Soft Socialism versus Naxalism: Prime Minister's Ganatantra Divas Speech
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's independence day speech indirectly reveals a likely public policy failure, which in the long term could result in the eventual transformation of India into a Maoist state, much as how Nepal itself is well on its way toward becoming a Maoist state. In Manmohan Singh's speech, these two paragraphs in a nutshell show how the government views the problem and what it therefore sees as the solution. Some comments follow (bolding in quotations added):
There has been much discussion recently on the issue of internal security. If law and order in any part of India deteriorates or peace and harmony gets disturbed, the common man is adversely affected. Therefore, it is one of the primary responsibilities of any government to maintain law and order so that the citizens can live and earn their livelihood in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Naxalism is a serious challenge to our internal security. I pay tribute to the men and officers of our security forces who have became martyrs in the attacks by naxalites in the last few months. I have stated this before and I say it again - our Government will fully discharge its responsibility to protect each and every citizen of our country. We will deal firmly with those who resort to violence. We will provide all possible help to State Governments to maintain the rule of law in areas affected by naxalism. I once again appeal to naxalites to abjure violence, come for talks with the Government and join hands with us to accelerate social and economic development. A few days back I took a meeting with the Chief Ministers of States affected by naxalism. We will fully implement the consensus that emerged in that meeting. I would like to repeat here a point that I made in that meeting. It is imperative that Centre and States work together to meet the challenge of naxalism. It would be very difficult for any State to tackle this problem without cooperation from the Centre and coordination between States. We all need to rise above our personal and political interests to meet this challenge.1
There are two points to note. In the first bolded portion above, there is a fundamental statement of purpose that directs public policy regarding the Naxalist threat: "it is one of the primary responsibilities of any government to maintain law and order so that the citizens can live and earn their livelihood in an atmosphere of peace and harmony." This point addresses the government's monopoly on violence. As Maoists, Naxalites here follow the classic Maoist line that since the Army is necessarily the most important institution that maintains government control--and hence maintains the interests of the ruling class--violent overthrow of the government is necessary in order to bring about a socialist revolution. This belief in the necessity of violence is what distinguishes Maoism from classical Marxism-Leninism that underlies the doctrine of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Classical Marxist-Leninists do not believe violence must necessarily be used to bring about a socialist society. Indeed, it is the decision not to commit to violent revolution on the part of classical Marxist-Leninists and the Maoist commitment to it that in part led to the CPI (Marxist) and CPI (Maoist) split in 1967. Since the Naxals are ideologically committed to the use of violence, it will not be possible simply to appeal to them to renounce it. They will have to change their ideology in order to renounce violence and, given their recent successes, that is unlikely to happen.
The second point is much simpler: the Naxalist threat is existential. If the government does not effectively contain it, which may simply mean control rather than defeat of the Naxals, then it is likely that the Naxals could overthrow the central government, what to speak of state governments.
As I have stated earlier, most naxalite affected areas lag behind in development. Many such areas also have a large concentration of our adivasi brothers and sisters. We want to end the neglect of these areas. I have asked the Planning Commission to formulate a comprehensive scheme towards this end, which we would implement fully. It is also our endeavour that our adivasi brothers and sisters join the mainstream of development. They have been dependent on forest produce for centuries and this dependence should not end without the creation of new sources of livelihood. Apart from adequate compensation for land which is acquired from them, we should also ensure that our adivasi brothers and sisters have a stake in the developmental project being undertaken."
Supplying sustained and heightened resources to terrorist aflicted states has been the government's usual solution. The rationale is, as one government administrator commenting on the suppressed insurgencies in Nagaland and Mizoram put it, "they will become too comfortable to fight in the jungle again." Indeed, these areas have received development funds of between 400 - 500% of those received by other states. It should also be noted that government largesse in these areas has contributed to high levels of drug use and alcoholism.1 When a populace does not need a regular livelihood, it becomes easy for members of that populace to disproportionately adopt such vices. In America, for example, the heightened use of drugs and alcoholism among Red Indians is also strongly correlated with generous federal government endowments to tribal lands.
But government largesse as a solution to the Naxal problem will not work for several reasons:
- Government largesse as it worked in Nagaland and Mizoram will be difficult to scale to many states. There are eight states in India currently affected by Naxalites, and some of them, like West Bengal and Orissa, are large and have significantly more people. The heightened levels of government spending that worked in small states will not scale to so many other, bigger states.
- Naxalism is at its core a universalist ideology. Other uprisings mentioned here, like that of Nagaland, were liberation movements based on an ethnic identity. As such, these liberation wars were limited in scope. Once some guarantee of autonomy and economic incentive were provided, the aims of those nationalist liberation movements had been achieved for the most part, and that was good enough for the mainstream leaders of those insurgencies (despite, of course, the almost inevitable hardline fringe that carries on without popular support). But because Naxalism, a form of Maoism, has universalist aspirations, increased promises of autonomy and more funds and resources will not have the same effect it had in other situations. Instead, such funds will be used to further the revolution.
- Nepal. Now that Nepal is itself has a plurality of Maoist parlimentarians in its own national government, effectively making it sympathetic to India's Naxalists, political and material support for Naxalists from Nepal is inevitable.
- China. This country, of course, is the regional hegemonic communist state with vast resources to supply to a movement that owes its ideological roots and affections to Mao Tse Tung. Although China seems to be more "capitalist" in its aspirations, it is still a Marxist-Leninist state, and it is pragmatic enough to encourage Marxist-inspired revolutions to advance its foreign policy.
- Fall of the Soviet Union. This was a significant blow to classic Marxism-Leninism, which does not accept the necessity of violence for the emergence of socialist state, and also to Nehruvian socialism, which had been inspired by the Soviet example. The discrediting of Soviet-style socialism has allowed the Maoist strain to gradually rise in influence.
- Since the government of India itself is controlled to some extent by socialist ideals, it will be virtually impossible for the government--through propaganda, what to speak of through economic incentive--to discredit Naxalism. This will be especially so in areas where there is a strong influence of communist ideology, such as in states like West Bengal. Since the central government and the Naxals pretty much agree that class distinction is the cause of conflict, the difference they have is over the extent of efforts to erase class distinction.
Although the Indian government in trying to suppress the Naxal movement is using means that had worked before, this time the government of India and its citizens are faced with a new kind of internal enemy--one that had for a long time remained marginalized in the shadow of Soviet Marxism-Leninism and Soviet-inspired Nehruvian socialism. That shadow no longer falls on India's Maoists, who are universalist in their aspirations, not nationalist, and who now have many powerful friends in Asia who are all to willing too lend them moral and material support.
1 Manmohan Singh, "Prime Minister’s Independence Day Address", The Hindu, 15 August 2010 <www.thehindu.com/news/resources/article572397.ece>.
2 Sankaran Kalyanaraman, "The Indian Way in Counterinsurgency", Democracies and Small Wars, Ed. Efraim Inbar (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 2003) 94 - 95.