India’s Revolutionary Spiritual Urge: Bhagat Singh and the Naxalites

Bernard D’Mello

Monthly Review | 2021Volume 73, Number 7 (December 2021)

Kartar Singh Sarabha and Bhagat Singh
Kartar Singh Sarabha and Bhagat Singh. Image credit: Saurav Kumar, “Remembering The Heroic Sacrifice Of Bhagat Singh’s Mentor–Kartar Singh Sarabha,” YKA, November 26, 2017.

Bhagat Singh (1907–1931), the subject of Chris Moffat’s India’s Revolutionary Inheritance and Chaman Lal’s (edited and introduced) The Bhagat Singh Reader, is an iconic figure of the radical left tradition in India. In a trial by a special tribunal that chose to violate basic principles of law and criminal procedure for colonial-political ends, he was convicted of murdering an assistant superintendent of police in 1928. Singh, along with his comrades Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru, was executed in Lahore (now in Pakistan) on March 23, 1931, when he was just 23 years old, in the prime of his life.

Having come from the revolutionary strand of India’s struggle for independence, the elite nationalist leadership, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, remained ambivalent about Singh, and nationalist historiography has marginalized his political contributions. His substitution of the slogan “Vande Mataram!” (Salutations to Mother India!) with the rallying cries “Inquilab Zindabad!” (Long Live the Revolution!) and “Samrajyawad Ka Nash Ho!” (Death to Imperialism!) was alien to the political sense of India’s elite nationalist leaders. They were apprehensive of Singh’s brand of revolutionary politics appealing to the masses and displacing their own variety of a reformist nationalist mass movement. Indeed, “a confidential Intelligence Bureau account, Terrorism in India (1917–1936) went so far as to declare that ‘for a time, he [Bhagat Singh] bade fair to oust Mr. Gandhi as the foremost political figure of the day.’”1

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‘India after Naxalbari’

by Harsh Thakor

Frontier | Vol. 51, No.22, Dec 2 – 8, 2018

The book ‘India after  Naxalbari, unfinished History’ written by Bernard D’Mellow and published by Aakar Books [28E Pocket IV, Maryu Vihar Phase I, Delhi-110091, Price : Rs 995] is a classic.

The book is divided into 10 chapters like an epic novel with each chapter a logical sequel to the previous one. Chapter—1 on ‘Naxalite Spring Thunder phase’ where he recounts the history of the naxalbari uprising. In Chapter—2 ‘1968 India as history’ he recounts the brutal state repression unleashed. Chapter 3—’Unequal Development and evolution of the ruling bloc’ describes the principal undeveloped capitalism highlighting the state-corporate nexus. Chapter 4—’Naxalite Spring thunder phase narrating the events from 1978-2003 and describing the mass movements of the Maoists in light of worker-peasant alliance and women liberation. Chapter—5 ‘India 1989’ which sums up the financial autocracy and phenomenal disparity prevailing in total contrast to progressive capitalism. Chapter—6 ‘The far and near’—India’s rotten liberal democracy narrates how fundamental rights are violated and how it is an integral part of the bourgeois Indian state and how parliamentary democracy only protected the vested interests. Chapter—7 ‘Maoist Spring Thunder phase 3’ studies the movement after the formation of the CPI (Maoist) throwing light on the guerrilla army. Chapter—8 ‘Rotten at the heart-Secular state’ vividly describes how essentially the state violates the rights of minorities being responsible for some of the bloodiest communal riots ever perpetrating violence on Sikhs and Muslims. Chapter 9—’Little man, What now’ sums up the semi-fascist nature of the Modi regime and the aspect of sub-imperialism. Here he draws an analogy of the Nazi regime of 1930’s with the Hindu fascist agenda. Chapter—10 In ‘History memory and dreams’ he elaborates the concept of New Democracy in term of it’s workability.Read More »

Fifty Years of Frontier

by Santosh Rana

Frontier |Autumn Number 2018 | Vol. 51, No.14 – 17, Oct 7 – Nov 3, 2018

In 1967, in the fiftieth year of the Great October Revolution, the Spring Thunder over Naxalbari created a revolutionary upsurge among the workers, the peasants, the students, and youth and revolutionary intellectuals all over India. The peasants were in revolt against the exploitation and tyranny of the landlords, money-lenders and other exploiters. One could hear the resonance of Naxalbari in far-off Srikakulam, Mushahari, Lakhimpur-Kheri, Debra-Gopiballavpur, Birbhum and other places. The students, many of them with brilliant academic achievements, abandoned their career and went to the villages, forests and mines to integrate with peasants, adivasis and workers and build the revolutionary movement.Read More »

India: An Unusual Journey–Tale of a Rebel

by Arup Majumder

Frontier | Vol. 50, No.46, May 20 – 26, 2018

I joined the naxalite movement like thousands of students in my school life itself. It was a wave. So I can’t assure you that I was consciously got involved in the movement. Like many other novices I was also got arrested and just by chance my life was saved. Then after experiencing the famous treatment of Runu GuhaNeyogi in Lalbazar lock-up, I was detained in Presidency jail with many co-travellers. Finally the court considered the best possible justice can be given to me and many others were to be detained in MISA.

From there itself my true political life starts. I came across many leaders of varying viewpoint and different political background. At that time we were told in jail that our liberation army was marching in the villages. Though Charu Majumdar declared that India will be liberated within 1975, but we were believing that People’s Liberation Army may reach Presidency jail much before that, they will liberate us. Masses will gather outside the jail and there will be a grand reception for us.Read More »

The Dream That Failed: Voices of Naxalbari across the 50 Years–II

by Nazes Afroz

Frontier | Vol. 50, No.45, May 13 – 19, 2018

The First Public Cracks in the CPI(M-L) appeared with the start of the 1970s. Satyanarayan Singh, the party’s secretary in Bihar, denounced the annihilation line, and formed a parallel central committee that “expelled” Charu Majumder. Majumder retaliated by expelling Singh from the CPI(M-L). Some party leaders broke ranks to join Singh’s splinter group. Other leaders who began to criticise Majumder, including Ashim Chattopa-dhyay, were expelled too.

Charu Majumder was arrested from a hideout in Kolkata on 16 July 1972, on information from a comrade who cracked under police torture. By then he was suffering from acute cardiac asthma and needed constant medical supervision. The police interrogated him for 12 days. It is widely believed that his medication and treatment were stopped in custody, leading to his death from cardiac arrest on 28 July.Read More »

50 years of Naxalbari Movement in India: In Search of ‘Maoist Revolution’

[Integration with the peasantry. Hence first Jhargram, and then Haroah, Sandeshkhali, Minekhan. Two districts at two ends of West Bengal and two different experiences.]

by Timir Basu

Frontier | Vol. 50, No.1, Jul 9 – 15, 2017

It is not enough to call that period a turbulent one; it was a period of tremendous restlessness. After entering the Presidency College, I quite naturally got involved in the student movement. I got attached with the left student movement, although in the campuses of the College and the University of Calcutta, the rightists were holding sway. When we were endeavouring to build up a leftist student organisation in the Presidency College, ‘Naxalbari’ was yet to happen. Yet we earned the stigma of ultra-left, because we had become vocal against the bureaucratic central leadership.Read More »