50 Years of Naxalbari: A Path for Alternative Development
Purnendu Sekhar Mukherjee
In November, 2008 just as the people’s movement against state repression began in Lalgarh, a Peoples’ Committee against Police Atrocities was formed, comprising of five male and five female members representing each village, which soon spread from village to village. Equal participation of men and women in the committee generated enormous support from local women and the movement spread like a wild fire in the entire region. Within two weeks journalist Shyamsundar Das of The Statesmen wrote an article in which pointing out the most remarkable aspect of the movement he mentioned- “A parallel government has emerged in the district. Just like the Maoists run village committees in Andhra and Chattsigarh, the Peoples’ Committee have set up village committees in different villages of Belpahari, Binpur, Lalgarh, Jamb0ni, Salboni, Goaltore and surrounding areas. The village administration will be run according to the directives of the village committee and no government projects can be started without their permission. It is quite evident that in coming days implementing government projects in these villages will be difficult.”
Six months after the publication of this article, Snignendu Bhattacharya of the Hindustan Times published an article on the parallel governance and developmental system in the Lalgarh area. He wrote- “In areas of Medinipur bordering Odisha, in the last 8 months in an area spanning almost thousand square kilometers, the Maoists have silently developed a new weapon against the Indian state. Drinking water, irrigation, road, health centres … Hindustan Times witnessed the second liberated zone of India in this area kept carefully away from public eyes, a Maoist-ruled system where the villages populated by almost 2 lakh inhabitants are witnessing a pace of development unprecedented in the last 30 years of Left rule. Together with taking over the state machinery including the administrative and justice systems, Maoists have constructed 50 kilometres of rural roads, installed tubewells, developed the irrigation system and are running health centers with the assistance of the local population.”
Although Lalgarh was a guerilla zone and calling it a liberated zone was an exaggeration on the writer’s part, both the articles along with many similar reports portrayed the essence of the revolutionary politics underlying the establishment of such village-based peoples’ administrations.
Lalgarh is not the central topic of this essay. The Lalgarh movement is merely an important and instructive episode in the 50 years long history of Naxalbari politics. However, Lalgarh needs special mention as almost after 40 years of Naxalbari, the Lalgarh movement has shown people that Naxalite politics doesn’t only mean capturing state power through armed struggle, the path of Naxalbari also means the building of an alternative socio-economic model by the people themselves. In which development will be based on local needs, on the consent of the local population, not on the demands of international finance capital.
We need to clearly understand that the aim of the Maoists is to destroy the prevailing unequal socioeconomic system and establish in its place a system that will ensure the equitable distribution of national resources among all sections of the society. Destruction and construction are both of equal importance in this politics. Construction has to proceed simultaneously with destruction. Without the dreams and plans of construction, destruction is nothing but anarchy. On the contrary the life blood of Maoist politics is the dream of building a new society.
50 years of Naxalbari stands for 50 years of a dream of building a new India.
The Beginning of the Naxalbari Movement: Struggle for the Right of the Farmer to Land and Crops
Four months after the beginning of the Naxalbari movement in March 1967, when West Bengal was reeling under acute food shortage and rampant black marketeering, Charu Mazumdar declared to a journalist of the newspaper Jugantar that the 20000-25000 farmers of Naxalbari do not have a cause for concern as they have food stores to last them an entire year. Rather the land issue is at the centre of the movement.
The central issue of the Indian agrarian revolution is the redistribution of land by the peasant committees based on the slogan “Land to the tillers”. Although the parliamentary parties also consider land reforms as a just demand, but in reality it has been seen that it is all but impossible to realize this demand by peaceful means. The reason is that the ones who own most of the land run the administration. Therefore the police-administration-landlords nexus tried its best to nip in the bud this attempt of Naxalite politics to overturn this agrarian production relations. However, the struggle was not limited only to the demand for land as it was realized that unless the whole system was changed, and brought in support of the masses, it would not be possible to hold on to land or crops.
In the 2nd edition, 9th issue (5th September, 1967) of the Dakshin Desh magazine it was said- “What is the theoretical basis of this movement of the peasants of Naxalbari? The struggling peasants of Naxalbari believe that the completion of the agrarian revolution is a prime objective among the revolutionary tasks of the peoples democratic revolution. The peasantry along with other friendly revolutionary forces under the leadership of the working class will have to work towards this direction. The peasants have seen that there is no liberation for them unless the feudal exploitation by the rural landlords ends. And this feudal exploitation is supported by the state apparatus and its three pillars- the landlords -moneylenders, the big capitalists and imperialism.
The revolutionaries of Naxalbari have started to destroy this state apparatus under the leadership of the Communist Party. ”
Four decades after this, in 2010, when journalists asked Dr. B.D. Sharma, the adivasi-friendly intellectual and ex-bureaucrat, about the chances of success of the talks between the Indian government and the Maoists, the ex-District Magistrate of undivided Bastar and ex-SC/ST Commissioner said- “Wait and watch the reaction of the government when the Maoists raise the demands of complete land reforms and policy changes regarding industrialization.
Also observe the reaction of the government when the Maoists in Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh demand the cancellation of the mining agreements with the multinational corporations. The talks are sure to break down on these two questions.”
Therefore, the question is not of guns, it is of principles. The question of how the society is going to be. For this sole reason, the government, the reactionary feudal landlords, the comprador bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie press have always tried to equate Maoist politics with violence. They realize that if people get the opportunity to experience the alternate model it will become impossible for multinational finance capital to plunder the human and natural resources of the country.
The attempt to build this alternate model started almost two decades prior to that of Naxalbari in Kakdwip in West Bengal and in Telangana in Andhra Pradesh. During the Tebhaga movement, Laylagunj in Kakdwip came to be called as Lalgunj where 5000 bighas of land was captured and distributed among the landless in 1949. All ponds were declared as common property and all agricultural equipments and bullocks of farmers were brought together to start collective farming and build collective stores. Separate committees of villagers were formed to look after administration, justice and defence. The repression of the combined forces of landlords and the administration spread throughout the country . On the other hand has developed the struggle to destroy the current state system and build a far better alternative.
What is the alternative model?
Briefly, the Maoists are against the international capital and technology driven developmental model geared to the demands of the rich in the society. Instead the Maoists believe in a developmental model which is driven by local and mass needs, generates employment and is environmentally sustainable. They support that development model which will take the fruits of development to the broader masses of the country – the workers, peasants, middle class, small traders and the national bourgeoisie. They are against all such policies which serve the conditions and interests of international finance capital, which help the Tatas, Ambanis, Essars, Vedantas, Adanis and their likes to expand and fatten on the wealth of the people. The Maoists oppose those policies which burden the common people with foreign loans and the conditions laid down by the multinational corporations.
What are the policies of the Janatana Sarkar? The policies include radical land reforms which will capture lands from the landlords and redistribute to the landless, bring fallow and waste lands into agriculture and put an end to uncontrolled deforestation. The Janatana Sarkar will lay stress on handicrafts and cottage industries producing soap, shoes, jaggery, edible oil and other small scale products both under cooperative and private ownership. In parallel, emphasis will be laid on construction of water reservoirs and digging of ponds, irrigation canals and drainage systems and construction of bridges, schools, health centers and veterinary clinics. And all these will be constructed by the voluntary labour of the common people.
In the present policy document of the Janatana Sarkar of Dandakaranya the outline of the future peoples democratic government has been traced which includes some notables policies and principles such as:
• All lands belonging to landlords and religious institutions will be confiscated. Based on the “land to the tiller” policy these lands will be redistributed among the poor, the landless peasants and agricultural labourers. Lands belonging to rich peasants will not be confiscated.
• The oppression by money lenders will be stopped.
• All banks, industries and other institutions belonging to the imperialists and comprador capitalists will be confiscated. All debts to the imperialists will be cancelled.
• All unjust treaties with imperialists will be declared invalid.
• All such capitalist production that does not adversely affect the life of common people will be allowed to continue.
• Private property will not be confiscated.
• Medium scale enterprises operated by the national bourgeoisie will be regulated.
• Caste discrimination will be annihilated.
• Special attention will be given towards eradication of patriarchy and the end of discrimination against women.
• Mining projects of imperialist MNCs will be stopped.
• Adivasi societies will have autonomy.
• The Janatana Sarkar believes in the right to self determination of nationalities and will therefore accept decisions of nationalities to secede. However, the Janatana Sarkar will work towards the unity of nationalities.
• The development of backward areas will be prioritized.
• Religion will be a personal matter and the state will have nothing to do with religion.
• A scientific and democratic culture will be built up in opposition to the existing imperialist and semifeudal cultural practices.
The model which budded in Naxalbari and had spread to Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Kerala, Bihar and Maharashtra, the model which was again seen during the Lalgarh movement in Bengal wherein local people by their voluntary labour built roads, revived irrigation canals and ponds, ran health centers, established cooperative farms in the Ayodhya hills of Purulia has become a full grown tree in the form of Janatana Sarkar in Dandakarnaya.
In 1967, the path that was shown by Naxalbari in which guerilla squads were formed by snatching the weapons from the mercenary forces of the landlords, established peoples’ courts to try the exploiters-oppressors, establish ownership over land and crops by struggling with the landlord armies, set up cooperative stores of crops, the path which led to the establishment of “Bengal’s Vietnam” in Kanksa, its is the same path by which the oppressed has today tasted their own power in the villages of Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra, Odisha, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra.
In the last 50 years several thousand marginal farmers have been martyred in the hands of mercenary armies of landlords or the police just to establish their rights over land and its produce. In 1977-78 when there were efforts to revive the revolutionary movement in Andhra Pradesh, when thousands of peasants were getting together in Karimnagar and Adilabad to establish their rights on their lands and crops, there were no option in front of them except to retaliate against the joint attacks by the feudal lords and the police administration. At around the same time, similar efforts were started to establish revolutionary peasant committees in south Bihar (present Jharkhand). Simultaneously, dalit landless farmers from central Bihar organized under the revolutionary Communist forces faced massive violence from the mercenary armies of the landlords. The police and the parliamentary political parties as expected joined hands with the landlords.
In the 80’s while continuing to fight the combined attacks of these reactionary forces, practices such as cooperative farming, cooperative animal husbandry and community ownership of forest resources were established in different parts of Dandakaranya with the objective of making the villages self-reliant. In 1995, the village government committee or Janatana Sarkar was established. Meanwhile huge tracts of land have been distributed among the landless. The loot of the forest resources by the jungle mafia has been restricted and the rights of the adivasis over forest produce have been established while ensuring regulated use of such resources.
From 1996, in order to restrict the dependence of the adivasis over forest resources and hunting, they have been encouraged to practice fruit and vegetable farming. Both individual and cooperative farming was encouraged by distributing seeds of fruits and vegetables among individuals/families and communities. Both forms of farming, private and collective, were allowed simultaneously so that people could select one after assessing the pros and cons of both. It is to be remembered that the new democratic revolution in India does not envisage the end of private enterprise, rather it wants that private enterprises are run keeping in mind the needs of the broader masses.
Within two years of this collectivization of animal resources such as cows, buffaloes, oxen, goats, ducks, chicken etc. was initiated. Cattle and other animals of landlords and moneylenders were confiscated and all animals were shifted to a designated place. The excreta of such animals was collected in a place and used as organic manure. Such practices kept the villages clean and reduced the requirement of chemical fertilizers.
Success of such policies infuriated the local landlords, traders and moneylenders and they tried to repress the movement with the help of the police administration. The primary reason for their anger was the confiscation of their lands and furthermore due to the redistribution of the land to the landless, it was difficult for them to get cheap agricultural labour for their land. Moreover the forest officials and local politicians in nexus with the jungle mafias lost their regular sources of income.
Furthermore, as the farmers could keep their entire produce, it released them from the dependence on local moneylenders. This gave rise to a chain reaction. For example, if the third world succeeds in putting an end to the exploitation by the multi-national corporations, such corporations will be forced to increase the exploitation and repression of the American people which will then push the American people towards revolutionary politics. Similarly, the cooperative farming and animal husbandry model in the adivasi villages created alarm in the towns and cities. All reactionary forces joined hands to destroy the Janatana Sarkar. In order to resist these attacks, the guerilla army of the oppressed people also increased in size and power. And the Janatana Sarkars got further strengthened based on the strength of this guerilla army.
In 1997-98 itself the inhabitants of 238 villages in Dandakaranya dug 110 ponds by giving voluntary labour. Simultaneously 47 large water reservoirs were created, some for irrigation, some for fish cultivation and some for the needs of cattle. During August-September of that year, nearly 3 lakh fish spawn and some thousands of prawn seeds were used to start extensive pisciculture. In 1998 the peoples’ government started distributing fish spawn in a large scale among the local population, which soon became a basis of the local economy. Now there are water reservoirs or ponds in the area of most revolutionary peoples’ committees. In the same areas where agriculture was once very limited now there is extensive cultivation of fruits such as papayas, bananas, mangoes, lemons and guavas and vegetables such as onion, garlic, brinjal, gourds, pumpkin, ladies finger, cauliflower, maize, spring onion, tomatoes etc.
The revolutionary peoples’ committees (RPC) have taken the initiative to train the local population in agricultural practices, develop irrigation systems, protect cattle and develop animal husbandry, convert forest land into agricultural land and arrange for collection and preservation of fertilizers, seeds etc. In the Mad area of Dandakranya, which was once the most backward area, today there is cooperative agriculture and cooperative farms under the direction of RPCs. Every year during January-February, the work to level the land is taken up for 10-15 days. Cultivation of herbs is being expanded keeping in mind the health needs of the people. A number of local health centres have come up, together with mobile health centres. The mobile health centres provide free basic health services to people over a large area.
In the schools under the RPC, text books have been developed in eight subjects, mathematics, social sciences, political science, Hindi, culture, biology, general science and the history of Dandakaranya for students from classes one to five. Most significantly, with great effort Gondi, the language of the adivasis, has been restored and primary curriculum in Gondi language has been started. Remarkably, a dictionary in the Gondi language has also been written. Efforts are being made to even restore the more backward Halvi language. More than 25 magazines are published regularly just from Dandakarnya. In the areas under the Janatana Sarkars, Indian-made foreign liquor is banned although there is no ban on country liquor, hadia etc. However, drinking alcohol is forbidden in the revolutionary organization and campaigns are run to build public consciousness against the drinking of country liquor, smoking etc.
In those areas of Dandakaranya where peoples’ governments have been set up till district level, the struggle began with the establishment of peoples’ rights over the fundamental aspects of rural economy – land, crops, cattle and water bodies. Private property has not been ended but land has been taken from landlords and distributed among the peasants.
A gram sabha is a fundamental unit of the Janatana Sarkar. The gram sabhas look after the local administration of each village and all inhabitants of the village except those belonging to the enemy camp are its members. Every year each gram sabha organizes at least two meetings. In the first meeting decisions are taken while they are reviewed in the second meeting. If the villagers are unsatisfied with the functioning of an individual in the gram sabha they have a right to recall and they can remove the person from the working committee.
Three to five such villages or roughly 500-3000 individuals constitute a Revolutionary People’s Committee (RPC). Ten to fifteen such RPC’s constitute a regional RPC or regional government which comprises of roughly 10000- 20000 individuals. Finally 3-5 such regional RPC’s make up a divisional or district level RPC.
There are 9 departments under the administration of a district level RPC-
1. Defence, 2. Finance, 3. Agriculture, 4. Small scale industries 5. Justice, 6. Education and Culture, 7. Health and Social development, 8. Forest protection 9. Mass communication
Seven or nine or eleven members constitute local or regional RPCs. There are 15 members in the district committee which comprise of a president, a vice president, a representative of the PLGA, individuals responsible for the functioning of the 9 departments and 3 representatives of the area committee of the Party. In the fundamental unit or the gram sabha all villagers except class enemies elect the committee members and decide upon the agenda to be considered for development work. The villagers have a right to recall an elected committee member if she/he fails to perform an assigned duty.
In 2008, a Dandakaranya Special Zonal preparatory committee was formed to coordinate between the 2 district level RPC’s. In spite of the Salwa Judum operational from 2005-2008 and the Operation Greenhunt, which was instituted by the reactionary central and state governments to crush the Janatana Sarkars, these peoples’ governments are being able to continue functioning as the basis for the popular support for them is the alternative model of development based on popular participation which tries to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth.
Just because the Maoists want to subvert the present system it does not mean that they oppose the welfare projects of the State. In areas where the Janatana Sarkars have not been established, the Maoists engage themselves in movements to ensure the proper implementation of government schemes such as 100 days work, water harvesting, state subsidies for small scale industries, housing schemes for the poor etc. The Maoists demand the proper implementation of all such welfare projects by the government which they themselves want to take up on a larger scale.
The Maoists want the utilization of national resources in such a manner that the benefits of welfare schemes reach the largest number of people. For the same reason the World Bank opposes the 100 days work (MGNREGA) scheme as it considers that if the peasants get some income they will not be available as cheap labourers in cities.
On the other hand the Maoists have always demanded the proper implementation and expansion of the MGNREGA project. The Maoists are not against the extraction of ore from mines but they are against policies that allow the displacement of inhabitants of forests and hills, the indiscriminate deforestation and facilitation of the loot of valuable mineral resources by the multinational corporations, all in the name of mining and industrialization.
It is to be clearly understood that the current aggressive nature of global capitalism is taking the world towards a disaster, it is taking us towards a situation in which natural resources are going to get over, environment is going to be degraded, human disease will increase and in order to increase humanity’s suffering and sick lifestyle life saving drugs and health services will become even more expensive. In order to prevent this disaster and to save the future of the world what is of utmost need is to build an alternative environment friendly, self-reliant, employment generating and non-wasteful political-economic system.
The Jantana Sarkars, under the leadership of the Maoists, are fighting to establish such a society. And till today, the inspiration for this struggle comes from the historic Naxalbari movement that happened 50 years ago, a movement that showed the path of liberation to the working masses of India.
(The author is a former member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and has been a political prisoner)