Naxalism is considered to be one of the biggest internal security threats India faces at the moment, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in 2008. Every year, many security personnel are killed in various attacks perpetrated by naxalites. Although the forces are trying hard to root the red menace out of the system and ensure security for the people of the country, policy makers seem clueless about how to deal with the menace. Let us try and understand what this ideology that professes violence against the state is all about.
The roots of Naxalism go back to the 1967 uprising of peasants in Naxalbari, West Bengal’s feudal society. Oppressive feudal lords, also known as Jotedars, owned land and landless peasants and farmers worked on them for little to no reward. Leading up to the uprising, Jotedars tried to manipulate land records to deceive farmers but the tipping point for the Naxalbari uprising was when on March 23 sharecropper, Bigul Kisan, was beaten up by the local Jotedar for ploughing a patch of land.
The next day, inspector Sonam Wangdi was killed with a sea of arrows. On May 25, the struggle intensified and the police, perhaps in an attempt to pacify the situation, allegedly killed nine women and children. In the months that followed, the struggle swept West Bengal and peasants took up firearms and looted Jotedars and used force to occupy land. A similar peasant uprising followed in Srikkakulam of Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh led by C. Pulla Reddy.
Charismatic leadership amid criticism and crackdown
Critics of this movement have somewhere tried to suppress the importance of Charu Majumdar, the man who launched this violent revolution that had a ripple effect on large parts of the country. Although he was born into a landlord family and associated himself with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he took it upon himself to free Naxalbari from landlords and wrote the Historic Eight Documents that called for an armed revolution in India.
Majumdar was joined by Kanu Sanyal in leading the Naxalbari uprising. He was known for his simple and unostentatious lifestyle and he spent his entire life for the struggle of the peasants, considering their problems as his own.
Dr B.K. Mahakul, who wrote ‘Political Violence: A Study of the Naxal Movement in India’, says the movement went down the violence path because political violence is rooted in deep-seated frustration of the masses because of perceived injustice and so walk towards violence in hopes of changing the status quo.
“Naxal violence is in fact directly related to the intensity of the feeling of people of their actual or perceived deprivation and their commitment to take revenge against those who are believed to be responsible for such denial,” he writes.
Currently, the main supporters of the movement are marginalised groups of India including Dalits and Adivasi’s, who believe they have been neglected by the government. And so presently, Naxalites have a foothold in the tribal areas spreading from Andhra Pradesh to Bihar and Maharashtra, and also covering parts of Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu.
In 2012, however, the Home Ministry admitted that Naxalites’ presence has spread to almost half the country and said they have also established bases on the Assam-Arunachal border.
Writing for the Journal of Defence Studies, Raman Dixit noted in ‘Naxalite Movement in India’: The State’s Response that the government has over the years stopped looking at the Naxalite movement as a law and order problems and more as a problem that stems from socioeconomic issues such as poverty. The government has formed an “Empowered Group of Ministers” to counter the Naxalism problem as well as launched a Police Modernisation Scheme to tackle violence.
It has also experimented with the social integration approach by allocating specific funds for the development of villages affected by Naxalism.
Other government schemes include Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP), Bharat Nirman, National Rural Health mission (NRHM), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and other income generating and social security schemes.
There are indeed reported atrocities against tribal people in the country, however, violence, as seen over the years, is not a good option. It only multiplies dead bodies and shrinks the margin of trust between the state and its citizens. People who have left red violence and come to the mainstream are the examples of beginning a new life all over again.
Urban naxalism or hoax ?
Urban Naxalism is a phenomenon where educated individuals living in cities provide legal and intellectual support to Naxalites. These individuals could be lawyers, professors, writers and activists who are not involved directly in Naxal activities.
Some people claim that Urban naxals are the ‘invisible enemies’ of India, some of them have either been caught or are under the police radar for working for the movement and spreading insurgency against the Indian state. One common thread amongst all of them is that they are all urban intellectuals, influencers or activists of importance.