Vinod Mubayi  and Daya Varma


In a just and rational, but ideal, world, natural resources anywhere in the world would be the common property of all the people of the world.  The oil discovered under the desert sands of Saudi Arabia was created by geological phenomena millions of years ago. Ideally, it should not be the property of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz or the crown prince any more than the people of India or China or other countries. Geophysical changes over eons produced hydrocarbons at one place and diamond at another. None are the product of the labor of any one as they were created long before homo sapiens came into being.  But the real world must be conceived not in such idealistic conjectures but the reality of nation states that are just one or two centuries old.


Even within the limitations of the nation state, the question has arisen of late as to who owns the rivers, mountains, forests and minerals of India. A quirk of geology made the Chotanagpur plateau, now comprising the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and adjacent parts of Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal, the main repository of minerals in India. Adivasis, who live in the area, might be the original inhabitants of India but their relation to the mineral wealth under their villages is a sheer coincidence, an accident of history.   These reflections are a corollary to the recent news of the cancellation of two major steel projects valued at many billions of dollars by major multi-national corporations, POSCO and Arcelor Mittal.


Of late there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the appalling condition of Adivasis among a section of the left intellectuals free from any who do not belong to any communist party and who are also free from any obligation to the development of India. The urgent need for economic and social development among the Adivasis living in forests is undeniable. But the middle-class environmental activists who strongly oppose mineral extraction and industrial development in the Adivasi areas, seem to wish that the Adivasis continue to dwell in the forests as humankind had done in prehistory, and not displace them from their Mumbai and Delhi homes.


Besides the environmentalists, two other political forces have been operating in the Adivasi areas.  One is the RSS, which has been running its so-called “ghar wapasi” (return home) program, which is converting Adivasis, who had embraced Christianity as a means of escaping the barbaric rigidities of the Hindu caste system, to the Hindu fold.  The other force is the Maoists, preaching armed rebellion, whose theoretical analysis describes India as a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state, similar to China of the 1930s, where armed agrarian revolution based on ‘encirclement of the cities by the countryside’ is the path to political power.


But, if Telangana did not succeed and if Naxalbari could not become a prairie fire, killing odd Congress workers or innocent train passengers by Maoists has no future.  Some people out of tradition ask for political dialogue. But it is not clear what kind of dialogue can take place.  A political dialogue can take place between the Indian state and various secessionist groups such as the Kashmiris, the Nagas, Mizos, etc. based on the political demands they have and trying to see if various levels of autonomy can satisfy their demands. But the Maoists declared purpose is to overthrow the current Indian state and its echelons through armed struggle, so what could possibly be the agenda of a dialogue between the state and the Maoists? The Maoists sustain themselves by levying a “tax” on whatever mineral and other production takes place there, which the companies who operate in the area pay as part of a protection racket. Various levels of the state machinery and the political parties connive in this practice, which allows the armed sects to purchase weapons and keep their operations going. The Robin Hood-like nature of this conflict appeals to adventure seeking journalists, some human rights activists and even to some new breed of historians whose historiography is a departure from that of D.D. Kosambi, Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar.


Both Maoists and the anti-Maoist group Salwa Judum misguidedly set up by the state claim rights on forests and minerals there in the name of the Adivasis who dwell on the land above, which brings us back to our opening argument.  Do these resources belong to the people of the country as a whole or should the people who live in the area, and especially those political groups who arrogate the right to speak in their name, have complete veto power over resource development?


Of course, the shoddy record of government at all levels, central and state, in the entire process, from permits to oversight, needs to greatly rectified and improved and the massive corruption that allows environmental regulations to be violated and nullified needs to be curbed. But improving the working of government is not unique to the Adivasi areas, although its urgency there cannot be denied. The Indian government is obliged to provide the same facilities of education, livelihood and healthcare to the Adivasis in the forests as to all other citizens; it is around these needs that Adivasis should fight rather than hope for the chimera of liberation promised by the Maoists and their sympathizers.

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