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Review: Maoism in India and Nepal by Ranjit Bhushan

A thought-provoking new book looks at Maoism through interviews with some leading ideologues and political figures

books Updated: Sep 17, 2016 08:58 IST
Sankar Ray
Maoists at a training camp in Bijapur in Chhattisgarh on July 8, 2012 security threat.
Maoists at a training camp in Bijapur in Chhattisgarh on July 8, 2012 security threat.(Noah Seelam/AFP Photo)

Maoism and Naxalism are synonymous. Mao Zedong Thought and the authority of Charu Mazumdar is the basis of both. Ranjit Bhushan, who specializes in Maoist politics and practice, has set a new pace by looking at Maoism through interviews with CPI(Maoist) fellow traveler Varavara Rao, Kameswar Baitha (the first and so far, the last Maoist elected to the Lok Sabha), CPI(ML) Liberation general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, Nepali Maoist biggies like Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, and Dr Binayak Sen, who worked as a people’s doctor and a civil rights functionary in Bastar and the adjoining regions of Chhattisgarh. The author has also interviewed well-known academic Prof Manoranjan Mohanty, a quasi- sympathizer of the Naxalite movement, Dr Avijit Mazumdar, Charu Mazumdar’s son, and a central committee member of CPI (ML) Liberation, and veteran journalist Anand Verma, who has been covering the Maoist movement in India and Nepal. This reviewer wishes the author had also interviewed CPI(Maoist) general secretary Ganapathi or a top underground Maoist leader.

The interviews reveal the pluralistic feature of Maoism in both theory and practice. This may be why the Maoist movement in India split into many groups or factions, a syndrome that also manifested itself in Nepal despite the strong political presence of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) and CP of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) in the Himalayan nation.

Central to the interviews is the question of violence. Varavara Rao, citing the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and the Paris Commune, fiercely justifies the armed struggle, the official programme of the CPI (Maoist), as the only path to capturing state power. For him, Marx’s ‘force’ as ‘the mid-wife of revolution’ means the universality of the armed path. Bhattarai differs and defines transformation as a “move towards a higher stage of development of society”. “That is the revolution,” he says. “It is not always violence; it is peaceful violence. You always try to use peaceful violence but once that is obstructed, you have to resort to arms”. The once second in-command of United CPN(Maoist) hastens to add, “Our party always likes to pursue peaceful means”(pp 187-88). He goes on: “Marx in his La Liberté Speech in Amsterdam at the International Workingmen’s Association (8 September 1872), said in countries such as America… Holland -- workers can attain their goal (of seizure of power by peaceful means).” Rao’s perception conflicts with the historical reality of the Bolshevik seizure of state power, which witnessed almost no bloodshed. So neither the armed nor the peaceful path is absolute. Engels nailed the concept of “the absolute” in his Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.

Read more: Left divided over Maoists’ call for united front against Hindutva issue

Prachanda endorses Bhattarai more: “...without the support of and agreement with Maoists, without supporting the Maoist proposal, it was not possible to regain power from the monarchy”. He is more assertive while stating: “We will move forward in a very unique way, not mechanically but very pragmatically”. Incidentally, pragmatism is ant-Marxian. The author should have asked him what happened to ‘Prachanda path’.

Baitha, who was inspired by Charu Mazumdar and spent years underground in Jharkhand as a Maoist, states bluntly: “I saw the parliamentary system and how it works… Development was only possible under the parliamentary system.” This is in total opposition to the ideology of the CPI (Maoist). Binayak Sen, who is not a Maoist, defines development as “a political process’’. He rejects violence. “As a human rights worker, I cannot approve or condone violence,” he says.

Supporters of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) marching in Kathmandu, Nepal, on March 27, 2010 (www.shutterstock.com)

Prof Mohanty, a Maoist ideologue, considers the Maoist experiment in Nepal “a most creative revolutionary movement in history”, implying that it surpassed the Bolshevik, Chinese and Cuban revolutions. However, he accuses the CPI(Maoist) of ignoring the principle of ‘practising violence as the last resort” and wrongly categorises a prominent business house as “global monopoly bourgeoisie” when they are actually crony capitalists. Dipankar Bhattacharya admits Charu Mazumdar’s line of annihilation had “a lot of indiscriminate and unnecessary killing” causing isolation from “peasants’ class struggle” but denies the charge that “there is no Marxism”. He also mislabels the Indo-Soviet non-aggression treaty as the ‘Indo-Soviet military pact’, which sounds a jarring note given his stature. Anand Verma’s exposes the ‘transparent’ poll in Nepal and refers to rebel Maoist leader Mohan Vaidya’s prophetic comment that the ‘party was headed towards self-destruction’.

A Cultural Revolution poster from 1970s China (www.shutterstock.com)

Copying Lenin, Mao and Stalin, everyone whom the author interviewed has emphasized the role of ideology. For instance, Mazumdar says history doesn’t repeat itself but ‘ideology does’. All this is quibbling as Marx nailed both ideology and ideologues: “…in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura” (German Ideology).

The introduction is a good read but wrongly states that at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev spoke of the parliamentary path. Even if he said so, the demolisher of Stalin has Marx on his side. In The Charterists (9 October 1852), Marx equated universal suffrage with “political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population”. Lastly, the claim that this is a work of oral historiography is questionable as the author has made leaders speak while leaving subalterns in the lurch.