Interview: Akash, CPI(Maoist) State Secretary, West Bengal. By Tusha Mittal
ON THE evening of 13 August, two significant events unfolded inside the forests of West Bengal. Weeks after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a mammoth development package for Junglemahal, the Maoist party initiated its own ‘parallel development’. The government did not allow it to proceed.
Up a rocky hilly road, in the jungles where West Bengal meets Jharkhand, Nilima Baske, 50, had a terrible fall; she can’t walk. The nearest primary health centre is too far. On 13 August, a ‘Calcutta doctor’ appeared to treat Baske with three injections and medicines. It was part of a mass health camp organised by the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), supported by the banned CPI(Maoist) party.
On 14 August, as doctor Siddhartha Gupta made his way to the second health camp, he was arrested by the West Bengal Police, detained for the night at Belpahari Police Station, and charged under Section 151 for “knowingly joining in an assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse”. He is out on bail. Momentarily, in its singular frame, the incident represents an ironic twist — the state and Maoists competing on who can deliver better development, both trying to woo, compelling the other into action.
Last month TEHELKA sent questions to the CPI(Maoist) to understand the party’s official stance on Banerjee’s offer for peace talks. Answers were delivered in instalments. The first part, ‘Playing Hide and Seek with Peace’ was published on 20 August. In the second part of his interview, West Bengal CPI(Maoist) state secretary Akash talks about the party’s changing tactics, future goals and why Mamata Banerjee reminds him of the Ramayana.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Have you re-evaluated your strategy and goals — both political and military — now that there is a seemingly more propeople government in West Bengal?
Our strategy is the same for the whole of India. But from time to time, according to the local situation, we adopt new tactics. Even within West Bengal, we don’t use the same tactics for all the places in Junglemahal or all parts of the state. In the case of Nadia, Murshidabad, Birbhum, and other backward places where poverty and hunger is the main problem, our tactics and form of organisation differ.
‘The objective of the Maoist party is not to establish a fascist force by removing the previous one’
As for our attitude towards a ‘more pro-people government’, we will appreciate her moves if Mamata Banerjee really works for the people of Bengal. Perhaps, you heard Mahashweta Devi during the swearing- in ceremony of 20 May asking Mamata to remain the same. But in reality, the so-called democratic culture that Banerjee is propagating will lead to autocratic rule. For example, when Trinamool MP Mukul Roy took charge of the railway ministry, he arranged a separate seating arrangement than the one used by Mamata to show his respect. Cabinet minister Dinesh Trivedi did the same during the oath-taking ceremony. It reminds me of the Ramayana, of Bharat placing Ram’s slippers on the throne. This is the situation in the 21st century! It is ridiculous.
Surprisingly, no intellectuals, for or against the Mamata government, have uttered a single word against this feudal culture. Will this culture lead us to a democratic, republican state or to a feudal state of rajas and maharajas? We have to really evaluate whether this is a pro-people culture. We appeal to Mamata to rethink her arrogant, undemocratic attitude.
As long as a government — it may be Mamata or XYZ — takes pro-people stands, we will not oppose it. But it is impossible for the new government to do this. For example, Finance Minister Amit Mitra is part of the pro-American lobby and will always serve imperial interests. It is not enough for the government to announce development packages from AC rooms in Writers’ Buildings.
We call for a New Democratic Revolution. In NDR, we aim for advancement in the agricultural and industrial sector. But the present state structure itself is a huge obstacle to this change. The present ruling class is bringing all non-developmental schemes in the name of development. Look at the state policy. The police camps in Junglemahal are distributing footballs, hockey sticks, mosquito nets and chocolate among the villagers. For what are the police distributing footballs? The people can buy their own football for their playground. Will this address the actual problem? We will definitely expose the hypocrisy of the state policy. The state cannot prevent us from doing so.
Do you plan any re-evaluation in future?
It depends on the circumstances and the state attitude. Our strategy will remain the same, but our political, military and organisational tactics may change. When the Lalgarh rebellion was at its peak, we changed our tactics every day. At present, we are certainly changing some of our tactics. We are not taking any spontaneous action which may hamper us. We are working daily and conducting weekly reviews.
On the military front, we are able to resist the Joint Forces with the active participation of the mass. We are closely observing the tactics of the state to harm us and our developmental policy. We are observing the attitude of the Mamata govOn the military front, we are able to resist the Joint Forces with the active participation of the mass. We are closely observing the tactics of the state to harm us and our developmental policy. We are observing the attitude of the Mamata government towards her own pre-election claims. Take a practical example. The Durgesh ground is a huge one in Jhargram where several parties hold public meetings. But when the people of Junglemahal tried to hold their own public meeting, they were restrained. If political parties can hold public meetings, why can’t they? It exposes the character of the state.
What do you consider your biggest achievement in West Bengal so far? How have the tribals of Junglemahal benefitted from your presence?
This is an interesting question. Our first biggest achievement was to expose the social fascist character of the state not only in Bengal, but in front of the whole world. Next, we have exposed the pseudo-Marxists along with their forms of repression. Our third achievement is our mass line and our acceptance among the people. Fourth, the aspect of underdevelopment. The CPM, along with its allies, devastated the region. The ruling class plundered the region. The Lalgarh movement exposed this and put the debate in front of the whole world. Fifth, a bridge has been created between mass resistance and mass armed resistance. Both are forms of democratic movement. We have been successful in organising various sections of the people with their own sectional demands. Sixth, confidence was instilled in people to do their own development work through volunteer participation. For decades, they have been demanding development from the government. Now finally they are capable enough to do it themselves.
Another big achievement is that Junglemahal women, be it Santhali, Bhumjo or Adivasi, have obtained self-respect and independence through the movement.
Before the intervention of the Maoist party, these areas were never on the state agenda. People of Junglemahal can stand straight in society with self- respect and dignity. People got their due rights over the forest land. Now the forest department is non-existent.
If anything works here, it is the people’s committee, especially made for the welfare of forest land. All forest products remain in the hands of the people and only they will fix rates when they sell it in the market. Another achievement is the large-scale involvement of Adivasi women with the Maoist party. The women agitated especially against liquor shops and restricted their own brothers, sons and fathers from buying liquor. Women can now participate in their own people’s court. Women can now participate in their own people’s court and also take part in the decision-making process.
Another important aspect — our aim was to increase the production level in villages through development, which will actually accelerate 3-5 percent of production in agriculture. Our goal is to achieve that.
What is primary — tribal welfare or political power? Will you consider joining overground politics?
Both tribal welfare and political power are our primary goals. But one thing has to be clarified here: We don’t think tribal welfare will be obtained after achieving political power alone. It is not true that we are not participating in overground politics and we have never maintained that we will not do so. We address the overground and underground process of politics.
We are already opting for democratic participation. That is why we made an appeal to the past and present governments to come to the villages, the gram sabhas, then make their policies. If the government calls a meeting in these villages, the CPI (Maoist) will definitely participate. We demand an inquiry commission that will take detailed accounts of allocated funds in the Junglemahal areas. The point is to find out where those crores of rupees are going. We have already appealed to the new government four times but got no response. This is Mamata’s way of functioning. She does not feel responsible to answer any other parties or people.
Can you define three concrete things you hope to achieve through armed struggle in Junglemahal?
Our long-term goal is to establish a people’s government in Junglemahal through a process that leads to establishment of liberated zones and seizure of political power through area-wise occupation. The 2007 all-India Congress of our party has already given the guideline that we want to make Junglemahal a liberated zone. All our activities, mass, political and military, are actually aimed at this.
In the short term, or it may be considered short and long term, our goal is development. In our model of development, whether money is allotted by the Central and state governments or is the people’s own initiative, everything will be guided, directed, collected and checked by the people’s committee. We believe all this can be achieved only through armed struggle. This is because all institutions of the State, from the gram panchayat to Parliament, are hardly democratic. Our Constitution has not come out of our own soil but is an easy blend of the British, American and Irish. Hence, the Constitution fails to provide a system that will provide democracy in a real sense. We are its alternative and we are proceeding in that direction. Presence of squads is not the only question. In places where we are working sustainably, our first priority is to see whether people are with us and seeing us as their political mentor.
At the same time, our objective is not to establish another fascist force by removing the previous one. A white sari and Hawai slippers do not reveal the actual nature of the present government. We have to be conscious to understand how Mamata, despite popular slogans, is actually working for imperial interests. Decline of the CPM raj does not mean the eradication of social fascism.
Are you expanding outside Junglemahal. In how many districts of West Bengal do you have a presence? In how many years do you estimate you will have a strong base in Kolkata?
It is our main objective to spread outside Junglemahal. We have a presence in every district of West Bengal. Already people from various places have approached us, so we have our political intervention in those places. Our party has been working in areas like Nadia, Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura and Burdwan since 2004. We have weak organisation in those places. But it is because of our presence that the government has been compelled to consider underdevelopment in those areas as a serious problem.
We are no astrologers to predict when we will have a strong base in Kolkata. It depends upon the social, political and economic crises. These crises will deepen enough to create the situation for that to happen. But even if the objective situation is ripe, there may be a lack of subjective force. Hence, we cannot predict the time and situation. According to a recent central committee resolution, every party member starting from the ground level to the state committee has to be made aware of the objective situation. Only then can we lead people creatively. This is one of our foremost aims.
Many of your top state committee leaders have been arrested in the past one year. There is a sense that the West Bengal Police has been able to gather better intelligence. Has this been possible because of local support?
The arrests of former state committee secretary Comrade Himadri, present secretary Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan and other state committee leaders are definitely a setback. We are training our new leadership to recover from the loss. After the arrest of comrade Kanchan, we had to take time to reorganise our party.
It is not true that we are losing mass acceptance. All arrests took place in the city. The state has improved its network for the past six years. But remember, no network can actually compete with the people’s network. We have reviewed these arrests of leadership as a lacuna in understanding the guidelines of the party committee.
Even we had to go through days when 1,000 Joint Forces raided not only the villages, but every inch of the jungle day and night. But due to our huge mass acceptance, it was impossible for the Joint Forces to separate us from the people and the upsurge is now in front of you. The people of Junglemahal are writing history in their own land. The Maoists are playing the role of a catalyst.
Yes, we accept you are right about better police intelligence. In Junglemahal and Kolkata, the state is spending crores to build a network to crush our movement. Mamata has already declared she will appoint 10,000 SPOs, national volunteer forces and home guards. She wants to incorporate people of her own choosing at all levels and make a channel that will act as a tool in the hands of the Joint Forces. These jobs are not permanent, or the government would have to pay 10,000-15,000 to each of them. All these are initiatives to crush the people’s movement on the one hand, and secure a vote bank in Junglemahal on the other. Neither the people nor the Maoists will tolerate this.
Tusha Mittal is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.