“I’ve seen all this...the rapes and beatings, jungles being combed by the police. We realised there’s no way out but to fight, to take up a gun, and fight.”

— A young woman guerrilla, speaking of private vigilante and state repression

In September 2009, the Union Home Ministry, with the joint command that it had organised to coordinate the counterinsurgency operations of the central security forces with the police forces of the seven affected states – Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, and West Bengal – where the Maoist movement was spreading, launched Operation Green Hunt (OGH). Significantly, Dantewada, the epicentre of what the Indian state calls “left-wing extremism,” was where OGH began, in the Kishtaram-Gollapalli area. As expected, the Maoists responded with an intensification of their “tactical counter-offensive campaign.”

On April 6, 2010, PLGA guerrillas the size of a small battalion ambushed troops of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), including members of COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), modelled on the lines of the Andhra Pradesh Greyhounds, between Tadimetla and Mukaram villages in Dantewada district, killing seventy-six of the state troops.

In the statement issued after the attack, in a section entitled “why this counter-attack was carried out?” the Party mentions, among other things, the barbaric acts of the state forces, the Singaram incident (the state atrocity mentioned above), in particular. The press release goes on to say:

“…Behind the April 6 attack on the CRPF in Tadimetla lays the anguish, sorrow, insults, exploitation and repression suffered by thousands of Adivasis of Bastar. This is incomprehensible to those hypocrites and empty phrase-mongers who repeat endlessly that Naxalites should give up violence.”

There’s a lot more detail that can be added, but suffice it to say that OGH was stepped up from January 2013. In a major incident in Edsametta village on the night of May 17, 2013 in Bijapur district, personnel of the COBRA fired unilaterally and indiscriminately, killing eight ordinary Adivasis, including four minors, none of whom were Maoists. This deliberate targeting of the support base of the Maoists is part and parcel of the state’s counterinsurgency policy.

It occurs so often, for instance, what the villagers of Sarkeguda, Kothaguda, and Rajpenta (in Bijapur district in southern Chhattisgarh) suffered on June 28, 2012 when 19 of them were gunned down, even when there was no exchange of fire. It is as if whoever supports the Maoists deserves to be killed, for according to state intelligence, these were among the villages that backed the Maoists.

Bernard D'Mello
Bernard D'Mello

Clearly, the supreme leader of Salwa Judum, Mahendra Karma, had to be confronted, and this is exactly what the Maoists undertook. A daring ambush of an armed convoy of provincial Congress Party leaders by Maoist guerrillas on May 25, 2013 in the Darba Ghati valley in the Sukma area, 345 kms south of the state capital of Raipur, shocked the Indian state apparatus. The Z-plus and other categories of armed security personnel – entitlements of the “lords” of India’s political establishment – were no match for the guerrillas. The main targets of the attack were Mahendra Karma, founder of the Salwa Judum, and Nand Kumar Patel, the chief of the Congress Party in the state and a former state home minister.

The convoy was returning from a “Parivartan Yatra” (“March for Change”) rally in Sukma, and the Maoists knew not only that Karma and Patel were in the convoy, but even the route that it was to take. The assassinations were thus carefully planned and executed, though they took a two-hour long gun battle with the state forces to accomplish, a clash in which many who merely serve or protect the oppressors, and do so because they have little choice, were either killed or injured. The Maoist guerrillas reportedly even provided first aid to some of these persons who suffered injuries.

Inevitably, in the aftermath of the incident, a chorus of righteous indignation against Maoist violence filled the waves, especially on TV, conveniently overlooking the fact that there are two reigns of political violence in Bastar.

The first is state and state-sponsored terror, which, heartless and coldblooded, has constantly been outdoing itself in barbarity and callous indifference to human life. The second, the political violence of the oppressed, is driven by an urge to transcend the prevailing exploitative economic relations and overthrow the oppressive social and political order. This, the violence of the oppressed, is reactive; it stems from the continuing acts of violence of the oppressors.

More important, the violence of the oppressors and the violence of the oppressed seem to have had a profound effect on the political culture and social psychology of the oppressed. There’s this almost natural fury of the tribal peasants, men and women, even those in the Maoist militia and the PLGA, for they have suffered so much at the hands of their oppressors, and there’s a public memory of the exploitation, the oppression, the misery, the anguish that has been passed on over generations. There’s a public memory of the collective resistance too, for instance, that of the Bhumkal Rebellion of 1910.

These simple truths have to be repeatedly restated, for the intellectuals of the establishment want to blot them out. They want to leave them out of remembrance or consideration, just as they want to obliterate from public memory the reasons for the class war. What the Indian state had been executing was akin to a “strategic hamlets program” – isolation of the tribal peasants from contact with and influence by the Maoist guerrillas. This was the first phase of the anti-Maoist counterinsurgency, to clear the path for big business’s “accumulation by dispossession” in the “non-capitalist areas,” with OGH being the grand design of its second stage.

Interestingly, the Indian Prime Minister then, Manmohan Singh, was always rather upfront in stating the main reason for this war.

Talking to a select group of editors on September 6, 2010, he pointed out that “Naxalite [Maoist] areas happen to be those areas which are the heartland of India’s mineral wealth ... If we are not allowed to exploit the mineral resources of this country, I think the growth path of this country will be adversely affected.” This was repeated by him in a speech to Indian Police Service (IPS) probationers on December 24, 2010: “Naxalism [Maoism] today afflicts central India where the bulk of India’s mineral wealth lies and if we don’t control Naxalism, we have to say goodbye to our country’s ambitions to sustain a growth rate of 10–11 per cent per annum.”

The Bastar region of Chhattisgarh happens to be one such mineral-rich area, but it is also where large parts have been turned into a guerrilla zone by the CPI (Maoist). These are tracts where the revolutionary movement is strong, but where the Party and its mass organizations are in power only as long as the guerrillas have the upper hand over the state’s forces, and where power can revert back to the Indian state when the guerrillas are forced to retreat.

It is no wonder then that sections of the corporate media bay for the blood of the “leftwing extremists” and even equate the human rights groups with the latter. Far away from the scene of Maoist ambush, ensconced in the safety and comfort of their TV studios, the big guns, TV anchors and “talking heads,” the Arnab Goswamis, boom in the aftermath of every such surprise guerrilla attack. They cannot stomach a successful ambush by the Maoist guerrillas. “This is a major setback for Operation Green Hunt; shouldn’t it be overhauled and intensified?” Or, better still, “shouldn’t the Army be deployed on the frontlines in Bastar?” That would certainly give the establishment a considerable tactical advantage but would turn out to be a huge strategic blunder.

Excerpted with permission from India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History, Bernard D’Mello, Aakar Books.