Challenges of Revolutionary Violence
The Naxalite Movement in Perspective
by MANORANJAN MOHANTY
Since the Naxalbari uprising nearly four decades ago, the Naxalite movement now comprises various groups that appear bound together by a commonality in ideology, though their aims to achieve revolution differ. The different groups within the movement may appear fragmented but as long as sharp inequities prevail in the current social and economic polity, their vision will continue to appeal to the dispossessed and the marginalised. The Indian state by its unitary response of violence and repression is not only guilty of a blinkered understanding of the situation but is in danger of perpetuating the culture of violence in large parts of the country.
In Revolutionary Violence: A Study of the Maoist Movement in India (1977),
a book wherein I attempted to analyse the first decade since the outbreak
of the Naxalbari uprising, I advanced three propositions on the nature of the
movement and the political challenge it posed to the Indian
At present when the Naxalite movement has spread over some 165 districts
in 13 states of India and the prime minister has described it as the
"single biggest internal security challenge" it may be worthwhile to recall
the propositions and assess where the movement stands today
and whether the Indian state has now a
better understanding of the nature of the
challenge of the Naxalite movement.
The propositions were:
(i) The Naxalite movement was a pre-organisational movement;
(ii) it practised ideological parallelism to a large extent mechanically
applying formulations of the Chinese revolution to
contemporary India; and
(iii) the strategypursued by the Naxalites was a narrow
construction of revolutionary strategy and
was not always one of revolutionary violence.
At the end of the four decades it seems that there have been
significant changes in all three respects, yet some elements of each
The dispersed fragmented character of the early Naxalite
movement has now evolved into three streams of fairly organised
formations - CPI(ML)-Liberation, CPI(Maoist) and CPI(ML), each
having their own distinct political programmes.
However, a large number of groups still remain outside these
three streams in different parts of India and who are engaged in serious
debates on policies and strategy of the Indian revolution.
Hence the ideological challenge of the movement remains far greater than
its organisational strength. The programmeof agrarian revolution and
anti-imperialist mobilisation has acquired a fresh appeal
in the era of globalisation and economic reforms seen in the past
two decades and also since the US-led "war on terror" that
began in 2001.
The neglect of the rural economy has been characterised by starvation
conditions and farmer suicides in some parts of the country while farmers
everywhere find agriculture less and less remunerative. Tribal people
find themselves further distressed by their shrinking access to forest
resources and large-scale displacement caused by mega-mining projects.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Forest People's
Land Rights Bill, however welcome they may be, are only small measures
that do not address the basic structural issue of peoples rights to land
and other productive resources.
On the other hand, the US invasions on Afghanistan and Iraq, and its
global counter-terrorism drive is a fine combination that involves
a military strategy for world domination along with the economic drive for
globalisation under the aegis of western capitalism and the monopoly
over communication and culture in world scale.
The strategic shift in India's foreign and defence policy oriented towards
forging a new bond with the US and symbolised by
the Indo-US nuclear deal gives substance to the call for
an anti-imperialist front.
Thus, the ideological appeal of the Naxalites has a material basis in the
Indian environment and that explains their expanding social base.
But the pre-organisational character is also evident in the fragmented
existence of the movement with enormous hostility seen among the
Indian Naxalites have learnt many lessons from their experience of the first
two decades and can be hardly accused of practising ideological
parallelism with the Chinese revolution. None of the groups
has any connection with the Communist Party of China whom
they denounce as revisionist after it ushered in the reforms policies in 1978.
But inspired by Mao Zedong Thought, they are all broadly
committed to characterising the revolution as
"peoples democratic revolution".
On the question of the nature of the Indian bourgeoisie there is much
more sophisticated understanding today than merely considering
the leading section as a comprador bourgeoisie.
The CPI(Maoist) thinks that the recent phase of capitalist
globalisation has vindicated this understanding as the Indian bourgeoisie
has accepted the role of a subordinate partner of the largely western
bourgeoisie. The Liberation group also sees the Indian big bourgeoisie
as an equal partner of the west in some cases and also a powerful force
that has a global role in third countries. They
use the term "dependent bourgeoisie".
The emergence of a regional bourgeoisie in India which was reflected
in the growth of regional movements is also a subject of much debate
among the Naxalites.
What is now agreed upon by many of the groups is the decline of
the national bourgeoisie, which was once seen as the champion of
They point out that the talk of a rising India with an 8 per
cent rate of growth, and its software success story, is mainly identified
with India's monopoly houses whereas agriculture, small industries
and much of the manufacturing sector lag behind miserably.
Similarly, developments in the Indian countryside have been analysed
with special attention paid to the rise of the rich peasants in many parts
of India though elements of landlordism persist in many areas.
The state-aided rural development programmes and panchayati raj
have generated new processes, which have in most places strengthened
the hold of the rich peasants.
Economic liberalisation has integrated the rural market with urban commerce,
which has produced new structures of power based on land and capital. The
most important social phenomenon of the 1990s was the mobilisation of
"other backward classes" (OBCs) through the drive for reservation.
Not all the Naxalite groups were forthright participants in the
In fact the classical Marxist discourse still considers caste focused
analysis as a deviation from class analysis. The new differentiation of rural
classes and castes has led to a fresh analysis in many quarters.
Naxalites in Andhra and Bihar have upheld the rights of dalits and
OBCs, but within their political framework of class-based
For example the social basis of Liberation in central Bihar was very
much centred on the dalits' struggle for land, wages and dignity.
The MCC had a large following among the yadavs as well as the dalits.
As for gender the Naxalite groups are perhaps only just beginning to
absorb the significance of multi-pronged struggle against
patriarchy. Each group has many women cadres and even soldiers in
dalams and has a women's wing as well. However, patriarchal attitudes
and practices persist within Naxal organisations and any programme
for women's liberation is still not a prominent part of the people's
Thus it has to be stressed that the Naxalites' ideological formulation is
still not adequately developed on the issue of class-caste-gender relationship.
On the issue of nationality, however, some of the groups have been
very active. They have condemned state repression in the north-east
and Jammu and Kashmir and have had solidarity action programmes
They aim at transformation of India into a multinational union of
equal and participating nationalities by reversing the trend of unequal
economic development pursued by a centralising polity backed by
military, economic and cultural forces.
However, the Maoists of Nepal have formulated a much wider
understanding of their people's democratic revolution.
One, that is not only anti-feudal, anti-imperialist and republican,
but one that has addressed the contradictions of caste, tribe, gender,
region and religion with a commitment to sustainable development
and towards ensuring a democratic, decentralised and participatory
political functioning of a polity that is secular, multilingual and multiethnic.
No wonder that in a short span of time they have achieved
widespread support among Nepal's rural masses and have been able
to steer the revolutionary process towards a realisation of their objectives.
The new ideological understanding
reached by the Naxalites of India has also meant a variety of changes
in their strategy.
One of the main differences among the groups is over the issue of
armed struggle. The CPI(Maoist) is the leading organisation committed
to this line. With the successes accomplished by the CPN(Maoist) in
Nepal this strategy has acquired a greater credibility among some
sections of the movement. But the Liberation group argues that the
Maoist line has invited strong repression by the
armed forces of the Indian state and has weakened the movement
in many areas such as Andhra Pradesh.
Groups such as Janashakti and CPI(ML) seek to combine legal
and underground activities. That the liberal-democratic process does
provide some political space for pursuing people's causes is a factor
that yet to be fully resolved in the Naxalite political discourse.
However, there have been two distinct developments in the
Naxalite political programmes over the last decade.
One is the taking up of concrete local issues of livelihood in the tribal
and other rural areas. Picking of tendu leaves now fetches a greater
income for the tribals in central India than earlier. The
contractors' exploitation of tribal labour in forest operations has reduced
considerably in these areas. The issue of so-called minor forest
produce and tribal control over these remains on the top of the Naxalite
agenda in these areas both for the movement itself as well as for
policy towards the state.
Taking up programmes of irrigation in dry land farming, primary
education and health programmes in remote areas are no longer
considered as economisms,but constructive programmes of revolution.
The second is the programme against globalisation and the counterterrorism
drive. The Naxalites have participated in many united activities such
as the Mumbai Resistance in 2004 and the demonstrations organised
as part of the visit of US president George W Bush in early 2006.
They have opposed the harassment of Islamic youth and taken part in
activities to combat Hindu communalism.
IIIt had become clear during the first decade of the Naxalite movement
that its preorganisational character was both a weakness
and a strength for the movement.
The weakness lay in the fact that it could not be effective in implementing
centrally formulated policies, as an organised party could.
Units in different parts of the country did not support each another
in the face of state repression. The movement could
not expand systematically to different parts of the country.
At the same time, the preorganisational character had an advantage.
The movement could not be destroyed by the state, which an organised
party was vulnerable to. The Naxalite movement remained basically an
ideological movement challenging the prevailing system and since the
ideology had a certain objective basis in the social contradictions in India,
it appealed to the oppressed sections of the society and those who
sympathised with them. The many operations for suppressing
them as also the counter-offensives launched by the state in the ideological
sphere were unable to neutralise the
Naxalite ideology because the socio-political crisis of the country continued.
So even without growing into a unified organised movement the
Naxalite movement remained active and survived recurring
onslaughts from the state.
Since the founding of the CPI(ML) in 1969 the movement has seen
two phases of consolidation of the movement's groups.
During the Emergency as many as 27 ML groups were banned
and an estimated 40,000 persons were put behind bars in all
parts of the country indicating the state of fragmentation and
also the spread of the movement.
The post-Emergency period saw one phase of party-building among
Naxalites whereas the post-reform yearsin the 1990s heralded another
course of consolidation. This is not to suggest that
the response to the Emergency and the economic reforms were the main reasons
for the unification attempts. But thecontext may have
accelerated the trend.
Three streams of Naxalites emerged in the post-1977 years when many Naxalite
prisoners were released either by the Janata government
or acquitted by the courts.
One was the CPI(ML)-Liberation led by S N Sinha with its stronghold in central
Bihar. This group repudiated Charu Mazumdar's strategy of squad action and
focused on mass organisation.
It expanded its support base in the 1980s and early
1990s under the leadership of Vinod Mishra. It floated the Indian
People’s Front for united political work but this was later dissolved
and it started directly working under the party banner.
They decided to participate in electoral politics and slowly built up an
all-India organisation of the party. Their mass organisations have an
all-India character and have pockets of influence in different parts of
the country: the trade unions, in the
All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), the
All India Agriculture Labour Association(AIALA),
the All India Kisan Sanghars Samiti (AIKSS),
the All India Students Association (which has a strong base in
JNU) as well as the
All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA).
They have won seats in the Bihar legislative assembly and have played
an important role in Bihar politics and later, even in
Jharkhand politics as well. They have occasionally had a member elected to
Parliament as well.
Vinod Mishra's line of pursuing militant mass politics of both the
parliamentary and extra-parliamentary kind with CPI(ML) Liberation
as an open political party has been continued by his successors
who include Dipankar Bhattacharya as the general secretary.
The second stream in the Naxalite movement that continued
Charu Mazumdar's politics of rejecting parliamentary politics crystallised
with the formation of the CPI(ML) People's War Group
(widely referred to as PWG) in April 1980 in Andhra Pradesh.
This formation is now known as the CPI(Maoist), which is the largest and
the most powerful of the Naxalite groups in India.
Starting as a movement based in Telangana, the PWG spread its
operations in Bihar when the Party Unity group merged with it in 1996.
Even more significant was the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre
(MCC) with it in September 2004. As an underground party pursuing
the strategy of armed struggle, it has a wide support base among the
peasants and tribals in many states, especially in several regions
of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
In fact when the union home ministry talks of 76 districts in nine
states that are badly affected by Naxalism in its annual report of
2005-06 (p 24) it mainly refers to the activities of the CPI(Maoist).
It has a set of regional and zonal committees with secretaries and members.
In 2004, its armed wing merged
with that of the MCC, leading to the formation of the
People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), which according to
government sources has about 3,500 trained fighters.
In earlier years the Naxalites used local weapons to target
landlords, now they use sophisticated guns such as AK-47,
rocket launchers, grenades and land mines to wage a full-scale battles
with armed police, and para-military forces
such as the CRPF and the IRB. After the founder of PWG,
Kondapalli Sitharamayya developed differences with his colleagues
and was ousted, the party has functioned
under a collective leadership with
Ganapathy as general secretary.
The party responded to mediations by the Committee
of Concerned Citizens and participated in peace talks with the Andhra Pradesh
government in October 2004.
But the police operations against the Maoists and the
latter's counter-attacks thereafter have made a second round of
peace talks difficult. The peace talks represented a historic moment
with the government acknowledging the role of the PWG as a
powerful revolutionary force working for
the rights of the oppressed and the latter acknowledging the political spaces,
which the Indian polity provided.
The Indian state for its part has now opted for an allout
coercive response. The party now seems to have shifted its focus of
activities from north Telangana to Chhattisgarh and
It has survived many onslaughts from the state though several of its top
leaders have been killed in police encounters in different states.
The latest state to ban the CPI(Maoist) and its front organisations
was Orissa on June 9.
Thus the PWG, Party Unity and MCC that formed into the
CPI(Maoist) and their militant strategy represented a major
organisational development of the Naxalite movement in India.
The third stream which differs from both these formations and still
has failed to get all the remaining groups united within it
is currently symbolised by the new CPI(ML) with Kanu Sanyal,
the legendary hero of Naxalabari, as its general secretary.
Sanyal had a group with him under the name Communist Organisation
of India (ML) with which the CPI(ML) Unity Initiative,
the Unity Centre and some groups of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala
merged. With the coming into it of a section of the CPI(ML) Janashakti,
the party based on the line of thinking developed by Nagi
Reddy and Chandra Pulla Reddy, it further acquired a degree of strength.
The Andhra Pradesh mass organisations,
Raitu CoolieSangham (Peasant Labour Organisation;
the CPI(Maoist) also has one with the same name which has been banned),
AP Federation of Trade Unions, the once powerful
student group People’s Democratic Students' Union (PDSU) and the
Sthree Vimukti Sanghatana (Women's Liberation Organisation)
belong to this formation along with their news organ Class Struggle.
This group takes part in elections.
CPI(ML) Janashakti however remains as a separate organisation
mostly active in Andhra Pradesh carrying out both open and
Similarly the CPI(ML) New Democracy - known as such by the title
of its journal - is one of the groups carrying forward the Chandra Pulla
Reddy perspective. It has
continued to combine underground mobilisation
with open political programmes. Known as CPI(ML) Prajapantha
in Andhra Pradesh, it has had an MLA in the Andhra
Pradesh state assembly as well as one in
the Bihar assembly.
Its mass organisations, Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU)
and All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha (AIKMS), have been constantly
active on national and regional issues. Besides its main base in AP,
it has maintained pockets of influence in Delhi, Punjab, Orissa and
Jharkhand. In addition to these there are still
many Naxalite groups under various names.
The organisational consolidation of the Naxalites into three major
formations in the last decade represents a qualitative development
in the character of the movement in the sense that it is approach to
parliamentary politics and the pursuit of armed struggle that has
divided them into three formations. They cannot be described
as personality-based formations despite the
presence of Kanu Sanyal.
The cult of Charu Mazumdar which sprang up parallel to the
cult of Mao Zedong during the high tide of the Cultural Revolution
has no bearings in the contemporary state of the Naxalite
Each formation has gone through tortuous struggles in their
own areas, suffered setbacks and lost the lives of many
of its activists and has come to the present
It should also be noted that in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra
Pradesh, all three parties, the Maoists, Liberation and the ML,
have a significant presence. The talk of the "red corridor" that the media talks,
which stretches from the border of Nepal through Bihar, Jharkhand,
Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and
all the way to Karnataka is not much of a reality.
There are many gaps and variations in the degree of influence even though
building a "compact revolutionary zone"
is an objective of the Naxalites.
Yet some elements of pre-organisational character persist. First, there are serious
difficulties in conducting organisational activity as an underground party
that is banned by the government and one that is under constant attack
by the paramilitary forces.
Therefore often we see some actions by local squads (dalams),
which have later been regretted by the Maoist central leadership.
The burning down of a railway coach full of passengers near Warrangal
some years ago or the land-mining explosion in Chhattisgarh killing a busload of
adivasis last April are some examples.
Yet members of each group remain united solidly on the basis of their
ideological commitment to the programme of the party.
At the same time, the differences among the three streams of Naxalites
often make them fight one another, which reflects the
pre-organisational weakness of the movement.
Activists of Liberation and CPI(Maoist) have threatened and even
killed the opponent party's cadres in Jharkhand and elsewhere. But there are
occasional unity programmes as well.
For example, the Maoists and Janashakti together came forward for peace
talks in 2004 in Hyderabad. Above all the support that
the Naxalites enjoy in some areas is basically for their ideological
programme on the ground rather than organisational
mobilisation under the party banner.
Thus when the state policy treats the Naxalites as an organised movement it
fails to take into account the specificity of each group.
Banning an organisation, arresting or killing some
cadres and leaders or mobilising one group of people to
fight a group of Naxalites or using propaganda
to vilify the Naxalite as "terrorists" misses the history
of the last 40 years.
The experience shows that these acts of the state have not
succeeded in destroying the movement because it is essentially an
ideological force rooted in the objective
conditions in India.
In the present juncture a new proposition seems to stand out:
While the state failed to recognise the character of revolutionary
violence, the Naxalites failed to abide by the norms of revolutionary violence.
In May 2004 the common minimum programme of the United Progressive
Alliance while expressing concern over the growth of extremist violence
had said that "this is not merely a law and order
problem, but a deeper socio-economic issue
which will be addressed more meaningfully
than has been the case so far. Fake
encounters will not be permitted".
Such expressions have been heard over and over again since 1969 when
Y B Chavan as home minister took the same view. But not only
fake encounters have continued under the UPA rule, there
have been new elements of coercive counter-insurgency adopted
from the US and Israeli outlook and also the experiences learnt from counter-terrorism
operations in Punjab under K P S Gill.
Emphasis on intelligence-based counterstrategy with superior weapons and
operational initiatives constitute some of these imported ideas.
The coordination centre inthe union home ministry, the joint task
force and the meeting of the chief ministers
of the affected states are now being conducted
with enhanced funding and equipment
to accommodate this perspective. It
should be pointed out that the use of modern
technology is not the monopoly of the
They are also available to the rebels. An even more serious
development in the state's strategy is its new reliance on
mobilising a section of the local people to fight the Naxalites.
The 'Salwa Judum' in Chhattisgarh is a vicious example of escalatory
violence that carries the "greyhound" approach – the anti-Naxalite formation
in Andhra Pradesh to new heights.
Groups of adivasis are evicted from their villages, given training
in arms and used to confront other adivasis in the name of
Such measures initiated by the state intensifies violence in society
making killing a norm and with rewards for such killing routinely handed out by
the state. A lesson should be learnt from the failure of the Ranvir Sena and many
other landlord armies in Bihar to stem the rise of the Naxalites in
the last two decades.
All evidence points to the fact that the Indian state has failed to understand the
nature of revolutionary violence. Why is it that hundreds of men
and women have taken part in armed attacks on police stations,
jails and even on paramilitary forces?
How is it that they have been able to move around in a large number
of states, depending on the support of adivasis and
peasants? To treat them only as forces of violence and to brand
them as terrorists has not helped stem their growth. The violent
confrontation between the Naxalites and
the Indian state has affected the political
fabric of the entire society.
The state agencies have given up all procedures under the rule of law on
the pretext that forces of violence do not deserve it. That is exactly
the ideology of counter-terrorism that George W Bush propounds.
The leaders of state assume that they can eliminate the
influence of this ideology by liquidating the leaders, cadres and
sympathisers of the movement. The experience of the 40 years
Questions can be raised as to whether the Naxalites have
abided by the norms of revolutionary violence. Revolutionary
violence, by definition is a response to
ruling class or state violence.
It is a part of a wider strategy of people's democratic revolution that
has many political, economic and cultural programmes of action.
It is resorted to when other action programmes fail to achieve their goals.
It is practised by only those who uphold the
value of the human being and are dedicated to liberating the human
being from all bondages so that humans can live in
material, political and cultural conditions
of peace, freedom and equality.
In other words, it visualises the building of a society without violence
because violence is violation of the human being, physically
or mentally. But the Naxalites have sometimes resorted to acts of
violence either deliberately or in course of a chain of
action that do not fulfil these criteria.
Many small squad actions can be legitimately questioned as inhuman.
The 'jan adalat' (people's courts) have some times meted
out punishment such as cutting limbs.
Have they sufficiently demonstrated their commitment
to humanism and peace in their
day-to-day practice? Revolutionary violence is not an easy option and carrying
forward a revolution in the 21st century has many new challenges for every one.
In India the coming years are likely see intensified confrontation
between the state and the Naxalites.