50 years of rebellion: a violent movement that faded away

50 years of rebellion: a violent movement that faded away

In middle of May, Kundan Pahan, the infamous secretary of Jharkhand Regional Committee with 128 cases against him, surrendered before the police. The reasons Pahan cited for desertion sounds quite interesting: the Santhals do not allow the non-Santhals to work freely; sons and daughters of the leaders study in good schools and colleges in big cities while the lower level cadres slug it out in the jungles; the lower level comrades are forced to commit violent acts so that their names creep into police records, blocking their path of desertion.  Pahan is not a woman. Had he been, he was sure to add one more in the list: Sexual exploitation by the higher level comrades. This is what the Naxalite movement has come down to. But it all sounded so very different five decades ago.

It was a different country then. More than half of the population lived in virtual penury. The rights of the underprivileged were trampled upon at will. For them, life was poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Suddenly, there arose a messiah called Charu Mazumder. A small time leader from north Bengal of a small, new party called CPI(M). He spoke of a revolution to uplift the downtrodden to power. ‘Hit hard the class enemies with whatever you can grab’, he appealed. Enthused by the call, the marginalised tribals of Naxalbari area started seizing land of the joteders.

One such poor man, Bigual Kishan, was thrashed by the goons of the landlord. In retaliation, the mob went crazy to kill Sonam Wangdi, a police inspector of Naxalbari. In no time came the retribution of the state. On May 25, 1967, police opened fire on the rebels, killing nine women and a child. It helped spread the inferno, both physically and psychologically.

Mazumder announced China’s chairman (referred to as Mao Tse Tung in those days) as ‘our chairman’, and an over-jubilant China reciprocated by dubbing the minor Naxalbari uprising as ‘Spring Thunder over India’. But the euphoria was destined to be short-lived. Paramilitary force was sent to the area in July of that year to douse the fire. It brought the Naxalbari uprising to an end.

By then, however, large number of students of elite schools and colleges, of Calcutta and other cities of the country, left their homes to chase a dream that never really stood any chance of realisation. The CPI(ML) was formed in 1969, only to splinter in the coming years. The revolutionary call itself was not in consonance with the Maoist organisational principles. Rather, it was a quintessential Gandhian style appeal to the masses that worked.

Many were killed. Many jailed and tortured. Charu Mazumder himself died in custody in July, 1972. The movement evaporated for the time being.

A few years on, ‘naxalvad’ resurfaced in another quiet region of the country. In Bhojpur (western Bihar). Here one Jagadish Master, again a worker of CPI(M) from a quaint village called Ekwari, sowed the seed of rebellion to teach the abusing upper castes a lesson. It too scintillated for a while, adding to the earlier long list of ‘martyrs’.

Elsewhere, in the then south Bihar and Gaya region, some other organisations (chiefly Maoist Communist Centre or MCC, a parallel outfit to Charu Mazumder’s CPI-ML,) mushroomed in the 1980s. In the Telangana region of Andhra, where the 1967 uprising had contemporary resonance, People’s War Group was formed in 1980.

Bloody war
In the years to follow, the MCC fought a bloody war with the notorious Ranvir Sena (an upper caste private army), and a series of massacres and counter massacres ravaged Bihar. In a way, it paved the road for the rise of other backward classes politicians who are ruling Bihar since. Later, MCC converted a large chunk of tribal south Bihar into a ‘liberated zone’. The People’s War (PW) of Andhra too spread its tentacles to south-western part of Orissa, Chattisgarh region of Madhya Pradesh and Gadchiroli region of Maharashtra.

Now, for the first time, MCC and PW came face to face, and clashed with each other. Afterwards, the heat of the state machinery compelled them to join forces. Finally, in 2004, MCC merged with CPI(ML) People’s War, and following a compromise formula, the new formation named itself CPI (Maoist). Within a few years, the state officially christened it as the ‘largest internal security threat’.

Now, a vast area, ranging from Ranchi in the east to Gadchiroli in the west and from Dhamtari in the north to Khammam in the south, came under the sway of tribal guerillas of CPI (Maoist). It was the dark zone of the country where a large chunk of underprivileged mass, steeped in dire poverty and victim of severe social injustice, lived.
The Maoists had enough money sourced from collecting ‘tax’ from the industries within the region, and that enabled it to fight the paramilitary forces in the jungles on equal terms. Hundreds and hundreds fell every year to this uncivil war that did not spare the civilians either.

Long ago, one man foresaw this. ‘Is an ordinary policeman our class enemy?’ questioned Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, the founder general secretary of PW. Soon, in 1991, he was expelled from the organisation by his juniors.

While travelling this long path, the Maoists did succeed in bringing the marginalised section into political limelight. With the turn of the millennium, however, the state too woke up to the dry fact that police action could never smother the urge of the downtrodden to have a better and just life.

But, in the present century, it started reaching out to the poor, and programmes like the rural job scheme (MNREGA) made the intervention quite effective. As the process picked up, the red zone shrunk. Currently, they thrive only in the densely forested parts of Bastar and a few small pockets in Jharkhand.

Now what is being played out is the last act of a tragedy. After all, as Charles Darwin pointed out, whoever fails to change with time embraces extinction.

 (Raychaudhuri is the author of the docu-novel ‘A Naxal Story’)
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