Revolution vs Counter-Revolution

My Association with Frontier

Anirban Biswas

I first heard the name of Frontier from a senior cousin of mine, probably in July 1968. Then, when I was a first year student I began to read Frontier with a fair degree of regularity. When we were schoolboys, we were familiar with the name of Samar Sen the poet, but not with the name of Samar Sen the editor. I was a mofussil boy who had come to Kolkata for higher studies. My hostel being located in the College Street area, it was not difficult to procure the journal from the newspaper stalls at the junction of the College Street and the Mahatma Gandhi Road. It was a period of turbulence and hence our frame of mind gradually became agitative about the existing order of things. As I went on reading Frontier without, however, understanding much of the contents, I came to develop a fascination for the paper. It might be that the sharp language and brilliant style of the editorial pieces offered an additional attraction.

Gradually I became a sympathizer-cum-activist of the CPI(ML). But having been under the influence of Frontier—this influences I believe, was always positive—I could not approve of the attitude of certain CPI(ML) leaders, particularly Saroj Datta, displayed towards Frontier in the Bengali weekly Deshabrati,the Bengali organ of the CPI(ML). I however continued to read Frontier, sometimes on the sly in order to avoid taunts and sneers from my firebrand revolutionary friends. Looking back, I am convinced that had the ideologues of the CPI(ML) and their firebrand followers read Frontier with a non-sectarian mind, while keeping the scope of disagreement wide open, they would have benefited much, and the excesses committed in the name of 'revolution' could have been contained and much unnecessary bloodshed avoided. In those turbulent days, I, being just a petty activist, was not in a position to influence the attitude of these dogmatists, whatever my personal feelings about these excesses. Even when Deshabrati went underground, it, true to its sectarianism, persisted in the same attitude. Saroj Datta's attack on a piece by Asok Rudra is one example. At that time, urban Naxalite youths were breaking statues of Gandhi all over West Bengal, and pro-establishment intellectuals were voci-ferous in their condemnation of this act. Professor Rudra tried to give a reply to them, arguing that there is nothing unnatural in such iconoclasm, because many sins had been committed in Gandhi's name, although Gandhi could not be held responsible for all the evils of the society. Saroj Datta, who used to write under the pen name Sasanka, misjudged the audience Professor Rudra was addressing and wrote a scurrilously abusive piece against him. More tragic consequences could follow from this piece, which it is not necessary to dwell on here.

My association with Frontier as a reader, however, thinned away when I was forced to abscond and was totally snapped during the days of imprisonment. It was resumed when I restarted my studies, not knowing what to do politically. That was a situation of extreme tension, and on the grave of defeated revolution was stalking the forces of triumphant counter-revolution. The days of hope had yielded to despair and frustration, but debates and discussions continued, often secretely. It was during this period that I learnt that Frontier, had published the real story about the death of Saroj Datta, which the liars running the then police department of Bengal had denied. Samar Sen, I felt, did not look back in anger but promptly published the real truth about one whose bete noire hehad become. Plainly speaking, he did not put his personal grievance above what he considered his social duty. Later, I collected many back issues of Frontier and came to know how Frontier had published events of berserk state violence against and organized state-sponsored massacres of real or suspected Naxalites. During this period, Frontier also published a number of scholarly articles written by eminent social scientists including Joan Robinson, Paresh Chattopadhyay, Asok Mitra, Amiya Bagchi, Asok Rudra,Nirmal Chandra, Ranajit Guha, Binay Ghosh, Ranjit Sau etc. These articles, it is needless to say, enlightened many students of social sciences, including myself.

After the split in the CPI(ML)—one section of champions of Naxalbari had, however, remained outside the CPI(ML) from the very beginning—new thoughts emerged, along with critical evaluations of the movement. But the leaders who were engaged in these thoughts and evaluations were either absconding or in jail. Their written opinions and comments were secretly sent to Frontier, which published them. For Samar Sen, it was an act of rare courage. The ruling government tried every means at its disposal to stop the publication of Frontier, stopping short of arresting Samar Sen. This was the period when I made my first appearance in print, which was a book review in Frontier. The book was given to me for review by Professor Gouri Prasad Ghosh, who was then closely associated with Frontier, and the review was written under the pen name Prabal Basu. Some three or four years later, I began to write notes, letters and occasional articles for Frontier and looking at the editorial revisions of the texts, learnt how to write in passable English. It was a real education.

Death overtook Samar Sen in 1987 and Timir Basu took the charge of editing the weekly. He has been running it for as long as 29 years against tremendous odds, glimpses of which are there in his own piece in this number. Quite a few earlier wellwishers and contributors are called to eternal rest and many have deserted owing to various reasons, one certainly being their mental drying-up. Among the youths of the next generation, careerism clearly dominates social concerns and Frontier interests very few of them. Yet it continues to be run. The standard of Frontier has not been uniform throughout this long journey, but as far as my experience goes, it, as quite a few readers have told me, seems to have improved somewhat in recent years. A number of persons, who are important and respected in their own fields of work but never wrote for Frontier, have been persuaded to contribute to the weekly and they are indeed contributing articles that are really illuminating. This may be considered an improvement.

The present editor has grown old and this writer, who has been serving as his assistant for about four years, is also fairly aged now. So, nothing can be foretold about the future of the weekly, except expressing the hope that it will survive the hardships it has been undergoing.

Vol. 49, No.13-16, Oct 2 - 29, 2016