The collected letters of correspondence between the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Indian state is an archive of corpses: policemen and guerrillas, commanders and comrades, police informers and Maoist sympathisers. The body count racked up by each serves as a signalling mechanism for the other.
Except for the police and Maoist commanders, the dead usually don’t get to choose sides; their identities are written in reverse, a teleological narration that details seemingly insignificant decisions that end in death.
In June this year, the CRPF, state police and CoBRA battalion killed 19 men, women and children in an anti-Maoist operation, claiming those killed were hardened Maoists. When newspapers reported that villagers said they were conducting a public meeting when they were surrounded by police and shot, the police pointed to six troopers injured in the encounter and asked why villagers were holding a meeting in the middle of the night.
The Maoists have an explanation for their violence as well. “The notion of just principle in a normal situation is different from that [in] a war-like situation,” wrote Maoist commander Kishenji in a letter to the Bengali daily, Dainik Statesman, in which he explained his party’s policy of killing police informers, “During war, freedom of thought, consciousness, initiative and innovation is much limited in scope.”
Mr. Kishenji’s letter is just one of several texts in War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists, a collection of essays that begins with the abortive peace initiative between the Maoists and the Mamata Banerjee government. The talks began in the backdrop of Ms. Banerjee’s stunning electoral victory and ended with Mr. Kishenji’s corpse laid out on a tiled slab in a hospital morgue.
The primary preoccupation of the texts is the question of peace: The first section attempts to understand the failure of the Bengal peace talks, section two details experiences of similar failures elsewhere in the country, and it is only in the penultimate — and possibly most interesting — section that contributors tackle the most important question of all: can a nation-state (like India) and a proto-state (like the Maoists) peacefully negotiate the demise of the other?
In Maoist Proto-state, Violence and Democracy, Nivedita Menon writes, “the modern State has monopoly over legitimate means of coercion, thus establishing a visible horizon of violence within which we live”.
Approaching the CPI (Maoist) as a proto-state with its own political and military structures is crucial towards understanding the nature of the violence that engulfs central and eastern India. The battle in Chhattisgarh and Bengal is not just a war for improving the human development indices of a section of the population; rather it is a battle between two well-armed, political forces for control of the adivasi constituency.
For the Maoists, reaching out to the adivasis is part of a larger project that shall end with the red flag at the Red Fort. This, in itself, is reason enough for the State to claim the adivasis as the State’s own. But as the Maoists rightly point out, there is enough poverty and deprivation in this country without the state focusing its energies on conflict-affected areas.
This may prompt some to wonder if the State or the Maoists actually care about the adivasis; but that is the wrong question to ask. Abstract political constructs are incapable of caring, and those who inhabit their structures are consumed by the need to keep the edifice intact. So where does this leave the question of “peace”?
In his essay, “People’s War as Strategy and Peace Talks as Tactics”, Gautam Navlakha writes, “‘peace’ talks are a matter of tactics, while waging people’s war is the strategy for successful consummation of revolution.” After all, what can be the outcome of a negotiation where each party cannot countenance a rival power?
One of the most interesting pieces in the collection is an old Economic and Political Weekly piece by K. Balagopal in which he makes several cogent arguments about the talks between the Maoists and the Andhra Pradesh government in 2004, “Many among the public seem to have thought that the ultimate agenda was the establishment of peace … [an] expectation that had no basis in fact.”
Balagopal then details how the talks collapsed when Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, much like Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal, stepped away from negotiations and authorised his police force to hunt down the guerrillas. Apparently, the Maoists aren’t the only ones who view talks as tactics.
In his book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, James Scott writes of how, for most of human history, the state that pushed its subjects too far soon found it had none. The possibilities of escape have diminished in tandem with the expansion of the State’s horizon of control. Perhaps the truly radical project is not the creation of a better, more perfect, State but a lesser, more porous one.
War and peace in junglemahal - People, State and Maoists: Edited by Biswajit Roy; Setu Prakashani, 12 A, Shankar Ghosh Lane, Kolkata-700006. Rs. 500.