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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

On Fiftieth Anniversary of the Naxalbari Uprising: Memory of a Meeting with Charu Mazumdar

Saturday 10 June 2017, by Barun Das Gupta


As the fiftieth anniversary of the Naxalite movement is being observed, old memories come crowding in my mind. One unforgettable memory is that of meeting Charu Mazumdar, the leader of the Naxalite movement, at his home at Siliguri in north Bengal. It was November 1968. I was working with the Bengali newsweekly Compass, started by the eminent communist revolutionary of undivided Bengal, Pannalal Das Gupta. North Bengal had then been struck by a devastating flood. I was sent to cover the flood. Panna Babu told me that since I was going to north Bengal, I should make it a point to meet Charu Mazumdar.

It was Sunday, November 1968. Around 11 in the morning I mounted the steps of a small wooden house to reach the first floor where Charu Mazumdar was seated in an easy chair just under a framed photograph of Mao Zedong. He appeared to be a decent, soft-spoken Bengali bhadralok. There was nothing abrasive or pugna-cious about his manner or language.

He expounded his theory of surrounding the towns with villages, of occupying land and driving out the zamindars. In doing this, he knew they would have to confront the state and its minions, the police. He was against the trade union movement. He was against forming a political party to carry out his (or their) agenda.

I asked him why he was against forming a political party. Without a party, how would the peasants be organised and led for the struggle he was envisaging? His answer took me aback. He said: “We had once formed a party (CPI) and joined it. Then we had to leave it and form another party (CPI-M). We all know what that party has become now—protecting the interests of the bourgeoisie. Then what is the use of forming yet another political party? The first necessity is not a party but a well-directed movement of the peasantry.”

I countered him by asking who will organise and guide the peasantry if there is no party to do it.

“The peasants will organise themselves and launch the movement. Out of the movement the party will be born. It will not be the party first and movement next. It will be the other way round.”

At this point I became a bit outspoken and told him that what he was saying was nothing but the theory of spontaneity which had nothing to do with Marxism. He seemed a bit surprised and asked me whether I was a newsman or a political activist. I told him of my RCPI background. He then launched into a full-fledged political discussion and in course of it he even acknowledged some of the weaknesses of the movement.

He mentioned an incident in which the police had arrested an activist in the dead of night. How was this possible? When the police entered the area the dogs must have barked seeing unknown people and that should have warned the activists. Either the dogs did not bark because they were familiar with regular nocturnal visits of the police, or the activists ignored the barking of the dogs. In either case it was an instance of lack of alertness on the part of the activists.

We discussed a wide range of issues—from the Russian Revolution to the Chinese Revo-lution and the Long March. He did not seem to be enthusiastic about Stalin and his leadership. But he was all praise for Mao Zedong and his leadership of the Chinese Revolution. I asked him whether he thought that the Indian revolution could be a carbon copy of the Chinese Revolution. He brushed aside the question contemptuously and drew a parallel between Chinese and Indian conditions, comparing the condition of the Indian peasantry with the pre-revolution peasantry in China.

The very next year, 1969, Charu Mazumdar did a somersault and launched his own party —the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist or CPI-ML. Eventually, the party split into dozens of small factions each trying to get at the throats of its rivals instead of attacking the bourgeois state. Many queer names were coined to designate the factions, like ‘pro-Mao, anti-Liu’, etc. The ‘class enemy’ was not the bourgeoisie but the members of the rival factions and it became the sacred revolutionary duty to finish them off (khatamer rajniti). In the situation thus created, the police found it easy to honey-comb the movement with their agents. But at the time I met Charu Mazumdar, all this was in the womb of the future.

When I came back from north Bengal, I wrote a detailed report on my interview with Charu Mazumdar in Compass. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, I do not have the copy of the weekly with me. I have to rely entirely on my memory. But my arguments with him about whether the movement came first or the party came first remain permanently etched in my memory.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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