Naxalbari@50: Factional feuds and bloodshed, but what has Maoist revolt achieved?
After 50 years, Naxalbari is abuzz again. Hundreds of Left leaders and activists are pouring into this north Bengal town to commemorate half a century of the peasants’ uprising that got its name from here. But they all have one question: When exactly is Naxalbari day?
This vexed question has even split the local leadership. One faction of the CPI (ML) says it’s May 25, the day 11 peasants and tribals were killed in police firing. The other says May 24 is the more appropriate day – when a policeman died during a peasants’ rebellion.
Such factional feuds – there are over 50 groups splintered over obscure ideological points – have shredded the Left in its erstwhile strongholds, confining the armed resistance to small pockets of central India today.
Pushed deeper into the forests of the Deccan over the past decade by security forces, the Left wing extremists consider Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh their biggest fortresses – a world away from the meadows and tea gardens of Naxalbari where the first sparks were lit.
Deep within the trenches of these desperately poor regions littered with landmines and booby traps, the Maoists have set up “liberated zones” with parallel administrations, levies, and harsh punishments for dissenters. Government presence is practically nil and any attempt to stamp official authority – schools, hospitals, roads – is brutally thwarted.
The consolidation of three big factions in central and southern India helped the Maoists create a corridor that stretches from Bihar’s Gaya and Aurangabad districts to Chhattisgarh’s Sukma. In these areas, a cocktail of decades-old government apathy and fear of Maoists drives locals to accept insurgent diktats.
Resistance is punished swiftly – chopping off limbs, burying men neck-deep in mud and leaving them to starve to death or get eaten by animals or drowning them in rivers to make a spectacle.
The death Charu Majumdar and arrest of Kanu Sanyal, and a string of brutal urban encounters on the streets of Calcutta snuffed the life out of the Naxal movement in the early 70s. As the Bengal ideologues faded away, the focus of the uprising shifted south, especially Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Today, the Maoist hierarchy is dominated by leaders from these two states, right from secretary Muppalla Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi to spokesman Mallojula Venugopal alias Bhupati.
Srikakulam, the tribal belt of north-coastal Andhra Pradesh, first caught the Naxalbari sparks when two school teachers led a tribal rebellion against landlords by forming peasant guerrilla squads in October 1967. The tribal uprising was crushed in 1970 by the state.
“Though the Srikakulam struggle received a setback, it ignited fire in Telangana that was already restive for a separate state,” says Maoist party ideologue and revolutionary writer Pendyala Vara Vara Rao.
For him, the Naxal movement started from Telangana during the armed struggle against the feudal Nizams between 1946 and 1948. “The Telangana armed struggle had inspired revolutionary movements in the country and Naxalbari was one of them,” Rao told HT.
The Andhra Pradesh unit, however, regularly clashed with the central leadership on strategic issues – a dissent that seems to have held them in good stead.
The rebels tasted their first major success in 1974 when 150 villages were declared “liberated” with farmers occupying thousands of acres of land from landlords. This buoyed the insurgents and helped them survive the repression of the Emergency years. In 1980, it transformed into the feared People’s War Group that quickly spread across the state.
But what has it achieved?
“The movement sustained itself for five decades. If it was suppressed in one area, it raised its head in another area. It would not have been possible without the support of the masses,” says Haragopal, noted activist and former professor of University of Hyderabad.
(This is the concluding part of the series)
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