Red Fort Crumbles

For the past week, the headlines in Indian newspapers have been dominated by the news of a nondescript rural town called Lalgarh. Situated on the edge of south-western Bengal, the little-known Lalgarh raised a banner of revolt. They had initially revolted against the state government of West Bengal led by the leftist, CPI (M). But soon it had taken the shape of a challenge to the Indian state.
Populated by tribals reeling under grinding poverty, the people of Lalgarh had banished the local police and the civilian administrators. They had sought to administer themselves as they had felt 60 years of independent India's rule had done little to elevate them in any way, be it socially or economically.
The popular insurrection was triggered by the police atrocities over the tribals following an unprecedented explosion on the travel route of the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, when he had visited the area to lay the foundation stone of a mega steel plant, scheduled to come up in the locality. Suspecting the hands of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), who are engaged in an insurrectionary war with the Indian state across the country, the investigating police had been particularly heavy handed in interrogating the tribals on this occasion. The tribals of the country are the primary support base of the Maoists. This was in November last year.
When Lalgarh erupted in the wake of the police excesses, it did so with little bloodshed. Lives were not lost just because of the restraint of the insurgents. But the local administration influenced by the ruling leftists also stayed its hands fearing a fierce statewide backlash, were they to use excessive force to put down the local revolt.
For, by then Lalgarh had become the toast of the freedom-loving people of the state, who were seeking avenues to register their protest against the ruling CPI (M) that had controlled the state government for more than 30 years. Lalgarh became a live symbol of that agitation. The general elections were round the corner.
Now that the pentannual ritual of democratic exercise was over, the CPI (M)-led state government tied the Lalgarh insurrection quickly with the national level concerns about Maoist insurgency and sought New Delhi's help. The latter was quick to supply paramilitary forces to put down the revolt. That process was on last week. Suddenly, the little known Lalgarh was adding a crease to the brow of the mighty and powerful in the national capital, those who were oblivious of even its existence only a few days ago.
But Lalgarh has got a different significance in the narrative of Indian political development. There are numerous Lalgarhs in the country -- the enclaves of utter destitution where India's annual nine per cent growths in gross domestic product have no meaning even as a mere statistic. Parliamentary parties of Indian politics, including the institutional Left parties have routinely failed to integrate them in the mainstream of economic development despite gaining the franchise of the same people on a five yearly cycle.
The kernel of the Maoist movement in India lies in these territories, where even the rhetoric of economic development that so dominate the air waves of modern India resound with their silence. Despite the large numbers living in these areas, these would always be described as fringe areas. And the Maoist movement would be described as a fringe trouble.
While the idea of the non-Maoist mainstream is to isolate the former, the Maoists in turn do not help their cause by remaining in the fringe of popular consciousness. There is a reason for it though.
India is a large diverse country, with a variegated working class and peasantry that lacks any homogeneity even in its political consciousness. Plus, the politics of democratic franchise creates an illusion of political power at the grassroots level. So the Maoists have taken it upon themselves to work at the faultlines of this system where the politics of representative power fails to deliver. They want to manufacture hand-me-down 'revolutions' that supposedly would storm the nation in a grand scale at a future date.
This is much removed from the tenets of classical Marxism, which talks of revolution being embedded in the historical experience of class struggle for a national polity.
As a result, a Lalgarh becomes a point of irrelevance where human endeavour remains a flash in the pan. The revolutionary networks such exercises generate wither away in the absence of a wider agenda that could encompass a larger arena of transformation. It no longer provides a causal relationship to exploitation that can rouse the people in unison. Result: they go down in the history of human development as exercises that promised much, but fail to deliver. In Lalgarh at least, the Indian Maoists had the good sense not to stand and confront the might of the State, thus avoiding loss of lives, which could only be described as a wanton waste.