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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 8 New Delhi February 10, 2018

The Nature of Naxalite Movement in Naxalbari

Tuesday 13 February 2018, by J.J. Roy Burman


In the June 5-11, 2009 issue of Mainstream weekly I had concluded that the Naxalite movement in Naxalbari in 1967 was neither a tribal movement nor a peasant movement; it was an ethnic upsurge in which migrant adivasi tea plantation labourers played an active role in grabbing Rajbangshi lands located next to the plantations. But for the present, I have second thoughts about it. When I look into the constitution of the organisations of the plantation labourers, I find very few of them in the leadership role, or rather have no presence at all. Affecting the existence of many Rajbangsi villages the adivasis or the tribal tea plantation labourers virtually took over the village autonomy. The panchayats lost virtually complete control over the political processes and development instruments. They lost the political rights so required for unhindered management and development.

A quick look into the background of the leaders reveals that none of them have had a peasant background. Most of them were from the educated Bengali middle class Bhadralok background who had migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. These leaders had joined the trade unions of the tea gardens. They were largely dependent on the ideological moorings of the Chinese leaders like Mao Zedong and Lin Biao. Some amount of finances also flew down the line. The plantation labourers had neither any idea of the strategies that spread around the State of West Bengal nor had they any control over the resources indispensible for the militia to procure arms and ammunitions or lying low in hiding during armed onslaughts from the state.

It is not that no Rajbangshi joined hands with the Naxalites, but they were negligible. They were mostly poor peasants who sought refuge in North Bengal. But they failed to evolve any class character vis-a-vis the clan relations and clan heads — the Giris. In fact many of them were opposed to the idea of class annihilation as propounded by Charu Majumdar, the CPI(ML) supremo. The wage labourers barely fathomed the ideological differences between different Communist Parties or even their manifestos or that of the Congress party.

Given the character of the trade unions and complex leadership, it is not difficult to fathom that the nature of organisations surrounding the plantations was nothing but Trade Union. Given the situation I strongly conclude that the Naxalbari movement was a trade union movement but neither a peasant nor a tribal movement. Astonishingly, these groups at times received pecuniary assistance from big business houses like the Tatas. Tatas helped start a guild of 17 tea companies in North Bengal. They also played a crucial role in reopening six closed down gardens. Many planters have also helped the Adivasis to acquire vested lands of the Jotedars (Landed Rajbanshis indigene to the area) placed next to the tea gardens. Multinational companies like Goodrick and Duncans, though their role was not very positive, had established contacts with important politically backed tea garden unions. International NGOs, too extended help and assistance to the planters. CRY, a Kolkata based NGO has intimate contacts with gardens of Jalpaiguri and is busy doing liaisoning job.

It is rather vexing that not a single political party, trade union or intellectual has raised a finger against the West Bengal land ceiling Act that favours the plantations and estate holders. They invariably take up the problems of the adivasis which imported a romantic colour. Studies on the Rajbangshis have no takers. On the other hand, the adivasis have no solid economic base to be able to sustain any armed struggle. The ideological base is also hollow, which actually should emerge from the belly so as to garner support and commitment. The mistaken basis of academic analysis further makes a flip flop of the entire situation and bursts off like a balloon; The Naxalite movement in Naxalbari was punctured in barely two months of 1967. Since then the Naxalites or other Left parties have failed miserably in the parliamentary elections from Naxalbari constituency.

The article of mine, published about 10 years in the Mainstream weekly, failed to draw out the anarchic streak and plainly harped on the Leftist ideology, of course branding the adivasi workers as belonging to some endemic economic class. The present edifice, however, veers around the phenomenon of anarcho-syndicalism. That is the way David Harvey, a European scholar, looks upon it so as to be able to explain its grassroot political-economic dynamics. This, in a way leads us to conclude that the 1967 commotion at Naxalbari was fundamentally a trade union movement led by the elite Bengali baboos as stated earlier.

The above case teaches us seriously that if a movement does not have a political leader from its own community and is not able to generate its own resource, its success will not be forthcoming. This is exactly what happened at Naxalbari. The adivasis had to constantly look for outside leadership and finances. This is exactly what the Narmada Bachao Andolan had to strive for and the dam is virtually complete at present. The elite urban support from India and abroad was of little use to them. In contrast the NSCN (IM), the Naga Underground party, sustains itself by mobilising its own resources under the strong leadership of their supreme leader, Muivah, who led an underground movement from the forests for decades. Besides, almost the entire Naga society abides by the dictates of HoHo—the Naga Parliament. The Jharkhand movement in central India is similarly found wobbling it has broken up into several factions. Its severe dependence on the gifts of the Tatas also reduces its mobility. That also became the predicament of several Kamtapuri political outfits. They could not become members of powerful trade unions as availed of by the plantation adivasis. The Rajbanshis reportedly are now trying to garner some support of the adivasi sympathisers.

Prof J.J. Roy Burman belongs to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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