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The revolution never came but Maoism lives on in India’s forests

Author: Praveen Swami
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: May 29, 2013
URL: http://www.firstpost.com/india/the-revolution-never-came-but-why-maoism-lives-on-in-indias-forests-823815.html

He’s never once mentioned them, even in passing, in all the interviews he’s given: the brother called Parshuraman, who was killed in a firefight with the Andhra Pradesh police back in 1994; the sister called Kanukamma, whose body was torn apart by bullets fighting by his side.  He never once mentioned the son born that year, who went to school in Sukma wondering if one the things he’s learn that day was that his father and mother were dead. He’s spoken only of The Cause, the man who ordered the massacre of 29 in Chhattisgarh last week.

“The language of war is killing”, said 9/11 perpetrator Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Ravula Srinivas, secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, has long known this.  His story tells us what happens when people cease to matter and only a cause remains.

Like thousands of their generation, Srinivas and the two key deputies alleged to have organised the Chhattisgarh massacre, became radicalised in the 1970s: a decade of disillusion with India’s post-independence dreams, of international crisis, of the birth of the cult of the Angry Young Man. Ernesto Guevara had died battling fascists; Ho Chi Minh was defying the United States; Mao Zedong was—or so it was fondly imagined—building the new man. The System had to be demolished, brick by brick, and a new world built in its place.

It seemed possible, even in the most miserable corners of Andhra Pradesh—and like all true believers, the greying revolutionaries in the Dandakaranya forests would rather spill blood than give up their faith.

Now around 50 years old, the son of a family of traditional toddy-tappers and farmhands, Srinivas dropped out of the village school in Bekkal, near Warangal, in Grade 8.  Srinivas’ elder brother, a source familiar with the Warangal Maoist landscape recalls, introduced him to the Maoist movement.  Police records show he joined People’s War in 1982, married party colleague Savitri in 1985, and rose to command his dalam, or squad, in 1987. Late that year, for reasons that remain unknown Srinivas left the party and came home—but his brother dragged him back.

From then on, though, Srinivas’ rise through People’s War was inexorable.  He was assigned to Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region in 1995, commanding Maoist squads in the area’s southern wing and then in the north. He rose to national prominence in 2010, ambushing a bus that was carrying police commandos, killing 40 people.

In interviews, he showed no concern at all that most of the victims of that attack were adivasi civilians. “Our aim was precise and correct”, he told CNN-IBN’s Rupashree Nanda, “The administration is using civilians as a human shield, so they got killed. I regret this”.

Later that month, Srinivas showed The Hindu’s Aman Sethi the Kalashnikov he purchased in 1988, for Rs 100,000. It was the same weapon he used in April, 2010, in the ambush that killed 75 Central Reserve Police Force personnel at Chintalnar.  He didn’t regret that: it was war. Kunal Majumdar reported that Srinivas “at times became ecstatic as he told us about the highest casualties our cadre has ever inflicted on the Indian anti-Naxalite security forces in a single day”.

Ganesh Ueike, at Srinivas’ side in the 2010 ambush, and now heading CPI (Maoist) operations in Dantewada, was likely responsible for the physical execution of Saturday’s massacre.

The most educated of the three top Dandakaranya Maoists, Ganesh’s early life took a quite different trajectory to his leader. In 1982, he was studying for a bachelor of sciences degree in Nalagonda, and well known locally as an activist of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing.  Faced with the prospect of arrest in a police case involving the murder of rival, Ueike fled. No-one is quite sure how he ended up in People’s War.

From the mid-2000s, Ueike surfaced as the commander responsible for operations structure in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha area—and succeeded in turning it into the most active of all sectors during his four year term.  In a 2006 interview, he had this to say on the Party’s use of violence: “whoever is against the movement is an enemy”.

Kattakam Sudarshan, the third man believed to have helped organise the massacre at Darba, heads the newly-formed Chhattisgarh-Odisha command of the CPI (Maoist).  Born around 1959-1960, Sudarshan grew up in the mining town of Belampalli.  His lower-middle class parents worked in the Singareni coal mines.  Sudarshan studied for a bachelor of sciences degree, but dropped out in 1978 to work full time with the Radical Students Union—a far-Left grouping that was also the nursery for five of the seven CPI-Maoist Politbureau leaders still active.

Later, in 1981, he participated in a famous strike at Singareni which People’s War hoped would spearhead a working class revolution.  The working class, though, let down the Party: its wage demands met, it abandoned People’s War. The peasant movement fared little better: politicians proved adroit in stilling the well of rural grievances People’s War had hoped to tap.

In 1980, Sudarshan went underground—and headed out to the Dandakaranya forests.  In September that year, the Party had decided to expand its zone of operations “with the aim of establishing liberated areas”. In 1985, Sudarshan began to rise up the ranks—eventually into the Politbureau.

Even though the Maoists were decimated in Andhra Pradesh by 2003, the bases its commanders had set up in un-policed Dandakarayna provided safe havens to retreat to.  In 2004, People’s War merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India—and starting to fight once again.

The greying revolutionaries in the Dantewada forests probably know they’re not going to live to see their dreams realised.  Nine of the 16-member Politbureau appointed in 2007 have either been killed or imprisoned: the ones still in place are general secretary Muppala Laxman Rao, Nambala Keshav Rao, Mallojula Venugopal, Malla Raji Reddy, Misir Besra, Prashant Bose and Sudarshan himself.

For years now, this leadership has tried to grow its political presence, seeking to expand among trade unions, rural workers and even ethnic-religious chauvinist movements in Kashmir and the North-East.

It’s had little purchase, though, outside of India’s other Red Corridor: the swathe of territory that runs from New Delhi’s upmarket Nizamuddin through Jangpura to Jawaharlal Nehru University, home to an élite whose connections and wealth are only rivalled by their guilt. In the Andhra Pradesh towns where the Maoist leadership grew, young people’s dreams are tinged with the colour of dollars, not blood-red.

The Maoist leadership knows the plodding build-up of state forces will, in the long run, deliver irresistible blows. It’s hard to miss the near-hysteria in some recent Maoist literature. In April, for example, successful security force operations provoked Maoist leaders to appeal to “workers-peasants, students-intellectuals, democrats and entire patriots of our country to condemn this onslaught”. In addition, there has been murderous caste warfare among Maoists in in Jharkhand, and key commanders like Odisha’s Sabyasachi Panda have broken from the fold.

Facts, though, never trouble the faith of true believers. In its forest citadel, a lost cause is preparing to make its last stand.

Last year, Nambala Keshava Rao—who goes by the name Comrade Basavaraj—said the party’s response to the challenge would be to grow its military strength.  He spoke of expanding “guerrilla warfare into mobile warfare and the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army into People’s Liberation Army to transform Dandakaranya and Bihar-Jharkhand into liberated areas”.  In essence, this meant graduating from insurgent warfare into conventional warfare.

Rao ended with this candid admission of fact: “PLGA served as the principal instrument for fulfilling political, organisational, propaganda, defence and production tasks”.  The rise of the Maoist movement has been built on the gun—and its fate will depend on the gun.

Inside the forest, it’s still possible to imagine that time is on your side: that global imperialism has reached its moment of crisis, that the Indian state is disintegrating, that all it will take is one more shot to bring down The System.  Like all great ideological illusions, this one will also dissolve — but not before more blood has been spilt on nurturing it.

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