The Naxalite movement derives its name from a small village Naxalbari on the tri-junction of India, Nepal and what was then East Pakistan, where tribals took up arms against the oppression of the landlords in 1967. The movement spread like wildfire to different parts of the country. Few decades had passed since the dawn of independence and yet large segments of Indian population – peasants, workers and tribals – continued to suffer the worst forms of exploitation. The peaceful political process, it was felt, would not be able to bring about the necessary change because vested interests controlled the levers of power, regulated the wheels of industry and had a feudal stranglehold over the predominantly agrarian economy. An armed struggle was the only way out, they thought.
The Santhal tribes of Naxalbari, armed with bows and arrows, forcibly occupied the land of the Kulaks and ploughed them to establish their ownership. Demonstrations were organized against persons holding paddy in their godowns. There were violent clashes. The situation progressively deteriorated. After some dithering, the West Bengal government ordered the police to take action. The movement was squashed.
Formation of Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist):
The extremists, following Mao’s dictum that “if there is to be revolution, there must be a revolutionary party”, formed, on April 22, 1969, the Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist). It was declared that “the first and foremost task of our Party is to rouse the peasant masses in the countryside to wage guerilla war, unfold agrarian revolution, build rural base, use the countryside to encircle the cities and finally to capture the cities and to liberate the whole country”.
Rise of Naxalism:
The Naxalite movement, drawing inspiration from the Maoist ideology, had a meteoric phase for about two years from the formation of the party till the end of June 1971. The ripples starting from Naxalbari spread in ever-widening circles to practically all parts of the country. The dominant strand of the movement was the annihilation of class enemies. It is viewed as a “higher form of class struggle and the beginning of guerilla war”. The Naxalite violence was at a peak from about the middle of 1970 to the middle of 1971.
The Government of India organized joint operations by the army and the police in the bordering district of West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa which were particularly affected by Naxalite depredations. The operations were undertake from July 1 to August 15, 1971 and were code-named Operation Steeplechase. The broad strategy of the Security forces was to surround as large an area as possible and seal the routes of entry and exit. The Army formed the outer cordon and the CRPF the inner ring. The local police, which was generally accompanied by a magistrate, carried out thorough search of the area. Suspected naxalites were arrested, illicit weapon, ammunition and explosives seized. Wherever possible, simultaneous action was taken in the neighboring area also so that the naxalites sneaking out were caught while attempting to escape. These operations covered West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
The operation achieved the desired result, though not to the extent anticipated by the administration. The organizational apparatus of the naxalites in the aforesaid states was thrown out of gear and the party activists fled from their known hideouts to other places in search of safety. Violence registered a drop. Above all, it restored the confidence of the people in the strength of the administration. Charu Mazumdar was also arrested by the Calcutta Police detectives on July 16, 1972. A few days later, he died. Charu’s death marked the end of a phase in the Naxalite movement. The period following his death witnessed divisions and fragmentation’s in the movement.