Naxalites: The bitter end

With the judgement in the Parvatipuram Conspiracy case the Naxalite phase of Indian politics seemed to have ended, with all the leaders either dead or behind bars and followers disillusioned and scattered, the hope that "a single spark can start a prairie fire" seems to have been put out.

April 29, 2015 | UPDATED 11:38 IST
The accused faced a list of charges seldom paralleled in independent India. "Criminal conspiracy to wage war against the government constituted by law and overthrow it by violent means." In addition there were 35 cases of murder, 76 dacoities, 99 cases of attacks on police and 16 other cases committed in pursuance of the conspiracy.

The Parvatipuram Naxalite Conspiracy has been the biggest single conspiracy case with 77 accused whose names read like the "who's who" of survivors of the extremist movement.

The second additional sessions judge of Visakhapatnam found 15 of the accused guilty of the charges of conspiracy and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Among them were the legendary Kanu Sanyal of Bengal who led the first attack from the village of Naxalbari, Souren Bose, Nagabushan Patnaik of Orissa (who had earlier been sentenced to death in another case), Chowdhury Tejeswara Rao, Duppala Govinda Rao, Hemachandra Panigrahi and others mainly from the state of Andhra Pradesh. Ten others were sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment while 50 of the accused were acquitted on the grounds that they were mainly camp followers and not conspirators.

With the judgement in the Parvatipuram Conspiracy case the Naxalite phase of Indian politics seemed to have ended, with all the leaders either dead or behind bars and followers disillusioned and scattered, the hope that "a single spark can start a prairie fire" seems to have been put out.

The Naxalite movement got its name from the sleepy hamlet of Naxalbari in Northern Bengal. It is here that the extremist breakaway leaders of the communist party first banded the tribals and village poor in 1967 for an open armed confrontation with the landlords and later the police.

The first attempt at "armed revolution" by the extremists within the party came immediately after independence. In 1948 under the general secretaryship of B.T. Ranadive they launched an "armed struggle" in Telengana.

When the communist party split in 1964 the extremist elements had joined the CPI(M). They believed that the solution to India's problems lay in an "armed revolution". The Communist party earlier had sent two young men Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal to Northern Bengal to organize the peasants and tea-garden labour. Charu Mazumdar was a sickly, thin, paranoic grass root leader who had aspirations to be a theoretician while Kanu Sanyal had the reputation of a dynamic organizer.

It was Charu Mazumdar who theoretically challenged the "united front" policy of the CPI(M) and the Naxalite movement was launched in 1967 from the village in Bengal. Soon nearly 20 rebel groups from within the CPI(M) units in various states banded together to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The CPI(ML) was never a homogeneous unit but initially a rather loose conglomeration of extremist groups wedded to the theory of "armed revolution".

Alleged Naxalites outside the Supreme Court
The late-60s saw the era of middle class frustration specially in states like Bengal. Very soon Naxalite groups put into effect their theory of "armed revolution" with a spate of robberies, "annihilation of class enemies" and murder of policemen. The "annihilation of class enemies" soon degenerated into individual murders and the movement was infiltrated by every antisocial element worth the name.

Within the party itself differences over tactical lines and strategy between various groups continued to plague the movement and inter-group murders increased in frequency. Over vast areas in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa raids on police stations and attacks on individuals unleashed an era of snowballing violence.

The basic strength of the Naxalite movement lay in its appeal to the romantic frustrated youth in the universities and in some degree to the exploitation in the villagers. Hundreds of students joined the party often to be misled by interested elements.

At one time Calcutta University and its prestigious Presidency College looked like an armed camp with stengun carrying policemen guarding the classrooms against bomb-cum-gun attacks.

As the campaign of violence increased and red-book waving Naxalites seemed to take directions at the behest of forces which were far from genuine, the government cracked down. It unleashed socio-economic programmes to correct the imbalances and exploitation in the rural areas as well as a massive police action to combat violence.

Within a year of the two-prong attack the Naxalite movement was in shambles. Many of the idealistic youth had started trickling back disillusioned by the senseless killings in the name of "annihilation of class enemies." Quite a few were killed in action against the police. The top leaders were arrested and the trials started. Since it was unable to find a solid base of its own the movement collapsed as suddenly as it had risen.

The Parvatipuram Conspiracy case was the last single major case against the Naxalites. The judgement itself showed that the court had taken a very broad and lenient view. The Naxalite movement failed because it forgot to apply philosophy to reality, and fell victim to mechanical repetition of ideology.
 

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