Rise and Spread of Left Wing Extremism (Part 1)

Left Wing Extremism

“The ideological background that led to the rise of the movement and the 1st phase of the movement as it happened in West Bengal, India.”

Rise of the Leftist Ideology in India

To understand Left-Wing Extremism, I would suggest studying the rise of the Left Wing or Left in India first. The behemoth to initiate Left Wing movements in India, Manabendra Nath Roy (M. N. Roy), was also an international figure. In fact, in 1919, at the Communist International (World Party Congress), he was pitched by a number of communist groups as the potential presidential candidate against V. I. Lenin. Subsequently, the baton of the communist movement in India would pass on to the hands of the likes of S. A. Dange, Shaukat Usmani, Muzaffar Ahmed, Nalini Gupta, Rafiq Ahmed, etc. In the Post Kanpur Bolshevik Conspiracy case, the activities of these people became mostly underground, only to re-emerge as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, headed by Sachin Sanyal, Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, etc. It is noteworthy that all of this early communist leadership (first two generations), in spite of their left leaning socialist ideology, were deeply patriotic. For them, the country and its independence came first, often even over their own lives, leaving aside the leftist ideology. This was also visible in the works and understanding of the Third Generation (next generation) leaders like Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Jatin Das, Sukhdev, Rajguru & Batukeshwar Dutt. However, this trend would soon change.

It should also be noted here that socialist ideology also found its way among the Indian National Congress (INC) leadership. INC was no political party but a platform to carry forward India’s Independence Movement; in that sense, it had a unique kind of acceptability to the majority of the Indians. Two young leaders of the INC, namely Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose would introduce socialism as a principle within the workings of the INC. We know, that following the Soviet Model, Subhash Chandra Bose would also introduce the policy of planned economic development in India and, as the president of INC, would form the National Planning Committee in 1938. Later on, after his departure from Congress, in 1939, Subhash Chandra Bose formed Forward Bloc to carry forward his ideology and political activity. By the way, it should be pointed out here that for Subhash Chandra Bose and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation always came first and not their socialistic beliefs.

As we mentioned before, this trend would change soon. A new brand of leadership will emerge among the leftists in India by the 1940s, for whom the country would become secondary and what was primary was their personal beliefs and ideology. They won’t hesitate not only to side with the British Colonial Masters but also to spy for them. With the Soviet Union joining hands with the United Kingdom (Britain) and the United States of America against the Germans & Japanese in World War II, the British Colonial Masters, all of a sudden, became their closest ally. They very conveniently forgot the cause and interest of our motherland. By the way, this is not the only time the communist leadership would suffer from moral and ideological dilemmas; a section of them would exhibit this trend once again in 1962, during the India-China war.

There have been numerous occasions between 1942 to 1945 when the communist cadre spied for the British Secret Police Force (CID) and helped them catch the people and leaders involved in the “Quit India Movement”. Even Subhash Chandra Bose would be called, by these Communist Leadership, as “Tojo’s Dog” after he joined hands with the Japanese for India’s independence. It is noteworthy here that Gen. Hideki Tojo was Japan’s Prime Minister during World War II, who would go a long way to help Indian leaders like Rash Behari Bose, Capt. Mohan Singh, and then Subhash Chandra Bose to pursue the course of India’s independence.

Post India’s independence, for a long-time, the leftist leadership remained in a denial mode and refused to accept the democratic setup of India. It was only after the 1959 election of E. M. S. Namboodiripad, a communist leader, as the Chief Minister of Kerala that the communists accepted India as an independent and democratic country. This denial of accepting India’s independence and the Constitutional Democratic-Republican setup of India went deep inside the communist psychology. They used to call the Indian Constitution as ‘the Bourgeoisie Document’.

This ideological dilemma would very soon create a unique problem for the Communist Leadership in India. In October 1962, at the height of China’s aggression on India, when the whole of the North East Frontier Agency (today Arunachal Pradesh) was being over-run by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Communist Leadership in India got divided on the issue of supporting India. A section of the leadership was of the opinion that this time, it was an attack on the motherland, and China was the aggressor. Hence, there should be no doubt about supporting the Indian government in its quest to protect India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. However, there was also a section who believed China to be the flag bearer of Communism in Asia; in fact, their opinion was India, by supporting Dalai Lama and protesting the massacre of the Tibetans, had interfered in the internal affairs of China and thereby China is right in invading India. While the first group would follow the Soviet Union for their ideological guidance and would remain as the Communist Party of India (CPI), the second group started seeking guidance from the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and came to be known as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M), respectively.

This ideological hangover among the CPI (M) cadre would become so gross at one point of time that a few leaders within their rank and file would start propagating open hostility towards the Indian State. Later on, the majority of the CPI(M) leadership would decide to dissociate with those promoting open hostility towards India as a nation and Indian State; rather, those talking about the extreme philosophy, ordinarily known as extremism, would be expelled from the party line.

Two of those expelled leaders, Kanu Sanyal and Jagal Santhal, would subsequently become the harbingers of Left-Wing Extremism in India. They would be closely supported by the extremists within the then CPI (M) party, like Charu Majumdar. To understand the rise of Left-Wing Extremism (LWE), it is very much necessary to study the ideological tradition. That’s why in the prologue, we discussed the history of the Communists in India.

Rise of Left-Wing Extremism in India

The rebellion would start in the month of May 1967. On May 18th, 1967, Siliguri Kisan Sabha, a Leftist Affiliate of CPI(M) in the Siliguri Sub-Division of Darjeeling District of West Bengal, presided over by Jangal Santhal, would declare their support to the cause of Kanu Sanyal, a former leader of CPI(M), who was recently expelled from the party for his extremist views.

The elections of 1967 in West Bengal saw CPI(M) with their Coalition Partners to form the United Front Government and come to power for a brief period. However, before coming to power, CPI (M) leaders like Hare Krishna Konar and others advocated a militant and extremist way of seizing land from the erstwhile landlords (Zamindars) and redistributing it among the landless farmers. But after coming to power, the party went grossly silent on the issue. Some of the leaders who took the militant jingoism of the party leadership on face value took the ideology too seriously, and they were the ones who felt left out. Those among the front-runners who felt left out were Kanu Sanyal, Charu Majumdar, and the likes. Naturally, they felt the urge to take up the issue on their own.

Beginning of the Rebellion

On May 25th, 1967, a band of armed rebels attacked the house of the local Zamindar of the Naxalbari Village, under the Naxalbari Police State of Siliguri Subdivision of Darjeeling District of West Bengal, under the leadership of Jangal Santhal, early in the morning at 6:30 AM. This was in retaliation for the beating up of a tribal share-cropper, who had tried to stake his claim on a legally apportioned piece of land in his favour by the government, by the men of the zamindar. When police tried to reach the spot, several volleys of arrows were shot at them, and one inspector, a ranking officer, was killed in the process. This would mark the beginning of the movement.

On the same day, several violent actions were organised elsewhere in West Bengal by Charu Majumdar and his accolades. These simultaneous attacks on so many fronts betray the fact that the rebellion was planned and not spontaneous.

There is one more interesting fact to note. That day, early in the morning, around 5:30 AM (IST), the official radio station of Communist China, Radio Peking (Peking is the previous name of Beijing), announced the beginning of the Communist Revolution in India. This naturally raises the question of how the Chinese official radio channel knew about a rebellion that would start one hour later in India. The answer to the question is obvious.

Charu Majumdar would write the Historic Eight Document to provide an ideological foundation for their movement ahead. He started promoting the idea of a protracted struggle against the Indian State and a complete change of the socio-political structure in India.

The rebels went to the extent to proclaim Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, as the Chairman of India.

These people got so blinded by their ideological discourse that they couldn’t even see the obvious design of the external forces in destabilising the peace and prosperity in India. Rather, became a tool in the hands of those external forces.

Charu Majumdar, given his influence among the left-leaning students’ Unions of the University of Calcutta and Jadavpur University, was successful in indoctrinating a major section of the students of these universities, and they would become the backbone of the movement. Subsequently, this would become the reason for the massive loss of intelligentsia for Bengali society at large and would start pushing the once prosperous State behind.

It is because of the beginning of the rebellion from Naxalbari Village that the rebellion is often called the Naxalite Movement. Also, given the ideological leaning of the leaders of this rebellion on the Chairman of Communist China, Mao Zedong, they are also referred to as Maoists.

Finally, with a new government coming to power in West Bengal in the elections of 1972, a massive scale ‘State Action’ would be mounted against the rebels in the State. Taking advantage of the nationwide “Emergency’ from July 1975 to January 1977, the movement would be nipped in the bud in the State of West Bengal. Hereafter, the movement would die down in West Bengal but would spread to other parts of India, such as the erstwhile states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, along with Odisha.

This would mark the end of the 1st phase of this movement in the country, only to re-emerge in the erstwhile states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, along with Odisha in the 2nd phase.


  1. The Naxalite Movement in India by Prakash Singh, Rupa & Co.
  2. Left-wing Extremist group – https://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/terroristoutfits/MCC.htm
  3. Naxal Insurgency https://books.google.co.in/books?id=RiecBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA126&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
  4. History of Naxalism – https://web.archive.org/web/20110208212611/http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/nm2/History-of-Naxalism/Article1-6545.aspx
  5. https://web.archive.org/web/20110208212611/http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/nm2/History-of-Naxalism/Article1-6545.aspx
  6. Maoists building weapons factories in India with help from China – https://www.indiatoday.in/india/north/story/chinese-intelligence-training-and-funding-maoists-in-india-100359-2012-04-26
  7. 30 years of Naxalbari https://web.archive.org/web/20101031003912/http://www.bannedthought.net/India/PeoplesMarch/PM1999-2006/publications/30%20years/part1.htm
  8. Naxalite Ideology: Charu’s Eight Documents –https://web.archive.org/web/20161221162344/http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/naxalite-ideology-charu-s-eight-documents/story-hiCWDlzyc5yNRgYkBMX1qL.html


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