It happened in Naxalbari

Written by Mouparna Bandyopadhyay | Naxalbari, West Bengal | Updated: Jun 30 2009, 04:13am hrs
As one approaches Naxalbari, a sleepy, nondescript place half an hour from Siliguri, it is difficult not to feel overawed. Memories of turbulent times that influenced the course of history in India come rushing. Yet the place itself is like any other place in rural Bengal; pleasantly lush green fields where the crop has not been harvested yet.

In order to understand the Naxalite Movement of West Bengal, one needs to go back in time to look at the Telengana and the Tebhaga movements that shook parts of India in the 1940s. The Telengana Movement in Andhra Pradesh was one of the first instances of an armed struggle by peasants and farmers. At the same time Bengal witnessed the Tebhaga Movement, in which farmers of Bengal struggled for their rights.

The repression of the farmers by the state laid the seeds of an anger that only deepened with time. The Terai region, barely affected during the Tebhaga struggle, saw discontent brewing amidst the tea gardens throughout the 50s. Reminiscences Mujibur Rahman, one of the prominent faces of the Naxalite movement, The organisation of the tea garden labour back then sowed the seeds of the Naxalite movement.

The eventual agitation of 1967 was influenced by the general political climate of the time and moulded by the attitude of the local political leaders. Says Abhijit Mazumdar, son of Charu Mazumdar, Baba was convinced of the necessity of arming the peasantry for a more effective struggle. According to Baba, the Tebhaga movement had failed due to the betrayal of the rich peasants.

Mazumdar found an ally in Krishna Kumar alias Kanu Sanyal. In course of organising the movement, Mazumdar came in contact with Jangal Santhal, Kesab Sarkar, Babulal Biswakarma, Kadam Mallik and others who were active members of the CPI. Says Abhijit Mazumdar, In 1964, when the CPI split and the CPI(M) was formed, Baba showed his inclination to the Maoist line. He held that the CPI could never overcome its revisionist character and its activities would always be confined to mass organisations.

The trigger of the gun was pressed in May 1967. Remembers Sabitri Rao (wife of Punjab Rao, yet another name associated with the Naxalite movement), an eyewitness, One morning, a few of the men went to till the fields and didnt return. We suspected that they had disappeared for a drink. But we got worried and scared when they did not return even the next day. A few others went missing the next day too. The next morning, some of us hid behind the bushes and watched the proceedings. As soon as the men would begin tilling, the police would appear and take them away, telling them that the jotdar who owned the land has ordered their arrests. The next morning, many of us gathered in the fields at Borojorujot and decided we wont allow the police to do whatever they pleased. In the confrontation that followed, inspector Sonam Wangdi was killed by bows. No one knows who shot that arrow.

On May 25, a bigger police contingent arrived. The locals had picked up whatever weapon they could find, yet their march was essentially peaceful in nature. The police fired at the demonstrators, killing nine women and two children.

It was from this incident that the movement lost its agrarian character and became a militant movement. In spite of his own reservations, Kanu Sanyal followed Charu Mazumdar and opted for armed struggle.

Two years later, at a May Day rally in 1969 in Kolkata, Kanu Sanyal announced the formation of a third party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Recounts Sanyal, I had deep differences with Mazumdar even before CPI(ML) was formed. He believed in killing people, I didnt it was as simple as that.

The uprising spread all over Bengal through the late 60s and early 70s. Never before, or after, has a movement that began with the interest of the rural farmers found so much support in Kolkata. The flames died down in the mid 1970s, after its ruthless suppression by the Siddhartha Sankar Ray-Congress government. Many Naxals were released when the Left Front assumed power in 1977. But, as Kanu Sanyal insists, Contrary to popular perception, the Left Front did not pardon us. We moved the Andhra High Court and eventually won our freedom through a legal battle.