A WORLD TO WIN    #30   (2004)


Inside MCC Country

Excerpt reprinted from the pamphlet "Inside MCC Country" by Aloke Banerjee, a journalist for the Times of India (June 2003).

From Jharkhand to Lal Khand

The present enormous growth of the MCCI [Maoist Communist Centre of India] had a humble beginning 30 years ago. But even then, Bihar had been selected as part of a strategic area by the founding fathers of the Party - Kanai Chatterjee, Amulya Sen and Chandrashekhar Das. And ever since MCC began its work, Chatterjee had been insisting that formation of a red army and a base area must be identified as the principal task of the party. In fact, it was this strategy, which gave MCC a distinct identity as compared to the CPI(ML), which was much more powerful in the early 1970s. To put the central task into practice, largely on an experimental basis, the MCC sent some of its members to the Kanksa-Budbud-Aushgram area in Burdwan in West Bengal in the early 1970s.

"We knew that the work here would not survive and would be crushed soon. But we needed field-level experience, and the plan was to recruit some active and advanced forces and depute them to Bihar", said Bihar-Jharkhand-Bengal special area committee member Kamal. Kanai Chatterjee and Amulya Sen themselves began working in Bihar and in areas that now fall within Jharkhand. "We were clear from the beginning that it would be unwise to work wherever we found contact. So, from our inception, we concentrated our work in the area that we felt could be converted into a base area in future," Kamal said.

Work began from Dhanbad and Gaya in Bihar. By the time the struggle in Kanksa faced a setback after a ruthless police repression, the MCC was already active in Hazaribagh and Giridih. Simultaneously, the Party began working in Uttar Pradesh and Assam. Around 12 members from Kanksa, who gained first-hand experience of how to build struggle from a scratch and how to fight feudalism in the villages, now began to work in Bihar. Some members from Kolkata [Calcutta] and Hooghly were also sent later.

"What we tried to do right from the start was to build the Revolutionary Peasants Committees and establish them as centres of political power. We also learnt that even crucial decisions on struggle should be taken by the people of the villages and under no circumstances should decisions be imposed on them by the Party from above. The job of the Party was to explain the situation politically so that people could take correct decisions on their own", said Marandi.

The results were dramatic. Struggle soon spread in a vast area against the landlords, traders, moneylenders, contractors in the forests and the coal mines as well as against dreaded dacoits [bandits]. The wrath of the people was sharpest against them. From Gaya and Dhanbad, the struggle spread to Aurangabad, Bokaro, Hazaribagh and Giridih. Attacks were launched against landlords. Their land was seized and distributed among the villagers. Several moneylenders and contractors were killed, after which money lending as a business virtually ceased to exist. The landlords began to flee to the cities. Most of the dacoits were eliminated. This gave a tremendous boost to the growth and prestige of the MCC.

The key to the final success in Jharkhand, however, came from the matured handling of the Jharkhand movement and converting the nationality movement into class struggle that demanded the establish of "Lal Khand (Red Territory)". The agitation that began with a demand for a separate nation and then for regional autonomy and a separate state has now largely been converted by the MCC into a struggle that is no longer limited within the boundaries of one state but into a political and social movement that demands uprooting the existing socio-economic and political structure of the entire country. The slogan "Jharhkand ko Lal Khand me badal dalo (convert Jharkhand into Lalkhand)" played a pivotal role in the transformation of a struggle that has now involved millions of people spread over a vast territory.

But when the Jharkhand movement was launched by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) led by Sibu Soren and Vinod Behari Mahato, the MCC was a mere spectator, having little strength to influence or even intervene. So the MCC decided to get involved in the struggle to acquaint itself with the true fighting elements in the movement both at the grassroots and at the leadership levels. MCC leaders even talked to the top JMM leaders, including Sibu Soren and Mahato, to convince them that a separate state was no solution for the tribals and that what was required, instead, was to uproot the existing social system. The classes that oppress would still remain even if the government accepted the demand for a separate state, and it was necessary to get rid of exploitation itself by liquidating the exploiting classes from the state structure.

Sibu Soren was not impressed. He had no reason to be. His popularity was increasing dramatically, and he was emerging as a national hero of the tribal cause. He had in his grip the passions of millions of tribal youth who were ready to sacrifice even their lives at his call. Mahato, however, gave a patient hearing to the MCC. Though not yet convinced by the Maoist argument, he was sure that these Maoists meant business.

The Jharkhand movement exploded into the Indian scene in 1973-74. What began with a demand for compensation for converted tribal land soon gained momentum as the JMM organisers added an entirely new dimension to it and demanded a separate nation for the tribals. When large-scale arrests were ordered by the government, which clearly panicked, seeing the ferocity of the movement, the JMM leadership raised more aggressive slogans like "vote se nehi, chotse lenge Jharkhand (we will get Jharkhand not through votes but through bloodshed)" and "maro daroga maro mahajan (kill police officials and moneylenders)". Senior police officials were annihilated. Seizure of land began. Continuous strikes for 48 hours and then even for 72 hours became routine.

But since end-1974, the movement's leaders began to retract. They had achieved their purpose. They were powerful. Now it was time to negotiate with the government to obtain plum prizes. Sibu began talking to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1974, three notorious robbers were lynched by the people at Kundko in Giridih in presence of Sibu. Three days later, the police surrounded the village and opened fire, killing three and injuring two. Sibu did not protest. On the contrary, he advised the people to shun violence and co-operate with the government and the police. And with this began his gradual isolation from the people. In 1977 he participated in the elections.

The MCC began from where Sibu retreated. They gave a call not to surrender but to advance the struggle. Mahato, who was against Sibu's sudden volte face, offered the MCC a helping hand. In public meetings, he began to praise the MCC and advised the people to follow the Maoists and not to compromise with the ruthless state, which had killed and tortured the tribals for the just struggle they had launched. Slowly but surely, the MCC advanced, armed with some of the slogans the JMM had popularised. They continued the seizure and distribution of landlords' land. Moneylenders were attacked. Along with it began a consistent campaign that the struggle for Jharkhand is to be converted into a vigorous class struggle. Sibu accused Mahato of being an MCC agent. He split the JMM in 1985. But by then the reins of the movement were already in MCC's hands.

Land seizure movement began in full swing since 1986. Between 1987 and 1990, over 7,000 acres [2,833 hectares] of land in Chatangpur were confiscated and distributed among the villagers. A struggle against exploitation of the tribals by the forest officials also gained momentum. Forest offices were attacked. Gradually almost all the forest officials fled. In 1991 the landlords formed the Sunlight Sena - a private army - to combat the MCC. Within a year, Maoist armed squads liquidated the entire Sena. The power, prestige and credibility of the MCC further increased. And from that time on the forward march of the Party has continued. The movement for Lal Khand is a classic example of converting a nationality movement into class struggle.

Hits and Misses

The government's efforts to root out the "Maoist extremists" have been consistent and ruthless. The strategy has been two-pronged: to kill them, arrest the sympathizers, destroy villages and beat up men, women and children to drive home the point that any association with the MCC will be suicidal. With the stick has always come the carrot. Developmental activities have been initiated. Food and clothes have been distributed by politicians, ministers, collectors and senior police officials free of cost. The attempt obviously has been to convince the villagers that the government is, after all, not that indifferent to the people's plight and is ready to offer a helping hand if the villagers give up their association with the Maoists.

All such attempts of the government have so far yielded little results. The people of Jharkhand have been ignored and taken for granted for too long. The tribal male has always been a slave for the upper caste and the rich to be whipped, their muscles and bones to be employed in gruelling toil to reap unlimited profit. The tribal female has been nothing but flesh to be torn apart in lust. The tribal culture has been trampled upon. Their simplicity has always been exploited by the moneylender and the landlord. Deprived of food and shelter, their hunger and poverty have been used to draw them into the cobweb. Their forest land and those for cultivation have been snatched away. Elections for them have been nothing but mockery of democracy with hundreds of them hounded out of their houses and forced to vote for a particular party. And all rebellion has been nipped in the bud with lathis [batons], bullets and wine. They lived like animals and died like animals until the MCC came.

Only the Maoists told them that they were still human beings. The Maoists gave them back their honour and dignity. They learnt afresh that they could still afford to protest. They learnt afresh that it was possible to fight back bullet for bullet and win back their land. From the MCC, they learnt that they were not the only ones to be exploited in this big world and that people were still fighting back and winning. For the first time, "politicians" came to live with them - to share their miserable lives and not to take advantage of their situation. And they fell in love with them and joined their call for revolution. They killed the notorious robbers and saw the MCC repelling the retaliation successfully. They seized the landlords' land and saw him not raiding their houses at night but fleeing to the town. They saw brutal moneylenders taking to their heels. And finally they saw that they were emerging as their own masters.

The reasons for the failure of the government to isolate the villages from the MCC lie in such a history. No senior leader of the MCC has ever been arrested, in spite of the government declaring awards ranging from Rs 1 million to Rs 5 million [11,000-50,000 pounds sterling or 20,000-100,000 US dollars]. No regular guerrilla squad has so far been fully eliminated. Only the villagers have had to bear the wrath of the police and the administration, and they have accepted it willingly. Operation Eagle, Operation X, Operation Shikhar and Operation Hill Top, undertaken by successive governments against the MCC, have all met with failure because the government has been unable to win back the confidence of the people. "Model villages" have been set up. Hospitals have been built. Cattle, tube wells, clothes and food have been distributed after each "operation". But the villagers considered these to be bribes. They accepted them but did not accept the government.

Operation Hill Top, which came to an abrupt end in May 2003, had employed thousands of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. The forces had been led by top officials, including the director general of police (DGP) himself. The police moved with armoured vehicles, helicopters hovering above them. But it turned out to be nothing but a massive show of strength, which impressed none. The MCC remained as elusive as ever. The success report filed by the DGP in front of newsmen was a joke. "We have got a first-hand idea on the topography of Jhumra Pahar," he said during his press conference, with a long face.

The military strategy adopted by the MCC has so far outwitted the government. The terrain makes large-scale deployment of CRPF and the BSF a time-consuming affair. With absence of roads, the police have to travel on foot. Their movement has always been slow because of the fear of landmines. But the greatest hurdle has been a hostile population. As the government forces, which are now always large in numbers, have to travel through the villages, the villagers inform the MCC men and women before the police can reach the spot. All raids as a result become futile and damaging for the police's morale. The sagging spirit of the police gets further battered as every month MCC platoons lay several successful ambushes, killing or injuring the personnel and decamping with the weapons.

The situation in Jharkhand, as in Bihar and parts of Chattisgarh, has come to such a state that the police have given up trying to enter villages influenced by the MCC without mobilising a huge force. Even then, they enter the villages during the day and never at night, destroy a few houses, beat up whoever they can lay their hands on, arrest a couple of villagers and leave in a hurry. Several senior police officers have openly confessed before the media that they feared for their lives. Top police and state home department officials suspect that this fear psychosis is one of the reasons why the news of raids is often reaching the MCC even before the raids are conducted. A retired army officer has been deputed as the governor of Chattisgarh with a brief that he should employ his counter-insurgency experiences to tame the Maoists.