Back From the Base

Maoists in Bastar

Himanshu Roy

Contemporary Bastar, the southern part of Chhattisgarh and the combined princely states of Bastar and Kanker, which is now at the core of Dandakaranya region is the guerilla zone of Maoists. Dandakaranya region is spread over approximately 100000 sq km of territory across Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Bastar is spread over approximately 40,000 sq km of territory and within it, Abujhmaad, the base area covers approximately 4,000 sq km. It is also the most primitive sub-region largely inhabited by Abujhmaria tribe, a sub-division of Maria tribe.

Bastar has approximately 70 percent of tribal population predominantly by Gonds who speak different dialects of Gondi. Gondi is not a language. It's Halbi which is the link language of different tribes including that of Gonds. Gonds have different sub-divisions. Each sub- division has its own dialect. Madia and Muria are the two major Gond tribes each having its own sub-divisions. Besides them, there are Bhatra, Halba, Dorla, Dhurwa who have large population. Among the minor tribes are Munda, Gadba, Saora who are mostly in Jharkhand, Bengal. All of them are scheduled tribes. Among the castes are Raut, Teli, Sundi, Kewat, Lohar, Kumhar, etc., who have been coexisting with the tribes for centuries as integral part of tribal society. Then, there are Brahmin, Kayastha, Thakur who have been the part of the upper class non-tribal structure linked with trade and administration. While the tribes have been the agriculturists who were mostly Penda (shifting) cultivators till recent years, the castes have been the professional workers like distillers, oil pressers, potters, weavers, traders, brass workers, etc. Their interaction with the state and market is minimum; the relationship, however, is exploitative. The state policy of keeping the tribes relatively insulated from the outside world to minimize this exploitation did not work satisfactorily.

It may be explained here that in the Constituent Assembly, it was decided that there will be gradual, controlled integration of the tribes with the mainstream Indian society to uplift them materially, while non-intervening in their traditions. Unlike the colonial state which kept them insulated, it was agreed upon in the Assembly that in the scheduled areas there will be, initially, a limited state intervention to promote the tribe's self-reliance. The focus areas were to be the development of fixed cultivation, health care, etc that would prepare them for future. As they gradually develop their distinction and insulation as tribes will wither away.[1] This was reflected in Nehru–Elvin era and in the state policy. In actual term, it meant protecting the tribals from money-lenders, to raise the level of administration in their areas to gradually develop them through economic self-reliance while simultaneously not interfering in their cultural political traditions, and to check the alienation of their land and forest. To protect them, they were declared as scheduled tribes and their habitat was declared as scheduled areas in the constitution. The inheritance from the colonial state continued in partially modified form. Elvin, however, stated that 'in India at the present time, where as a result of the great Five year Plans, the tribal people are being very rapidly changed and merged into ordinary society'.[2]

It was true at the grassroots. The private capital expanded and penetrated deeper into hinterland, the personnel of the state became the new master of the people, became rapacious and indulged in private caprice, and the coercive apparatus acted brutally in case of even democratic protest. The system, thus, facilitated the emergence of a new elite,and new labour among the tribes which are being coopted into the expanding capitalist structure. In other words, the provision of gradual integration meant that to draw the tribes into the vortex of capital, it should be wise to proceed gradually lest they rebel against the Indian state as they had done against the British. Learning this lesson from the past, the Indian state intended to be incremental in its objectives. But it did not work out as it was intended. From the beginning in 1947, the tribes resorted to insurgency, and the coercive apparatus was deployed to neutralize them. In this social historical backdrop entered the Maoists in Bastar in 1980.

In the last week of June - in the first week of July, the mostly Telgu speaking cadres, 49 in number divided among 7 dalams of People's War, the new avatar of CPI(M-L) Kranti, entered into Bastar and in other parts of Dandakaranya from different directions of Warangal, Karim Nagar and Adilabad to search for safe hideouts for their cadres in case of emergency in the insulated, hilly, forested, tribal area. Out of 49 cadres, 14 in 2 groups had entered into Bastar. Out of them, only few managed to survive the underground forest life.[3] The cadres learnt fast not only to stay put but to expand their strength, their support base, areas of work and to change the local society forever. In the past 34 years, Bastar no longer remains the hideouts of the cadres in the emergency and the back area of Andhra Pradesh for the Maoists but it has become its base area since the year 2000.

From 1980 to 2000, till the year Chhattisgarh was created out of Madhya Pradesh, Bastar to the outside world remained a peripheral area except for occasional events and episodes. It remained a symbol of backwardness. But inside it, the cadres of the People's War slowly and surely began to actuate two works simultaneously. One, it began to train and arm itself with an intent to create People's Liberation Guerilla Army. It had learnt its lesson in the aftermath of the Naxalbari uprising, and second, it began to mobilize the local population on the local issues which had general appeal which, in turn, was primarily two: one, enhancing the rates of the tendu leaves and to check the exploitation of the tribes by local contractors, shop keepers, business, and second, to check the misconduct of the forest and revenue officials towards tribals particularly towards the women. Once this was achieved, they moved to land reforms earnestly particularly since 1987. The lessons from their past experiences had taught them to focus on the specific as well to generate / retain new cadres locally. But this act also began to create problem for them as it generated local resistance of tribals in every village. The local tribal resistance also drew the involvement of the mainstream parties who were mainly into electoral politics. Their politicking brought in active engagement of coercive apparatus and counter-insurgency measures on behalf of the local tribal rebellion. Fortunately, it all subsided after a while.

In 2004, the People's War and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Earlier, in 1998, the CPI (M-L)Party Unity had merged with the People's War. Few of the cadres of all the three formations, before merging, had trained together in Bastar for guerilla war. It was, however, only the People's War that used to operate in Bastar. In 2005, once again, the rebellion of the tribes approximately 20000 against the Maoists began. It was widespread, intense, violent and continued for longer time. The reaction of the Maoists and of the counter- insurgency apparatus of the state were equally brutal. In the resultant development, the ultimate victims were the tribals who were displaced, killed, or witnessed radical social change in their villages. But were the land reforms correct for the Communist Party which had resulted into such development?

As per the program of the new democratic revolution, the historical task of the bourgeoisie is being enacted by the Communist Party which is not its task. At best through persuasion or by dint of example it should have formed the producers' cooperatives for the better organized farming in the given situation. Or the seized land should have been cultivated by the labour instead of being distributed to the local peasantry. In the interior of the tribal society, the average landholding is 2.34 acres as per the district administration record. It is primitive, subsistence natural economy which is substantively dependent on forest for its survival. There is neither big latifundia of the feudal lords nor is it a capitalist economy. Till a few years ago, it was a penda cultivation which yielded meager produce to the tribal peasant family, which was not even sufficient for its needs. In such situation, a land reform even by the communist was inevitably to be resisted by the affected persons. What was actuated was the distribution of deprivation among the tribal peasantry. And in its wake, it changed the dynamics of the rural world. The Party created a strong support base and strong opposition. In the struggle of the two, the opposition was marginalized. But it brought in the militarized apparatus of the state into the interior[4] which was earlier absent after the Bhumkal rebellion of 1910.

The Party also did three more important works. It actuated modernization of agriculture and of its related areas, facilitated stoppage of penda cultivation, improved health care and brought in social, political awareness in the tribal areas. Its organizations and mobilization brought in intra- and inter-tribal interaction. The different villages spread over and insulated have now better and frequent inter-personal relations working together on different aspects of villages. It has led to increased mobilization among the villagers across the region. Or in other words, it has brought the villagers in political domain in a regular way through party mechanisms. However, the migration of the tribals from the villages who were affected by the conflicts due to land reforms has brought in other set of tribals from other villages who were earlier not part of the sub-region and now have occupied the vacated space of the migrants. This new arrival has created potential situation of tension in this conflict zone.

The other area of Party's work has been to impart military training to women who constitute 40 percent of combat force and 60 percent of regular cadres. This has facilitated the elevation of their social- political status. They were, of course, far better placed customarily than the women of the non- tribal mainstream society which reflect in their political cultural participation organized by the Party; and it needs to be reiterated that their subjugation to men is negligible if not completely absent. But the role of the Party in Bastar in the upliftment of their courage, in checking their sexual exploitation apart from their economic one and in removing their fear against the state to fight it militarily in the guerilla zones has been important.

Its presence has also facilitated the preservation of environment in Bastar which in its absence would have been the first casualty of greed of the business. The mobilization of the tribals to resist its acquisition, who would have also been displaced for mining or for other development was, in fact, more important for the Party who needed forest as its hideout. And it was its prime intention in 1980 for which the exploration of Dandkarnya was launched. Now, it is the base area and the guerilla zone.

The Party, thus, has definitely played a decisive role in social transformation in Bastar in the past 34 years. Even in other parts of India, its predecessors did play such important role. But if analyzed its role in history one may find that such works had only broken the pre- capitalist social relations which in turn laid the ground work for the development of capitalism in such backward regions. The work was achieved through vanguardism representing the future interests of the associated labour rather than through the self-emancipatory association of free individuals.

Notes and References :
1.    Sardar Patel had stated "that it should be our endeavor to bring the tribal people to the level of Mr Jaipal Singh (member, Constituent Assembly, and a tribal) and not keep them as tribes, so that, ten years hence, when the Fundamental Rights are reconsidered, the word 'tribes' may be removed altogether when they should have come up to our level." Cited in G S Ghurey, The Scheduled Tribes, Popular Press, 1963, p.349.
2.   Verrier Elwin, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin, 1964, p.142.
3.   See Subhranshu Choudhary, Let's Call Him Vasu, Penguin, 2012, pp.88-97.
4. GautamNavlakha, Days And Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion, Penguin, 2012, pp.1-2 argues that the Indian State is 'prosecuting a war against the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014