Friday, September 02, 2005

Crimson challenge... how it all began


Sir, — In his article “The Maoist Threat” (27-28 August), Lt-Gen(retd) JR Mukherjee is somewhat inaccurate in his assessment of the origins and evolution of the Naxalite movement in West Bengal. As SDO, Siliguri, in 1967, and as Additional DM and DM from 1968 to 1972, I had the experience of facing the movement in Nadia and Midnapore. In a sense, the CPI-M was responsible for the rise of extremism in the wake of a serious intra-party feud. There were two distinct factions — one clamouring for an armed uprising and the other wanting to follow the parliamentary path.

On 9 February 1967 — the eve of the Assembly elections — the state’s Intelligence Branch had in a note warned the district officials of the CPI-M’s plan to “launch militant movements for the overthrow of the (Congress) government...” The party had calculated that PC Sen would again form the government, but the Congress would not gain a huge majority in the new Assembly. As it turned out, the Congress was defeated and the first United Front government was installed. In the post-election euphoria, Jyoti Basu, Harekrishna Konar and Promode Dasgupta forgot to call off their pre-election pledge on a violent movement.

Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal were already underground with no contact with the CPI-M headquarters at Alimuddin Street. The tribals, encouraged by the CPI-M’s election-eve promise that land would be occupied forcibly, started the movement in Naxalbari.
Land was indeed forcibly occupied, guns snatched and Congressmen attacked. When Jangal Santhal beat up Iswar Tirkey, the Bangla Congress election candidate, chief minister Ajoy Mukherjee was furious. Harekrishna Konar, the land and land revenue minister, rushed to Siliguri and held late night meetings at the Sukna forest bungalow. But Kanu Sanyal would not listen. Charu Mazumdar refused to meet Konar, calling him a renegade.

On 24 May 1967, Kanu’s tribals killed Sonam Wangdi, a police inspector. The next day, 13 tribals died in police firing. Over the next three months, all the leaders were arrested and Naxalbari became peaceful again. Thus was an agrarian uprising crushed by the CPI-M.

The unconditional release of the Naxalites by the second UF government in early 1969 led to the formation of the CPI(ML). What began as an agrarian movement soon acquired a sinister character. A sitting High Court judge, a vice-chancellor, a law secretary to the government, Congressmen and police constables were killed by the Naxalites.

Still more brutal was the police reprisal, notably the mayhem at Baranagar, the killing of Saroj Dutta and Charu Mazumdar’s death in custody.

— Yours, etc., Dipak Kumar Ghosh, IAS (retd)
Kolkata, 27 August.

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