Star Ananda, the television face of West Bengal’s most powerful bourgeois media group, had a panel discussion on the killing of Kishenji, the CPI (Maoist) leader. The intention was put CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta on the mat, for having dared to express some sympathy for the slain Kishenji.
Guruas Dasgupta’s stance is not new. Within reformist politics, he has always shown exemplary courage. Back in the 1970s, when he was a CPI youth leader, he was well-known as one of the people defending tortured Naxalites during the notorious Sidhhartha Sankar Ray regime. But back then, even Indira Gandhi was hiding her politics under the mask of socialism. Today, when unabashed nationalism and economic liberalism rule, when India is seeking to position itself as not merely a regional power but as an emerging global powerhouse, Dasgupta, who also happens to be a leading trade unionist, the General Secretary of the AITUC, and an MP from Ghatal, is the most important mainstream left leader to have questioned the entire story behind Kishenji’s death. Like Varvara Rao, he has questioned whether there was truly an encounter or whether Kishenji had been arrested and then killed in cold blood.
Among the various modes of attack on Dasgupta, one came from police and ex-army people, including the left’s one time darling, General Shankar Roychowdhury. The point was, people shed copious tears when someone like Kishenji is killed, but when our brave jawans lay down their lives, whether in Kargil or elsewhere, whether they are soldiers, the paramilitary if the police, people ignore their heroic deaths in defence of the country.
We should consider a few brief points here, which can be developed at later times, but which do need at least a summary articulation.
First, what is or should be the revolutionary attitude to the armed forces, to the police, etc? Is it not obvious, someone might ask, that even if a revolution does take place, for law and order maintenance, for peace-keeping, for myriad reasons we will continue to need the police? And is it not even more obvious that as long as we have threats from across the border we must have an alert army? And finally, even today, whatever your criticism of governments, should you not salute the heroic jawans for doing their duty?
Any revolutionary, who answers these simply by quotations from Marx, Engels and Lenin, or from any other chosen canonical figure, is engaging in sterile politics. If we arrive at conclusions similar to what thy said, it has to be on the basis of our reflections on the current reality.
Why will we need the army, and why do we need it now? The Indian army is not a merely silent actor carrying out the will of the people expressed through their elected members of parliament wehose majority determines the composition of the government and the shape of policy, as official theory would have us believe. As the recent debate over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act showed, the army is an active and vocal shaper of policies. The chief Minister of a province, an elected representative, wanted the AFSPA lifted from some parts of the province. The army replied that this was not acceptable to it. Any talk of modifications of the AFSPA has been met with strident opposition from the army. It is therefore necessary to mention briefly what the AFSPA is about. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) is one of the more draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has passed. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to "maintain the public order". It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India. They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the "seven sisters". The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel. This legislation is sought to be justified by the Government of India, on the plea that it is required to stop the North East states from seceeding from the Indian Union. The 1972 amendments to the AFSPA extended the power to declare an area disturbed to the Central Government. In the 1958 version of the AFSPA only the state governments had this power. In the 1972 Lok Sabha debates it was argued that extending this power to the Central Government would take away the State's authority. In the 1958 debates the authority and power of the states in applying the AFSPA was a key issue. The Home Minister had argued that the AFSPA broadened states' power because they could call in the military whenever they chose. The 1972 amendment shows that the Central Government is no longer concerned with the state's power. Rather, the Central Government now has the ability to overrule the opinion of a state governor and declare an area disturbed. The army can shoot to kill, under the powers of section 4(a), for the commission or suspicion of the commission of the following offenses: acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons, carrying weapons, or carrying anything which is capable of being used as a fire-arm or ammunition. To justify the invocation of this provision, the officer need only be "of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order" and only give "such due warning as he may consider necessary".
The army can arrest anyone without a warrant under section 4(c) who has committed, is suspected of having committed or of being about to commit, a cognisable offense and use any amount of force "necessary to effect the arrest".
Section 5 says that the army has to hand over arrested persons to the police with the "least possible delay". There is no definition in the act of what constitutes the least possible delay. As a result, arbitrary arrests are regular.
Section 6 gives full immunity to the army for any action, since no legal proceeding can be brought against any member of the armed forces acting under the AFSPA, without the permission of the Central Government.
According to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, some 8000 persons who have “disappeared” cannot be traced because of laws like the AFSPA which frees the Indian army from any accountability in Kashmir. Our brave jawans, in other words, are busier killing Kashmiri youth than in fighting in Kargil.
This raises another, even more basic question – what is the Indian army doing in Kashmir? Answer – trying to hold on to valuable real estate. If Kashmir is an integral part of India, why does India spend so much time killing civilians of that part of India? Why does the army and the paramilitary forces beat up journalists for covering incidents of protest in Kashmir, to say nothing of the Kashmiris who are routinely killed, tortured, sexually assaulted? Despite all media hype to the contrary, when has anyone proved in a court of law that Maoists assaulted or raped women the way the army and the paramilitary do with impunity in Kashmir, in Manipur, and anywhere else?
There is another important difference that one feels should be highlighted. It is true, that of late, surrendered Maoists (or are they captured Maoists or locals cxompelled to play roles taught by the state?) have said things about how the CPI (Maoist) tortures people, and forces them to do certain things. It is also known that if you hold so-called courts where armed guerrillas are all over the place, verdicts contrary to the ones sought by the guerrillas might not be delivered. Nevertheless, the bulk of people joining the CPI (Maoists) have done so out of certain ideological-political commitments. One can debate the precise nature of that ideology, as we in Radical socialist have repeatedly done. For that, the present author was once attacked as a degenerate by a Maoist supporter. But one has to make a distinction between an institution like the state, which prints Gandhi all voer the place, including in every note, which claims it is there to upholds the constitution, and then uses massive violence. The “brave jawans” are cannon fodder of the state. At the same time, in order to make them feel important, in order to keep them happy while they do the dirty work of the state, the state has various sops – ranging from alcohol at low rates to, in “disturbed areas”, the right to rape and kill with impunity.
It is true, that deaths of young men, even in uniform, are sad losses to the country and to their families most certainly. But these deaths are very often unnecessary deaths, created by contending states and their struggles for power and their conflicting ambitions. When we re asled why we do not shed tears for jawans who died fighting the Maoists, we need to ask, exactly why are those jawans being sent to fight? In vast tracts of India, tribals are repressed. Had the state spent half the money it does for Green Hunt and similar operations, on real development for the people, supplying them with education, health care, providing them with opportunities to earn more , would the CPI(Maoist) have found such strong support in those areas? But the state cannot do it. The Indian elite can enrich itself, can amass vast amount of capital, by superexploiting adivasis, by repeatedly evicting them whenever mineral wealth is to be extracted, and so forth. So the jawans who are dying in Green Hunt or in Manipur or in Kashmir, even if they have been led to believe, through repeated propaganda drives that they are serving the country, are in precise fact serving the country’s rulers.
Before shedding tears for them, will General Roychowdjhury shed tears for the unnamed and unnumbered adivasis who across india lose land, way of life, and are tortured for ever standing up and protesting (I am leaving aside those killed, for of course, General Roychowdhury and all his cothinkers will yell that everyone killed must be a Maoist)?