An attack by Maoist rebels in the Eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh resulted in the deaths of 76 policemen [6 April, 2010] ... more than 500 Maoist guerrillas, known as Naxalites, were involved in a carefully planned trap ... The death toll ... was the largest in the 43 year history of the insurgency. Claiming to speak on behalf of India’s poor and exploited, the Naxalites ... have a presence in at least 20 out of India’s 28 states ["The Red Corridor"]. The Indian government has promised a strong response with Home Minister Gopal Pillai pledging to “hunt everyone down.” ... Thousands of people, including rebels, law enforcement officials, and innocent civilians, have been killed over the years in clashes between the government and the Maoist rebels.
In this audio interview, Leftist Prof. Vijay Prashad provides a decent overview of the Naxalites and their politics. He laments the fact that many urban Indian intellectuals—embittered by their government's land grabs in the name of development and the trail of social injustices left behind by its neo-liberal economic agenda—have grown sympathetic to the Maoists. Prashad includes Arundhati Roy here, calling hers a grave error of judgment. He is referring to what I myself think is her brave, necessary, yet wince-inducing reportage, Walking with the Comrades.
Indeed, how much does the Maoist cause of overthrowing the Indian state have in common with the Adivasi/Dalit cause of social justice and autonomy? Whatever the answer, they are currently in bed together, even though the Maoist leadership, as Prashad notes, is all upper caste male outsiders and has no progressive social program worth supporting (he likens them to the Sendero-Luminoso). A good answer for why they're working together came from Roy herself in an earlier essay, Mr. Chidambaram's War. The Maoist army, she wrote,
is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine ... [who] have not had access to education, health care or legal redress ... mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadres who have lived and worked and fought by their sides for decades. If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have — their land ... They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated ... their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.
The mainstream Indian communist parties operate under parliamentary democracy and abhor the Maoists. Watch the insightful lecture below by Prakash Karat on the Maoist problem and how to solve it (hint: not by military means). Karat is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Leftist Prof. Jayati Ghosh of JNU in the lecture below also expounds on the Maoist/Naxalite ideology.
I also ran into this sensible analysis by Satya Sagar on Kafila. Over in Outlook India, Umair Ahmed Muhajir disagrees with Roy but admits that "Despite its lack of nuance and its errors of judgement, Arundhati’s essay served a purpose. We need more such writing." On Pragoti's site, Sudhanva Deshpande is more critical. Roy does "give us a sense of the dreams and desperations that drive young women and men to the gun," he says. "What she does not do is question the Maoists’ conceptual framework" and "chooses to be smitten" instead. If you have a perspective to share on this topic, yours or someone else's, please do so as a comment.