The term “Urban Naxal” is being talked about with greater frequency on social media, in TV studios and columns of newspapers after the crackdown by the Maharashtra police on Left-wing activists suspected to have links with outlawed Naxal groups.
The term Urban Naxal remains undefined. It is best attributed to a book and a few essays by film-maker Vivek Agnihotri. His book, Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha In A Traffic Jam was released in May 2018.
The phrase loosely means people of Naxalite bent of mind who reside in urban areas and work as activists, supporters and protectors of the ideology while the active Naxals battle it out in the jungles and vast swathes of Maoist-dominated areas.
How it started Now?
The Maharashtra police arrested five prominent activists in connection with an ongoing investigation related to the Bhima-Koregaon caste flare up in January 2018. Earlier in June 2018, the Maharashtra police had arrested five more activists claimed to have close contacts with Naxals and allegedly involved in organising a public meeting right before the Bhima-Koregaon caste riots broke out. In addition, the police then had presented a sensational letter implicating all five accused in hatching a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of India.
While the case is being heard by courts and the police investigation is still underway, the manner and method in which the police conducted the raids and arrested these well-known activists naming them as “urban Naxals” raises vital questions about the new labelling by the state and the soundness of current counter-insurgency strategy to target Naxals and their ideology. Who are the “urban Naxals” and how serious is their threat that is forcing the Indian state to take such desperate measures?
Who were the original Naxals?
The term “Naxal” is the short form of the word Naxalite. Naxal entered Indian lexicons in the decade of 1960 and has acquired a certain meaning over the years. The term Naxal comes from a village called Naxalbari in Siliguri district of West Bengal. Naxalism is understood at two levels – as a socio-economic issue and a law and order problem.
The first Naxal group sprang off as an offshoot of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The people who launched Naxal operations were frustrated with growing inequality among the various classes of society and government’s apathy to address the routine grievances of the poor.
A small group of the party decided to break away to launch an armed struggle against big landowners and establishment.
Their objective was to capture additional lands of big zamindars and distribute the same among the tilling farmers and landless labourers. The leadership was provided by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal. They became the first Naxals or the original Naxals.
Who Exactly is an ‘Urban Naxal’?
Agnihotri’s 2017 essay provides an important direction in answering that question. In the essay, he says urban naxals are the “invisible enemies” of India, some of them have been caught or those who are “under the police radar on the charge of spreading insurgency against the Indian state. One common thread amongst all of them is that they are all urban intellectuals, influencers or activists of importance.
A quick look into the accomplishments of all the urban naxals suggests that they have indoctrinated the youth by pretending to be concerned about social issues. However, my observation is that they never tried to find a solution to social problems. Dictated by the politburo strategy, they just exploit the situation by organising protests and mobilising masses which can be used for party building. They encourage students to take admission in different colleges and fail so that they can continue longer on the college campus.”
Urban Naxals: Is it a real issue?
While there is little doubt about the strong attraction of this utopian ideology among the highly educated urban youth, what has been the extent of its penetration in urban areas so far? It is well known among analysts tracking Left Wing Extremist (LWE) that for logistics and reasons of getting trapped by the security forces, Maoists have been avoiding urban surge for a long time. However, in the recent decade, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), brought out two major documents detailing their urban ambition. ‘The Strategies and Tactics of Indian Revolution in 2004’ and ‘Urban Perspective: Our Works in Urban Areas in 2007’ spelled out strategies and tactics to spread into urban areas and create an elaborate network of underground and over-ground support for the armed movement.
With regard to their successes, there have hardly been any noteworthy achievements in all these years. In the last years, government has done well to bring down LWE to 30 districts. According to official record, from once invincible 180 districts spread in 2011, their domination has been practically reduced to two States: Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In short, LWE’s influence is virtually restricted to tri-junction regions of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. A combination of measures, including building roads in interior areas, greater surveillance, frequent combing operations and greater troop movements into LWE districts, have resulted in delivering massive blows to ultras.
Comparative statistics of Naxal violence (2005-2018)
|Years||Civilians||Security Force Personnel||LWE/ CPI-Maoists||Total|
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Data till 9 September, 2018.
Thus, at a time when the Maoist ideology is losing its appeal worldwide (signified by recent Colombia peace process) and security forces enjoy an overwhelming lead over LWE leadership and cadre (see the Table), should the state need to hound a handful of activists in the name of urban Naxals?
Urban Naxal- Is there is any depth in this issue?
The above statistics and the arrests of the activists in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence, and that too on light charges, proves beyond doubt that the term urban naxal holds no water in today’s India. But it gave a good spotlight to filmmaker, which, otherwise, would have eluded him. His book became best seller because of the bubble of urban naxal.
Apart from that, it has been several months now and there is no action against those who are actually been involved and instigated the violence in Bhima-Koregaon incidence.
This full incidence shows that instead of discussing the real issues like how to improve the life of Dalits and Adivasis, and how to remove the naxalism in India, people are busy in discussing the issue of urban naxalism, how funny is this!!