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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 51

Sketchy, though Faultless, Analysis of Naxalite Uprising

Tuesday 11 December 2007, by K S Subramanian


[(Book Review)]

Maoist ’Spring Thunder’: The Naxalite Movement (1967-1972) by Arun Prosad Mukherjee; K.P. Bagchi and Company, Kolkata; 2007; pages: 319; price : Rs 595.

The distinguished author of this interesting and important book was posted as the Superintendent of Police, Darjeeling district, West Bengal when the historic Naxalite movement erupted in the Naxalbari, Khoraibari and Phansideva sub-divisions of that district in 1967, which subsequently spread to the State capital Kolkata and its environs, finally culminating in the setting up of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist in 1969 as a breakaway party from the parent Communist Party of India (CPI). At the outset, it must be clarified that the book is not about the Naxalite movement in the country as a whole but only about the developments in the State of West Bengal. The title of the book, however, gives a somewhat different impression.

Surprisingly, the scholarly author does not take note of the ideological and political context in which the united Communist Party of India split into three in the late 1960s, leading to the emergence of three parties: the CPI, the CPI-M and the CPI-ML. He does not also note the activities of the so-called Naxalites in other parts of India, especially Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, where the movement became well established. The book is based mainly on the professional experience of the author as the Superintendent of Police of the Darjeeling district (and later as a senior officer in the State Police headquarters in Kolkata). The historical importance of the book lies in the fact that this is the first serious (and therefore valuable) attempt by a district police chief who has had a hands-on experience of tackling Naxalite violence on the ground. Interestingly, this officer went on to become not only the State Police chief but ended up in the coveted position of Adviser to the Union Home Minister and subsequently becoming the Governor of a sensitive North-Eastern State. The author’s humane approach to the understanding and handling of the Naxalite violence on the ground and his useful guidelines on how the Indian Police should handle such ’revolutionary’ violence elsewhere in the country are an important contribution especially at a time when the much maligned Naxalite movement has spread to several other States of the country in a much more organised and successful form thus underlining its political importance and also the importance of the socio-economic issues underlying the movement as ably highlighted by this humanistic police officer-scholar.

The author makes a signal contribution by noting the weaknesses and limitations of the administrative-police approach to the Naxalite violence in West Bengal during its early phases but also by bringing out the infirmities and failings of those who organised and led the movement in the State, especially its top leader Charu Mazumdar. However, it must be noted here that a serious critique of the ideological and political basis of the Naxalite movement was made not only by the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as rightly noted by the author, but also by the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India-Marxist, along much the same lines as the those made by the CPC. The author could have taken note of this as well.

Leaving aside the useful introduction, the book is organised in two parts. Part I consists of two chapters. The first, titled ’Gathering Storm’, covers the period 1967-68 and contains several official documents relating to the emergence of the movement and the socio-economic profiles and other details of those arrested during the period. The second chapter is titled ’The Lessons of Naxalbari’, contains an evaluation of the Naxalite movement written by the author in 1968, along with the comments on it made by the then Land and Land Revenue Minister, Harekrishna Konar, and the observations of the then Inspector General of Police, Upananda Mukharji, together with a post-script on the arrest of the Communist rebel leader Kanu Sanyal. Part II of the book has three chapters on the Naxalite activities in the State with special reference to Kolkata and its suburbs covering the period 1969-72. Chapter 3 deals with the transformation of peasant revolutionaries into urban guerillas. It contains an assessment written by the DIG (IB), DCP (SB), details of resistance to Naxalite activities in educational institutions in and around Kolkata, and extracts from a report of the Union Home Ministry on Naxalite activities in the country together with socio-economic and other particulars of Naxalite activists arrested during the period. Chapter 4 contains details of the critique of Naxalite supremo Charu Mazumdar and of the CPI-ML programme provided by Chinese and other Communist Parties of the West. As noted, these critiques are not dissimilar to those made by the CPI and the CPI-M. The fifth and final chapter of the book contains details of interrogation reports on eight prominent Naxalite leaders including Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Souren Bose, Sadhan Sarkar and others.

The organisation of the book leaves something to be desired. The author would have done well to separate out the official documents and put them in a different volume for the convenience of the diligent reader. He would have done well to produce a separate volume on a detailed critique of the Naxalite movement in the country as a whole based on his vast experience in West Bengal and elsewhere. While the present analysis, though sketchy, is faultless, the literature on the movement has by now become so vast that it cries out to be taken into account. If the author had attempted such an exercise given his experience, it would have come in handy for scholars and students of political science and development studies. His comments in this book on the status of the Naxalite movement in its current phase in India are cryptic and could have become more detailed if he had decided to publish the useful material here in two volumes instead of one.

The author, now busy as a distinguished member of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of the Government of India, has taken extraordinary trouble in bringing out this volume of historic significance. We must hasten to compliment him.

The reviewer, a former member of the IPS, is the author of Political Violence and the Police in India (Sage 2007).

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