The differences were bound to surface. As Nepali Maobaadis embark on the thorny road to mainstream politics after a decade-long stint as armed revolutionaries, ripples can be felt across the Naxalite realm in India. In a scathing critique of the Nepali rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka ‘Prachanda’), Communist Party of India (Maoist) spokesperson ‘Comrade Azad’ has attacked the Nepali Maoists for deviating from the revolutionary goal of attaining ‘People’s Democracy’.
Azad accused the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) of collaborating with ‘bourgeoisie’ and revisionist parties, and giving up the ideal of an armed overthrow of the feudal state. The disagreement, coming from ideological co-travelers in two Southasian states, assumes critical importance in light of alarm about linkages between ultra-left groups in the region, something that Indian intelligence agencies in particular like to play up.
Left parties, of both parliamentary and revolutionary hues, have a history of bitter feuds and endless divisions. The current phase of ultra-leftist confrontation in Southasia may have been triggered by the Nepali Maobaadi decision to engage with other parties of Nepal. At a more fundamental level, it may also be about a clash of perceptions regarding global and country-specific situations, and the possibilities of revolution.
But mostly the Naxalite ire seems to stem from the leadership’s fear of loss of power and prestige, when the much-romanticised Nepali Maobaadi decided to give up the class war. Just as the mainstream Left in India headed by the CPI (M) was worried that the success of the Maobaadi would give energy to the Naxalites, the latter are now worried about the message that Dahal’s compromises will be sending to their flock.
A year ago this August, at a party plenum, the CPN (M) decided to enter multiparty politics. This decision stemmed from the realisation that neither a military takeover nor a one-party setup was possible in Nepal. The regional and global context, primarily the presence and attitude of India and the continuing frailty of the international communist movement, meant that any ultra-left regime would be difficult to sustain. Gyanendra’s coup of 1 February 2005 provided the Maoists with an opportunity to join an opposition movement, led by mainstream parties, against an autocratic monarch. In the aftermath of the historic People’s Movement, the Maoists are engaged in a process that can provide a rare example of an entrenched insurgency entering competitive politics.
It is this tilt of the Maobaadis, and the various reasons that propelled the change, that now has the Naxalites across the border, so to speak, up in arms. Dahal’s advice to the Naxalites to rethink their strategy and adopt the parliamentary path, clearly stated in an interview in The Hindu newspaper, seems to have raised the hackles of the Indian revolutionaries. Azad’s riposte, which took some time coming, sought to question this understanding and the re-orientation of the Maobaadis.
The criticism hinges on several issues. The Naxalites believe that the Nepali Maoists should have continued with the task of expanding their base areas, and not compromised with reactionary parties; that the Maobaadis’ tendency to let the ‘sub-stage’ of bourgeoisie democracy dominate the path of revolution was a mistake; that the Maobaadi should not be so desperate to engage with the UN as they have been; and that the quest for an armed overthrow is crucial because only complete destruction of the state and ruling classes can bring about real change.
Azad and his comrades argue that international conditions – the rise of anti-Americanism, the devastating impact of neo-liberal policies, and the spurt in people’s movements have brightened the prospects for an armed insurrection. Caught in a somewhat different geopolitical context in Nepal – plus in a terrain where it was easy to conduct an insurgency but difficult to sustain it once it had achieved a certain scale – Dahal’s assessment now seems to differ significantly from that of his Indian comrades.
A couple of weeks after Azad’s outburst became public, the Naxalites and the Maobaadi released a joint statement expressing solidarity and asserting that their differences revolved around tactical, not fundamental, questions. Even that last-ditch attempt to maintain a shred of unity revealed the deep difference between the two groups.
The Naxalites may have spread to 160 districts in India; the Indian Home Ministry may have raised the alarm and instigated Manmohan Singh to categorise them as the country’s largest internal security threat. But the revolution is not about to happen in India. There can be a strong ethical case made for the inherent wrong in the use of violence for political ends. But from a purely pragmatic perspective as well – and we shudder at the reaction this simple statement is going to arouse – it would be prudent for the Naxalite leadership to realise the futility of the path.
The Indian Naxalite reach is confined to select areas, especially forests. Their capacity to overthrow state structures barely reaches divisional headquarters. Their base is confined to tribal populations and in a few areas to landless labourers; in the absence of support among either the peasantry or industrial workers, it is difficult to fathom how the revolution will come. The overwhelming might of the Indian State and states; the accommodative nature of India’s democracy, with a proven ability to co-opt disenchanted groups; irreversible economic change and a powerful constituency that favours it; and the international politico-economic situation – all these make Naxalite rhetoric about the inevitability of revolution unconvincing.
The Naxalites are not only challenged in expanding their support base. Their programme and actions also leave room for scepticism. After all, the targets of their attacks are those groups ideologically closest to them – primarily the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation and the mainstream Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Naxalites do little to support grassroots people’s movements, nor do they rush to protect the hard-won rights of such campaigns. Where, after all, are the Naxalites when it comes to India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or the Right to Information? It is also striking how they have carefully avoided political contest with rightwing Hindu fundamentalist outfits. Meanwhile, the Naxalite role in fighting imperialism is limited to publishing rhetorical statements.
If anyone has some learning to do, it is the Naxalites of India. The Nepali Maobaadi, to their credit, are trying to shed the bane of most ultra-left movements: dogma. Even as the transition in Nepal throws up its own challenges, the Naxalites and their sympathisers will hopefully realise that there is little to be gained from rocking the Nepali boat from the outside. Let the experiment of the Nepali Maobaadi continue, even as Naxalite groups of India seek their own ‘safe landing’. At a time when urban middle classes are romancing the United States and jumping on the consumerist bandwagon, what the people of India need is a broad, non-violent Left movement comprising different groups – not dreams of a revolution that is not to be.