Contrary to popular belief, Maoism in Orissa is not a recent phenomenon. For long, Orissa’s tryst with left-wing extremism was reduced as a spillover effect from the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. However, Orissa has a long history of communist movement, peasant mobilizations and labour unrest. Left-wing extremism in Orissa is altogether a different experience from that of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh or Bihar. The long history of left radicalism in Orissa does not have a Naxalbari (as in West Bengal) or Telangana (as in Andhra Pradesh) movement to boast about, and yet this Indian province has a separate and distinct place in the consolidation of the left-wing extremist movement from the very beginning. Led by the maverick Nagbhushan Pattnaik, the echoes of ‘Spring Thunder’ were felt in different pockets of Orissa as early as 1968. Even his worst critics would agree that if the Naxal movement got recognition in Orissa it was due to the revolutionary leadership and charismatic appeal that Nagbhushan commanded among the cross-sections of the society. However, it is during the past two decades that the Naxal movement gained momentum and strengthened its position. Prior to their merger, the Peoples War Group (PWG) was already a significant political force in the districts of Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangapur, Rayagada, Gajapati, and Ganjam; whereas the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) was largely visible in Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar. After the formation of the CPI (Maoist), the Naxal movement spread to different parts of Sambalpur, Kandhamal, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Jajpur and Angul. The ultra-left ideology seems to have gripped a large part of the state due largely to socio-economic deprivation of the people who found a powerful voice in Maoism. The aim of this chapter is thus two-fold: (a) to draw out the socioeconomic characteristics of those districts where Maoism is a serious political force and (b) to indicate the importance of mass-scale economic deprivation in bringing people together for a cause. Maoism is the latest incarnation of left-wing radicalism in Orissa. It had its organic roots in the past movements which drew on Marxism-Leninism and Mao’s socio-political ideas. Given its geographical spread in the ‘red corridor’, it would be incorrect to describe Maoism as a region-specific movement, though there are some specific socio-political agendas which are only meaningful to Orissa. In other words, since Maoism attracts a large number of tribals in Orissa,
the Maoist leadership cannot avoid tribal-specific issues to sustain and expand the organization. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere in India, the Orissa Maoists have played significant roles in redefining Maoism by reference to the peculiar socio-political milieu of Orissa and its vicinity. By contextualizing Marxism, not only have the Orissa Maoists indigenized the ideology, they have also sought to universalize its role as a liberating ideology for ‘the wretched of the earth’. In this sense, a critical study of Maoism in Orissa is also a useful theoretical exercise by challenging the idea that Marxism is merely a derivative discourse, since it is being constantly reinterpreted and redesigned contextually. Hence it is not surprising that a grassroots response always remains critical to the leadership while seeking to understand the reality which may not conform to the conventional copy-book description. Two critical points have therefore emerged: (a) Maoism in Orissa is a historical phenomenon drawing its ideological roots from a variety of ultra-left extremist movements of the past; and (b) despite being rooted in Orissa, Maoists are inspired primarily by the Maoist variety of Marxism which is not merely a meaningful analytical device to understand a transitional society, but also articulates a powerful ideological voice for radical socio-economic and political transformation. In the following pages, we will trace the roots of Maoism in Orissa by looking at its evolution chronologically. The aim of this discussion is two-fold: first, it will acquaint the readers with the circumstances in which the ultra left ideology rose as a meaningful voice, and second, by elaborating its growing consolidation among the poorest of the poor, this will perhaps reconfirm the success of Maoism, a twentieth-century version of Marxism that was articulated in the context of colonialism in China for mobilizing the peripheral sections of society for a political battle, despite adverse consequences. The growth and spread of the Naxal brand of politics in Orissa has been mostly shaped by the inter-organizational and intra-organizational conflict dynamics within the larger gamut of the communist movement. The Naxalbari movement of 1967 started with a romantic slogan of ‘land to tillers’ and the subsequent modus operandi of different Naxal groups in Orissa suggests that the slogan still has not lost its vigour. Issues pertaining to control over land and other natural resources have so far remained a primary cause of conflict, which have considerably helped the growth of the Naxal movement in the remote corners of the state. Similarly industrialization, mining, displacement and rehabilitation are other dynamics of conflict, which have substantially affected the course of the Naxal movement in the state. The targeted Naxal attacks on security forces and other symbols of state authority have become an inseparable feature of left-wing extremism in Orissa. To understand the genesis of the Naxal movement in Orissa one has to go back to pre-independence India. During colonial days, the undivided Koraput district was under Jaipur Zamindari and the undivided Ganjam was with the Vishkhapattanam district of the Madras presidency.2 It was during this period a number of sahukars (moneylenders) and ‘king’s men’ from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh settled in these areas. They not only settled down but, taking
advantage of the simplicity of local tribal people, they became their masters by virtue of taking their lands. The rural people of these areas were subjected to severe oppression and exploitation by the sahukars and king’s men. Alluri Sitaram Raju led a massive popular movement during 1930, in Malkangiri area, to protest against injustice to the local rural tribal people.3 Later on, people of these areas responded to the call of Mahatma Gandhi and joined the national movement because they understood independence would make them free from the evils of monarchy, oppression and exploitation. When independence came the British were gone; but oppression, exploitation, underdevelopment, starvation, illiteracy and poverty all refused to go and the struggle continued there after.