Friday, February 05, 2010

Waiting at the ‘Red’ signal

In spite of Sino-Indian relations having turned a tad acrimonious over the last few months, China’s
seemingly most important export to India, Maoism, seems to be flourishing. India’s home grown Maoists, control more than forty thousand square kilometers of predominantly tribal dominated land, and their continuous sparing with state authorities continues. This begs the question of Maoism’s relevance in today’s markedly different economic and social framework.

To answer this, we must first look at its effects in history. Let’s see how it went in China. Clearly it’s a 50-50 there. While some Chinese historians and sections of the intelligentsia believe that the
foundations of today’s strong and resurgent China were laid in the principals of Maoism, others dispute its positive effects in nation building. The ‘Great Leap Forward’, launched in 1958, left more than 15 million rural Chinese succumbing to famine while 1966’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ left a similar number dead and even more disillusioned. Mao left China in the worst possible condition, both financially and socially, only to be rescued by Deng Xiaoping’s free-market leaning economic reforms. In Nepal, the Maoists joined the political mainstream and won the elections, but their success as a credible alternative is yet to be seen. In Peru, the Maoists, represented by the Shining Path party are a condemned lot, for the perpetration of violence against trade unions, elected officials and civilians alike, and are regarded as a brutal and violent terrorist organization. So, Maoism’s record in bringing about social change and harmony isn’t particularly shining. Should, then, its relevance to democratic India be regarded as minimal at best, and its tenets banished as a romantic idea about self sacrifice and greater good, rather than a seriously workable theory?

Not entirely. The growth of Maoism in India has actually done the country’s democracy and economic policy a rather large favor. It has clearly proven that our nation’s fundamental doctrines are still evolving and are flawed in their current identity. While it has succeeded in uplifting millions from the clutches of poverty and indignity, it has completely ignored a whole other demographic from its purview. And this non-included segment, mainly the tribal aggregations of the forest belt, has served as a laboratory of expression for the Maoists. Years of state apathy, abysmal levels of government engagement and complete lack of developmental initiatives have left these people disillusioned, wary and in need of a voice. The ‘red army’ has filled this need. Crucially though, this voice needs to be listened to. While the violence should be rightly decried, condemned and even actively suppressed by the government, the focus on the greater picture must not be lost. These areas need as much attention and engagement from the state as do other parts of the country. Development opportunities are a plenty with scores of organizations waiting to utilize these natural resource rich areas. The government’s sensitive handling of these proposals will no doubt play a huge part and getting the locals to participate in the area’s development should be the right result. This, clearly, must be supplemented by immediate attention to social infrastructure and education.

Till this is achieved, our journey to being a truly pluralistic and inclusive democracy will remain indefinitely delayed - at the 'red' signal.


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