Naxalism has been identified as India’s most serious internal security challenge. In this series we begin by understanding what Naxalism means and how it has evolved in India.
What is Naxalism or Left Wing Extremism (LWE):
The term ‘Naxal’ derives its name from the village Naxalbari of district Darjeeling in West Bengal, where the movement originated in 1967 under the leadership of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.
It refers to the use of violence to destabilize the state through various communist guerrilla groups.
Philosophical background of Naxalism:
Naxalism in India, like any other leftist movement around the globe draws its ideological basis from the Russian revolution wherein Lenin successfully fought against the Czar through a combination of peasant movement and an armed struggle. The prime intent was to bestow power in the hands of the exploited and marginalized and enforce societal control over governance and nation building.
After the success of the Lenin-led revolution in Russia, the intellectual class in many countries started thinking of ushering in a change in their respective nations. Prominent amongst them were Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong.
In China, Mao Zedong used this philosophy successfully which led to the origin of ‘Maoism’. Maoism is a doctrine that teaches to capture State power through a combination of armed insurgency, mass mobilisation and strategic alliances. Mao called this process, the ‘Protracted People’s War’. ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ is the key slogan of the Maoists.
Naxalites are far-left radical communists who derive their political ideology from the teachings of Mao Zedong.
History and evolution of Naxalism in India:
Background (The run-up to the Naxalbari uprising):
Tebhaga movement: It was the first communist movement which started in West Bengal in 1946 with the intention of getting the land revenue reduced from ½ to 1/3rd. This movement turned violent as the farmers started an armed fight against the landlords.
Telangana Movement: Telangana movement which was led by the people of Telangana in the period of 1946-51 against the atrocities of the Nizam rule also acquired radical dimensions as it progressed.
1959: Kisan Sabhas were started by CPI (Communist Party of India) as an informal peasant movement with the intention of finding a political solution to the problems faced by farmers.
1962: When Indo-China war broke out, majority of CPI leaders viewed it as struggle of a socialist country against Capitalist India. Consequently, they supported China’s cause, and faced mass arrests.
1964: Further, there was growing dissent in party for party’s diversion toward democratic state which was contrary to Communist principle of armed struggle to overthrow the state. This finally led to a split in the party in 1964 which resulted in new party called Communist Party of India (Marxist).
1967: CPI (Marxist) participated in polls and formed a coalition United Front government in West Bengal. This leads to schism in the party with younger cadres, including the “visionary” Charu Majumdar, accusing CPM of betraying the revolution.
Naxalbari Uprising (25th May,1967): The rebel cadres led by Charu Majumdar launched a peasants’ uprising at Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
The CPI (M)-led United Front government cracked down on the uprising and in 72 days of the rebellion, a police sub-inspector and nine tribals were killed. The incident echoed throughout India and naxalism was born.
The spread and growth of Naxalism in India can be broadly divided into three phases or stages as described below:
The first phase of Naxalism:
In response to the crackdown by the Government, revolutionary leaders fled the area and declared armed struggle against state of India. Under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, they formed a new party Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969 which was motivated and influenced deeply by Communist Party of China.
After Charu Majumdar’s death, the CPI (M-L) was deprived of any credible central leadership and the party withered away to be finally reborn as CPI (M-L) Liberation in 1974.
The movement faced a severe blow during emergency when around 40,000 cadres were imprisoned in 1975.
The Second Phase of Naxalism [Steady growth of the Naxal movement across different parts of the country]:
The movement arose again in a more violent form after the emergency. It continued to widen its base as per the strategy of ‘protracted war’. Their base grew from West Bengal to Bihar to Odisha and also to Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
CPI(ML) was converted into People’s War Group (PWG) in 1980 which had its base in Andhra Pradesh and struck heavy casualities among police personnel.
Simultaneously, Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) grew in strength in Bihar and carried out large scale attacks on landlords and other upper caste outfits.
The Third Phase of Naxalism:
2004: Andhra Pradesh’s PWG and Bihar’s MCCI merged to form CPI(Maoist). CPI (Maoist) is the major Left Wing Extremist outfit responsible for most incidents of violence and killing of civilians and security forces. It has been included in the Schedule of Terrorist organisations under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.Over 13 LWE groups are currently operating in the country.
The movement’s capacity to challenge the state has increased enormously considering the incidents of violence and casualities resulting from them. E.g. the 2010 Dantewada ambush in which 76 CRPF armed personnel were killed.
2013: The LWE movement made international headlines when naxalists killed 27 people, including some high level politicians, in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.
But violence cannot be the only yardstick to measure Maoist expansion. Maoists are also expanding in terms of indoctrination and consolidation. They are also trying to spread their ideology in the Bhil and Gond tribes dominated area, the ‘golden corridor’ stretching from Pune to Ahmedabad.
As of February 2016, 106 districts in 10 States have been identified by the Government of India as Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts in the country. More details regarding the same can be found here.
Estimated to be 40,000 strong, the Naxalites have been a strain on the country’s security forces and a barrier to development in the vast mineral rich region in Eastern India known as the ‘red corridor’. It is a narrow but contiguous strip passing through Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
July 2016: The Union government plans to reduce the number of Maoist-affected districts by about a fifth. This decision has been taken on the basis of the districts’ violence profile, an assessment of the kind of logistical and other support provided to armed Maoist cadres by their sympathisers and “over ground workers”, and the kind of positive changes brought about by development work that these districts have seen.
Most of the worst affected districts fall in the Dandarkaranya region which includes areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Maoists have been running a parallel government and a parallel judiciary in these regions.
The next part in this series will analyse the ideology of Naxalites and the factors responsible for its rise in India (click here for Part 2). This is supposed to be one of the most comprehensive series in Internal Security related Issues. Your feedback is welcome ?
Hey team, great work. This is the most comprehensive article I’ve come across on LWE. Keep up the good work.
Thank you so much