This is to set some facts straight. Much of what I've heard about the Naxalbari movement comes from my Dad who was a 'Naxalite' in his youth. Not a very active one, as he suffers from polio, but part of their intellectual wing. Having grown up listening to stories of what the Naxals did and how the movement dis-integrated, I would like to correct a few things that jaanko's WU distorts. My primary grouse is with the way the origins and the end of the movement has been portrayed by jaanko. I will argue that there were three aspects crucial to ending the Naxal movement- class, state oppression and eventually the tactics of the Naxals themselves. I haven't used too many sources. Just looked up a few basic facts. Most of the events of the Naxal movement, are fairly familiar to me as I've grown up hearing about them, like most Bengali kids of my generation, but if there are any factual inaccuracies please do point those out. The idea is not set down exactly what happened, but to give you a sense of what Bengal politics was like in that period, and to examine why a movement with such revolutionary potential, gradually subsided.

It is important to set the Naxal movement in context. This was the mid and late sixties- a time of student fervent all over the world. Campuses in Calcutta in particular were agog with the revolutionary spirit as news of student protests in Europe filtered in, and the Naxal movement was a product of that. Again, it is interesting to note here that most Naxals were educated young men from the middle class, many of them university students in Calcutta, NOT rural landless peasants. So part of the reason for their failure was because of the elitist nature of the origins of the movement. Today many many former Naxals occupy important bureaucratic posts in government and industry not just in Bengal, but across India. Part of this is to do with their disillusionment with the revolutionary causes they identified with in their youth, but also to do with, the fact that they were never really part of the strata that they were fighting for.

Let's now turn our attention to how the movement ended. I would argue that it is a gross mis-representation to say that 'lazy Indians' did not take to the movement. In its heyday the Naxal movement was hugely popular. And even today there are elements of Naxalism in the PWG movement in Andhra Pradesh and some Marxist dalit armies in Bihar. But that aspect apart, it is important to remember that the Naxal movement was met with unprecedented state oppression. If you talk to Bengalis of my parent's generation they will tell you of an entire generation of young men wiped out by police brutality. In those days it was a crime to even own a copy of the Communist Manifesto in your house. The streets of Calcutta were perpetually under curfew and every morning, cart-loads of dead bodies, of young men, would be found dumped on the street. To serve as a reminder to others. Prisons were overflowing and even today, many of the infamous Naxal prisons, contain blood stained pleas of mercy from those tortured endlessly by the Bengal police. Jailbreaks were common, and I know of a friend's father who was killed in one such failed attempt. As the history of the Indian freedom struggle shows, no popular movement that is bloody can be sustained for too long. Popular enthusiasm is bound to ebb, particularly when faced with immense brutality. As an entire generation of young men was wiped out, others shied away from joining, or quietly left the movement. As I mentioned earlier, many of the leaders of the Naxal movement, were students from well to do families, and their families either forced them to continue their education or found respectable jobs for them.

A crucial blow was the death of their leader Charu Mazumdar and the brutal deaths of two young activists- Karuna Sarkar, a young firebrand female. She was captured by hoodlums and CPI (ML) (the party to which she belonged) was carved on her breast. Another leader Panchu Gopal Dey was dismembered limb by limb and simultaneously stoned. All of this was carried under the police chief Ranajit Guha. To this day very few people have been tried or held responsible for these acts.

The third aspect of the movement was the tactics that the Naxals themselves used. Having initially attacked the apparatus of the state by seizing land, they responded to state brutality by resorting to what today would be called 'terrorism'. Albeit on a much smaller scale. They resorted to killing policemen, and often people tangentially involved with the government. From a movement that had set itself high moral principles, (although not a vow of non violence), the descent into a spiral of violence was too much for some to grasp. What their wanton violence also did was it lost them a lot of popular sympathy. This was a time when many felt sorry for the young men, imbued with their youthful zeal, fighting an unjust state and meeting with repression. But when they resorted to random violence, that sympathy began to fade away and gradually vanished.

Eventually the Naxal movement petered out. It lost public sympathy, the young students lost their morale and peasant support for their cause waned. The one lasting effect that this has had on Bengal politics is this: the Chief Minister who was responsible for suppressing the Naxal movement belonged to the Congress Party- Siddhartha Shankar Ray, later India's ambassador to the United States. So bitter were people with what the Congress had done, that they voted them out of power and voted in a Left Front government dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxists) or the CPI (M)which to this day, after almost three decades, still rules in West Bengal.

If you're interested in this period, here's something of interest: Govind Nihalani's movie Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa or 'The Mother of 1084' is a great movie. 1084 refers to the number on the body tag of a young man, Brati, killed by the police during the Naxal movement. His mother, Sujata Chatterji is a middle aged, traditional, submissive, unprotesting, upper middle class woman, employed in a commercial bank in Calcutta. In the course of the movie, the mother, played by Jaya Bachchan embarks on a journey of discovery, in the course of which, whilst struggling to understand her naxalite (militant leftist) son's revolutionary commitment, she begins to recognize her own alienation as a woman and a wife from the complacent, hypocritical bourgeoisie society her son had rebelled against.

One small irrelevant point. The word Naxal is pronounced not with the 'x' sound as in 'fox'. But as in this way:
na pronounced as 'kno' as in knob
xal pronounced as 'kshal'
so it's really 'no-kshal bari' rather than naxalbari which is the more anglicised pronounciation.