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Mainstream, VOL LV No 22 New Delhi May 20, 2017

Revolutionary Violence and the State in India’s Democracy: A Study of Mass Encounter in Malkangiri

Saturday 20 May 2017

by Kamalakanta Roul

The following article was sent to us sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons.

It is being published now as its contents are still relevant.

The globalising Indian economy has emerged as a brutal means of accumulating natural resources and also proved to be a sturdy thrust for displacement-related development. The creepy aspects of liberalisation and globalisation continue to exploit the unprocessed raw materials piled up in the tribal belt. The ruling elites, who are mostly non-tribal, have been signing a series of leases with mining companies, both Indian and foreign in nature, while encouraging them to dispossess the Adivasis of their land and also promoting them to grab natural resources stacked in the tribal courtyard. The iniquitous development agenda, adopted by the liberalised States in India, has forcibly displaced in Odisha several tribal groups who reside under the broader coverage of depri-vation, cut off regions largely marginal to the governance process. Thus, the intensity of alienation and destitution has produced a fertile ground for several Maoist groups to set up their base in these development-free and neglected districts. Maoists could successfully win the trust of the Adivasis whereas the state has failed to even reach them. Henceforth, the Maoist-led Adivasis have been collectively and relentlessly resisting the conquest of their “jal, jamin and jungle” through a combination of mass movements and armed struggles.

The devastating combing operation of the state security agencies, considered as “legitimate coercion” in the interest of the larger society, has never convinced the Adivasis. The arbitrary arrest of innocent Adivasis as suspected Maoists or their supporters, fake charges against Adivasi civilians and fake encounters are largely perceived as violence by the Adivasi communities in Odisha. As a result, Adivasis form a guerrilla army to fight the government forces. They resort to this to carry on their revolution, to establish people’s power in their region and manage their resources and defend their culture. Manoranjan Mohanty calls this kind of tribals’ self-protective measures as “revolutionary violence”. Further, he explains, “revolutionary violence is in response to ruling class violence as a part of a political strategy to bring about comprehensive structural transformation of the unequal social order”. (Mohanty, 2015: vii) Moreover, Manoranjan Mohanty has clarified it by saying that “all violence is unacceptable as it violates human life and dignity...” (Ibid.: vi) The Odisha Maoists have their strongholds in some tribal-dominated districts like Koraput, Rayagada, Malkangiri, Nabarangapur, Gajapati and Ganjam. The state violence is a regular feature in these areas in the name of curbing the Maoist menace through strong military actions of Combing Operation, Greyhound moves and Operation Green Hunt etc. The recent encounter near the Balimela reservoir in the Malkangiri district of Odisha has killed 39 cadres, leaders, and ordinary Adivasi supporters of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). A joint force of the Greyhounds of the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Police and the paramilitary Special Operations Group of the Odisha Police engineered it in the early morning of October 24, 2016.

The encounter has once again triggered controversy in terms of the Adivasis’ democratic rights, revolution against oppression and developmental trajectory. The critics of the Malkangiri encounter called it “pre-planned, extrajudicial killing” and also pointed out that “impunity breeds contempt for the law”. (EPW, November 5, 2016, pp. 5) Meanwhile, revolu-tionary writer P. Varavara Rao called it a “fake encounter”. He asserted: “Cops surrounded a Maoist meeting and shot them in cold blood terming it as an encounter. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the influence of Maoists has come down and they have not launched any major attacks. So what was the reason for such drastic action against them? This encounter case should be registered as a murder case. A sitting High Court judge should conduct the probe.” (The Indian Express, October 25, 2016) It is also argued that “the Malkangiri ‘encounter‘ must thus be seen as part of the counter-insurgency in the districts to annihilate the Maoist leadership of the Adivasi resistance to the acquisition of land for bauxite mining”. (EPW, November 5, 2016, pp. 8)

The concerned article examines various aspects of the Malkangiri encounter such as constitutional, political and developmental. Contextually, the larger questions are: whether continuous encounters for eliminating Maoists would succeed in making the tribal regions Maoist-free. Does the state need to rethink over the wild strategy of curbing the Maoist menace? How should the Indian Maoists approach the changing nature of Indian politics in present times?

Unfulfilled Constitutional Promises

On December 13, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru presented in the Constituent Assembly of India the Objectives Resolution which stated that “adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes...” (Guha, 2007: 3305) Jaipal Singh, a member of the Constituent Assembly, said: “As a jungli, as an Adibasi”, I, “am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. Sir, if there is any group of Indian people that has been shabbily treated it is my people. They have been disgracefully treated, neglected for the last 6,000 years... I am concerned—it is the newcomers who have driven away my people from the Indus Valley to the jungle fastness...The whole history of my people are one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder...” (CAD, Vol.1; quoted in Guha, 2007:3305)

A decade after independence, the Verrier Elwin Committee enquired into the functioning of government schemes in the tribal areas. It found that the officials in charge of these schemes “were lacking in any intimate knowledge of their people and had very little idea of general policies for tribal development”. The Committee also observed “a tendency for officials to regard themselves as superior, as heaven-born missionaries of a higher culture. The public officials behave like the boss of the people; their chaprasis abuse them; even they do not hesitate to threaten and bully people.” The Committee concluded that “of the many tribal problems the greatest of all is poverty”. (Quoted in Guha, 2007; 3306) Further, the Committee said that “much of the poverty and degradation was the fault of us, the ‘civilised‘ people. We have driven the tribals into the hills because we wanted their land and now we blame them for cultivating it in the only way we left to them. We have robbed them of their arts by sending them the cheap and tawdry products of a commercial economy. We have even taken away their food by stopping their hunting or by introducing new taboos which deprive them of the valuable protein elements in meat and fish. We sell them spirits which are far more injurious than the home-made beers and wines which are nourishing and familiar to them; and use the proceeds to uplift them with ideals. We look down on them and rob them of their self-confidence, and take away their freedom by laws which they do not understand.” (Guha, 2007: 3306-07)

After a few years, the U.N. Dhebar committee was constituted to look into the situation in tribal areas. The committee identified land alienation, the denial of forest rights, and the displacement by development projects as among the major problems facing the adivasis. (Ibid.) Consequently, it is the state which has failed to come to the rescue of the tribals. The state has not been able to protect the land rights of the tribal community and has also been unable to check the exploitative activities of moneylenders.

Indeed, the major power projects and steel plants set up had resulted in a substantial displace-ment of the tribal people. (Ibid.) B.D. Sharma, a civil rights activist, said: “The major problems faced by tribals were still land alienation, restrictions on their use of forests, and displacement by dams and other large projects.” (Ibid.) He pointed out that “the tribal people are at a critical point in their history.... They are losing command over resources at a very fast rate but are also facing social disorganisation which is unprecedented in their history.” (Ibid.)

Emaciated Adivasi Leadership and the State Abandoning Adivasis

The state abandoning the Adivasis in many levels of politico-economic strictures has created a landscape in which they are forced to live. In these abandoned moorland areas, “public officials are unwilling to work hard, and often unwilling to work at all. Doctors do not attend the clinics assigned to them; schoolteachers stay away from school; magistrates spend their time lobbying for a transfer back to the plains. On the other hand, the Maoists are prepared to walk miles to hold a village meeting, and listen sympathetically to tribal grievances.” (Guha, 2007: 3309) Moreover, “in the absence of any government support and the apathetic attitude of the forest management departments towards the livelihood of forest-dependent communities, the Naxalites have found fertile ground to proliferate...” (Mukherjee, 2005; quoted in Guha: ibid.)

As far as political leadership and mobilisations are concerned, Adivasis are far away in comparison to the assertion and organisation of the Dalit communities. B.R. Ambedkar was their messiah and many unions have also emerged in present times in the same ideology of Ambedkar. Dalits live in mixed villages along with other castes and communities and they also influence the Lok Sabha elections with 10 per cent to 20 per cent of votes. Approximately, Dalits have a decisive impact over 300 constituencies. On the other hand, tribals are scattered in remote upland areas. They don’t have popular and national level leaders so far, although colonial India had some “ulugulan” (revolutionary) like Birsha Munda who is not known to other parts of India.

However, there is less tribal solidarity and links across districts. Tribals have impact over 50 to 60 Lok Sabha constituencies where voters are isolated and unorganised. In fact, “there are many variations in the forms in which tribals experience oppression. In one place, their main persecutors are forest officials; in another place, moneylenders; in a third, development projects conducted under the aegis of the state; in a fourth, a mining project promoted by a private firm. In the circumstances, it is much harder to build a broad coalition of tribals fighting for a common goal under a single banner.” (Guha, 2007: 3309)

Ramachandra Guha has identified two causes for the increasing presence of Naxalites in areas dominated by Adivasis: first, geographical reason—‘the hills and forests of central India are well suited to the methods of roaming guerilla warfare’; second, historical reason—the Adivasis have gained least and lost most from 70 years of political independence. (Guha, 2007:3309)

Maoist Movement in Neglected Regions of Odisha

Odisha has become a model of tribal rights violation due to the State’s negligence and bureaucratic casualness. As a result, several Maoist groups have emerged against tribal exploitation, dispossession and underdevelopment in the backward districts. Maoists have built a strong support-base among the tribals, Dalits and poor. Odisha is a very rich State in terms of mines and minerals and other natural resources. The State has 99 per cent of chromite ore, 92 per cent of nickel ore, 65 per cent of graphite and pyrophylite, 66 per cent of bauxite, 31 per cent of mineral sand, 32 per cent of manganese, 28 per cent of iron ore and 24 per cent of coal resources of the country. But the State has miserably failed to substantiate a genuine growth and progress and is unfortunately known as one of the poorest States of the country.

The Planning Commission of India had identified Odisha as having the highest overall poverty figures of any major Indian State, with around 48 per cent (17 million) of its population living below the poverty line. (Kujur, 2006: 557) The literacy rate in Odisha is 63.61 per cent. Infectious diseases (acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria) still affect many regions. The gut-wrenching image of Dana Majhi, Kalahandi has exposed the healthcare facility of Odisha. The malnourished death of small children in Nagada, Jajpur and Japanese encephalitis (JE) fever in Malkangiri have also uncovered the real bad shape of the health system. In fact, the State still leads the highest infant mortality rate in the country. ‘It has lowest number of doctors per capita in the world.’ (Ibid.)

The Maoist movement started in Odisha in early 1968 and it gained momentum and strengthened its position only in the last three decades. The two different Maoist outfits such as the People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) had merged on September 16, 2004 and formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist). (Roul, 2016: 30) They have a very strong support-base in nine predominantly tribal districts like Koraput, Rayagada, Malkangiri, Nabarangapur, Gajapati and Ganjam. The Maoists also have strongholds in other districts, that is, Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Deogarh, and Jharsuguda. The State-sponsored development and industrial growth has benefited a few elites such as industrialists and agriculturalists. The local rural tribal people are alienated from the benefits.

It is noteworthy that among nine Naxal affected districts, Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri and Nabarangpur come under the infamous poverty-stricken KBK region. The KBK region had also drawn special attention for starvation deaths in the mid-1980s and still persist with famine, hunger and starvation. “Ironically, the underdeveloped and Naxal-infested western and southern belts of Orissa are the storehouse of most mines and mineral deposits of the State. Over the years several industries, big and small as well as several irrigation projects, have come up in these areas. The ongoing development process in these areas has not benefited the rural masses.” (Kujur, 2006: 557)

The prevalence of age-old underdevelopment and chronic poverty have provided a fertile ground for the Maoists to successfully spread their ideology and bring people under their fold to fight against the state. Acknowledging these factors, the Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik, admitted that: “People in the backward regions lack economic opportunities. They are deprived of fruits of development efforts. People in the socio-economically depressed regions often carry a deep sense of frustration and discrimination against their better off neighbours. Poor and disaffected people are often easily manipulated by anti-social elements and powerful vested interests. These pockets of poverty breed serious socio-economic problems. There is corroborating evidence that the problems of terrorism, Naxalism, increased incidents of crime, law and order and social strife in many pockets are attributed to social and economic depression of such regions.” (Excerpts from the speech of Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister, Odisha delivered at the 50th National Development Council Meeting held on December 21, 2002 at New Delhi; quoted in Behera, 2015: 18)

Red October: Narratives of Mass Encounter in Malkangiri 

Malkangiri is the land of dense inaccessible forests, small but beautiful rivers, undulating plateaus and splendorous rich tribal culture. It is widely believed that many mythological episodes took place in and around Malkangiri starting from the epic Ramayana to the Mahabharata age. The district has five major tribal communities: Koyas, Paraja, Bondas, Gadabas and Kondhs. According to the 2011 Census, Malkangiri has a total 612,727 population out of which STs are 57.87 per cent, and SCs 22.57 per cent. The district has 49.49 per cent of literacy and 93.25 per cent rural households as well as 6.77 per cent urban households. Malkangiri has a total 1045 villages, 108 Gram Panchayats and seven blocks.

Malkangiri has a 2500 year-old human civilisation which was flourishing as a hilly kingdom during the reign of the ‘Ganga Dynasty’. In 1880, the well known “Koya revolution” took place against the brutality of British rule under the brave leadership of Tama Dora. The main festival of the Koyas is “Bijapandu”. The Koyas are the largest in population and they live in Kalimela, Podia, Malkangiri and Korukonda areas of the Malkangiri district. In 1971 the Koya population was 58,730 and in the 1991 Census their population grew to 140,000. The Bondas’ population was 9378 in 1991 and the Didayis Adivasis were 7371 in 1991. They live in the deep forest and earn their livelihood from the forest-based resources and shifting cultivation.

It was in the early morning of October 24, 2016 that at least 24 Maoists, including seven women Maoists, were shot dead in an encounter with a joint team of Odisha Police and Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh Police near Jantri in Malkangiri district which is a few km away from the Andhra-Odisha border. (The Indian Express, October 25, 2016) This is the second major encounter and the biggest in the Malkangiri district. Thirteen Maoists were killed in an encounter with the police in September 2013 in the Podia block in Malkangiri district.

Some civil society activists see the incident as a revengeful act of the police forces. The cadres of the CPI-Maoist attacked a boat carrying four anti-Naxal police personnel and 60 Greyhound Commandos (elite anti-Naxal force from the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh State) on the Balimela reservoir in Malkanagiri district on June 29, 2008. In this attack 36 Greyhound commandos were killed along with two anti-Naxal police personnel of Odisha.

Just after 18 days of the Balimela reservoir attack, the Maoists killed 17 police personnel by triggering a powerful landmine blast in Malkanagiri district on July 16, 2008. The blast took place at Malkangiri Village-126 which comes under the Kalimela Police Station. (Behera, 2015)

On October 1, 2016 Maoists “hijacked” two government-run motor boats to ferry people across the Balimela reservoir and also summoned people from six panchayats for a meeting deep inside the Bhejingi forest which is also known as the “cut-off area”. This area is a cluster of 151 villages where can be reached only through the water route. (Sahu, 2016). Two boatmen were at the services of Maoists for the full two-day meeting and came to know about the Maoists’ hideout amid deep forests and their activities. It was through these boatmen and some people who attended the meeting that the security forces got to know that top Maoist leader G. Ramakrishna (RK) addressed the people and gave a call to boycott the Odisha panchayat election scheduled to be held in February 2017. Six days before the encounter the security forces got to know about a makeshift training programme being planned by the Maoists in Bhejingi. (Ibid.) The Odisha Police had received intelligence reports that a major training camp of the Maoists was on in the area. Based on this information, Greyhound commandos of Andhra Pradesh and armed forces of the Odisha Police took up this joint operation.

The exchange of fire occurred at the Bhejingi jungle between Panasput and Ramgarh of this cut-off area of Balimela reservoir. (The Hindu, October 25, 2016, Delhi edition) Early in the day on October 23 some 70 personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) and District Volunteers Force (DAF) of the Odisha Police moved to the Andhra side on the road to join around 80 personnel of the Greyhounds. The Odisha contingent avoided taking the water route through the Balimela reservoir. The total 150-strong ambush party moved stealthily on foot and reached the camp site around midnight. (Sahu, 2016)

Malkangiri: A Governance-free Region 

Malkangiri is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. The district was carved out from Koraput on October 2, 1992 and identified as an independent district according to the Notification No. 49137/R. On this occasion the district has witnessed two death tales: death of over 60 undernourished children because of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) caused by the Japanese encephalitis (JE) and mass killing of 39 Maoists by the Greyhound forces. The district is 600 km away from the State capital. It has very poor means of communication and tele-communication services and also insufficient numbers of schools and hospitals. The government hospitals in the district have only 23 doctors as against a sanctioned strength of 115. The district headquarters hospital in Malkangiri town has only 13 doctors on duty, including two dentists, when the sanctioned strength is 44. The district had only one paediatrician till the end of September. (Frontline, November 11, 2016)

In 2014, Malkangiri ranked 15th in the list of 100 districts in the country with the highest prevalence of wasting, stunting and underweight of children. According to the latest Annual Health Survey (AHS) data, 33.4 per cent of the children below five years of age in Malkangiri suffered from wasting, stunting and underweight primarily because of undernutrition. It “can be termed as a deficiency of calories or several vital nutrients essential for growth and survival. Undernutrition develops largely when people fail to obtain or prepare food, suffer from a disorder that makes eating or absorbing food difficult, or have a greatly increased need for calories.”

In the AHS list of 100 districts with the highest prevalence of under- and over-nutrition among children, Malkangiri stands 10th with 35 per cent undernutrition. The infant mortality rate (IMR) for Malkangiri is reported to be 48 as against the State average of 56, and the maternal mortality rate (MMR) stands at 245 as against the State average of 230. (The Times of India, February 18, 2011, Bhubaneswar edition) The district is Odisha’s worst poverty zone, where people lead a virtually sub-Saharan life with scant development activities and the scarce livelihood sources lending a hand. It is observed that Malkangiri has a rich deposit of, among others, tin, limestone, black granite, asbestos, mica and soap stones, but ranks lowest in terms of small and medium enterprises, let alone big industries. The district amongst the 30 districts in Odisha recorded the “lowest average growth rate” at 2.6 per cent from 2000 to 2007. Though Odisha has all along been boasting of being power-surplus, people in Malkangiri have hardly benefited, as only seven per cent villages have electricity here. (Ibid.)

Two biggest hydro-power projects brought incessant sorrow for Malkangiri since indepen-dence. The first hydropower project, on River Machhkund in 1949, had displaced 2938 tribal households belonging to the Paraja, Gadaba and Kandh. These communities migrated to the lower part of the river and got settled in the hilly terrains by making their own arrangements. The other project was on Gurupriya River in 1962 and this is widely known as the Balimela hydro-power project. It had displaced 2000 tribal families who later on rehabilitated themselves by making their own arrangements. The project’s water was planned for irrigation in 2.4 lakh acres of land in the Motu plains of the district. But the Koya-inhabited areas have not been covered with basic irrigation. The double displacement of the Kandha and Paraja resulted in large-scale eviction, loss of their lands, destruction of their places worship and burial grounds.

These development projects have had a severe impact over the socio-economic life of the Adivasis. These have affected bio-physical, livelihood resources and the village economy tremendously. The Balimela reservoir displaced more than 250 villages of the Kudugulugumma block and the villagers remained cut-off from the mainland and supplies provided by the government system. The government’s performance on the rehabilitation front can be simply termed as disastrous. Thousands of people are still living in tiny islands within the dam area, which the government terms as the “cut-off area”. (Kujur, 2006: 558) Some areas are the governance-free areas of Malkangiri such as Janbai, Panasput, Jodamba and Andrapali panchayats; where there is no school, no hospital and even no public distribution system.

To visit other parts of the district, the villagers solely depend on motorboats that run twice a week. The cut-off areas are not even inter-connected by road. Residents of these areas complain of gross financial irregularities because of an unholy nexus between contractors and government officials. (Ibid.)

The rehabilitation of Bangladeshi refugees in the Koya habitat in the 1960s has increased the population in the areas and conversely depleted the traditional natural resources of the Koyas. Approximately, 22.69 per cent households in Malkangiri are landless and more than 47.36 per cent households have no patta land. In fact, 94.34 per cent households live on agricultural income which is “very low or negative growth” and 70 per cent Adivasis are living under the BPL category while 60 per cent households were declared to be under the APL category by the government. In total, Malkangiri has 85 per cent poor people and is known as a region which has the “highest poverty” in Odisha. This district is also a part of the KBK districts of Odisha. The Malkangiri district, full of hilly terrain and forests, has remained a sanctuary for the Maoists as well. The State Government has deployed the highest number of more than three battalions of the CRPF and BSF to bring the district to order.

Malkangiri is persisting with numerous problems such as poverty, rampant corruption, failed government mechanisms and programmes. The CPI (Maoist), under the banner of the erstwhile PWG, has created a red bastion in the more remote areas in Malkangiri. (Kujur, 2006: 558) Extreme poverty and lack of basic requirements of life in most areas of Malkangiri have forced the people to move closer to the Naxals. Maoists have strong bastions in different areas of Malkangiri such as Chitrakonda, Balimela, Motu, Gomphakunda, Janbai, Jantabai, Jantri, Jodamba, Panasaput, Maliguda, Bhaluguda, Padmagiri, Gunthabeda, Padia, Korkunda, Kudumulugumma, Matili and other areas adjoining the borders of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Weakened but not Wiped Out

After the Malkangiri encounter the governments must be celebrating the victory of the police personnel in Malkangiri. The security establish-ment must have gained confidence after eliminating a group of Maoists in the district. Indeed, the Maoists’ activism would be down in Malkangiri for a certain period of time but eliminating the Maoists in Odisha and other parts of India is something far from the reality. Their morale is down and they do not have a political strategy after the Malkangiri encounter but definitely the Maoists are not out of the scene. Poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote, “...you may kill him—a new one is born/deeds and talks will be recorded.” The Maoists still maintain the reputation being the supporters of the poor, downtrodden and especially Adivasis. No doubt, the present Maoist leaderships did lose their popularity among a section of the intellectual class but Maoism still echoes in universities and colleges. Some parts of West Bengal show that the movement is on the retreat. Yet this is not the whole story. “The entire Dandakaranya region, which includes vast areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, considerable parts of Chhattisgarh, especially southern Chattisgarh, as also large spaces in Odisha and, in addition, Jharkhand and parts of Maharashtra, show signs of a Naxalite revival. Recent reports further indicate that from this core, the movement is now radiating out to other parts. This includes the crucial tri-junction of the three southernmost States of India, viz. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.” (Narayanan, 2016:12)

The programme of agrarian revolution and anti-imperialist mobilisation has acquired a fresh appeal in the era of globalisation and economic reforms seen in the past two decades and also since the US-led “war on terror” that began in 2001. The neglect of the rural economy has been characterised by starvation conditions and farmers’ suicides in some parts of the country while farmers everywhere find agriculture less and less remunerative. The tribal people find themselves further distressed by their shrinking access to forest resources and large-scale displacement caused by the mega-mining projects. (Mohanty, 2006: 3163)

Successive governments in Odisha have been consistently ignoring the grievances and demands of the people from the Maoist-affected areas; even the Opposition parties do little in this regard. The government and Opposition have collectively identified the ‘Maoist conflict as a law and order problem and a spillover effect from the neighbouring States’. The political establishment must understand the ground-reality that there lie genuine issues relating to land, forest rights, poverty, displacement, illiteracy and lack of genuine development in these areas. The Naxalite movements need to be understood from the people’s perspective of large scale suffering, multiple layers of deprivation and accumulation of natural resources. The Naxalite issue should not be perceived only as an armed conflict or a violent battle against the Maoists.

The state shouldn’t approach the violence with counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency techniques. In fact, the Maoists too retaliate with more violence by using excessive sophisticated weapons. The battle between the security forces and Maoists results in heavy causalities of civilians as happened recently in the Malkangiri and Kandhamal districts. The state must engage itself with effective implementation of poverty alleviation policies and it should also ensure that no one dies without food and due to lack of basic needs. The state and administration must be very careful in reducing deprivation and destitution of the poor people in the Maoist-affected regions. They should also adopt a people-centric developmental model where the affected people should participate in policy-making and policy-implementing processes. The district administration must be very sensitive in handling Adivasi backwardness.

It must be very much transparent and active towards the suffering of the poor Adivasis and also allow them to take part in administrative decision-making processes. By and large, Maoist-affected regions require “development admini-stration” where people’s participation must be the first priority. However, a trust-building mechanism should develop among the Adivasis and the state. The gulf between the two needs to be narrowed down in order to end the armed struggle.

The Integrated Action Plan (IAP) is a develop-mental scheme which is being implemented in 15 Maoist-affected districts of Odisha. The scheme provides Rs 30 crores per district every year but it is dominated by the higher bureaucracy of the district. Similarly, most of the developmental schemes are not represented by the local people. Lack of local representation overshadows the ground-reality and precise issues that need to be addressed.

The new surrender and rehabilitation policy of Odisha, 2012 ignores the key issues such as rehabilitation of the surrendered Maoists, and speedy trial of the cases against them. Probably, the Odisha State has not made serious attempt to hold talks and negotiations with the Maoists. Moreover, the successive governments have been adopting a unilateral approach of blaming the Maoists for fomenting violence and Maoists have been asked to “shun violence”. This one-sided approach has failed time and again. The Odisha State must come forward with some constructive initiatives: a favourable atmosphere must be created for talks, Maoists must be invited for negotiations, suspected Maoists must be released, ceasefire declared and pacifists engaged for conflict resolution.


Of course, the nature of the Maoist movement has drastically changed in contemporary times. The ideological moorings of the 1960s have changed and today’s Maoists have different political aspirations. Charu Mazumdar aspired to bring about “A Spring Thunder over India”. “Today, it has metamorphosed into a highly rigid and militaristic movement, more intent on terrorising segments of population than on supporting people’s causes.” (Narayanan, 2016:12) Since the Naxalbari uprising nearly five decades ago, the Naxalite movement now comprises various groups that appear bound together by a commonality in ideology, though their aims to achieve revolution differ.

“The different groups within the movement may appear fragmented but as long as sharp iniquities prevail in the current social and economic polity their vision will continue to appeal to the dispossessed and the marginalised. The Indian state by its unitary response of violence and repression is not only guilty of a blinkered understanding of the situation but is in danger of perpetuating the culture of violence in large parts of the country.” (Mohanty, 2006: 3163) Charu Mazumdar said in the autumn of 1967: “...hundreds of Naxalbaris are smouldering in India... Naxalbari has not died and will never die.” (Banerjee 2008: 112) The time has also come for the Maoists to introspect over their political strategy and style. The Maoists in Nepal have adopted a “creative approach” after their decade-long struggle. They entered into the democratic mainstream and participate in competitive electoral politics. Likewise, the Indian Maoists should rethink their political strategy and understand the gravity of the situation in present times.

The Odisha Maoists shouldn’t oppose or destroy developmental projects in neglected areas. Maoist opposition has delayed the construction of the Gurupriya Bridge that could provide direct road communication to over 150 villages in this cut-off area of the reservoir. As per media reports, the construction of this bridge is in full swing now under tight security. The security agencies should also not arrest and detain the common people on false charges by terming them “suspected Maoists”. After the Malkangiri encounter the police have taken away seventeen villagers suspecting them to be Maoist supporters from Dakapadar, Bachilipadar and Kajuriguda villages. Of these, only three from Bachilipadar village have returned. One was found dead in a culvert after five days.

The continuous dominance of the inhuman menace of poverty, inequality and exploitation provides a favourable atmosphere to the Maoists for garnering the support of the marginalised and oppressed people. As long as poverty prevails in India, Maoists would continue to strengthen their bastions and make them safe. So, the inhuman conditions of neglected Adivasis should be improved with proper developmental mechanisms as fast as possible. The battle of the bullet between the state security agencies and Maoist groups should be turned into the battle for democratic transformation of the neglected lives of poor Adivasis.


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Kamalakanta Roul teaches Political Science at the University of Delhi. He can be contacted at kamalakantroul[at]gmail.com

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