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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 45, October 30, 2010

Is Naxalism a Problem or a Voice for Social Justice?

Saturday 30 October 2010

by Pravesh Kumar

Naxalism has been branded as a serious problem for national security by various intellectuals and the media. The Planning Commission of India has also highlighted this as a serious problem with regard to India’s national security, growth and development. On the other hand, there is another section of society who thinks Naxalism is a social movement against the rampant social exclusions of the have nots. It is the fight of the poor, discriminated and the marginalised Indian masses for social justice and basic rights to natural resources. Thus, this debate needs a better understanding of the sensitive and delicate subject which could be resolved only through fear-free questions and some fair-frank answers. Like—Is Naxalism a problem or is it the consequence of social and spatial disparity? Why has Naxalism mush-roomed in the regionally underdeveloped and tribal regions alone? Why has the government failed to address it and subsequently acknowledged Naxalism as a serious problem for national security?

The Indian society can be classified into three different hierarchies with respect to social evolution, growth and development. First, as an urbanised developed society; secondly, as a rural prismatic society; and thirdly, as a tribal society, far from the madding crowd. These three sections can be denoted as developed, developing and fused society. These divisions have been suggested by Frederick William Riggs who says there is a developed, organised and civil society; then there is a developing society which is denoted as prismatic society where modernism as well as the traditional value system co-exist. The third society, according to him, is a backward or fused society which is closed and isolated from the rest of the world. (Bhattacharaya: 2000) So, the above discussion clearly distinguishes three levels of co-existing societies with their own specialities and potentialities for growth and development.

Critically, planning in India has always been biased towards the urban region in terms of resource allocations where the major share is pumped for its growth and development. Rural development is a very recent concept and originated in the Indian planning system due to the high urbanisation level where increasing rural-urban migration has put huge pressures on the limited urban resources. Rural migrants who come to urban places get transformed into urban poor and dwell in slums and are considered as threats to the urban beautification, peace and security.

The Government of India was compelled to take adequate measures for rural development after the failure of the trickle-down theory, which was in place for about two decades until the commencement of the Fifth Five Year Plan of the country since independence. In the Fifth Five Year Plan a direct intervention to this problem was sought, that is, through various poverty alleviation programmes directly targeting the spotted regions. But all these mega money magnanimity only brought destitution for the poor. It was the middle class government servants and others who mostly benefited and became rich and richer. The have-nots still had nothing, became poorer and poorer. In fact the brute market forces (continuous inflation in the case of basic life sustaining goods), moneylenders, and, worst of all, the landlords, all sucked their blood, took away their lands and then left them without dignity. One should not get surprised if they choose to be rebellious…and start snatching things back… did they have any choice left under the circumstances for existence? The resource allocation for tribal development has always been minimum due to the following reasons:

• The tribal population in India is only seven-to-eight per cent of the total population and thus does not make a political statement in Indian politics where the number of heads is all that matters.

• The tribal region is rich in natural resources like forest, minerals, water resources etc. due to which the government and private companies exploit these regions like its colonies. The colonial relationship is based on exploitation for their own benefits, not for development concerns. Hence, the development of the tribal regions is impossible due the imperial relationship of the tribals with the government.

• Socio-cultural, economic and political set-ups of the tribal society are different, as it is a closed society, based on kinship and happens to be preliterate. Thus, there is a basic gap between the under-standing level of the tribals and the government which is also punctuated by the lack of trust between them.

• Globalisation has led to tartarisation of the Indian economy which needs skilled labour while the tribals are unskilled. Thus the tribal society is economically non-vibrant in the present economic system and hinders resource allocation.

• The definition of Scheduled Tribe lacks basic understanding as it is more political rather than academic and pragmatic. This has also been pointed out by Ijazudin Ahmed (2001).

Thus, as a matter of fact while the government has made a number of policies for tribal development and the Indian Constitution also provides some affirmative plans for the development of tribes and tribal regions, none of the policies and programmes has benefited the tribes or their regions. It has only benefited to some extent to the tribals living near cities or in the fringe regions. These kinds of policies have never worked in the least for the lost and last Girijan or forest people.

The next question is: why did Naxalism mushroom in regionally underdeveloped and tribal regions? Before answering this question, there should be a basic understanding of Naxalism. It is said that Naxalism is one of the organisations of aggressive Communists. In other words, it is also called CPI (Maoist). After India’s independence in 1947 the Communist extremists started violent armed activities for the first time in 1948 but because of lack of public support the movement couldn’t get velocity. These Naxalite Communists always maintain a deep belief on the use of force, violence and revolutionary methods to achieve their goals as they follow extremist and radical ideologies like Maoism, Leninism etc. From the beginning they had started committing violence by using arms. Naxalites adopted the way of violent revolutionary activities from the village Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal in the year 1967 against the various exploitations by the zamindars and the rich of the helpless and vulnerable people of society. Hence after the name of this village, Naxalbari, this movement acquired the name ‘Naxalism’ and its supporters are called Naxalites.

Under the leadership of the revolutionary radical, Charu Majumdar, the Naxalites increased their violence drastically. At that time, the aim of the Naxalites was to capture the power of the state by means of a violent revolution. They used to force the local people for abatement of land revenue, tax etc. At the same time aggressive violent communist activities were started in the Srikakulam area of Andhra Pradesh. However, in the tribal areas of West Bengal Naxalism remained alive. In the meantime the leadership was taken over by Chandrapulla Reddy who left the violent way of movement and decided to use extremism only when it was very essential but he could not succeed. In 1977 after the Emergency Naxalites formed another group under the leadership of Kondapalli Sitaramaiya called CPI-ML (People’s War Group). No work was done by this group in a democratic way. They showed no-faith whatsoever in the government system. The group also used unemployment, economic backwardness as the medium for their publicity. For such works the organisation divided their areas of operation; thus emerged the Dalams.

The People’s War Group chief Kondapalli Sitaramaiya added the slogan of ‘Independent Dandkaranya’ to all his slogans. The PWG organisation decided to include Gadchiroli of Maharashtra, Mahbubnagar, Karimnagar, Adilabad, Warangal of Andhra Pradesh, Koraput, Khampit and Kalahandi of Orissa, Balaghat and Jabalpur of Madhya Pradesh in independent Dandkaranya. The main residents of these areas are tribals, small farmers and labourers. With the aim of forming an independent Dandakaranya they extended their activities to Balaghat, Bastar and Jagdalpur.

TRIBALS basically dwell in the forests where they have their own economic, socio-cultural and political set-ups. they are a closed society and un-stratified based on kinship. According to Ijazaudin Ahmed, tribals are living between two worlds: one—as civilised society, and the other—as their own tribal society which is in a transitional phase. (Ahmed: 113:2004)

According to Andre Beteille, a tribe is an ideal state, as a self-contained unit it constitutes a society in itself. Tribal socio-cultural and ethnic entities dwell in the forest, they worship their god in the form of nature (forest, wild animals, rivers etc.) and they are deeply attached to the forest not only for their livelihood but also for their faith and existence. The government, on the other hand, for the sake of development projects, mining activities and forest policies for environmental concerns, drove these tribal people out of their home, that is, the forest. Thus the tribal people feel cheated by the government and have lost all their trust on the legitimacy of the institution of the state. They feel that the government never provided the share of development to them nor even cared for their basic needs. But for the sake of development of the urbanised people, the government even went on to claim their right over the forest and natural resources. This situation reminds one of colonial India where the imperialist power laid claim on the property of the common people in the name of service and public purposes (for example, the Land Acquisition Act 1894). But the fact of the matter is that they indirectly served their colonial interests only. The same policies still persist in independent India, where the government has the power to acquire any common property in the name of national interest. But, since civil society and pressure groups are very active in the current political democratic system, the government has introduced the concept of compensation, rehabilitation and development to conceal the prevailing colonial policies.

Presently, the government is making a number of programmes and policies for tribal develop-ment, but a critical analysis of these shows close resemblance with the current Somalian crisis, where its sea pirates have received due attention of the world. Since it has hampered international trade route via the Suez Canal, the international community is planning for the growth and development of Somalia, which has been a breeding ground of crime mainly due to the poverty existing there for decades. In much the same way, the tribal people of India are attracted towards Naxal and other extremist ideologies due to the prevailing distrust towards the government and the state. Basically tribals are fighting for jal, jangal and zameen which have taken the shape of Naxalism as they are unable to fight face-to-face against the powerful Indian Government which offers both the “cake and cane”. But the point is: tribals are fighting for their jal, jungle and zameen since they don’t want to join so-called civilised society. On the other hand Naxalism as an ideology has pressed for revolution and power grab by forming their own way of governance run by the people on whom they can bestow their trust. Therefore, they run a parallel government in the entire Red Corridor areas. Thus, there is a sharp contrast between the aims and objectives of the tribals and Naxalism as an ideology. Also, the tribals believe in status quoism whereas Naxalism as an ideology believes in radicalism.

Finally the last question—Why has the government acknowledged Naxalism as a serious problem for national security in the recent period? The basic answer to this question could be drawn from the fact that as of 2009, Naxalites were active across approximately 220 districts in 20 States of India accounting for about 40 per cent of India’s geographical area. They are especially concentrated in an area known as the “Red Corridor”, where they control 92,000 square kilometres. According to India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, 20,000 armed cadres of Naxalites were operating in addition to 50,000 regular cadres and their growing influence prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare them to be the most serious internal threat to India’s national security.

DURING the 1970s the movement was fragmented into disputing factions. By 1980 it was estimated that around 30 Naxalite groups were active, with a combined membership of 30,000. A 2004 Home Ministry estimate put the numbers at that time as “9300 hardcore underground cadre… holding around 6500 regular weapons beside a large number of unlicensed country-made arms”. According to Judith Vidal-Hall (2006), “More recent figures put the strength of the movement at 15,000, and claim the guerrillas control an estimated one-fifth of India’s forests, as well as being active in 160 of the country’s 604 administrative districts.” India’s Research and Analysis Wing believed in 2006 that 20,000 Naxals were involved in the growing insurgency.

Today some Naxalite groups have become legal organisations participating in parlia-mentary elections, such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation. Others, such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Janashakti, are engaged in armed guerrilla struggles. Thus because of what was discussed in the forgoing, the Government of India was compelled to launch “Operation Green Hunt” with the basic strategy of “clear, hold and develop”. A huge number of armed forces are deployed to clear the area under the control of Naxals and thereafter take steps for its socio-economic development. As a response to the “Operation Green Hunt”, the insurgents launched several high-profile attacks on the security forces.

The loss of a large number of lives of the armed forces, government properties, killing of civilians and human rights violations have put the Government of India on the backfoot. At times the government has refused to call the action “Operation Green Hunt” but at other times has shown concern about Naxals as a grave problem of internal peace and security. Viewing these issues in the right context and proper perspective, there is a grand failure of the government’s plans and policies to address the issues raised by the Naxals. The government is motivated by its ambitious plans to exploit the rich natural resources of the Naxal affected regions, which the Naxals strongly and successfully have protected till now. The Naxals look at the present situation created by the Government of India as a consequence of the latter’s anti-Naxal approach. The social justice agenda of their earlier movement is rapidly changing to that of capturing power.


Ahamad, Ijazudin (2001): Social Geography, Rawat Publication, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Bhattacharya, Mohit (2000): New Dimensions of Public Administration, Jawhar Publication, Old JNU Campus, New Delhi.

Ray, Rabindra (1980): The Naxalities and their Bibliography, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Xexa, Virginius (2008): State, Society and Tribes: Issues in Post-Colonial India, Pearson Longman, Delhi.

Mainstream (2010): Vol. XLVIII, No.27, New Delhi,
June 26.

The author is a Ph.D Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.

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