24 May 1967 is recognized as the day of Naxalbari incident, which led to the emergence of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist insurgency in India, known as the Naxalite movement. The armed rebellion and the response of the Indian state has caused more than 15,000 casualties in last 50 years. Just 7 years ago, the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh called it the biggest threat to internal security.
But when the above-mentioned incident completed 50 years in 2017, it hardly made to the national news. Not surprisingly, the media was rather discussing suspension of the Twitter account of a mediocre singer. Apart from a few editorials, the nation didn’t seem interested in taking note of it.
It would be pertinent today to analyze why did happen so? Why such a big threat stands neglected from the mainstream discourse? I did a primary Google Search trend analysis for the week 21 May to 27 May 2017. The word ‘naxalism’ was searched less than 1% of the word ‘terrorism’.
The impact of the movement was on decline, particularly in the last decade. The insurgency was/is moving into obscurity, which the Naxal cadres are trying to resurrect through sensational attacks.
The argument presented below is that the movement has failed. I use the word – ‘failed’ – cautiously, as it would be clear from the analysis below.
Lets first analyze its rise and growth.
How did the movement arise?
The rise of Naxal movement was in Bad Governance or exploitation of the tribal communities at the hands of the State and Zamindars/Moneylenders. The Indian state inherited the British State apparatus, which was set up as ‘Steel Frame’ to rule over foreign population. The British rule was brutal and inhuman, without any doubt. It kept on improving (marginally) in the Metropolitan areas under public pressure. But the administration of Tribal areas in 1970s was essentially similar to what it would have been in 1890s.
The Indian state inherited the mantle and lower bureaucracy continued the exploitation. Along with overall degradation of the institutions that occurred during first three decades of the independence, the exploitation increased in intensity.
Once it became clear that these injustices couldn’t be resolved through the constitutional means, situation led the frustrated tribal towards armed insurrection. They were greatly aided-led by the young revolutionaries from urban areas, which were inspired by the ideas of Marx-Lenin-Mao-Castro. A powerful portrayal of these young revolutionaries can be found in the movie ‘Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi’.
The movement continued for five decades and still lingers in the geographical heartland of the nation.
How the Naxal movement is a failure?
Any revolution/movement should ideally, be first judged by the yardsticks of its own goals. (On that count it could be argued that even French and Russian revolutions were failures). The Naxals could not overthrow Indian state nor set up the People’s State in whatsoever form. They were able to control-rule significant area – in varying proportion – throughout the 50 years. But at no point Naxalism became an existential threat to the Indian state of any of the state governments in the so-called ‘Red Corridor’.
After 50 years, Naxal movement today is at best ‘Localized Extortionist movement loosely based on Maoist war strategy.
Secondly a movement should be judged by the overall impact it has/had on the society. There could be a debate on this issue. The Naxal movement did bring out the atrocities committed by the state and the private moneylenders/landlords. It also focused attention of the intelligentsia to the broader social issues. It also ensured greater focus of the State towards these regions. In last two decades particularly, State has intervened with significant investment and infrastructure spending in the region. The Forest Act was amended in 2006 giving the tribals ownership of the forest produce. But one cannot say that Naxalism alone was responsible for them. Naxals (and sympathizers, if any) would like to claim credit for more changes, I’m skeptical that history would support such a claim.
To sum up, overall impact of Naxal movement on India is marginal at best.
Why did it fail?
The analysis of the Naxalims presented below is not chronological- historical analysis. (Those interested, I’d highly recommend the book written by Mr. Prakash Singh IPS, former DGP UP and Assam and DG BSF).
First the Naxal movement stood no chance to win any armed struggle against the Indian State. As mentioned above India inherited the Steel Frame of erstwhile British rule. But it gained legitimacy through regular, free and fair elections apart from running numerous welfare programs. In the hindsight, one can say that movement could never match the ability of the Indian State to mobilize men and material.
The movement also remained restricted to the heartland of India, in the forests. There had been certain attempts to bring the movement to urban areas. Naxals have tried to influence the Dalit movement in suburbs of Mumbai and Delhi by harnessing the injustice and anger. Thankfully, they haven’t been successful, yet!
So, the Communist Revolution was just an- armed insurgency – at best, in its reach and ability to arise as a serious alternative to Indian State. There was no moment in history for an Indian Fidel Castro or Che Guevara to storm Red Fort and rename it ‘Peoples’ Red Fort!
As the state began tightening the noose (particularly in last two decades) the sources of revenue and armaments dried up. As the state began development activities, the ideological hold of Naxals began to weaken. So much so, that Naxals have increasingly targeted development activities like building schools and laying down roads.
Second, the failure has to do with the ideology. The ideology of the movement i.e. Marxism-Maoism is deeply flawed. As the Economist points out, “It is not that the analysis of Karl Marx was nonsensical, but his solutions were far more worse than the problems”.
History has shown repeatedly that Marxist revolutions have seldom established democracies. Often the people’s revolutions have led to totalitarian and brutal regimes like that of Stalin, Mao and Kim-Il-Sung.
Marxist leaders in India could not reconcile the facts that India was pre-industrial society while their own philosophy was applicable only to an Industrial society. They failed miserably in transforming Marxism suited to Indian context, as enumerated by Ramachandra Guha in his book ‘Patriots and Partisans’. Interestingly he writes that Bhagat Singh probably was the only original Indian Leftist intellectual.
On the 50th eve, one supporter tried to claim that Naxals are followers of Bhagat Singh. That’s comically absurd. Bhagat Singh had highest regard for human life that’s why he threw harmless bombs in Assembly. Compare that to the enormity of bloodshed of innocent civilians by the Naxal cadres.
Third, Naxalism tried to give easy solutions to the problems. They raided Zamindars and local moneylenders, conducted People’s courts and some redistribution activity. But they were and still are clearly incapable of establishing any rule-based system to ensure justice and proper functioning of the society. To expect them to be able to do so is to expect Anil Kapoor from movie Nayak to solve all of India’s problems in a day.
Armed revolutions are messy affair. They prompt counter-revolution. Revolutions result in massacre of its opposition and tend to have considerable collateral civilian casualty. History shows that almost all revolutions took years if not decades, to establish peace and order in the society. Clearly, Naxals didn’t have that luxury of success or time.
(This is the first part in the two-part series on Naxalism)