Naxalbari Movement was a peasant uprising in 1967 in the Naxalbari region of the Siliguri subdivision of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India. It was an armed uprising, mainly led by the tribals and the radical communist leaders of Bengal, and further developed into the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969. Prominent leaders of the Naxalbari Uprisings were Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal, and others, who later became part of CPI (ML). Initially, the Movement had its centre in West Bengal, which later spread to other States of India, such as Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.
The Naxalbari Movement took place during the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. The Sino-Soviet Split was causing turmoil within the communist organisations in India and the rest of the world. The leader of the Naxalbari uprising Charu Majumdar theorised that the situation was appropriate for launching an armed People’s struggle in India following the Chinese Revolution (1949), Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) and Vietnam War (1955-1975).
Charu Majumdar wrote the Historic Eight Documents, which became the foundation of the Naxalbari Movement in 1967. Shanti Munda is remembered as a prominent female leader within the Naxalbari Movement who worked alongside communist leaders, including Kanu Sanyal.
Course of Naxalbari Movement (1967)
The communists in 1965-66 already controlled the territory of the Naxalbari region in West Bengal. The so-called “Siliguri group” initiated the rebellion.
Jangal Santhal was a local tribal leader and well-respected figure among the sharecroppers, peasants and tea labourers of the hill and Terai region of the Darjeeling district. He failed to get elected in the election of February 1967. He and his supporters, including Majumdar, attributed his failure to his standing for the rights of tribals.
On 3 March 1967, just a day after the United Front had sworn in Ministers in West Bengal, some 150 peasants armed with bows and spears took around 11000 kg of paddy and started seizing land. The peasants were enraged that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) did not retain workers in the party. By 18 March 1967, the peasants began seizing land from ‘jotedars‘ (landlords who owned large plots of land in regions).
On 18 March 1967, under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal, and Jangal Santhal, the tribal peasants of a few villages in the Darjeeling district of Bengal formed the “Peasants Council“. This Council resolved to re-distribute the land to the sharecroppers and prepare for an armed struggle against landlords. The Peasants Council was in response to the United Front Government’s formation, which the participants of the Peasant’s Council saw as too moderate and a betrayal of the party’s vision. Within four months, the peasant committees were set up throughout the region.
The first clash between the peasants and landlords occurred when a sharecropper, Bigul Kisan, was beaten up by landlord gentries. Following this, the Peasant Committees seized the land, foodgrains and arms from the landlord gentries, leading to violent clashes. The Government began mobilising the police forces to deal with the rebellion.
In May 1967, two back-to-back incidents ignited the Naxalbari Movement, turning a peasant agitation into an armed struggle.
On 23 May 1967, during an operation to take over the land, the police arrived to disperse the gathering of protesting peasants in the Naxalbari region. A police party headed by inspector Sonam Wangdi entered the Jharugaon village to arrest those involved in forcible harvesting. The peasant group led by Jangal Santhal surrounded the police party and killed the police inspector of Jharugaon in a hail of arrows.
In retaliation, the police force entered a neighbouring Naxalbari village on 25 May 1967. When the crowd gathered to oppose the entry of the police into the town, the police opened fire, which resulted in the death of 11 people, including women and children.
On 28 June 1967, Charu Majumdar addressed a gathering of tea plantation workers and tribal peasants and announced the plan to forcibly grab the land of tyrannical landlords for use by peasants. Groups of tribals armed with bows and arrows attacked the property of jotedars and police stations.
Also, on 28 June 1967, Radio Peking joyfully announced: “A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India. Revolutionary peasants in the Darjeeling area have risen in rebellion”.
By June 1967, the peasant committees gained hold of the Naxalbari, Phansidewa, and Kharibari regions of the Darjeeling district. They seized lands, food grains and ammunition from the landlords. The tea garden worker around the Darjeeling region participated in strikes supporting the peasant committees.
By July, the Government began to take some action. The upheaval was sustained till 19 July 1967, when the Government sent paramilitary forces. Leaders like Jangal Santhal were arrested. Some of them, like Charu Majumdar, went underground.
The Movement also got support from the Community Party of China. But, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) expelled several members, like Charu Majumdar, Souren Bose, Dilip Bagchi, and Mahadeb Mukherjee, who supported the rebellion.
In 1967, Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and others broke away from CPI (M). They later organised themselves into one organisation, the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR). The first meeting of AICCCR was held in November 1967. Its prominent members were Charu Majumdar, Saroj Dutta, Sushital Roy Chowdhury, and Kanu Sanyal. Initially, the group was known as AICCCR of CPI(M) and partially functioned as an inner-party fraction.
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
In 1969, the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) further developed into the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) under Charu Majumdar and Saroj Dutta. Kanu Sanyal declared the foundation of the CPI(ML) at a mass meeting in Calcutta on 22 April 1969 (Vladimir Lenin’s birthday).
The first party congress was held in Calcutta in 1970. CPI(ML) remained the centre of the Naxalbari Movement till 1975. A large number of enthusiastic youth joined the Naxalbari Movement.
Although the uprising was suppressed, it remained a landmark in Indian politics and further led to several other similar kinds of Movements in parts of Bihar and originated the ongoing Naxalite–Maoist insurgency.