National Geographic : 2015 Apr
88 national geographic • April 2015 the lowest caste—and a large number of fighters from the country’s socially disadvantaged, de- scribed in the constitution as Backward Classes. Unworldly and vulnerable, the Adivasis in Abujmarh proved natural hosts to the fugitives among them, and after years of exposure to Maoist ideology, many became Naxalite recruits. It was hardly surprising in a nation where nearly 180 million people survived on less than two dollars a day—and where a round of drinks among the urban elite in a Delhi bar could ex- ceed a farmer’s monthly wages several times over—that militant communism would thrive in neglected areas beyond the writ of local au- thority. The glitz and glamour of central business districts were a universe away from vast, impov- erished tracts of rural India. What made the Naxalite insurgency so pecu- liarly ironic, however, and gave it such an impact on the country’s future was that its epicenter was in the very heart of India’s immense mineral wealth. This is the natural inheritance so central to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy to regenerate India’s moribund economy and pro- vide electricity to the one-third of the country’s households—some 300 million people—that still live in the dark. It was no coincidence that the cockpit of the war was in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Those states are among the country’s richest in terms of mineral wealth, containing more than 40 per- cent of India’s coal reserves. Their subterranean treasure trove also includes trillions of dollars’ worth of iron ore, limestone, dolomite, and bauxite reserves. The coal fuels the power plants that light up India’s distant metropolises. The steel makes the modern buildings, the gleam- ing tech complexes, the vehicles and engineering projects so integral to Modi’s vision. Yet these two states have the worst record of Naxalite violence and some of the worst poverty rates in India. In 2010 one multidimensional anal- ysis of poverty, drawn up with support from the United Nations Development Programme, said that eight Indian states, including Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, accounted for more poor people than the 26 poorest African nations combined. Rather than reduce the imbalance between rich and poor, mineral wealth has exacerbated the divide, adding pollution, violence, and dis- placement to the daily struggle of those whose livelihood is locked up in the land. The Karan- pura Valley of northern Jharkhand epitomizes the situation. Once famous for its tigers and a major migration route of elephants, the area today is home to open coal pits, where massive quantities of the carbon rock are mined. Origi- nally mapped in the 1800s, coalfields there were acquired by Central Coalfields Limited (CCL), a local subsidiary of state-owned Coal India Lim- ited (CIL), in the mid-1980s. Across the decades, CCL had offered all sorts of compensation to the locals—jobs, money, re- settlement, alternative housing—in return for their land and their departure. Many accepted Fighters from a Maoist splinter group, the TPC, patrol a village in Jharkhand, looking for former allies. Feuds and extortion rackets have fragmented the Naxalites during the insurgency.