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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-12162022-120310

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
Grass-Roots Political Participation in History: A Study of the Naxalbari Movement in Calcutta (1967-1975)
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Breccia, Alessandro
supervisore Basu, Pradip
  • Calcutta
  • communism
  • grassroots
  • Naxalbari
  • revolution
Graduation session start date
Release date
The Naxalbari movement began as a peasant uprising led by revolutionary communists in West Bengal’s countryside, but it later aroused political resistance in towns and Calcutta city as well. Yet scholars have long neglected the movement as also an urban phenomenon or, eventually, they have focused on the students’ prevailing involvement. This thesis explores urban activism and street politics during Naxalbari years in Calcutta showing that political participation was wider than the student milieu alone and that ‘informal’ mechanisms of politics were fundamental for urban mobilization.
Drawing on previously unexplored biographies of Calcutta’s activists from different backgrounds, personally collected oral narratives and memoirs in Bengali and English, the thesis uncovers uncommon experiences of revolutionary politics at the everyday level of workplace and neighbourhoods, where local structures and relations became modes of realizing and practising Naxalbari politics. By the late sixties, workers and employees were important political actors besides the student youth and they contributed to campaigning for the movement in the city. Moreover, worker and student circles were not isolated pockets; rather, they were connected with one another through informal relations and common resistance practices. At the same time, the neighbourhood represented a political space whose functioning allows for reading the movement beyond individual acts of ‘terrorist’ violence. On the contrary, also questionable actors, such as the locality toughs, and controversial methods of sustaining the revolution like criminal acts, are discussed and inscribed within the narrative of the urban Naxalbari politics.
Grass-Roots Political Participation in History analyses revolutionary politics in West Bengal by understanding the movement through space, relations and practices as mechanisms through which ‘informal’ channels and modes of doing politics are included, rather than criminalized or romanticized in the complex scenario of a Left revolutionary movement. The thesis will appeal to researchers interested in postcolonial history and social movement studies of South Asia.