People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 09, 2013


Violent Politics of Underdevelopment in Bastar


Archana Prasad


IN their public message on the attack, the CPI (Maoist) congratulated its people’s liberation guerrilla army on its audacious and successful ambush against the state Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh on May 25, 2013. It stated that the main aim of the ambush was to kill Mahendra Karma, the architect of the Salwa Judum, an illegal organisation for counter insurgency operations.


The attackers found support from Arundhati Roy who branded the “Maoist led attack” as a “counter violence against the state.” In her self-professed ‘romantic’ imagination, this violence is an assertion of the “poor people” of the forests against an oppressive and militarised state. On the other side, the state and central governments have been quick to characterise the attack as an “attack on democracy” that has largely been a result of a “security failure.” In fact the union minister of rural development also emphasised that the “time for talks is over” and some urgency is needed to root out the armed insurgents.


Both these interpretations of the attack assume that their political domination through the barrel of the gun will solve the problems of the adivasis of the region. But neither of these two sides has the vision or the strategy to provide a democratic alternative for countering the right wing politics and neo-liberal policies.  In this sense, both these undemocratic tendencies are pushing the adivasis into the vicious cycle of underdevelopment, poverty and corporate exploitation.




One of the fundamental problems in Bastar has been the lack of democratic and egalitarian development since the early post- independence period. The policies of independent India ensured that the adivasis lost their rights to productive resources (like land and forests) and became more and more dependent on social welfare measures for their survival. It is also true that most sub-plans concentrated and invested in social services like education and health more than in productive activities like agriculture or the processing and trading of minor forest produce through the area development plans and tribal sub-plans.


Thus there was a penetration of the state-supported market and the trader-contractor has been dominating the adivasi regions, also integrating the adivasis into the labour market in this region. An enquiry committee in 1971 showed that most of the adivasis were bonded labour to moneylenders and contractors.  Hence, even though the fifth schedule was meant to protect the adivasi land rights, indebtedness due to lack of gainful employment and a distressing agrarian situation forced them to lease out their lands to companies and contractors. As the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task of Land Reforms (Ministry of Rural Development, 2010) showed, about 640 villages had been emptied without any recorded land rights during the Salwa Judum operations.


Thus the militarisation of the adivasi areas seems to fit in well with a developmental strategy that facilitates the penetration of corporate capital into these resource rich areas. The lack of land right records and the tardy implementation of the Forest Rights Act are aimed to facilitate this process. That is why we see that the process of recognition of forest rights has not even started in Dantewada or the South Bastar districts. At the same time most of the claims filed in Bastar and the North Bastar districts were pending at the district level, thus underlining the tardy implementation of the act.


These factors have also motivated the negligence of democratic processes within the region. There are numerous instances when the state has itself violated the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) for granting access to industrial projects. The leasing of 5300 acres of land to the TATA steel plant is one such instance where the forcible public hearings were held without proper procedures.




Chhattisgarh is the second largest mineral rich state and had had over 7,000 cases of illegal mining by the end of 2009, with Dantewada and the Bastar region being the largest. However, only 2,203 cases were filed against illegal mining in the state. At the same time, the presence of the ‘Maoists’ was also used as an excuse to ensure that no action was taken against illegal miners.


The second aspect of this development strategy has been that the administration is unresponsive, as far as social services are concerned. The 2011 provisional census figures show that the literacy rate in Dantewada was about 35 per cent, which is way lower than the state’s overall literacy rate of about 60 per cent. Only 36.08 per cent of its households have electricity and only 11.61 per cent get safe drinking water, which is much lower than the state figures of 75 per cent for electricity and 58 per cent for safe drinking water. Equally striking is the fact that villagers have to walk for more than two kilometres for accessing safe drinking water.


This abysmal state of basic amenities exists despite the allocations of central funds under the integrated area development scheme for the naxalite affected districts. Data shows that only 62 Anganwadi buildings were completed  as of May 2013 even though a target of 105 Anganwadi buildings was set by the state government. Several drinking water projects and 142 road projects that connect remote Bastar habitations with the outside world are also incomplete. By contrast, the police budget of the state government has gone up by almost four times in the last decade. This shows that the state government is not responsive to the needs of the tribal people in the so called liberated zones; rather it has abdicated its responsibility towards the people by sponsoring illegal initiatives like Salwa Judum.




While it is true that the political vacuum and the exploitation by mainstream political forces have provided a base for the establishment of the so called ‘liberated zone,’ the ‘Maoists’ and their sympathisers claim that they have a new paradigm of development. But this so called ‘new paradigm’ is largely based on the so called ‘voluntary’ contribution of peasants in terms of both labour and produce. As the documents from the ‘liberated zone’ show, “people’s committees” extract grain tax from marginal farmers to fortify and subsidise the ‘liberation army’ and depend on ‘voluntary’ labour to build houses, shelters and other infrastructural facilities for the ‘liberation army’. Even at the height of the high intensity conflict with Salwa Judum, when the ‘Maoists’ confiscated approximately 1526 acres of excess lands from landlords (most of whom were adivasis), they only distributed a part of it to the landless, while retaining the bulk of the land for the needs of their guerrilla army. Peasants were forced to do ‘voluntary’ labour on this land in order to sustain and subsidise the insurgents whose main leaders are non-adivasis. Needless to say, such coercive extraction has adversely impacted the survival of most of the Gond, Koya and Maria adivasis who are marginal farmers and also do seasonal wage labour for their livelihood. These taxes enable the ‘Maoists’ to maintain their army and build up their reserves in case of counter-insurgency operations of the state power, while these exploiters are permitted to continue with their exploitation of cheap adivasi labour and natural resources. ‘Maoists’ are thus exploiting and oppressing the same people whom they claim to liberate.




Another aspect of the ‘Maoist’ rule is their opportunist and ambivalent relationship with the market and the contractors who are the main exploiters of the adivasis. Corporate and contractor funding is one of the most important sources of ‘Maoist’ existence. An activist of the Jharkhand Special Area Committee of the ‘Maoists,’ on his arrest, revealed that a bulk of the corporations including the Rungta Mines, Usha Martin, Torian Iron & Steel etc have allegedly paid to the ‘Maoists’ Rs 25 lakh each, the Birla Bauxite Company in Palamau paid Rs 80 lakh, and Latehar based Tetaria Mines paid Rs two lakh to the ‘Maoists’ in 2007-08, among others. A similar report on the situation in Bengal says that the insurgents collect eight to ten lakh rupees per month from stone-crushing units, sponge iron factories, contractors, businessmen and even school teachers in the state, especially Jangal Mahal.


Within the ‘liberated zones,’ extractions from contractors form the major source of funding, The ‘Maoists’ extract ‘taxes’ (of up to Rs 10,000 in some cases) from forest contractors, illegal mine owners and corporate houses. For example, the police has to depend on private contractors to build roads, bridges etc in many interior regions of Dantewada, Bastar, Bijapur etc where the ‘Maoists’ have an upper hand vis-à-vis the administration. But the extremists have even fixed rates of levy --- like 10 per cent of the project cost for those making unpaved roads or five per cent for small bridges and others. The bus and truck operators claim to be paying Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 per month; this amount varies from region to region. If they fail to pay, they may not be allowed to operate in those areas and their properties would be destroyed. In 2010 alone, they are estimated to have collected Rs 150 crore in Chhattisgarh through this process. In return, they allowed these contractors to carry on their exploitative practices and did not stop the penetration of corporate houses in these areas. In this sense the corporate capital and their agents, the contractors, have used the ‘Maoists’ to continue and expand their operations in the region. But this also means that, in order to maintain themselves, the ‘Maoists’ have allied with the main forces responsible for exploitation of the adivasis. 


The track record of the ‘parallel government’ in the ‘Maoist liberated zone’ suggests that the adivasis as well as their exploiters continue, willingly or unwillingly, to help maintain the ‘Maoist army’ combating the state. Any opposition to this objective from adivasis or others has been resulting in brutal physical elimination. Attempts to build a democratic alternative in the region have met repression from the state power (which is aligned with corporate capital) as well as from the ‘Maoists.’ In the case of Bastar this implies an unstated arrangement between the rightwing forces, corporate capital and the ‘Maoists,’ who co-exist and reaffirm each other through the politics of violence. In the process they pose grave challenges to any democratic movement, which fact highlights the urgent need to build a real pro-people political alternative in what has been designated as the ‘red corridor.’ Both have to be countered politically and ideologically.