NAXALBARI: At 111 years, Mujibur Rahman is having an identity crisis. "I don’t know whom to call a revolutionary nowadays. Anyone opposing anything is being termed as a Maoist," he says.
Mujibur Rahman is one of the handful of surviving revolutionaries who took part in the Naxalbari struggle on 25th May 50 years ago. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the events that came to be commemorated by the name of the place in Bengal where they took place, he says naxalism has morphed into different things to different people.
“We have not achieved anything. The zamindars against whom we fought still hold sway in the new avatar of corporates and the land mafia," says Mujibur Rahman.
The oldest of the handful of the 'first naxalites', Rahman remembers the sequence of events back in 1967. It started with peasants killing a police officer Sonam Wangdi at Jharujote village after he allegedly kicked a pregnant woman, which caused a miscarriage. Police retaliated by killing 11 women and children on May 25 at Bengai Jote village.
It sparked a revolution that spread to several states and today poses a challenge to the nation's security forces and is billed as ‘India’s biggest internal security threat’.
However, three of the four ‘first naxalites’ who are still alive harbour little hope in the present Maoist movement.
“Earlier, there were only two classes: the oppressed and the oppressor. Now a new class has emerged: the lumpen proletariat. They skim the cream in partnership with the rulers and oppress the poor. The ‘so-called communists’ in the Left Front encouraged this class and broke the back of the students who were our hope,” Rahman says.
Today Mujibur Rahman has made the same police checkpost as his home that the Naxals used to avoid at all costs at the height of the movement.
“We liberated the entire Siliguri subdivision. I was in charge of Naxalbari. If the signal for action came, we used to be ready even at 2 am. However, they (the police) surrounded and captured us within four months,” he said. This was 1967, and Rahman carried a bounty of Rs 50,000 for his capture.
The old revolutionary considers the CPM as the Naxals’ biggest enemy. “Jyoti Basu and (then land reforms minister) Benoy Krishna Konar would come and try to bribe us into surrendering. We never agreed,” he says.
Rahman's wife Rashida Begum, whose late father was also among the first Naxals, recalls the five years her husband spent in jail. “My son was 10 months old then. I had to avoid police surveillance and look after our farm. I was once taken to a police camp and interrogated. They told me that if I cooperated, my husband would be released but I didn’t give them any information. We believed in the movement,” she says.
Rashida becomes emotional when the conversation turns to Kanu Sanyal. “He was so simple," she says. "He used to wear loose pyjamas. I used to jokingly call him a cow dealer. I don’t believe that he killed himself. If he had had been weak in spirit, he would have done that many years earlier. After inspiring us for so many years, I don’t believe that he lost the battle,” she said.
Kanu Sanyal, one of the leaders of the Naxalbari movement, was found dead in his ancestral home in Sebdella Jote village in Naxalbari on March 23, 2010.
The surviving members of those first acts of the revolution have vivid memories of their struggle. Another 'first Naxal,' Shanti Munda remembers that she rushed to Jharujote village on the day of Sonam Wangdi’s killing with her 15-day child strapped to her back. It was May 24, 1967.
Today Shanti Munda uses an interesting metaphor to characterise the Maoists today. “We believe that twins were born in the womb of communists," she says. "One was a revisionist and the other was an extremist. Today we need the middle path. Kanuda believed that the Indian Constitution would benefit the corporates. So we need to break that bourgeois Constitution and make a new one for the people.”
Another 'first Naxal', Paban Singha, a 24-year-old young man in 1967, recounts how he carried home the body of his mother Dhaneshwari after the police firing on May 25. “My mother was one of the first martyrs of the revolution. A police bullet went through her jaw and exited from her ear. I carried her home, but I didn’t know whether to cremate her or not. i didn't know what the party line was. The entire village had fled to Nepal,” he said.
The survivors of Naxalbari speak wistfully of what might have been. “Our revolution can’t be exterminated. Had the leaders taken the movement in the right path, India would have been liberated of imperialism and capitalism,” says a Naxalbari survivor.