Author : Niranjan Sahoo

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 18, 2017

During his own lifetime, Mao Zedong struggled with his own ideological prognosis and abandoned his earlier visceral dislike for capitalism.

India, China and the ironies of Maoism

Source Image: Edwin Lee/CC BY-ND 2.0

This is the fifteenth part in the series The China Chronicles.

Read all the articles here.

India's longest running internal insurgency named after Chairman Mao Zedong is about to turn fifty years this month. Incidentally, 2016 marked the completion of fifty years of Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution (1966-1977). While Mao's ideological creation — the People's Republic of China (PRC) has gone through a massive makeover and transformation in its ideological and political orientation, closely resembling (even better) any classical capitalist country of the West, his ideological progeny in India continue to maintain their unflinching faith in his strategy of "political power flows from the barrel of the gun." In a strange twist of ironies, Indian Maoists still hope to establish the Proletariat State by "overthrowing semi-colonial bourgeoisie state." While Chairman Mao has lost most of his luster and appeal in his homeland, he remains Chairman for most Maoists in India. In the ironies of irony, Indian Maoists continue to call him "China's chairman is our Chairman."

China's long shadow over Indian Maoists

On 25 May 1967, poor peasants mostly Santhal tribes people with their lathis and bows undertook a daring raid of jotedars or landlords and their paddy granaries at Naxalbari village, situated in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. This radical left wing movement ideologically inspired by Mao Zedong's ideology and revolutionary strategy was openly endorsed by China's influential newspaper the People's Daily as: "Spring thunder breaks over India." The Communist Party run newspaper that devoted a full editorial page on the event declared:

"A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India. Revolutionary peasants in the Darjeeling area have risen in rebellion under the leadership of a revolutionary group of the Indian Communist Party, a red area of rural revolutionary armed struggle has been established in India. This is a development of tremendous significance for the Indian People's revolutionary struggle.. The revolutionary group of the Indian Communist party have done the absolutely correct thing and they have done well."

It may puzzle the lay readers how an uprising of poor peasants surrounding handful of villages of an eastern Indian state make so much of impact within Chinese circle. The Naxalbari rebellion from where the name Naxalite (for Maoist) originated was a culmination of a series of initiatives inspired by Mao's ideology and political thought. The Chinese Communist Revolution under Mao and its heroic overthrow of nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek through an armed peasant rebellion in 1949 had left a deep impact on Indian communist leaders and revolutionaries. The success of the Chinese Revolution had its reverberations within the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI) (M). The CPI (M), which emerged as a new party in 1964 (after a major split in the original Communist party of India or CPI), had many prominent leaders such as Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal who wanted to drive the new party in the line of Mao's ideology and strategy. The charismatic and firebrand Charu Majumdar for instance brought out his famous Eight Documents in 1965 that argued CPI (M) to endorse Mao's strategy of armed rebellion against the Indian state. So much so, Kanu Sanyal took a five member revolutionary team to China in 1968 to take up a two-and-a-half-months guerilla warfare training programme. Of course, their radical and extremist ideological positioning led to a split in the CPI(M) and the formation of a radical left leaning party CPI — Marxist-Leninist or CPI (M-L) in 1969.

The CPI (M-L) easily known as Charu's faction (mainly led by Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal) was instrumental in triggering the Naxalbari protests and its subsequent spread to wide swathes of areas in India. Charu Majumdar's assertion, that India's constitution was a mask for a semi-colonial system and should be overthrown by a peasant rebellion in the same way as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which found support among landless peasants, dispossessed adivasis (tribals) and urban intellectuals and romantics. While the Naxalbari rebellion was put down by strong police action in a matter of weeks, its sparks had flew to many regions of country. While Majumdar was easily nabbed by police and subsequently paid with his life in 1972 (allegedly by police torture), his ideological creation continues to wage the armed struggle against the Indian state.

Even at its weakest moment today (after being reduced from 223 districts to 106 in matter of few years), Maoists remain a major cause of worry for Indian state.

Read also | Dealing with Maoist threats: Time ripe for political dialogues

The daring Maoist attack in Sukma that cost the lives of 25 soldiers belonging mainly to the paramilitary force, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is a reminder that the revolution is very much alive in India.

Photo: Edwin Lee/CC BY-ND 2.0

This brings one to ponder how an ideology that has long lost its appeal among the Chinese masses and often been demonised as "catastrophic" and "obsolete" by the subsequent regimes in China and even among strong ideologues of the Communist Party retains ideological appeal among Indian Maoists. Of course, it is open knowledge that Mao Zedong disliked Majumdar and his revolutionary strategy. On a number of occasions, CPP derided Indian Maoists as "revisionists" and ones who are hell bent on replicating the Chinese model as it would not work in Indian conditions, because it was a democracy. It is, well known that during his own lifetime, Mao Zedong struggled with his own ideological prognosis and abandoned his earlier visceral dislike for capitalism by geopolitically embracing the United States in 1972. Thus, it is a puzzle why Indian Maoists continue to repose unwavering faith in Mao and his rusted ideology. As they turn fifty, the time is ripe for Maoists and their leadership to abandon Mao and embrace India's parliamentary democracy. They must take a leaf from the post-Mao Chinese leadership book and learn how "real mass empowerment" can be achieved without arms and rebellion.

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Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo, PhD, is a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Governance and Politics Initiative. With years of expertise in governance and public policy, he now anchors ...

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