"We Will Spread This Fire" – The Maoists of Lalgarh, West Bengal, India

This is a great interview. There is a huge movement of Maoists that has sprung up in West Bengal along the border with Jharkand in Eastern India. Maoists are already everywhere in Jharkand, but there are not that many of them in West Bengal. One reason is that the Left is big in West Bengal, but it’s also useless.
The CPI (Marxist) has been in power as part of the Left Front for 30 years and for the people of Lalgarh, nothing good has happened. Prior to that, there were 30 more years of nothing. I figure this crowd has had 60 years to fix this mess in India and they don’t have a damn thing to show for it. All over India, 70% of the population lacks basic needs such as sufficient food, clean water and adequate shelter. That’s in addition to not living a life of basic dignity.

Apologists for the system say these things take time. Truth is, you wait your whole lifetime for these promises that will never occur because they are not on the state’s agenda. In the last 15 years, India’s economic growth has been explosive but the rate of malnutrition remains at 48%. Maybe 2-3% of the population are benefiting from this economic growth. Forget it. Time to get rid of the Indian system and give the Maoists a chance.
This CPI-M is a fake Communist party if there ever was one. These tribals are said to be outside the caste system, but that does not mean that they are treated well. Their social status is down near Untouchables nevertheless. In recent days, the Maoists have almost completely taken over the Lalgarh region. The result was an invasion of about 1,000-1,500 troops, police and CPI-M goons. They won’t defeat the Maoists, but this does not look good.
We will spread this fire, says the Maoist from Lalgarh 21 Jun 2009, 0848
My name is Manoj. It’s not the name my parents gave me, but all my comrades call me ‘Manoj’. My father’s name is Dhiren Murmu. I am his second son and I am 25. I was born at Bamundanga village in Salboni. I’ve lived most of my life in this hopeless village.
Our village falls under the Kansijora Gram panchayat. The Left Front has been in power here for 30 years. Salboni has always been a CPM stronghold. But, in 30 years, neither the state government, nor the panchayat and Zilla Parishad took any interest at all in developing this area. We might have been living in the Stone Age.
When it rains here, the dirt tracks turn muddy and we are forced to drag ourselves and our cattle through the muck. We are not able to ride our bicycles or use carts. We don’t have clean drinking water. People are forced to drink filthy, yellow water. After sunset, we live in the dark as there is no electricity here. No jobs either. During the paddy season, we work in the fields and then sit idle for the rest of the year. Because we are tribals, no one has bothered to do anything for us.
In 2002, we got tired of being treated like rodents. So, the villagers got together and demanded development in our area. This infuriated the local CPM bosses. The police and Marxists slapped false cases on us, accusing us of working for the People’s War Group (PWG). They branded us Maoists. So we began to think we might as well join the Maoists.
Things turned nasty quickly. The former police superintendent of West Midnapore, K C Meena, lodged an FIR against the entire village. Nearly 90% of the men and teenage boys were charged with being Naxalite. We knew what was coming. We had to do something to save ourselves.
I was just 18 at the time. I was in class XII at the local school. But, I too joined in protests against the police. Within days, the police filed a case against me, my father and brother. They accused all of us of working for the PWG. We had nothing to do with the PWG. Our family has always supported the Congress party. In 1998, when Mamata Banerjee formed the Trinamool Congress (TMC), we switched loyalty to her.
One day, police jeeps rolled into our village, picked up people from their houses, bundled everyone into their vehicles and dumped all of us into the Midnapore jail. That was where I first met Maoist leader Sushil Roy. I found the Maoist ideology very appealing. Roy asked me to join the Maoists so that I could help the poor. I liked his ideas. Then I met two PWG leaders in prison. And I realized that neither Congress nor the TMC can stop the CPM’s terror. I also realized that under CPM rule, we had lost the right to speak up. It was time to take a stand and speak up.
I joined the Maoists. They gave me a new name, a new identity and a new life. Now, I work for the Lalgarh movement. I joined this great surge of people last year. On November 5, the police arrived here looking for people who had blasted landmines at chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’ s convoy at Salboni.
In Lalgarh, the police rounded up innocent tribal women and began to molest and torture them. One woman lost an eye. Others were badly injured. After this incident, we decided to join the Lalgarh movement. It was our party’s decision. The Maoists always stand with the deprived. We joined them at Nandigram and Singur. Now, we have joined them in Lalgarh.
It’s been easy for us to win the people’s support. Most of them have been victims of torture by police. The people listened to us and joined the Peoples’ Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA). Opposition party workers have also supported us. Everybody is rebelling against the CPM cadre and police.
We know the government forces want to crush us. But, we plan to expand our area of influence. As soon as we are able to turn Lalgarh and Junglemahal (a forested area spanning three districts – Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore) into a Maoist-dominated area, we will apply our ideology here. We will undertake development work for the poor. We will raise money through public donations. And nobody will pay tax to the government anymore.
After victory at Lalgarh, we will expand our fight to the tribal communities of Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chattisgarh. Our war has just begun.
Resume of a rebel
Once peaceful forest-dwellers, now they challenge the Indian state. Here’s a profile of that little-known species, the typical Indian Maoist:
Age – 18 to 30 years
Gender – Both male and female
Ethnic stock – Austro-Asiatic (tribal/indigenous people)
Linguistic group – Austro-Asiatic (tribal) and old Dravidian dialects
Income group – Below poverty line (Rs 12 per person per day)
Occupation – Small peasant, landless labour, jobless, jungle-dweller
Area of operation – Uttar Pradesh, MP, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka
Political affiliation – CPI (Maoist)
Other names – Naxalite, Red ultra, terrorist
Maoists by Numbers
Total number 50,000
Number of armed rebels 20,000
Area under control One-fifth of India’s forests
Active in 165 of the country’s 604 districts
From Naxalbari to Lalgarh: Such a long journey down the road to revolution
1960s
Inspired by Mao Zedong, Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal of the CPI (Marxist) develop a “revolutionary opposition” to the party. They lead a violent Santhal uprising in West Bengal’s Naxalbari village in 1967. Later, they break away from the CPI(M). Uprisings are organized in several parts of the country. In 1969, CPI (Marxist-Leninist) takes birth.
1970s
The radical leftists fragment and the CPI (ML) becomes weaker across the country. This causes regional groups such as the Maoist Communist Centre, which evolved out of the Dakshin Desh-group, to strengthen in Bihar and Jharkhand and the People’s War Group to assume leadership of the armed rebels in Andhra Pradesh and adjoining states.
1980-90s
At least 30 Naxalite groups are thought to be active across the country, with a combined membership of around 30,000 activists. But their differences over their perceived “revolutionary” roles often result in bloody battles. Many groups, particularly in Bihar and AP, are accused of land-grabbing and extortion.
2000s
Groups such as the CPI (ML) give up violence, enter mainstream politics and participate in elections. In 2004, the MCC and People’s War join hands to form a new entity, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which is now the biggest armed group ever to challenge the very existence of the Indian state.

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8 thoughts on “"We Will Spread This Fire" – The Maoists of Lalgarh, West Bengal, India”

  1. it is a fact that the people of lalgarh are being tortured ruthlessly in the name of development and industrialization.but no industrialization is possible at present because of the recession.moreover predicted low rainfall will add woes to our problem.so it is natural that maoist will extend their political base and increase their armed force to fight against the central troops.it needs mention that gradually the urban population is showing their inclination towards maoist.i do feel that they will have 2 millions soldiers.

  2. I am sorry Robert but I do not think the Maoists are going to rule India ever. The biggest support base of the Maoists are primarily the tribals and lower caste populations living in the backward parts of India. But they do not make up the majority but a sizable minority. The large middle caste, lower middle class/ farmer population have no interest in Maoism at all and probably detest it.
    The truth is this big middle caste group and Indians in general are a very traditional, mercantile people. One walk in an Indian street and you will be surprised at the number of shops you see. Even slum dwellers run small shops successfully. Except these tribal populations who make up about 20-25% of the population at best, nobody is ever going to buy this idea. If the maoists do become too successful in some areas, the government will send in the army which has a good experience in keeping dissent down in states like Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram etc… The Indian army will crush the movement like a Sumo wrestler crushing a tiny lizard. Sorry.

    1. I think this movement is going to be very successful, but I am not sure to be honest. A fellow from West Bengal stopped by the other day and said he thought that in a couple of years, there would be 2 million Maoists in that state alone.
      I agree with you that the Maoists have to expand their base beyond the tribals, and definitely to the cities.
      I am stunned at the success of this group. I really do not know what they are capable of. They seem to be doing some amazing things from my vantage point.

    2. The Maoists are popular in only a section of India namely the East (West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh), parts of the North East like Assam, Manipur, Mizoram (but the groups seeking independence from Indian rule are more dominant here), some parts of the south like Kerala. But in the rest of the country it has no appeal. I think the main aim of the Maoists should be to make the government realise the plight of these tribals and lower caste peoples who have been completely left out of the recent economic boom. The upper caste in Bihar have their own militia called as the Ranbir Sena (Ranbir army). The lower caste population in the most populous state of Utter Pradesh have a party representing it called the BSP but it is not Maoist and they steal away some potential maoists. Indeed ironically the lower caste BSP is getting closer to the upper caste right wing Hindu party of the BJP lately. In the west, the people are more naturally right winged. In the Maharashtra state right winged Shiv Sena rule supreme whose leader Bal Thakaray is a fan of Adolf Hitler. In Gujrat it is the right winged BJP. The west is more prosperous than the east.
      Thus outside a particular region of India, maoism has very little support. Indeed the right winged reactionary BJP is way bigger in India.
      But Maoism is way big in Nepal, no doubt about it. In Nepal the upper chaste Brahmins and Chettris who look more North Indian have a history of exploiting the lower castes as well as the Buddhist mongoloid highlanders like the Sherpas. There is a lot of promise in Nepal.

    3. Not really, they are also very popular in Jharkand, Chattisargh and in parts of Maharashtra. There are quite a few of them in the very far eastern part of Maharashtra. The Maoists definitely need to move beyond the Maoist Belt where they are holed up currently.

  3. CPM is a goonda party. Naxalites belong to similar category. Subhas bose was driven put of India years ago by Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. Had Bose lived and Indians rallied behind him India would be different. All these leftist pigs in India should be shot.

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