Naxal Movement in India: A Historical Anthology

November 12, 2019

To understand the genesis of the Naxal movement, also known as Maoist/Left-wing extremism, one needs to locate it within the framework of the Communist movement in India. More specifically, any study on the Maoist movement cannot overlook the importance of the rise and fall of the Telangana Movement (1946-51). Because for the Indian Communists, Telangana would always remain the glorious chapter in the history of peasant struggles. In fact, it was the first serious effort by sections of the Communist Party leadership to learn from the experiences of the Chinese revolution and to develop a class-based comprehensive line for India’s democratic revolution. On the other hand, the experience in Telangana also facilitated the growth of three distinct lines in the Indian communist movement. The line promoted by Bhalchandra Trimbak Ranadive and his followers who rejected the significance of the Chinese revolution and advocated simultaneous accomplishments of the democratic and the socialist revolutions based on city-based working-class insurrections. Ranadive, popularly known as BTR, was an influential communist and trade union leader who was elected as the Secretary of the Communist Party of India during it's Second Party Congress held in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1948. The line adopted at the Second Party Congress became popularly known as the 'Ranadive line'. The group drew inspiration from Stalin and fiercely attacked Mao as another Tito, the Yugoslav communist leader.

The second line mainly professed and propagated by the Andhra Secretariat drew heavily from the Chinese experiences and the teachings of Mao in building up the struggle for Telangana.

The Andhra leadership successfully spearheaded the movement against the Nizam. However, it failed to tackle the complex question of meeting the challenge of the Government of India. The Nehru government embarked on the road to parliamentary democracy, conditioning it with reforms like the ‘abolition of Zamindari system’. All these objective conditions facilitated the dominance of a centrist line put forward by Ajay Ghosh and Dange. This line characteristically pointed out the differences between Chinese and Indian conditions and pushed the Party along the parliamentary road.

In 1957 the communists succeeded in forming a government in Kerala, which, however, was soon overthrown and following the India-China war, the Party split into two during 1964, viz. Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). While the CPI preached the theory of ‘peaceful road to non-capitalist development’, the CPI (M) took the centrist line. Though there were serious differences on ideological and tactical lines, both the Parties participated in the parliamentary exercises and also formed the United Front government in West Bengal in 1967. Charu Mazumdar, another senior leader, had lost in this election. Later, he spearheaded a peasant movement in Naxalbari.

In the backdrop of such organisational upheavals within the Indian Communist Movement, one particular incident that took place in an unknown location involving some unknown people hugely transformed the history of Left-Wing Extremism in India. Inaremotevillagecalled Naxalbari in West Bengal one tribal youth named Bimal Kissan, having obtained a judicial order, went to plough his land on March 2, 1967. The local landlords attacked him through their goons. Tribal people of the area retaliated and started forcefully capturing back their lands. What followed was a rebellion that left one police sub-inspector and nine tribal people dead. [1] From March to May 1967, tension escalated in many areas of West Bengal on questions of tribal access to land. However, the United Front Government headed by CPI (M) managed to contain the rebellion soon but faced severe allegations of use of brutal force and human rights violations. The communist revolutionaries belonging to the state units of the CPI (M) in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir extended their open support to the rebels and had a formal meeting in November 1967.

As the outcome of the meeting, one All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) was formed in May 1968. ‘Allegiance to the armed struggle and non- participation in the elections’ were the two cardinal principles that the AICCR adopted for its operations.[2] However, differences cropped up over how armed struggle should be advanced and this led to the exclusion of a section of activists from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, led respectively by T. Nagi Reddy and Kanhai Chatterjee.

On the issue of annihilation of the class enemy, the Kanhai Chatterjee group had serious objections as they were of the view that the annihilation of the class enemy should only be taken up after building up mass agitations. However, the majority in the AICCCR rejected this and it went ahead with the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in May 1969.[3] The declaration of the party formation was made by Comrade Kanu Sanyal at a massive meeting at Shahid Minar ground, Calcutta. This led Chatterjee to form the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). The CPI (M-L) held its first congress in 1970 in Calcutta and Charu Mazumdar was formally elected its general secretary. [4]

Since then both the CPI (M-L) and the MCC continued with their respective forms of armed struggle for the next couple of years. During this time Charu Mazumdar became the undisputed Naxalite guru and with the organisational skills of Kanu Sanyal and Jaghal Santhal, the movement spread to different corners of the country. While Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh soon became the fertile ground of Naxal Movements, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala too became affected by the tides of Naxalism. However, it was far short-lived than expected. WhatwasgenerallyperceivedbytheIndiansaswellasthe Chinese Communist Revolutionaries as the final enactment of revolution, in reality, proved to be no more than a dress rehearsal. As hundreds of CPI (M-L) cadres lost their lives, and thousands were put behind the bar, the movement witnessed confusion, splits, and disintegration.

The history of the Naxal Movement in post-Charu Mazumdar period is characterised by a number of splits brought about by personalised and narrow perceptions about the Maoist revolutionary line and attempts at course correction by some of the major groups. Even Kanu Sanyal, one of the founders of the movement, was not free from this trend. He gave up the path of "dedicated armed struggle" by 1977 and accepted parliamentary practice as one of the forms of revolutionary activity. [5]

It was during 1974 that one influential group of CPI (M-L) led by Jauhar (Subrata Dutt), Nagbhushan Pattnaik and Vinod Mishra launched one of the major initiatives termed as ‘course correction’. This group renamed itself as CPI (M-L) Liberation in 1974, and in 1976, during the Emergency, it adopted a new line that called for the continuation of armed guerrilla struggles along with efforts to form a broad anti-Congress democratic front, consisting even of non- communist parties. The group also suggested that pure military armed struggle should be limited and that there should be greater emphasis on mass peasant struggles in an attempt to provide an Indianised version of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

However, during the next three years, the movement suffered further splits with leaders such as Kondapalli Seetharamaiah (Andhra Pradesh) and N. Prasad (Bihar) dissociating themselves from the activities of the party. This led to Prasad forming the CPI (M-L) (Unity Organization) and Seetharamaiah started the People's War Group (PWG) in 1980.[6] Seetharamaiah's line also sought to restrict "annihilation of class enemies" but the emphasis was on building up mass organisations, not on developing a broad democratic front. To note, within the PWG there were also moderates and hardliners. Hardliners always argued that Indian society is ready for violent mass movement. The moderates argued that they need to work on enhancing the political consciousness of the masses or prepare them for revolution.

Since then, the principal division in the Naxalite movement has been between the two lines of thought and action, as advanced by the CPI (ML) Liberation and the PWG. While Liberation branded PWG a group of " left adventurists”, the PGW, which was a pan-India group with major operational areas in the Telangana region, castigated the Liberation group as one of the "revisionists" imitating the CPI (M). On the other hand, the growth of MCC as a major armed group in the same areas and beyond, such as in northern Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern UP and parts of north Chhatishargh, Odisha and West Bengal, created the scope of multifarious organisational conflict among the Naxal groups. Liberation took a theoretical stand of correcting the past mistakes of ‘completely rejecting parliamentary politics.’ On the other hand, PWG and MCC completely rejected the parliamentary democratic system of governance and vowed to wage ‘people’s war for people’s government. Broadly speaking, the party programs of CPI (ML) Liberation were mostly focused on the cause of peasants, while the group led by K. Seetharamaih wanted the party to be a platform for peasants, workers, tribal and other weaker sections of the society. It was the prime agenda of Liberation to build up a political front focusing on peasant struggles, whereas PWG was more interested in the formation of mass organizations instead of any democratic front.

One of the renowned guerrilla leaders of the erstwhile PWG summarises the essence of conflict between CPI (ML) Liberation and CPI (ML) People’s War: “In the Liberation group, which at one time was one of the strong groups defending Charu Mazumdar’s revolutionary line, after the martyrdom of Com. Johar, with the leadership falling into the hands of Vinod Mishra, they began betraying the Indian revolution. As part of a conspiratorial plan, a once-revolutionary party was gradually changed into a revisionist party, like the CPI and CPM. The armed resistance struggles against the state’s attacks, taking place under the then leadership of Liberation, was ended. The armed struggle to crush the feudal private armies was made a secondary task. In this way, they diverted the entire group away from the basic path outlined by the unified CPI (ML), and particularly of its founder, Charu Mazumdar — that of protracted people’s war — into becoming agents of the ruling classes, by surrendering them to the parliamentary path. They converted the Johar-led Liberation, from being a revolutionary movement into a legalist, reformist and parliamentary movement; and changed the underground organization into an open opportunist and revisionist organization.”[7] In the process while the Liberation group registered its first electoral victory in Bihar in 1989, more Naxalite factions such as the CPI (M-L) New Democracy, the CPI (ML) S.R. Bhajjee Group and the CPI (M-L) Unity Initiative were formed in that State.

The following years witnessed some distinct phenomena in the history of the Naxal movement. First, the intra-organisational conflict and rivalry among different groups touched several high points resulting in the loss of a considerable number of cadres of rival groups. Secondly, despite the large-scale inner conflicts, there was always an exercise to unite going on at various levels. Thirdly, from 1990 onwards the affected state registered considerable growth in violent incidents and at the same a visible change in policy approach at the government level was witnessed. If Naxal Movement is mostly characterised by fragmented groups and innumerable splits; successive governments at the national and state levels could never follow a uniform approach to deal with the problem of Naxalism. All this has had a marked impact on the growth of the Naxal movement.

The characteristic feature of the Naxal movement lies with its disorganized state of being as it led to some interesting formulations that are quite uncommon in the study of movement organizations. The fragmented character of the movement gave rise to all possible trends and groupings and thereby paved the way for new avenues of organisational conflicts. Due to its fragmented character, the movement witnessed many past leaders and cadres making a comeback as though from oblivion. This aspect of Naxal organisational politics is important to understand as it enabled the reemergence of a whole range of questions that were supposed to have been already resolved.

Naxal Movement in India entered into yet another phase of organisational transformation with the merger of two of the principal armed organizations, viz. People’s War (PW) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCC-I), which resulted in the formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in September 2004. On the occasion of its formation, its first Secretary Ganapathy stated, “The formation of the unified Communist Party of India (Maoist) is a new milestone in the history of the revolutionary communist movement of India. A unified Maoist party based on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a long-delayed and highly cherished need of the revolutionary-minded and oppressed people of the country, including all our ranks, and also all the Maoist forces of South Asia and internationally. Now, this long-aspired desire and dream has been transformed into a reality.”

What followed next are written in bold letters with red coloured ink in the records of contemporary Indian politics.


[1] Bibek Debroy, “The Last of the Three”, Indian Express, March 25, 2010.

[2] “30 years of Naxalbari, CPI (ML) Liberation Party Document”, April 11, 2015.

[3] “History of Naxalism”, Hindustan Times, December 15, 2005.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Suhrid Shankar Chattopadhyay, “End of a Revolution”, Frontline, Vol. 27, Issue 08, April 10 – 23, 2010.

[6] Maoist Influenced Revolutionary Organizations in India, source:

[7] Sharvan, the then Secretary Bihar State Committee of CPI (ML) Peoples War, in an interview given to People’s March, Volume 2, No. 3, March 2001.

This article is part of the "South Asia Conflict Monitor", November 2019.

Author Note
The Author teaches Political Science at Sambalpur University, Odisha. He may be reached at