This dissertation examines the contemporary Maoist insurgency in the hills and forests of eastern and central India, situating it within longer-term processes of state interaction and expansion in the indigenous-populated region going back to the colonial period. It develops a framework of analysis from Henri Lefebvre’s theories of space, the state and capitalism. The empirical examination of the insurgent zones is then grounded in a conceptualization of the insurgent zones which draws on James C. Scott and Willem van Schendel’s work on Zomia.
Specifically, the insurgency in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region and the Chotanagpur Plateau in Jharkhand are seen as a contemporary manifestation of hostility to state expansion in the region dating back to the defeat of the Moghul state by the British East India Company. By drawing attention to the changing interactions between local pre-state spatial practices and an expansionist state geography, we are able to more effectively identify the sources of differing conflict dynamics in two demographically and geographically similar places. State expansion in Chotanagpur has produced a fragmented space in which industrial spaces of hyper-modernity exist alongside special ‘protected’ spaces constituted around a simulacrum of pre-capitalist social and economic relations. In southern Chhattisgarh the state is notable in its absence. Both of these spaces are in the process of being destabilized as a consequence of neo-liberal capitalism and the expansion of natural resource extraction. In Chotanagpur, this has led to the breakdown of fragmented space and the emergence of overlapping networks of power bringing together a variety of local actors including the insurgents. In Bastar, what has emerged is a particularly virulent form of state-making driven by counter-insurgency and rooted in violence and displacement.
The dissertation contributes to studies on space, capitalism and conflict in peripheral areas existing on the fringes of historical and contemporary state projects. Specifically, it adds to the literature on India’s Maoist conflict, making the case that we must recognize that contemporary events are, in part, the consequence of longer-term processes of state expansion into a peripheral ‘frontier’ zone