Raipur, May 3 : After fighting against the feudal system rampant among the Adivasis in the Dandakaranya region in Central India, the two year old Communist Party of India (Maoists) is currently training its guns on what it calls the ''unmindful exploitation'' of natural resources by multinational companies in the mineral rich region, setting the stage for confrontation with the states in the region vying with each other to secure investment.
As iron ore reserves of the country's first major steel mill at Bhilai dwindle, the Steel Authority of India is looking for alternate sources in the neighbourhood but faces problems from the Adivasis who are up in arms against ''mindless mining''.
''The Bhilai Steel Plant might have helped increase the industrial muscle of the country but has not brought about changes in the economic conditions of the tribals in the area,'' said a functionary of the Maoist group, while talking to a group of newspersons from Delhi.
''We are not against development or mining but the mining lease should not be given to multinationals or big industrialists who have no stake in the development of the region. The industries, which take up the mining lease, should also work for the social uplift of the Adivasis,'' the functionary said.
The functionary quoted the instance of indiscriminate mining in the Balladilla region, in South Bastar, where the world's best iron ore is mined and exported entirely to Japan through the Visakhapatanam port.
''Mining has been going for over three decades but the only industry to flourish in the area is prostitution. Mining has destroyed the ecology of the area and the Adivasis are left with drinking highly contaminated water,'' he said.
Tatas, Jindals, Essars, Jaiswals and any number of multinational firms have signed Memoranda of Understanding during the last one year with the states in the region who vie with each other to provide facilities to them.
The Maoists have organized mass rallies to rouse public opinion against exploitation of the rich mineral resources that would not benefit them. The tribals resisted the Bhilai Steel Plant authorities'plans to dig in new iron ore mines at Raoghat and Chargaum villages. Police opened fire killing 12 Adivasis when they protested against setting up of a new plant by a major industrial house at Kalinganagar in neighbouring Orissa a few months ago.
As the war of nerves between the Maoists group and the states in the region over the pace of development peaked, the Chhattisgarh government came up with a novel idea of floating a ''people's movement'' called Salva Judum to take on the left wingers. In the local Gondi dialect, considered part of the ancient Dravidian language, Salva Judum means chasing an animal by a pack of hounds.
Adivasis speak the Gondi dialect and support the creation of a separate Gondwana state comprising the Bastar region.
The Judum movement has the backing of both the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party as well as the Opposition Congress. In fact, leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma is one of the leading lights of the Salva Judum intended to bring the ''misguided Adivasis'' back to the mainstream and isolate the Maoists spearheading the movement. Another major intention of the movement is to bring down the violence in the region. Mr Karma, himself a tribal, belongs to a Majhi (village mukhiya) family from South Bastar region.
Salva Judum was launched last year in various parts of Bastar region. The Adivasis were moved away from their hamlets and housed in camps run by the state government. The tribals are provided with free food and shelter. While government figures say about ten thousand tribals are relocated, the Maoists claim over 40,000 people were taken away from their hamlets and housed near paramilitary barracks. In the battle of wits between the Salva Judum activists and Maoists, violence peaked and over forty tribals perished. Ten days ago, over twenty tribals were killed by the Maoists after a trial by the ''People's court'' dubbed them as police informers.
According to Maoists, the movement has the backing of the state government and is funded by it. Services of disgrunted Majis (village headmen) Patels and local priests are requisitioned to provide the leadership while the Naga battalion of the para military forces affords security cover. The tribals are forcibly displaced and denied access to land, the Maoists allege. They are told that the left wingers are opposed to development and are responsible for the closure of haat bazars (weekly market). ''The markets were closed down by the state to cripple supplies to the Maoists, and the police blamed us,'' the Maoist said.
Since neither the Salva Judum movement nor the counter attack by the Maoists show any sign of abating, the coming days are likely to see a confrontation between them, especially in Dandewada region in South Bastar which abounds in dense tropical forests, next only to North Eastern states of the country. The Home Ministry has decided to send a large contingent of paramilitary forces to the region after the polling process in five states are completed.
A Maoist functionary said the confrontation with paramilitary forces could last only till the onset of the South West monsoon next month. Once the rain starts they will get the advantage of dense forest cover.
As violence in the tribal areas abated, voices of moderation were raised in the trouble torn area. Former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi has urged the state government to give up the Salva Judum movement saying that it has failed to provide security to the hapless Adivasis. Mr Jogi's demand has caused a stir among political circles since the movement has the backing of the state Congress leader Mahender Karma. Both Mr Jogi and Mr Karma are top leaders of the Congress.
The Maoist functionary said the state unit of the Communist Party of India as well as the civil rights body People Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) are also opposed to the continuance of Salva Judum.
The Naxalite movement has been active in Visakhapatnam, Raigarh, Malakangiri, Adilalabad, Bastar and Gadchiroli, encompassing the states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra since the 1980's. The initial movement was spearheaded against the forest officers but took on the management of a leading paper mill over wages for bamboo cutting. It also took up the cause of tendu leaf growers against the exploitation by contractors. ''Jal, Jungle, Jamin kisko'' was the slogan they raised against the exploitative class, the functionary said.
For over ten years the movement focussed on ending the feudal system widely prevalent in Bastar region controlled by the Majhis (village Mukhiya). The system has been in vogue since the days Kakatiya kings who ruled the region before the advent of the British. The Britishers also patronised the system to take control over the region. Things did not change after independence, either.
The Communist Party of India (Maoists) was founded two years ago following the merger of People's War, Maoist Coordination Committee of India and the CPIML party unity. Their spheres of influence in the country varied but the ideology was the same-land to the tiller and power to the peasant committee. The formation of the monolith grouup was described by law enforcement agencies as creation of a terror corridor cutting across the entire country. BJP leader L K Advani said once that they rule the roost from the Pashpathinath temple in Nepal to Lord Balaji temple in Tirupati.
The Maoist functionary said the quality of the movement has improved considerably since the merger but they are nowhere near the fighting prowess of their Nepali counterparts. They indulge in the primitive guerilla warfare as against the mobile war strategy of the Nepali counterparts.
The merger has brought about a change in tactics, building mass movements and establishment of base areas. Some changes have also been brought about in People's Liberation Guerilla army, but the functionary declined to disclose the details.
The merger process leading to the creation of Communist Party of India (Maoists) that started in 2004 was completed at all levels within a year. Besides the Dandakaranya region, the movement is spreading its wings to cover West Bengal, parts of Karnataka, Uttaranchal and Punjab. Mass organisations have been activated in Tamil Nadu.