by Harsh Thakor
Frontier | Vol. 51, No.22, Dec 2 – 8, 2018
The book ‘India after Naxalbari, unfinished History’ written by Bernard D’Mellow and published by Aakar Books [28E Pocket IV, Maryu Vihar Phase I, Delhi-110091, Price : Rs 995] is a classic.
The book is divided into 10 chapters like an epic novel with each chapter a logical sequel to the previous one. Chapter—1 on ‘Naxalite Spring Thunder phase’ where he recounts the history of the naxalbari uprising. In Chapter—2 ‘1968 India as history’ he recounts the brutal state repression unleashed. Chapter 3—’Unequal Development and evolution of the ruling bloc’ describes the principal undeveloped capitalism highlighting the state-corporate nexus. Chapter 4—’Naxalite Spring thunder phase narrating the events from 1978-2003 and describing the mass movements of the Maoists in light of worker-peasant alliance and women liberation. Chapter—5 ‘India 1989’ which sums up the financial autocracy and phenomenal disparity prevailing in total contrast to progressive capitalism. Chapter—6 ‘The far and near’—India’s rotten liberal democracy narrates how fundamental rights are violated and how it is an integral part of the bourgeois Indian state and how parliamentary democracy only protected the vested interests. Chapter—7 ‘Maoist Spring Thunder phase 3’ studies the movement after the formation of the CPI (Maoist) throwing light on the guerrilla army. Chapter—8 ‘Rotten at the heart-Secular state’ vividly describes how essentially the state violates the rights of minorities being responsible for some of the bloodiest communal riots ever perpetrating violence on Sikhs and Muslims. Chapter 9—’Little man, What now’ sums up the semi-fascist nature of the Modi regime and the aspect of sub-imperialism. Here he draws an analogy of the Nazi regime of 1930’s with the Hindu fascist agenda. Chapter—10 In ‘History memory and dreams’ he elaborates the concept of New Democracy in term of it’s workability.
With great historical research he has described the basically anti-people or reactionary role by the Congress in the pre-independence period itself compromising or betraying many a struggle like the Naval ratings uprising, Chauri Chaura Movement and many peasant struggles. He has also summarised pro-Hindu and anti- Muslim nature of the Congress in the pre-1947 period itself. Bernard meticulously describes how in so many junctures Gandhi and Nehru betrayed the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist movements .The historical flow in his writings must be praised as a reader can grasp how the post-1947 India was a direct consequence of the political trend followed by the Congress before Independence.
Bernard elaborates how democratic rights were supressed from the time of Nehru and how even before emergency the form of rule was subservient to the capitalist or landlord class. He sums up how even the Nehruvian regime morally did not strip the rights of the landlords with their reforms nor awarded true rights to the working class. With great details he summarises how the landless and poor peasantry were still subjugated by rich peasants or landlords. He vividly describes killings of peasant and workers and in detail describes how the Constitution of 1950 hardly made sufficient provisions for the dalits and Muslims. With great precision he describes how partisan Nehru was on the side of the exploiter classes and after inheriting the reign daughter Indira in the garb of working for the poor morally attacked the workers and peasantry with greater ruthlessness than her predecessors in the name of ‘garibi hatao’ etc. Then came post-1991 liberalisation and globalisation with great depth and the consolidation of Hindutva fascism. He brilliantly documents the changes that took place in every era and how the state and ruling classes have become more oppressive over subsequent decades with great historical perspective. He elaborates how the corporates, big industrialists, big landlords have consolidated their stranglehold on the broad masses be it the peasants, workers or students with the total blessings of the ruling class parties. He sums up how the state made a pretense of being secular and democratic but was in essence communal and autocratic. With great historical narrative and perception he portrays the economic and political oppressions of the working or labour class and the modification in forms of exploitation. There is a detailed analysis and description of how mercilessly casual and contract labour were deployed. With meticulous research he describes how the industrialists are flourishing given a virtual license to trample upon the rights of workers and tribals as never before, giving vivid examples of Ambani and Adani.
He has virtually devoted 2 chapters doing justice to the great achievements of the Maoists and the mass organisations led by them. He critically reviews the movement from the Charu Mazumdar era where left adventurist errors were made and the rectification of those mistakes by the Andhra Pradesh State Commitee led by Kondapalli Seetharmiah. The struggles of the mass organisations like Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union and Rytu Colie Sangham and their significance were summed up. He makes a balanced appraisal of the erstwhile CPI(ML) People’s War Group narrating how if any revolutionary democracy was attained in tribal regions it was because of their sustained struggle. Bernard does amply justice to the Maoist movement from a critical angle as a whole in great depth, gives credit to the achievements of the erstwhile CPI(ML) People’s War group in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana summarising how they built the roots of alternative revolutionary democratic power or foundations of genuine democracy as well as revolutionary political consciousness. In detail he summaries the history of the advance and setbacks and how heroically they survived against all odds from 1980–99, with flow in narration. He portrays why the CPI (Maoist) is a genuine revolutionary democratic force and praises achievements. He explains the seriousness with which they have stooped to the ground to implement their task basing themselves in the very heart of the oppressed masses and deploying a methodical strategy.
The recognition he gives to Alpa Shah’s praise of the Maoists’ work in Jharkand deserves special mention. Vividly she praises the democratic foundation laid down by the CPI (Maoist) in a camp she visited. He summarise Alpa Shah’s view that ‘relations of intimacy’ were built between the maoist organisation and the people and that enormous effort was made to combat the phenomenon of caste and class division among the people. He quotes Alpa Shah writing about how they treat the villagers as equals and got far greater credibility in their behaviour pattern than the representatives of the Indian state.
There is a sound criticism of lack of independence from the Maoist party of mass organisations and inadequate penetration in the working class or urban areas. Later he points out the pertinent mistakes of the Maoists in Lalgarh in underestimating the enemy functioning too openly and attempting to form an alliance with Mamata-led Congress. Bernard has touched on neglected aspect of revolutionary humanism analysing instances of how maoists themselves violated rights in certain instances and made very bold self-criticisms.
He very accurately sums up the true nature of India being semi-fascist and how fascism of the Hindu variety could penetrate the very organs of a parliamentary democratic system. He explains why it is very difficult for India to go completely fascist like Nazi Germany or Mussolin’s Italy and abolish the parliamentary political system’s organs and thus partially retain feature of a bourgeois democratic state. Yet he points out similarities between the Hindutva Saffron fascism pervading India and Nazism. A detailed account was made of the riots in Bhiwandi in Mumbai in 1984, Sikh massacre in Dehli in 1984 Babri Masjid Mumbai riots in 1992-93 and Godhra riots in 2004 and how the culprits responsible from the saffron brigade were yet not brought to the book. With vivid summary he explains how the tentacles of Hindutva fascism agenda are consolidating themselves more than ever by each day. Also highlighted the importance of Ambedkar and importance of studying caste movement in relation to combating fascist trend. With meticulous research he summarises the caste polarisation in India and how much the revolutionary democratic movement has to assimilate or absorb caste struggles. Also the nascent Sub-imperialism in India highlighted by equating it with the global face of Indian big business. Bernard explains how India’s sub-imperialism has its base in the very nature of the semi-peripheral underdeveloped capiatlism which is controlled by the Indian big business-state multinational bloc.
Great historical light has been placed on the mass movements of the peasants, tribals, dalits and workers since 1947. A vivid account is given of the impact and gains of Telengana armed peasant struggle. The cause and effect of the Navnirman movement led by JP has also been added. The 1974 railway strike has been written in golden letters describing the indomitable courage not only of the railway men but all sections of workers countering the brutal repression. An appraisal of great detail has been made of the victories of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha of mine workers led by Shankar Guha Nyogi where right to minumum wages was won and contract labour abolished. Summed up how the CMMS created genuine workers’ rule facing the tyranny of the merciless industrialists. Highlighted the participation of women workers, building of a free hospital and free schools, adult education programme and anti-alcohol campaign. The importance of the 1982 Mill workers strike in Mumbai is also touched upon explaining it’s overall influence, on the trade Union movement as a whole and the lessons the working class learnt from it. Bernard has summed up the glaring shortcomings of the organisation and focus of labour movement and how it became so marginalised. The formation, protest and repression of the dalit panther movement in 1972 Maharashtra has been recounted. The story of how the Dalit Panthers boycotted the 25th independence anniversary celebrations was remembered highlighting its connection with social atrocities. He described the splits that caused its decline and the ambivolence of the Hindu communal forces towards them who murdered cadres of the Dalit Panthers, Namdeo Dhasia is quoted to narrate how dalits are sill subjugated to slavery.
Bernard makes a very fair appraisal of Mahatma Gandhi. He is critical of his pro-caste and pro-Hindu aspects of his ideology and practice but praises his death defying courage to prevent the Hindu-Muslim riots in post-1947 period and save lives of so many Muslims. Very vividly explains how Gandhi sided with the landlords rich and upper castes but his ‘Hinduism’ was a completely different brand from the Brahamdhical Hindutva fascsim of the RSS. Bernard reflects on how Jaya-parakash Nararyan erroneously felt that the RSS had a progressive character and failed to read their fascist nature.
The notion that Hindutva is totally different and disconnected from Hinduism by intellectuals like Sashi Tharoor is refuted tooth and nail with detailed analysis of Bhagavad Gita justifying inequality.
Aruguably there are flaws in his book. It describes India as backward capitalist instead of semi-feudal. It does not touch upon the bargaining power of the landlord clases and the power they still possess of expropriating property at considerably cheaper rates or the existence of moneylenders even in regions like Punjab. He also fails to connect a lot of the anti-people pro-corporate policies with the semi feudal semi-colonial nature of the state. Fails to learn from the study of intellectuals like R S Rao or ‘Aspects of India’s Economy’ on semi-feudalism, where in spite of inroads of capitalism and penetration of imperialism usury still exists and agricultural production not socialised. Strangely in spite of not evaluating India as semi-feudal he devotes an entire chapter discussing the practice of the formulation of ‘New Democracy’ in India. It fails to understand the comprador nature of the Indian state and relevance of United Front as advocated by Maoism.
No clear understanding has been expressed about the important similarities between India and China for practising of protracted people’s war like terrain mountain regions, forests etc or differences like India having parliamentary parties and elections unlike China in pre-revolution period. Conclusively he questions why base areas have not been converted from guerilla zones without a clear perspective of the complexities of protracted people’s war in India or in depth understanding of relationship between mass line and agrarian revolution. Hardly any depth in reviewing crucial aspects of weakness in massline which prevent genuine base areas developing. Bernard does not sum up issues like the mistakes of introduction of Mao thought in the manifesto of organisations like Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union and Virasam or inability to form independent mass organisations formed with a broader base which did not directly propagate party politics. There is no specific reference to how certain squad actions in erstwhile PWG era and even later reflected ‘military’ approach and not massline and how mass organisations were not awarded adequate independence. In the end he hardly gives any prospect of a victory of people’s war and does not summarise the cutting edge of the Maoist movement in Dandkaranya as compared to other regions in the past.
He is over-critical of the Maoist actions in Jungal mahal in Lalgarh against CPM. Perhaps he is over sympathetic to the work of CPM in the agricultural sector and does underestimate their social fascist nature.
There is also hardly any mention of the positive work of other revolutionary streams like Tanimela Nagi Reddy or Chandra Pulla Reddy groups. He has failed to reflect on the struggle of the Andhra Pradesh Coordination Commitee of Communist Revolutionaries in struggling against the left adventurism pervading in the practice and line of Charu Mazumdar led CPI (ML). No reference to groups like CPI (ML) New Democracy of Communist Party Re-Organisation Centre of India (ML) thus neglecting aspect of the overall re-organisation of the genuine Communist Party and how the CPI (Maoist) would emerge as the true vanguard of the Indian people. In the summary of the repression on the Maoist movement in erstwhile CPI (ML) PWG era and recent repression on CPI (Maoist) he does not touch upon the crucial aspect of the proletarian party itself which is the backbone.
Also fails to touch upon the revolutionary democratic movement in Punjab of the landless and landed peasantry, led by various naxalite groups in recent times. No reference to the mass movement of the Punjab Students Union of the 1970’s which had historic significance or to the Communist Revolutionary resistance movement to Khalistani fundamentalism in the 1980’s and early 90’s.
He misses out on an adequate coverage of the democratic rights movement. He does not mention the formation of forums like All India Federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights in 1982 which struggled against the wrong trends of civil liberties organisations nor movement not being linked to struggles of the broad masses and converted into maoist or party forums. Hardly enough recognition to the significant work by Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights in Andhra Pradesh or Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab. Nor did he write on the emergence of historical fronts like All India People’s Resistance Forum and later Revolutionary Democratic Front. Also touches very little on the aspect of liberation of Kashmir.
He has not given due credit to the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre of India’s achievements in Bihar which made almost the same contribution of the PWG in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. He is critical of MCC’s policy towards the Bhumihar caste without grasping line of the agrarian revolutionary movement as a whole which the erstwhile group was trying to apply. Reflects caste rather than class analysis. Needed to highlight in more precise detail how the MCC smashed the base of the landlord senas within their red army corpses and distributed thousands of acres of land with the Krantikan Kisan Committees. Also not adequate coverage of the CPI (ML) Party Unity group in building agarian revolutionary resistance through the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti.
There is no agenda in the conclusion of how the Indian masses should combat the semi-fascist state. Despite some shortcomings in recording ‘the unfinished history’ of naxalite movement Bernard’s ‘India after Naxalbari’ remains a living chronicle of stormy days that shook Indian polity with tremendous force.