Communist Impact

Leftism in Undivided Dinajpur

Swapan Kumar Pain

[Among the districts of West Bengal Dinajpur is well-known for its historical importance. The district lies between 26°29'54" and 25°10'55" north latitudes, and between 89°0'30" and 87°48'37"east longitudes in the Jalpaiguri Division of West Bengal. The inhabitants of the district are mostly comprised Rajbansi, Santal, Oran, Pahan, Munda and the Muslims. Apart from this among the zamindars and landlords mostly were Hindu businessmen coming from different districts. These people living on the low level of the society became impellent due to oppression of the colonial rulers and exploitation of the zamindars and landlords. During colonial oppression left political parties thrived in undived Dinajpur.]

The concept of Left Politics is a complex issue. India has the first Communist Party (CPI), second Communist Party (CPIM), and even the third Communist Party (CPIM-L) which is known as 'Communist Left'. Side by side with these the other Socialist Parties too began claiming to be leftist. But it would be logical to term them as 'Non-Communist Left'. According to Prof Debi Chatterjee, "From one communist party, first two, then three and now a multiplicity of communist parties and groups- all claim a 'left' status. Not only the Marxists, but also the socialists of different shades consider themselves as 'left'. There was a time in history when even the Congress, led by Indira Gandhi, was known as the 'left' Congress. While all these and many more claim 'left' status, many of them have difficulties in establishing their credentials before others. Thus one Marxist Party refuses to recognise another as 'left', and in fact, most go to the extent of considering itself and only itself as genuinely left". These left parties champion the cause of equality and social justice against undue social privileges. They believe in class struggle and keep away from caste or communal politics. They firmly believe in positive state action to protect the weaker sections of the society against the exploitative forces at every layer of life. They tend to be strong advocates of expanding public sector and planned economic development. In all spheres, left politics demands that citizens must enjoy equality in the eyes of law, basic human freedom, full trade union rights and liquidation of feudalism in the countryside.

Communist Party was first formed in 1920 at Taskhent in Russia and later at Kanpur in India in 1925. Thereafter, various Left Parties emerged. They were Congress Socialist Party (1934), Forward Bloc (1939), Revolutionary Socialist Party (1940), Socialist Unity Centre of India (1947), Socialist Party (1948), Praja Socialist Party (1952), Sanjukta Socialist Party (1964), Communist Party of India(M) 1964, Communist Party of India (M-L) 1969, Revolutionary Communist Party of India & Krishak Majdoor Praja Party. Right after the formation of these Left Parties their ideas spread in different parts of North Bengal especially in the districts of undivided Dinajpur. At first leftist ideas were bound within the town areas of this district. But later slowly they began to spread to villages.

During the colonial days among the leftist parties only Communist Party of India (CPI) spread its influence in different areas of Dinajpur. However, in the Balurghat Sub-division of this district Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) had its influence to some extent. In the Goalpokhar Thana area Forward Bloc had some influence and in Raiganj Thana area Socialist Party had some influence. From 1937 social movements tended to be leftist. For this the failure of Nishithnath Kundu, the undisputed leader of Dinajpur, to get ticket from Congress to participate in the Assembly Election was responsible. He later stood as an Independent Candidate and won with the active support of leftists and became MLA from Dinajpur. After this victory he used to draw attention to the deprivation of the people of Dinajpur in the Assembly. Side by side with this, prominent leftist leaders like Muzaffar Ahmed, Bankim Mukherjee. Panchugopal Bhaduri and Biswanath Mukherjee came to Dinajpur in 1938 to encourage the leftists.

Right before the independence and in the post-independence era the movements through which the leftists would extend their area of influence were Tebhaga Movement, Movement against Levy, movement against the eviction of bargadar, Bengal-Bihar Merger Movement, Food Movement, Peasant and Labour Movement, Teachers' Movement, Refugee Movement, Movement against Emergency etc. In these movements the participation of increasing number of leftists augmented the acceptability of leftism to peasants, labourers and common people. Consequently, the leftists began consolidating their position in the district of Dinajpur.

In the undivided Bengal in the Dinajpur district the immortal struggle of Tebhaga by the peasants was an important phase. From 1946 both Communist Party and Krishak Sabha called for a struggle of Tebhaga. In the month of October 1946 the District Committee of the Communist Party started agitation with three watchwords "harvest paddy for one's own granary, no adhis, we want tebhaga and no interest against borrowed paddy".

From 1953 the Krishak Sabha started protesting vehemently under the leadership of Communist Party when Levi system was imposed upon paddy crop cultivated by poor peasants. The Sabha started signature campaign from the masses and sent it to the then Chief Minister. The members of Krishak Sabha from such places as Balurghat, Patiram, Kantabari, Bikhahar, Itahar, Maharajahat, Bhatol, Bindol etc. of Dinajpur would organise mass movements successfully to make the protest tremendously fruitful.

In 1956 Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal and Sri Krishna Singh, the then Chief Minister of Bihar began endeavouring to unite both the states into one single whole. To protest against this effort the whole of Bengal rose up in unison. At that time Dinajpur District was not an exception too in this respect. Mainly in the Sub-division of Balurghat and Raiganj the movement became terribly powerful. In the Raiganj Sub-division in this movement Communist Party, Praja Socialist Party and other leftist parties took part with tremendous alacrity. At the District level anti-merger movement got the leadership of Dhiren Banerjee of RSP and Jamini Majumder of CPI. Especially the movement raging in the Raiganj Sub-division was influenced by the personality and fame of Nishitnath Kundu. At the call of agitators a day was observed as Arandhan. Many youth and students participated in this movement. From this time onwards the allied student-youth movement began acquiring a definite and permanent form in this District. Just after anti-merger movement of 1956, the election to the State Assembly of 1957 was held. In this election Dhiren Banerjee won the Balurghat Seat as a candidate of RSP. After this victory the leftists got the scope of consolidating their position with increasing power.

From 1959 to 1966 Bengal was in the terrific grip of food shortage. The food movement stirred every corner of Bengal. This historic Food Movement had socio-economic perspective. By utilizing different loopholes in the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, feudal lords began to keep their holdings intact by way of deluding the government. The Land which was redundant remained fallow for long time affecting total harvest. This meant that they had not to pay a huge amount of tax against the quantity of lands that they owned. Along with this the rate of agricultural growth also began to go down. The Government used to levy a quantity of tax on the husking mills. But the owners of these mills did not pay these taxes. According to Saibal Mitra, the student leader, the Food Movement took a tremendously violent turn because of the feudalistic agricultural politics of the Congress-led Government under the leadership of Prafulla Sen. Apart from this, a huge quantity of rice continued to be illegally passed over to the erstwhile East Pakistan in collusion with the police. Apart from this subsequent to the Indo-Pak War the prices of the essential commodities shot up beyond the reach of ordinary buyers. Police started lathi charge and firing on the agitators indiscriminately. This agitation snowballed gradually in Raiganj, Kaliaganj, Itahar, Balurghat etc. extensively. In this protest movement the leftists quickly formed the Food Campaign Committee, Committee for Resistance to Price Rise, or Committee for Resistance to Famine. These committees mainly aimed at lending solid support to the overall statewide leftist movement. Leaders like Manas Roy of Communist Party, Sukumar Guha of Forward Bloc, Mukul Bose & Dhiren Banerjee of RSP and the indomitable Nishitnath Kundu proclaimed the leadership in this movement.

The movements of the Teachers and Labourers were worth mentioning in the rapid and steady spread of the leftist influence in Dinajpur. From 1954 the Primary and Secondary Schools got the impulse of the huge waves of statewide leftist movement. Cease-work and fasting started at the initiative of All Bengal Teachers' Association (ABTA) on the issues of different demands of the teachers in Raiganj Sub-division. These were led by Sudhir Ghosh, Subir Dey, Binoy Biswas, Sabita Majumder, Puspa Chakraborty and others. In 1966 teachers of this Sub-division observed 27 days’ cease-work in all the schools under the leadership of ABTA. In the seventies in response to the call of West Bengal College and University Teachers' Association (WBCUTA), the teachers of Raiganj University College observed 20 days' cease-work. It deserves to be mentioned that in Dinajpur this had been the first movement by the College teachers. Side by side the teachers' movement the first labour strike started by the leftists in Dinajpur with the participation of the labourers of the North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC). Manas Roy and Janaranjan Chattopadhyay played a very important role that merits mention here in lending support effectively to this movement. ABTA made the labourers, employees and teachers organizations entirely movement-oriented. In 1967, Sahadeb Yadav and Shyam Chakraborty set up West Dinajpur Jute Bailing and Processing Workers' Union. During this time 12 July Committee too extended its sphere of influence by opening a branch in Dinajpur. The time under discussion had noticed that all movements more or less were led by the collective directions given by the 12 July Committee.

The year 1967 was significant in the history of West Bengal. It was in this year the leftists came to occupy the corridor of power for a brief period of time. The veteran CPIM leader Mr Jyoti Basu took oath as Deputy Chief Minister in the Ministry of Mr Ajoy Mukherjee. From Dinajpur Mr Nishitnath Kundu was picked up to become Minister for Relief and Cooperatives. Meanwhile the Naxalites began to move the government in their own style and then established itself within a very short period of time. The Naxalites although stuck to the armed aggression on the constitutional Government but could not prove their durability in the teeth of official resistance of the Indian State. Meanwhile Governor Dharamveer dismantled the United Front Ministry on 21st November in 1967. This entailed a long and sustained protest movements of the leftists, started to burst out everywhere in West Bengal. In Dinajpur too these movements spread far and aside.

The time spreading from 1972 to 1977 was really propitious for the leftist movement. Following on the heels of the Bangladesh Republic coming into being under the leadership of Seikh Mojibur Rahaman numberless refugees took shelter in the three Sub-divisions of Dinajpur i.e. Balurghat, Raiganj and Islampur. The leftist parties extended their helping hands to all these refugees. Many of Congress Party came out to help the refugees. The later years many of these refugees inclined to leftism. But then to call meetings and set up associations were next to impossible during 1972-1977. Despite the Government's repression, however, the leftists did not stop from reaching different remote parts of this District with their progressive cultural message. Fortunately for the struggling leftists all these efforts resulted ultimately in their massive victory in 1977 in the Assembly Election.

Vol. 47, No.9, Sep 7 - 13, 2014