A brief look back at the origin of the Naxalites in West Bengal would help in reassessing its past and potential future implications, in the wake of the latest Maoist attack on the CRPF in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. Monday, July 26, 1965 was the first day of this writer at a premier college in what was then Calcutta. These were comparatively “good times” in the state, though that wouldn’t last long. It was the year when India, under then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, fought a 22-day war with Pakistan in September. Shastri, of course, soon after died mysteriously in Tashkent, in what was still the USSR, on January 11, 1966. Post-war complications suddenly hit West Bengal hard. Food riots, followed by violence, political uncertainty, social dislocation, industrial and economic downturn and labour unrest, forced the shutdown of schools and universities, and the final icing on the cake came in the victory of an unprecedented non-Congress multi-party coalition government in the state on March 2, 1967.
Expectations ran sky-high among the poor and rural populace, and amid a combination of complicated factors the first salvo was fired at Barajharujota police station at Naxalbari, Darjeeling district, on May 24, 1967, when an unarmed police inspector, Sonam Wangdi, was killed by an arrow shot by some miscreants. The Naxalites of Naxalbari were born. The politics of independent India had “come of age” with a socio-politico-economic turbulence of unprecedented dimension. Also, in post-1947 India, there suddenly emerged a new breed of Hindu Bengalis who revived and restored their British-era aura as “revolutionaries”. They claimed to be the vanguard of a revolutionary leadership of a cherished “classless” society.
In the process, the “neo-Communists” redefined themselves with a role originating at Naxalbari. The new mantra “I am a Naxalite” invoked awe, fear or inspiration, depending on which side a person’s political leanings lay. Why? Because some of the Naxalites soon took to the gun and declared their faith in the dictum of China’s Mao Zedong, that “power comes from the barrel of the gun”. The mastermind of the gun-culture Naxalite movement, Charu Majumdar, took Mao’s words so seriously that he proved himself as a first-class traitor and anti-national Indian of 1967 with a sizeable number of followers, serious divisions and dissensions among the cadre and leadership notwithstanding.
Being a direct witness to some of the momentous happenings of the late 1960s as well as the confrontations with “hardcore” types in college (till 1969), one had always countered and asked: Why and how did some Hindu Bengalis like Charu Majumdar, the likes of which were highly respected for their contribution to India’s freedom struggle, become turncoats, terrorists and rabid anti-national actors?
Lest this writer be castigated and criticised for “spreading lies and canards”, let a few facts on Charu Majumdar (aka CM) be reviewed. Thus, when “CM” made a “childish” but obnoxious request to the Communist Party of China to provide him equipment to set up a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) “radio station in India to counter the bourgeois media”, and at one point had even “suggested that the Chinese despatch it by ship to some place near the Madras coast”, what can this be referred to as? Patriotism? Nationalism? The true spirit of an Indian citizen? A “great Hindu Bengali” who has an image, universally acknowledged, as an honourable, erudite, educated, egalitarian and wise nationalist?
Again, at another point, when “CM” had “assured Pakistan’s Eastern Command in Dhaka, under Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, that in case of their attack on India, the West Bengal Naxalites under his leadership would ‘join hands’ with them” — what adjectives should be used on the “honest but misguided” Hindu Bengali Naxalites? From India’s point of view, not the Pakistani Army’s? “Heroic”? Or “Cowardice”? “Treachery”?
All this is very well documented. This is what Lt. Gen. Niazi wrote to Gen. Hamid in June 1971 — requesting “permission to attack India ‘in pursuit of Mukti Bahini’ before India could launch its attack”. Whatever the ideological merit or demerit of the Naxalite movement or its bona fide or mala fide nature, no defence, logic or justification can ever support their outrageous anti-national activities. Even if this was done by a microscopic minority of Hindu Bengalis as independent India was just 20 years old. Their actions clearly amounted to waging war against the State, and to destroy its existence and sovereignty. So can the State be blamed for shooting them down? Not at all. Never.
This culture of violence and gun-running that made a sensational debut at Naxalbari, in India’s “Chicken’s Neck” (situated in the 1960s just a few kilometres from what was then East Pakistan, as well as Nepal, Bhutan, then-independent Sikkim and China), subsequently spread to a vast swathe of land across India, essentially due to internal factors and faultlines. In between, however, two more groups “waged war against the State” — Punjab from the 1980s to 1990s, and Kashmir from 1989 till the present. And as it so often happens across the planet, internal failures and dissensions inevitably invited external forces to fish in the troubled waters. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the very active role of the Pakistani Army-ISI duo in the Khalistan movement in Punjab and Sino-Pakistani perfidy in Kashmir are more than visible. Added to it are the elements, like that of fifth columnist Hindu Bengalis in West Bengal, Sikhs in Punjab and Muslims in J&K. In the process, a heady cocktail of anti-state elements can be found across India.
Understandably, the Indian State, taking its cue from West Bengal’s Naxalite history, had to strike hard against the Sikh separatists, thereby eliminating a large numbers, like the way Hindu Bengalis were wiped out. However, after Hindu Bengalis and Sikhs, it seems to be a rather long-drawn-out “war against the state” by a section of Muslim Kashmiris, brazenly aided and abetted by Pakistani state actors.
Taking a holistic view of these four “wars against the Indian State” (by Hindu Bengalis in West Bengal; Sikhs in Punjab; Muslim Kashmiris in J&K and the tribals of central India), one could pose a few questions to the Indian State. Had the Constitution been followed and implemented from the beginning, in letter and in spirit, would things have been better than what India faces today? When will the ruling class of India learn to follow the “rule of law” and “due process of law”? And finally, can there be two sets of laws or rules to deal with a common issue — such as “waging war against the State”? If West Bengal and Punjab face the wrath of the entire nation in unison, can there be a divided voice on the J&K and Chhattisgarh scenario? Should not there be some uniformity while the nation acts against those “waging war against the State”? Can unity of polity and concentration of firepower be debated endlessly? And if so, aren’t we inviting more problems for the future?...