PART-2 : THE SETBACK
Revolutions never proceed in a straight line. The history of all successful revolutions show this. The path is zig zag, there are ups and downs, there is victory and defeat repeated a number of times.....before final victory. Of course, there is no final victory until the stage of communism is reached. Even the gigantic success of the Russian and Chinese revolutions were followed by reverses three to four decades later.....no doubt these defeats will be followed by victories in the future.
Revolutions trace a tortuous course, there are no short-cuts, no easy paths. Setbacks are inevitable as they face a rapacious monster, but with greater experience of class struggle, a deeper understanding of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and a better grasp of the ground realities, the losses can be minimised.
Though the immediate cause for the setback was the ruthless repression unleashed by the government, the large losses came from certain shortcomings on all the above three counts.
The Government Onslaught
It was during this period that the police introduced the method of ‘encounter’ killings. It is a method which sets aside even their own bourgeois norms. But then, their ‘democracy’ is only for those who accept their system while for those who question it, or challenge it, it is a cold, brutal fascist madness. During the Telangana uprising in 1950 the Nehru government murdered thousands of tribals and hung communists along the trees leading to the villages. The same Nehru treated the same ‘communists’ as his closest associates once they entered parliament just two years later. During those days, Nasser, while on a visit to India, exclaimed in shocked surprise at the freedom communists had, and chidingly told Nehru "we put all communists into prison." Nehru smilingly replied "it is much the same, you keep them in prison, we in parliament - in both, they become harmless."
Staged encounters became the norm in the 1970-71 period. Besides, revolutionaries were subjected to inhuman tortures. In all the struggle areas the police would pick up young men and women in the age-group 17 to 25, suspected to have links with the Maoist movement.... and subject them to brutal torture. The purpose of torture was not just to extract information, but to break their will, destroy their self-respect, so that they do not challenge the system and the established status quo. The roller treatment, hanging from the roof and being beaten, inserting hot iron rods into the rectum, electric shocks, burning with cigarette butts and many more savage methods were used against Maoist suspects. Of course, this never frightened the revolutionaries, but made their hatred against the system more intense. So, the ‘encounter’ killings.
In 1969-70 the government had pressed into service not only the reserve police forces, but also the para-military and even the army. By 1971 most of the Naxalbari-type uprisings had been cruelly crushed. Then the government turned its fury on the revolutionary youth of Calcutta. By 1970 urban guerilla struggles had reached unprecedented dimensions in the city, effecting students, workers, employees etc. The tremendous support they received frightened the ruling classes, and the large sections of the CPI (M) cadres, that switched alliance to the Maoists, created panic in the CPI (M) leadership.
In the 1971-72 period hundreds of youth of Calcutta were systematically shot dead by Congress-led vigilante squads. These killer squads were led by Congress leaders like Priya Ranjandas Munshi, and put into action according to a plan hatched by the Chief minister Siddarth Shankar Ray and police chief Ranjit Guha. For example, in August 1971 Congress hoodlums joined hands with CPI (M) cadre to massacre hundreds of Maoists in the Baranagar and Howrah areas of Calcutta. The most infamous was the Cassipore-Baranagar massacre. Armed goons of the Congress together with CPI (M) activists conducted house to house searches, raping women, burning houses and beating up youth with any known sympathy for the Maoists. Then, the Congress went on a killing spree, while the CPI (M) men formed a human chain around the area, to prevent anyone from escaping. Young boys were murdered, elderly people were doused with kerosene and burnt to death. Two important Maoist leaders of the area, Panchu Gopal Dey and Karuna Sarkar were killed in the most gory fashion. Dey’s limbs were cut off, one by one, and then stoned to death. Karuna Sarkar was caught by the goondas and CPI (ML) was carved on her chest. Other places where similar massacres took place were Ratan Babu Ghat, Kashiwar Chatterjee Lane, Baral Para Lane, Kutighat Road, Atul Krishna-Bose Lane, Maharaja Navalakumar Road, Lal Maidan, Bholanath stree, Jainarayan Banerjee Lane, Kashinath Datta Road and Vidyatan Sarani.
In this period over 10, 000 Maoists and their sympathisers were killed, most of the leadership had been decimated and thousands more were languishing in jails. And while this savage extermination was going on not a single parliamentary party even raised a voice.
Martyrdom of CM
Earlier, two central committee members, Saroj Datta and Appu just ‘disappeared’. Till today is is not known what happened, but it is quite clear that they have been arrested, tortured, then killed and their bodies disposed off by the police. Sushital Roy Choudhary died of a heart attack. In AP and Punjab the bulk of the leadership were killed. Charu Mazumdar, the ailing leader of the movement still evaded arrest. By 1972 he was the most wanted man by the Indian government.
But, on July 16, 1972 after the brutal torture of a courier, Charu Mazumdar was arrested from a shelter in Calcutta. At the time of his arrest he was seriously sick with cardiac asthama. During his ten days in police custody no one was allowed to see him - not even his lawyer, family members nor a doctor. The Lal bazar lock-up had achieved a reputation throughout the country of the most horrifying and cruel tortures. At 4.00 A.M. on July 28, 1972 Charu Mazumdar died in the police lock-up. Even the dead body was not given to the family. A police convoy, with the immediate family members carried the body to the crematorium.... The whole area was cordoned off and not even the nearest relatives was allowed in. Charu Mazumdar’s body was consigned to the flames. And with his martyrdom the first glorious chapter of the incipient revolutionary movement in India came to a close.
With the martyrdom of CM the young Maoist movement was thrown into disarray. With much of the leadership, at all levels, killed or in jail, and with a fascist terror reigning, the links between the revolutionaries broke. It was left to local organisers to recoup the forces. Most of these lacked experience, were being hounded by the police and, in many places, the mass base was shattered by police attacks. Yet pockets of resistance continued particularly in West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
But the government could not contain the peoples’ anger and a wave of protests shook the country. In Bihar and Gujarat there were massive student movements against corruption and government unaccountability; in Maharashtra severe drought sparked off unrest and the Dalits (scheduled castes) rose in revolt with the Dalit Panther movement; the nationalities were beginning to stir with movements for the development of local languages, more equitable centre-state relations and for separate states; the all India strike of railway workers in 1974 brought the economy to a virtual standstill; and, to top it all, even sections of the police launched unprecedented revolts against the government.
The ruling classes too were in disarray. They found themselves unable to contain the peoples’ anger. Each new day brought fresh reports of more attacks on the system. Yet, in the absence of a conscious intervention by a well-organised revolutionary party, the spontaneous challenge of the people was sought to be diverted into parliamentary channels. Jaya Prakash Narayan who became the symbolic leader of the movement against corruption gave a call for ‘Total Revolution’. In many places the movement spontaneously took a violent turn, but JP’s ‘total revolution’ was directionless. But, the mass movement threatened the ruling Congress government which finally clamped an internal Emergency on June 26, 1975. On 25th night the entire opposition parties and even some dissident Congressmen, mass leaders, civil rights workers and revolutionaries and their sympathisers were thrown behind bars.
The pockets of Maoist resistance that continued in this period were particularly in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh led by the AP State Committee of the CPI (ML), later to become the CPI (ML) (People’s war), in West Bengal it was the Second CC with a strong base in Nadia and 24 Parganas districts and the MCC in the Sunderbans; and in Bihar three groups continued their resistance - in Bhojpur it was led by the CPI (ML) faction of Jawahar (later to become the Liberation group), in Jehanabad by what came to be later known as CPI (ML) Party Unity and in South Bihar’s Hazaribagh and Giridh areas by the MCC.
Three Trends Emerge
In this period of setback three distinct trends developed within the CPI (ML). The first was a continuation of the left line of ‘annihilation of class enemies’ which was represented by some pro-Lin Piao groups like the Second CC and the Mahadev Mukherjee group, also the CPI (ML) led by Jowahar in Bihar and CPI (ML) led by Kannamani in Tamilnadu. The second trend comprised of those who swung to the right, by criticising the entire tactical line of the CPI (ML) and once again sought participation in elections. This was particularly led by the CPI (ML) faction led by Satyanarayan Singh. Others like Kanu Sanyal, Ashim Chatterjee, Souren Bose swung even further to the right finally veering towards the CPI (M). The third trend was particularly represented by the COC (Central Organising Committee) which upheld the essence of the CPI (ML) line but sought to rectify the left errors. The COC comprised the CPI (ML) state units from Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar - the Punjab unit later merged the Unity Organisation to form the CPI (ML) Party Unity and the Andhra Pradesh unit developed into CPI (ML) (People’s war).
The revolutionaries belonging to the first trend were unable to withstand the police pressure for long. They fought heroically, but were suppressed. This was particularly so in Bhojpur. Annihilations rocked the district from 1971. Notorious landlords, upper caste gentry who had raped dalit women, goondas of the landlords .... all fell victim to the blazing guns of the revolutionaries. The movement threw up dedicated revolutionaries like Jagdish Mahto and Butan Mushahar....both school teachers and lovingly referred to as ‘Master’; and there was Rameshwar Ahir, the landless peasant-turned criminal, turned revolutionary. Then there was Dr. Nirmal the medical graduate who had experienced casteism even amongst the educated students and realised that genuine equality can only be achieved through revolution. And then there was the legendary leader of the CPI (ML) group Subroto Dutta, popularly known an ‘Jawahar’. The battles raged in the plains of Bhojpur right into the Emergency. But four days after the declaration of Emergency the battle turned in favour of the enemy.
It was June 29, Bahuara village with 143 families. The CRP and the Jat Regiment aided by 300 heavily armed Bumihars surrounded the village. The attackers set the whole Dalit tola on fire. The Ahirs, led by the CPI (ML) cadres fought back. The battle raged for three whole days. Finally after 96 hours of heavy fighting, four men made an attempt to break out of the heavy encirclement. Two, including Dr. Nirmal escaped. But a wounded Butan, ‘Master’, could not. He was arrested in the next village and shot dead. It is said that in these plains the revolutionaries linked up huts with underground tunnels, for their security. A few months later, a police party raided the house of Sakaldip Chamar in Babubandh village. The people inside put up a valiant resistance. After the smoke cleared, many lay dead. Among them was Dr. Nirmal. He was just 27 years. Among those who escaped was Jawahar; but he was severely wounded and died a few hours later. The Mushahars did not allow the police to capture the body; with tears in their eyes, they carried it away secretly through the fields. Resistance continued to smoulder throughout the period of the Emergency. Rameshwar Ahir and Jagdish Mahto too became martyrs. After the Emergency the new secretary of the party Vinod Mishra, while negating the left errors, step by step led the party to the extreme right. By the end of the 1980s this party revised all its earlier positions ending in the camp of the CPI and CPM. Of the groups in the first trend the Kannamani group was totally liquidated, and the second CC after some divisions, a few reviewed their past and tried to come out of the ultra-left line.
Most of the groups in the second trend, with varying degrees of right deviations, finally became part of the revisionist camp, like the SNS group, Kanu Sanyal, Ashim Chatterjee etc. A few, though still within the revolutionary camp, are getting more and more bogged down in parliamentary politics, or keep on postponing the question of armed struggle. Some of these have been going through a series of unifications and splits.
The third trend was the trend of the future......and it is this trend that has been growing in many parts of the country. They are basically represented by three organisations : CPI (ML) Party Unity, CPI (ML) (People’s war) and the MCC. Though the MCC never joined the CPI (ML) and has an independent history of its own it is today the strongest revolutionary force in Bihar. These three trends, in order to coordinate the struggles, formed a broad common platform called the All India People’s Resistance Forum or AIPRF in 1992 with its organ ‘People's Resistance’ in English and Hindi.