Review Article

Portrait of People's Struggles

Anirban Biswas

Sailen Misra, a well-known Naxalite organizer of the district of Birbhum, West Bengal, has recently written two books on the basis of his experience of the movement. The first one bears the title Jyotsna Rater Sattar Dashak (The Seventies of the Moonlit Night). The volume under review, Naxal Andolan, Manusher Bhumika (The Naxalite Movement–Role of the People) published by Gangchil, Kolkata, April 2017, 112 pages, Price : Rs 250, Hardbound) is the sequel to it. The first volume has concentrated on the turbulent period of 1969-71, and truthfully described the pros and cons of the movement as it was conducted in Birbhum and adjacent areas. In this book, Misra has described many events and laid bare many episodes of coldblooded killings by the police. While going through it, this reviewer was particularly struck by the role, as described by Misra, of a police officer who, as the then S P of Birbhum, was a ruthlessly active participant in this process of extra-judicial killings and physical torture in police custody. This point is noteworthy because this officer later denied having any role in this process of state violence and even wrote a book on the Nxalite Movement( published by a famous publishing house of Kolkata), pretending as an 'outsider'. There is no doubt that such officers deserve to be treated with hatred for their mendacity, if not for anything else. Any sensible law-abiding citizen should agree that such officers should have been tried for murder, attempt to murder etc under the Indian Penal Code and punished as a criminal.

The smaller volume, which is reviewed here, protrays a number of incidents covering a rather longer period (1971-1988). In the beginning, the author has provided a list of 'actions', which clearly shows that left adventurism, leading to the failure to distinguish between potential friends and enemies, had come to dominate the movement and harmful consequences followed. According to Misra, the reasons for the disaster were( a) reliance on the so-called line of annihilation, which, after some preliminary success, finally resulted in alienation from the masses; (b) lack of a suitable agrarian programme, owing to which the peasants under Naxalite influence were at a loss about what to do; (c) practical non-use of the captured guns and rifles, (d) failure to distinguish between the plains and hilly regions, (e) walking on one leg rather than on two legs. This assessment is in general agreeable. Regrettably enough, the broken and debilitated movement is yet to find its feet even after a lapse of so many years.

The book presents many interesting episodes. One is that of the role of women, particularly mothers who intelligently managed to hide activists from the police and the military on many occasions. The author has also portrayed the courage of various sorts of people who braved the murderous eyes of the police and the para-military. Among other stories described, an interesting one is that of twisting the ears of one unscrupulous physician by some young men, and Professor Asok Rudra's comment on this event in a Bengali daily. Professor Asok Rudra, it may be mentioned en passant, was an economist and statistician of all-India fame. The author's description of the killing of four persons at Muluk is soul-stirring. A spontaneous and successful bandh was organised in the Bolpur-Santiniketan area at the call of the Naxalites, who unitedly stood against it, in protest against this barbaric act that took place at a village Muluk near Bolpur on 18 November, 1987. After a protracted legal process that lingered for about 22 years, 46 persons were sentenced to life imprisonment, and while on bail, the majority of them shifted their loyalty from the CPI(M) to the Trinamul Congress, but this has been scarcely enough to save them. This event is a poignant pointer to the fact that miscreants generally prefer the shelter of the ruling party and often succeed in obtaining it.

There are many other interesting narratives, including a case of dialogue with some lower level police employees during the turbulent period of 1971 and the question it provoked in the Misra's mind. Taken as a whole, this reviewer has little hesitation in asking all socially sensitive Bengali-speaking readers to read this book. The descriptions, above all, are truthful, not aimed at conscious and exaggerated self-propaganda. This is perhaps what mainly distinguishes it from many other memoirs of this type.

Finally, one word for the publlisher. The book is small in volume and the price may seem a bit stiff to many. A paperback edition may well enable him to lower the price, bring it within easy reach of the common reader.

Naxal Andolan–Manusher Bhumika,
by Sailen Misra,
Gungchil, Kolkata, April 2017,
112 pages, Price Rs 250
(Hard bound)

Vol. 50, No.20, Nov 19 - 25, 2017