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Naxalism in the India: History and Contemporary Challenges

Naxalism in the India: History and Contemporary Challenges

By Jayesh Chandra Gupta

Edited by Shambhavi Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?.

Naxalism has brought our nation at such a juncture.

Naxalism is an act of armed transition to communism. Communism as an ideology is an intermediary towards socialism. Resources of production when owned by the community at large, the phenomenon is termed as socialism. However, communism bears a mark of state ownership in all factors of production; it involves a necessary step concerning transfer of absolute power to the state for adroit shift to socialism. It is left to the “will” of the state to determine this transition; hence, there happens no transition.

Any society irrespective of time frame accepts an ideology of state administration on the parameters of: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty1.  Juxtaposing the three parameters creates a situation conducive to ripening of a particular system of state/exile state administration. The rise of Marxist –Leninist ideology during the Russian revolution can be credited to co-existence of the three parameters. In Indian context we do observe the same co-existence both prior to independence and in contemporary times, this very co-existence demands an insight on the Naxal issue to resolve the divide between the “Have’s” and the “Have Not’s”  and to facilitate “Class cooperation”

Genesis of Movement

Naxalism is an extremist wing of communists, so understanding Naxalism requires understanding genesis of communism in India. The ideas evolved with the advent of Russian revolution were not meant for geographical containment; rather it transcended its boundaries to reach India. M.N.Roy laid the foundation of CPI in Tashkent (now the capital of Uzbekistan) with a coherent motive of “class struggle”. However, this struggle adopted a two pronged approach with major channelization against suppressive British rule, unaware of the black Englishmen aiding the British in their endeavor. The second major centre of communist movement was Peshawar, and the British government discernible to the danger initiated Peshawar conspiracy trials in 1922 and succeeded in suppressing the movement. Further, a communist conference was organized in Kanpur (1924) with famous participants like E.M.S Namboodaripad, Singravelu, S.A.Dange , Nellei Sengupta, Muzzaffar Ahmed and Shaukat Usmani, this conference passed a resolution and another CPI was setup in 1925 by Satyabhakta and others. Kanpur conspiracy trial against S.A.Dange, Muzzafar Ahmed and Shaukat Usmani was initiated by the British government. Throughout the pre-independent India we observe the communist and the British government at logger heads and do observe frequent fallout over the black Englishmen. The shift of power to extremist leaders in trade union (1927-29) provided the fitting environment to facilitate encroachment of communists in trade unionism; this expanded the domain of operation for the communists.

With the rise of the socialist orientated Jawaharlal Nehru and S.C.Bose within the Congress, communist leaders were incorporated under the ideological mélange of congress. In 1936, All India Kisan Sabha was setup at Lucknow with Swami Sehjanand Saraswati as the president to create awareness amongst the peasants about their rights which were being denied by the British Government. Congress to garner support from this larger section organized its sessions simultaneously with All India Kisan Sabha. In the Faizpur session of congress on 1936, which was presided by Jawaharlal Nehru, the resolution in favor of “agricultural reforms” post independence was passed. Further, with this declaration, peasant activities were brought under the ambit of the congress and were channelized against the British raj. So in the last decade of struggle for independence all the communist sections of labor and peasants were brought under the ambit of congress /future governance, with a promise to establish “class cooperation” and alleviation of the aggrieved class.

It was only after independence that the so called black Englishmen or the bourgeois averted the agrarian policy of the congress by means of benami transaction, creating a major road block in the land reform policies of the government. This very act of bourgeois compelled the CPI to recognize the black Englishmen and start a struggle against the same.

 Gandhiji visualized the foreseeable occurrence of the same and is highlighted in his reply to the Fischer’s question:

“What is your programme for the improvement of the lot the peasantry?”

Gandhiji said:

“The peasants will take the land”

“With violence?” Fischer asked

“There may be violence”, Gandhiji rejoined “but then again the landlords may cooperate …. They might cooperate by fleeing”.2

This view was further corroborated by his unequivocal statement on the eve of salt Satyagraha. He declared: “When the peasant is fully awakened to a sense of his plight and knows that it is not the kismet that brought him to the helpless state but existing rule, unaided, he will in his impatience abolish all distinctions between the constitutional and unconstitutional, even the violent and non-violent means”. 3

This very idea of realization of plight by the peasants became a driving force for India’s struggle for Independence, but after Independence a further realization of the plight caused by the black Englishmen concerning semi-feudalism of land, gave an impetus to communist activities against the bourgeois within the congress.

The naxalite movement has been fundamentally land-based. The following statement of Jayprakash Narayan provides an insight into the various factors of the land problem:

 The big farmers who cheated the ceiling law through benami and fictitious settlement ; the gentlemen who grabbed government lands and village commons ; the landowners who persistently denied the legal rights of their sharecroppers and evicted them from their holdings and who underpaid their labourers and threw them out of their homesteads ; the men who by fraud or force took the lands away from the weaker sections… the money lenders who charged usurious interests and seized the lands of the poor and the weak ; the politicians, the administrators, and all others who aided and abetted these wrongs – it is they who are responsible for the accumulated sense of injustice, grievance and hurt among the poor and downtrodden that is now seeking its outlet in violence…4

International happenings aptly guided the movement. The 20th congress of communist party of Soviet Union (CPSU, 1956) propounded the idea of peaceful transition to Socialism by means of extra parliamentary struggle and winning a majority in parliament by rallying support of large section of people. Peaceful transition was defined as securing a majority in parliament and transforming it from an instrument of the bourgeois dictatorship into an instrument of genuine people’s state power. Meanwhile CPI had captured power in Kerala, thus vindicating CPSU proposition of transition to socialism through peaceful parliamentary means.

However, a different opinion of Communist Party of China (CPC) on peaceful transition created a schism in CPI. CPC under Mao Tse-tung emphasized that the draft should state “Desirability of peaceful transition” and should emphasize on “extra parliamentary mass struggle”. Ultimately the Chinese approach prevailed and the declaration popularly known as “Moscow declaration of twelve communist and workers party” admitted the feasibility of peaceful transition but emphasized extra parliamentary mass struggle. A section in CPI interpreted the declaration to be assertive on extra parliamentary mass struggle with state machinery and party apparatus as means to retain power. This section with Chinese ideology inclination would later form Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPIM. At 7th congress of CPI held at Calcutta, 1964 the CPI was bifurcated in to two: CPI and CPIM. The former would seek cooperation of all left democratic forces including left wing of congress party and Soviet Union to facilitate this peaceful transition, however the later garnered anti-congress and anti-soviet sentiments.

 With this split in CPI the extremists formed part of CPI(M) and constantly pushed the party for non-parliamentary form of struggle, however the party paid more heed to the formation of united front government and unscrupulous act of coalition politics. After the formation of united front government in Kerala and West Bengal, its composition was analyzed by the extremist within the party and to their surprise it consisted of bourgeois and petit bourgeois. This enraged the Maoists/extremists and they started organizing peasants for armed revolution. This is the birth of Naxalism in India.

Evolution of the Movement

An armed struggle for liberation of village land was first witnessed in Telangana (1946-51), wherein thousand acres of land was captured from the landlords and distributed. A similar revolt was witnessed in Naxalbari region in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The genesis of this revolt lies in the unscrupulous coalition politics of CPIM with Bangla congress .The chief architect and theoretician of Naxalism Charu Mazumdar largely masterminded the Naxalbari event. Naxalbari struggle was launched on March 2,1967 on the very same day the united front government was installed in West Bengal.

The kisan sabha setup during pre-independence India and later under the control of CPI, played a major role in the struggle, conventions of peasants of the villages around the small town of Naxalbari formed an initial step towards organized struggle. Peasants were armed to crush the resistance if offered by counter revolutionaries. A Naxalite explained this scheme in operation as under:

“Armed with our weapons, we went to big Jotedars (land- lords). Leaving foodstuffs and other materials according to their need, we distributed the rest among the poor. Likewise we snatched lands from the Jotedars and distributed them among the poor peasants. We used force only when resisted violently. We never made the womenfolk and children of the Jotedars the targets of our attack. There was strict order against this to the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries were restricted from holding more property than that of a poor farmer.” 5

The Naxalbari struggle in Gandhian perception signifies realization of non-existence of kismet and further, the blurring of constitutional and unconstitutional means to achieve an end.

This realization, aptly aided by the concern of juxtaposing economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty, made the struggle widespread. Further, we observe a protracted peasant struggle during 1967 in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, where few communists were shot by the landlords leading to wide spread Maoist activity in the region. During 1969-70 Debra-Gopivallabhpur area of Midnapur district of West Bengal we witness the second biggest event in the rise of Naxalism to its present state in contemporary times. Due to counter activities by the police the naxalites found abode in the vast forest extending upto Bihar and Odisha (the present Dandakaranya Forest). This has been the centre of naxal activities even in contemporary times.

Until now the Maoists worked as a fraction of CPI (M), aided by CPC, with one slogan: “Chairman Mao is our Leader” but after frequent acts of violence by Naxalites CPI (M) felt compelled to expel the leaders of the movement. Further, CPI (M) declared that CPC’s assessment of the situation is at variance with CPI (M)’s6. However, CPC continued to support the struggle and recognized CPIM as the truly communist party of India. CPC further criticized the West Bengal coalition government for act of unscrupulous politics and policing. However CPI (M) as a part of union front government kept aiding the government in there struggle against Naxalism. CPI (M) placed and argument stating that time was not ripe in Indian context for a armed revolution. Further, CPC repudiated by highlighting the “revisionist” tendency of CPIM. It further called upon the naxalites to form a separate party. The naxalites being the expelled or resigned members of CPIM formed state level parties for West Bengal known as ‘All-India Coordination Committee of revolutionaries of the CPIM’; this was further supplemented by formation of other state level committees. They together formed ‘All-India coordination committee of communist revolutionaries (AICCCR). AICCCR set forth the objective of agrarian revolution, guerilla warfare, setting rural bases encircling cities, incorporation of scrupulous Maoist belonging to working and peasantry class. On 22nd April 1969, the birth centenary of Lenin, AICCCR by a resolution at a public meeting chaired by Charu Mazumdar converted itself in to a truly Maoist party and renamed itself to Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPIML).

There existed an apparent difference in ideology of CPIM and CPIML, where the former believed: “The Indian peasant struggle must necessarily take a different form from that of the CPC led peasant struggle in China” 7. The CPIML analyzed the situation on the same lines as done by Mao Tse-tung in Chinese context. They further emphasized on the principal contradiction in India i.e. “Peasant-Landlord contradiction”.  They further started operating in hilly and jungle areas on interstate and international borders. The people residing in these regions were poor hill tribes, peasants and landless labors.

However there is still more to be added to reach to the present state of Naxalism. During 1970’s we witness severe setbacks to the movement followed by martyrdom of Charu Mazumdar, leaving the communist movement divided in many groups. Further during 2004, CPI(Maoist) was formed by merging the breakaway fractions like Peoples War Group and Maoist Communist Centre. Strengthening of governance juxtaposed by grass root governance by Indian Government weakened the Naxal movement. To strengthen the movement contemporary leaders on the occasion of May Day (1 May, 2014) merged CPI(Maoist) and CPI(ML)Naxalbari to form a new party known as CPI (Maoist). The recent merger took place on occasion of international day of the world proletariat to strengthen the vanguard of Indian proletariat.

Today if we look at the so called “Red-corridor” we observe the above stated trend.

The Naxalite Problem. Red Corridor

Contemporary Challenges

Today, Naxalism is no longer perceived as a law and order problem rather it is perceived as a socio-economic problem. However we still witness incidents like Dantewada ambush, where 75 paramilitary personnel and one state police constable were killed. The socio-economic efficacy of the problem can be understood by elaborating on the moot question on governance suggested by Keynes i.e. juxtaposing economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty.

Any organization or a society seeks to achieve a combination of the above stated three parameters and if GOI is able to displace Naxals from this combination, peace can be established.

Economic Efficiency

Badranna, a tribal Maoist turned police informer illustrates contemporary economic challenges faced by the tribal inhabiting the red corridor:

“Our family earned a pittance by collecting tendu leaves, used in the manufacture of beedi . For a pack of 100 leaves, the contractor paid us a few paise. We would put the leaves in a string and the contractor used his head’s circumference to measure it”9

It is the failure of “economic growth trickle down model” that has left the remote tribal society downtrodden. The dense forest region of Chhattisgarh –Telangana is rich in minerals, hence, exploited by the capitalist class, this exploitation percolates even to procurement of tribal goods. It was perceived that economic growth in these regions would ensure development of the tribal people. Further, these developed tribal people will question the naxal rule .However the very chain was broken with capitalist class exploiting the tribal labor.

Decades old concern of rural indebtedness and semi-infeudation of land is kept at bay by the naxalites. No matter what the means, the ends justify it. This is a perception of a tribal peasant. This sense of belonging between the tribal’s and Naxalites are a matter of trust, as illustrated further by Badranna:

“To test us, the people sometimes offered us stale food, which would almost be on the verge of decay but we would eat it with a smile”.

This sense of belonging is where the GOI is making strides. Inclusive growth is the only solution to the economic concern of these tribal’s .This would facilitate a feeling of belonging towards the government and would create a gulf between the tribes and Naxals.

Social Justice

To add further, Badranna said:

“In those days, the Maoist guerrillas had access to few rudimentary firearms like the Bharmar (muzzle-loading gun). But they were enough to scare tendu contractors and forest guards who often exploited tribals, threatening to jail them under archaic forest laws, looting their chicken and goats. The Maoists began confronting them. Many were caught and beaten up. The contractors were forced to pay better wages.

In the next stage, the Maoists targeted landlords and distributed their land among the landless peasants. By this time, the Maoists had won the trust of the people. They no longer required the help of a Sarpanch or a Patel”.9

The whole debate of social justice is an oscillation between class conflict and class cooperation. Gandhiji, a firm believer in class cooperation talked about “Haves as trustee to the society”, this principle if followed will ensure due course of justice without class struggle. However if neglected would lead to strengthening of the armed rebellion and there support base. And the passage illustrates the very example

“In 1987, the Maoists burnt down over a dozen houses belonging to upper-caste Thakurs in Chintalnar, who had settled down in this area from western Uttar Pradesh. According to Badranna, there had been cases of ill-treatment of the tribals at their hands. This led to another surge of recruitment”.9

Tribal’s ancestral ownership of forest land is continuously being challenged by the policy makers , land acquisition act indicates a capitalist disposition. Lack of Minimum support prices for tribal produce, provides a free hand to the bourgeois. This creates a sense of alienation towards the government and a sense of brotherhood towards naxalites. It is an ideological trap wherein moral obligation towards Naxal’s is cultivated and can be cultivated for GOI, provided social justice on principles of class cooperation is ensured.

Individual Liberty

A text from Badranna’s interview:

“The Maoists found a cause that would enable them to find support among women. In tribal societies, menstruation was considered some kind of curse. Once their menstrual cycle commenced, the women were forced to stay in a separate house on the outskirts of the village. They were required to hide and not show their face to a man in case the men happened to pass by. The other custom was to get women married to men much younger. This was to ensure an extra hand for work. Once the woman grew old, the man, still young, would remarry. The Maoists gradually convinced the village elders to discontinue these practices.

These struggles made the Maoists extremely popular among the women. Many joined them to escape the patriarchal and feudal setups”.9

Freedom is inherent with the birth of an individual and is not given. Indian society, largely patriarchal in nature, forgets about its better half. This act of obliterating the role of women by men and men by Naxal’s is against the human tendency of liberation and the very first instance it is perceived, there is a revolution.  Naxal’s understood it prior then we did, however it is time we provide the same right of liberty juxtaposed with equality. Liberty in true sense requires a sense of security and it can be ensured by a benefactor government.

Security is not CRPF personnel patrolling the region, rather it is a state wherein there exists no patrolling. Our country today stands at such a juncture of transition.


An act of armed rebellion is to be viewed with the glasses of relativity. One man’s war could be other man’s revolution. The socio-economic construct needs a transformation. It is to be realized that armed rebellion is not the only way to transcend from “Have not” to “Have”.  It is time that the government institutions and the capitalist class displace Naxals and act as benefactors to the people inhabiting the red corridor. It is a war on winning hearts and no other means than non-cooperation can facilitate it. Violence as a remedy has failed, several instances suggest the same. Under the aegis of Chhattisgarh government tribal population inhabiting the Dandakaranya region were recruited as special police officers (SPOs), were trained in firearms and paid monthly emoluments, to act as peoples resistance (Salwa Judum) against Naxalism. However, gross human right violation was witnessed with innocent tribal’s being killed. An eye for an eye cannot be a solution; we don’t expect to achieve peace by arming civilians against the unjust. If it was Naxal’s providing social justice to these people even decades after independence, it is time that the representative government of this nation, which is also elected by these tribal’s, take due course of non-violent action to obliterate the naxal problem.

History is evident of genesis of this movement and it also imbibes the solution to this act of armed rebellion. People and mass movement possess potential which obliterated the British rule and it will be this and needs to be this movement, if Naxalism is to be removed. This war requires sacrifices on capitalist interest and promotion of socialist interest. First step would be to enhance the efficacy of inclusive development. A growth model developed within the grass roots by a mélange of tribal communities. Justice to the downtrodden tribals in terms of ancestral lands is to be extended. Individual liberty as a sense of security is to be ensured. Naxals are none other than the tribals, and if a representative government is transformed to a benefactor government, it will be recognized. Naxals are at unrest concerning precipitation of their peasantry support, and it is where we need to hammer.


  1. Moot question by Keynes: “Political problem by mankind is to combine these three things
  2. Fischer: A week with Gandhi (London, George Allen,1943) p.43.
  3. Quoted in D.G.Tendulkar Mahatma (New Delhi, Publications Division, GOI,1961) Vol. 3, p.10
  4. Jayaprakash Narayan: Face to Face, (Varanasi,Navachetna Prakashan, 1970), pp. 15-16 .
  5. Dinman (Delhi), Oct 5, 1964.
  6. People’s Democracy (Calcutta), July 30, 1967.
  7. Quoted in Bhabani Sen Gupta, Indian Communism and the Peasantry, Problems of Communism (Washington), January-February, 1972.
  8. Maoist Challenge, The Hindu, op-ed, March 27,2014
  9. The war of winning hearts, The Hindu, op-ed, April 14, 2014.
  10. Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi, Picador; Indian edition (14 August 2008)
  11. Jawaharlal Nehru: The Discovery of India, Penguin India; New edition (1 February 2008)
  12. The second coming by W.B.Yeat

Jayesh Gupta is a recent graduate from IIT Mandi (H.P) .He believes in gaining a mélange of experience and has worked at various organizations like CSIR, teri & Maruti Suzuki, only to realize that his real interest lies in foreign affairs. An aspiring diplomat and a budding writer, he enjoys writing on international affairs and India’s position in the world. Due to his prior engagement as President of student’s technical affairs at his college he has a nick for politics and enjoys writing on political and social issues. Contact him at [email protected]

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