Around 15 years ago when I started visiting the Maoists in forests of Chhattisgarh, to write a book, the Maoist middle rung leaders would tell me that implementing Adivasi self rule can be the logical culmination of their movement. Of course, the Maoist top leadership maintained their official line that capitalism will collapse under its own weight within 50 years and that will be the time to try out the experiments being carried out in the forests of Chhattisgarh in big way. But what happens to the adivasis who are fighting with you?
The Maoist movement was on ascent in those days, when thanks to a disastrous experiment by the government called Salwa Judum, hundreds of adivasis joined the Maoist ranks to make it a bottom-heavy movement. Today all those middle rung leaders have reached retirement age which means the adivasi cadres will not have any effective leadership soon.
Almost all the adivasi Maoists are Gondi speakers. Most of them cannot speak any other language. The top adivasi Maoist leader in Chhattisgarh is Venkatesh ( not real name). He heads the South Bastar division. He decided to join the Maoists after a forest guard slapped his brother for cutting a tree in the forest.
There are no adivasis in the Maoist Central Committee or Polit Bureau though they constitute most of the fighting force. Not many new urban faces joined the Maoist party after 1990s. Most of the Adivasis who make up 99% of the movement today are uneducated and are fighting to save their forest, land and dignity. Though they parrot some lines about Maoism but what they are actually fighting for can be gained if we can implement the Constitution. For example, rules have not been framed for an act called PESA specially written for Adivasi areas even after 20 years of it being passed in Parliament.
Can Maoists lead the adivasis to ensure that the laws made for them are implemented? If they give up their guns, there is a real possibility that government may sit across the table with them for talks and give them an adivasi autonomous council in Central India. We have quite a few examples from North East India where such experiments have been tried with varying degree of success.
The Maoists came to Chhattisgarh to hide. They had felt that the revolution will take root places like Bengal, Bihar and Telangana and that the adivasis did not have political consciousness. Thanks to political lessons from the Maoists now we see movements like Patthalgudi in Bastar. Maybe they can transform this newly-acquired political consciousness into adivasi self-rule, a form of genuine democracy which can deliver rights to a majority of them in the future.