Bastar has been one of the most Naxal-affected regions in the country. For decades now, the mineral region has been the hotbed of Naxalism that has killed, and continues to kill, civilians and security forces in grave numbers. But it did not have to be this way. The region could have taken a different path, it could have developed at its own pace and prospered with peace and stability. And that could have been achieved by one man, a man who was killed in a police firing. The King of Bastar, Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo.
Filmmaker Vivek Kumar, an alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad, explores the relationship that the tribal community in Bastar shares with the King in his documentary “I Pravir the Adivasi God”. The documentary features people from the community fondly recalling the memories of the King and sheds fascinating insights into the conflict between Monarchy and Democracy, as well as path not tread.
The documentary has been screened at the SIGN film festival in 2021. Maharaja Pravir Chandra was from the Kakatiya Dynasty.
A man says early in the nearly 24-minute documentary, “Pravir Chandra Bhanj deo is the King of Bastar. He is considered a demigod… Whatever Bastar is today, it is because of him.” The documentary shows that there exists a temple dedicated to Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo where he is worshipped as a the God.
The people featured in the documentary say that the Kings of Bastar used to rule as per Adivasi interests. People have his image in their homes, they worship him. It has been over five decades since his death, however, he still continues to live in the memories of his people. He may be gone but “for us, he is still the king of Bastar.”
Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo: A King loved by his people
The Goddess and Her rituals form the link between the people of Bastar and him. He established a temple dedicated to the deity and a photo of him with the deity is extremely popular. It is one of the photographs that sell the most.
The documentary also highlights the love that people still harbour for their King. And it is certainly not a phenomenon limited to Bastar. In Tripura, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and elsewhere, Kings are still cherished by the masses.
Some even prefer Monarchy to Democracy because successive governments have not treated them well. “For today’s time, politicians (under democracy) are fine but monarchy was better as they used to understand people’s emotions. They used to visit us but today’s politicians connect with us only for votes,” says a woman. It is a sentiment that is still widespread.
There is some resentment among the local community over what they perceive as the exploitation of minerals and natural resources in the region. Development in recent years has improved the living standard of the masses but the fruits of it has not been even. The tribal folk in the region do believe that what is rightfully theirs is being exploited without appropriate benefits accumulating in their lives.
The Death of a King
Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo was vocal in his defense of tribal rights and often clashed with the Congress government of the time. He was widely popular and was the elected representative from Jagdalpur Vidhan Sabha constituency in undivided Madhya Pradesh. He took to the streets in support of tribal rights and led popular movements against the government of the time. Then, disaster struck.
As the documentary says, “On 25th March, Maharaja Pravir Chandra, along with multiple tribals, was killed in his police firing inside his palace at Jagdalpur. One member judicial committee set up to look into the episode chastised the administration for mishandling of the situation but did not hold anyone directly culpable for the incident.”
Decades after his killing, his death in the police firing is believed to have played a major role in the outbreak of Maoist violence in the state. It is one of the great “What ifs” in the history of India, as to what trajectory Bastar would have followed if the King had not been killed.
There was a Congress Government in undivided Madhya Pradesh at the time. It is another instance where the Congress party’s failure to address a situation in a wholesome manner has aggravated problems for India as a whole.