‘Naxalbari 50’

‘India Waits’

Jan Myrdal

This book (India Waits) was published in English by Sangam Books in Hyderabad, 1984. The additional chapter was writen for the edition by Lake View Press in Chicago 1986. (There was a Tamil translation in 2001). At that time it reached a large audience both in India and in different countries around the earth. I felt that the years the writing had taken had not been in vain when I then read what an eminent social activist in the anti-imperialist struggle like Samir Amin wrote :
“Many good books have been written on India. But no one offers such a convincing synthesis of the political and cultural dimensions of its modern history. Beyond the political and cultural analysis, this book offers the deepest insights into Indian society and finally explains the reasons for which India failed to find its own way out of underdevelopment.”

But also a foremost Indian novelist and respected public figure like Khuswant Singh reacted to the book in the same way:
“India Waits is a most disturbing book/.../a blasting indictment of our administration, our leaders, our police, our jails, corruption, poverty and our helplessness to do anything about them. They see ‘darkness in every home, tears in every eye. They ask, ‘To whom does power belong? To whom happiness? For whom is the land milked? So that some starve while others reap bounty?’ "

The 1984 Sangam Books edition ended with the words:
“On our way down from the camp in ther Eastern Ghats, a middle aged man approaches us as we are taking a break by the Godavari River. He is a bamboo-cutter of the Koya tribe and is almost entirely naked, he wears only a goji, a scant loin-cloth. He laughs and opens wide his arms. He is wiry and strong.

‘Lal salam! he says. ‘Revolutionary greetings! The world is ours!’"

In 2017, this fiftieth year after the Naxalite Spring Thunder I am not alone in considering the text worth a re-edition to serve a new generation of readers. It can be seen as the first volume of a two volume book on India. The second volume, the continuation, is Red Star over India. As the Wretched of the Earth are Rising. Impressions, Reflections
and Preliminary Inferences. (Setu Prakashani 2012).

From these volumes it is evident that what is after the Naxalbari action in March 1967 called the Naxalite movement was and is a movement of not only Indian but world importance. But I am not an Indian. Some sixty years ago when Gun Kessle and I discussed the question we decided not to apply for Indian citizenship. National identity is not just a garment to be discarded. But as a corollary to that insight is what I then wrote on tactical and strategic differences among Naxalites here in India Waits (page xxx):
“As a foreigner I have no right to say who is correct and who is not. That is for the Indian masses to decide. Under the cloak of anti-imperialist solidarity, many Europeans and North Americans go around telling third world revolutionaries what to do and what not to do. That is as colonial as the British communists directing communist activity in India.”

But of course it is important to understand the background to this book. It was during the monsoon, on the morning of the fourteenth of September 1958, that we, my life companion, the artist and photographer Gun Kessle and I, left Lahore on the Grand Trunk Road driving towards Wagha. There, at Attari Road, we entered India. We had then been driving our small 2CV Citroen in Asia towards India for seven months. Driving over Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reporting back to mainly left-wing magazines in Sweden. When we entered India we thought that we were going to write a book on India. But when we four years later, on the fifth of April 1962, flew from Palam airport in Delhi towards Hongkong and the People’s Republic of China there were many pages that had been written but there was not any book. On India you either write after a fortnight or as in this case it takes nearly a generation.

The book India Waits was then twenty-two years after first coming to India written after many journeys from 1965 to and through India. Specifically after the one during the winter 1979-1980 not only with Gun Kessle but also with my daughter Eva Myrdal (now senior researcher at the Stockholm “Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities”).

My own background is of course important for what I saw and wrote on India. I grew up in Sweden (and the United States) during the anti-fascist struggle in the thirties. I began by entering the “Young Eagles”, the social-democratic children's organisation, at ten and then became a communist during the early years of WWII. I entered the Young Communist League of Sweden early in 1943. Then I began as a cub reporter on a provincial Social-Democratic daily in 1944. Lived and worked in Europe, East and West. Many of my books are available in English (check for instance through Amazon or such a service). Two works that have been internationally important are on the literary side “Confessions of a Disloyal European” from 1967 (of which there is a Bengali edition) and politically and sociologically “Report from a Chinese Village” 1963.

Important to note is that I am since 1965 what the then chairman of the Swedish Communist Party C. H Hermansson (a  friend from 1943) said when he introduced me to the party conference in Stockholm 1965: “The non-party communist Jan Myrdal”. That is to say that I for good reasons left my membership of that party 1965 but not as a renegade. I have continued my work as a non-party Communist.

There were three major reasons for my decision.

The Swedish party, like other “Western” and officially communist parties had at that time step by step shown itself unable to follow Lenin as the colonial and dependent countries struggled against colonialism. (In 1955 - 1956 living in France, the vaccilations of the French party when it came to the independence of Algeria deeply shocked me.) These officially communist parties had, for material reasons that Marx and Engels in the Nineteenth and Lenin in the Twentieth century analyzed, in fact sunk to the level of serving as “labour” support of pro-imperial colonial policies.

The Soviet Union and the officially “reality socialist” states were undergoing deep internal struggles and changes. But the officially communist parties were unable to see, let alone analyze these struggles.

The Swedish communist party had become an appendage of the ruling Social Democratic Party (like at that time the Communist Party of India to the Congress party).

I am still a “non party Communist” What was happening to both the reigning parties of the “reality socialist” block and those trailing them in different capitalist countries is like what happened to the large and dominant German Social Democratic party 1914. They were like fish abandoned in the sun, they started rotting from the head. But writing this it is important not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Take an example! My view of India was during my early youth in WWII formed by the “India Today” by R Palme Dutt that my parents had received from friends in Great Britain. (In my father’s library there was also his “Das Moderne Indien” from 1928). I write this because even if I later changed my view of some parts of what he wrote there (on 1857 for instance) and despite that we politically after 1960 came to stand in diffferent camps I consider his texts are of great and enduring importance.

Many friends and communists from India have during the last seventy years helped me to better understand India. I am grateful
to them and have with respect mentioned their names in different texts. But one special name I will write here as he not only has been a helpful friend but that his fate is a horrible example of how intellectual dissent can be treated in present day India.

The name is Professor G N Saibaba.

I quote from Indian Express 7 March 2017:
“A district court in Gadchiroli Tuesday sentenced wheelchair-bound Delhi University professor G N Saibaba and four others to life imprisonment under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the IPC for aiding and abetting Naxal activities. A sixth convict was handed 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

Delivering the judgment in a packed court, Principal District and Sessions Judge S S Shinde said, ‘‘Merely because Saibaba is 90 percent disabled is no ground to show him leniency... he is physically handicapped but he is mentally fit, a thinktank and a high-profile leader of banned organisations.”

People in India who buy a book like this will know about this scandalous verdict. But they will also know that if he had been high caste and/or well connected he would not so easily have been jailed on a trumped up case even though he had been red and "left." The fate of professor G N Saibaba is also an expression of a specifically Indian repression.

For me he was not only a friend who had been here in Varberg for the celebration when the “Jan Myrdal Society” awarded its literary prize, “the Lenin Prize” but also by inviting me to lecture on August Strindberg in Delhi made it possible for me to get the Swedish state travel grant for spreading Swedish culture that practically enabled me to follow the invitation that had reached me from the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and travel to visit and discuss with them in Chattisgarh.   

[This is the ‘introduction 2017’ of Jan Myrdal’s new edition of India Waits to be published shortly by Setu]

Vol. 49, No.50, Jun 18 - 24, 2017