Radical left-wing resistance to the State has been festering in India since 1946, when the Communist Party of India began working in north Bengal and Telangana among landless scheduled castes and tribes who worked for a pittance in the lands of the upper-caste landowners in these areas. The root causes of this problem lie in the pernicious caste system of our country. During its evolution, the upper castes saw to it that ownership of cultivable lands remained with them. The tribals were driven into the forests, bringing about the new coinage to describe them: vanvasis.
The British did not interfere with this system. However, when India became independent and the Constituent Assembly was convened to frame the Constitution of India, our leaders framed two articles that are relevant to this issue—the Fifth Schedule and the Ninth Schedule.
The Fifth Schedule states briefly that all scheduled areas of the country which are forest reserves and inhabited by scheduled tribes are to be administered by the governors of the states by appointing tribal advisory councils from among the tribals of a particular forest reserve or a scheduled area. Regrettably, no governor of any state in India has ever constituted tribal advisory councils of scheduled tribes living in the reserve forests or scheduled areas of the states they were governing. In this deliberately created vacuum, the chief ministers of the states have merrily administered their reserve forests by leasing forests for mining to private companies, evicting the tribals living in these forests for millennia.
The Ninth Schedule of the Constitution dealt with the fact that cultivable land which over thousands of years had come under the ownership of upper castes should be acquired by the government and redistributed among India’s landless peasantry. Since land revenue was a state subject, the states were directed to legislate land ceiling laws and implement them by acquiring farmlands from landlords and redistributing them to landless farmers who for centuries worked under the most abominable conditions on the lands of the landowners.
Regrettably, only three states have implemented the land ceiling laws legislated by all the states by 1955. These were Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Kerala, the latter two when Communist ministries were ruling there. In West Bengal, the jotedars—as the landlords are called there—tried to manipulate the land records and deceive the landless farmers and the government. This resulted in an uprising in a village called Naxalbari led by the Communist Party of India, Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML), a faction of the Communist party. In Kerala, the land ceiling was successfully implemented in the plains districts and this has prevented the Maoist Naxalites from organising a revolution there.
In the vacant space created by the central government in not implementing the Fifth and Ninth Schedules of the Constitution, the CPI-ML that has today, after many mutations, evolved into the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) stepped in. Since the 1970s, they have organised the scheduled castes and tribes who were deliberately denied cultivable lands and rights in the forest or scheduled areas enshrined in the Constitution. The land ceiling acts legislated by all the states are lying abegging in the statute books, as also the Fifth Schedule as no tribal advisory councils have been formed by any governor.
Today, the states and the Centre are only screaming of the Maoist threat to the country and a mini-war is being carried out against the evil Maoists and the poor scheduled castes and tribes whom the Maoist leaders have organised as their cadres. Nobody wants a Maoist government. But what is the answer to this problem? Is it to maintain a thunderous silence on not enforcing the Fifth and Ninth Schedules of the Constitution? Under what laws have the state governments leased forest lands to mining companies when it is the tribal advisory council which is to decide how to utilise their forest lands?
There is a simple solution to the problem of the forests. They have to be divided into sections of 10 villages. The whole area should then be cordoned off by the CRPF or BSF, and tribal advisory councils constituted in each section. The paramilitary force deployed around will prevent any Maoists from entering this area and also see that the tribal advisory councils are appointed. The councils will then decide how to organise collection of forest produce or liaise with mining companies.
In the states, the land ceiling laws must be enforced by deploying the CRPF on the ground and supervising the removal of land in excess of the land ceiling laws of the state and distributing it to the landless people. The oppressed people will then realise that the CRPF are their friends and not the oppressive arm of a corrupt government.
(E.N. Rammohan is the former director-general of the BSF.)