The Tebhaga Movement of 1946-47 marked a turning point in the peasant movement of Bengal. It was the struggle of sharecroppers for two-thirds share of the produce. In other words, it was the struggle for reduction of land rent from 50 per cent of the produce to one-third. The movement attained its ‘greatest sweep’ in North Bengal. In the history of Communist Party-led peasant movements in Bengal, the name ‘Tebhaga’ was recalled time and again as a glorious reference point. Memorials were erected in different Tebhaga villages in honour of the martyrs.
The CPI-M-led Left Front Government celebrated the 50th anniversary of the movement with much fanfare. Though the ruling Left appropriated the glory of the movement, precious little was done for the families of the martyrs.
Bimala Majhi was a legendary leader of the movement in the Medinipur district. In her interview in 2008, she categorically expressed her disillusionment with the dominant Left. While commenting on State violence in Nandigram, she expressed her hatred for the ‘dirty’ politics of the Left. She feels that people are placing too much responsibility on Mamata Banerjee. However, Majhi reposed her faith on the birth of an alternative Leftist party.1
KHANPUR, a small village in South Dinajpur, was the scene of a heroic struggle of peasants who had been drawn into the movement. The Santals constituted a large section of the peasant population in the village and the volunteers of the Kisan Sabha came mostly from the Santals.2 In 1947 (February 20), 22 peasants of the village including women were killed in police firing. The families of the martyrs are now living precarious lives and many of them are disillusioned with the CPI-M rule.
Hira Kole Kamar, a resident of the Khanpur village, is the grandson of Kaushalya Kole Kamarni, a Tebhaga martyr. Hira’s wife and daughter work as agricultural labourers to make ends meet. But, even that is not enough to feed five mouths daily. Hira and his wife, Dulali, stated that so long they voted with idealism in mind, but from now on, they will vote for the party who will stand by the side of destitutes like them and bring about change in their life of destitution.3
Devendra Sarkar’s mother, Jashoda Rani Sarkar, was one of the leaders of the movement in the village and a martyr. Devendra is now 84. Like many others in his time, he joined the CPI and after the split, chose CPI-M in 1964. He played an active role in Operation Barga and served the party loyally. Now, he is disillusioned and feels that CPI-M is a party for people with vested interests.4
Devendra Sarkar and his wife, Pramila Devi, stated: “So long we saw the Left Front in power and now let us give a chance to Ma Thakuran (referring to Mamata Banerjee with affection and respect).” Both of them firmly believe that only Ma Thakuran can fulfil the dreams of this destitute village.5 It may be stated in this connection that even in the last panchayat election, this village saw no political symbol other than that of the CPI-M. But, in the present Assembly election, many people in the village are inviting the Trinamul Congress workers to paint the Trinamul symbol on the walls of their houses.6
In a recent interview, the eminent political psychologist, Asish Nandy, stated that sometimes charismatic figures emerge in mass democracies as the saviour. We wait for such ‘Kolki’ avatars to rescue us from the world of sins.7 Mamata Banerjee has emerged as a charismatic leader in Bengal politics in recent times. The trust reposed on Ma Thakuran by the Khanpur villagers testifies to that. Let the time tell how Mamata’s charismatic politics impacts the public life of Bengal in the coming days.
NOTES 1. See Bimala Majhi’s interview in Chira Ranjan Paul (ed.). Tebhagar Nari, Radical, Kolkata, 2011, pp. 103-13.
2. Sunil Sen, Agrarian Struggle in Bengal: 1946-47, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1972, p. 63.
3. Saptarshi Banerjee, ‘Freedom fighters starving’, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, April 10, 2011; Shankar Das, ‘Khanpurer Shahid Poribar Badol Chaichhen’, Pratyahik Khabor, Kolkata, April 9, 2011.
4. Hindustan Times, ibid.
5. Pratyahik Khabor, op.cit.
6. See, ibid.
7. Anandabazar Patrika, April 19, 2011.