Saturday, January 16, 2010

Interview: G. N. Saibaba, General Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front of India

11 January 2010. A World to Win News Service. In the following interview, conducted in London last November, G. N. Saibaba, General Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front of India, gives his views on Operation Green Hunt, an Indian government offense against Maoist revolutionaries in the hills and forests of central and eastern India. It has been excerpted and somewhat condensed.

Q: Why has the Indian government decided to escalate its offensive against the revolutionaries in India on such a huge scale right now?

A: The particular context actually expresses the hidden agenda of the Indian government. During the past five years, it has been very busy making agreement called memorandums of understanding, MOUs, with many foreign and domestic companies, but mainly for foreign investment. These agreements are mainly for large-scale mining projects and industrial projects in special economic zones. Vast areas within India, both rich agricultural fields and areas rich with minerals like Jharkand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal were agreed upon. But in the past five years one could see widespread resistance to land acquisition for these projects, with or without the leadership of the Naxalites [Maoists], both in the areas where these minerals are found and elsewhere. As a result, most of the revolutionary forces working in these areas have gone from strength to strength, and the Indian government recognises that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) benefited most from the resistance to the land acquisition process. This is clearly mentioned in Home Ministry reports.

Now after five years of this resistance, when the government understands that none of these agreements have gotten off the ground due to the resistance of these movements of the people, now in the name of flushing out the Naxalites or Maoists they want to actually acquire this land. They want to go to war with the people, and in the name of fighting the Naxalites, whom they also call terrorists, the CPI(Maoist) has been banned under a particular law called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the UAPA, an amended colonial act. Using this kind of terror tactics and colonial laws, they have already created an atmosphere where they have demonised these people. Now they have declared a war, but their real intention is to take over the vast areas that are under the control of the revolutionary movement to a large extent, and in other regions where there is resistance with or without Naxalites. They have used organs of repression before, torturing the people, terrorising the people and creating the Salwa Judum, a kind of private army created by the authorities. But none of these low-intensity warfare techniques promoted by the U.S. worked. So now they want to launch a full-scale war. Their hidden agenda is to hand over these natural resources, land and forests, to the multinational companies. That is their real agenda.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about tribal people in these area?

A: The tribal people or adivasis live in the areas and the hilly regions of central and eastern India and some other areas. They have their own economy, their own culture and traditions, and religion. They are outside the Hindu caste system. Traditionally they have never really become part of what is called mainstream India. Their economy remained based on food gathering, animal husbandry and primitive agricultural methods. They revolted against the British and never allowed them to take over their lands. After independence in 1947, the Indian government came up with a constitution that provided specific laws and provisions recognising their distinct cultures. There are hundreds of tribes. Each tribe has its own identity and mechanisms, with a tribal economy dependent on forest produce. The Constitution does not allow the Indian government to apply the same laws there as in the rest of the country, and the specific conditions have to be taken into account, though the Indian government has always violated this.

They are the poorest of the poor, and in the past years at least 20 million of them have been displaced for various projects. Their experience is that their brethren who have been displaced from their areas have never been able to go back – it is a lot like what happened in the U.S. with the Red Indians, or what happened with the aboriginal people in Australia and New Zealand. They are almost 100 million people, and most of them are now facing destitution and decimation.

Traditionally the tribal people took up arms. They had a great history of armed struggle against the British. The Naxalbari uprising [the 1967 peasant rebellion from which the Indian Maoist movement emerged, named after the West Bengal village where it started] was a tribal uprising. Later Marxist-Leninist groups in India chose and entered these areas to organise these adivasis, after studying the history of the armed rebellions, and because they are the most backward regions where the Indian state could not penetrate.

Of course the Marxist-Leninists and the Maoist movements are not limited to these areas in India, though they are there predominantly. There's one part of the story about Indian revolutionaries that holds that they represent only adivasis – they do represent adivasis, but it is not restricted to that.

The Lalgarh movement in its present phase started as a spontaneous movement against police repression and the West Bengali government and the CPI-Marxist. [Contrary to its name, the so-called Communist Party of India-Marxist is a reactionary party. It runs the state of West Bengal and is part of the central government. It is infamous for its attempts to violently suppress the people and imprison and kill revolutionaries] . The CPI(Maoist) has been there for the last 12 years, organising among the Lalgarh people. A major development project was planned there, and the West Bengal chief minister, along with the project officials, went to inaugurate the project. As they were returning, the Maoists tried to blast his car but he escaped. The government used that as a pretext for sending a huge number of troops there in the name of catching the Maoists responsible for that blast. But the troops resorted to major atrocities against the tribals, and this provoked mass resistance. So since the Maoists were already there, this resistance grew from village to village.

The kind of movement that developed is very interesting – it's a mass movement involving everyone of all ages, from child to the elderly, women and men. Each village formed a committee, a People's Committee against Police Atrocities. Each committee is composed of five women and five men. This happened initially in 1,100 villages, and then spread to 2,000 or even more today. A cluster of villages will have another committee, sending one woman and one man from each smaller committee.. So there is this other committee that also has an equal representation of men and women, and each decision to take a rally or protest or arms, everything is decided by the committee. And the committees are responsible for the general welfare of the village. All the committees sit together and decide on what date will a rally be held, when or if they must take up arms, with the elders sitting there, and the general body of the village.

The Maoists have existed there, and were part of the villages. This mass formation is at the forefront always. The Maoists gave quiet training, whatever was needed – though the local tribals who are themselves Maoists are leading sections.

Lalgarh comprises only a small part of a region as big as Great Britain – and the movement spread throughout this region. The initial demands of the tribals was that those police officials who were responsible for atrocities should be punished. And they decided the form of the punishment: the officials should come to the villages and apologise, particularly in the face of the victims, things like that. Then when the entire existing administrative structure was thrown out of the region, they started constructing a new society, building roads, digging wells, distributing land, creating collective agricultural formations – this all happened within a year. They have started schools, hospitals, they've invited doctors and nurses from outside. They are trying to build self-reliant means of establishing everything, crops, vegetables, schools, hospitals, cooperatives, developing agriculture collectively. The women's movement came within this when they didn't get an equal opportunity in it. This is a new social movement and it's taken this kind of shape. At the back of it the Maoists are there, and they are no one other than they themselves, unlike what the Indian government is saying that they're infiltrating from outside, which is totally untrue. At the most, a few people are there from outside, the rest of the leaders are from there own community.

Q: So you are saying that this movement and the Maoist leadership is out to change the world, to build an embryo of a new revolutionary society – isn't one of the goals of the Indian movement to go in and smash that kind of revolutionary dream?

A: When I talked of the new society taking shape in Lalgahr, there are other larger experiments taking place in other parts of the country, especially over the last decade. In Chhattisgarh, Orissa, parts of Jharkand – these are all tribal areas, and they have had consistent movements for more than two decades. The Maoists entered these areas about 30 years ago, and in the last twenty years they have built up movements in vast areas. The area around Lalgarh is in fact small compared to all this. Thy have already built new societies throughout these areas I named above. And the government clearly wants to smash the revolutionary alternative in these areas. The CPI(Maoist) clearly declared that they wanted to expand to other areas only after showing a model of a new society in these particular areas. And they have declared that they can influence the vast majority of masses of India by showing a new society already working there..

The first attempts were started in Chhattisgarh where thousands of villages were freed from the exploiting classes, the feudal classes and their ruling elements, the police, the army, the state, and people have elected governments in village after village, called revolutionary people's councils, thousands of villages in Chhattisgharh and Jharkand, hundreds of villages in Orissa, thousands in Andhra Pradesh, and they still have their own governments, they are directly elected by the majority of people. The few handfuls of five or six ruling class elements who decided to remain will not have the right to vote; they have to accept the government of the people. This government has different departments for health and education. They have started producing food grains, establishing agricultural cooperatives. The people decide themselves, all the decisions are referred back to the people's committees, and all the committees, including the militias and armed forces and so on, will work under the control of the people's government.

After some years of this experiment, for the first time one could see that irrigation projects are made, in huge numbers, whereas the government of India in six decades never paid any attention to irrigation projects there. Drinking water projects were made, hundreds of schools have been started, health care systems at the village and higher levels have been made, the illiterate adivasis were trained by experienced doctors from outside and inside, for each village there's one barefoot doctor in a cluster of villages, and the healthcare clinics are working continuously. The educational system includes regular schools, makeshift schools – which move from time to time when the children have to work in some other area – and adult schools. They have their own syllabus. The syllabus is framed according to scientific models using outside and internal educational experts, and a grade by grade syllabus is made. All the world-famous scientific models of study material, including audiovisual material, have been translated into the tribal languages and then used in the education.

Further, for the first time in the history of these regions, they have surplus grain – not only for the revolutionary army, which is called the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, but for the people too. Even now if the Indian military offensive blocks these areas for several years they will not have a problem due to this surplus grain, and in addition they have fish ponds and other income-generating activities. These villages and their governments have started exporting to other markets as well, keeping the surplus for their own consumption, and using the surplus they have accumulated to build other development projects. This is the way in which their self-reliant economy is developing, which is not dependent on imperialism or on any other outside areas. This is the way that they wanted to show that socialism, a new society, can emerge from these kinds of areas, so that the entire country can take inspiration for socialism.

Q: What about these accusations that these movements are blocking the economic and overall development of the Indian people?

A: The Maoists don't view these so-called development projects as beneficial to the people. They see this particular kind of development as for the superprofits of the multinational corporations through the superexploitation of the people's labour. They will degrade the land, and lead to the people being thrown off the land. So this is pro-imperialist development which benefits a section of the ruling classes in India and the imperialists, monopoly capital. The Indian government has announced that the movement is blocking these projects and will be harmful to the people of the region and the entire country. But it is development for the corporate sector, and the people are offering an alternative vision of development, and they are doing it practically, on the ground. There is no case of real government development programmes being blocked by the Maoists. For example, if the government tries to build a school or hospital, then the Naxalites will never block it. Or if they are building something for the people's economy – but of course the government has no intention of carrying out development projects for the benefit of the people. In addition to these projects for the benefit of the multinational corporations, the only other kind of development projects the government plans are vast projects for roads in the interior areas, to bring in the army and security forces, which definitely the people stop and block.

The question is, what development model has the Indian government adopted for the past 60 years? It is a pro-imperialist development model, which serves the imperialists by giving resources and raw materials to them

It is better for the people of India and the whole world if the minerals remain underneath the hills and the forests, for two reasons. One, if you want to mine these minerals you will have to displace the adivasis and you will not have any system where they will be fully rehabilitated. And the ruling class has no right to displace them – it is their natural habitat. Second, another major reason why the minerals should not be exploited is that not only will the people be displaced, but that these are vulnerable fragile forest and hilly areas, and if you exploit them there will be irreparable damage to the countryside. It will cause major upheaval for climate change and warming, and the Indian subcontinent would never recover. It would have a major impact on the entire subcontinent. So for environmental reasons and the reasons of people's lives, these should not be exploited. But there are ways in which these minerals could be mined in minor ways, ways that would not aggravate the situation and displace the people. They could be used in small quantities for the benefit of the people, but that would have to be decided by the people of the region themselves, and not by outsiders.

Q: How do you answer the charge of terrorism that the Indian government is hurling against the Maoists?

A: The Indian government has come up with a law stating that the CPI(Maoist) are terrorists. But there is widespread acceptance that the Maoist movement is a people's movement, and there is no acceptance among the people to call them terrorists. It's a charge that is totally untrue, for there is no activity they conduct that could be called terrorist. They are working for the people and for their liberation. They do not want the country to be split into parts, except for Kashmir and some states where national liberation movements are very strong. This is a social and political movement, it is based on a political ideology, Marxism, which at its present stage is called Maoism, and they want to conduct social transformation by defeating the ruling classes, the comprador bourgeoisie and bureaucrat bourgeoisie and feudal class that are ruling this country, and to establish an egalitarian society. So they are the most humanist people, with a particular class ideology, working class ideology, and they are a political force. This is the real opposition to the ruling classes in India, which is building an alternate development model, and so they cannot be called terrorist. The Indian government wants to influence the middle classes and broader strata by calling the Maoists terrorists.

Very recently the Prime Minister of India, when declaring this war, also admitted that the Maoists have huge mass support, including from the urban areas, but at the same time he is declaring war. So this is a major contradiction that can be shown to the people, and the government has been forced by the people to admit that the Maoists have this support from the people and the intelligentsia. The Home Minister, who comes out every day with a statement against the CPI(Maoist) and the Naxalites, has acknowledged that the government cannot deal with the Maoists in the same way as it does certain other organisations that he has termed terrorist. There is a big contradiction in the government's statements: while agreeing that there is mass support and making this distinction with other groups that they call terrorists, they at the same time talk about the Maoists as terrorists.

Thousands of prominent people from all over the world have signed a petition against the Indian government's offensive.. It has been handed to the PM and released to the press. There is a vast protest that is being galvanised in every city and town in India, hundreds of conferences have been held against the military offensive, demonstrations are being held all over the country.

The Maoists are appealing to these people, saying that if they have these differences they should be sorted out amongst the people, but this is a time to come together against the state offensive. So there is a debate.

Q: Could you say something about the role of the U.S. and the West in regards to this offensive?

A: The Home Minister, the minister responsible for internal security, had gone to the U.S. and stayed there for a whole week. He stayed in an office of the FBI and according to reports in the U..S. and Indian media spent four days there. And after he returned from the U.S., he said that this military offensive was very necessary in order to conquer, hold and develop the regions. This is the same slogan as is used by the U.S. military generals in Afghanistan, and is now being used to refer to this war being prepared against India's people.

Four years ago, when the Memorandum of Understanding was signed, two members of the U.S. military establishment went around these areas, that is, the Maoist strongholds, to conduct a survey. Before that they came to Mumbai, where they met with U.S. consular officials, along with Indian industrialists who were partners in these projects. A major meeting took place there. They then went to Chhattisgarh. When it came out in the newspapers that these military strategists were travelling around this area, a big hue and cry erupted, and they had to cut short their trip after two days, and then they left.

Soon afterwards, the Indian government announced that the Salwa Judum militia would fight the Maoists. They unleashed terror and caused the emptying of 700 villages. Interestingly, these were villages that were in plans signed for major projects. They wanted to vacate more. They displaced 300,000 tribals, burning down many villages, thousands were killed, and the rest were herded into camps and the like. Very interestingly, the major companies that had big stakes in U.S. investment, could not establish anything in those areas because control of those areas fell back into the hands of the Maoists within months.

The latest evidence of U.S. involvement is that the Indian government has conceded that the U.S. is providing logistic support for this war. What does that mean? They are using the U.S. global positioning systems in order to mobilise their troops and to locate the Maoists in the forests. The U.S. is helping to map the deployment of forces on the ground, and while they're doing this, from time to time the U.S. is providing support for the movement of Indian forces, according to Indian government statements. I don't think U.S. support is just limited to mapping deployments and the like, it is much more than that.

Recently Prime Minister Mahmohan Singh went to the U.S. and met with Obama. That led to a new agreement to buy huge amounts munitions and other military supplies from the US, in the amount of 18 billion dollars.

Israel is providing drones. It has also trained a huge number of Indian forces, and is continuing to do this. Last month the U.S. and Indian armies held joint military exercises in the heart of India, the centre of the country, which lasted more than a month. The press reported that the Indian armed forces have gained training from the experience of the U.S. military's wars in different parts of the world. So U.S. support is more than just logistical – the joint exercises, this arms deal, the Israeli involvement in training the forces, and supplying the latest military technology, usually provided by the Israelis, but recently by the U.S. as well.

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