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#5109, 17 August 2016

Red Affairs

Development and Maoists
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Director, Mantraya, Goa, and Visiting Fellow & Columnist, IPCS
E-mail: bibhuroutray@gmail.com

The killing of 23-year-old Rakesh Karu Gawde on 30 July 2016 by the cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was the latest onslaught by the extremists on what they perceive to be a competing and overwhelming development initiative by the government. A second year tribal graduation student in Gadchiroli district, Rakesh, according to the police sources, was providing information about government schemes to his community. The extremists, who labelled him as a police informer, picked him up from his village and shot him dead in a neighbouring village.

Rakesh may or may not have been a police informer. Assuming that he was indeed a police informer, killing him served two purposes for the extremists. Firstly, the intelligence network of the police was disrupted. Secondly, official outreach attempts regarding development schemes meant for the tribals suffered a setback.

Not only would it become somewhat harder for the tribals of the area to know of such schemes, they would also be reluctant to avail these given that the Maoists have killed Rakesh.

An important component of the contestation between the state and the Maoists to dominate areas and secure loyalties of the tribal population in many remote parts of the country continues to be between two distinct development paradigms. At one level, it appears ironic that the extremists who have accused the state of neglecting the tribal population have themselves remained a cause of their lack of development. Maoists have destroyed schools, roads, mobile towers, and health centres. They continue to abduct, attack, and kill Sarpanchs in many villages, ensuring that rural self-government institutions are incapacitated. Their opposition to developmental projects has been interpreted as a strategy to maintain the backwardness of the tribal inhabited areas of the country. A deep level of alienation and disenchantment among the tribals towards the state is a critical necessity to maintain the relevance of the Maoist ideology. Development, on the other hand, undercuts Maoist influence.

At the other level, Maoists insist that their opposition to the state's development project does not make them anti-development per se. While critiquing the state's development plan as nothing but a sinister design to dispossess the tribals from "jal, jangal and zameen," the CPI-Maoist insists that its own development model excels over that of the state and has rescued the tribals from the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus in areas under their control. What constitutes such a paradigm and how much of this has been actually implemented is much less known and has remained confined to select pages of the Maoist propaganda material and occasional media reports. Yet, the available literature does provide some indication regarding what Maoists consider to be development and also, how such strategies have been sought to be used by the outfit to win over the tribals.

The Janathana Sarkar, modelled along the lines of the Soviets in the revolutionary Russia, remains at the heart of the development paradigm of the Maoists. At one point in time, the CPI-Maoist claimed to have set up these embryonic centres of power in hundreds of villages in the Dandakaranya region, where they set up base in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Janathana Sarkar, Maoist literatures claim, is "involved in production, cultural, educational and military sectors, aiming at all round development of people’s lives, livelihoods." The literature speaks of distribution of cows, poultry, goats, seeds for agriculture that made the villagers self-sufficient. The outfit distributed money during times of famine and repaired damaged houses. Distribution of land seized from landlords and rich peasants; cooperative activity ensuring selling of forest produce in weekly markets; and ensuring a good rate for those products, are other activities that constitute the Maoist development plan. Maoists, on the other hand, remain opposed to the indiscriminate use of technology in agriculture "without people's understanding and involvement."

Whether or not these measures are token in nature, is debatable. In any event, none would have expected the Maoist development initiatives to out-scale the capacity of the state to transform the area. The key question, however, is whether such a development model is capable of bringing changes to the lives of the tribals or whether it is only an instrument to subjugate them to the diktats of the Party for perpetuity.  Will not insulating the lives of the tribals from the changes taking place all around further feed alienation and disenchantment?

While critical questions can also be posed regarding the state's development model for the tribals, a degree of change is perceptible on the ground to an extent. As Nirmalangshu Mukherjee sums up, "The Indian state, including the judiciary, has initiated remedial measures (belatedly) for adivasis such as action against the illegal mining and severe punishment to powerful violators, cancellation of problematic MoUs, re-enforcement of panchayat in schedule areas, introduction of forest rights and education acts, additional welfare funding in conflict zones, and the like." The state has indeed made a course correction, but the implementation of its intentions may have continued to be problematic.

If bringing development to the lives of the tribals is the real aim of the Maoists, to a large extent, they have been able to achieve those objectives by forcing a course correction on the state. This creates additional reasons for cessation of violence and be part of an unarmed resistance for the benefit of the same tribals.

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