First of all I would like to extent a red salute to the comrades in Philippines who are carrying forward the democratic struggle to achieve national and social liberation. Secondly I am thankful to the organisers for giving me the opportunity to address the International Conference on Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines.
To begin with, I have come from India. Officially India is being depicted as the land of Mahatma Gandhi, who is the symbol of non-violence and truth. Many considered India as the largest democratic country distinctively marked by unity in diversity. War on terrorism has been carried out extensively and continuously in order to restore peace and democratic order. All these beliefs and polemics constituted the hegemonic version of the State and its institutions. These are being challenged by democratic forces that stand for durable peace and a democratic system in the true sense of the term. In the meanwhile the adivasis who are defending their land and economic rights against finance intrusion by the MNCs, the communists who are fighting for a different system and those in Kashmir and the North-eastern regions who are spearheading ‘liberation’ movements articulate different polemics about India and the governance. I shall focus more on Manipur and the adjoining states.
What is the different understanding about India?
From the Marxist point of view India is not a nation. Conceptually the UN’s recognition of Indian nationhood cannot be a universal description of nationhood. The UN’s ‘nation-state’ remain a legal bourgeois jargon of the capitalist States that try to restrict the right to self-determination of peoples in the autonomy model at the maximum within an established country system. Prima facie diametrical nationalisms towards different sovereign nations in the northeast exemplify absence of Andersoninc1 .‘imagining’ for common nationhood. Many in these regions believe that historically, culturally, racially and psychologically they were never part of India until they were forcibly annexed in late 1940s.
In fact India as we know today is a post-1947 invention. In 1947 the political power of British India was transferred to the monopolistic capitalist groups of Tata, Birla, Dalmia, Singhania, Bhatt, of the Bombay bourgeoisie, capitalists from among Gujaratis and Parsis, Marwari moneylenders, Tamil usurers, etc., who were intimately linked to the princes, landlords and British capital. They adopted a capitalist socio-economic system where social relations were based on commodities for exchange, in particular private ownership of the means of production and on the exploitation of wage labour and resources. The system has been perpetuated through means of suppression, subjective psychological propaganda, and other sectarian and counter-progressive tactics that keep many divided and caught up in a vicious cycle of self-inflicting conflicts along communal and territorial interests.
The capitalist path had necessitated territorial expansion. In other words, capital, which is both a pre-condition and outcome of capitalism, requires a territorial base to thrive on. Although territorial expansionism can be obstructed due to competition, rivalry, and protectionism among the capitalists of different countries, the Indian bourgeoisie took the advantage of imperial interregnum in South Asia in the post Second World War period to expand its territorial base wherever possible. While they selectively used blackmail or bribery or intimidation or military tactics to annex territory, they coined integrity jargons and carried nationhood propaganda to cover up forced annexation and military occupation. Till date the Indian constitution approves territorial annexation but no provisions on the right to secession.
The Northeast, inhabited by economically backward tribal and peasant communities, apart from strategic calculation had been important for; (a) labour, resources (water, uranium, oil, coal, precious stones, minerals, plantation, flora and fauna, tourism, carbon credits, and forest products), and market, (b) a buffer vis-a-vis presumed Chinese social-imperialism, and (c) a military stockpile and commodity stocked for commercial expansion into Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. They annexed the Northeast, forcibly integrated it into interterritorial division of labour and subjected it to the restructured economic order as the primary supplier of labour, raw material, market, and military stockpile for Indian capitalist expansionism. Interestingly, whether a territory should be annexed to the extent of using military force as were the cases of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Manipur, etc. or should be kept as a subordinated neighbour as were the cases of Sikkim (now annexed), Bhutan and Nepal or should be shown favourable treatment as was the case of Burma (at the cost of the controversial Kabow Valley claimed by Manipur) was a meticulously worked-out capitalist programme.
Why militarisation is a corollary of capitalism?
Capital is based on exploitation; militarisation is a corollary of it. The militant approach by the Indian bourgeoisie for territorial control had contributed to wars with its Pakistani counterparts in the scramble for Kashmir, with its Chinese counterparts for McMahon Line and a series of armed skirmishes along the existing international borders. In the Northeast there was infringement on the tribal and ‘politically established communities’ that were living under respectively established state structures parallel to the Indian State. This had created objective conditions of dissention and resistance ranging from communist armed revolutionary movements to tribal resistance, to national liberation movements and to a democratic assertion against destructive capitalist projects. To deal with the challenges the Indian bourgeoisie had adopted a militant policy. The Northeast was governed through governors and military officials for several years until reliable local regimes had been installed. The Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 and the Armed Forces (Assam & Manipur) Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958 provided legal protection to policing and militarisation. In addition, AFSPA interplayed with other repressive legislations such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, National Security Act, 1980, Prevention of Terrorism Activities Act, 2002, Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911,2 etc. Interwoven official jargons such as ‘counter terrorism’ and ‘law & order problem’ were circulated widely to cover up subjugation, exploitation and suppression.
In the long run, the army, paramilitary forces, regional infantries, etc. became operative with impunity under the controversial black law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. They occupied and converted several strategically important hilltops, tourist centres, grazing grounds, communal lands, institutional and religious campuses, etc. into barracks (including those in the residential areas). War hysteria in the operational zones had serious repercussion on the social mobility for economic livelihood. Troops imposed typical war economy in the operation zones in the remote rural areas, e.g., forced rationing of supplies and Military Civic Action Programmes. Those activities had undermined the role of civil administration, i.e., more dangerous than the corrupt civil administration and not is acceptable3 for any democratic country. The MCAP didn’t bring qualitative transformation in the relation of production and means of production. The cosmetic services came along with militarisation of the ongoing capitalist project sites (such as dams, mining, oil drilling, forests, office buildings, etc.) and increasing role in the suppression of struggle against displacement and forced exploitation of resources. It was a cosmetic service designed to cover up military excesses, to divert attention by creating a clique of beneficiaries who became unpaid irregular agents.
There are other hordes of regular local police, rifles, underpaid auxiliary forces who were recruited on a contract basis (e.g., Village Volunteer Forces, Special Police Officers, Village Defence Forces, etc) that operated in coordination with the central troops. Several educated middle class youths were recruited to the police through bribery, i.e., normally at exorbitant price paid through selling off or mortgaging properties. Once they have entered into the job, to recover the dues and lured by money and the prospect of promotion to higher rank, they indulged in widespread bribery, extortion, harassment and fake encounters. To keep their morale high the state adopted tactics to cover up their crimes to escape from legal penalty.
There are batches of gangsters who operate either from jail or under the command of government forces or in association with undercover secret agents. They include government funded ‘counter’ groups and ‘surrendered’ groups who used the cloak of revolutionaries and indulged in rampant extortion, looting, killing, harassment and psychological propaganda. They are being invested to confuse the people about their activity with the democratic issues raised by the insurgents. On the other hand there are communal warlords and conservative reactionaries who are important stakeholders in the corruption nexus amongst political barons, bureaucracy, contractors and project agents that misappropriate public fund, displace peoples on the pretext of development, exploit labour, drain the wealth of the people, and perpetuate misrule. They carry out communal campaigns to cover up the class character of exploitation and to divert the attention from the genuine democratic causes.
Against the backdrop of imperialist globalisation
The first two decades of the 21st century have been remarkable in terms of increasing collaboration of the Indian big bourgeoisie with the imperialist cartels and financial institutions. They are increasingly penetrating into the Southeast Asian underdeveloped countries for markets and resources. They directly or indirectly played a role in the US-led imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and in extractive investments. Their role in the imperialist international division of labour is visible in the collaborative cum competitive engagement with the Chinese social-imperialists, investments in post-LTTE Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, etc. They are investing in the commercial networks spreading across the extensive Mekong-Ganga4 stretches. In the Northeast, apart from other multinational companies and Indian banks, the ADB finance intrusion has been gaining momentum. In tune with militarisation and war pre-emption the US army has been permitted to conduct a series of military exercises in the jungles of Mizoram to adapt to guerrilla warfare. US FBI operations in Meghalaya are suspected. Protected Area Permit was lifted from the Northeast in 2011 probably under the pressure of the European Union, largely to promote foreigner strategic analysts in the guise of tourists.
On the other hand the big Indian bourgeoisie had successfully withheld heavy industrialisation in India. India had become a warehouse and market for foreign capitalist technologies and commodities, and exporter of assembled commodities. INDIA SHINING is dominantly visible in the tertiary construction sub-sectors and in other secondary manufacturing sectors such as assembling of automobiles, expansion of telecom networks, etc. To maximise extraction of capital millions of tribes5 and peasants are being forcibly displaced at gunpoint to pave the way for the installation of imperialist assembling units. At the same time a vast number of peasants are being deprived of investment and impoverished due to forced extraction in order to fulfil the imperialist quota for food grains and other agrarian products.
In Manipur the Indian big bourgeoisie had been closely working in cahoots with the subordinate ruling class composed of landlords, usurers, contractors, commission agents, corrupt officials, petty merchants, etc., who were dependent on the Indian bourgeoisie for political and economic power. The latter does not directly create capital through investment in both constant and variable capitals. They collectively indulge in accumulation of wealth through misappropriation of rent (in the form of central grants) received in return for exploitation of Manipur by the Indian bourgeoisie. They play a crucial role in constituting puppet regimes in respectively carved out revenue blocs under the political command of the Indian State who also provide them military back-up.
Increasing penetration by the State, market forces, immigration and job opportunities could not phase off the structural crisis leading to inequality and unrest. The State invested in cosmetic reformism to divert attention and militarisation leading to suppression, repression and insecurity.
The situation had a catalytic impact in generating frustration and disillusionment about livelihood. Material conditions of peasant rebellion and labours’ democratic assertions have been looming. Concurrent to the penetration by State and market forces, parallel community formations, the sense of loss of freedom and ‘national’ identity, there has been armed resistances groups ranging from those who raised freedom from India to those who sought ethnic / tribal / communal autonomy. In Manipur the first armed resistance against the Indian State was communist resistance from 1948-51 under the leadership of Irabot. After the gap of a few years, in 1964 the United National Liberation Front began a political campaign. A new wave of armed resistance was begun by the People’s Liberation Army formed in 1978. The Government declared that the Mizos question was permanently settled in 1986. However, there are still dissatisfied Mizos and affiliated ethnos who are gaining momentum in raising resistance. Similarly the ceasefire tactics had humiliated and disappointed many Nagas. Today there are many armed organisations carrying out armed struggle for the sovereignty of the people of Manipur, for the Nagas, for the Kukis, and in Assam, etc. There are also militant forms of assertions raising ‘indigenous banners’ to defend economic, political and cultural rights.
In this scenario the local ruling class indulged in two way strategies to retain their political and economic power. On the one hand they carried out sectarian and communal propaganda to cover up their exploitative regime. On the one hand they played a leadership role in carving out exclusive revenue blocs for unrestrained control over land, labour, funds and resources. All these are being interwoven into one through communal interpretation of economic grievances and misrule. Most peasants and wage labours are therefore communally organised. They remain sectarian and disunited.
The overall impact on the people
To sum up, the conflicts in Manipur are modelled and perpetuated under an overarching neo-liberal political economy. Firstly, the sovereignty issue is largely perpetuated by the Indian capitalist constraints. It is apparent that the solution sought by the Indian State is bent on a capitalist integration trajectory without rooting out the system responsible for creating a colonial situation. The colonial system is manifested in unrestrained militarisation to defend capitalist control over resources, markets and labour on the one hand and ‘communal unrest’ amongst peoples under puppet regimes and sectarian collusive forces. Secondly, it is also apparent that the ethno-national forces that articulate territorial integrity or exclusive ethno-nation, under the leadership of middle class capitalist aspirants are bent on the neo-liberal model. They either confront or collude with different local ruling groups depending on issues but all of them have their commonality in communal orientation in certain forms or others. They have failed to unite the people across regions and communities.
Politically most of the tribes and ‘political communities’ in the Northeast had inherited and continuously reproduced a respective notion of sovereignty, political freedoms and rights. However annexation, capitalist onslaught, and communal politics had kept them perpetually dependent, exploited, and ruled over. Constitutional rights to life, economic livelihood and democracy are being kept under suspension. They are being forced to elect corrupt and exploitative puppet regimes and do not enjoy the right to referendum of corrupt representatives and officials.
The number of people killed in fake encounters, convicted, intimidated, tortured, jailed, and forced disappearances as the result of mistaken identity and for their political ideology and democratic dissent has been increasing. State orchestrated propaganda continued to misrepresent peace, development and democracy. Freedom and growth are not realised for the majority of the peoples composed of peasants and wage labourers. Against this backdrop the official depiction about truth, peace, democracy, terrorism, violence and non-violence remains highly contested.
There is a need for change towards a society free from subjugation, exploitation and suppression. There is a need to create societies dedicated to development, peace and democracy. To achieve it we uphold proletarian internationalism. We have come all the way to the Philippines to express solidarity with the democratic struggle in the Philippines under the leadership of the working class in alliance with the peasants.
1 Benedict Anderson in his book Imagined Communities, Reflections on the origin and Spread of Nationalism define nation as an imagined community define nation as an ‘imagined community’.
2 This was the Act passed by the British, it is continued with some modification in the same manner as Land Acquisition Act 1894 is continued till date.
3 There cannot be democracy when the army takes over civil administration.
4 The Asian highway project achieved a milestone in November 2000 when five ASEAN countries (Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Lao PDR) and India signed the Vientiane Declaration to develop east-west transportation corridor under the umbrella of the newly launched Mekong-Ganga Cooperation grouping. It was learnt that the name of initiative was changed from Ganga-Mekong Swarnabhoomi project to Mekong-Ganga Cooperation so as to encourage business contacts between the people residing on the banks of Mekong 5 and Ganga.
5 Tribals or adivasis