Salwa Judum are beyond any sensible/possible interpretation of the constitution. Unfortunately it took more than three years for the wider section of the population to realize this immense folly, and the state still gives it full moral and logistical support.

  7. Anoop,

    Naxalism or Maoist style rural terrorism in India is older than the Chinese revolution. The first such revolt was put down in Telengana by Rajaji when a rogue faction of the then undivided CPI remained underground even as the Constituent Assembly was holding its discussions, and the larger CPI was yet to come to terms with the transfer of power to the broad Congress led alliance of institutions that included the Constituent Assembly itself. Far from the Indian State not respecting the Constitution it is the Naxal/Maoist terrorists who have a more serious problem with it. The idea of using the rural masses as a spearhead to overthrow the State is a Maoist idea and runs counter to the classic Leninist line of using the working class to achieve this end. In the Marxist scheme of things the working class is a group with revolutionary potential while the peasants are a backward lot. What we derisively term the tribals, actually forest dwelling communities, rank even lower on the Marx-Engles scale and are supposed to be an absolutely backward force that await civilisation through fedalism, colonialism, and capitalism! The Naxal/Maoist movement is not a led by the disaffected. Its leaders are city bred elite who are in now way constrained from progress by hte Indian state. They are power mongers and opportunists in the grip of a poisonous, senseless, and violent ideology. for every violent Maoist thug there 1000s of Indians who voice their disaffection with their state through constitutional means, many of which are become accessible today. Take Dr. Madana Gopal founding VC of the NLSIU is one such person who has used his erudition to run a first rate law school and inculcate the values of civil society in his students, leading many of them to practice human rights law, PIL, and facilitating traditional artisans and craftsmen to secure IP rights for their works (Kabir Shiv Gangjee an NLSIU alum and a Rhodes scholar) has made a pioneering contribution in this area). Take Vidyakar the founder of Chennai’s Udavum Karangal who is deeply concerned about the pathetic state of child welfare, rehabilitation of hte mentally challenged, or the elderly, who has devoted his life to their care. Or the example of Dr. Bindeshwari Pathak who is so deeply concerned with the wretched living conditions of our safai karamcharis that he lived with them for year and launched a war on manual scavenging. These people are by no stretch of imagination co-opted by the system, in fact they buck it and take its weaknesses head-on. Or the kindly old man who runs goodnewsindia.com who took on a corrupt resort mafia on Chennai’s East Coast Road founght them through a stint in jail and continues to figt the good fight to protect the environment. The Maoists in contrast abandon these aboove board methids and engage in an orgy of violence and show no compunction about using the the very people whom they are supposedly concerned with as cannon fodder. The Indian State cannot afford to deal softly with such thugs.

  8. Kaangeya,

    It is very important to de-romanticize the notion of the Indian state as an upholder of constitutional values. The examples that you cite are extremely remarkable, so are the struggles of those many mass movements of India. But for every successful peaceful activist, there are many who have been brutalised either by the state, or by individuals or organizations who have full state support. Remember that the maoism went strong in Chhattisgarh only after the legendary mass leader Shankar Guha Niyogi was murdered in 1991 and his killers went unpunished. There can be a military solution, but again this has to be within the confines of Indian constitution. Very often military solution implies a suspension of basic human rights.

  9. Anoop,

    The most powerful peaceful activists are the feared by any state. You have absolutely no idea how powerful a non-violent movement is. Even in Nepal 10 years of butchery by the Maoist thugs achieved little. But a few months of non-violent mass action by the common people who had by then decided they had had enough broght down the autocracy. In the US constitutional action by Thurgood Marshall and Gandhian inspired civil action led by Dr.King achieved more for civil rights than any other violent movement ever did. Mr. Sridharan of goodnewsindia.com was actually locked up on false charges by a compromised police force in Neelankarai acting at the behest of a very powefully connected resort builder. But he is back after having fought the system. Maoist thugs don’t want to take up peaceful action because they have no interest in sustaining civil society or a modern state. Theirs is a twisted vision much like Pol Pot’s and Mao’s that seeks to destroy all pillars of soceity and return it to an dystopic idealist past. That is why the Maoist movement like every terroist movement abuses and brutalises its own. Drug smuggling, extortion and racketeering, sexual exploitation, and child brutalisation are all part of their ouvre. Ex-Naxal families ar very well settled today. For instance Charu Mazumdar’s son runs a thriving extortion racket in Siliguri and shares his cut with the local CPI(M) units, enjoying their protection. It is very important to strip terroristic movements of all romance. Every idol of the communist movements of our times has been at a heart a tyrant and a thug. Che and Fidel are particularly brutish. The Indian state is very fair. That is why a punk like Varavara Rao, selfstyled “poet”, who thinks civilian casualties are mere detail, is free to go walking about the land springing his thuggish mates out of jail.

  10. @kaangeya The definition or classification of a problem as being social is, admittedly, a posteriori. Naxalism, no doubt, makes its presence felt by impeding the political process, and the law. Hence its treatment as a political or law enforcement problem. But has anyone investigated why Naxals enjoy such local popularity and support? Why are people being swayed by the Naxal rhetoric? There are many social factors which contribute to such support. Hence, my classifying the Naxal problem as being a social one.

    Until these underlying social factors are better understood, one really cannot address the problem in a meaningful way. The current efforts are only serving to treat the symptoms, and not the root cause. So no amount of police action, or political dialog will solve the problem. It will only eliminate, or appease, sections of the insurgent groups, but the problem will remain, and so will be the movement, waiting to raise its profile when it has gained sufficient strength and support.

    Having said that, I completely agree with you that the law and the political process will figure in the solution to the Naxal problem. But they can, at best, play supporting roles in this process. First and foremost, there has to be an effort to get to the social root of this issue. Once that is been addressed, the people can then be assimilated through law enforcement and political process.

    @Nitin One can being the look for the solution only after one has determined what the problem is. We still dont know what the problem is. Only after we have understood Naxalism’s grassroots support better can we begin to look for solutions.

  11. Well, Salwa Judum is a pet topic of a DU Sociology “professor”, (Nandini Sundar) who writes for “EPW”, India’s only tabloid for intellectuals. By the way Nandini is Comrade Sidd’s wife.

    Is Sidd really a marxist. Or just posing as one to make a living in N. Ram’s Communist Manifesto (The Chindu). If you thought Comrade Sidd went to the wonderlands of Cuba or China to study, you are wrong. He went to St Stephen’s, LSE, Columbia. He had to come back to India as he did not get a tenure ahywhere in the seat of global capitalism. Tried hard to work for The Hindu, but could not as The Hindu had people like Rajamohan who were far better at strategic affairs than Comrade Siddhradh. Goes to US on sabbatical not Beijing University or the pink JNU. Loves to call himself an academic only to face the reality of being told that he is only a columnist. Have we not seen it before. Yes, this what all marxist academic intellectuals do in India, be it Prabhat/Utsha Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, etc. But the only difference in the case of Comrade Sidd is that he is not an intellectual though he and his wife frequently signs themselves as intellectuals. He is a just petty columnist for N.Ram.

    Tinku

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