At times due to either sheer ignorance or even consciously, the mainstream media tends to provide a one-dimensional view of the Naxalite debate, setting it in simplistic binaries. As a result, the structural violence that provokes the violence of the Maoists in the first place gets overlooked. Moreover, describing ‘Naxalism’ as internally homogenous doesn’t allow us to comprehend the different strands of the movement.
A blind faith in textbook Gandhism leads us to condemn the violence of the Maoists, which is made to appear more dangerous than the violence perpetrated by the state. However, in order to grasp the complexity of the issue, it would be useful to consider the reasons behind the violence that the movement is characterized by. Indeed, it would be useful to be attentive to the more subtle (though insidious) forms of violence by the state which first led to the emergence of the ultra-left movement.
A brief detour into history takes us to the 1967 revolt by a section of the CPI (Marxist) in the Naxalbari area of West Bengal, where the far left originated. This revolt was a manifestation of disenchantment with the Parliamentary left, i.e. the CPI and CPI (Marxist). Thus, the Naxalite movement arose as a powerful critique of the mainstream left parties, as a result of their failure to effectively challenge the exclusionary nature of the Indian state.
Over the years, particularly since the 1990s, this exclusionary nature of the Indian state has manifested itself in the rhetoric of ‘development’. In a bid to become a ‘superpower’, the state has cleared large tracts of agricultural land for mining and industrial production, forcibly acquired and sold off land, forest and water resources to corporate groups at throw-away prices, etc. While this may have boosted the GDP, the situation of the marginalized has only worsened. This exclusion from the fruits of ‘development’ has led to the emergence and growing support for a large number of people struggles, including the Naxalite movement.
While it is true that the movement has consisted of some forms of violence, it is important to remember, as Shuddhabrata Sengupta said in a recent seminar, that violence is scripted not only by those who take up arms, but also by those who compel them to take up arms. And as the story of ‘development’ reveals, it is in fact the Indian state that has compelled many people to take up arms.
However, there are still problems with the idea of violence being used as recourse. Even if violence may be justified as a defense-mechanism against the violence of the state, the organization of groups along the ideology of protracted war can be questioned. This brings us to the currents within the Naxalite movement.
Although the state/mainstream media collapses the categories of ‘Naxal’ and ‘Maoist’, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is but one subset of the Naxalite movement. Thus, it is wrong to suggest that the Naxalite movement is solely based on the ideology of armed struggle. On the contrary, mass-based struggles are an overarching characteristic of all the currents of the movement. However, the state continues to project the Naxals/Maoists interchangeably as perpetuators of violence, in order to find a pretext to eliminate them and the dissent that they are voicing. As a result, the violence of the state gets swept under the carpet, making it possible to deal with a political problem through military means.
‘Operation Green Hunt’, which is the central government’s plan of launching a military offensive against the Naxals must be seen in this light. While the strategy of violence used by one faction of the movement may be challenged, it cannot be used to justify the deployment of the armed and air forces against the citizens. Indeed, if the claimed sincerity towards resolving the crisis is genuine, the efforts should be channeled towards a rethinking of the idea of development, rather than state-sponsored terrorism.