Growing up in Calcutta of the late 60s and early 70s we were taught ‘Naxalism’ is a bad word. In the early or middle years of school – we were in no position to comprehend the ideological import of the “movement”. As children all that we heard or saw were bombs, killings, curfews and ubiquitous armed CRPF jawans everywhere - including in temple precincts.
For the petty bourgeoisie (“bhadrolok”) Bengali – whose 3 basic pillars of life were – Mohun Bagan, Congress and Calcutta Club - anything “left” of center was politically incorrect.
I remember the mildly disparaging comments that people of my Dad’s generation would pass about the children of friends and relatives – studying at the Presidency College or doing their Masters at the Calcutta University – who displayed the slightest leftist streak – labeling them at once as “Naxals” (“Oor cheley /meye toh Naxal korey”).
A sinister tag was attached to the names of Naxal leaders like Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal - tho’ the same Bengal had produced many an armed revolutionary during the freedom struggle who are still deified by the people. When an ailing Charu Mazumdar was brought to the PG hospital for treatment under police custody – there was a quiet jubilation at the “people’s enemy” having finally been captured.
Kanu Sanyal (who recently committed suicide)’s sister – Sumita - used to play supporting roles in Bengali movies (she had also acted in a few Hindi movies like Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Anand' and 'Aashirwad'). Barely coming of age, we found it difficult to believe how could the brother of such a comely woman be a “criminal”.
There was another reason for us to think the way we did was probably because, there wasn’t a family in Calcutta who hadn’t lost someone to the “movement” in those years – whether as victims of the Naxals or at the other end of the gun to “police encounters”. (Tho’ I am told the original Naxals thought it infra-dig to use “bullets” against their enemies. Stabbing a victim apparently expresses class hatred better. My mother’s uncle was killed with a sickle – near their village home in Chinsurah on a fateful Saraswati Puja eve in 1971).
Movies like Tapan Sinha’s Apanjan tried to capture the mood of the times. But, perhaps the most authentic account of the period is contained in Sunil Ganguly’s modern day epic novel “Purbo-Paschim”.
Much later, I had a closer brush with the Maoists in Nepal. To me it was a natural progression of the many waves of back-lash against years of misrule by Royalty and their elite coterie in Kathmandu. But like all other ‘revolutions’ before it – notably the watershed of circa 1990-91, that established the Westminster form of “democracy” reducing the Monarchy to a “constitutional” form – this one, which was to make Nepal a “Republic”, fast lost its sheen of idealism the closer they came to power.
Around this time last year – the West Bengal State General Secretary of the CPIM – whom I had met in some other connection – taught me the term “Infantile Disorder” an expression coined by Lenin to explain left wing extremism that has now become common parlance in Debates on Maoist insurgency now heard ad nauseam on Television.
(Note: Just to make things abundantly clear, Biman Bose' reference was to the neo-Maoists and not their principal political opponent in the State)
to be continued…