Why one is not the synonym for the other
By bappaditya paul
It is quite often than not people say Maoists to denote Naxalites and say Naxalites when they are actually referring to the Maoists.
This mistake is not peculiar to laymen. The media in general, including several prestigious mastheads in print and broadcast, make this goof-up every time they are reporting an incident of Left Wing Extremist violence anywhere in India.
The gaffe emanates from a partial-knowledge or, complete ignorance about the origin, history and present status of the Naxalite Movement. Lack of knowledge and understanding of the Maoist Struggle only add to the misconception.
One of the most prominent among Communist revolutionary struggles in India, the Naxalite Movement, began in 1967 with an armed peasant Uprising in a rural pocket called Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
The Uprising was the culmination of years of hard work put in by Communist activists, who wanted to usher in a revolution in India. Such was the intensity of the Uprising; the Communist Party of China adored it as the “Spring Thunder over India”.
But consequent to the anarchy that a section of the rebels unleashed across West Bengal and the corresponding massive suppression by the state forces, the Naxalbari rebellion was stubbed by 1972.
That, however, was not the end.
The Uprising at Naxalbari had by then given birth to a distinct form of Communist revolutionary pursuit in India, which was based on the Marxist-Leninist principles. Largely because of the media’s affinity for coining popular tongue, it began to be known as the Naxalite Movement. Activists associated with the Movement are identified as the Naxalites or the Naxals.
Right from the days of the Naxalbari Uprising, there was a dispute among the rebels over the strategy of individual annihilation of the so-called class enemies.
Charu Majumdar, the ideologue of the Naxalbari Uprising, favored it. But Kanu Sanyal, the man who was leading the struggle at the ground, was vehemently opposed to individual annihilation. However, prior to his death, Majumdar had moderated his stand to some extent.
In later years, the Naxalites denounced the strategy of individual annihilation and instead, adopted a multi-pronged tactics to realise the goal of a Communist revolution in India. These include ~ mass movements, participation in electoral politics and the armed struggle.
In furtherance of this strategy, several Naxalite groups, as distinguished by the adjectives suffixed to their parent party nomenclature ~ the Communist Party of India – Marxists-Leninists (CPI-ML) formed in 1969, have been fighting elections in several states across India.
Prominent among these groups are ~ the CPI-ML (Liberation), CPI-ML (Kanu), CPI-ML (Jan Shakti), CPI-ML (New Democracy) etc. Some of them exist as unrecognised but registered political party with the Election Commission of India; others get into the electoral fray by putting up Independent candidates.
Going by the activities of such Naxalite parties in the recent years, they are clearly focusing more on mass movements and electoral politics, than on the armed struggle.
When the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was born out of the Naxalbari Uprising in 1969, a section of Communist rebels retained a distinct identity. They remained outside the ambit of the parent party.
One such group, Dakshin Desh of Amulaya Sen and Kanai Chatterjee, was later rechristined as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in 1975. Dakshin Desh differed from the CPI-ML over the issue of individual annihilation ~ then a predominant trait in the party primarily due to the patronage by Charu Majumdar. MCC was particularly active in Bihar.
Ironically, with the change in leadership, in later years, MCC took to the very line of individual annihilation that once made Amulaya Sen and Kanai Chatterjee to distance themselves from the CPI-ML of Charu Majumdar.
On occasions, the MCC also targeted other Naxalite groups, as manifested by the 1994 brutal killings of five CPI-ML (Liberation) activists at Jehanabad in Bihar.
By 2003, through permutation and combination with some other like-minded factions, MCC assumed a new name ~ the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI).
Another offshoot of the Naxalbari Uprising, the People’s War Group (PWG) took shape in Andhra Pradesh in 1980. PWG totally renounced participation in electoral politics and instead, upheld the legacy of Charu Majumdar by concentrating only on armed struggle.
The MCCI and PWG merged in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The cadres of this unified party are known as Maoists.
CPI (Maoist) is dominated by the policies and strategies of the erstwhile PWG. It does not take part in elections and often indulges in individual annihilation of the “class enemies”.
As on today, the Maoists have noticeable presence in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Odisa, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.
Both the Naxalite Movement and the Maoist Struggle traces their origin in the Naxalbari Uprising of 1967. But while the Naxalite Movement thrives on the original spirit of Naxalbari by focusing on mass organisations and movements; the Maoist Struggle, at best, is an aberration of the 1967 Uprising as it relies mainly on arms.
Simply put, there are two fundamental differences between the Naxalites and Maoists.
First, the Naxalites take part in elections and many of them are duly registered parties with the Election Commission of India. The Maoists on the other hand, abhor electoral politics and are proscribed both by the Union of India and several other state governments.
Secondly, the Naxalites may or may not have an armed wing; whereas the existence of the Maoists depends entirely on their armed militia.
In fact, it is the Maoists who are often getting into direct confrontations with the security forces in various Indian states and are also indulging in individual annihilation of the so-called class enemies.
Hence, the next time there is a violence perpetrated by the Communist rebels, it will be appropriate to attribute the same to Left Wing Extremists or simply, to the Left Extremists. Naming the Naxalites for such acts, in most cases, will be a blunder.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India)