A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India”. This is how the July 5, 1967 editorial of Communist Party of China (CPC) mouthpiece People’s Daily had described the peasant upsurge in a tiny Bengal village – Naxalbari. People’s Daily was endorsing the incidence where share croppers and landless laborers rose in revolt with ‘land to the tiller’ slogan against the local landlords. The editorial also went on to predict that “…a great storm of revolutionary armed struggle will eventually sweep across the length and breadth of India”. Named after its birthplace, the Naxalbari movement soon evolved into an armed uprising in Bengal and spread like wildfire in several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. The movement reached its peak between May 1969 and June 1971 after the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was founded on April 22, 1969.
But the stormy days didn’t last for long. From 1972, the movement started losing its impetus. Between 1973 and 1975, the central and the state governments, both under the Congress Party rule, jointly crushed the movement by ruthless army and police operations. Most of the prominent Naxal leaders were captured and jailed or dead in ‘police encounter’ including the principle ideologue Charu Majumdar, who had died in police custody in July 1972. After the first non-Congress Janata government came to power in 1977, the jailed Naxalites were released along with other political prisoners imprisoned under Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.
By then, many of them were deeply frustrated over the failure of their movement and turned impassive about active radical politics. After 1977, the Naxalites were fragmented into numerous small groups under different leaders, organizations and ideological positions and were conflicting with each other over ideological-tactical debates with elements of personal egotism but could not generate any significant impact in the socio-political milieu of India. Evading from direct political linkage, many of the former Naxals started putting up non-governmental organizations to stay entrenched with social, economic, cultural, environmental, legal, human rights and gender related issues. The present day Indian Maoists trace their lineage back to this iconic ultra left-wing rebellion.