Mamata, can you take on Naxalism?

Last Updated: Sat, May 14, 2011 04:25 hrs

So this will be the first time in decades that there will be no major Left government in India. After a weakened showing at the Centre, the bastions of West Bengal and Kerala have fallen too. One struggles to think of a time when the Left was so weak in the country. 

One of the challenges that the new West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will have to tackle is the issue of ''Naxalism''. 

Naxalism keeps catching the public eye every now and again. First were certain statements made by Home Minister P Chidambaram. Then there was the whole Binayak Sen saga. 

A lot of people think that Naxalism has recently become a major problem.

But that is not so, the problem of Naxalism, even though it wasn't called that, has been around right from the time that India got Independence. 

You can call it ''violence inspired by the Leftist ideology'' and it has a rich history...

Ever heard of BT Ranadive?

In 1948, Bhalchandra Trimbak Ranadive became the General Secretary of the CPI (Communist Party of India). It was he who fomented an armed struggle in the Telangana region, which has recently seen demands of statehood. Insurgencies also took place in Tripura and Travancore.

In fact at a party meeting it was declared that free and Independent India was nothing but a ''semi-colony of British imperialism” and violence was the answer. 

At that time, it had the name of ''Calcutta Thesis'' and at its peak, more than 40,000 square kilometres encompassing 3000 villages were involved in the so called Telangana Rebellion.  

Interestingly, the party was bitterly divided whether to go the ''China way'' or go the political way. Legend has it that in a meeting with CPI leaders in Moscow, Russian leader Josef Stalin advised the party to shun violence and get into the political mainstream. 

Naxalism gets a name

Darjeeling is well known for its vast tea gardens. But it has one more contribution to India's modern history. The village Naxalbari falls in this district and an uprising in 1967 led to the coining of the word Naxalite. 

It was in that year that some CPM leaders, inspired by Mao Zedong, decided to launch an armed struggle to give land to the landless. In fact some peasants did exactly that when they took on a police team and killed an inspector who had come to arrest them over a land dispute. Violence spread to the student community in Kolkata and also to the rest of India. 

Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who ruled from 1972-77, adopted an iron fist to deal with the issue. With allegations of torture, Ray was booted out and the CPM captured power for a record 34 years. The people of West Bengal still haven't forgotten Ray and the Congress stands no chance of capturing power on its own.

It is only the Trinamool's Mamata, who has been knocking on the doors of power for years now, who could turn the tide so monumentally in the state.  

The 1980s onwards

Such activity did not just happen in the immediate post-Independence era. In 1980, the People's War Group was formed. That party formed armed groups and took to attacking security forces with the use of landlines and ambushes. It was banned in 1992.

The PWG had a splinter group in 2004 called the CPI (Maoist), which aims at overthrowing the government of India. So far hundreds of people have died all over India in violent attacks.   

In fact, if you go to Wikipedia and type: ''List of Naxalite and Maoist groups in India'', then you will find the names of close to 40 political parties and groups!

Unofficially, it is called the ''Red Corridor'', a huge zone that spreads from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and right up to West Bengal. A 2006 survey had put the activity in a whopping 160 off India's 604 districts.

If you have one fire, then you can attack it with all your might. But if there are a multitude of fires raging all across the country for decades on end, then what do you do?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a few years back called the Naxalites the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by India, later adding that this was one battle the state was losing.

Poverty, corruption and armed insurgency are problems that have plagued modern India all the way.

West Bengal in particular has seen violence of all kinds, political one in particular. 

 It will be interesting to note whether the level of violence there increases or actually goes down now that the Red Era has ended.

Mamata can at least make a huge beginning in her state.

National-level Naxalism, though, will continue to pose a far larger problem.

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at

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