Naxalbari is a small village in the state of West Bengal. The term ‘Naxalism’ has been derived from this small yet significant place. Naxalbari is where it all began. Naxalbari is where the seeds of the armed peasant struggle were sown back in 1967. Over the past 45 years, this armed struggle has manifested itself in different parts of the country, in distinct forms.
Expanding its reach in a number of states, from the North-East to Chhattisgarh, this left-wing armed struggle, also known as the Maoist struggle, has defined the way people live their lives in the most poor and deprived areas of this country. As this movement inches towards half a century of existence, we look back at what this struggle was meant to achieve, and what it actually did.
At genesis, the Naxal Movement was supposed to fight for the rights of the peasants. The lack of Land Reforms for over two decades after independence, and the subsequent discrimination against the peasants, was the primary cause. The rise in popularity of this movement coincided with the start of the Left rule in Bengal. Lack of development opportunities for the young in those areas drove them towards these Naxalite movements. It is an irony that Naxalism has prevailed in some of the most resource-rich states of the country, only to drive home the point that the exploitation of the poor played a huge role in the advancement of the Naxalite Movement.
Corruption is another reason for this. Successive union and state governments have formulated a number of welfare schemes and policies for the poor, but rarely has any of them been implemented properly. Graft and corruption by the local officials prevents these benefits from reaching them who need it the most.
However, like most social movements, this movement too lost its way. It degenerated into internal insurgency and terrorism by the 90s. The affected areas have been transformed into conflict zones, disrupting the lives of millions. Thousands of innocents have lost their lives, apart from the collateral damage incurred by the paramilitary forces.
The biggest travesty has been that Naxalism has adversely affected what it was supposed to achieve itself. Several development projects have been stalled, due to the violence by the Maoists. A movement which was supposed to fight for the development and progress of the peasants in the rural areas is now the main reason for the lack of development.
What started off as a movement for the peasants 45 years ago has been reduced to mindless violence, insurgency and roadblock to development.
What was supposed to be the medicine is now the poison.
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.