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The Naxalites: In War and in Peace

Posted by Indian Vanguard on September 16, 2007


Economic and Political Weekly

September 8, 2007

=======================================


The Naxalites: Through the Eyes of Police –
Select Notifications from the Calcutta
Police Gazette: 1967-75

Edited by Ashok Kumar
Mukhopadhyay;

Dey’s Publishing, Kolkata, 2006;
pp 215, Rs 380.

===================
Negotiating Peace: Peace Talks between
Government of Andhra Pradesh
and Naxalite Parties


Edited by Committee of Concerned Citizens;
Hyderabad,
2006;
pp 335, price not mentioned.
================================

Gautam Navlakha


The two books under review are linked with one another because they deal with the same subject, namely, the Naxalite Movement. The first one deals with police action against the movement during 1967-75 in Calcutta. The second one spans the period between 2003 and 2005 in Andhra Pradesh, covering mediation efforts, the first round of talks and its collapse.
The first book attempts to provide readers and scholars with a new source in the shape of Calcutta Police Gazette (CPG) to understand how the Calcutta police went about its job of combating Naxalites during 1967-75. As the author explains, CPG is published almost daily, and “is a unique tool of internal communications among the Police personnel”. It reveals “various contours of the police policy, ranging from an initially defensive mindset to a subsequent flurry of activities in building up a team to cope with the crisis faced by them in the most tumultuous period of the city’s history” (p 9).
Supplementary Source Material

The selection is arranged chronologically, starting in 1967, with six notifications. The same number finds its way in 1968, with two in 1969, 41 in 1970, 46 in 1971, 15 in 1972, 25 in 1973, 18 in 1974 and 16 in 1975. These notifications give an idea about the ebb and flow of the movement during this period. The contents of the notification offer evidence that the largest number of notifications deal with forfeiture of books, periodicals and magazines, perhaps
as proof of the power of the written word, or rather, fear of the same.

The first notification which refers to them, albeit obliquely, is a statement issued by the then chief minister of West Bengal (CPG, May 30, 1967) wherein he speaks of “receiving some disturbing reports from different parts of West Bengal to the effect that…some persons have forcibly occupied lands belonging either to government or to private individuals…(T)here are reports even of use of lathis, bows and arrows, spears, etc. In some other cases certain landholders have been seeking to unlawfully
evict old sharecroppers…”

And ends by saying “instructions have been issued to the police and concerned government officials to take appropriate action in each such case” (p 25). This was the only occasion on which the CPG carried something that hints at the Naxalites championing of land issue, which concerned the authorities. The next one in September 18, 1969 is a notification received from the Delhi administration asking that Liberation, the monthly organ of the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries, “be forfeited to the Government” for containing matter “which is seditious” (p 38). On December 3, 1970, the commissioner of police ordered his personnel of “all ranks to devote themselves to chase and pursuit of the Naxalites and anti-socials and break up their organisation without delay…” (p 64).

Thus, there are plenty of leads which the CPG provides in order to understand how the crackdown on Naxalites evolved and was effected. For instance, the July 28, 1970 edition of the CPG points out that “when the army mobile patrols move, two persons keep standing on the vehicle with pointed guns…In pickets they also keep one man as a sentry who remains alert even when others are allowed to relax.” It then goes on to add that “(t)oday in the city when surreptitious attacks by bombs, acid bulbs and other missiles have been common, the necessity of extra alertness of the police force is most essential” (p 50). The August 2, 1972 edition of CPG carries an order of the commissioner of police “to see that armed men are alert and they are not less than 3 in number moving about together in compact body and their weapons are secured to their persons by iron chains…” (p 112). The CPG of March 30, 1971 carries the full text of “The West Bengal Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1970; President Act No 20 of 1970”. It also reproduces directives received from central government or notifications from other state governments.
Thus, the CPG is a treasure trove of material, from quaint to piquant, that can be of immense use to understand the approach
of police in controlling Naxalites.

However, the CPG can only be useful as a supplementary source, because it is meant for police personnel and carries notifications which relate to carrying out of government orders. It is not meant to provide any understanding of their ideological adversary, who appears no different from anti-socials and criminals. It is also curious that there is not even a hint of the massacre at Baranagar-Kashipur, located in north Calcutta, on August 12-13, 1971, in which more than 150 alleged Naxalites were killed. All this limits the usefulness of the police gazette to form an opinion about what the Calcutta police did or failed to do. Nevertheless, author has provided a yeoman service by reminding us that there are many a source lying unexplored by unearthing one in the shape of the CPG. I may add that by including notifications which had tangential links with the Naxalite movement, the author has provided, even if fleetingly, a feel for the period. It is a riveting selection of a new source for both readers and scholars.
Peace Negotiations
The second book is the fourth in the series of collection of letters and discussions between the Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) with the pre-merger CPI(ML) People’s War (PW) [now called CPI(Maoist)] as well as the state government.
As is clear from its title, it deals with the last round of negotiations between the AP government and the CPI(Maoist) and CPI(ML) Janashakti. The overview summarises CCC’s efforts, starting with their “initial work” in 1997 of meeting the people in the villages of Telengana and “conveying the ground realities” both to the government and the CPI(ML) PW, and moving towards detailed discussions with both sides. They persisted with efforts throughout 1997-2002 as the debate widened and sought to create a conducive atmosphere to facilitate a dialogue between the two adversaries. In 2002, their efforts bore fruit when the PW declared a ceasefire in May 2002, whereas the government agreed to create a “conducive atmosphere for talks”. After the July 2, 2002 encounter killing in Karimnagar by the police, talks broke down even before they could start. While pulling out, the Naxalites affirmed their support for negotiations, holding out the hope that these efforts, after all, stood a chance of materialising.

The period covered by the report under review starts with the state elections in the backdrop of the mine blast of the Andhra chief minister’s convoy on October 1, 2003. The “central issue”, according to the report, in the state elections in 2004, became “Naxalism”, with the Telugu Desam Party promising to finish Naxalism and the Congress “committed itself to resolving this issue through a process of dialogue and consultation” (pp v-vi).

The Ground Rules

The first 43 pages start with the press statement issued when the third report of the CCC was released, followed by developments
leading to call for elections and ending with government inviting Naxalites for talks within a month of the formation of a new government in Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, with the declaration of a “three month halt to police operations”, preparations
for holding talks ensued. Ground rules (GRs) were thrashed out, as also a tentative agenda of 11 points, which included creation of a modicum of a democratic atmosphere, land distribution, imposition of the World Bank’s economic polices, problems of different social groups, prohibition, etc.

The GRs were important, given the experience of the immediate past in 2002. Their technicality however masked their political significance. But all the eight GRs pointed to a “ceasefire”. For instance, GR 4 said that government should not infiltrate into the PW party (p 96). This publicly committed the Andhra government to rein in the police, because this is precisely what the Naxalites feared had happened in 2002. This time, the presence of a third party, in the shape of the mediators, held out the hope that any breach of this would be probed and findings shared with the public. Given the public enthusiasm for talks, such an expose would have acted to place the government in the dock. The government proposed a GR 9 which called upon the Naxalites not to undertake recruitment or procure arms. This was dropped when it was pointed out that the Naxalites can also demand that the police budget not be enhanced or that the police not acquire arms.

But what became controversial was GR 7 and the addition in it of two words, “without arms”, by the government, through its letter dated June 30, 2004, in response to the draft ground rules presented to them by the Naxalites on June 24, 2004. On this point, the CCC wrote to the Naxalites on July 9, 2004 that “when the government sought our advice on the Clause 7, the committee advised that there was no need for carrying arms in the course of political campaign and this condition must apply not only to PW but to all” (p 84). Such a formulation, namely any political party including PW can conduct a political campaign
freely without carrying arms, was accepted by the three representatives of the Naxalites and signed on July 21, 2004. But the party, five days later, suggested it had reservations about this clause and insisted that “(t)he changes suggested by us were not received by our representatives in time due to communication gap…” (p 109). Other letters that followed repeated this as well. These letters cast a shadow on the talks and did not exactly help the Naxalites, as even the emissaries did not oppose the reformulated GR 7, since it did not single out the Naxalites but spoke of all political parties. Some of the letters carry an inappropriate reference against the convenor of CCC and the excuse of “communication gap” appears to be an after thought. This raises an issue as to how well had the Naxalites prepared themselves before agreeing to hold talks? Despite their reservations on this matter, however, the first round of talks took place once the government wrote to them on October 7, 2004 to discuss GR 7 “face-to-face” (p 157). But this was grabbed by those opposed to talks and provided a handle to the government to argue for Naxalites to give up arms.

The first round of talks during October 15-18, 2004 ended on what appeared to be a cordial note. The brief record of the talks show that a lot of time was devoted to discussing the reluctance of the government to use the word “ceasefire” and the reservation of the Naxalites to accept the GR 7. The issue of release of political prisoners, withdrawal of cases and prices on Naxalite heads were discussed. It was on October 17 that the issue of land figured in the talks. This is where the Naxalites excelled, beginning with recounting of the history of the land struggle, which included “reduction of ceiling limits”, setting up of a committee for “land distribution”, “land reform”, expeditious settlement of cases pending in the courts, allotment of surplus lands to dalits and women, and restoration of tribal lands to adivasis (pp 191-98). But no agreement was reached on any of the material points, with government refusing to concede the points that figured in the discussion during October 15-17. All that was said was that the issues discussed were under “careful examination of the government” (p 198).

From then on, starting with the chief minister asking Naxalites to lay down arms, followed by his complaints that the Naxalites
were taking the law into their own hands by planting red flags in large chunks of forest land, became the running thread of government statements. Meanwhile the CCC, anxious that talks “go forward”, released a press statement on October 27, 2004. It asked the government to announce what steps had been taken by them regarding land distribution, and suggested to the “revolutionary parties …(to) come out with their explanations… regarding allegations of extortion and land occupation”. By October 30, 2004, the cabinet declared that the next round of talks would be given to discussing modalities of “laying down of arms”. But on land distribution it was said that they would constitute a “state level committee” and “give thrust to welfare/development

activities”. The Naxalites, in their statement on November 3, 2004, stated that “people are occupying lands on their own because of the negligent, biased and delaying attitudes of the government”.

It is strange to see the lumping together of land occupation with extortion, when the former is a long held demand and a matter of life and death for the landless and land poor, whereas extortion is the collection of donations allegedly under duress. It is worth noting that the state government did constitute a Land Committee under Koneru Ranga Rao and 70 lakh acres of land was identified, nearly half of the estimated land identified by Naxalites, but only 3.5 lakhs have been distributed since January 2005. Going by the press releases of the Naxalites, post first round of talks, the Andhra police began to refuse permission to hold meetings, such as in Asifabad, Khammam, Karimnagar, Inkollu, Cheemakurthi, Begumpet and Miryalgudi or gave permission, only to impose section 144 to obstruct people from reaching there. In some cases FIR’s were filed against speakers
and organisers. During this period, combing operations too commenced in violation of GR 2. On their part, the Naxalites
used the combing operations to justify the mine blast in Visakhapatnam district.

With the ceasefire coming to an end by December 16, 2004, the CCC was keen that this be extended. They wrote to the CM and then to the prime minister on December 10, 2004. The letter, among other things, refers to “reports from police that CPI(Maoist)/CPI(ML) Janashakti are indulging in extortions and holding out threats and recruiting people…(and) that the Naxalites are strengthening themselves taking advantage of the talks”. But the letter insisted that an “abatement of violence can only come through a persuasive process of talks and by resolving people’s issues in such a manner that recourse to arms becomes unnecessary” (p 237). The ceasefire was extended on December 22, 2004 and Naxalites too said that they would exercise “restraint” and expressed willingness to discuss GR 7. The mediators said that the government was agreeable to hold a second round of talks after “seeing the observance of the restraint by both sides”, i e, by the Naxalites. In their letter dated December 23, 2004, the CCC said that government and they agreed that there had been no violation of the ceasefire by any side. The letter asked that the alleged incidence of mine blast and occupation of lands of the speaker be referred to the Monitoring Committee. However, the CCC report includes a statement dated January 9, 2005 by Naxalite emissaries about an encounter in Prakasam district. A statement dated January 11, 2005 sent to the CCC by the government in their turn listed three incidents
of violations by the Naxalites in the month of November 2004. Two encounters were reported on January 15, 2005 and, the very next day, the CPI(Maoist) withdrew from the talks. Four statements of the CCC, thereafter, deplore the violent acts of Naxalites.

The report ends with press clippings from August 17, 2005 announcing the ban on CPI(Maoist) and seven other frontal organisations.

This part of the report (November 2004-January 2005) is relatively sparse. There is nothing about the government and CCC stance on the killing of 11 Naxalites by the police or coverts, especially the encounters on January 6, 8 and 16, refusal of police permission for their public rallies, or intimidating statements by police and government leaders. A spate of killings, including the Manala massacre and 40 other encounters took place in 2005. Undoubtedly, the Naxalites too committed grievous errors, especially the massacre on August 15, 2005. However, the 2004 talks resulted in inflicting a serious blow to the movement. Some of the leaders (Riyaz Khan of CPI(ML) Janashakti) who participated in the talks, as well as 500-600 other cadres, were killed. Evidently, the Andhra police benefited from the talks.
Difficulties in Mediation
The efforts made by the CCC show what mediation by those whose credentials are impeccable can achieve. But they also show the limitations. Even while accepting the importance of talks, they are not enough to end the rule of deeply entrenched vested interests, though they can be an important step to help realise this. But when talks take place between two unequals
there is an element of disequilibrium inherent in the process. The Naxalites had to accept that they were not talking from a position of strength. But the process also made it incumbent upon the government to instil confidence as the stronger side. It was the government, which had to remove the trust deficit, given that on previous occasions negotiations were aborted by their action or inaction. Therefore, a great deal depends on the sincerity of the government. It is here that organised public support in favour of talks was conspicuous by its absence.

While the CCC accepts much of Naxalite analysis of the Indian reality, they also believe that a non-violent struggle can help realise most of it within the bounds of the existing constitutional framework. This made them acceptable to both sides and to occupy the space between the two adversaries.

Therefore, an analysis by the CCC of the failures of the 2002 and 2004-05 efforts in Andhra Pradesh, including an interrogation
of their own beliefs, would be quite in order. On their part, while experience of Andhra Pradesh has made the Naxalites wary about talks, they cannot escape from a self-critical look at their own contribution to their undoing. The fourth report, because it deals with preparations for holding of first round of talks and subsequent efforts to save them, makes for a formidable and credible source. We get to know those whom the central government is now engaged in “liquidating”, as well as an appreciation of the difficulties of mediating in negotiations with the Naxalites. And, for those who believe in the legitimacy of resistance, there are valuable lessons to learn.
Email: gnavlakha@gmail.com

EPW

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