Birsa Munda- Naxalite

Birsa Munda

The title is deliberately provocative. Three days back, Narendra Modi posted this:

Birsa Munda would be turning in his grave!

Birsa Munda is celebrated as being a tribal leader who opposed British rule, and for this, his portrait hangs in the parliament. What people miss out is exactly why he opposed the British Raj, and no, it wasn’t because he particularly cared about a united India free from its colonial masters, his politics was far more local and based on a very specific agenda: The displacement of the Mundas, Oraons and other tribes from their homes by Jagirdars and farmers from elsewhere, and the feudal practices thereof. This displacement was facilitated by the Raj as a matter of policy and that’s why the earlier Santal rebellion and Birsa Munda’s rebellion happened; not because Birsa Munda a priori wanted to oppose European colonialism.

It is also why today, a lot of tribals take to Naxalite insurgency. It’s not the case that these tribals are being ‘mislead’ into demanding a Maoist state, or are de facto Communists, but that such rebellions are mainly against their institutionalised displacement and subsequent neglect.

It takes tremendous double-standards to consider some of these movements to be heroic, while condemning the other as a ‘threat to internal security’, especially when the main issue is largely unchanged. Among the many reasons why I think trying to contextualise every rebellion between 1757 to 1947 as being against British Imperialism does more harm than good in the long run, especially given how India has been independent for nearly 69 years now.