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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 29

Looking Back

by S.C.

Saturday 7 July 2007


[(The fortieth anniversary of the Naxalbari revolt has been recently observed. On this occasion the following piece by the editor of this journal (published at the time of the revolt’s twentyfifth anniversary) is being reproduced—even after 15 years its relevance remains undiminished. The author, however, wants to only add that he wishes to greet some of his surviving CPI-ML friends, still in search of the elusive revolution, on this anniversary.)]

Twentyfive years ago, in the first half of 1967, was born a spark which, in the words of Beijing Radio quoting Mao, promised to set the prairie on fire.

History will pronounce its final verdict on the Naxalbari revolt and the outlook and style of struggle it generated. But the durable imprint of that revolt on our body politic, on our peasantry and Indian agrarian relations in particular, can hardly be disputed. At the same time none can overlook the magnitude of sacrifice and sufferings the Naxalites underwent. No doubt a sizeable number of anti-socials had infiltrated into the movement and the party that grew out of it—the CPI-ML. Yet the core comprised honest and dedicated activists who sought to usher in a better tomorrow bereft of exploitation and oppression, albeit through the barrel of the gun from which, according to the Maoist dictum, flowed real power.

SD was wide-eyed and slightly older than me. We were both in the same college, and both happened to be active workers of the Students’ Federation (which had not yet split). He used to write posters for the Students’ Union elections. I too got briefly involved in it under his supervision. That is how our friendship grew.

Soon, however, we came to realise that our political opinions varied substantially on the question of strategy and tactics—by then the Indian communist movement was being rent by division on that score. Nevertheless, the heated debates could not cast any shadow on our mutual regard. I respected SD for his quiet confidence. He realised that my contributions through writings and speaking could not be ignored. It is he who insisted that I contest for the post of General Secretary of the Students’ Union while he was fighting for the office of the Vice-President in the Union elections. Initially I was reluctant for a variety of reasons, but ultimately gave in to his pleadings. However, the elections were marred by certain unseemly developments that forced all of us to withdraw from the contest much to the irritation of the university Vice-Chancellor who had a soft corner for us.

SD and I had both left the university when the name ‘Naxalbari’ spread like wildfire in the late sixties in West Bengal. The year was 1968. By then I was in Delhi, a probationer in a daily newspaper, trying my hand in journalism. One day SD came to our office. He was sitting in the small cubicle of the veteran journalist, the late C.N. Chitta Ranjan. I went over and shook his hand. It was as usual warm and friendly. I took him to a nearby tea-shop and we discussed current events. What was striking was the wide range of agreements we were able to reach on various issues. Little did I realise that that would be our last meeting.

SD was killed in “action” (an euphemism for you know what) within a brief span of time in the early seventies.

AM was, in a sense, closer to me. Well-built and handsome, he was the epitome of youthful vigour. He was initially not in the Students’ Federation. In fact he was anti-SF thanks to the tiff he had with an SF leader who subsequently became a Minister in the West Bengal Left Front Government. However, what brought us close to each other was not only the fact that we were in the same year in college—but that we both shared an abiding interest in Bengali literature, notably Bengali poetry.

I used to write, even in my college days, political articles alongside poems in different journals. AM too wrote poems—poetry of love that revealed the pain of separation and loneliness. But he had little interest in politics.

Suddenly it was in 1966 at the height of the food movement that AM plunged into politics. Drawn towards the CPI-M he became a militant cadre. But more than that he was a mass leader in the suburban locality where he resided. In fact by his deeds he became a veritable Robin Hood in that area. His logic was simple: fighting for the cause of the good against the evil. The same logic inexorably drove him to Naxalism and the CPI-ML. It was indeed difficult for him to comprehend the complex political course I was trying to navigate. But we retained a durable friendship: a friendship nurtured by both the humanism reflected in his poems and the broad sweep of his politics with which I had practically no difference.

When his book of poems came out in print he gifted me a copy. It still bears his signature.

And then in March 1971 he too was killed in “action”. I distinctly remember how widows with tearful eyes converged at the police station where he had breathed his last. That was the best tribute to his memory as it revealed the breadth of his popularity.

When my book of poems came out in 1974, included in it was a poem dedicated to AM, parts of which read as follows:

-You were then by my side in the darkness,
-You are lost today…..

-The whole path I crossed under blazing sun
-The cowdust evening light
-glows along the mind’s horizon now…

-Crimson memories splash across the western sky
-Now was the time for your return home.
-Yet you are lost today
-in an unseasonal storm.

The distinguished poet, Bishnu Dey, who wrote the foreword that book, liked the poem. So did some of my Naxalite friends and acquaintances who had no hesitation in acclaiming it despite the fact that they despised my “revisionism”.

AM was a dear friend whose memory I will cherish forever. As for SD, my friendship with him too will always remain fresh in mind.

AS one looks back over the twentyfive years since the emergence of that struggle, it is obvious that the spark of Naxalbari had failed to set the prairie on fire. And yet even today one cannot but acknowledge its far-reaching implications.

There is no dearth of pundits to make hair-splitting assessments of the Naxalite movement as a whole. That isn’t my task. As far as I am concerned, I feel it necessary, on this occasion, to offer my homage to their dedication and sacrifice while remembering my Naxalite friends who were snatched away at the height of the violence and terror that had gripped the seventies (which unfortunately failed to develop into the “decade of liberation” as was widely forecast on graffiti and wall posters).

Whatever the evaluation of those Naxalite friends and their activities of those days by our learned scholars and academics, one is absolutely certain that their striving for a bright future for our teeming multitudes shall never be in vain.

(Mainstream, July 18, 1992)

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