A section of Maoists in India has decided to abandon armed struggle and instead opt for open democratic practices to carry forward their fight for justice for the poor and the marginalised.
The decision to give up violence as a means of achieving their political goals comes at a time when large swathes of India are in the grip of a conflict between the Maoists and government security forces leading to the deaths of hundreds of paramilitary forces, the police, Maoist fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire.
At a meeting held at a secret location near the southern Indian city of Bangalore, a breakaway section of the leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) told reporters that the path of armed insurrection was outdated in modern-day India, with its globalised and liberal economy.
The new thinking has been in the pipeline for the last seven years and several discussions have been held within the CPI (Maoist). Those who were convinced formed the breakaway Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
The public declaration of abandoning armed violence has come following the intervention by a group of writers, poets and journalists in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. This group, which had asked the Maoists to lay down arms, met state chief minister Siddaramaiah requesting him to help integrate the breakaway Maoists into mainstream politics.
For mass movement
Two top leaders of the breakaway faction Noor Zulfikar (aka Noor Sridhar) and Sirimane Nagaraj are wanted by the police in several cases. Talking to reporters they said if the police dropped the cases against them they would work in the open. “The need of the hour is not armed struggle, but a broad, democratic and open mass movement and a united front of various people’s struggles. For this, we have to work in the democratic and legal framework.”
The breakaway section now describes as wrong the premise on which the Maoists armed violence is based. According to it, the corporate sector had reached even the villages and disputed the earlier interpretation of society, particularly in rural India, being “semi-feudal, semi-colonial”
The need of the hour is not armed struggle, but a broad, democratic and open mass movement and a united front of various people's struggles. For this, we have to work in the democratic and legal framework.
The Maoists take inspiration from the 1917 Russian revolution and the 1949 Chinese Communist revolution. But Zulfikar and Nagaraj say “what is required is neither the Russian Revolution model nor the Chinese model. We have to evolve a third model.”
They said it was foolish to claim that armed struggle was the only way to transform society. In democratic societies of the modern era, transformation should be achieved with minimal damage. Asked if societies would not move towards violence in future, Noor said “Nobody can predict that, as it depends on how oppressive the State gets. But armed struggle should not be a subjective agenda”.
Holding that ideology should not substitute common sense, the two leaders said that ideology without “creatively application” had led to dogmatic practices in the Maoist party.
Although a large section of the Maoist cadre was in favour of the new thinking, the leadership did not acknowledge, much less address the concern.
The underground party was not up to accepting the challenge of exploring a third alternative because “its very structure will crumble”.
In the last seven years the breakaway faction has quietly studied people’s movements around the world and this has been enlightening. “We realised the blunder of not studying Ambedkar (leader of the so-called lower castes or dalits). All the while, we have focussed only on Marx, Lenin and Mao. We believe that we have much to learn from the Gandhian movement as well,” he said.
The two leaders said a large number of cadres within the Maoist movement favoured abandoning armed violence and instead going in for an open non-violent system of protest. The question however is how many would follow their belief and break away from the hard -line Maoists.
Since the late 60’s Maoists have entrenched themselves in large parts of India including the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhatisgarh and West Bengal. In the violent conflict that has peaked and ebbed periodically over the years, thousands have lost their lives. Prime minister Manmohan Singh even described Maoist violence as India’s biggest internal security threat.