Remembering Naxalbari

This is the 49th year of the Naxalbari uprising. On 25 May in the year 1967, the police fired on a procession of peasant women, killing seven on the spot. Naxalbari is a mouja in the phansidewa thana area of the district of Darjeeling. A few days before the shooting down of the peasant women, a clash between the police and the agitating peasants, who had raised the slogan of 'land to the tillars', took place and a police inspector named Wangdi was killed. The movement started under the banner of the Siliguri subdivisional branch of the CPI(M)-led Kishan Sabha, then led, among others, by Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santal and Khokan Majumdar. The uprising created quite a stir all over India, and the then Communist Party of China hailed it in an article entitled ‘Spring Thunder Over India’ in its 'People's Daily'. The CPI(M) leadership after some hesitation, decried the movement, and expelled its leaders from the party. In the CPI(M)'s weekly organ, Deshhitaishi, articles were written supporting the uprising., and the then editor of the weekly Sushital Raychaudhuri, who died in 1971 while in the underground, was expelled along with his colleagues associated with the weekly. The impact of ‘Naxalbari’ on the leftist students' movement in Kolkata as well as in North Bengal was dramatic. A large number of student activists, notably Saibal Mitra, Ashim Chatterjee, Azizul Hauque, Timir Basu, Dipanjan Roychowdhury, Nirmal Brahmachari, Dilip Charan Chakravorty, Subhas Ganguly, Kishan Chatterjee came out in support of the uprising. Some important trade union leaders, e.g. Parimal Dasgupta, Asit Sen and Satyananda Bhattacharya, revolted and were expelled from the party. A committee named Naxalbari Krishak Sangram Sahayak Samity was formed. It organised a public meeting in the Shaheed Minar, Kolkata, which was addressed by Sushital Raychaudhuri, Parimal Dasgupta, Satya Narayn Sinha, Siv Kumar Misra, Utpal Datta etc. In Andhra Pradesh, three important leaders of the CPI(M), Nagi Reddy, Chandra Pulla Reddy (Both Nagi Reddy and Chandra Pulla Reddy died fugitives subsequently) and D Venkateswara Rao left the CPI(M) in support of the uprising with a large following. They in general branded the CPI(M) leadership as 'revisionist'. Thereafter the CPI(M-L) was formed under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, and at a mammoth rally held in the Shaheed Minar, Kanu Sanyal announced the formation of the new party. But important figures like Nagi Reddy, C P Reddy, Asit Sen, Parimal Dasgupta etc remained outside it.

The history of the following years, that of attempts at armed struggles, state repression, divisions, splits, splits within splits, setbacks, attempts at reconstruction etc, is well-known, and has been dwelt upon by many analysts and commentators. What is, however, less discussed is whether the issues thrown up by the Naxalbari struggle are as yet relevant, and if at all, how far. The main body of the movement believed in the Chinese path and raised the slogan of 'land to the tiller'. It cannot be gainsaid that this issue has lost much of its relevance over time, because the incidence of extra-economic surplus extraction from land has declined significantly with the phenomenal rise in the number of agricultural wage-labourers. And it is well-nigh impossible to build up an uprising on the land question. It may be surmised that later land reforms were in many ways a response by various governments to the challenge thrown up by Naxalites and their struggles in the countryside. The Naxalite movement of those years did not, however, touch the caste question and did not take into account the fact that possession of large amounts of land was not always a monopoly of the upper castes, and that upper caste domination could take other processes as well. The caste, identity and nationality questions were not treated independently, but clubbed together under the head 'class struggle'. The second point is that imperialist penetration in Indian agriculture had by then begun, thanks to the 'Green Revolution'. This penetration has now reached monstrous proportions and generated new crises. Yet what happened in Naxalbari helped politicalise the people and nothing remained the same after that.

Vol. 48, No. 48, Jun 5 - 11, 2016