Voice of Revolutionary Students

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

*Mainstream politics not for us, says Koteshwar Rao

*Mainstream politics not for us, says Koteshwar Rao* 4th june 2009

*This is a rare interview with Koteshwar Rao, a member of the politburo of
the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the partys highest decision-making
body. He is also head of the partys guerilla operations in West Bengal,
Jharkhand and Orissa. The original comments on this article said The
51-year-old Maoist leader refused to be photographed and set his own terms
for the meeting. Mints reporters were asked to arrive at a school in
Chakadoba where they waited for around 5 hours. At around dusk, they were
escorted to where Rao wasa clearing in the jungle that was reached after a
brisk 30-minute walk. In a conversation that lasted at least 5 hours, Rao,
who greeted the reporters with the Maoist Lal salaam or red salute,
explained the Maoist philosophy. And his groups ultimate objective.*

*Edited excerpts:*

*The administration alleges that you ambush people and run awaythat you
dont have the courage to fight them*

Absolute rubbishthey know we dont run away, but say so because they can
neither ignore us nor can they fight us. Even on 2 November, when
Buddhababus (West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) convoy was
attacked, I was within a kilometre of where the blast took place. Huge
forces were deployed, the area was combed, but I did not run away. All our
comrades in (West) Bengal are sons and daughters of the soil. Where will
they run away? For the last five years, I am camping here and helping the
organization grow. The Intelligence Branch knows everything. They know what
I look likethey even have a picture taken last year. We are not scared of
appearing before people. Lakhs of villagers and tribals know what I look
like since I interact with them regularly.

That we do not go out of the area controlled by us is because our central
committee has decided that the strategic leadership team would stay put in
the forests. Thats out of concern for our security. I hide only from a
select few, such as the police and completely unknown persons.

*How do you forge ties with locals?*

We play very diverse roles, which the people dont get to know. Because they
have lost faith in the administration, villagers approach us with their
day-to-day problems. We organize camps in villages so they can voice the
grievances. We deal with the villagers with a lot of compassion and
kindness, which is why they love and protect us. We also work for womens
liberation. There are many women who are tortured by their (parents) in-law,
husbands or parents. But they cannot protest because they are dependent on
them. We fight for liberation of such women. Women are very important for
our movement. Many oppressed women have joined us in our struggle across the

They have led from the front in many a battle that we have fought. However,
in terms of the strength, our women cadre in (West) Bengal is slightly
weaker compared with other areas such as Jharkhand, Dandakaranya and Andhra
Pradesh. Whereas elsewhere the ratio of men to women is 50:50, and even
60:40 in favour of women, in Bengal, the ratio is around 70:30 (in favour of
men). Besides our guerilla operations, we also lead strong mass movements in
many parts of West Bengal such as Lalgarh and Nandigram. A lot of women are
participating in such movements, though they may not be members of the
party. Exposure to such movements leads to political maturity. We need
mature organizers for the party and would look to recruit women who have
actively participated in these movements.

*How do you fund your operations?*

We mainly depend on donations and mass collections. Mass collections are of
two types. In the harvest season, we go door to door collecting quintals (1
quintal is 100kg) of rice. In (West) Bengal, we depend on cooked food from
villages and so dont go for collection of foodgrain, but in Dandakaranya,
Chhattisgarh and Bihar, where we have bigger camps and run our own kitchen,
collecting foodgrain is essential.
Apart from this, we also collect cash. We appeal to villagers, who earn
their living by selling kendu leaves (used to roll bidis) or by selling
bamboo to paper mills, to donate a days wagetypically Rs50-160 each a
month. That apart, we impose fines on rich peasants and charge 2-5% levy on
government contractors.

We punish corrupt landlords and drive them out from the village. The
properties that we seize from themsuch as farm equipment and cattleare
used for village development in places where we run a parallel

But we dont charge anything from peoples pay from NREGA (National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act), or (from) contractors building infrastructure
such as roads and schools for the poor. We also loot banks, both government
and private banks, from time to time. The last time (we) robbed a bank it
was a branch of ICICI Bank in Ranchi. We got Rs5 crore from the operation
and we attacked another bank to seize the weapons of the security guards.

Majority of our weapons have been seized from the administration. In (West)
Bengal, for instance, 60% of our weapons have been snatched from the police.
We have bought only 10% on our own; the rest has come from other states.
Yet, I would say we dont even have a small fraction of the cache of arms
and ammunition that parties such as the Trinamool (Congress it won a
significant victory in the recent Lok Sabha polls and is a rival to the
Communist Party of India-Marxist, or CPM, one of the ruling parties in the
state) and the CPM have.

We dont even have a small fraction of arms and ammunition that parties such
as the CPM and Trinamool have.

You see, power doesnt come through weapons alone. Look at the people of
Lalgarh (where tribals seized administrative power after the police
allegedly tortured some of them on the suspicion that they were harbouring
Maoists)with just home-made bows and arrows, they have stalled police.
Guerilla operations depend a lot on peoples support and because people are
with us, we have managed to keep the police from reaching us. Our party runs
on an annual budget of Rs15-20 crore. Thats what we spend on our operations
across the country, and its almost the same amount that we raise through
donations, seizures and heists. Most of the money is raised in Dandakaranya,
Bihar and Jharkhand.
In (West) Bengal, we spend around Rs1 crore a year, but we manage to raise
only 10% of that amount locally. So, the rest comes from other states such
as Jharkhand and Orissa.

*How do you recruit people for your movement?*

We dont recruit from the villages on our own. We have a party-controlled
mechanism under which we receive proposals from the locals. After obtaining
the consent of the parents of the applicants, we forward the proposals to
one of our committees. It vets them and takes a final call on whether or not
to recruit, based on the persons antecedents, class and disposition towards
others in his or her village. The responsibility of the group that I lead is
to train the new recruits. Many of them are initially intimidated by the
difficult life we live, but most of them eventually learn to cope with it.

*How do you see this movement ending? Would you join mainstream politics?*

There is no end to revolution. There is no time frameit seems it will take
time But, if the war strategy is right, well reach our goal soon.
Otherwise, we will have to retreat and change course. But we are strictly
against joining mainstream politics. Over the last few years, politicians
such as Sonia Gandhi and Buddhababu have been advising us to follow the
example of Maoists in Nepal, but look at what happened to them. I met
Prachanda several times and told him that they were on the wrong track and
urged him to change his political stance. We wont make the same mistake.

*Didnt your party play a key role in mobilizing a mass movement in
Nandigram (where the state government started acquiring land for a
petrochemical hub, but had to abandon this in the face of strong protests by
local farmers)?*

We were there in Nandigram from the very beginning, in January 2007. One of
our local leaders, Narayan, who lives in Haldia, had started mobilizing the
local population ever since the government first announced its intention to
acquire land there and prepared the ground for a mass uprising.

We are still active there since the people of the area want us to be there.
The main resistance in Nandigram came from the local youth who took up arms
to protest against state-sponsored oppression.

Our decision to go to Nandigram was based on our political ideologyto
defend the people against state oppression. We were there right from the
beginningJanuary 2007, when the government announced plans to acquire land
there. Initially, Narayan was our only person in Nandigram, but after the
police killed people on 14 March, we started sending more people and armswe
sent some 150 rifles if I remember correctlyto sustain the fight. Narayan
taught the local youth how to use firearms and how to face police firing.
But even before we sent arms into Nandigram, the Trinamool Congress
activists had gathered a huge cache of arms in the area. The CPM, too, was
well equippedin fact, they had more arms than we did. But in the end, the
administration took the help of some retired army officers and attacked us
from various points in November 2007 and drove us from there.

*Your party was there in Singur (where a Tata Motors plant was to come up.
The plan was abandoned after land had been acquired for the project because
of widespread protests led by the Trinamool Congress) too, wasnt it?*

We were the first to take on the Tata (Motors) officialswe attacked their
cars on the day they came for the first site survey. But we could not carry
the movement forward because the central committee decided not to get
involved. We are an underground political party and it is difficult for us
to join a movement in which there are a lot of other political parties
involved. We pulled out, but now, with the Trinamool having given up in
Singur, I think we are going to intensify our movement there.

The conditions are rightthe CPMs Hooghly district unit is in a shambles.
Our kind of movement thrives in places such as Lalgarh, where the terrain is
favourable and theres mass support.

*How did your family react to your joining a militant organization?*

My father was with the Socialist Party of Congress and I joined the
Communists during my college days. He made it clear that two divergent
political currents cannot exist under the same roof. So, I left home. But my
parents have been my greatest inspiration. Like *Jijabai supported
Shivaji*through all his battles,
my mother has always been a great source of
inspiration for me. The last time I met her was in 1984, after I got
married. She told me that if I were to die, it should be the death of a hero
on a battlefield.

My wife Maina is now at Dandakaranyashe is in charge of a group in Bastar
(district of Chhattisgarh). We met in Hyderabad when I was state secretary
(of Andhra Pradesh) and she was a comrade. The last time we met was two
years ago. We communicate through lettersuse of mobile phones has been
banned by our central committee. I write poems to her and make sure the
Indian postal department delivers them to her. I wrote poems after the
landmine attack on Buddhbabus convoy and also on the day somebody hurled a
shoe at (George) Bush.

*Have you ever thought of having children?*

I dont have kids. Our party doesnt support the idea of having children.
There is no ban as such, but the leadership expects the women in our party
to undergo sterilization after marriage. This is done to ensure that their
political careers are not compromised.

*Tell us about your daily life It must be difficult being a militant, isnt

We live a difficult lifeconstantly on the move and with a 15kg load of
arms, ammunition and water. I remember walking seven years ago some 116km in
24 hours without any rest. I sleep very littlemaximum four hours (a day)
and at times as little as 10 minutes. But because we live a disciplined life
it doesnt matter.

No matter how late I sleep at night, I rise by 5. The first thing that I do
in the morning is tune in to BBC (Radio) for its bulletin at 5.30. By 6, we
start our physical training and military drillswe need to be fighting fit
always. So, even at 51, I dont need glasses to read and can walk for hours
without rest. We eat whatever we get. I love eating rice with mashed
potatoes and green chillies, but at times, even that is difficult to come
by. I was a south Indian Brahmin before joining the party and a strict
vegetarian. But I have turned non-vegetarian after I left home. I love
eating mangoes and wild fruits that are abundantly available in the forests
that we inhabit. I am a dreamer like all revolutionaries, and work hard to
realize them. My dreams are about the people in the villagesthe people
around me. We are soldiers, but we too have emotions such as love, kindness

But without hatred, it is difficult to keep alive the fire of class struggle
and to fight against oppression

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