By Harsh Thakor
Today we commemorate the 10th death anniversary of Kishenji. Without doubt he carves a permanent niche amongst the Maoist leaders who dipped their blood for the liberation of mankind. Kishenji would rank amongst the greatest of Communist leaders of India. Few were ever more dynamic, creative and determined. He blended all the ingredients which constitute the perfect revolutionary. Kishenji blended the creativity of a poet or scientist with the determination of a soldier and methodology of a surgeon. Since his school days he began to plant the seed to create the new man. It would be an arduous task to compile a biography doing justice to this legend. It was remarkable the manner he climbed the steepest of hurdles at every juncture of his political career, applying Marxist-Leninist ideology to stitch the most lethal wounds. His spirit still shimmers an inextinguishable flame
Born in 1954 in Peddapally town (in Karimnagar district, north Telangana), Kishenji was raised by his father Venkataiah (a “freedom fighter”, he called him) and his progressive mother Madhuramma. Inspired by the Naxalbari and Srikakulam movements,3 he became an active member of the Andhra State unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI (ML)] in 1974 and played a prominent part in the peasant struggles in Sircilla and Jagtial taluks of his home district of Karimnagar that were declared “disturbed areas” in October 1978. It was in the course of the struggle in Jagtial that both Mupalla Laxman Rao (“Ganapathy”), the present General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist), and Kishenji came to the fore in the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Party because of their excellent organising abilities.
Kishenji played an important role in weaving the movement in Karimnagar and Telenganan and then Dandkaranya. He was one of the major architects in enabling the Peoples War Group to enhance its striking capacity and build a big revolutionary movement.
We must credit Kishenji for being one of the principal architects of the merger of the C.P.I. (M.L) Peoples War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre of India. With meticulous skill he nurtured the party forces to establish this historic unity. It was a similar case in the merger of the C.P.I.(M.L)Peoples War with the C.P.I.(M.L)Party Unity.
In Lalgarh or Jungal mahal from 2000 Kishenji pioneered the building of the PACAP. He integrated mass movement and armed militia actions with subtle creativity, enabling the Peoples War group squads to travel like fish in Water. Under Kishenji's guidance the seeds were sown for alternative structures in literacy, health and housing and land distribution was consistently undertaken. An impetus was created for mass movement to turn from a spark into a prairie fire. Most humbly he sat and learned from the masses, like a pupil listening to a teacher. His guidance enabled armed squads to integrate with the backbone of the people's struggles and not substitute them. I very much doubt the mass movement would have flowered without leadership of Kishenji. Till 2009 the people's striking power was enhanced. Kishenji scaled new heights in waging a battle against the fascist repression unleashed by the rulers by formulating retaliatory mass actions of people. Intensity of state onslaught was comparable with the worst instances in the history of India. Most astutely and creatively he integrated mass mobilizations with armed movements, mastering mass line in important respects. Since Naxalbari such tremors or pandemonium was not created in the camp of the ruling classes.
Sadly from 2009 Kishenji failed to properly analyses the subjective forces and gave over emphasis to military work or armed squad actions. He also put the movement into a trap by forging an alliance with Mamata Banerjee 's Trinamool, to confront the CPM. It ultimately led to its demise. Tactics of election boycott were adopted, which was not in consonance with people's level of political consciousness. Trends of annihilating class enemies re-appeared, with the absence of people's participation.
Tributes by intellectuals
I recommend everyone to read the tributes by Saroj Giri, Bernard De 'Mello and Amit Bhattacharya. They are living proof of Kishenj's contribution as a Marxist and revolutionary democrat.
Bernard De Mello in most balanced manner weighs his merits and defects. He summarises how this valiant comrade planted the seeds to enable roses to blossom for a considerable period, before falling into the morass of opportunism or deviation. Most articulately he sums up the fascist essence of his execution. However, I disagree that Kishenji was wrong in confronting the C.P.I. (M), being a social fascist party. and should have utilised contradictions of the CPM against the Trinamoool.
Amit Bhattacharya sums up all the political achievements in Lalgarh and the mastery with which Kishenji formulated tactics. Still i am not in agreement with his comparing the movement to the state of Dandakarnaya and feel he should have highlighted it’s negative points.
Saroj Giri portrays the human element and touch prevailing in a revolutionary in Marxist light. I feel his is one of the most original and creative essays, bringing out the spiritual essence of Kishenji in possessing unique qualities of his own. He portrays that a model in an region cannot be mechanically copied, with each area having specific characteristics. Giri projected how Kishenji’s methods were imperative to ignite the spark of revolution.
I am somewhat sceptic about the critique of Gautam Navlakha, who advocated participating in elections by the PCAPA, even though he does portray important defects.
Bengali journal ‘Aneek’ too made some valid criticisms but went overboard when alleging that the Maoists hijacked the Movement.
“Lalgarh and the Legend of Kishanji” written by journalist Srigendu Bhattachary is a classic book in its own right. It gives credibility and criticism probing into the thick and skin of the leaders and cadres of the plains and forests of Jungalmahal. It delves on how the Maoists infiltrated every sphere of politics to convert a spark into prairie fire, with first hand interviews of revolutionary leaders and reactionary elements. The book did great justice to the ebb and flow in the Lalgarh movement. Great justice is given to the nature of neo-fascist repression and the creativity of the actions of the Maoists devised to challenge it. Srigendu was convinced that without the intervention of the Maoists the movement would never have confronted the ruling party’s. The author narrated to me how it was the Maoist Communist Centre who educated the Peoples War Group on his undertaking of the military line I appreciate his exposure of the fascist character of the Communist party of India (Marxist)The creativity of Kishenji in paving the path for mass struggles was illustrated. Most illustratively it projects how the C.P.I.(Maoist) operated a s a genuinely democratic revolutionary force and deeply penetrated in the broad masses and it’s dichotomy with parties like CPM and Trinamool Congress. A most poignant coverage is on how PCAPA leader stands as candidate for election, countering the Maoist line. However in the concluding stages he portrayed the fatal errors of Kishenji in trusting opportunist forces, and the Maoist forces working very openly. His conclusion is very pessimistic, giving leanings towards development of bourgeois democracy and no optimism in resurrection of revolutionary upsurge. “Kishenji has taken the movement to the grave with him. ’I feel it is wrong to assess Kishenji of blindly emulating Dandakarnya experience or that of Telengana earlier. Very illustrative chapters of this book are ‘War’, ’Confusion’, and ‘Death.’
Quoting Saroj Giri "Kishanji is not just a fighter against oppression, a brave and courageous soul. He presided over something unique in the history of resistance movement in the country – and maybe he was not even so aware of it. Several forms of resistance seem to have come together in his leadership – synchronizing armed fighting power of the people with open rallies, processions and demonstrations. If one is really serious about democratic mass upsurges then one cannot wish away ‘strategy’, the ‘use of force’ or ‘armed resistance’; that the life-veins of mass struggle extend into the zone of armed resistance – these otherwise old Leninist lessons were restated, reasserted, renewed afresh in the life and activity of Kishanji."
Quoting Professor Amit Bhattachary "Kishanji called the Lalgarh movement” “the second Naxalbari”. From the historical point of view, Naxalbari is unique—a watershed in the history of India. That movement was short-lived in the place of its birth. However, the message of that rising—that of the revolutionary transformation of Indian society through the path of agrarian revolution under the guidance of Mao Tse-tung Thought—spread far and wide. The Lalgarh movement spread throughout the Junglemahal region and was a qualitative leap forward after Singur and Nandigram. What we witnessed in Lalgarh is the blending between the democratic movement of the adivasis, dalits and other lower class people on the one hand, and the armed revolutionary struggle, on the other. A large variety of steps were initiated—such as the formation of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities(PCAPA), equal representation of men and women within the PCAPA, men and women youth wings of the PCAPA, fight for dignity despite brutal state repression, anti-liquor movement, fight for a new culture with songs and poems reflecting the struggles of the people and drawing sustenance from the past adivasi rebellions, fight against environmental pollution caused by the establishment of sponge iron factories, adoption of new methods of struggle, flexibility, and along with these, alternative models of development—land distribution, making of dams for irrigation, construction of roads, planting of tube-wells, setting up of health centres and free coaching centres—all these bear the imprint of the DK Maoist model of development. Whether historians or social scientists accept it or not, they keep a safe distance from those movements and are sustained in their intellectual pursuits by such movements and actually owe a lot to those who are the real creators of history."
Quoting Bernard De Mello "From December 2008 to June 2009, as long as Maoist politics was in command, what was really heartening were the direct forms of people’s democracy in practice: each village now had a gram (village) committee with five women and five men on it; two persons, a man and a woman from each village, were a part of the central coordinating committee; the manner of taking and ratifying decisions was utterly democratic; officials were made to sit on the ground on handwoven mats on equal terms to negotiate with the committees. “
Murder and Consequence
Kishenji was murdered in most unconstitutional or in the manner a fascist state would eliminate opposition. I feel he operated too openly with the social media, opening the party forces to the state. His funeral was simply heart touching, with Vara Rao collecting his body. The manner of his execution was landmark event of Indian neo-fascism and even the manner the Mamata led govt tried to cover it is a manifestation of it. It is still major challenge for the civil rights group to bring the culprits to justice, The events leading up to his murder could make a novel in itself. Itself
Sadly his death led to a reversal in the Maoist movement and built the breeding ground for a series of splits within the Maoist camp. Some sections were seriously critical of Kishenji's tactics as well as the Maoist party's evaluation of the mode of production in Bengal, as semi-feudal. Today virtually no section adheres to the military line of the Maoists in Lalgarh, even those who support the movement in Dandakaranya. No doubt his death was one of the most striking or back breaking blows the Indian Revolutionary or Maoist movement ever faced.
There has hardly been any self -criticism of the mistakes of the Lalgarh movement by the C.P.I. (Maoist). It needed a serious review. The setback brings to light that without the subjective factor armed struggle cannot ripen. Mass agrarian revolutionary movement is essential for launching an armed struggle. Past journals of People's truth very articulately defended the Maoists positivity but still failed to foresee the glaring weaknesses.
We must give great credit to the erstwhile Peoples War Group for fertilizer the embryos of comrades like Kishenji, who too creativity to regions unexplored..Infact some of Kishenji's contribution was extricating from sectarianism of the past .However certain weaknesses in respect to mass line and defective military line rang bells in the movement of the Maoists in Lalgarh. I contemplate how the movement would have developed if mass line was properly executed ,with mass democratic movement not linked with armed squads.