This book is part of a bitter debate inside the Indian left about the conflict between the state and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the Dandakaranya forest region of eastern India.
Mukherji , a prominent academic at Delhi University, is quite clear in his judgment: “The Maoist party has no history of struggle outside jungles, no history of participation in broad resistance movements, clear complicity with mafia and reactionary forces, little concern about abject conditions of the people in areas they control.”
He criticises the sectarian militarism which has created misery for the people of Dandakaranya. The “adivasis” or “tribals” were nomads practising shifting cultivation with no concept of private property. As this restricted capitalist exploitation of forests, the British made them state property, thus making their shifting cultivation illegal.
Since then contractors purchasing forest produce have exploited the adivasis, in alliance with police and forest officials. The Maoist CPI, far from abolishing the contractors, regulates them and takes a tax from the produce that they get from the adivasis.
Mukherji plausibly argues that this income finances the Maoists’ state of the art weapons and technology, while keeping minimum wages below those of adjacent non-Maoist areas.
As he points out, the Maoists were a largely marginal concern for the Indian ruling class from the late 1980s to 2005.
However, rather than the Maoists being able to move out and attack Indian capitalism, capitalism came to them. The recent capitalist expansion has created an insatiable demand for raw materials. Forest hills all over India are full of iron ore and bauxite, the raw material for aluminium. Whenever the state has sold off the right to mine these to capitalist corporations, it has created mass opposition movements from local tribes. As this process approached Dandakaranya, the Maoists became a problem.
At first the Chattisgarh state government unleashed a vicious local militia called Salwea Judum (“Purification Hunt”, which says everything about them). When they and paramilitary police failed, the national government intervened with the army in “Operation Green Hunt”. They have formed their own local militias from adivasis to spearhead this campaign, which says a lot about the political failure of the Maoists. This appears to be very gradually squeezing the CPI (Maoist) into ever smaller and more remote areas, at an appalling cost to civilians.
Mukherji persuasively argues that the Maoists are at a brutal dead end. His solution is a desperate hope that reforms can be granted through an extension of democracy, with no suggestion of any realistic means of bringing these about. He does dramatically demonstrate the consequences of revolutionaries setting themselves over and outside the class they purport to lead.
The Maoists in India is published by Pluto Press, £20
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