Dear Indian Reader,
Not that I would ever, ever consider you to be a dummy — heaven forbid! After all, you are no US citizen of the (George Dubya) Bush years now, are you? 🙂 You are no placid ignoramus, incapable of pointing to ‘Eye-rack’ on a map, utterly untouched by any knowledge of history, geography, or spelling for that matter.
You remember watching them, right? A wide-eyed populace, stoked into a frenzy of fear, sanctioning the invasion of a desperate (but oil-rich) country (quick on the heels of the now ancient, dimly remembered Aaf-ghaan-is-taan — remember that one?), all in the name of WMDs? Gee-whiz, remember that one? WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. Remember laughing bitterly as a president who could not open his mouth without mangling English bungled his way through a laughably simplistic narrative that nevertheless convinced a hypnotized nation to send their young men and women into war and death to ‘protect our way of life’? ‘Our Way of Life’! Do you remember? =)
This is not you, dear reader, I assure you. You are, after all, the Indian: wielder of knowledge, denier of the material, memorizer of tables, champion of GK, winner of quizzes, ranker of IITs, argumentator of yore, inheritor of this brave new world! You are mind, dear peruser, you are thought, you are analysis, research, inquiry — you are the veritable frontal cortex of the human race!
However, of late you have been a little distracted: Rakhi is getting married, iPods are proliferating at a bewildering pace, ‘soft skills’ are being emphasized, the recession is starting, the recession is ending, your hairline is receding, and, in the midst of all this, THE NAXALITES ARE COMING! RUN! How to keep up? There is just too much happening! :s
Therefore, in your interest, and lest you take the title literally, I have prepared a sort of Cliff Notes of Naxalism — a reader, a guide, a strictly intellectual companion to help you navigate the clutter and form your own opinions based on facts, reason and research, as is (of course!) your wont. But if you find it simplified and lighthearted in approach, dear friend, please note it is only in the interests of time and ease and is no judgment on your own obvious, spellbinding brilliance (Arnab will fill you in on the rest). This is after all India, and Bush is not your president.
100 YEARS OF SERVITUDE
100 years ago, around the turn of the century, the Indian peasant labours under the British yoke. The age-old Zamindari/Talukdari system is still in existence, as an optimized British tax collection system, which has ‘legalized’ the allocation of vast tracts of land to the Zamindars, as long as they pay their tribute to the company, streamlining the tax collection process. We know what happened next, so let us fast forward past Independence and Partition (skipping the Bengal famine which left 3 million dead).
Fast forward to 1955, and the Land Reforms Act (only now) comes into force. This act, and its subsequent amendments, gives sharecroppers permanent, inheritable rights on land that they have leased, as long as they pay a share of the crop to their landlords, do not leave the land uncultivated, or unless the landlords wish to take back the land for personal cultivation. Of course, the landlords use the personal cultivation clause (and simple intimidation) to evict tenants. Basically, winged folk, not much has changed for the Indian peasant since independence. Meanwhile, in the Telengana Rebellion in Andhra Pradesh, the communists lead a peasant uprising between 1946 and 1951 against the Nizam. Around 3,000 villages come under peasant rule, forming soviet-style communes. The end result — liberation from the Nizam’s rule, AP is integrated into the Indian Union.
In 1978 (after Naxalbari, which we will come to), Operation Barga is launched in Bengal. The Left Front has just come to power, and in a spirited departure from the tepid reforms until now, seeks to put land in the hands of the Bargadar with direct state intervention. This operation succeeds in greatly increasing the share of landholding among the peasants, and sharply reducing poverty . . . or does it?
From Wikipedia: The National Sample Survey (NSS) data of 1999 has reported that only 30.6 per cent of all sharecroppers were registered and that there was a “distinct class bias”. Studies have also noted that the landlords continued to own the largest holdings in the villages and the value of their holdings increased substantially.
2008, in response to increasing unrest (and declining support, as we well know), the state government talks of re-launching Operation Barga. The fate of the government now hangs in the balance. Tata, Nandigram, Singur — ’nuff said.
100 YEARS OF SEDITION
Is your attention wandering despite the almond infusions, o restless mind? Surely some romance and adventure will bring us back on track. Let us go back to the turn of the century, where, in and around Kolkatha, revolutionary tendencies have begun to manifest themselves. It is as early as this that organized groups of ‘terrorists’ have begun to form: ‘terrorists’ who are in fact the ancestors, the very progenitors of the disturbing revolutionary trend of educated, bourgeois members of the ‘Bhadralok’ turning into outlaws and revolutionaries. Their goal? Independence.
You see, no saga of Indian revolution (or indeed any Indian saga) is complete without an involved, convoluted genealogy; and the ‘Naxalite’ family tree has enough twists and turns to boggle even a mind as finely tuned by Sudoku as yours surely is, dear reader. But no one sees fit to trace it back to the very beginning when the seed of revolution was first sown in the fertile, loamy soil of the Gangetic delta.
The ‘Bengal Renaissance’ has already happened, and this foments the rise of a privileged ‘Bhadralok’ in Bengal: western-educated, reformist and, surprisingly, often critical of the British occupation. The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny precipitates the handover of power from Company to Crown, spurring this new Bengali intelligentsia into action.
As early as 1902, inspired by the works of Vivekananda and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the Anushilan Samithi and Juganthar with Sri Aurobindo as a founder are active, and through his writings, spread throughout Bengal under the guise of fitness clubs. They send a member to Paris to learn the art of bomb making from a Russian revolutionary. In December 1907 they derail the train carrying the Bengal Lieutenant Governor, Sir Andrew Fraser. A few days later, they attempt the assassination of the former District Magistrate of Dhaka. Juganthar also engage in a number of other political assassinations and dacoities to obtain funds. Sound familiar?
Oh no! Please come back, gentle Sirs and Madams! I am not in the business of killing sacred cows, I swear! Have I offended you? Forgive me! It is but an effort at exhaustiveness, a search for axioms, a mathematical interest in analogies, resonances!
You see, and I reel these off in haste — Aurobindo went to Cambridge University. He stood first in the entrance examination. He stood for the ICS and was one of the eleven chosen out of 250 illustrious competitors. He then helped found an organization that derailed trains and carried out assassinations! Congruence, illustrious sirs, the congruence.
We were developing a context: in brief —
- Anushilan/Juganthar founded by Pramatha Mitra, Sarala Devi, Aurobindo.
- 1908 — Anushilan/Juganthar cadres bomb a carriage, killing two English ladies
- In ensuing trial, Aurobindo acquitted, leaves revolutionary politics
- Jatindra Nath Mukherjee escapes, taking over Juganthar, another secret, revolutionary party.
- Juganthar bomb manufacturing unit found, Bengal police officer assassinated.
- Amongst bomb-makers, M.N. Roy — founder of the Communist Party of India in 1920 (and of Mexico!)
- Others involved include: Taraknath Das — a founder of the Gadar Party 1913(Sikh/Punjabi communist revolutionaries).
- 1930 — Chittagong Armoury Raid by Surya Sen of Jugantar
- 1946 — Tebhaga Peasant Movement for greater share of crop in Bengal
- 1947-50 — CPI arms and conducts Telengana insurgency against the Nizam of Hyderabad, on Anushilan/Juganthar lines.
- 1967-69 — Naxalbari uprising — CPI splits into CPI(M), CPI (ML), further splits
- Emergency sends Naxals underground, into jail
- 1980 — New groups emerge, People’s War Group out of Telengana veterans
- New alliances form, ‘Naxal Corridor’ strengthens
- Nandigram, Singur, Tata Nano. . . .
It is now 2009, ladies and gentlemen — drum roll — imagine, if you will, a cinemascope time-lapse sequence:
Year after year, for One Hundred Years, young intellectuals from middle-class families arise, distinguish themselves academically, abandon their civil pursuits, embrace revolution.
Year after year, they make bombs, stockpile weapons, derail trains, organize resistance.
Year after year, their clothes change, the hair shortens, the glasses become square, their methods remain the same.
Year after year, their enemies change, the British, the Zamindar, the Nizam, the Capitalist, even the Communists (albeit the CPI(M))!
Year after year, for One Hundred Years, they rise, the face of Aurobindo morphing into that of Kobad Gandhy. . . .
What is going on here? They were doing it before communism even existed in India! Who are these people? Will the real slim shady please stand up?
WILL THE REAL SLIM SHADY PLEASE STAND UP?
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I certainly do not come here to praise the Naxalite, nor to bury him, but to know him. Without knowledge, I am a wide-eyed, frightened Joe the Plumber, sanctioning the use of violence with impunity against a country I barely even know exists. Is that who you want to be?
Naxalism today is a bewildering maze of groups and factions with involved, fractious genealogies. This term is an inadequate catch-all that was first used to describe a spurt of individual violence and urban terror, as well as a certain cult of personality around a man named Charu Mazumdar. Star that name, tiger; he will come up again.
Naxalbari, 1967. A tribal youth tilling his land is attacked by goons of the local landlord (this was under the weakly enforced Land Reforms Act). Radical elements of the CPI(Marxist), led by Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal, spur a peasant agitation which is brutally put down by the authorities. Radicalism proliferates within the CPI — in two years, Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal announce the formation of CPI (Marxist-Leninist). Mazumdar believes in armed struggle and the elimination of the ‘class enemy’ to achieve his goals. Naxalism is born.
For 60 years before, and almost 50 years hence, such activities have been taking place in that region. What is so special about Naxalbari? Perhaps this new sub-group is responsible for being the ‘single greatest threat India is facing today’?
Just a second there, Bush.
The Communist Party of India (Maoist), the Maoists, are the ones referred to as ‘the single greatest threat’, occupying and controlling the ‘Naxal Corridor’ today. Now this is going to get complicated, so pop some more almonds and let’s concentrate.
CPI(Maoist) was formed by the merging of two groups (most recently):
1. Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI)
2. CPI(ML) People’s War, known as the People’s War Group (PWG)
Firstly, the MCCI rejected the doctrine of the CPI(ML), the party formed out of the Naxalbari uprising, and always remained independent from it. They differed on the point of mass mobilization vs individual terrorism (ie arm a peasant militia as opposed to assassinate a professor, simplistically).
The PWG was formed by a Telengana Rebellion veteran (Remember this one? The armed peasant rebellion against the Nizam of Hyderabad — way before Naxalbari), Kondapalli Seetharammiah, after he broke away from the CPI(ML) Central Organizing Committee (also probably on the ‘Mass Line’ standpoint, which emphasized involvement with peasant issues and understanding of peasant conditions).
These revolutionaries are actually somewhat different from the urban Charu Mazumdar ‘line’ so to speak and are far more rooted in mass armed struggle and arose out of peasant movements such as the Telengana struggle.
Charu Mazumdar’s Naxals were more involved in the urban violence of 1970s Kolkatha when students carried out assassinations, took over Jadhavpur University, etc, and in fact it was his adherence to individual assassination and indifference to mass movements such as labour unions that may have splintered the Naxalite movement into the fractious fragments that survive today (apart from ideological differences with China).
The Maoists believe in the following:
1. ‘Liberating’ peasants from the oppression of the state through armed struggle.
2. Overthrow of the democratic government of India.
3. Communist-style dictatorship as rule of law.
Charming lot, aren’t they? So why care about the details?
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to begin my closing statement.
After all, this is India, and Bush is not your president. Lalgarh is not Iraq. You are not Joe the Plumber. We need to stop dumbing everything down. We need perspective. We need to stop and think.
The events at Naxalbari marked a new phase in what had already been a century-old phenomenon. The conditions that made this possible are more than a hundred years old. By drawing a line at 1967 and Naxalbari, we are deftly cutting a vital chord to the past and reducing the scope of debate and reflection. These Maoists are as much ‘Telenganites’ as they are Naxalites, and that is a very important distinction. In order to reflect, we need perspective. Know your Naxal, before you hang him.
You see, the idiots on the idiot box are on a rampage. We are witnessing a new era of dumbed down social engineering, Bush style. But you are not a simpleton with no sense of history — or the inability to make contradistinctions between Naxalites, leftists, or left-handers, for that matter.
Binayak Sen, award-winning doctor, was arrested and held for two years without a trial, and our media remained mute until he was quietly released on bail. Is this the country you want to live in? Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist, was branded a Naxal before they got their act together. Anybody who questions the state can and will be branded a ‘Naxal’ provided YOU REMAIN IGNORANT. Without a knowledgeable public with access to information, what we have is fascism, and the government (or Maoist for that matter) acts with impunity.
And that is the real enemy, winged gentry, impunity. Why hesitate, prevaricate, empathize, sympathize with a movement as virulent as the ‘Naxal’ movement? Because, sirs and madams, the baleful duality of State=Good, Naxal=Bad forced upon us creates the perfect conditions of impunity for a government. If we cannot abide by violence of any form, then we cannot allow the conditions of impunity to come into existence.
The State/MNCs/British Raj and the Naxal/Communists/Maoists/Juganthar have been waging a war at the terrible cost of human life and spirit for more than one hundred years now. Don’t you think it is time to look at things with a little more nuance and understanding, dear Indian Reader?
It sure ain’t Kansas anymore.