Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Indian Maoist Interview: Mainstream Politics are Not for Us

Posted by n3wday on June 4, 2009

maoist_fighters_indiaMany thanks to Ka Frank for passing this to us. This article can be found at Livemint.com.

Mainstream politics not for us, says Koteshwar Rao

This is a rare interview with  Koteshwar Rao, a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the party’s  highest decision-making body. He is also head of the party’s guerilla operations in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa.  The original comments on this article said “The 51-year-old Maoist leader refused to be photographed and set his own terms for the meeting. Mint’s reporters were asked to arrive at a school in Chakadoba where they waited for around 5 hours. At around dusk, they were escorted to where Rao was—a clearing in the jungle that was reached after a brisk 30-minute walk. In a conversation that lasted at least 5 hours, Rao, who greeted the reporters with the Maoist “Lal salaam” or red salute, explained the Maoist philosophy. And his group’s ultimate objective.”

Edited excerpts:

The administration alleges that you ambush people and run away—that you don’t have the courage to fight them…

Absolute rubbish—they know we don’t run away, but say so because  they can neither ignore us nor can they fight us. Even on 2 November, when Buddhababu’s (West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) convoy was attacked, I was within a kilometre of where the blast took place. Huge forces were deployed, the area was combed, but I did not run away. All our comrades in (West) Bengal are sons and daughters of the soil. Where will they run away? For the last five years, I am camping here and helping the organization grow. The Intelligence Branch knows everything. They know what I look like—they even have a picture taken last year. We are not scared of appearing before people. Lakhs of villagers and tribals know what I look like since I interact with them regularly.

That we do not go out of the area controlled by us is because our central committee has decided that the strategic leadership team would stay put in the forests. That’s out of concern for our security. I hide only from a select few, such as the police and completely unknown persons.

How do you forge ties with locals?

We play very diverse roles, which the people don’t get to know. Because they have lost faith in the administration, villagers approach us with their day-to-day problems. We organize camps in villages so they can voice the grievances. We deal with the villagers with a lot of compassion and kindness, which is why they love and protect us. We also work for women’s liberation. There are many women who are tortured by their (parents) in-law, husbands or parents. But they cannot protest because they are dependent on them. We fight for liberation of such women. Women are very important for our movement. Many oppressed women have joined us in our struggle across the country.

They have led from the front in many a battle that we have fought. However, in terms of the strength, our women cadre in (West) Bengal is slightly weaker compared with other areas such as Jharkhand, Dandakaranya and Andhra Pradesh. Whereas elsewhere the ratio of men to women is 50:50, and even 60:40 in favour of women, in Bengal, the ratio is around 70:30 (in favour of men). Besides our guerilla operations, we also lead strong mass movements in many parts of West Bengal such as Lalgarh and Nandigram. A lot of women are participating in such movements, though they may not be members of the party. Exposure to such movements leads to political maturity. We need mature organizers for the party and would look to recruit women who have actively participated in these movements.

How do you fund your operations?

We mainly depend on donations and mass collections. Mass collections are of two types. In the harvest season, we go door to door collecting quintals (1 quintal is 100kg) of rice. In (West) Bengal, we depend on cooked food from villages and so don’t go for collection of foodgrain, but in Dandakaranya, Chhattisgarh and Bihar, where we have bigger camps and run our own kitchen, collecting foodgrain is essential.
Apart from this, we also collect cash. We appeal to villagers, who earn their living by selling kendu leaves (used to roll bidis) or by selling bamboo to paper mills, to donate a day’s wage—typically Rs50-160 each a month. That apart, we impose fines on rich peasants and charge 2-5% levy on government contractors.

We punish corrupt landlords and drive them out from the village. The properties that we seize from them—such as farm equipment and cattle—are used for village development in places where we run a parallel administration.

But we don’t charge anything from people’s pay from NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), or (from) contractors building infrastructure such as roads and schools for the poor. We also loot banks, both government and private banks, from time to time. The last time (we) robbed a bank it was a branch of ICICI Bank in Ranchi. We got Rs5 crore from the operation and we attacked another bank to seize the weapons of the security guards.

Majority of our weapons have been seized from the administration. In (West) Bengal, for instance, 60% of our weapons have been snatched from the police. We have bought only 10% on our own; the rest has come from other states. Yet, I would say we don’t even have a small fraction of the cache of arms and ammunition that parties such as the Trinamool (Congress— it won a significant victory in the recent Lok Sabha polls and is a rival to the Communist Party of India-Marxist, or CPM, one of the ruling parties in the state) and the CPM have.

We don’t even have a small fraction of arms and ammunition that parties such as the CPM and Trinamool have.

You see, power doesn’t come through weapons alone. Look at the people of Lalgarh (where tribals seized administrative power after the police allegedly tortured some of them on the suspicion that they were harbouring Maoists)—with just home-made bows and arrows, they have stalled police. Guerilla operations depend a lot on people’s support and because people are with us, we have managed to keep the police from reaching us. Our party runs on an annual budget of Rs15-20 crore. That’s what we spend on our operations across the country, and it’s almost the same amount that we raise through donations, seizures and heists. Most of the money is raised in Dandakaranya, Bihar and Jharkhand.
In (West) Bengal, we spend around Rs1 crore a year, but we manage to raise only 10% of that amount locally. So, the rest comes from other states such as Jharkhand and Orissa.

How do you recruit people for your movement?

We don’t recruit from the villages on our own. We have a party-controlled mechanism under which we receive proposals from the locals. After obtaining the consent of the parents of the applicants, we forward the proposals to one of our committees. It vets them and takes a final call on whether or not to recruit, based on the person’s antecedents, class and disposition towards others in his or her village. The responsibility of the group that I lead is to train the new recruits. Many of them are initially intimidated by the difficult life we live, but most of them eventually learn to cope with it.

How do you see this movement ending? Would you join mainstream politics?

There is no end to revolution. There is no time frame—it seems it will take time… But, if the war strategy is right, we’ll reach our goal soon. Otherwise, we will have to retreat and change course. But we are strictly against joining mainstream politics. Over the last few years, politicians such as Sonia Gandhi and Buddhababu have been advising us to follow the example of Maoists in Nepal, but look at what happened to them. I met Prachanda several times and told him that they were on the wrong track and urged him to change his political stance. We won’t make the same mistake.

Didn’t your party play a key role in mobilizing a mass movement in Nandigram (where the state government started acquiring land for a petrochemical hub, but had to abandon this in the face of strong protests by local farmers)?

We were there in Nandigram from the very beginning, in January 2007. One of our local leaders, Narayan, who lives in Haldia, had started mobilizing the local population ever since the government first announced its intention to acquire land there and prepared the ground for a mass uprising.

We are still active there since the people of the area want us to be there. The main resistance in Nandigram came from the local youth who took up arms to protest against state-sponsored oppression.

Our decision to go to Nandigram was based on our political ideology—to defend the people against state oppression. We were there right from the beginning—January 2007, when the government announced plans to acquire land there. Initially, Narayan was our only person in Nandigram, but after the police killed people on 14 March, we started sending more people and arms—we sent some 150 rifles if I remember correctly—to sustain the fight. Narayan taught the local youth how to use firearms and how to face police firing. But even before we sent arms into Nandigram, the Trinamool Congress activists had gathered a huge cache of arms in the area. The CPM, too, was well equipped—in fact, they had more arms than we did. But in the end, the administration took the help of some retired army officers and attacked us from various points in November 2007 and drove us from there.

Your party was there in Singur (where a Tata Motors plant was to come up. The plan was abandoned after land had been acquired for the project because of widespread protests led by the Trinamool Congress) too, wasn’t it?

We were the first to take on the Tata (Motors) officials—we attacked their cars on the day they came for the first site survey. But we could not carry the movement forward because the central committee decided not to get involved. We are an underground political party and it is difficult for us to join a movement in which there are a lot of other political parties involved. We pulled out, but now, with the Trinamool having given up in Singur, I think we are going to intensify our movement there.

The conditions are right—the CPM’s Hooghly district unit is in a shambles. Our kind of movement thrives in places such as Lalgarh, where the terrain is favourable and there’s mass support.

How did your family react to your joining a militant organization?

My father was with the Socialist Party of Congress and I joined the Communists during my college days. He made it clear that two divergent political currents cannot exist under the same roof. So, I left home. But my parents have been my greatest inspiration. Like Jijabai supported Shivaji through all his battles, my mother has always been a great source of inspiration for me. The last time I met her was in 1984, after I got married. She told me that if I were to die, it should be the death of a hero on a battlefield.

My wife Maina is now at Dandakaranya—she is in charge of a group in Bastar (district of Chhattisgarh). We met in Hyderabad when I was state secretary (of Andhra Pradesh) and she was a comrade. The last time we met was two years ago. We communicate through letters—use of mobile phones has been banned by our central committee. I write poems to her and make sure the Indian postal department delivers them to her. I wrote poems after the landmine attack on Buddhbabu’s convoy and also on the day somebody hurled a shoe at (George) Bush.

Have you ever thought of having children?

I don’t have kids. Our party doesn’t support the idea of having children. There is no ban as such, but the leadership expects the women in our party to undergo sterilization after marriage. This is done to ensure that their political careers are not compromised.

Tell us about your daily life… It must be difficult being a militant, isn’t it?

We live a difficult life…constantly on the move and with a 15kg load of arms, ammunition and water. I remember walking seven years ago some 116km in 24 hours without any rest. I sleep very little—maximum four hours (a day) and at times as little as 10 minutes. But because we live a disciplined life it doesn’t matter.

No matter how late I sleep at night, I rise by 5. The first thing that I do in the morning is tune in to BBC (Radio) for its bulletin at 5.30. By 6, we start our physical training and military drills—we need to be fighting fit always. So, even at 51, I don’t need glasses to read and can walk for hours without rest. We eat whatever we get. I love eating rice with mashed potatoes and green chillies, but at times, even that is difficult to come by. I was a south Indian Brahmin before joining the party and a strict vegetarian. But I have turned non-vegetarian after I left home. I love eating mangoes and wild fruits that are abundantly available in the forests that we inhabit. I am a dreamer like all revolutionaries, and work hard to realize them. My dreams are about the people in the villages…the people around me. We are soldiers, but we too have emotions such as love, kindness…

But without hatred, it is difficult to keep alive the fire of class struggle and to fight against oppression.

9 Responses to “Indian Maoist Interview: Mainstream Politics are Not for Us”

  1. n3wday said

    This article at one point mentions the Indian Maoists policy on reproduction amongst PLA members. Clearly it is different from that of the UCPN. I will think this over.

    Red Road: Have not had a chance to read yours or other recent comments will reply when I have the opportunity.

  2. Mike E said

    This is not exactly true.

    In the people war, the Nepali guerilllas did not have children. and in one of the great sacrifices of such a war, women who became pregnant and gave birth often gave their children to peasant families to raise as their own.

    The fact that after several years in encampment (under conditions very different from guerrilla warfare) there are marriages and children is hardly comparable to the rules imposed by life in wartime.

    Also, there is in the discussion of the births some lack of appredciation of the “love question” in feudal countries.

    finding a love partner, marrying them and having children — far from your village, outside of patriarchal permission, in disregard for ethnic or caste lines — is hardly “business as usual” or settling for some non-revolutonary path.

    Love is an important part of anti-feudal revolution — marrying someone you love is often forbidden, and even dangerous in feudal life. And it is a sign of defiance, liberation, and the beginnings of a new society (embodied within the people’s army) that people feel free to hook up and have kids far outside the old traditions.

  3. What i found interesting was the Comrades belief that Nepal is on the “‘wrong road”. I think there must be differing opinions within the Indian Maoists about the Nepali experience. It would be interesting to see more of the debate they are having arund these issues.

  4. CPSA said

    Issue 5 of People’s Truth is now available, among other places, at: http://www.bannedthought.net/India/PeoplesTruth/index.htm

  5. Green Red said

    Hi Ben, i think considering the results of how negotiations with state in India has worked in the past for the Maoist and to keep their spirit up, they say what they say but, Nepal had its very peculiar condition with crazy king’s attitude, etc.

    Re n3wday and E mike (who sometimes calls me Red Green!) i strongly suggest them and others to read marriage tradition and laws pamphlet in the communist party of Philippine (that might not be the exact name since that’s from another language’s translation,) that draws the general lines on marriage relations in Philippine where unfortunately often like the above interviewed comrade (salute upon him, his spouse and their party,) end up in different places due to what services they are good at that determines their location.

    It is noteworthy that in areas where women are in terrible cultural suppression, especailly when they grow in rank like a team’s leader they are referred to as “sister”, where not calling her such is considered offensive.

    When reading about not only guns part and, the oppressed people building their own arrows and bows…. i cannot find words to express what i feel inside. don’t get me wrong about what to do here but, in this rotten world of class and oppression, what can you respect expect the oppressed who don’t bow down and fight with any means available?

  6. Jaroslav O. said

    On the reproduction issue:

    Obviously the CPI(Mao)’s position has more to it than the 3 sentences given in this interview, I’d be very interested to read/hear more about it if anyone knows where that info’s available. Anyways although I do agree with this policy in its main aspect (don’t have kids), there are some details I’d express differently. First it is not merely a personal question for the couple in question, it is also a social & global question of the overpopulation problem. The personal issue of not interfering with one’s political activity is a reason to not adopt &/or raise a kid. In the Philippines for example, NPA cadre are known to have kids not infrequently (though I don’t know exact statistics, hopefully not as frequently as typical Filipino families…) & then have extended family members do main work of raising the kids, whom they visit every so often.

    As I said though, I think that is not so responsible from environmental & social point of view, plus it is putting burden directly on those family member caretakers. It is clear that there is an overpopulation problem, though it is unclear (to me anyway) the best way to encourage/enforce a solution. But I do think that PLA/party cadre who are already supposed to be revolutionary models to others should along with other behaviours like having egalitarian & mutually respectful love-based relationships, also refrain from procreation.

    Finally on a slightly different angle of the thing, I would suggest IUDs rather than sterilisation. They last many years (& can be removed early) but are not permanent. This way if conditions change the woman still has a choice. And because of this choice, it is less draconian, even if in reality the woman (w/ collective advice) decides to replace IUD for entire fertility period of life. And last but not least, if we are talking of sterilisation then why is it only the women & not the men who should do this…?!

    Ka Mike responds, including that ‘having children — far from your village, outside of patriarchal permission, in disregard for ethnic or caste lines — is hardly “business as usual” or settling for some non-revolutonary path.’ Although it is certainly not business as usual, & that is very important, I want to underline that there are more than the 2 paths of ‘business as usual’ & ‘revolutionary’. Especially in regards to the environmental question, where it is sharply put upon us the need to rupture with custom, simply doing stuff in a non-feudal way or even in a non-capitalist way, is not enough. This applies to agriculture too, for example. We cannot just fall back on the ‘revolutionary forefathers’ way of doing it & have collective farms with communist monetary & social relations, but everybody is still driving petrol tractors, using petrol fertilisers, monocropping, etc which lead to so many ill effects (but we’d be collectively responsible for the damage rather than just the big agribusinesses?).

    I suppose a metaphor more comrades would be familiar with is nationalisation. As in, nationalisation in it of itself does not equal socialism. Many capitalist countries have many nationalised industries but that does not at all lead these countries closer to social revolution or equality or anything like that.

    Similarly the way humanity goes about reproducing itself (to be clear I’m talking about numbers here, not the sex act) is fundamentally flawed. Shuffling around relatively superficial matters (superficial with respect to population dynamics, though these matters are anything but superficial with respect to other issues) like whether it’s a romance or an arranged marriage, whether the woman consciously chooses to have a child, etc — none of this helps the problem of too much resource requirements from a finite Earth.

    * * *

    I really enjoyed this interview overall though. Besides the aspect of learning & finding out information, I like this comrade’s attitude. I extremely appreciate that he answers all of the questions also. Many interviews (including with communists), the interviewee will deflect to a related issue that they think is more important. Sometimes the deflection really is more important & thus one should do that also, but one should always actually directly address the question being asked (if possible with substantive answer, if not then ‘I can’t tell you’ or ‘I don’t know’ but be honest).

    This kind of directness is something that I really appreciate, & is completely opposite to the kind of demagogic ‘politician speeches’ one often hears.

    * * *

    Yeah ka Mike I remind you again that ‘Red Green’ is a comedy show character in Canada. He lives in Possum Lodge & enjoys making stuff outta duct tape. :)

  7. Green Red said

    Thanks Jaroslav, the thing is unless people are overtly superficial observers, when saying a white person, what does blow in your head, is it a person, i.e. human being or, is it simply white?

    long way is a way. same, green red is a red who happens to think green and appreciates as little things as say in Cuba people managing to produce x percent of their vegetables in urban areas and, that doesn’t necessarily take you all the way to Murray Bookchin’s sincere, but idealsitic/anarchist thoughts. Rather, see basic scholastic arguments of James O’Conner talking about second contradiction.

    But back on the subect of mating,

    In an article once posted here somewhere that is mistakenly labled by the original article producer Karl and the Klashnikov, (Name of the comrade to be interviewed in the depth of forest is Karen, not Karl) that was the times of People’s War Group (merged into what is CPI right now)for example it is said:

    “In the PW, it is considered very rude to address a woman without the suffix akka or didi, both meaning elder sister. “Only the landlords call their servants by name,” I am to be told later.”

    For Philippine about which i saw (not read but merely browsed) a pamphlet is called:

    Guidelines and Rules on Marriage Inside the Party

    and i wish you sucess in fetching this item up on internet or otherwise.

  8. Green Red said

    CPI Maoist i meant.

  9. Paul said

    Dear Ka Ben Peterson,

    I do understand your concerns (in Response 3) but I do not suggest jumping to conclusions on what the views are of CPI(Maoist) on the political line of the CPN(Maoist), just by reading from a couple of sentences from Ka Koteswar Rao’s interview.

    For a minute I too was a bit confused but I am lucky enough to find CPI(Maoist) Information Bulletin, Issue 2 with the interview of CPI (Maoist)spokesperson on a detailed version of their party’s view. The interview was given just after the elections in Nepal, but it is still relevant.

    I found their analysis of situation in Nepal really really great and comprehensive!!!! Otherwise there seems to be no contradictory opinions within CPI(Maoist).

    Here is the link:

    http://bannedthought.net/India/CPIMIB/index.htm

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