Urban Naxals — A Security Threat or an Alarm?

The term ‘Urban Naxals’ has been in frequent use in India lately, arousing fear, hatred and concern of different sections of the society, but most ardently of the government. Naxalism basically refers to Left-wing extremism or Maoism, that intends to establish a Proletariat State by overthrowing the semi-colonial bourgeois State. It gets its Indian name after the name of a village in West Bengal, ‘Naxalbari’, where peasants armed with country weapons had first taken to revolutionary means and had overthrown the exploitative landlords. While the movement is generally associated with the rural peasantry, history has shown that the leadership usually has urban, educated roots. Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal, the two original architects of the Naxal Revolt 1967, belonged to affluent, non-rural classes. Most of the present leaders also have a similar background.

Like any other social movement, Naxalism has also received a strong ideological commitment from some urban student communities. This is precisely the reason why the spread of this idea attracts enormous attention and concern from the government. The stakes of losing an entire youth to extremism, are very high for a young and developing nation like India. But given the heat that this term carries along today, an important question to ask is this. To what extent has Naxalism disseminated in urban India and how great a threat is this to security and political stability?

The Maoists have generally feared getting trapped by the security personnels and have not moved much beyond their rural dominations. After the merger of several minor insurgent groups to form the CPI (Maoist) party in 2004, they demonstrated vivid urban ambitions. Instances of direct attack on major cities have been unknown, although attacking areas close to major cities is a frequently used strategy of intimidating people and governments. However, they have had little progress in this direction, except for establishing urban cells in some industrial centres. Their urban adventures have cost them the loss of several of their prominent leaders, who have been tracked and captured by Indian security forces.

In fact, the BJP government boasts of having brought down the number of LWE affected districts to a meagre 30 in its four years of power. Strategies like infrastructure development, deployment of security forces, regular checks, etc. have gone a long way in reducing Naxal influence in it’s very hub, the West Bengal-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh Belt. In such a scenario, can we claim that the arrest of five prominent activists in Maharashtra in the Bhima-Koregaon case in August, was high-handedness on part of the government? I am unsure. The activists were termed ‘Urban Naxals’, and on the basis of a letter that the police found, they were accused of crafting a plan for PM Modi’s assassination. A popular opinion goes that this is another instance of the government falling prey to paranoia and using the labelling strategy to curb dissent. But at a time when the state already has an upper-hand as per the latest statistics, and the appeal of the Maoist ideology seems to the receding worldwide, why would a government want to market a threatening force unnecessarily and facilitate it’s resurgence? Certainly, the BJP government is smarter than that.

Should we then assume that there is, in fact, truth in the claims of rising Urban Naxalism? Well, I am curious to know. Not merely because it might be a threat to my security in future, but because it reflects a history of marginalisation and deprivation of my fellow-Indians forming the rural population. Besides my security, what bothers me is that over the years, we have equated Maoism with Terrorism, with little regard for the circumstances that have compelled these people to take up aggression. Here, I do not propagate violence. I staunchly criticise the use of violence, that has made Naxal-affected districts or valleys to remain in fear of death. I further condemn their methods, which have only perpetuated the backwardness of their areas and have caused the loss of several innocent lives.

But it’s about time we question our attitude towards organised political violence. The Indian state and society alike, have been too quick in labelling and further marginalising, paying little heed to the politics behind such activities. Have we been too narrow in reducing these to mere law and order questions? Unlike on most other issues, the various components of the Indian polity have reached a consensus on use of harsh legislation and harsher execution when dealing with such forces. Are labels such as ‘anti-Indian’ and ‘terrorists’, easing the sale of indiscriminate state-sponsored violence against them?

If the spread of Urban Naxalism is a reality, poverty, deprivation and inequality are greater realities. Since we are ready to believe the fact that affluent, educated urbans, are resorting to such extremist mentalities, doesn’t a thought come to us naturally of the need and the possible causes? This is the time we stop questioning others’ rationale, and start doing better for our farmers. A resort to violence, is any day, unjustifiable. But shouldn’t we become more sensitive to the causes, and try to solve the problems, rather than simply suppressing them? I’m sure we should.

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