The recent expulsion of Sabyasachi Panda, former secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) of the CPI(Maoist), has once again fore-grounded tensions within the Maoist party, and serious questions about its praxis.
In two letters [one addressed to cadres and another longer letter addressed to the General Secretary of the CPI(Maoist)] and an audio message, Panda has laid out at length his differences with the party. He has claimed that the expulsion was redundant since he had already resigned and formed the Odisha Maowadi Party (OMP).
Panda’s future political trajectory is far from clear. But certain aspects of his debate with the Maoist leadership are notable, since they point to many persistent debates within the Maoist party, which recur time and again in one form or another.
It is apparent from Panda’s letter to the Maoist GS that there is a considerable rift between leaders hailing from the erstwhile CPI(ML) Party Unity (PU), and those hailing from CPI(ML) PWG and MCC. Panda, himself from the PU stream, alleges that PWG comrades tend to be dominant, and give preference to ex-MCC cadres over the ex-PU cadres.
Panda also raises a variety of grievances alleging ‘cultural’ domination over Odisha cadres by the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) Committee cadres. These allegations tend to descend to a fairly petty level (for instance the question of Margo soap versus Lifebuoy soap!).
But Panda does raise issues that are of a more substantial nature, with ideological implications – that the Maoist Politburo in its response fails to seriously address.
Panda is vehement in his criticism of many acts of violence that he sees as needless and counter-productive. He writes: “When everybody is carrying mobiles in hand, we can’t influence people by blasting towers every day. From 2000 up to now I have been witnessing so many unnecessary annihilations in Orissa.”
According to Panda, a Maoist PB member said that Kishenji “is not doing anything, not killing a single police[man] and giving statements.” “As if killing police is [the] only job for [a] revolutionary,” comments Panda.
Writing about the Nayagarh raid of 2008, he observes, “In doubt and due to lack of proper class education, our forces killed as many as 14 common policemen; those who were not retaliating and mostly had sympathies for our movement.”
He is harsh in his criticism of the practice of killing comrades or common people after branding them ‘informers’: “Beating and burning or eliminating someone by simply stamping him/her [an] informer is not the solution.” He cites the instance of the killing of “five or six villagers from Sambalpur” who were killed by the erstwhile MCC cadres in 2004 after wrongly being dubbed informers and Salwa Judum agents.
He is also critical of the killing of BJD MLA Jagabandhu Majhi by a Chhattisgarh Maoist squad in 2011, stating that Majhi had wanted to “surrender” and was a “handicapped person” in a wheelchair.
He also condemns the practice of killing Trade Union leaders and activists of other parties: “We are too weak in [the] trade union movement despite our repeated views on this. But we had killed one CITU leader, Thamaso Munda, [on the] Odisha-Jharkhand border and demolished the TU (trade union) office. We can stamp anybody [an] informer and kill him… without responsibility to convince people [of] our action! This is our revolutionary birthright! But why will we demolish the TU office, the office of common workers?” In his audio message he said of the Maoist party, “They have killed activists and workers from the SUCI, CITU, CPI-ML and even ordinary people without any justifiable reasons. I have been critical of their politics of murder and acts that spread terror.”
These observations by Panda only corroborate what many voices in the Left movement, and even sympathetic observers of the Maoist party, have been questioning for very long. The Maoist current is responsible for killing several CPI(ML) leaders: among them elected representatives like Jharkhand MLA Mahendra Singh and panchayat representatives in Paliganj (Bihar).
Critiquing the practice of killing ‘informers’, civil liberties activist and close observer of the CPI(ML) People’s War, the late K Balagopal, had noted, “The state ... creates informers and agents for itself from the very masses the insurgency claims to represent. That is not difficult with the money and resources of power available with the state. This is a trap the militants fall into. They kill or otherwise injure those agents and informers and thereby antagonise more of their own mass base, in turn enabling the state to have more agents and informers.” (‘Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh’, EPW, July 22, 2006)
What does the Maoist PB have to say on this question? The PB reply says, “The State suppresses people fighting for their rights with all kinds of weapons available with it. And if that fight is for the liberation of the people i.e., for the political power of the toiling masses, the state suppresses it most severely. Its police, paramilitary and military carry on this offensive from the front while all its other components participate most cruelly in the offensive in a planned, coordinated and conspiratorial manner. So it becomes absolutely necessary for people to resort to armed struggle...Anybody who knows ABC of Marxism would know about this fundamental and primary principle about revolutionary violence... Class enemies like Laxmananand and Jagabandhu, government armed forces and officers who carry on the state repression and participate in it, who severely torture the people, destroy their lives in all aspects and resort to killings, are suddenly being perceived as innocents by Panda.”
The Maoist PB response speaks of the ‘ABC’ of revolutionary violence – and indeed its defence of its praxis is quite childish, and does not seem to have graduated past the ABC. The PB’s response seems to suggest that armed struggle can be, axiomatically, the only possible response to a repressive State. The bourgeois State is by definition repressive. Does that mean that regardless of varying social, political, and historical factors, revolutionaries can have no tactics but that of armed struggle?
Every member of the state machinery or ruling class political formations can be broadly termed ‘enemies’ of the people, in the sense that they are repressive and their interests are opposed to those of the masses. But how does it serve the revolution to eliminate common policemen randomly, or to kill individual political leaders? The fact is that ruling class political leaders often command mass support. Isn’t the real challenge to erode the support these political leaders enjoy – a task calling for vigorous and sustained political action by revolutionaries – rather than summary execution? And how on earth can the Maoist leadership justify the killing of ordinary villagers, Maoists’ own cadres, or activists of other Left groups and Trade Unions? The Maoist PB chooses to remain silent on this question.
Panda also raises the issue of serious irregularities with regard to finances (which run into stupendous amounts. “I have marked the financial anarchy in this party from [the] very beginning,” Panda says, accusing leading figures of the Maoist party of failing to account for lakhs of rupees and having “accumulated money from different sources before he fully surrendered.” He also says that in spite of a party decision not to collect money from corporations, Maoist leaders continue to collect massive amounts from the same corporations that are displacing people.
Again, this is not a new fact or wild allegation: most observers of the Maoists in practice have noted their dependence on a network of extortion that encompasses contractors, dealers, and big corporations. Writing on this phenomenon, we had observed, “Even if the big amounts gathered through extortion is sought to be legitimized as ‘tax’, the problem is, by paying ‘tax’ the vested interests earn a license to loot and exploit, and a patron-client relation often develops between them and the ‘tax’ collector, and the masses are inevitably discouraged, even restricted, from launching movements against the exploiters.” (Green Hunt is Witch-Hunt: ‘Maoism’, State, and Communist Movement in India, Arindam Sen, Liberation Publication, 2010).
The Maoist PB rejoinder ignores this question entirely. Presumably, their case is that these allegations are among the “rotten lies” which, according to them, Panda’s letter peddles.
Panda holds that many decisions of the Maoists are “left adventurist in nature,” because they have been taken without considering the specifics of country, region, and the readiness of the people. Panda questions the usefulness of the concept of ‘protracted people’s war’ in Indian conditions: “Path of revolution must also suit the conditions of the country. PPW (protracted people’s war) is not useful for [our] country just like it was for China.” Intensifying guerrilla warfare when people lack readiness is a mistake, Panda states. Instead, “we need much time to prepare them (people), and for this, our war must not be intensified in one or two pockets of such a big country,” and “people may help and join us” without participating in the protracted war.
In essence, this is a critique of the Maoists’ mechanical application of the China model onto India; their policy of ‘people’s war’ that is at odds with the actual political situation; and a recognition of the need for the political ‘preparation’ and mobilisation of people in non-military activities.
The Maoist PB completely avoids responding to these ideological observations or critiques, content to accuse Panda of “individualism”, “degeneration”, and “betrayal.” The PB rejoinder chooses to focus almost exclusively on the allegations of cultural chauvinism and exploitation of adivasis and women – questions which are certainly far easier to answer/deny than the more substantive ideological critique.
We cannot judge yet if the Maoist PB’s accusations against Panda have some basis. But surely, the Maoists must acknowledge that Panda is neither the first, nor the last in their ranks and leadership to question the exclusive military emphasis of their line? Similar questions have come up time and again within the Maoist groups, but every time, the party has responded with expulsion. But the questions have not gone away – they keep coming up time and again from within the Maoist party itself.
This time, again, questions against the Left adventurism and anarcho-militaristic praxis of the CPI(Maoist) have come up from within its own senior leadership. It is evident from the PB rejoinder that the Maoist party is unwilling to address questions, which will nevertheless continue to haunt it.