It is not surprising that we come across what is dismissed as “pious humbug” in our society’s pursuit of peaceful social and political change that will lead to justice, equity and freedom. Quite often, however, there’s hard-headed common sense in its formulations, such as, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”. Never does this so-called platitude ring more true than in an age when the technology of warfare maximises the probability of mutually assured destruction, however the combatants may justify their conflicting “causes”.
In the war raging in the Redlands, the case against the Indian state no doubt sounds convincing. Despite swearing at the altar of a democratic, socialist constitution, the state has for more than six decades perpetrated a social order in which the inherent structural violence subjugates, exploits, displaces, tortures and destroys the poor and the weak to benefit the rich and powerful. It’s from this scathing indictment of the state that the Maoist combatants claim legitimacy for their armed struggle for the overthrow of such a state. But even if a far more stringent atonement is required of the state, shouldn’t the Maoists also pause and ponder why, after more than 40 years of spiralling violence since their Spring Thunder avatar of 1967, they have failed completely in bringing about a just order. Shouldn’t they also ask if they want a world where everyone sees beautifully with both eyes or where everyone is blind? Shouldn’t they ask themselves if they want a world in which everyone is maimed and crippled from an orgy of ‘just’ violence?
As guns gradually usurp the space for debate, the antagonists kill not just the enemy but also start looking for and eliminating so called “sympathisers” or “informers”. If the state jails a doctor or a filmmaker who takes its democratic constitution seriously and helps the adivasis assert their right to life and freedom of expression promised therein, the Maoists too don’t hesitate to shoot a poor tribal for pointing out their trail to the security forces or even on suspicion of his having done so. The revolutionary strategy of the bullet provides no space for sparing, leave alone bringing into its fold, a poor tribal who may have acted against them to ensure survival for himself and his family in the face of the mighty state.
If arrogant capital or oppressive state alienates, revolution can also alienate. Regimenting yourself with the tools and weapons of the enemy while fighting the enemy, you might begin to cast yourself in the image of the enemy. Apart from manipulation by the state and other vested interests, private armies like the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and the Brahmarshi Sena in Bihar also feed and grow on alienation caused by a smug revolution. The morning after the killing of 76 security personnel in a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh, the PUCL vice-president and the state’s prisoner of conscience now released on bail, Binayak Sen, called up to again gently give vent to his conscience. In a short statement condemning the process of violence and militarisation that led to the death of these police personnel, apart from the earlier deaths of a large number of Maoist cadres and so many non-combatants whose loss of life has gone unrecorded, he said, “We can’t and don’t valorise the recourse to planned military strategy as a way to bring about social and political change either by the state or by those opposing it.” He renewed an appeal for the cessation of violence and the initiation of political dialogue to bring about peace with justice and equity. I don’t know if anybody is listening to what he has to say, but it does make sense.
Even though the death sentence is problematic in civilised jurisprudence, here’s a thought for the Indian state and its constitutional institutions at the moment of the conviction and sentencing of members of the Brahmarshi Sena who massacred 58 Dalits, including women and children, who they said were Naxalite supporters: make your sworn profession to a democratic constitution credible by lawfully and impartially punishing those violating its ideals, however powerful they may be. All said, more than the most serious internal security threat to be fought in the battlefield, Naxalism is a political challenge posed in a field that is the hearts and minds of the people. Ultimately, it’s not superior violence but superior politics that will win the day for one of the adversaries. Guns, bombs and mines might just spell oblivion.