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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 20 New Delhi May 5, 2018

Revolution or Insurrection: An Analysis of Governance Conflict in Central India

Saturday 5 May 2018


by Nayakara Veeresha

“When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties” —Marquis de Lafayette

India as a republic completed 68 years of parliamentary democracy. In the year 2017 was observed the hundredth anniversary of the revolution in Russia. It is one of the important historical events in modern political upheavals. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin the Bolshevik Party assumed political power ending Tsarist autocratic rule. The insurrection in Russia proved that the revolutionary ideology of Marx and Engels can be applied to any nation in the world to establish socialist democracy. It laid the foundation for the first communist state based on the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and formed local governments known as ‘Soviets’. The application of revolutionary methods to a backward society like Russia, where slavery and exploitation of the peasants, working class people had become the tradition, was in itself a remarkable achievement.

The Russian Revolution projected liberal values such as equality, justice as universal conditions for the establishment of a humane society. Yet all said it was not the entire history of the Russian Revolution; it did have its limitations. The lives of the people were not taken cognisance of especially in the working of violent methods of the revolution. It also institutionalised the monopoly of the violent means of the revolution over the constitutional methods of bringing about social and political changes in the country. The outbreak of the civil war in the aftermath of the October Revolution in Russia testified to these observations while creating a base for the spread of international communism. The central issue of the revolution that emerged from it was ‘land to the tiller’.

The revolutions in Cambodia, China, Columbia, Cuba and Vietnam provide ample evidences of the expansion of communism across the globe. Inspired by these international developments, in India the Communist Party of India was established in 1920 immediately after the Second World Congress of the Communist (Third) International. M.N. Roy was the main organiser of the party. The principal centres of the party activities were Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Kanpur. The Marxist-Leninist politics in India was pursued by activists such as Muzaffar Ahmad, S.A. Dange, Singaravelu Chettier and others. The colonial government did not allow the CPI party to extend its activities to the other parts of the country.

The poor socio-economic conditions of peasants, landless labourers as reflected during the Tebhaga movement in Bengal and Telangana region of the erstwhile princely State of Hyderabad were akin to the conditions of the serfs in Russia. The deshmukhs, doras and jotedars subjected the poor peasants to insubordination and exploited them by all means. The Andhra Mahasabha (erstwhile Andhra Janasangham) and the Kisan Sabha (peasant organisation of the CPI) inspired by the Russian Revolution were determined to carry out agrarian insurrection in Bengal and the Telangana region during 1946-51. The insurrections were suppressed by the then newly born independent Government of India through heavy military actions resulting in mass killings of peasants and other weaker sections of the society especially in the Telangana region.

To illustrate the loss of people’s lives, “We can say at a very conservative estimate that in the whole state at least 27 thousand to 40 thousand people lost their lives during and after the police action” as documented by a report in 1948. This signified the role of military violence in the evolution of the modern democratic republic of India. The unresolved agrarian issues, failure of land reforms and ineffective implementation of Land Ceiling Acts resurrected the agrarian issues and brought them to the centre-stage after two decades in 1967 in the form of the Naxalbari uprising.

The Naxalbari uprising critiqued the capitalistic mode of development adopted by the Indian Government. The split in the CPI resulted in two broad categories: one reflected the revisionist path of forming the first non-Congress Government in West Bengal in 1967. Another one opted for the revolutionary method. Charu Mazumdar, through his ‘historic eight documents’, called for ‘people’s protracted war’ hoping to replicate the Chinese mode of agrarian revolution. The Naxalbari uprising attracted the attention of not only India but also China. The editorial of the People’s Daily of Beijing called it ‘Spring Thunder over India’ on July 5, 1967.

The agrarian upheavals soon spread to Bihar (now Jharkhand), the agency areas of Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana State now) leading to the Srikakulam peasant uprising of 1967-70 under the leadership of Vempatapu Satyana-narayana and Adhibatla Kailasam. On one side the movement was led by Charu Mazumdar leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969 and on the other the People’s War Group (PWG) under the leadership of Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and Dr Kolluri Chiranjeevi in 1980. The goal of the PWG was for “uplifting the downtrodden tribal people who are considered the lowest rungs of Indian society”. The revolution didn’t take place in West Bengal and the Andhra Pradesh Government formed special Grey Hounds police force to fight with the people’s guerrilla force in 1989.

To sustain the revolutionary movement in India, the organisation has been divided into several categories. In this process one group has focused on the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh State and backward districts of Odisha State. The extreme backwardness coupled with deep forests, high adivasi population, low literacy and severe exploitation are some of the contributive factors that has given a social base for the revolutionaries here to carry out the politics of insurrection in Central India. The continued neglect of agrarian reforms, neo-liberal economic reforms, industria-lisation, mining and imported model of development in the post-1991 period have developed the fertile soil for the agrarian insurrection. Currently, the insurrection is active in ten States. Rather than addressing the root causes of insurrection, the Union and State governments perceive the causative factors of insurrection as law and order or security problems.

Augmented by the national and international developments the Communist Party of India (Marxist—Leninist) People’s War (People’s War Group), and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) came together to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2004. According to the Global Attack Index, 2016 the CPI (Maoist) is one of the topmost terrorist organisations in the world. This is high time for the Left parties to come together for chalking out an alternative path for the agrarian revolution in India. This can be done by mobilising the other forces such as adivasis, Dalits, farmers associations, trade unions, women’s groups and youth organisations for a truly democratic revolution in the country. Revolution is not just about armed methods, it grows through the fighting spirit. In the context of national and international developments such as Arab Uprising and the fifty years of Naxalbari insurrection it is necessary to revisit the tactics of the Communist Parties of India, including the CPI (Maoist) party to bring about social change in the country. Globally, the centenary of the Russian Revolution signifies the need to look at the constitutional methods for resolving the issues of socio-economic and political inequality and the concerns of rights and justice to the most disadvantaged sections of the society.

The historical continuum of the insurrection in India highlights the limitations of revolutionary methods in facilitating the social changes to ensure equality, justice and rights. At this critical juncture, it is important to delineate insurrection as an active constituent of citizenship for humane governance and politics. This calls for a human-centric politics where the citizen gets preference over the rules of governance. It may be called as anthropolitics, a politics which evolves and expands through various insurrections from below combining the sensitivities of human collective responses in the situation of social disorder and political instability. This can be developed on the basis of anthropological, philosophical tenets of humanism. The non-revolutionary methods, including non-violence, are critical to build a peaceful global order. It is pertinent here to recollect the Fragile States Index, Annual report 2017 which notes that “a long-term commitment to peace and reconciliation, poverty reduction, and economic growth collectively contributes to a government’s legitimisation, and ultimately, the stability of its country”. (p. 19)

To contextualise this to the specific regions in India such as Bastar of Chhattisgarh State and Chhotanagpur of Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and other adivasi dominated areas including the North-Eastern region the issue of abandonment of state development as a political sovereign authority comes to the fore. Due to contentious state evolution mechanisms and processes, these regions even now are witnessing a variety of socio-political conflicts ranging from secession, insurgency to insurrections. In this context, Oommen (2001: 216) notes that the “most nations in South Asia did not ever demand sovereign states; they are state-renouncing nations”. This does not mean that these regions do not have states as such; they do have states of their own which differ from modern nation-states. Archival and historical facts substantiate this observation. It is to be noted that

In Chhattisgarh we have primitive method of social and political organisation which was so deeply ingrained in the customs of the people. Being thus founded on a natural indigenous basis, the system was at first in practice and in theory always very simple and at the same time very comprehensive. In a sense we can find the embryonic beginnings of constitutional rule.” (Wills, 1919:255-56)

Incidentally, the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh today is the epicentre for what is popularly called as Naxalism or Maoism and the former Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, described this Maoist insurrection the “single largest internal security problem of the country” in 2010. The insurrectionary zeal of the adivasis has been tapped by the CPI (Maoist) party to achieve their political goal of “New Democratic Revolution” through “protracted people’s war”. The party perceives that “this revolution is a part of the world proletarian revolution, which began with the Great October Revolution of Russia” [CPI (Maoist), 2004: 5] as a historical continuum.

Democracy requires insurrection as an active part of citizenship. What is going on in Central India is a fight for the issues of land rights, equality and justice. This has to be perceived and understood from a democratic citizenship point of view by combining the elements of human values into the political theory, thereby enabling a way to construct a “project of democratisation based on this insurrectionary history of citizenship”. (Ulbricht, 2017:116-19) It could be one of the ways through which various processes underlying the non-armed revolution can be pushed further for peaceful human advancement.

[The author is sincerely thankful to his Supervisor, Doctoral Committee and Panel Experts for their valuable inputs and support.]


1. Communist Party of India (Maoist), 2004, Party Programme, September 21, http://www.bannedthought.-net/India/CPI-Maoist-Docs/Founding/Programme pamphlet.pdf (last accessed on 28.07.2013).

2. Oommen T.K. (2001), ‘State versus Nation: Linking Culture and Governance in South Asia’, South Asian Survey, Vol. 8 (2):213-217.

3. The Fund for Peace. (2017), Fragile State Index, 2017. Washington, D.C.: The Fund for Peace.

4. Ulbricht. A. (2017), Democratising Democracy, European Political Science, Vol. 16 (1):116-19.

5. Wills C.U. (1919), ‘The Territorial system of the Rajput Kingdoms of Mediaeval Chhattisgarh’, Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, New Series XV: 197-262.

The author is a Ph.D Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru.

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