INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Return to West Bengal- the Naxalite Octopus

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Are the Naxalites increasing their presence and power in their historic homeland and targetting the newly vulnerable CPI(M)? The answer seems to be yes. The conflict against land acquisitions by local organisations, NGOs and the Trinamool Congress has provided a space for violent action that has been exploited by the Maoists. The once iron hold that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has held in the state is looking increasingly shaky. Saumitra Mohan in 2007:

If recent patterns of Naxal violence and activism in West Bengal are any indication, the Maoists’ new strategy seems to be moving into new territories and taking up emotive issues like forcible displacement due to industrial and infrastructure development projects. Reports of alleged involvement of the Naxals in the Nandigram disturbances and the recent ‘ration riots’ across West Bengal indicates their changing tactics.

A fascinating and neglected aspect of Naxal tactics and strategy is the ‘movements’ ability to garner support and power by tapping into highly localised social and economic conflicts. Whether the issues are caste in Bihar, tribal oppression in Chhattisgarh or linguistic separatism in Andhra, the Maoists are there, taking up the banners of the angry and marginalised.

This issue-based mobilisation is reflective of the highly decentralised nature of the Maoist insurgency as well as its functional flexibility and pragmatism. Is it even meaningful to talk about ‘the Maoist insurgency’ when it really is more a collection of localised insurgencies with all with a high degree of autonomy? The myth of the totalitarian,  ideologically rigid Naxalite threat is precisely that- a myth.

This, in large parts, explains why the Maoists have been able to survive for four decades while on numerous occasions they seemed to face extinction. This is why they are growing. If one arm of the octopus is chopped off, another somewhere else takes its place.

West Bengal is a case in-point. The birthplace of Naxalism (and the home of Naxalbari, a village from where the Maoists got there name), West Bengal was engulfed in a virtual civil war during the late 1960s and early 1970s. After a brutal police campaign, the Naxalite cadres and leaders were either killed, imprisoned, or abandoned the movement.

The election of the CPI(M) government in 1979, its vigorous policies of land-reform and iron grip on the West Bengal countryside meant that there was an absence of issues around which to mobilise. The movement faded in the state and shifted to places like Bihar and Jharkhand.

This is beginning to change precisely because there is growing disenchantment in the rural areas with the Communist government in Calcutta. The land expropriation issue has created a space for the return of revolutionary Maoism in its birthplace.  If West Bengal does again become a stronghold of the Naxalites, it would be an ideal case study for what not to do to contain insurgency in India. It would also provide a valuable glimpse in the soial, economic, and political conditions which the Naxalites can exploit to their advantage.

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