I became aware of the political world only after leaving school and entering the undergraduate course in English Literature, Jadavpur University, in 1966. That was a turbulent time. The leftist parties were emerging with a greater force in West Bengal politics while, on the other hand, the Marxist-Leninist ideology was gathering momentum, attracting the Bengali youth. The Congress was on the defensive, trying to figure out how to put up a proper face in the post Nehru era. At least that was the impression I had. Internationally speaking, it was the great age of Vietnam. In Cuba, a revolutionary upsurge had taken place ousting the US-supported dictatorship of Batista, ushering in the age of Fidel Castro, Raul and Che Guevara. Between 1966 and 1971, too many important things happened in the world: the students became rebellious in the Western countries. They opposed the US war on Vietnam and they supported the Cuban revolution. Che was killed in an ambush by CIA in Bolivia. I still remember the Newsweek cover that brought me a picture of Che, dead, lying prostrate, his body riddled with bullets made in the USA. In the country where those bullets were manufactured the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King, Junior, kept gathering momentum by the minute, attracting young people and also the old. In Vietnam, US bombers unloaded Napalms and Lazy Dogs, both pernicious mass killing devices, upon the innocent and unarmed Vietnamese people. We saw photographs of Vietnamese children in flames created by the US military machine. In neighboring East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), a civil war against the Pakistani authorities brewed and the Pakistan government responded with a huge military crackdown on the Bengali population. During the liberation war thousands of Bengali women were raped by the Pak soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Bengalis were killed. The voice of Bangabandhu Mujibar Rahman sent new vibrations through the Bengali mind. In West Bengal, the peasants’ upsurge in Naxalbari became a clarion call of revolution especially for the urban youths, many of whom felt inspired by the peasants’ uprising to follow Mao teaching and the writings of Charu Mazumdar, Sushital Raychowdhury and Saroj Dutta.
Soon, the state apparatus dealt heavy blows to the revolutionary youth in West Bengal, killing thousands, imprisoning many. The Naxalites, in their turn, proclaimed the theory of ‘annihilation of class enemy’, killing Jotdaars and also policemen. But an unbiased view of what happened in those explosive days should lead sensible people to the conclusion that the State Terror was far greater than the Naxalite attacks. Interestingly, both the Congress and the Communist Party (Marxist) of India found a common enemy in the Naxalites, for whom both the parties invented the term “shomajbirodhi” – antisocial.
I lost a few friends who were ideologically moved to go to the villages and organize the peasants. They were killed by the police.
I was exposed to the forces of the age. But I never felt any great urge to join any political party or group. Personally, I was moved by the Naxalite cause. I started to read Marx, Lenin and Mao. How could any sensitive individual not get emotionally perturbed by the poverty of the multitude and the wealth that existed side by side making the society look like a cruel joke? The daily sight, smell and sound of this class divided society, the hypocrisy of the well-to-do people and the helplessness of the poor were factors that no sensible individual could overlook. The Naxalite cause engaged me emotionally. But, frankly, I did not like the dogmatic views of most of my Naxalite friends. I did not appreciate what the young Naxalites wrote on the walls: ‘Chiner chairman amader chairman’. I often argued with them. Why can’t you find an indigenous leader? Why should I consider Mao, a Chinese, my Chairman?