Naxalism in India

India’s Tryst With Naxalism

In the backdrop of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, whose benefits were concentrated in wheat-producing states, the year 1965 saw a monsoon failure. This was followed by a harvest failure in the Eastern part of India, which was to continue for 2 years. The last nail in the coffin was a cut in the US food aid in1966. Recession hit West Bengal the worst, increasing unemployment among its youth, particularly the university students in Kolkata.

The Soviet Union and the CPI

Meanwhile, the 60s also saw a dramatic turn of events, politically. The Communist Party of India split into the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1964 over ideological differences. Following India’s independence, PM Nehru initiated a close and strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, and the Soviet government wished that the Indian communists moderate their criticism towards the Indian State and enter into an alliance with the India National Congress. Dispute arose over the course of action to be taken within the CPI. Those who believed that a revisionist approach to a classless society was needed, split away from the parent organization when the ‘right wing’ within the CPI proposed forming an alliance with the INC.

Naxalism Unfolds

In 1967, during the recession and famine, Charu Majumdar led the CPI(Marxist-Leninist) into a violent uprising in the Naxalbari village of Siliguri, West Bengal and initiated an armed struggle to redistribute lands to the landless. This marked the beginning of the Naxalite movement, which got the name from the village it began in. Remember the unemployed student activists from West Bengal? They were drafted by the Communist Party of India (ML) to lead the movement against the state government in urban regions, beginning in the late 60s.

Unemployment of landless laborers led them to take loans at exorbitant interest rates. By the early 70s, land inequality peaked with the bottom 50% of households controlling just 9% of available agricultural land. While this is a cause for worry, the decision to participate in an armed revolution against the state is a threat to the very fabric of democracy, which is what Naxalism is, at the end of the day – an internal security threat, led by the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) movement in India.

The Beginning of Communism And The Underlying Philosophy

The Communist Movement began in the 1920s. It has, since split into several streams. While the core philosophy of a classless society links them, there are disagreements about the appropriate political strategy for achieving it among its proponents. Electorally, parties like the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) represent this ideology in the political space. There’s also an underground armed rebel group called the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which began the violent Naxalite movement whose operations are more blatantly anarchic.

The Impact

When poverty meets propaganda, violence ensues. This is the violence that gives rise to the Naxalite movement in Indian states, especially with a high population of dalits and adivasis. Some people find a way to turn them against the state and its policies and convince them that the only way they will get justice is by abandoning any allegiance to the state and picking up arms to get ‘what is rightfully theirs’. 

Denial of justice and human dignity cause this alienation resulting in the belief that the only way they will get that justice is by acting outside the law. Maoists have been known to step in to organize these movements.  Statistically, the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) movement has impacted 40% of India’s territory and 35% of its population, across the decades.

Spread of Naxalism & Counterinsurgency

The movement which began in West Bengal instantly spread to the neighboring states of Bihar and Chhattisgarh. In Bihar, the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC) killed more than 300 people belonging to the upper caste between 1987 and 1992, and trying to paint it as violence based on class conflict when really, it was a fight for some idea of pseudo-socioeconomic justice resulting in inter-caste violence and unnecessary bloodshed. In Darbha, Chhattisgarh, the CPI(Maoist) led the local tribe to ambush a convoy of 28 INC leaders – almost the entire top brass of Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh - in IED blasts, killing all of them.

India’s counterinsurgency operations have come a long way from those dark days of lawlessness. The West Bengal police immediately responded to the spread of Naxalism in urban hubs like Calcutta be initiating a concerted COIN campaign with the help of the centre, to nearly wipe out these movements. Their aim to spread prairie fire as envisaged by Mao had flopped because of lack of popular support and smothered further by the well-organized and vigil forces.

What Now?

The divide between communists and capitalists has led to several conflicts and disputes. While the rise of Soviet is testament to how communism might appeal at the onset, its eventual downfall, by the late 90s and finally dissolution, goes on to paint an entirely different picture. Theoretically, the idea that society should be based on the tenets of equality might seem like the morally right concept to work towards, in reality, capitalism has proven to be a clear front runner. 

In his Business book, The World is Flat, journalist Thomas L Friedman argues that Communism was a great system for making people equally poor while Capitalism made people unequally rich. As far as trade and globalization is concerned, free-market capitalism is the best model – a tried and tested approach, albeit it has its own shortcomings. Atleast, most people in today’s world would agree that the era of tribal warfare is long gone. Mao’s belief that ‘Power flows through the barrel of the gun’ isn’t just a way to breakdown the democratic wheels, it’s pretty dated, too.

Written by - Shivansh Shandilya

Edited by - Arnav Mehra


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