Term used to refer to members of the extreme Left CPI(ML) launched by Charu Majumdar in 1969. The word refers to the site of the party’s first major political action (1967), the village of Naxalbari in Bengal. Following the split in the CPI (1964), several members of the breakaway CPI(M) turned to a Maoist, cadre-based massaction programme among the peasantry leading to the nationwide crackdown on the Party ordered by prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The schisms between Left and Right within the CPI(M), the latter insisting on the parliamentary road, were aggravated by the victory of United Fronts in Kerala and West Bengal in the 1967 State Assembly elections. Although the Naxalbari insurrection itself, in which peasant groups seized land, held people’s courts and dispensed ‘justice’ to landlords and hoarders, was rapidly quelled, it had widespread and long-term consequences. The CPI(M)’s withdrawal of support in protest against Chief Minister Ajoy Mukherjee’s use of the police against their members eventually brought down the United Front government. In August 1967, two months after Naxalbari, Girijan tribals led a similar insurrection in Srikakulam, evoking the CPI-led Telangana uprising (1946-51). The All India Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) was established as the apex body for all extra-parliamentary Left activity. Organisations affiliated to it, as well as several others, launched armed movements in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In 1969 the AICCCR was replaced by the CPI(ML), immediately recognised by the Chinese government. In 1970, actions sympathetic to the Naxalites were initiated by student groups in Calcutta and spawned major debates about revolutionary cultural aesthetics, often emphasising an anarchist iconoclasm (e.g. Saroj Dutta’s essay ‘In Defence of Iconoclasm’, 1970: cf. Samar Sen, 1978). In November 1970 the West Bengal Prevention of Violent Activities Bill gave the central government complete control over law and order in West Bengal, and the student movements in Calcutta as well as the peasant actions in e.g. Debra and Gopiballavpur were brutally suppressed by the police and the army. This suppression, coupled with the splintering of the movement itself, effectively ended Naxalite activity as an all-India phenomenon by 1972. The CPI(ML) survived mainly in Andhra Pradesh with the activities of the Peoples’ War Group. Culturally, however, its critique of the parliamentary system as well as the ideological and moral divides it caused within the Left movement as a whole, found an echo among independent film-makers, as in Mrinal Sen’s Calcutta Trilogy (see esp. Calcutta ’71, 1972), in Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy, Tapan Sinha’s Apanjan (1968), Ghatak’s Jukti Takko Aar Gappo (1974), Benegal’s Nishant (1975), Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980) and Shahani’s Tarang (1984). The Naxalite movement’s emphasis on agitation around civil liberties opened up a major space for independent documentary film-making (cf. Anand Patwardhan, Tapan Bose) and for Left political and aesthetic discourses. Other film-makers influenced by these currents include John Abraham, the musical, theatre and poetic sources of B. Narasinga Rao, and Utpalendu Chakraborty’s rhetoric about acceptable and unacceptable capital resources for film-making. In Andhra Pradesh, where the movement is currently the strongest, campaign films featuring exaggerated plotlines and emphatic performances, an idiom associated in that state with Naxalite aesthetics, were financially backed by media baron and producer Ramoji Rao in the mid-80s, continuing into e.g. R. Narayanamurthy’s commercially popular Lal Salaam (1992) and Erra Sainyam (1994).


Last modified 12 years ago Last modified on Jun 28, 2012, 3:38:29 PM