Reclaiming ‘Spring Thunder’

Nobody has monopoly right over the legacy of ‘Spring Thunder’ that shook the status quo-ists in the Indian Communist Movement like never before in 1967. That’s why so many social and civil groups and individuals as well continue to cherish the idea of being identified with the historic turning point despite so many ups and downs in the movement. The Naxalbari Uprising in 1967 was historic for more than one reason. It gave birth to a number of communist revolutionary groups that challenged the revisionist orthodoxy of CPM, somewhat openly and forcefully from a strong ideological position. But initial ideological thrust that created fertile ground to redefine Indian revolution and isolate all shades of reformist tendencies soon got mired in a mess because of formation of ML-party in a hurry for which most groups were not prepared at all. At the time there were a number of groups that refused to be browbeaten by ML-party’s authoritarian attitudes and independently carried their ideological struggle. The ML-party activists better to say their principal ideologues, were too arrogant to acknowledge the fact that voice of dissent and thoughts of those minor political outfits were part of the dialectics of liberation needed to revolutionise the society and break its class structure. In the south the Nagi Reddys offered an alternative ideological and political framework without subscribing to CPI(ML) strategy and tactics for Indian revolution while placing special emphasis on aspects of foreign domination over Indian economy. In the east as also in the north, particularly in Punjab, many groups carried on their mass struggle specifying their line of action, mass-line and related activities, against the backdrop of a broader perspective of naxalite movement.

True, most of these groups are non-existent now. So is original CPL(ML). With the 50th anniversary of ‘Naxalbari Uprising’, not far away—it is in 2017—these minor groups that were marginalised and neglected during the formative stage of CPI(ML) are reportedly gearing up to keep the record straight and reclaim the legacy of ‘Spring Thunder’. They demand a place in the history of continuing Indian revolution. They contributed in no minor way in carrying forward the ideological struggle, both nationally and internationally. On internationalism almost all of them, were opposed, with varying degrees to unconditional loyalty to the Chinese party though the CPI(ML) propounded the theory that opposing China on any count would amount to opposing proletarian internationalism and betraying Indian revolution.

Political issues that these groups raised immediately after the naxalbari revolt and during the subsequent years when CPI(ML) began to commit one blunder after another, remained unresolved. In truth conclusion of the debate regarding the basic premises of Indian revolution never featured on CPI(ML) agenda. Instead they placed the only option before these groups—‘either take it or leave the field’. They thought they would be the unquestioned natural leader of Indian revolution. Mao’s ‘new democracy’ was their programme and they were so obsessed with anything Chinese that Kanu Sanyal’s Terai Report was actually a carbon copy of Mao’s Hunan Report. But Kanu Sanyal himself became a bitter critic of ML-line in later years and the letter he wrote alongwith five others—Chaudhury Tejeswar Rao, Sourin Basu, D K Nagbhusan Patnaik, Kolla Venkaiah and D Bhuvanmohan Patnaik—from Vizag jail in June 1972, addressing party workers, revealed the depth of ideological and political mistakes they indulged in by blindly following China.

China had its own game plan to interfere in India’s communist movement though all along they openly maintained the notion that they would never export revolution. No doubt their support to ‘Spring Thunder’ was a severe blow to revisionism but what all they did in those tumultuous years through their powerful propaganda machine was basically aimed at furthering their foreign policy interests in respect of India-China border dispute because the naxalites, irrespective of their divergent ideological stances uncritically supported their claim over disputed territories in the Himalays. CPM was non-committal and CPI danced with the tune of Indian National Congress by calling them aggressors.

Faced with ideological challenge for the first time CPM tried to answer some of the relevant questions raised by the naxalite camp in their document ‘Ideological Debates Summed Up’ and thereafter they never allowed themselves to be part of any kind of polemics. In reality they issued mandate to their cadres, not to read any naxalite journal, apprehending erosion in their rank and file. The CPI(ML) too did the same by issuing strictures on their activists and loyalists not to read any naxalite group paper other than their own’s. Disagreement mainly centred around principal contradiction, mass organisation, participation is parliament and international issues, particularly the Soviet role in Hungary and Checkoslovakia. What disturbed most groups was uncritical acceptance of Chinese authority, even though many groups tried to support or oppose ML-line by quoting Chinese sources. And sometimes it bordered on ideological slavery, all in the name of proletarian internationalism.

Groups that distanced themselves from the ML-party on ideological grounds failed to get united while carrying on localised mass movement in a limited way. The impact of those mass activities was minimal, albeit in some trade unions the naxalites made their presence felt across the state. Despite their best efforts they could not grow beyond a certain point—and had to retreat in some areas because the CPI(ML) extended their class enemy perception to the broader naxalite camp followers as well because they viewed all of them as revisionist. Individual murder of ‘class enemies’ by CPI(ML) activists created a situation of terror and massive state repression. The police began to arrest naxalites and their sympathisers indiscriminately without distinguishing between ‘violent groups’ and ‘non-violent groups’. As a result the entire naxalite movement suffered. Groups with limited resources and cadres were hard pressed to continue their ideological and political struggle. Also, these groups after sometime faced a kind of leadership crisis because in most cases they were identified with veteran communist leaders who failed to create the second generation leadership.

One of the allegations of these groups is that some of the known chroniclers of the naxalite movement that has witnessed many phases to reach the state of CPI (Maoist), have ignored many important and relevant issues in their books. Whether historians in future will recognise their role and contribution is altogether a different matter but their very attempt to reclaim the legacy of ‘Spring Thunder’ suggests among other things that it is not yet a closed chapter.

Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013

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