My first direct contact with the Maoist party was in 1988 when I came to study philosophy in Raipur university and when I met Vijay@Vasu@Ramchandra Reddy in the weekly Coffee house meetings of Prof Surendra Parihar at 10 am every Sunday.
I left for Delhi after a while but kept professional contact with Vijay.
Whenever I came to Bastar for reporting I met many of you Maoist leaders with help from Vijay. I never agreed with Vijay’s politics but always admired his commitment.
In those meetings only, I understood that like politics has democratised after independence we need to work for democratising journalism which will strengthen our political democracy. And solutions to our problems lie in an improved democracy.
In 2004 when I came back to Raipur I found the Govt running a violent campaign to crush Maoist movement and there was almost nothing getting reported. I started writing about the human rights violations and wrote almost every week.
My understanding about the Maoist party has been that you had not come here to do revolution. You came here to hide. Your big leaders had written that the revolution will not happen here because adivasis do not have political consciousness but as Mao has suggested you needed to make a place to hide.
As per that “rear area” strategy you helped Adivasis get better Tendu leaf rates and against the atrocities of forest, police, revenue departments and businessmen. And after 1990 when the BJP government started a violent Jan Jagran Abhiyan ( People’s awakening campaign) then only adivasis were forced to join the party.
In the first Jan Jagran Abhiyan Congress and CPI, both helped the BJP.
By the second Jan Jagran ( Salwa Judum) in 2004 CPI had understood its mistake but Congress hadn't understood anything yet. After 2004 the strength of the Maoist party grew many fold.
After 2009 when many had started writing about ongoing human rights violations and wrong Govt policies I shifted my attention to my main work of Democratisation of Media and many villagers also started recording their stories on our Mobile Community Radio.
My basic understanding was that the problem of Bastar is the break of communication. Maximum locals who have joined the Maoist party had no connection with the rest of the country and they were exploring solutions to their problems with guns. Communication does solve some problems.
Then we had to start work on the Gondi language as we found most of the local Maoists were only Gondi speakers. They did not know any other languages like Hindi. State had not invested anything in the language for more than half a century after independence.
Around 2014-15, in our Gondi workshops people started demanding that we start work for peace. They said Maoists are better than policemen but their ideology will harm our society more in the long run so we want to come out of it.
We kept avoiding for 2-3 years saying we are journalists and how can we work for peace? But they kept insisting. I also saw that for the first time some Adivasi Maoists had started surrendering in front of police though most of the surrenders on those days were fake.
Then I started meeting all those people who had helped me gain understanding about the Maoist movement. Barring one or two all told me it is time to start a peace movement though they can not join me.
We had no understanding of the peace work but after a few initial meetings it was decided to start a foot march on Gandhi’s birthday in 2018. Mainly Adivasis from Andhra and Telangana participated saying we understand our fellow brethrens in Chhattisgarh are in trouble but can not speak up so we need to help.
Then we did an opinion poll where 92% said this problem should be solved through dialogue in a peaceful manner. To take that demand forward we did a foot march from Maoist headquarters to the state capital last month in March 2021.
In between we noticed that Governments has started encouraging some anti-constitutional work in tribal areas of Bastar which can not be supported but at the same time democratic opposition by same people who also indulge in violent activities at the same time is also not acceptable.
After 2004 Government was doing more wrong but things have changed now. Government has started work on some pro Adivasi laws, release of prisoners and better rates of forest products, though half heartedly but Maoists are killing more people by calling them informers and expelling them from their villages.
In their election manifesto Congress had promised for “a policy and serious efforts for talks” to resolve the maoist problem. We hope that Congress will fulfil its commitment and Maoists will help.
In Chhattisgarh Congress Government made a very good beginning with return of adivasi lands from industries and promise of release of prisoners. We hope that they will adhere to constitutional rules in scheduled 5 areas in letter and spirit, many of which were created by themselves in the past.
After 2004 when I met some of you to write a book on your movement and you had asked me about my politics. I had replied that my commitment is only to the larger people and I was glad that you had respected my opinion. I remain the same.
Today people in forests of Central India want peace with justice. The same people who had no “political consciousness” are now fighters thanks to you. Please help them a bit more so they can fight democratically and get all their rights.
BJP is credited with starting Maoist movement in Chhattisgarh in the first Jan Jagran, though unknowing, and they strengthened it after the second. But Congress will be credited with starting a gang war here if things continue the way they are today.
Most of you Maoist leaders have left your homes to come to the jungle to make this world a better place. Like Vijay I have respect for your commitments but today when Central India is on the path of becoming Afghanistan I hope you will rethink your strategy.
Last month after the foot march we organised the first Prof Surendra Parihar memorial lecture. Though his family members could not join us for Corona, they told us that Prof Parihar believed in his last days that no big change is possible with violence in current times.
Maoism is an uninvited guest in Bastar. You have helped people of Bastar by giving them their forest back temporarily. They have also sacrificed a lot for your dream of making a better world. But current form of your experiment will destroy Bastar