by Dipanjan Rai Chowdhuri
Frontier | Vol. 49, No.47, May 28 – Jun 3, 2017
I first met Charu Majumdar in 1968. Some students were going to a rural area for protracted political work and Charuda (Kaka, our leader, called him Charuda, and we usurped the name!) had agreed to a talk to orient their programme. At this time the supporters of Naxalbari were fragmented into sectarian groups. We did not belong to Charuda’s organisation, but the moment he started talking we understood he was speaking to us as our leader.
He said that our work was to take to the peasants the message of armed struggle to establish their own state . Organising economic struggles was not our task. The peasants might not listen to the message and start economic struggles. For example, they might want to take a deputation to the BDO to dig a culvert. You will say that nothing will come of this as far as changing the nature of the state and the basic conditions of life of the people concerned, but you will accompany the peasant in his procession. The line presented here has been debated to bits but there can be little doubt that it was inspired by the mass line. He said nothing about the “annihilation” line.
From his experiences in the Tebhaga, Charuda spoke about ‘‘do’s and don’ts’’. One was to go without any possessions to the village and, right from the start, live with a poor/landless peasant family. Share their life, and, if possible labour. The people of India are hospitable and one must depend on them. One must live secretly in the village, hide indoors during the day, and avoid any face to face with untrustworthy villagers. Bad gentry should not know of one’s presence. Shops, Markets, haats, and fairs and other public places were to be avoided.
Let me take the liberty of illustrating the pith and moment of Charuda’s observations by recounting an incident which occurred while I was peddling CM’s line in the hovels of Salboni, a prefecture, within whose bounds, a fraternal squad had shortly before killed a notorious landlord. In one village, I had found the name of a possible political element, and I reached his house as the late summer sun was about to set. He was not present, but his brother was working on an adjoining field. He said that his brother would be able to meet me “tomorrow”. I returned the next day to a similar scenario. My man was not there but it was understood from his brother that he would return soon to meet me. While waiting, I started arguing for the political line of winning the state by armed struggle. A little later the brother told me that his brother had actually gone to the ‘dafadar’ to raise a party to arrest me, and I should flee immediately. The only question left for me to ask was ‘which way?’’, and he showed me the fields filled with the sharp bristly ends of recently harvested paddy. As I continually fell and ran across the fields, on their far side , a ribbon, which was the road into the village was traversed to and fro by a search party with “daylight” gas lamps and a band! By the time they lost heart, I had chorded the arc which was the the main bus route. Darkness enveloped bus and the road, effectively hiding my bloodied knees. The political line had identified and saved me.
I should like to draw another lesson from my Salboni ramblings. All the while I was moving about, I sensed CPI(M) movement, too. I moved secretly and in those years so had they to do. I was talking to a family at one end of a wormlike village, while the CPI(M), may be, was running a secret meeting at the other end. The CPI(M) had a small presence in Salboni, in fact, and had been trying unsuccessfully for years to get elected a harmless, ageing leftist named Sundar Hazra. After the “annihilation”, the CPI(M) added a novel string to its bow : “we admit that the Naxalites are also fighting the landlords. But their line would take you through police torture, make you a proclaimed offender without lands and property, and paste your face on posters, with the young of the family confused as to the degree of your criminality.’’ To the landlords, they beckoned surrender, especially after their electoral victory of 1976, adding that if they didn’t, the Naxalites would surely behead them when they come. History would record the success of these two parties in breaking the back of feudalism in West Bengal. But it is doubtful if their bizarre antics would last the memory of another fifty years.