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The Naxalites: Through the eyes of the police

Book Review

The Naxalites: Through the eyes of the police
Edited by Ashoke Kumar Mukhopadhyay,
Deys, Rs 380

To Charles Tegart, the commissioner of Calcutta Police in the early years of the 20th century, even the Ramakrishna Mission was not above suspicion. His officers trailed Sister Nivedita and the Japanese prince, Count Okakura, when the latter spent some time in Calcutta, because they suspected both of having links with "terrorists" in Bengal. To the British police, the Mission and its activities represented a heady cocktail of nationalist politics, violence and religious revivalism that fired the imagination of the armed groups of freedom fighters. These were among the many interesting details that came to light when, some 25 years ago, Tegart's once-classified note on the rise of "terrorism" in Bengal was first published.

Police and intelligence reports, especially on political movements, have always been an important source for future chroniclers. Few political movements in India since independence have shaken the State the way the Naxalite movement did between 1967 and 1974. Bengal was the movement's epicentre. Once more, the old adage about India thinking tomorrow what Bengal thought today seemed to be valid, as the spark from Naxalbari ignited prairie fires in different parts of India.

Yet, the armed insurrectionists who swore by Mao Zedong's thesis of guerrilla warfare were not the first of their kind. In Telengana, communists had been waging similar wars against landlords and the government since 1948. And, long after the Naxalites ceased to be a major force in Bengal's politics, the Maoists have struggled on in Andhra Pradesh. The recent rise of Maoism across India is a different story. Its ideological character, fighting methods and dependence on forested, tribal communities make today's Maoist rebellion very different from the Naxalite uprising.

Mukhopadhyay's book is limited in scope. It tries to see the Naxalite movement through the eyes of the Calcutta Police by presenting a selection of notices in the Calcutta Police Gazette between 1967 and 1975. Since the notices were meant for the police force, they offer a fairly credible account of how the police too had felt insecure in the face of urban guerrilla attacks before it could fight the rebels back.

Two police officers — Ranjit Kumar Gupta, commissioner of the city police, and Ranajit (Runu) Guha Niyogi, a sub-inspector, who later won a president's medal for his work in anti-Naxalite operations, come alive in these pages. Gupta's instructions to the police show how he struggled to prevent the embattled force's morale from collapsing. To the Naxalites, however, Niyogi, in particular, has always been the cruellest face of the brutalities that the Calcutta Police were accused of. In his introduction, the author recounts some of the worst events, including the horrific killing of some 150 suspected Naxalites by the police at Cossipore-Baranagore area in a single night.

No account of the police's encounter with the Naxalites can afford to leave out the "confession" of Charu Mazumdar, the leader of the movement, in police custody. Nobody believed it to be true when it was first published in a Bengali daily soon after Mazumdar's death in police custody. If Mukhopadhyay has still included it in the book among the appendices, along with Suniti Kumar Ghosh's well-argued dismissal of the authenticity of the "confession", it must be because of its historical value.

An interesting addition to the literature on one of the most important political movements in India, the book is disappointing in one aspect — spelling errors. Even the word, 'guerrilla', has been wrongly spelt many times.


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posted by Resistance 6/15/2007 09:16:00 PM,


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