In her impressive article Walking with the Comrades, Arundhati Roy gave us both the salt and pepper view of Maoists in Dandakaranya as well as the lives and hardship of tribals.
She definitely made more than a journalistic effort to tell the story of tribal conditions, conflicts and the way the Maoists stood by them in times of trouble, exploitation and land grabbing. There is no doubt that the Maoists are working as their saviours from corporate exploiters and the oppression of other agencies.
But do the Maoists have an overall developmental strategy for tribals? To find an answer, we should try to understand the history of tribal development in the Northeast, particularly Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. About 50 years ago, the tribals of this region were as illiterate as those of Dandakaranya. But today Mizoram has 95 per cent literacy (more than Kerala), Manipur has 68.87 per cent, Meghalaya 63.31 per cent and Nagaland 66.11 per cent.
The amazing thing is that English, which is seen as an alien but desired language by many plain people, has become their common communicative and administrative language. Anybody in India knows that knowledge of English is a kind of power in itself. This educational development has to be seen in the background of the committed activities of missionaries. They averted violent struggles and at the same time, ensured the uplift of tribals. It was a slow but sure process of development and empowerment.
But what is the Maoist vision to develop the Central Indian tribes?
Roy knows that the Maoists moved into Dandakaranya after they lost ground in plain regions of Andhra Pradesh. They did not start their movement just to protect the tribals or to liberate them. They launched their movement around 1967 with a theoretical formulation that India was a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country. The Maoists were of the view that India should go through a process of new democratic revolution on the lines that Mao proposed. Their main idea was to liberate the agrarian villages and encircle the urban areas with a twin strategy of guerrilla warfare and mass mobilisation.
Having failed in this strategy and also having lost hundreds of leaders and thousands of cadres they withdrew into this thick forest zone. They have not changed their understanding of India since then. Does Roy agree with their view of Indian capital, state and society? I support her if she is sympathising with them for their fight against “corporate invasion” but she seems to suggest that they are like gods who have gone there to change the life of tribals. There is something basically wrong with that understanding.
Maoism as an ideological agency does not have comprehensive liberation and developmental agenda for tribals. Even in China it did not liberate and develop them, in spite of Maoism being in power for so long. The Chinese tribals are not as much developed as our north-eastern tribals.
Yes, ever since Mr Chidambaram took over the home ministry, as an aggressive agent of liberalisation and globalisation, the question of the Maoist strategy of converting Dandakaranya into a war zone has acquired critical importance.
There is a view that the Maoist problem is basically a law and order problem both among the governing agencies and a vast number of civil societal forces. It is actually a socio-economic and ideological movement. It has developed as part of the larger communist ideological development. It is one of the shades of the Indian Communist movement with a history of 43 years.
There are intellectuals in this country who believe that it has been working for the development and uplift of the tribals of the Central India. But both in terms of practice and theory the Maoist movement does not have a reformist agenda for tribals.
Ever since its main ideologues — Tarimela Nagireddy, Devulapally Venkateswar Rao and later Kondapally Sitharamaiah, K.G. Satyamurthy — started the Maoist stream they have been waging a war against the Indian state. Charu Majumdar provided its “Annihilation of Class Enemy” theory. But they could not succeed even in one state.
They are now focusing on the tribal areas as they are the most underdeveloped. Some sort of semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism exists in the tribal regions and the forest gives Maoists a cover that plain areas cannot.
Nagireddy wrote his famous book India Mortgaged in the early 70s. Today India’s position even in the world has changed. The nature of its capital has changed quite drastically.
Since Maoists as well as the exploiters of the tribals bank upon their illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, the state must study the development pattern of north-eastern tribals and employ some of those strategies in Central Indian tribal regions.
Mere military strategy will not work. The Congress cannot afford to acquire an image of tribal annihilator. The Maoists have no clue as to how to bring the tribals into the mainstream bypassing the caste structures that the Hindu religion has created. But it is part of Hindu fundamentalist expansion into tribal areas with its own ideological baggage.
Unfortunately Mr Chidambaram too is becoming part of that move. But while we oppose Chidambaram’s warmongering we should also understand the limitations of Maoists.