‘Naxalbari 50’

‘Naxalbari’ means Resistance

Nirmal Brahmachari

The fiftieth anniversary of Naxalbari peasant uprising that took place in May 1967 has been observed recently. It was an upsurge of peasants against exploitation and oppression by landlords and their protectors—the police and the bureaucracy. When the uprising took place, a United Front Government with the CPI(M) as the major constituent was ruling in West Bengal. It came to power following an unprecedented defeat of the Congress in the assembly polls. The Congress almost monopolised power in all states as well as the centre after the transfer of power in 1947. The fifties and early sixties saw growing influence of the Communist Party of India. In the wake of the border conflict with China in late 1962, a large number of CPI leaders and activists were branded as agents of the Chinese and put behind bars. One section of the CPI led by S A Dange, however, supported the Government. The former section founded the CPI(M) in 1964. The situation in the country worsened in the period 1964-66 because of massive corruption, exploitation and poverty. But the people did not meekly accept their suffering and started to fight. Under the pressure of strong people's movements, the government was forced to release the political prisoners. Coming out of prison, they joined those who had already managed to form an underground communist party despite terrible repression. This party grew to be named the CPI(M) later on.

But in 1965, the Government again unleashed a wave of repression, imprisoning all the known activists of the CPIM). But the food crisis led to spontaneous outbursts of grievances. The then Congress government of West Bengal tried to quell the disturbances by repression, including police firing and arrests, while refraining from punishing blackmarketeers and hoarders whose unscrupulous business dealings were mainly responsible for the crisis. But the people's movement continued. Indira Gandhi, the new Prime Minister, was forced to hold a formal meeting with Jyoti Basu, the most well-known leader of the opposition, who was released from Presidency Jail and taken to Delhi by air. The opposition leaders were released and the assembly elections were held in February 1967. After the elections, West Bengal saw the formation of the first non-Congress government with breakaway Congressman Ajay Mukherjee as the Chief Minister and Jyoti Basu as the Deputy Chief. It was hoped that a new regime that would promote revolutionary struggles would soon come into being. In this situation the Naxalbari peasant struggle flared up in a remote rural area of North Bengal under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santal, Khokan Majumdar etc who were members of the CPI(M). The ruling United Front Government, of which the CPI(M) was a major constituent, opposed the struggle by resorting to police firing, which killed seven women. The CPI(M) leadership expelled those who supported the Naxalbari struggle and even went on to brand Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal as CIA agents. The Communist Party of China hailed the Naxalbari struggle as 'Spring Thunder over India". Within a short time, the flames of Naxalbari spread all over India, and there followed a policy of severe repression including cold-blooded killing in the name of 'encounters'. In West Bengal, hundreds of young men were killed by the police in cold blood. Saroj Datta, the poet and communist intellectual, was arrested and killed secretly. Charu Majumdar was killed in police custody a few days after arrest.

The movement suffered a setback owing to various reasons. And a period of Congress-led fascist terror followed. Then, in the 1977 assembly polls, the Congress was ousted, and a period of 34 years of left rule followed. Within this time period, the Left Front gradually became rotten and corrupt, and taking advantage of the growing popular resentment, a B team of the already rotten Congress party, named Trinamul Congress and its leader, Mamata Banerjee could befool the people and ascend the throne. Despite many revelations of the corrupt practices of the legislators of her party she continues to retain her hegemony. At the centre, Narendra Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold office, thanks to the divided state of the opposition. Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat masterminded a planned massacre of Muslims. Modi is a devout Hindu fundamentalist and has intensified repression on dalits and Muslims through various Hindu communal outfits. In this sense his actions are no different from the Islamic State. Just like the German and Italian fascists he is employing every means to distort Indian history so as to impose his fascism all over the country in the name of nationalism, although internationally, he is serving as an obedient cheerleader of the Uncle Sam. His economic policies have led to an immense concentration of national wealth in the hands of top 1% of the population. He has been continuing the policy of selling the rich mineral deposits of Central India and other places to the big mining conglomerates and foreign multinationals at throwaway prices. Resistances are building up, but they are as yet not cohesive.

To defeat this twin enemy of Indian fascism and foreign imperialism, it is necessary to draw on the lessons of Naxalbari, for it taught people to challenge the might of the reactionary state and build up a really democratic India. It is heartening that even after a lapse of fifty years, the ‘Naxalbari’ struggle has been celebrated in various places of the country. It shows that the principles it stood for have not been crushed.

Vol. 50, No.32, Feb 11 - 17, 2018