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In case of Emergency

The ongoing Maoist insurgency is no more than a response to this ‘state of generalised exception’ and the political economy it is violently seeking to reconstitute, writes Pothik Ghosh.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2010 23:01 IST

Appearances, as the cliché goes, are often deceptive. The annihilation of 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Dantewada by the Maoist People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army has, however, given a new twist to that cliché. Before the liberal citizenry goes shrill about the law of our democratic land facing its gravest adversary ever, they would do well to know how the rule of the law comes to be.

An integral part of a modern and democratic legal regime is its ‘undemocratic exception’, a part of it that is bared when the socio-political order it’s meant to maintain runs into an existential crisis. This appearance of the ‘undemocratic exception’ on the surface of legal legitimacy allows the suspension of the democratic aspects of ‘normal’ law.

‘Undemocratic exception’ implies a situation in which ‘normal’ forms of mass democratic politics, including electoral politics, cannot be allowed to have an unbridled run without endangering the very system of representative democracy. In such circumstances, electoral politics ceases to be an effective vehicle in carrying forth the voice of the masses that are embodied in various identities of either religious, linguistic, regional or gender minorities or as socio-occupational marginals.

That has precisely been the case in large swathes of eastern and central India leading to the emergence of the Maoist path of armed struggle as the only possible form of politics for the agrarian-tribal working masses. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the State has enforced an undeclared ‘internal Emergency’ in those areas. Liberal India must bear this in mind before spewing venom on the Maoists and their social base for not adopting the constitutionally-ordained way of non-violent mass politics to articulate their discontent. The state the Maoists challenge is, to borrow Italian legal theorist Giorgio Agamben’s concept, the “generalised state of exception”.

How do such conditions, which bring about the suspension of democratic law, get created in the life of a democratic State? The ‘undemocratic exception’ is the established norm at the time when the law of the liberal-democratic State and the capitalist socio-economic formation that such law is meant to conserve is founded. It’s this historical moment of the founding of capitalism — when existing instruments of feudal coercion were deployed to alienate a section of pre-capitalist peasants and artisans from their means of production — that Karl Marx termed ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. Resources in the form of capital are accumulated even as the dispossessed sections become the workforce.

Primitive accumulation of capital is not a one-time historical affair. It recurs with cyclical constancy through various moments of established capitalism when those moments run into a crisis of ‘over-accumulation’ that threatens the continuance of the system. In such situations, ‘primitive accumulation’ of capital again kicks in — as does the ‘undemocratic exception’ — to enable the crisis-ridden system to reconstitute itself. Over-accumulation occurs when the value of accumulated capital falls. This spells a considerable weakening of the hegemony of capitalist class power.

The only way in which capitalism can beat this crisis is by investing in and expanding into relatively less capitalised zones. In a sense, this expansion is akin to the historical founding of capitalism. And that is precisely what has been happening in ‘Maoist Country’ where the executive arms of capital have, through coercive means, been trying to expand into those areas and occupy them by dispossessing the populations of those less commodified areas in order to be able to invest.

It is this attempt by capital to reconstitute itself into a stable system again that has led to the suspension of the democratic laws as the legal norm in those areas. The ongoing Maoist insurgency is no more than a response to this ‘state of generalised exception’ and the political economy it is violently seeking to reconstitute.

Pothik Ghosh is an editor of a Marxist web journal, Radical Notes

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Apr 07, 2010 22:57 IST