Karma is not an excuse for Mao

There is no justification for the Maoist’s armed struggle

The ghastly ambush and murder of unarmed political leaders by Maoists in Chhattisgarh ought to focus the national discourse on the nature of the problem the India republic faces in the forested areas of Central India. Instead, the discourse is being distorted in two baleful directions. First, into a partisan “Congress vs BJP” shouting match. Second, and more dangerously, it is being purposefully led astray by arguments that position Maoist violence as a reaction to Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist vigilante group whose leader, Mahendra Karma, was killed in the incidents.

Let us get the discourse back on line. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) is engaged in a war against the Republic of India. Violence and “armed struggle” are core part of the ideology, practice and empirical record of Maoist groups. The violence didn’t start in 2006, when Salwa Judum was created.

Rather, Salwa Judum was a reaction—albeit a deeply flawed and misguided one—to decades of Maoist violence. To argue that the Maoists escalated violence because of Salwa Judum—for instance, as Ramachandra Guha has done in The Hindu—would be to ignore the broader historical context. Also, would a “peace” imposed by the Maoists on a hapless tribal population be morally acceptable to the citizens of the Indian republic?

Therefore, the Chhattisgarh attack must be seen for what it is—an attempt to disrupt a democratic political process whose success could further marginalise the Maoists. (See our issue brief for details).

This blog has been a severe critic of Salwa Judum from the outset: the state cannot outsource its monopoly over the legitimate use of force. It does so at the risk of landing up in a moral quagmire. Salwa Judum was not merely unconstitutional, it was poor strategy. The use of surrendered militants in Jammu & Kashmir, for instance, undermined India’s counter-insurgency initiatives in the longer term. That lesson was not learnt, and was certainly not applied in Chhattisgarh. If Maoist depredations are explained away by commentators today, it is because of Salwa Judum. Of course, Maoist sympathisers and fronts would find other reasons to justify the violence, but Salwa Judum gave them one highly visible and easy target to hit.

Even so, the fact that Salwa Judum was a wrong move does not mean that killing Mr Karma is somehow justified. It is the strength of the Indian republic that citizens were able to get the Supreme Court to wind down Salwa Judum. Those who felt Mr Karma had crimes to answer for should have taken recourse to the legal system. Yes, cases take too long. Yes, some politicians get away on technicalities. Yes, sometimes judges are compromised. None of this legitimises Maoists killing Mr Karma and massacring many others. In fact, those who claim killing Mr Karma is legitimate cannot also claim Salwa Judum is not—unless, of course, get into the Orwellian territory of saying “unconstitutional actions are morally justified when our side does them, but illegitimate when our opponents do them.”

Salwa Judum is just one aspect of the reluctance and half-heartedness of the Indian establishment’s defence against the Maoists’ war on the republic. The Chhattisgarh massacre should inject moral clarity and lucidity into the public mind. The Indian republic must fight this war. It would be another mistake to use the armed forces for this task. Counter-insurgency needs a different sort of capacity. How to acquire this capacity and how to deploy it needs a far more nuanced debate than the one we have now.

Related Link: What kind of capacity does India need for counter-insurgency:a special report in Pragati on a panel discussion on this topic.

7 thoughts on “Karma is not an excuse for Mao”

  1. 1.It was 70s, the post independence generation was just leaving colleges. They needed an ideology, something to work for, inspirational.

    2. Maoism did not help, it was a failed thought .

    3. aspiration were high political system was not delivering, messy problems of Kasmir or China and Pakistan sucked up the administrative process,
    4. the young were left with only dream of finding better life elsewhere.
    5. The less opportune were even more frustrated.
    6 Leadership did not realize enterprise , saw its people as hapless millions incapable of doing free enterprise . regressive policy set in making slaves of masses
    7 then the corruption got in.

  2. I think unless we make the case that tribals are not special people and that they don’t have any special right to forests any more than the ones government grants to mining companies, we are going to be bullied by left wing radicals (both armed and the ‘intellectual’ variety).

    No state can trickle down economic development to people hell-bent on living in remote forests which they don’t own. Heck, even a Maoist utopia can at best help tribals live like animals while simultaneously denying nearly 1.1 billion Indians, the benefits of meaningfully exploiting the forest produce (like timber) and minerals beneath.

    As for using instruments like Salwa Judum, i think we are being more puritanical than being practical. Salwa Judum was probably more efficient and less socially disruptive than CRPF! Its not as if TN and Karnataka police have a stellar human rights record even while catching a brigand like Veerappan. Heck, Gujarat police seems entirely lead by murderers. What is terribly wrong if district administration employs armed locals for a specific purpose sanction by a state assembly? Law and order is a state subject though I wish its put on the concurrent list. Lets not, sitting in Bangalore, second guess the wisdom of the entire political leadership (of both parties) in Chattisgarh to use Salwa Judum. People who support terrorism (including tribals) deserve to suffer collateral damage. Lets learn from Thomas Jefferson on how free people should deal with armed aborigines who don’t respect property rights.

    The larger problem lies in the non-existence of an independent strong police organization for the republic. From Kashmir to Dantewada, our state police organizations are terribly understaffed and poorly trained that we always resort to using CRPF. We should consider abolishing CRPF in its current form to be replaced by state police battalions serving as reserves, like national forces being deployed for UN peace keeping. From widespread atrocities in Kashmir to bungling even in mundane tasks like election security, CRPF is a terrible failure. Any task assigned to this force is doomed to fail.

  3. 1.It was 70s, the post independence generation was just leaving colleges. They needed an ideology, something to work for, inspirational.

    2. Maoism did not help, it was a failed thought .

    3. aspiration were high political system was not delivering, messy problems of Kasmir or China and Pakistan sucked up the administrative process,
    4. the young were left with only dream of finding better life elsewhere.
    5. The less opportune were even more frustrated.
    6 Leadership did not realize enterprise , saw its people as hapless millions incapable of doing free enterprise . regressive policy set in making slaves of masses
    7 then the corruption got in.
    8. So thus a fertile ground for Maoism and other rouge ideologies was created.

  4. I does not seem to me that either this article or your Issue Brief has really made a strong case against the Armed forces intervention.

    So far the only argument that you have really put forward against armed forces intervention is that they alienate people. But consider this :

    1. There are many cases where armed forces, at the risk of alienating people, have been used to wipe out insurgency, the most spectacular recent such case being Sri Lanka’s annihilation of the LTTE. If you think this analogy doesn’t work, can you pinpoint exactly where it fails?

    2. As opposed to the LTTE situation, are there enough case studies around the world where a poorly equipped police force has been successfully turned around and made to stop insurgency?

    3. My main contention against emphasizing on police reforms is the following : it ain’t gonna happen. There simply is not enough political will for the same. Aren’t you, like leftist-types, giving an utopian and unrealistic prescription?

    In contrast, note that there is much better political will to confront armed forces : simply because when one views an issue as that of war, as opposed to peace time effort, human psychology ensures that people are on their toes. The word “police” does not carry enough power to raise slumbering Indians out of their extreme lethargy, and consequently, any attempt to make the police force better equipped has to be necessarily very long term, may be 50 years.

  5. The whole concept of Maoist violence is shocking. How can someone kill someone who is dead? These guys are worst than a hardened Jihadi. Firstly in all this SICK blood bath where are the feminist and so called liberals like Arudhanti Roy, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Some jholawala, these people are only interested in putting roadblocks in development.

    The maoists claim that they work for people and have their own way of taxing and doing development work. Why then the tribals they claim to be representing are so poor? The only place for these guys and their supporters is HELL.

  6. Great comments by both balaji and froginthewell. I’m also not convinced of the arguments against salwa judum, though I would definitely strongly prefer a constitutional state run organization dealing with the menace rather than a private army. While you are right that the salwa judum approach is dangerous, i’m not sure that is borne out by the examples you give. The Ikhwaan was absolutely critical in destroying indigenous kashmiri militancy — I would argue in fact, without the Ikhwaan and kooka parray, India may never have forced JKLF and other local insurgent movements into the ‘peaceful’ approach they later moved to. Even today, most border areas in J&K from Reasi and RS pura to Udhampur employ armed private armies (or village defence committees as they call them), to guard against militants and infiltration.

    The problem with salwa judum, from a political point of view was that they were misbranded. If they had simply called themselves village defence committees like in J&K, it would never have acquired the image of a marauding force which the left-wing intellectuals managed to attach to it and then use that image to mount a political war on it. Also, groups like salwa judum are not Mercenaries, which is a very important distinction. Arming citizens to defend themselves is different from paying private mercenaries to fight wars for you. While it can end up in a similar or worse quagmire, morally, and therefore constitutionally they are distinct.

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