Lenin described as "useful idiots" those bleeding heart liberals who were soft on the Communists despite the latter's avowed objective of launching a violent insurrection to overthrow the supposedly rotten bourgeois system. A similar indulgent, romantic attitude is discernible among Indian intellectuals with regard to the Maoists. The track record of these insurgents in killing hundreds of policemen, blowing up railway stations and transmission towers and uprooting railway lines appear to earn the forgiveness of the city-based intelligentsia because the rebels are believed to stand for the cause of the poor.
Perhaps the most prominent among the supporters of the Maoists is Sahitya Akademi award winner Mahasweta Devi, who is well known in West Bengal for her insightful writings on the tribals and was even mentioned recently as a possible Nobel Prize winner.
There are others like filmmaker Aparna Sen, theatre personality Saoli Mitra and poet Joy Goswami, who are sympathetic towards the Maoists. They may offer proforma condemnation of their violent acts, but by also criticising the state for its harsh response, as Chhattisgarh social activist Binayak Sen did recently, they partly justify the violence of the Maoists. The latter, according to them, are expressing the fury of the impoverished masses against the state, which represents the oppressive bourgeoisie.
However, it isn't only the intellectuals or civil libertarians or media personalities who are critical of the centre's, and especially Home Minister P. Chidambaram's, decision to launch an all-out offensive against the Maoists. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, too, is of the same mind although her focus is only on West Bengal.
Like the others, she also wants the centre to put greater emphasis on a dialogue with them since not all of them are "bad". The reason for her gentle approach is easy to understand. Since the Maoists had helped her in her campaigns against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in Singur, Nandigram and elsewhere, she evidently owes them a debt of gratitude. It is the Marxists who are Maoists, she has said. She has also warned that Bengal will burn if Mahasweta Devi is arrested.
If the lenience of the human rights activists is due to an inability to gauge the true purport of the Maoist menace, the Trinamool Congress leader is driven solely by cynical calculations where she is ready to sup with the devil if it can help her rout the Left in West Bengal.
Her tunnel vision makes her impervious to the danger of the Maoists emerging as Frankenstein's monster to undermine the Indian state, which they regard as neo-imperialist.
If Mamata Banerjee is driven by politics, the writers and academics are of the opinion that unless the core problem of poverty is solved, the Maoists cannot be defeated. So, they want the government to focus on socio-economic development instead of sending in the paramilitary forces.
There is a grain of truth in their view, for the Maoists have evidently exploited the deprivations of the poor, and mainly the tribals, to establish their bases and brainwash them with the Marxist doctrine of a class war.
That they have had a large measure of success is without doubt. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for a ragtag bunch of anarchists, who had splintered into numerous groups after Charu Mazumdar's death in 1972 to mobilise in the way that they have done.
Today they are said to be present in 231 of the country's 626 districts while the strength of their armed cadres has doubled to 20,000 men and women in the last five years. What is more worrisome is that they are far better equipped than what the Naxalites were in the late 1960s and early 70s when home-made pipeguns and improvised bombs were their main weapons.
It is, however, fatuous to believe that poverty-elimination should be attempted before any police action because the insurrectionists will simply not allow the government or even the non-government organisations favourably disposed towards them to undertake any kind of sustained development work in the areas under their control.
What is more, even if they have used the lack of development to mobilise cadres, their basic doctrine has nothing to do with material progress, but with the destruction of the bourgeois state. As such, even if there is social and economic progress, the Maoists will not fade away although their capacity to lure the poor in the countryside to their side will be weakened.
Until now, they have been helped not only by the poverty in the tribal areas of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa but also by the failure of the state governments to assess their potential till it was too late. Besides, the initial efforts to counter them with the help of poorly-trained and ill-equipped police personnel were bound to fail. It is only now that the centre is planning to deploy special forces and even use helicopters in the operations against them.
Considering that the army was deployed in the 70s for "area domination" when the Naxalites were much weaker, it is noteworthy that such a step has not been considered. The reason perhaps is that the civil libertarians are much more active than before. In addition, the Argus-eyed television cameras will bring the scenes of military presence to rouse the intellectuals even further. The government, therefore, is evidently playing safe for the present.