The philosophy of “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung-Thought”, which caught the public’s imagination in Naxalbari 30 years ago has now moved south to the forests of Andhra Pradesh.
A year after his ideas ignited the plains of Naxalbari close by the West Bengal border with Nepal, Charu Mazumdar, the revolutionary, came to Andhra Pradesh to spread his radical ideas. But here, the kindling did not light.
Coming to Srikakulam in 1967, Mazumdar tried to organise a movement that had been launched by Vempatapu Sathyanarayana, secretary of the district committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The movement collapsed completely in 1971, and Mazumdar´s plans for Andhra were to be fulfilled only when Kondapalli Seetharamiah, a teacher in a Railway School in Warangal, founded the CPI (M-L) “People´s War Group” (PWG).
Mr Seetharamiah, known as ´KS´, remained Secretary of Central Organising Committee (COC) of the PWG until he was expelled by the Party in 1992. In his mid-70s today, he leads a retired life but does not hesitate to castigate his successors in the PWG for their failure to understand Mao Tse Tung Thought.
The PWG´s goals are to motivate the people to wage war and capture political power through armed insurrection. It rejects the politics of parliamentary democracy on the ground the oppressed masses have no chance to win an election without money and muscle power, available in plenty with the exploitative classes. The PWG traces its ideology to Mao´s dictum that “power flows through the barrel of a gun” and adopts tactics of guerilla warfare with an armed cadre divided into dalams (squad) which maintain a string of hideouts. The PWG is said to have obtained arms from insurgents in Indian Northeast as well as from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam in Sri Lanka.
The Communist Party of India as well as the CPI (M) criticise the PWG, maintaining that the masses will never achieve political consciousness as long as armed dalams are around to force a revolution. Other Marxist-Leninist groups maintain that rather than go underground, the appropriate goal is to build a broad, ´above ground´, militant, mass movement on land issues.
As long as he held power within the organisation, KS ran the PWG with an iron hand, expelling dissenters such as K.G. Sathyamurthy and Mukku Subba Reddy, both members of the Central Organising Committee of the PWG who were strong on ideology. Under KS, in 1988, one dalam kidnapped four officers of the Indian Administrative Service in East Godavari district to secure the release of undertrial Naxalite prisoners. In 1994, a PWG unit got on to a train in Ghatkesar near Hyderabad and set it on fire, killing 20 passengers. Actions like these were justified as part of revolutionary strategy.
KS was, however, accused of practicing casteism (he belonged to the Reddy upper caste while those in the PWG he allegedly victimised belonged to the lower castes). After two years of debate, KS was finally expelled, accused of having taken inconsistent ideological decisions. Today, the PWG is headed by Muppala Lakshman Rao, alias Ganapathi, a school teacher of Beerpur village, Karimnagar District. He is secretary of the organisation´s COC.
The PWG has been the most militant of the dozen or so revolutionary groups operating in Andhra. It has established a base in the Dandakaranya forest region on either side of the Godavari river, in the north Telengana districts of Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal, Nizamabad and Medak of Andhra Pradesh, in Bastar of Madhya Pradesh and Chanda of Maharashtra.
From 1981 to 1996, a total of 1140 leftist “extremists” have been killed in so-called encounters with the police. The facts behind these encounters have been questioned by various civil liberties groups. The police generally do not allow relatives to claim the dead. Recently, an association was formed to help claim those killed in encounters, with the pro-PWG folk singer Gaddar heading it. The association seeks justice by moving the courts to admit writ petitions and to give directions to the police. It is clear, however, that this is going to be an uphill task. A judicial enquiry into the death in encounter of Madhusudhan Raj, secretary of state committee of CPI (M-L) Janasakthi group (a rival to the PWG) upheld the police version after the family of the victim as well as the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee boycotted the enquiry.
A total of 1805 people were killed by the Naxalites during the same period of 1981-1996, most of them belonging to lower castes, such as washermen and cobblers. The PWG justified these actions by saying that they had targeted police informants. This charge have been denied by the people of the villages where the killings took place.
The PWG killed a Deputy Inspector General of Police, K.S. Vyas, as he was jogging in a Hyderabad stadium, and a Congress Member of Parliament, Magunta Subbarami Reddy, at his residence in Ongole. In Nizamabad, another Congress MP, M. Baga Reddy, escaped recently when a landmine exploded after his jeep had passed. Four Congress workers in the following jeep were killed. In 1996, the PWG blasted the Sirpur Utnoor Police station in Adilabad, killing all 14 policemen sleeping inside.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has suggested that a peace commission be set up to solve the problem of Naxalite violence and the State´s response to it. However, no headway has been made because it is difficult to get someone who enjoys the PWG´s confidence to serve in such a commission. The PWG was banned by a Congress (I) Government in 1992 and the ban remains in place today.
Why does PWG flourish in Andhra when its brand of politics is ailing elsewhere? A principal reason is perhaps the area´s history of armed struggle, against the Nizam of Hyderabad state and the big zamindars. (See earlier article, “The Chinese Way in Telangana”.) Perhaps an indirect legacy of the Group´s activism has been the growing awareness among the people of the need to narrow the difference between the upper and lower classes. This is evident in events such as the 1996 elections, when a powerful Reddy candidate for Parliament was defeated in Warangal by a Lambada, a Scheduled Tribe candidate, or when a powerful Velama candidate was defeated by a handloom weaver in Karimnagar. Both won on a Telugu Desam ticket.
For all its ideological fervour and speaking the language of the gun, victory is nowhere in sight for the PWG. It has, at best, about 30 dalams of 15 people each based in the forests. Till now, the state police has found itself competent to handle the situation, with just a little help from a few companies of the Central Reserve Police Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. It also seems clear that the PWG´s much-vaunted hold on the districts where they have strong presence is based on fear and intimidation. The result is that the Group´s call for the boycott of general elections is consistently ignored.
The Group´s assessment is that India is still ruled by the comprador bourgeois classes, who run the country at the beck and call of US imperialism, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The various revolutionary communist groups attribute the collapse of the Soviet Union to the ineptitude of Gorbachev rather than to any weakness in Marxism-Leninism. They say that ownership of land in the hands of a few is central to the exploitation of the toiling masses. In keeping with these ´radical´ views, the PWG boycotted celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Indian independence.
The PWG is presently trying to internationalise its appeal. It attended an international seminar organised by the Workers Party of Belgium in Brussels in May 1996, along with 60 organisations of 40 countries. There, reports say, PWG leaders held talks with CPP of the Philippines, the PCP of Peru, TKP (ML) of Turkey, the Marxist-Leninist organisations of Senegal, and others.
Hopefully, however, the Group perhaps realises the pitfalls of importing revolution in whatever form, as its own experience indicates. After the Srikakulam movement which was started in 1967 collapsed in 1971, the PWG leadership assessed that they had made a mistake with the slogan: “China´s Chairman is Our Chairman”. Because the Savara and Jatapu tribes of the district could not identify themselves with a Chinese chairman.