Lt.Gen Eric A.Vas [Retd]
The first recorded incident of left wing insurrection in free
A revolt took place in three police stations in the Naxalbari area in
1967. About 65 per cent of the
population of those areas are Scheduled Castes and tribals. When the land reform act was passed in
1955, jotedars started malafide
transfer of land. Tribals armed
with bows and arrows forcibly occupied the land, lifted stocks of hoarded rice
and killed an inspector of police.
Thereafter there were a number of similar incidents. The leadership of the movement was
by communist cadres The CPI[M] government of
Tribals of the Srikakulam district of the eastern ghats are mainly involved in the organistion and collection of minor forest products. The British had decreed that no land could be transferred from the tribal to a plainsman without a permit of the district collector. After independence, traders took full advantage of advantage of inexperienced Indian administrators and the poverty of the tribals. They gave them their daily requirements of tobacco, kerosene, salt and cloth on credit and also lent money for the purchase of seeds. Ignoring the British decrees, they forced those who owed them money to part with their land which was then sold to plainsmen who squeezed the tribals, paid them low wages and made them give up two-thirds of the produce.
In 1967 a clash occurred between a group of tribals going to a meeting of the Marxist Party and a group of landlords armed with guns. Two tribals were killed. The movement became violent. There were a series of raids on houses of landlords and moneylenders, cash was looted and houses burnt down. Charu Mazumdar, the CPI-ML leader who had inspired the Naxalbari operations, visited the area and gave a fillip to the movement. From December 1968 to January 1969, 29 policemen were killed in action. During 1969 the Naxalities committed 23 murders and 40 dacoities before the situation was brought under control.
The West Bengal districts of Midnapur and Birbhum bordering
From 1968 to 1970 tribal violence erupted in Muzaffarpur district of
Bihar. This followed the usual
pattern of blatant oppression of landlords and peasant reactions. These uprisings caused ripples and
spread to other districts of
A British girl, Mary Tyler, who was living in an adivisasi village, was rounded up during
a police search operation. She
later wrote about her experience. "The Naxalite crime was the crime of all those
who cannot remain unmoved and inactive in an India where a child crawls in the
dust with a begging bowl, where a poor girl can be sold as a rich man's
plaything, where an old woman must half starve herself in order to buy social
acceptance from the powers that be in her village; where countless people die of
sheer neglect, where many are hungry while food is hoarded for profit, where
usurers and tricksters extort the fruits of labour from those who do the work,
where the honest suffer, while the villainous prosper, where justice is the
exception and injustice the rule and where the total physical and mental energy
of millions of people is spent on the struggle for mere survival." It is no wonder that the movement
attracted idealistic students from major universities across
Peoples War Group
In the 80s, the CPI-ML formed the Peoples War Group [PWG], which over the
years grew into the most formidable Naxalite formation in the country. The first actions undertaken by the PWG
was in Telenga, Andhra Pradesh [AP], where long suffering tribals were still
being economically and socially exploited by landlords, traders, money lenders
and indifferent government bureaucrats.
The crux of the unrest was that in AP, as in many other states, the land
ceiling act was not being imposed.
The PWG took the law into their hands and redistributed nearly half a
million acres across AP. In the
process, the PWG fought a running battle with the Telugu Desam government. When the Congress Party came into
power in 1989, the government took a soft line with the Naxalites and released a
number who were in detention. The
government however did nothing to control the exploitation of tribals. The PWG began running peoples' courts
and giving the general impression of a parallel government. The Government was forced to adopt a
hard line. However, by now the PWG
had acquired AK 47 rifles and began stepping up their violence. They began attacking railway and
electrical installations, police patrols and police stations. Their influence spread to adjoining
tribal areas in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh [MP],
In 1992, the PWG was banned and central para-military forces and state
police undertook coordinated operations against it. The results were good. About 3500
Naxalities were arrested and 8500 surrendered. The PWG lay low but in 1993
commenced operating in tribal
districts of MP and
It is evident that the Naxalites operate in the tribal belt and are
welcomed by tribals because of the administration's indifference to the
persistent criminal activities of landlords, money lenders, forest officials and
traders. There has been a response
to this simple analysis in two states.
The CPI[M] in
tenancy laws that transferred ownership of tenant holdings to those having a tenancy for 12 years. At one stroke hundreds of landlords lost their holdings and tenant farmers got ownership rights of land they had tilled for long years. This is one of the reasons why the Naxalite movement did not grow roots in Kerala. It had no cause.
the Chief Ministers of Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, AP, Orrissa and
Solving the Naxalite problem
The main reason for the upsurge of Naxalism is exploitation of tribal and poor scheduled castes. Naxalites support the poor against exploitation by corrupt government official in collusion with landlords, contractors and moneylenders. In Naxalite infected areas the first step is to enforce land ceiling laws. This has to done despite the pressures of landlords, money lenders and influential castes. The CRPF and state police which are now being used in operations against the Naxalites should be used to enforce the land ceiling, evict landlords for excessive holdings, and ensure that surplus lands are cultivated by the lower castes and tribals. They should ensure that the crops grown by the new land holders are secure.
In forest tracts, laws should be legislated that only forest dwelling
tribals and scheduled casts should have access to forest lands. Others should be prevented from entering
the forests. Cooperatives should be
organised of tribals who can be trained to trade in forest produce.
The PWG has become a well-armed force and will fight to try and retain power by targeting the para military forces and police. States will find it difficult to deal with this problem. Some states have attempted to mobilize the tribals and arm them against Naxalites. [The Salwa Judum organinsed in Chattisgarh is an example of this.] This has been criticized as a dangerous practice, which leads to high handedness. Others condemn this move as a clever ploy by upper caste politicians and bureaucrats to avoid the main issue, which is land ceilings. Whatever that be, it should be evident that if the CRPF find it difficult to deal with the PWG and are often overwhelmed by them, it would be unreasonable to expect that untrained armed tribal will fare better.
Some suggest that the army should be given this task. The army could no doubt deal with the PWG but this a dangerous suggestion and not acceptable in a democracy. It is not the army's role to deal with such internal problems.
The Soli Sorabjee Committee on police reforms, which is drafting a model Police Act, has told the Supreme Court that it strongly recommends the creation of a federal agency to combat terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, money laundering and even organised crime. As per the Constitution, "police" and "public order" are subjects in the State list of the Seventh Schedule. The Sorabjee Panel has made a strong case for handing over such operations against such crimes to this newly created force. "Such perilous activities cannot be left to be routinely dealt with as ordinary crime or law and order problems by state police who do not have knowledge of the inter-state and international dimension of the crimes in question. There is need for a specialized national level agency, other than the Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI], to be constituted by a statute of Parliament which can tackle these federal crimes. The proposed agency should not be confused with existing CBI, which is essentially an investigative agency. The prevention and control of national-security crime does not fall within the CBI's charter of duties."
Thus, the fight against Naxalism has to take place on two fronts: against
Naxa;lites and against the causes of Naxalism. The latter will prove to be the more
difficult task. The Prime Minister is right when he said that the greatest
security threat facing