Frontier | Vol. 53, No. 28, Jan 10 – 16, 2021
I met Jan Myrdal for the first time in Delhi in 1980–through my friend Gautam Navlakha (who is now languishing in a jail in Maharashtra) , and the late C V Subba Rao (professor in a Delhi college, who led the civil liberties movement during the 1970-80 years in Delhi ). Both of us at that time were involved in the human rights movement through our organisation PUDR (People’s Union of Democratic Rights). Jan had come to India that year, with his daughter Eva, at the invitation of one of the then CPI (M-L) leader, Chandrapulla Reddy, to visit the villages in parts of Andhra Pradesh, claimed to be ‘liberated’ by the Maoists from the hold of the oppressive landlords. He roamed around those villages, found out for himself the facts, and later wrote the book: ‘India Awaits’ (1984). It exposed to the world the new experiments that were being carried out in the backwaters of India. During his stay in Delhi, we spent evenings having long discussions and debates over the future of the Left movement–usually at Gautam’s place in Greater Kailash.
As far as I remember, my last meeting with Jan Myrdal was in 2012–at the Kolkata Book Fair, at the launching of his latest book ‘Red Star Over India.’ It was written by Jan, true to his self, after he had undertaken an extensive tour of the Maoist dominated Chhattisgarh in 2009, walking through forests and spending days with the guerrilla squads in the Jantana Sarkar (people’s government) ruled Dandakaranya. And this was at a time when he had crossed the age of eighty! At the book launch, we exchanged greetings–remembering our past meetings with Gautam and Subba Rao.
When reading recently his ‘Red Star Over India’, I particularly noted his warnings about the Maoists of Chhattisgarh (while he admired their achievements), when he pointed out at the end, that their influence was confined only to dalits and adivasis–25% of the population who had arisen. He then wrote: “If they slip when they rise, if the Party (CPI-Maoist) will not be able to organise the masses outside the area and the revolt thus becomes a real revolution, these 25% can suffer the fate of so many of their followers in other lands. Extermination is a reality”. He added: “One should never forget the negative possibility…already the bells of the Iron Heel are tolling in Washington…and in governmental Delhi…”.
Eight years after he wrote those words, today in 2020, Jan Myrdal’s prediction of a ‘negative possibility’ has come to be true. The Indian state’s Iron Heel has almost exterminated the ‘Jantana Sarkar’ that Jan Myrdal described in his book. With the failure of the Maoist leadership to “organise the masses outside the area (of Maoist control)”, the ‘revolt’ in Dandakaranya could not expand into ‘a real revolution’ in other parts of India, about which Jan Myrdal was talking about. The current scenario is dismal. With most of the top-ranking CPI (Maoist) leaders, either killed or in jail, and a large number of middle-ranking leaders and activists surrendering, the party’s present secretary Nambala Keshav Rao, known by his alias Basavraj (who took over charge from Ganapathi–the general secretary with whom Jan Myrdal had long interviews in 2009) is facing a huge challenge.
What we find today in the dwindling Maoist belt (embracing a few villages and forest areas, bordering Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh-Telangana-Andhra Pradesh), are a few armed groups, some genuine Maoists, some masquerading as Maoists, but both indulging in the same practices of extorting money from contractors building roads, killing village pradhans, poor tribals out of personal animosity, and nailing them as ‘police informers’. The Maoist movement in India today has degenerated into a warfare of criminal and corrupt gangs–in the absence of any ideological leadership. Mao in China advised his guerrilla followers to integrate with the people like ‘fish in water.’ His Indian followers today appear to prefer forests, where they choose to be like ‘beasts in jungles’–devouring upon each other.