India has let rebels prosper while leaving people hungry

There are swathes of land where people think the Maoists are the government

There is a simple formula to understand what lies at the heart of the Maoist rebellion in India.

Take a map of the country, which shows its mineral resources – iron, bauxite, coal. Take another map which shows regions affected by extreme poverty. Take yet another map which shows areas where Maoist guerrillas hold sway. Now juxtapose these three and you’ll realise the three are the same.

In more than six decades since its independence, it is this natural wealth which has fuelled the new India’s progress. But the areas from where this wealth comes from have been left untouched.

All the dreams of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the promises of the 1991 economic liberalisation changed nothing for the people here, most of them Adivasis or the indigenous people. In the absence of help from the state, people died of hunger and disease. There was rampant exploitation of innocent people by traders and businessmen from cities and towns.

Then in 1980, a group of youths entered this area. They were radical extremists, inspired by peasant uprisings of the 1960s – one in West Bengal and another in Andhra Pradesh, both of which failed eventually.

They believed in the Maoist ideology and wanted to create guerrilla zones in this region that would ultimately lead them to overthrow the “imperialistic” Indian state. The void left by the government in these areas was filled by these rebels. They spoke of uplifting the life of the poor people. And initially they made a difference. But soon, the focus would shift from the welfare of the people to fighting the Indian State. 

It is this rebellion that has grown so big that 11 out of India’s 28 states are affected, five of them severely. The “revolution” remains a utopia but it has resulted in a civil war-like situation in these areas. The void is still so big that even now, there are large swathes of land where people think that Maoists are the government.

But as the Indian security forces are increasingly colliding with the Maoists while trying to reclaim these areas, it is these innocent people who are becoming collateral damage.

Rahul Pandita is author of ‘Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement’