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regular-article-logo Friday, 31 May 2024

Chhattisgarh CPI stalwart Manish Kunjam miffed with party, focuses on statehood fight for Bastar

'I don’t want to wage this struggle under any party’s banner. I welcome people of all communities and all parties who agree with our call (for statehood)…. Neither the Adivasi Mahasabha nor the CPI, this (proposed statehood movement) will be a separate organisation', the communist leader said

Pheroze L. Vincent Dhurli (Chhattisgarh) Published 17.04.24, 08:20 AM
Manish Kunjam during a campaign for the CPI in Dhurli village of Chhattisgarh on Monday.

Manish Kunjam during a campaign for the CPI in Dhurli village of Chhattisgarh on Monday. Picture by Pheroze L Vincent

The tallest communist in central India is likely to chart a new political path.

Manish Kunjam quit as Chhattisgarh CPI state secretary and national council member in February saying he would now focus on statehood for the Bastar division in south Chhattisgarh.

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“I don’t want to wage this struggle under any party’s banner. I welcome people of all communities and all parties who agree with our call (for statehood)…. Neither the Adivasi Mahasabha nor the CPI, this (proposed statehood movement) will be a separate organisation,” he told The Telegraph.

Although Kunjam quit party posts, he remains a member and is campaigning for the CPI’s candidate in Bastar. When he quit, he accused CPI’s national leadership of conspiring with the Congress by delaying its application for the use of its symbol during the Assembly polls last year, thereby denying its use in Bastar where it is the third largest electoral force after the BJP and the Congress.

He publicly said that the party should have taken its members here into confidence. The CPI has not acted against Kunjam, who is synonymous with the party in Bastar.

“Our statehood movement is not a reaction to not getting the symbol. This has been a demand of our activists for a long time,” he told this paper on the sidelines of a campaign meeting for CPI candidate Phulsingh Kachlam in Dantewada district’s Dhurli village.

Asked if he would quit the party, he said: “I will remain silent on this. When our movement starts, then I will see…. I have not attempted to convince the party on statehood for Bastar.”

The CPI had initially supported but later opposed the Gorkhaland movement. The party, however, supported the formation of Telangana.

The Bastar princely state acceded to the Indian Union in 1948. Its last ruler Pravirchandra Bhanjdeo had an antagonistic relationship with Congress governments at the Centre and the state. He was killed in police firing in 1966 at his Jagdalpur palace where he was allegedly inciting tribals against the police.

The Left’s legacy and Kunjam’s inspiration are drawn from the Bhumkal Movement against both the British and its protectee Raja of Bastar, Rudra Pratap Deo, in 1910 to establish adivasi rule and secure their rights to the forests. Pravirchandra was Rudra Pratap’s grandson.

“Bastar is special for adivasis in India because the culture and the way of life here are different. Despite all kinds of resources being exploited here, locals are not getting their due benefits,” said Kunjam.

When asked if the statehood movement is anti-mining, Kunjam replied that the benefits of mining “cannot only go to officials and contractors, but have to go to the people of this place”.

At the Dhurli meeting, Kunjam said the CPI wasn’t supporting the Congress here and government jobs were being grabbed by people from the northern districts of Chhattisgarh in connivance with the Congress and the BJP. He did not mention statehood.

He told this paper: “When the BJP government came to power in (undivided) Madhya Pradesh in 1990, the Jan Jagran Abhiyan (state-backed vigilantes against Naxalites) started. The same thing happened with the Salwa Judum in 2005. It started during the BJP government and was organised by the Congress. The BJP wants to finish the Maoists at any cost. Because of this, many innocent people are being killed or arrested, people are being displaced…. This has mostly happened during the BJP governments. The Congress and the BJP are united on this.”

Chhattisgarh has seen an upsurge in the confrontation between Maoists and security forces after the BJP came to power in December. Casualties in the first three months of 2024 are higher than the annual death tolls of the last two years.

“It is very difficult to carry out political activities in this climate. Police stop us, people don’t come for events, we can’t reach certain places, cops suspect us of speaking on behalf of the Maoists…. If there is a separate state, we can solve these problems because local people will be in
power,” he said.

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