A war has broken out in some parts of east-central India, especially some regions of the Dandakaranya forests that span across the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh. Reportedly, there are thousands of Maoist guerrillas armed with sophisticated weapons confronting a vast array of paramilitary forces assembled by the government of India.
Caught in the crossfire are millions of poor, marginalised and historically isolated adivasis. Their habitat, in which they have lived as forest-dwellers for thousands of years, is now heavily mined and laced with thousands of explosive devices planted by the Maoists. The Maoists have occupied vast regions of the dense forests where their guerrilla zones and heavily-guarded military headquarters are located. In response, the state forces have set up hundreds of camps and have occupied school-buildings to launch their attack.
Plans are afoot to install a jungle warfare training school by the Indian Army close to the supposed Maoist headquarters. Already hundreds of adivasis have lost their lives in the crossfire, thousands are in jail mostly on fake charges, several hundred villages have been looted and burned, lakhs have fled from their homes, hundreds of schools have closed down, and malnutrition has reached sub-Saharan dimensions.
Further, as it usually happens with ill-grounded armed insurgencies, armed actions of the Maoists and the state are already giving rise to ugly vigilante reactions from among the same exhausted adivasi population: adivasis killing, raping, looting other adivasis. An (unpublished) official report of the Ministry of Rural Development states that the vigilante campaign sponsored by the Chhattisgarh state—called Salwa Judum, euphemistically meaning “peace hunt”—was “headed and peopled by Murias, some of them erstwhile cadre and local leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) ... The first onslaught of the Salwa Judum was on Muria villagers who still owed allegiance to the Communist Party of India (Maoist). It turned out to be an open war between brothers.”
After the earlier strictures by the Supreme Court of India on the illegality of state-sponsored vigilante groups, the war continued unabated between those adivasis who are with the Maoists, one the one hand, and Koya commandos recruited by the state from the same adivasi population, on the other. With fresh strictures against the hiring of SPOs and Koya commandos (Supreme Court of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 250 of 2007, Order of July 5, 2011), the “war between brothers” is likely to assume newer, more clandestine, forms. The adivasis will now be encouraged to “spontaneously” attack other adivasis owing allegiance to the Maoists with the state acting behind the scenes.
Also, the state is likely to induct more local adivasis directly into police and paramilitary forces to compensate for the loss of low-cost SPOs and Koya commandos. If the state could hire over 5000 adivasi boys for a meagre salary of three thousand rupees per month, they can surely hire three times more with regular police salaries. And money is not a problem with shining India; there are 12,000 vacancies in Chhattisgarh police anyway. Alternatively, some of the “disarmed” Koya commandos may want to go back to the Maoists for food, guns, and shelter since there is no Supreme Court judgment on “special Maoist officers.” A veiled invitation to that effect is already on offer. With no dearth of jobs with guns if they are willing to die, the land of Chhattisgarh is full of opportunities for adivasi boys and girls. The “war” goes on.
With the reported scale and sophistication of Maoist military preparations and the determination and the vast offensive resources available to the Indian state, the grim picture just sketched appears to be just the beginning. It does not require either space science or insider’s knowledge to infer that, ultimately, the Maoists cannot win this one since they have never secured mass acceptance with the people of India. In fact, if their history of four decades of armed operations is any indication, it is extremely unlikely that they will ever expand beyond the jungles of Dandakaranya: these forests denote their only habitat and (final) burial. Even Maoist sympathisers seem to understand this: “There is no doubt that the Maoists’ militarised politics makes it almost impossible for it to function in places where there is no forest cover” (Roy, “Trickledown etc.”). It is another matter that Maoist sympathisers continue to be under the illusion that this (four-decades-old) limitation is just a fleeting phenomenon that will be overcome as the movement expands.
Nonetheless, given the special character of jungle warfare and the relative inaccessibility of their operational zones, Maoists have certainly developed the means to ward off Indian forces, including eventually the Indian army, for years. Even a single forest brigand, Veerappan, accompanied by a few dozen armed men, was able to resist security forces for decades. As with Veerappan and the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the security forces are likely to suffer relatively more damage in the initial stages due to the unfamiliar terrain and lack of penetration in the local population (see, e.g., “Naxals rule the roost as cops take it easy,” Times of India, 22 June 2011). The history of insurgency in the North-East shows that the Indian government will respond to the early setbacks with escalated violence, perhaps armed with special laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which is in operation in Kashmir and the North-East for decades.
The state of Chhattisgarh has already enacted and put into operation the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA) under which an untold number of hapless adivasis have been incarcerated. An impressive international campaign—involving scores of nobel laureates and other dignitaries—ensued when Dr. Binayak Sen was jailed under this act. It is a victory of the democratic forces that Dr. Sen is now released. Yet, perhaps thousands of faceless adivasis are still in jail as the campaign died out once Dr. Sen was granted bail.
Needless to say, the entire brunt of the projected “proctrated war” will be borne by the adivasis, while elite urban radicals, well-ensconced in their privileged homes and corporate television studios, become progressively stoned with imaginary fumes of revolution emanating from the Maoist guns. As Aditya Nigam (“Rumour of Maoism”, Kafila) put it, “we have a Maoist-aligned intelligentsia vicariously playing out their revolutionary fantasies through the lives of adivasis, while the people actually dying in battle are almost all adivasis.” Someone remarked recently that the Maoists will make sure that the fight continues until the last adivasi, and the Indian forces will not stop firing until the Maoists do. The war goes on.
Professor Nirmalangshu Mukherji teaches at Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi
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