The Agrarian Question in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone: Land, Labour and Capital in the Forests and Hills of Jharkhand, India


  • This paper is part of a much bigger project on understanding social transformations in rural Jharkhand that I have been exploring for the past decade. The field data used here are a result of field research conducted over twenty months with the anthropologist George Kunnath to whom I am deeply grateful for all that we have shared. The questions of this paper were led by respondents in the field who I hope will one day read it. Deepankar Basu, Henry Bernstein, Uday Chandra, Bernard De Mello and Judith Whitehead have helped clarify numerous arguments. Special thanks to Barbara Harriss-White and Jens Lerche for thoughtful comments and especially believing in and supporting this endeavour.
  • The copyright line for this article was changed on 22 December 2016, after original online publication.


As an object of ethnographic enquiry, this paper explores the significance of the modes of production debates for the radical Left in India. Its aim is modest: to investigate whether the analysis of the Indian economy by the underground Communist Party of India (Maoist), or the Naxalites, maps on to agrarian transformations in the heart of their revolutionary struggle, in one of their guerrilla zones in Jharkhand. The Maoist concern with the agrarian question is shown to be first and foremost an issue of politics, determining their strategy and tactics; the question of identifying who is the ‘enemy’, who to form alliances with and how to progress the struggle. A principal contradiction is established by the Maoists as being that between feudalism and the masses. Analysing the political economy of the hills and forests of Jharkhand, this paper reveals first how feudal relations were not established there. Second, it shows the persistence of non-capitalist relations of production in farming. And, third, it illuminates the emergence of class differentiation through processes that bypass the development of capitalism in agriculture. The argument is that it is the modern state itself that has played a crucial role in these slow processes of class differentiation in the Adivasi-dominated hills and forests of India. Analysing the agrarian transition in this guerrilla zone, this paper offers a critical analysis of Maoist strategy and tactics.