In a rambling 19,500-word essay published a week ago in Outlook magazine in India and the Guardian newspaper, Ms. Roy writes of recent experiences following the Maoists in the Dandakaranya forest, near where the security forces were ambushed this week. The piece was headlined “Gandhi, but with guns.”
The comparison is obscene. Not only does it suggest an amoral nihilism, it also represents a rewriting of history. A Gandhian with a gun is as absurd as a Maoist pacifist. India’s founding father Mohandas Gandhi may not have been as perfect as some would make him out, but he did believe that only the right means could be used to reach an end, however noble. In 1922 he suspended a nationwide civil disobedience movement, when some Congress followers burned a police station in Chauri Chaura, killing over a dozen policemen and officers. Maoist ideology is precisely the opposite: The ends justify the means.
Maoists want an articulate messenger, and Ms Roy fulfils that role. Her poetic eloquence clothes their naked ambition of power, offering it respectability. Her fame helps make their struggle known to audiences abroad, where people with limited knowledge of India accept the romanticized image of warriors in the jungle fighting for justice that she writes about. In early April, while the Maoists were preparing to ambush the troops in the forest, Ms Roy was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a public forum with Noam Chomsky.
Ms Roy has explained Maoist violence as a response to the repressive state, suggesting that the tribal groups are rising against the state, getting even—an eye for an eye. But as Gandhi said, an eye for an eye leaves the world blind.
Roy can’t simply sweep the left’s murderous streak under the carpet. But that’s just meant to strike a balance, the “all too human” defense-
It’s a great disservice to everything that is happening here that the only thing that seems to make it to the outside world is the stiff, unbending rhetoric of the ideologues of a party that has evolved from a problematic past. When Charu Mazumdar famously said, “China’s Chairman is our Chairman and China’s Path is Our Path,” he was prepared to extend it to the point where the Naxalites remained silent while General Yahya Khan committed genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh), because at the time, China was an ally of Pakistan. There was silence too, over the Khmer Rouge and its killing fields in Cambodia. There was silence over the egregious excesses of the Chinese and Russian revolutions. Silence over Tibet. Within the Naxalite movement too, there have been violent excesses and it’s impossible to defend much of what they’ve done. But can anything they have done compare with the sordid achievements of the Congress and the BJP in Punjab, Kashmir, Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat…. And yet, despite these terrifying contradictions, Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded (and its many splinter groups) has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream. For that alone, we cannot judge him too harshly. Especially not while we swaddle ourselves with Gandhi’s pious humbug about the superiority of “the non-violent way” and his notion of trusteeship: “The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the good of society.”
How strange it is, though, that the contemporary tsars of the Indian Establishment—the State that crushed the Naxalites so mercilessly—should now be saying what Charu Mazumdar said so long ago: China’s Path is Our Path.
Few people will dispute the fact that the Indian state has a brutal side to it. The last sixty years are proof enough. But Mao is a different kind of animal. He was a mass murderer. “Parties” fighting to implement his ideology can hardly be any different.
Update: Here’s his Mint article on Roy and her Maostan.