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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

On Fiftieth Anniversary of the Naxalbari Uprising: Wages of Conceit and Eulogy

Saturday 10 June 2017, by Sankar Ray


Looking back at the ‘spring thunder’—the ecstatic definition of the historic Naxalbari struggle by the Radio Peking in mid-1967—after 50 years from many angles is a reflex of historical consciousness. There’s no denying that the battle had for the first time focused on the imperative for agrarian rights for the landless labour. Dozens of essays, published in English and other languages, mostly are in dearth of the angle of detachment, a must for any historio-graphic exercise. Among them the ones from the Left-leaning intellectuals are in sky-high praise for Naxalism... Sadly enough, skipping a critical review without admitting blunders is a sign of intellectual dishonesty.

Remember the super-romantic revolutionism of Nandini Dhak who put her blood-stained fingers on her forehead as the vermillion-mark after killing a police constable with a dagger! The acid test of a true revolutionary is to ‘make one’s hands stained with the blood of the class enemy’, stated a graffiti all over Greater Calcutta. Didn’t such irresponsible acts of adventurism, bucked up by the biggies of the Naxalbari battle create an alibi for the state to push Charu Mazumdar (CM), the founder General Secretary of the CPI-ML, to death or lynch the Polit-Bureau member of the party, Saroj Dutta (SD)?

Sumanta Banerjee, an eminent journalist and a self-made cultural historian who joined the battle and embraced imprisonment, thinks: “The Maoist movement can be described as playing the role—unwittingly though—of a positive catalytic agent for the betterment of rural society in post-independence India. Since its first manifestation in the 1967 Naxalbari uprising, and following its development during the next decades, under its pressure, a recalcitrant Indian state has been compelled to enact a number of legislative reforms relating to forest rights of tribals, minimum wages for agricultural labourers and provision of rural employment, among other similar ameliorative measures.” (‘From Naxalbari to Chhattisgarh: Half-a-century of Maoist Journey in India’, Economic and Political Weekly, May 21, 2017) But didn’t the state become more repressive too?

My good friend and a rare-breed polymath, Pradip Baksi, a top-class Marx scholar, in an
e-mail, made certain highly important and worrisome observations. Here is a quote from the message.

“(a) As with the terrorist movements against the British Raj in India before 1947, the Naxalite movement since 1967 was successfully infiltrated by the spies of the government machinery.

(b) With the passage of time the elements of spontaneous peasant revolt were successfully overpowered by the combined efforts of the careerist cadres and the agents of the police, often symbiotically fused in one and the same group of persons.

(c) Gradually the mafia elements within both the movement and the law enforcement agencies of the State and Central governments took over the reins of the movement, culminating in a politics of fake encounters, fake heroism, real ransom-taking and real gun-running.

(d) The governments of the day utilised the Naxalite movement[s] and their mercenary media-created images to further the twin aims of:

(i) state-sponsored loot of the mineral and other resources under the cover of an evolving emergency situation in the affected region, where possible; and,

(ii) terrorising the laggard local economic and political elites to accept some state-sponsored infrastructure development activities, for the long-term aim of keeping the most destitute producers of surplus value under an effective rule, where necessary.”

The oppressive role of the state is directly reflected in the set-up and stepping-up of the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) division in 2006 and anti-democratic amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The LWE division, which is intensely related to the Operation Green Hunt, operates in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where the Central armed forces are deployed. The scheme cripples those States financially. The Union Government reimburses “security related expendi-ture incurred by the LWE affected States under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme”.

The hardening of the anti-Naxalite strategy since the late 1990s was writ large in a reply from the Ministry of Home Affairs to an RTI query last year—killing of 12,183 people during the last 20 years by the Naxailtes in the nine LWE-affected States. Of them 9471 were civilians and 2712 Central and State security force personnel. But data about liquidation of Maoists and their mute sympathisers among the penury-driven people are kept suppressed. Several thousand Maoists or Naxalites perished or disappeared under extended ‘Operation Steeplechase’ and ‘Operation Green Hunt’. Probably, Maoists of the 1990s, unlike the Naxalites of the early period, could often escape killing bullets, thanks to the former’s hit and run tactics, particularly in the Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand regions.

Pitiable enough, fellow-travellers of Naxalism among the elite (‘salaried bourgeoisie’, coined by Slavoz Žižek) made no endeavour to construct an estimate about the huge loss of youth power due to suppression of the LWE. Instead there is “insincere romanticism of our decadent and cynic urban intelligentsia about the ongoing residual state-controlled Maoist insurgencies of the land and the dead-ends of their old ideologically oriented extreme Left jargon-mongering politics of a bygone era”, Baksi states very rightly.

Naxalite ‘ideologues’ like Arindam Sen, Polit-Bureau member of the CPI-ML (Liberation), continue to defend the ‘ideological concepts’ of CM—author of the so-called Eight Documents, written and circulated between January-end 1965 and April 1967. Sen terms them as ‘foundational’ in an article in the aforementioned issue of EPW, “Tebhaga—Telangana to Naxalbari—CPI(ML): The Movement—Party Dialectic”. He asserts they are “the basic political points (in addition to a host of important ideological/theoretical issues)” linked to ‘unending waves of spontaneous mass movement’ on all kinds of issues and rising militancy in all parts of the country, even in the face of brutal state repression” and “signified that the first generalised confrontation between the rulers and the ruled in independent India had started. The supercharged political atmosphere was calling for higher forms of struggle, a more conscious vanguard role of Communists and matching organisational breakthrough in the shape of a true revolutionary party.” In a sycophantic style, he claims that it was a “blueprint of agrarian revolution”, CM highlighted the need for creating a real-life model—“a single spark in a single area” that would “[k]indle a prairie fire in different corners of India” and closely guided his comrades in its groundwork. Naxalbari was the “outcome of this integration of theory and practice”. But nowhere in the 15,000-plus word exercise, one finds Marx who remained subordinated to “Chairman Mao”, which was CM’s mendicant style of naming the godfather of the Communist Party of China. Again, Mao is quoted more than Lenin.

Take the last document where Mao is quoted thrice, the first being “Chairman Mao has taught us that where there is struggle, there is sacrifice. At the initial stage of the struggle the strength of reaction must be greater than the strength of the masses.” CM-worshippers ignore the over-esti-mation of possibilities of success in armed peasant revolution. Like an armchair ideologue, the father figure of Naxalism wrote: “Chairman Mao has taught us that where there is struggle, there is sacrifice. At the initial stage of the struggle the strength of reaction must be greater than the strength of the masses.” CM went on disseminating his dreamy idea. “The struggle for building up this liberated area is the most urgent task of the peasant movement today, a task of this moment. What shall we call a liberated area? We shall call that peasant area liberated from which we have been able to overthrow the class enemies. For building up this liberated area we need the armed force of the peasants. When we speak of the armed force we have in mind the arms made by the peasants. So also we want arms. Whether the peasants have come forward to collect arms or not is the basis on which we shall judge whether they have been politically roused. Wherefrom shall the peasants get guns? The class enemies have guns and they live in the village. Guns have to be taken forcibly from them. They will not hand over their arms to us voluntarily. Therefore, we shall have to seize guns forcibly from them. For this, peasant militants will have to be taught all tactics, right from setting fire to the houses of class enemies. Besides, we shall secure guns from the armed forces of the Government by attacking them all on a sudden. The area in which we are able to organise this gun-collection campaign shall quickly be transformed into a liberated area. So, for carrying out this task it is necessary to propagate extensively among the peasants the politics of building up armed struggle.” The Eight Document series ends with “Long live Chairman Mao!”

Kanu Sanyal, a founding PB member who was amog the handful of those that gave birth to the Naxalbari saga, made a significant revelation about the CM Documents in a published document, More About Naxalbari, in 1973. CM circulated six documents among party comrades when he was still with the CPI-M “expressing his opinion about the democratic revolution of India and about the CPI-M leadership. Many cadres of Darjeeling district could know about these documents while they were in jail through the press report of UNI of Kalimpong in the bourgeois papers. The threats of the CPI-M leadership regarding these documents on the one hand and the ignorance of the real contents of the documents on the part of the cadres of Darjeeling district created an uneasy chaotic situation. Charu Mazumdar sent 5/6 of his selected cadres to the rural areas with these documents. These new young cadres went to the villages and made a futile effort from 1965 to June 1966 to propagate according to these documents. Meanwhile, cadres of Darjeeling district came to know about the contents of the documents after their release from jail in June 1966. Then the discussions on the basis of these documents started between them and Charu Mazumdar.”

 One remembers the candid words of Ashim Chatterjee, the last living member of the first Central Committee of the CPI-ML. “I will not say that we have lost the dream. But our dream clashed with reality. To me, it was social terrorism. This was bound to happen to the movement; it has been robbed of the momentum. Now only dozens of splinter groups from the original CPI-ML are alive.”

 Lastly, Naxalite ideologues and scholars never noted that Mao had never called for liquidation of capitalism in China. Instead, he kept wooing the national bourgeoisie. In his speech, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the Peoples” on February 27, 1957, he said: “The contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is one between exploiter and exploited, and is by nature antagonistic. But in the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods. However, the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie will change into a contradiction between ourselves and the enemy if we do not handle it properly and do not follow the policy of uniting with, criticising and educating the national bourgeoisie, or if the national bourgeoisie does not accept this policy of ours.” And for CM, ‘Chairman Mao’ could do no wrong!

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, specialises in Left politics and history.

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