Friday, September 14, 2007

West Bengal: `Thunder' is just a memory

`Thunder' is just a memory

in Kolkata

In Naxalbari.

THE naxalite movement, which originated at Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal and spread to different parts of the country, is today confined to three districts in the State - Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore. These are strategically important areas for the Communist Party of India (Maoist) to operate from, for, apart from the rugged terrain and forest cover, they share borders with Jharkhand, which enables naxalites to slip into the other State when the situation gets too hot in one.

Although the Maoists do not have a permanent base in West Bengal, there are reports about attempts to infiltrate into more districts and even Kolkata. In December last, six Maoist activists were arrested from Nadia district and three from Hooghly district. In June, Asit Jana, a CPI (Maoist) polit bureau member, was arrested from south Kolkata. Jana's whereabouts were revealed by two senior leaders of the organisation who had been arrested earlier this year. According to reports, Jana had made Kolkata his base, and had been sending consignments of explosives to other States through little-known courier services. In July, three other important leaders of the organisation were caught from the forest areas of Bardhaman district. The documents seized from them revealed plans to stage attacks and to make forays into the tribal belt in the western part of the State.

Most recently, on September 24, the police caught Chandi Sarkar and six others from Katgora village in Nadia. Sarkar is a State committee member of the organisation and the area commander of Nadia, Bardhaman, Birbhum and Purulia districts. A pistol made in Pakistan and 10 rounds of ammunition were recovered from them.

"There is no dearth of arms for the Maoists," says Raj Kanojia, Inspector-General, Law and Order. "Apart from improvised weapons, they use carbines, self-loading rifles and explosives." Asked how they were able to procure arms, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told Frontline: "It's a very complicated affair. The Indian Maoists have joined hands with the Nepalese Maoists, who maintain contact with terrorist outfits in the northeastern region, and the Inter-Services Intelligence is coordinating all of them."

The last major attack by the Maoists took place on July 9, when in two separate incidents in Bankura and Purulia districts, three district-level leaders of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a police officer were killed and 16 others were injured. However, the attacks have been restricted to the region contiguous with Jharkhand. Although arrests have been made from other parts of the State, they have remained free from Maoist operations. One of the reasons for this is that in West Bengal, thanks to the decentralisaton of power, there is a strong Left Front base at the grassroots level. The State government has also remained firm in its stand that it will not enter into any dialogue with the Maoists until they give up violence.

The movement, started under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal at Naxalbari on May 25, 1967, was a peasant uprising for land. It later developed into an armed struggle. The operation was called `Khatam' (finish off), calling for the annihilation of zamindars and class oppressors. The movement spread to Kolkata, where it was spearheaded by youth leaders such as Ashim Chatterjee (a.k.a. Kaka) and Dipanjan Ray Chowdhuri.

On April 22, 1969, when the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was launched on Lenin's birth centenary, the party formulated its objectives on the land-based struggle of the Naxalbari movement. But soon the inspiration of Naxalbari was rejected and in its place the CPI(M-L) embraced a policy of class enemy annihilation: no mass organisation, no constructive plan for land reforms and no definite programme for a mass movement. In fact, the movement degenerated into carrying out individual assassinations with apolitical elements joining in to exploit the situation. This brought about a distortion of the ideology, and the basic difference between communist armed struggle and terrorists operation became blurred.

The movement claimed to draw its inspiration from the Chinese revolution, and the CPI(M-L) slogan "China's Chairman is our Chairman" became a catchword of the day. In the late 1960s, a radio programme called "Thunder of Spring" broadcast by Radio Peking gained immense popularity among the naxalites. But this "paternal relationship" the CPI(M-L) insisted it had with China was not reciprocated. In the early 1970s, a team led by Sourin Bose went to China for guidance and support, but it was chastised by the Chinese leadership for misunderstanding and misinterpreting their lesson.

In 1972, the death of Charu Mazumdar in police lock-up broke the backbone of the movement. The final nail in the coffin came with the declaration of the Emergency in 1975, when all the important leaders and thousands of activists were imprisoned. By the time the Emergency was lifted in 1977, the movement had petered out.

Anil Biswas, CPI(M) State secretary and Polit Bureau member, in a recent article in Marxbadi Path, analysed the current upsurge in the naxal movement, and dubbed it anarchism in the guise of Maoism. According to him, Maoism is a term that was not used even by the Chinese Communist Party during Mao Zedong's lifetime or after his death. The Ninth Congress of the party had pointed out that Mao's thought was the application of Marxism and Leninism in the Chinese situation and that it was not necessarily applicable in any other country. In West Bengal it rose from a confusion about the character of the Indian state, which the Maoists wrongly understood as fully semi-colonial and semi-feudal, Indian Independence was debunked as a mere eyewash, the Indian ruling class as a mere agent of imperialist countries, and the Indian big bourgeoisie as a mere comprador class.

The 28th Article of the naxalites' programme lays down that their revolution will follow the path of the Chinese revolution. This, according to Biswas, is the principal source of the aberration, "for Mao himself had ridiculed the attempt by theoreticians who tried to understand the Chinese situation by reading about ancient Greece". The naxalites' blind faith in guerilla warfare as the only path to liberation is Blanquiesque anarchism, as it leaves out alternative methods of protest through Parliament, press, trade union movement and mass agitation, many of which were not available in China when Mao waged his war.

`Our focus is on socio-economic development'

Interview Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.


The naxalite problem in West Bengal, though not as serious as it is in Orissa and Jharkhand, is still a matter of concern for the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government in the State. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is also a CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, in an exclusive interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, spoke about combating the menace by not only using force but bringing about certain socio-economic changes in the affected regions. Excerpts:

Could you give us an overview of the naxalite problem in the State? Is it serious or only peripheral? Is it spreading to places other than Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore districts ?

First, we have to go back to the history of the naxalite movement that started at Naxalbari in Darjeeling district. That movement was directly supported by the Chinese Communist Party. It took a serious turn from the village areas of Phansideya and Naxalbari and spread to the towns and also to Kolkata. We could successfully defeat them [revolutionary communists] politically and ideologically. After that, they split and the various groups realised that they took a wrong path in the name of armed revolution. The present Maoist movement in West Bengal is a new phenomenon, not a continuation of the naxalite movement. It has come from Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand.

So far it has not been a serious problem. The CPI(Maoist) activists operate mainly from a few blocks bordering Jharkhand in the districts of Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore, that is, from Bundwan, Ranibund, Birpur and Belpahari. It is mainly in these areas that a few armed groups are trying to create problems, taking advantage of the difficult terrain and using Jharkhand as their rear front after police operations. The Maoist leaders operating here are from other States. Even their team leader is Telugu-speaking. They do have some local contacts but no permanent base here.

The Maoists are trying to spread their influence in some other districts, but they do not have the capacity to do any damage. Even in Kolkata, certain institutions and colleges, and also a few people, mainly teachers, are extending them intellectual support.

Why is such a movement still present in spite of land reforms?

Land is not the only issue for the Maoists. The movement launched in Naxalbari was for land. We supported their stand then. But they wanted to turn it into a revolutionary struggle as a means to capture power and from there the differences arose.

In States such as Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, land is undoubtedly an important issue. In West Bengal, even though we have successfully implemented land reforms and there are no landlords, there are still landless, marginalised people who have no access to agriculture. A section is still dependent on the forest for its livelihood. The Maoists are trying to penetrate into this section and take advantage of its discontent. Their assessment of the political situation is wrong, as are their ideology, programmes and tactics. Individual terrorism is the basis of their ideology.

Is there a programme for these under-developed areas to counter their influence?

Yes. It is important to note that this is not a simple law and order problem. We cannot ignore the socio-economic aspect. We are committed to reach civil administration to the poorest of the poor. We have set up a West Zone Development Council for this region, through which we are addressing certain critical gaps, headed by one of my Ministers, Maheswar Murmu [Minister of State for Forests and Western Region Development Affairs], and the Divisional Commissioner is the executive officer. One major problem here is irrigation. We are providing new irrigation facilities. In these areas we have to depend on rainwater harvesting and dig deep wells. Second, we are setting up infrastructure for people engaged in [collecting] forest produce. We have set up LAMPS - Large Area Multipurpose Societies [tribal cooperatives] - which are building infrastructure for storing kendu leaves, shaal leaves and Babui grass. We have already set up a warehouse for this. We are also giving subsidy for these forest produce. Third, the PHE [Public Health Engineering] Department is active in improving drinking water supply in those areas, and the West Bengal Rural Electricity Development Corporation is trying to reach electricity even to the remotest village. In areas where electric cables are impossible to set up, we are developing solar power. Fourth, we have started deploying medical vans in the remote areas to address immediate problems, because the health centres in these areas are few and far between. Some of the main health problems are skin diseases, gastroenteritis and poor eyesight.

Moreover, in the three Maoist-affected districts we are implementing Rashtriya Sama Bikash Yojana - a Central government scheme under which Rs.45 crores will be spent within three years for the development of the region.

What is West Bengal's stand on the proposed Joint Task Forces to combat the naxalite menace?

We are not going to take part in any joint action with any other State against naxalites. Our problem is related to the border we share with Jharkhand. What we want between us is an exchange of intelligence to address this problem here. Our focus is on the socio-economic development of the western region and political mobilisation of the masses with the correct ideology. Police operation would come only when it is unavoidable.

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