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Bookshelf: Blood Red River: A Journey Into The Heart Of India’s Development Conflict

In this excerpt from his new book, published by Hachette India, Rohit Prasad looks at the roles of the different players in the battle between Adivasis, Maoist rebels, corrupt bureaucrats and hungry corporations, concluding that the situation is one of “cooperative plunder”, where two apparently antagonistic forces align for the purpose of siphoning away resources.

Rohit Prasad, Scroll.in

Ignoring the fundamental causes that served as fertile ground for the insurgency to take root, in the first place, the State, along with a variety of entities, uses the presence of Maoists as a pretext for its own failings, at best, and a cover for its own transgressions, at worst. Non-functioning schools, non-existent healthcare services and abysmally poor connectivity, for instance, are conveniently blamed on the Maoists, who may not be responsible for these deficiencies in a number of cases.

Making Maoists the fall guys is not a tactic limited to the government. In inter-corporate warfare as well, the insurgency serves as a major alibi for settling scores between competitors. Acts of sabotage driven by company rivalries are often unfairly ascribed to the insurgents.

Finally, in a bid to undermine non-violent resistance to government and corporate transgressions, peaceful activists are labelled Maoists. These are the various ways in which the insurgency is hijacked by the establishment.

Cooperative plunder

Although many officers in government, including a former police chief of special operations in undivided Andhra Pradesh, have shared with me their respect for the ideological commitment of many of the Maoist leaders, the rebels are in no way immune to the strategy of using the revolutionary cause for personal gain.

In 2004, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, or the CPI(ML)PW (also known as the People’s War Group or PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCC) merged to form the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). The unification brought an end to the internecine conflict that had raged through the 1990s, but also created a more heterogeneous organisation, which was ideologically less pure and operationally more unwieldy.

Today, the relationship between the Maoists and the State has acquired elements of “cooperative plunder”, a situation in which two apparently antagonistic forces align for the purpose of siphoning away resources. Vast sums of money are released from the exchequer for Left-wing-extremism-affected districts.

Corporate projects also ensure a not inconsiderable infusion of resources into the region. This leads to a nexus between the rebels, pliable government officials, legislators and corporate executives who inevitably come to regard authentic local leadership or genuine members of civil society as a threat.

The case of Noku Koram shows that Maoists are capable of targeting civilians who want to change the system, disturbing the cozy handshake with government administrators and local politicians that allows them to siphon off government funds for their own organisation. Such people can be dubbed class enemies when in fact they are merely trying to implement the law as they see it.

The death of Noku Koram was not a result of wrong implementation of Maoist doctrine, but an inevitable consequence of the structure under which Maoists earn revenue from government schemes with the complicity of chosen administrators.

The growth of the Maoist movement is accompanied by increasing militarisation of untrained civilians who take up arms in self-defence under the tutelage of Maoists. This new cadre of Maoists, which may not have ever heard of Mao or of the Indian state for that matter, presents the risk that the broader group of militia under the Maoists could degenerate into roving packs of armed goons.

Prolonged conflict situation

Indeed, there is not merely increased militarisation of the Maoist zones but also increased criminalisation, as all parties seek to maximise their own petty self-interest in the war-like situation. The onset of the phase of cooperative plunder tends to prolong a conflict situation and extinguishes any hope of systematic economic development of the war zone. The conflict itself becomes the area’s main industrial enterprise, crowding out the growth of genuine entrepreneurship and empowerment.

On the issue of cooperative plunder, Yashwant Sinha shares a startling piece of news. “The blunt truth,” he says, “is that the recently opened Amrapali coal mine on the Hazaribagh–Ranchi district border is being run entirely by Maoists. They decide who gets the service contracts, who gets employment and so on. This is giving them a huge financial resource. They make lakhs of rupees a day. The scale is unimaginable.”

I search the internet for news of the mine. I find that it is owned by Coal India Limited and was dedicated to the nation by the Union Minister of State for Power, Piyush Goel.

Despite Sinha’s assertion, one cannot be too sure which faction or group is actually controlling the mine. In the current political climate, the term “Maoist” has become a convenient label to slap on anybody one does not like. However, earlier in the interview, Sinha had also alluded to legislative action which led to the MPs having a say in the spending of ₹30 crores per annum that was released for each Maoist-affected district. Would this fund, a mere tip of the iceberg in terms of the resources owing to quell the insurgency, have been available without the luxury of a civil war?

Ultimately, the relationship that the Maoist shares with the tribal is a doomed love affair between an overweening master and his idealised, fragile beloved, who is overwhelmed at the sudden attention she is receiving, but unable to comprehend the enormity of what she is getting into. Moreover, she is perplexed as her favour is suddenly sought by two implacable foes – her lawful, uncaring consort, the government, and her recent lover, the Maoist.

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