More sinned against
M. Rajivlochan

The Naxalite Movement in India
by Prakash Singh.
Rupa. Pages 318. Rs 295.

The Naxalite Movement in IndiaNaxalite is currently the generic name for any armed movement of peasants and tribesmen in India. It is also the tag for anyone insisting on providing justice to peasants and tribesmen by snatching the privileges of landowners.

The word comes from the movement of Santhal peasants of North Bengal that started in March 1967 under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal. Most of the action was centred on the villages of Naxalbari, Kharibari and Phansidewa. Much of it involved taking away the hoarded grain stocks of the landlords and sometimes looting the landlordsí house and occasionally killing him. In July 1967, the government began a strong police action to end such looting and by August, the movement had petered out. The people, including the oppressed, did not rise in revolt against the government, as the leaders of the movement had expected.

In subsequent years, though, analogous movements happened virtually all over the country and followed the same pattern. The book documents in considerable detail these happenings. Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, Midnapur and Birbhum in Bengal, large tracts of Bihar and adjoining parts of Uttar Pradesh witnessed Naxalite movements in the 1970s. After a lull in the 1980s the Peopleís War Group created a naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh that rapidly spread into the neighbouring areas of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and became active in Bihar and Jharkhand.

In the 1990s, a similar movement emerged in Nepal. All these movements claimed to seek inspiration from the ideas of Mao-ze-dong, the late architect of the Peopleís Republic of China, whom the current establishment in the PRC is trying hard to forget. In the recent past, the various naxal groups across the country have come together to synergise their activities against the state in India and efforts are on to establish a "red corridor" that will weave through the hinterland.

Prakash Singh estimates that the roots of Naxalism lie in the abysmal poverty that afflicts many regions of the country, the absence of land reforms, increasing unemployment, corruption and problems of governance. However, he makes little effort to explain how these are interrelated and why the people continue to be afflicted with a persistent feeling of injustice. Moreover, the constant support to Naxalism provided by students, intellectuals of diverse ilk and various civil rights groups is completely ignored. Even while approving of strong police action against the Naxalites, he completely ignores to look into the reasons for the people to continue participating in Naxalite activities.

Singh estimates that there are just about 50,000 Naxalites in the country. Most of them are active in small pockets. About all that they demand is justice for the people. Considering that this is very much in line with what the Constitution offers the people of India, one wonders why the state considers the Naxalites such a threat to it. In contrast, the number of government servants who milk India dry is far higher. The number of people who break the law of the land for personal and sectarian gains is much larger. Such people are not limited to any particular region, yet not once has the government made any effort to curb them, let alone begin a sustained police action against them. If at all, the state bends backwards to protect the rights of the corrupt and those violating the Constitution and the laws of the country.

Prakash Singh has nothing to say on such matters. Might it be that there is actually some truth in the Naxal insistence that the present state is a rentier state, using all its institutions to suppress anyone who questions its rentier status.

The printerís devil has been quite active in this book and has even destroyed a statement made by the leaders of the PWG, much in the manner that Singh expects a normal policeman to do to the Naxalites.