‘Naxalbari 50’

Tale of a Roving Rebel

I Mallikarjuna Sharma

It was in 1967-69, when I was a student in Regional Engineering College, Warangal, AP, that I was attracted towards the communist extremist movement and in course became a staunch activist. In those days it was more fervor bordering on high fever than cautious and broad study and analytical reasoning—more of an emotional and romantic attachment to the ideal of socialism which could free all sorts of fetters and create a new society, etc. First in Marxist Party which split away from the CPI, soon we began to support the Naxalbari movement and its consequent developments. Sri K G Satyamurthy was our local leader—he was a close associate of Kondapalli Sitaramaiah (KS), a sort of father figure for the naxalite movement, especially the Maoist party, in Andhra Pradesh, but later estranged.

Theoretically, we were as good or as bad as the communist fighters at the time of Telangana peasant armed struggle and almost had a blind faith in their theoretical and practical achievements and were furious at the supposed betrayal of that armed struggle by the leadership of the CPI as well as CPM which was then heading a united party. Just like in those Ranadive Line influenced times we saw India as still dependent, a semi-colonial country in which the comprador bourgeoisie together with the feudal classes was calling the shots. We called it a semi-colonial and semi-feudal state and I don't know whether many or some of the naxalite groups still stick to this characterization but think they still cling to some sort of neocolonial characterization of Indian State.

Well, I was active for about a decade [1969-78] inside and outside jails in the naxalite movement. What I recollect and think necessary to mention is this much that we roamed the countryside more like roving rebel bands or singly as organizers on the run and searching for shelter and food—most of the time. That was the initial years of the spread of naxalite movement in Telangana, as I worked mostly in this region, and except for militants in the lower-level leadership and cadres of the established communist parties, we didn't have any erstwhile top level leaders in the Telangana rural areas. We have undergone much suffering to simply exist in the countryside but there was a lot of goodwill for us among the poor people irrespective of caste divisions but more so in the harijan houses—in the madiga and mala gudems (hamlets). Well, we rarely thought on caste lines or even did not bother to enquire about the caste rivalries or oppression and problems they had if any. We would stress only on economic and political aspects in our high flown theoretical, converted to the extent possible practical, wording and naturally they would respond in a like vein and only vent out their economic and political grievances.

In those days Ambedkar was completely absent both in our thinking, theorizations and lectures and in the memory or knowledge of the people, even of the harijans—later came to be called dalits. Nobody knew about him and we knew very little—that too as an anti-communist British loyalist politician. Since we derided and called for the overthrow of the regime and trashing the entire constitution lock, stock and barrel that does not seem any strange now.

My achievement was connecting to some scores of villages hitherto largely not entered by any militant communists, and propagating there on our revolutionary class enemy annihilation line and also starting the armed struggle—in fact sporadic actions called armed struggle—in a district. Later generations of youths and sympathizers must have certainly benefited from the initial contributions made by me and others in that district. Naturally in that craze for class enemy annihilation line, we forgot to build or just didn't think of building any mass movements.

Well, I had been arrested thrice under different periods and on coming out the first two times I plunged again into the 'active movement' but the third time I took a sort of retirement or better to say I quit the ML line totally. I have been acquitted in all the cases foisted against me except one escape-from-police-custody case in which strangely I was awarded one of the maximum punishments for one-year RI as I refused to defend myself and boycotted the Court as per the then party policy of no confidence/reliance on bourgeois courts. Later when the party line changed I was specifically directed by a secret message to engage counsel and that's how my one-year imprisonment was reduced to the period already undergone, on my appeal.

In jail third time, I was pioneering indefinite hunger strikes of political prisoners (in Telangana) and am informed—to this day hold the record of the longest hunger strike in Telangana Jails by a political prisoner. That fetched us naxalite prisoners a separate barrack and a separate kitchen of our own and even some ordinary convict aides to assist in the kitchen. From that day we naxalite prisoners in jail and the later coming batches enjoyed a 'privileged status' and could engage in good dinners and endless discussions and also some 'say' in many things going on in jail. We would call many prisoners and interview them to analyze their situation and conditions and the crime mentalities etc.

I should say we found 90% of the convictions to be sound and cases not faked. Ideological and theoretical differences were galore in our barrack or barracks after the number increased. I was concentrating on studies and translation of Marx Capital abridged edition into Telugu, which I could publish some years after my coming out [on behalf of Marxist Study Forum in September 1982]. When the Central Organizing Committee was formed, I welcomed it—that was just before or some months before the historic 1977 Elections I think. Already in the period when I was underground for the longest time—1970-73—rethinking started in leaders and cadres of the M-L party here in Andhra Pradesh and Kondapalli Sitaramaiah should be given credit for encouraging it. From May 1973 to April 1978 I was in jails—mainly in the Musheerabad District Jail [which is now demolished and a government super-specialty type Gandhi Hospital is (shifted to and) constructed in those premises now]. I was made Accused No. 1 in S.C. 10 of 1975 in the Sessions Court, Hyderabad—commonly called the SECUNDERABAD CONSPIRACY CASE—along with KS, SM (absconding then: so they were separated and not cited in SC 10 of 1975 first. So I became Accused No. 1), and Barla Yadagiri Raju (now no more), Linga Vijayakumar, et al and more famously the revolutionary writers VARAVARA RAO, M T KHAN, CHERABANDA RAJU et al. Those days coming and going to court was a sort of cynosure to both us under-trial accused as also to our visitors. We would sing revolutionary songs, Cherabanda Raju would also begin singing many times, and even give slogans inside the courts despite protests from the judges. Normally no action would be taken for this 'contempt' and 'defiance' but in emergency things changed. They began to foist cases under criminal law amendment for giving out slogans and that decreased the number of slogan raising comrades. However, I continued till last—even giving slogans in the court trying such cases! Finally, the police also got fed up and did not foist any more cases. Needless to say, all these petty cases came to nothing against us.

One interesting thing I remember here. On the advice of Kannabiran, who selflessly and untiringly stood in our defence gratis and even used to sometimes help us out [for tea etc.] and, prior to him, courtesy Sri Pattipati Venkateswarlu, another stalwart civil rights advocate who also defended us free, but also sometimes due to fertile ideas in my brain, I used to shoot petitions to the High Court from the jail. One such petition complaining about our ill-treatment in jails came up before a bench of the High Court consisting of late Justice Sri Avula Sambasiva Rao and another and I was called to appear. In those days I was treated as a dangerous prisoner [as I had escaped from police custody, in fact while in judicial custody, once] and one entire van with one CI, an SI and some 5-6 armed policemen would escort me. On that particular day Venkaiah Naidu, now Vice-President of India, had also some case in the High Court and there was paucity of escort police and so arrangement was made that both of us would be taken in the same van. I can't say whether it is 'my' van he boarded, or 'his' van I boarded, but both were taken together. He was ABVP detainee and I was CPI-ML Charu Mazumdar group activist—bitter ideological rivals. However, we had some friendly or non-rancorous chat. At last when getting down the van in the High Court premises I started my usual slogan raising. Venkaiah Naidu admonished me saying we should not give slogans here. I just didn't care and told him so and that I would give slogans inside the Court also. So when I was taken into the Court I gave slogans in presence of Avula Sambasiva Rao and another judge for a while and then kept quiet. The proceedings started, I was asked some questions and I answered per my wit and finally the petition was dismissed.

Emergency left another tragic event and memory. Before my long hunger strike succeeding and we being allotted a separate barrack I was kept in the 'condemned cells' i.e. in the cells reserved for death row prisoners, fettered by an iron kada in a leg as punishment for my having escaped from judicial custody earlier which was removed after some months, and Kishta Goud and Bhoomaiah were my neighbours. For months together we had amicable and friendly interaction and they were so affectionate towards me. They were basically village militants with basic class hatred and communist sympathies and some practical work experience and at trial court stage their defence seems not to have been properly conducted and they were sentenced to death as ordinary murderers—though some talk about their communist antics and reference to the emergence of unruly naxalite movement was there in the judgment, especially of the trial court, that was not ample and they were never treated as naxalite political convicts by the judge or the courts at that time. The same was confirmed in the High Court also—by a bench comprising of Justice Sri Avula Sambasiva Rao and Justice Sri Ramachandra Raju vide judgment (delivered by Ramachandra Raju J) in Referred Trial No. 2 of 72 together with Criminal Appeals Nos. 66, 68 and 70 of 1972 by G. Kishta Goud, Jangam Bhumaiah and Mekala Chandraiah respectively—on 03-04-1972, despite they being defended by prominent counsel—Sri Ravi Subba Rao and Pattipati Venkateswarlu—and the concluding words in the judgment were "…the accused wanted to kill the deceased without making much of a noise to avoid the attention of other people in the vicinity. Simply because without using the guns they killed the deceased with knives it is not possible to reject the prosecution on that ground alone. …The guilt of accused Nos. 1 [Kishta Goud] and 2 [Jangam Bhumaiah] for killing the deceased, Bodkunta Malliah, is amply established by the direct evidence… and other circumstantial evidence… Coming to sentences, by a separate judgment rendered by us in R.T. No. 3 of 1972 and Crl. A. Nos. 67, 69 and 71 if 1972 today we found the accused Nos. 1 and 2 were also responsible for killing the other person, Lachu Patel on the same day earlier to the killing of the deceased in this case. There is no direct enmity between accused Nos. 1 and 2 and the deceased, Bodikunta Malliah. They killed him at others' request as if they were professionals. They acted like hardened and notorious criminals who believe in violence only. After giving our anxious thought to the matter, we have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the ends of justice amply require the capital punishment awarded to accused Nos. 1 and 2 by the lower Court. We accordingly confirm the convictions of the accused Nos. 1 and 2 under section 302 read with section 34 I.P.C. and the death sentence awarded by the lower court to them." Unfortunately their petitions for grant of special leave to appeal to the Supreme Court were also rejected on 13-12-1972 and, as such, the High Court verdict of confirmation of their death sentences attained finality, ultimately leading to their execution.

This was really a very tragic memory when all of us in jail could do nothing but shout slogans and mourn their executions. Maybe we kept a day or two of fasts also in condolence and mourning for them.

Now to go back to my ideological, theoretical and practical differences which made me split from the party (CPI-ML Charu Majumdar group) and remain independent and work independently in my own sphere and to my own taste to this day—mainly in literary, academic, journalistic fields and in the civil liberties movement and as a lawyer.

As I told in the beginning it is more the fervor than any good study and analysis that made me and many like me plunge into the movement. Later with our own experiences fully negating our hopes and dreams, our initial reading of the society and the possible course of changing it, many of us became disappointed and many left the political field altogether and some even became pro-capitalist. As for me the real vexation, as far as I remember, began with the glorification of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the thoughts of Mao. No doubt I was and to this day an admirer of Mao in some spheres, but I could not gulp all that cult of personality they were making around him. I thought something should be really wrong in all this—especially when reading Marx and Engels and their clarification that they cared nothing for name and fame and they were no 'respecters of person'. Secondly, with Emergency clamped and the various parties and groups resisting that and some even rival parties coming together in that process and then suddenly the compulsion forcing Indira Gandhi to declare elections also changed my thinking. Perhaps we were too dogmatic and sectarian in deriding the parliamentary processes, I thought. Of course, as I told above, even outside the jails during 1972-73, I lost my belief, interest and insisting attitude on class enemy annihilation policy, and then on Charu thought which was also being canvassed by some diehard Charu admirers—mainly thanks to the illuminating talks and discussions with Kondapalli Sitaramaiah, though those would be occasional and not very lengthy in those underground periods. I thought and still feel that he was the most realistic among the lot. Were he given the choice he would not even have taken all of us to that whirlpool of armed actions without preparation and out of frenzy, but then he was also blinded by the deceptive lights and shows of successful revolution predicted and depicted by the more fervent protagonists of the ML party. And in the end he too became senile and dogged, unfortunately, and alienated his own party or major sections of the party which revered him so much. To this day I think that the party respects him much for the contributions he made in changing its entire course and guiding it toward mass organization and mass movements and then steering its armed struggle without losing touch with the masses.

However, I was skeptical even then about KS (as we called Kondapalli Sitaramaiah in short) dispensed anti-imperialist and war scenario thoughts and theories. He would say we were almost in a third world war or should think and be prepared to face situation in that perspective and China alone is the center and leader of world revolution in that scenario and he was quite bitter about Soviet social imperialism etc. I had my own doubts even then.

I came to conclusion independently that what all we were doing was sporadic actions and parading them as armed struggle but we were literally far from the masses. It would be better to recognize the reality and work for real organization of masses in all spheres. Unexpectedly and pleasantly for my thinking, Kondapalli Sitaramaiah again came to my rescue ideologically and theoretically, and also to the rescue of his own party, I am saying his own though it was also technically mine too because I was by then decided at heart that "I have to leave this party". Having been arrested at Nagpur and brought back to Hyderabad he suddenly declared that in the changed circumstances he was suspending [i.e. he was for suspension of] the armed struggle.

What a sacrilege among the die-hard protagonists of "armed struggle at any cost and to the end" and 'will shift the gun from one shoulder to the other, but never fling it down' shouters. SM was the typical protagonist and representative of this left sectarianism at that time and we had quarrels in the jail with that, with I and some others in a poor minority! Later on, after his release, and change to an anti-KS and sometimes even anti- ML line, SM would say to me in brief sorry for the past and promise to cooperate but that never materialized. He bogged down in more casteist oriented muddle and then joined some other ML groups to finally come to nothing. He was a very good poet though and were he to concentrate on poetry he would have become the most talented and popular Telugu progressive poet. But SM was mainly a dreamer far removed from the stark realities of life and society, and could not even analyze them properly. It was remarkable KS had struck down the antics of SM in one sentence: "SM never remembered or talked of caste or caste discrimination when in party all these years"!

I came to the conclusion independently that we should not ape the Russians, Chinese or even Vietnamese and the Cubans and strive for our own analyses and framing of right policies. I had occasions to discuss with Sitaramaiah while in jail but I pointed out to him that though he was correct in calling for suspension of armed struggle and concentrating on mass associations and mass struggles, "you were too hasty and also not so intelligent as Satyanarayan Singh or Chandra Pulla Reddy who were also carrying out an armed struggle against the government but in a different manner [and in those days more efficiently than us]." KS was surprised and perplexed. He asked me how and why? I told him Satyanarayan Singh did not say anything about continuing or stopping armed struggle, etc. He met Charan Singh, the Union Home Minister, and just said "we too would participate in democratic processes"—that's all. With that declaration, he was taking his party and supporters in the main to the parliamentary field also without alienating those among it who might press for 'continuation of armed struggle' etc. Comparatively, you [KS] have alienated a good many cadres by sudden declaration of suspension of armed struggle, and I asked him—"Where is the armed struggle we are conducting, except for some sporadic actions here and there? You could also have followed his [SN Singh's] suit and look now Rawoof group is totally alienated and quite bitter, is that necessary?" Then he thoughtfully mumbled, "no Sharma, one has to be frank with the cadres and only a shocking revelation and decision would wake them up," etc. I was not that convinced.

Second most important thing was participation in elections. This is the most detestable thing in traditional [fanatic] Marxist-Leninist perspective and policies. They would never countenance it come what may. Here KS had to bow down to his cadres and colleagues. They would say : "This far but no further!" "No participation in elections at any cost"—I was bitterly against this boycottism. I said Lenin participated and worked in far less democratic, more tyrannical regimes and in the more constrained Dumas. Actually even before KS was brought to Musheerabad Jail, I think even before his arrest, in my polemical course with SM and his group in the jail, I had given a statement in the Court—those days we would use courts to give out our political statements now and then—supporting participation in elections and decrying boycottism which was somewhat prominently published in a Telugu organ of the Chandra Pulla Reddy group. In those days offers came to KS to contest from three constituencies in Andhra Pradesh and if he contested he would have won hands down even! One from Luxettipet, Adilabad district, where he organized the peasant movement after going there as a settler doing agriculture, and converted it into revolutionary lines. It was said, J V Narsing Rao, a prominent Congress leader of the region was quite afraid that if KS contests, their candidate would surely be out. The second came from Gudivada, Krishna district, a sort of native region of KS and there too he had certain prospects of success. The third I don't remember now. But in all the three he had bright chances and in any of those he would have been elected to Assembly and I felt even if he were one among the three hundred in the Assembly he would be a great asset to our party and struggling comrades and would be able to fetch relief to most of them and then work out the mass line of the party more successfully. But this could not be—KS himself thoughtfully listened to my tirade but said in the end crisply, "Sharma, this party would never agree to and I cannot take this course." But to this day I feel, perhaps if he insisted, he could have convinced his party cadres and other leaders in the end.

KS asked me to come back into the party fold as before now that he has come and he would control any antics of SM (this is what he meant if not said in so many words). But I asked him would he be able to circulate my documents with basic differences—that I oppose the Chinese or Russian lines or their being centres of revolution theories, that I don't subscribe to and oppose any glorification of Mao let alone Charu Mazumdar or Lin Piao, etc., would he circulate my documents opposing the party analyses of the Indian State being semi-feudal semi-colonial and Indian bourgeoisie being comprador? He mumbled incoherently, "you come and let us work together." But somehow I was not convinced and said "no comrade, I will be a friend outside the organization and work for communist unity and also strengthening and promotion of civil liberties movement." I even offered to formally resign from the party. Then he made a shocking revelation: "Why are you talking of resignation? To my knowledge, there is no practice of resignation in our party. If you do that, the party would have to expel you etc and why all that bad blood? After all, you are so honest and frank and unlike others who went away from the party and doing all mudslinging now. OK. You work for communist unity and civil liberties movement—not only my personal support, but I will see to it that the party also supports you in this endeavor." Finally I told him: "So far so good. You have at least brought the party out of the mire now. But beware unless a serious and eye opening inner party discussion is conducted in many installments and cadres are taught to respect differences of opinion etc you will not succeed in the end. Now all are praising you but tomorrow many of them may abuse you even." Especially I warned him against the dreamy and fanatic SM who was telling to the cadres that suspension of armed struggle was just for some months—quite tactical—and within months they would again take up guns while KS was saying they should be prepared to lie low and organize masses for a long period, etc. That was my last meeting with KS in jail, though later I had occasion to meet him and call him to speak at a meeting—the first public meeting of his after his release in Vijayawada arranged by me to release a book edited by me and published through me under the banner of Marxist Study Forum—"Remembering our Revolutionaries" by Prof Satyabrata Ghosh.

It was KS who arranged for my surety even and I got released on bail in April 1978 or so [Of course, by 1975-76, I was free from all cases except the Secunderabad Conspiracy Case, the last case against me, and in 1989, I was acquitted in it also] and from that day mainly working in literary, theoretical and journalistic fields and in the civil rights movement and also as a lawyer practicing in High Court, Hyderabad, with my own understanding and analyses on the ideologies of socialism and of the current political and social conditions all over the world—often as a loner.

Vol. 50, No.30, Jan 28 - Feb 03, 2017