Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dealing with the Naxals : Part 1

Its unfortunate how since the past few months Naxalites or Maoists (as they like to be called) have ensured their violent presence in the newspapers and social media for various abductions, killings, blasts and other heinous crimes. So who are these people? We can’t really understand the complexity of the problem unless we have a clear idea of its evolution. In Part one of this two part deliberation I will try and depict a clear picture on the evolution of Naxalism in India. 

The genesis of the Naxalite movement in Indian society is inextricably tied to the peasant uprising that took place in and around Naxalbari which is situated in the northern district of Darjeeling in the eastern state of West Bengal. The Naxalite movement primarily refers to the communists lead peasant insurrection that occurred in Naxalbari area in 1967.

It becomes essential at this time to understand the Agrarian structure in West Bengal that existed before 1967 to comprehend the peasant uprising: There existed a two-tier system: “Jyotedar-Adihar” system. In simple terms, Jyotedars were upper class land owners and Adihars were tribal shared croppers (aka Bargadars) who were entitled to half the produce. In practice however the jyotedars had many methods of cutting into the share of Adihars which usually left the latter with 1/3rd or 1/4th of the total produce. The relation was characterized by perpetuated dependence of the Adihars on the Jyotedars. This made the condition of the Adihars vulnerable and consequently in the Bengal Famine of 1943, millions of peasants were starved to death. Thereafter, under the ruling British government the ‘Floud Commission’ which recommended that share of Jyotedars should not exceed 1/3rd of the total produce (Tebagha). But there was a delay in the implementation of this recommendation which agitated the ‘Bengal Kisan Sabha’. As a result in 1946, the Bengal Kisan Sabha which was dominated by communists gave a call for a mass struggle to implement FC recommendations.

This mass struggle adopted a militaristic approach in Naxalbari which comes under the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district where the holds of this tussle were strong due to the high percentage of shared croppers that colonized that area. The Adihars by force took away paddy from the upper class Jyotedars which lead to armed confrontation. This was the famous ‘Tebagha Movement’ (1946-47 and 1948-49) which marked the beginning of peasant mobilization in Bengal.   

The communists lead movement experienced its first split in 1964. The formation of the Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) out of the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) was a manifestation of the disengagement of the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese ideological divide within the Communist movement. In the February 1967 elections CPI-M came to power in West Bengal. The top leaders decided to prove their party as an efficient government which meant giving up of revolutionary means. But this didn’t appeal to the young cadre of the party who believed in subversive action. Thus, a contradiction was created between more radical pro-Chinese groups and the larger body of moderates. The younger comrades rebelled against their senior leaders, walked out of CPI-M and formed various splinter groups in different parts of the country. In August 1967, under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Suren Bose the ‘Coordination committee of Revolutionaries (CCR)’ was formed and by November 1967 all splinter groups were brought together. Eventually, by April 1969 the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) was formed by the young cadre with avowed revolutionary objectives. CPI-ML which was born with revolutionary objectives was thirsting for action. They took a conspirational style of execution of the so called ‘class enemies’ by guerilla war tactics. They tried to move further from Naxalbari and spread themselves in the entire central and eastern region of India. This CPI-ML guerilla war tactics was termed as the “Naxalite Movement” by the newspapers. In due course of time, the nonplussed peasantry which was alienated by the terrorism carried out by the urban middle class youth withdrew their support from the movement. In 1972 when Congress government came back to power in the state of West Bengal, it resorted to ruthless killings of Naxalites and by 1972-73 the movement was suppressed. 

CPIML then took a new incarnation in the form of Communist Party of India (Maoists) formed on 21 September, 2004. They claimed to be fighting for the rights of the tribes in the forest belt around Central India- Chattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal. Lately, they’ve also expanded to Uttarakhand, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. These areas have high deposits of minerals which are of interest to various mining companies. But, opposed to all their claims what they are really doing is keeping the areas under their control (by abductions, extortions, bombings of schools and railway tracks) away from modernity and development to dictate their will on the rural masses. The UPA government banned the CPI (Maoist) as a terrorist organization on 22 June 2009.

Thus, we see how Naxalite movement has transformed from a peasantry uprising to a terrorist organization. Here, it will be interesting to know how the state governments and the government ruling at the centre has handled the problem of Naxalism over the past few years and what are the reasons behind the continuous failure to counter this insurrection. 
More about this in my next post.

Nitish Bhardwaj 

@nitish9bhardwaj on  Twitter

The writer is a Civil Services Aspirant and is a student of Political Science.

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