The phenomenon of Left-wing extremism or as it is popularly called Naxalism or Naxalite movement in India dates back to late 1960s. Since then it has continued to plague a large portion of Central India and therefore remains a major challenge before the legitimacy of Indian state. The roots of the problem are however historical as it dates back to the faulty land revenue policies of British era which in the course of time became so deep rooted that even an independent “Indian” government could not resolve it. Land, which is the mainstay of Indian agrarian economy has historically been owned by community and therefore the concept of private ownership in land is something which is alien to Indian people. Even the Mughal rulers in the medieval times never themselves owned the land, they merely controlled it through collecting land revenue via revenue agents. These revenue agents shared a part of their earnings as revenue with Mughal rulers. However, with the conquest of India by British, private ownership in land was brought to India. The class of people who were earlier entrusted with collecting revenue that is Zamindars were now made the “owners” of the land by the British. The famous PERMANENT SETTLEMENT policy of revenue collection which was mainly introduced in Bengal province under British is the classic example of this change in land relations. Interestingly, today it is these very areas where permanent settlement was introduced that face the problem of Naxalism. This class of Zamindars which was created, sustained and legitimized by British colonial masters remained loyal to them until Independence.
Rise of Naxalite movement
At the time of Independence these Zamindars owned the majority of land in India while millions of poor peasants either remained as marginalized farmers or much worse were forced to become landless labourers. Thus naturally one major task before the government after independence was to initiate land reforms and redistribute the excess land to the landless or marginalized farmers. However, this great hope was belied by the nexus between Zamindars and corrupt government officials. Two important legislations were passed by the Union government namely the “State Acquisition Act 1953” and the “Land Reforms Act 1955” to equalise land relations. Under these, authority was granted to the State governments to first identify those who had excess land and subsequently acquire it (under the State Acquisition Act) and then redistribute it to the poor farmers (under the Land Reforms Act). But, unfortunately due to rampant corruption and bribery land records were often manipulated by the local Patwari (official vested with the authority to measure and document land record) thereby leading to the failure of land reforms. This failure was most evident in Orissa (now Odisha) and Bihar while in Bengal it was initially successful but later degenerated along the lines of the other two states mentioned above. Thus all in all, land reforms which could have elevated the economic and social status of poor farmers failed terribly in almost all Indian states. In such a situation the Communist party of India (CPI) decided to organize “Kisan Sabhas” in 1959 in the states of Bihar, Orissa and Bengal. The idea behind these meetings was to find a political solution to the problem of failed land reforms as the grievances which were raised in the meetings by farmers were conveyed to the CPI MPs who then took up the issue before the Parliament. Unfortunately after the Sino-India conflict of 1962, CPI in 1963 split into two factions, the CPI and the new CPI (Marxist). Those radical within the CPI joined the latter and now both started to organize their own Kisan Sabhas. It must be noted that CPI (M) was radical only in ideology, in practice it was similar to the former.
Charu Mazumdar – Father of Naxalism in India
No discussion about the origin of Naxalism in India can be complete without the mention of Charu Mazumdar – the intellectual and the first leader of Naxalite movement in India. During one of the Kisan Sabhas organized by the CPI (M) in Siligudi in West Bengal in 1965, the leader of the meeting Charu propounded the idea of “snatching away” the land back from the oppressors. He believed that nothing could be done through taking the problem to the parliament hence the peasants should now resort to a revolution and sought back the land which rightfully belonged to them. This interpretation found its first manifestation in the Naxalbari village in Bengal where over 100 peasants led by Kannu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal attacked the house of the most prominent Zamindar, who was killed and his house burnt and the land redistributed. This brute show of inhuman mob behaviour which killed an innocent man was known as the Naxalbari incident marked the beginning of Left wing extremism in India and also shook the soul of the country. Charu, who was heavily criticised and expelled from the party later in 1969 floated his own organization the CPI (ML), with letters ‘M’ and ‘L’ being abbreviations for Maoism- Leninism.
Since then the Naxalite movement in India has spread across three phases – first between 1969 to 1972, second, between 1972 to 2002 and the third since 2002 till the present period. During these 4 decades innumerable security personnel, tribal population, and other government officials have lost their lives in fighting this problem. The irony of the situation is that while the root cause is well known to every policy maker that is the failure of land reforms and imbalance in development, we still continue to lose millions of rupees and man-power as well as energies in fighting this battle with our own countrymen. It is nothing but as a classic case of lack of political will combined with the faulty of approach of controlling and not resolving the issue that has kept this problem alive. These shall be taken up in the subsequent articles.
-Contributed by Suryansh
Picture Credits: india.com