Decoding the dynamics between Adivasis and Maoists

BY Kishalay Bhattacharjee| IN Books | 28/10/2017
“I have spent most of my working life so far studying the lives of people in what we casually refer to as ‘conflict zones’… as a journalist and chronicler, I approached them through a completely different route,”
writes KISHALAY BHATTACHARJEE in his latest book


Book extract

An Unfinished Revolution--a hostage crisis, adivasi resistance and the naxal movement by Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Macmillan
, New Delhi 2017,  ISBN 978-93-82616-37-5


I have spent most of my working life so far studying the lives of people in what we casually refer to as ‘conflict zones’. The Adivasis living along what the government calls the ‘Maoist corridor’ and the eight states referred to as India’s North East are among them. I gathered that the people in the Maoist corridor are marginalized in every way, and have only themselves and their spoken words to indicate who they are. Ethnographers and anthropologists will have different perspectives and methodologies when trying to interpret these people. As a journalist and chronicler, I approached them through a completely different route.

For a broadcast journalist, writing a book is like editing a film with an abundance of visual footage from where one must choose the sequences and the points of view to tell the story. I was sure whose story I would be telling – Claudio’s of course – but I also had to ponder deeply to understand the questions, the whys and wherefores surrounding the Adivasis which led to Claudio’s crisis.

In 2011, I was appointed Chair, Internal Security, and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. I wanted to pursue field-based research to see what the state response has been towards long-running insurgencies in India, the CPI (Maoist) being one of them. My view was that in the absence of a national policy to address such insurrections, the state has been engaged in a protracted ad hoc mechanism of dealing with the resistance without really addressing the problem. To study this, I visited Koraput and Malkangiri in Odisha. I also wanted to explore the dynamics the Adivasis have with the extreme left-wing Maoists.


I was certain that viewing Adivasis as Maoists or Maoist sympathizers is a stereotype we have perpetuated and that Maoists have only found Adivasis a convenient and vulnerable group to help sustain the party.


* * * * *

One of the things I have been trying to understand through this book is this dynamics. Are Adivasis with the Maoists? Yes, of course. While the majority of the Maoist cadres are drawn from the Adivasi tribes, I don’t know of Adivasis ideologically theorizing a war against the state. The Maoists have a theorized war against the state. When Adivasis are fighting, they are doing so to defend resources, to defend his or her forest or even their way of life. They have been fighting for hundreds of years against various forms of exploitation but that is only to protect what is theirs and not against the state to usurp power. The Adivasi Maoist cadres I met in the course of researching for this book too had little idea of what was going on in the rest of the country or the world.

The Maoists, on the other hand, are clear about what they want in terms of theory. However, this comes with  huge contradictions and dishonesty. For example, after the kidnapping of the collector in Malkangiri in 2011, the moment the Maoists got their cadres released and the alleged ransom from the government, they dropped all the other demands and left. At that point, they didn’t care about all the issues they had raised regarding the villagers; basically, both the government and the Maoists deserted the people. This has been the story of the Maoist movement over the years and across all the districts they claim to have some presence. The Maoists enforce codes on people or the government hunts the same people down on one pretext or the other; neither ensures the interests of the civilians caught in a deadly battle of turf war over resource and power.


Whether through force or indifference, the nature of state response is bound up with the whole politics of dispossession, of throwing people out of their own land. Why the word ‘resource’ is important is because it is at the heart of the Maoist movement as well as of Adivasi resistance. The first response of the Indian state to any battle over resource has been to use force and criminalize the people demanding what has been granted to them by the Constitution.

In an email sent to me, historian and social scientist Ramachandra Guha pointed out that after Independence:


Dalits, women and Muslims continued to be discriminated against. Yet, their problems were taken up by influential parties and politicians ... On the other hand, Adivasis, always neglected, became victims of a development process that rested on the exploitation of their lands, their forests, and their waters. In the 1950s and 1960s, they were displaced by mines, dams and logging projects conducted by the state; from the 1990s, by such projects executed by the private sector. And still, no major political party took up the growing dispossession of Adivasis. It was in this vacant space that the Naxalites moved in. 


The first response to any displacement battle is to criminalize the protestors. There are cases where children have been booked for attempt to murder. This kind of response not only dispossesses the family from their resources but sets them against the state that is meant to protect them. That is when the Maoists enter and pretend to protect the people and either indoctrinate them or just exploit their helplessness. And the state finds itself justified in using further force and brutalizing the entire population. The two issues – of Left Wing Extremism and Adivasi rights and resistance – are different and it is a huge error to mix them up because that in itself fuels the movement that has otherwise virtually lost moral and physical ground in terms of representing who they claim to be fighting for. Ramachandra Guha writes in his email, ‘The Naxalites are often brutal in their methods. As a constitutional democrat, I detest them. At the same time, the roots of Naxalism lie in part in the tragic predicament of the Adivasis. Unless this question is squarely and systematically addressed, the violence will continue.’

Shanti Munda carries on working with the CPI (ML) with little or no hope for the rights for workers while Animesh has long reconciled with the death of the movement. Many ‘comrades’ have joined the establishment; many more were killed in staged encounters or have ‘disappeared’. Though the movement manages to survive and sustain itself, the revolution remains unfinished.