The Ballad of an Adivasi Ideology

maoists chhattisgarh

My research on State responses towards the Maoist have often confronted me with a question – how is ideology perceived among the Adivasis? The reason being ideology has become a contesting ground for the government and the Maoist to establish the supremacy of ideas as represented by the respective conflicting parties. Maoists and the government are determined to seek the support of the Adivasi people in legitimising their position among them. Government of India has a formal policy of management of public perception to address this issue of absence of legitimation among the adivasis. Although it still remains ambiguous what exactly is covered within this policy approach or what constitutes managing the perception. It is loosely understood to be an endeavour to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people who have been structurally neglected and periodically marginalised for generations.

There is a misunderstanding on the part of the administration to believe that the adivasis are simple people who are vulnerable and who have been misguided by the Maoists. Executive agencies have often tried to convince the public that the adivasis have no knowledge, whatsoever, of Maoism. They are peace-loving people who do not believe in violence as perpetrated by the Maoists. They join Maoism against the State due to the fear propagated by the Maoists. If successfully clarified, then the simple adivasis can be won over to the side of the government by managing their hearts and minds. Such an analysis is objectionable at multiple levels.

Firstly, Indian politics is an ideal outcome of exclusionary politics which nurtures the majority as opposed to the minority. This section which has been identified as minority can be both numerically superior and socially lower in the hierarchical system of graded caste structure. The dominant ideas, dominant ideologies and their dominant groups have always extended their influence on every aspect of decision making. The role of Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle gave rise to outliers like Ambedkar and Subhas Bose who, either had to compromise or bow out of Congress politics. Hence this exclusionary structure is a legacy which has been carried forward even after independence. Lower castes and the adivasis have always occupied the outskirts of political space. With the rise of identity politics and regional parties, the lower caste have been able to create a platform for themselves to voice their opinion and share their concerns. Such a space remained ever elusive to the adivasis primarily due to their geographical isolation where they have failed to create a vote bank political narrative. Quite naturally the so called mainstream political parties refused to represent the Adivasi identity in any form or structure. Although there have been occasional movements like the one spearheaded by Jharkhand party, it has often been co-opted within the mainstream kind of politics. But the majority voices of the adivasis have always remained outside of this institutionalised kind of politics. Therefore voicing their protests for denying them their rights is not new. History is replete with examples of Adivasi revolts much before Maoists even entered the scenario. Therefore to conclude that adivasis are peace loving people who are simply caught in the cross-fire is a gross reduction of historical facts to some inadequate strategic analysis.

Secondly, to claim that adivasis are misguided by the Maoists once again reeks of superiority and elitism ingrained and institutionalised in Indian socio-cultural fabric. Such an understanding denies the adivasis any agency on their part to engage in conscious decision making for their rights and future. It becomes impossible for the government agencies to acknowledge the fact that the adivasis have been conscious of their surrounding and that their decision is an outcome of that consciousness. This is because the administration is manned by these very people who are the products of the dominant groups where superiority runs high. That is probably why one still provides drinking water to the maids in a separate glass, no matter how ‘highly qualified’ one is! There is no scientific basis in inferring that the adivasis are incapable of realising their objective condition and demanding their rights, other than this ingrained feeling of superiority which manipulates such inferences. However, I am not arguing that fear as a mobilising factor does not play a role in Maoist strategy. What I am simply trying to argue is, a conflict may not have lasted for five decades had it not been a conscious decision on the part of the participants. Fear would only have achieved temporary support. Hence the idea of the government to win over the adivasis simply by managing the perception is myopic in nature and reflects inadequate knowledge of Adivasi life and culture.

Therefore an adivasis who is joining the Maoists ranks may not be theoretically well versed in Maoism or Marxism or Leninism. What one understands is the objective conditions in which one survives and that is ideology for him or her. Ideology may not always be searched within the nuances of powerful words. It can also be the realisation that one is entitled to something but is denied to him because of his social status. And to come to this realisation one need not acquaint oneself with the intricacies of theoretical rationale. The effort of the government to seek legitimation among the Adivasis will fail without this acknowledgement and acceptance on the part of the administration that we all are equal. We are not showering the adivasis with any favour by ensuring that their demands and rights are well protected. Therefore for an adivasis residing in the interior forest of the central heartlands of India, ideology constitutes his conscious decision to demand what is rightfully his and which has been guaranteed to him by the Constitution of the country. One need not dig deep to understand this side of the story. The ballad of ideology for an adivasi is simply the songs of his life and his existence which we refuse to lend ears to amidst the insurmountable cacophony of our elitism and dominance.

Suparna Banerjee, Doctoral candidate, Centre for Development Research, University of Bonn




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