Guest pots by BASU ACHARYA
The morning of February 15th this year was exceptionally grim. The sun looked pale, its rays mangled, as if somebody had scratched its face with a scalpel blade of tempered steel. Ramakrishna Naskar lane, an obscure by-lane in Beleghata area of Kolkata, was suddenly bustling with unusual activity. A number of people, quite a few in fact, irrespective of the nature of the red flags they carry, had gathered before a modest dwelling; assembled to bid adieu (with clenched fists and the ‘Internationale’ on their lips) to an old man, an octogenarian, wrapped in a crimson cloth with a crossed hammer and sickle in white. Prof. NB, our very own Nishith-da, Comrade Nishith Bhattacharya was no more. Leaving his mortal remains for the pyre to consume and his comrades to weep over, he had left for the final voyage—journey ‘to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’.
My association with Nishith-da dates back to the early years of the past decade when India, like many other ‘developing countries’ of the world, was passing through the initial days of the second information revolution. I, then an activist of a tiny student-youth organisation, met him on the book-fair ground at Maidan and asked scores of questions about Naxalbari and related topics. Most surprisingly, he, without a slightest mark of impatience on his face, answered each question with brutal accuracy and won my heart. From then onwards I was his admirer, also his disciple, who could even dispose of his own thumb—if asked. There are so many fond memories such as this, and as I scribble this piece, old thoughts crowd my mind and the panorama of our decade-long association appear before my eyes. But honestly speaking, it will be absolutely criminal if we limit a man of Nishith-da’s stature to any personal reminiscence. Rather, it is better to tell the story of his life and time in considerable length and as dispassionately as possible, for history should be impartial nay objective.
Nishith-da was born in 1933 at Narail subdivision of Jessore district in imperial Bengal. In 1948, owing to the partition of the nation, he and his family, which had already experienced the miseries of life since his father’s untimely demise, came to Calcutta and put up at Taltala. Upon their arrival at Taltala, the family admitted young Nishith to the nearby school—Taltala H.E. Institution—wherefrom he passed Matriculation in 1950, and enrolled in Science at Bangabasi College. After passing I.Sc. in 1952, Nishith-da joined St. Xavier’s College with major in Physics and graduated with first class in 1955. Soon after, he earned an M.Tech degree in Radio Physics from the ‘Institute of Radio Physics’, Rajabazar under the University of Calcutta. He then taught in a couple of schools in Burdwan and Howrah for a few years, and much later, in the early 1960s, joined Bangabasi College, his alma mater, as a lecturer of Physics.
During his days as a student at the Rajabazar campus, Nishith-da was introduced to Communist politics. His mentor was Sachin Sen, an eminent Communist leader of North Calcutta. By 1961 he had become a Card-holder.
But his relationship with the official leadership soared when the latter backed the Indian Govt.’s expansionist policies against the People’s Republic China. As the Party split on ideological grounds in 1964, he joined the CPI (M) and became an activist of its Lecturers’ Cell. In those days, he was closely associated with Kanai Chatterjee or more popularly K.C., the secretary of the Party’s Tiljala Local Committee, i.e., his locality, and Prof. Suniti Kr. Ghose, a well-known Marxist intellectual and a fellow teacher of English Literature at Vidyasagar College.
While in CPI (M), Nishith-da did an intensive study of Marxism-Leninism and also a few volumes of Mao and Lin Piao. A fair comprehension of the Marxist creed compelled him to become critical of the Party’s parliamentary cretinism, and hunt for a line that would ultimately bring down the pillars of exploitation, viz. feudalism, imperialism and comprador and bureaucratic capitalism. In 1967 he withdrew himself from the ranks of the CPI (M) and established contacts with dissident CPI (M) members who were planning to organise the Indian communist movement through extra-parliamentary channels.
At this juncture, in May 1967, the peasant revolutionaries of Darjeeling, indoctrinated by Com. Charu Mazumdar (CM)—one of the tallest leaders of the Tebhaga Movement in North Bengal, kindled the fire of agrarian revolution at Naxalbari, Kharibari and Phansideya—three small hamlets situated on the India-Nepal frontiers. The spark of Naxalbari spread like a prairie fire in every direction. It gave enormous impetus to the revolutionary cause that had come to a standstill after the calling off of the Telengana movement in 1951. Naxalbari vindicated the path of area-wise seizure of power through partisan warfare, as proposed by Chairman Mao Tse-tung, and provided the communist revolutionaries with a new and effective weapon in their armoury. Now, with fresh zeal, they devoted themselves in organising peasant movements in their respective areas. They vacated their revisionist and neo-revisionist organisations and joined Com. CM, and formed a co-ordination committee, the first stepping stone to re-orient the Communist Party along revolutionary lines.
The Naxalbari upsurge changed Nishith-da’s life’s course. By the end of ’67 he had become a committed worker of ‘Deshabrati’, the vernacular mouthpiece of the revolutionary communists of West Bengal. In the Co-ordination (AICCCR) Nishith-da proved his mettle as an organiser. It was under his initiative that a local branch of the AICCCR was founded at Tiljala. As the convenor of that unit, he was also one of the members of the Calcutta District Organising Committee. After April 22, 1969, when the Co-ordination ceased to exist and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was born, Saroj Dutta, who had by then become Nishith-da’s political guide, conferred upon him the responsibility of organising all units under Central Calcutta—its physical jurisdiction spanning from Vidyasagar Street in north to Taltala in south. Nishith-da did his job well, earning acclaim from the top leadership of the Party.
On June 3, 1970, a ruthless special branch inspector, Amitava Sinha Roy, was annihilated at Akhil Mistry Lane by an action squad of urban guerrillas. This was the first major incident of annihilation in Calcutta. The administration, naturally, did not sit idle. On June 11, it made its first move towards an organised retaliation: Nishith-da was arrested from a hideout at Buddhu Ostagar Lane, and after much torturous interrogation in police custody, was incarcerated in Presidency Jail.
In those days, prison cells were synonymous to torture chambers, especially for those who defended Com. CM’s line of annihilation of class enemies and jail resistance. Apart from this, being the first big catch, Nishith-da had to face tremendous police persecution. On February 4, 1971, when Khokan Bhattacharya of Revolutionary Communist Council of India (RCCI), along with his chosen associates, escaped the Presidency Jail premises by scaling the prison walls, Nishith-da and Azizul-da were brutally assaulted by the jail warder and his goons. Nishith-da was thrown into a heap of ashes, bleeding and bruised. They could have died on the spot, had not their comrades recovered them. This unfortunate incident foiled their first jail break attempt, for it also exposed the long tunnel they had dug clandestinely to facilitate a smooth evasion of all detained comrades.
By the end of 1970, a considerable array of dubious elements under the auspices of certain capitalist roaders in the Central Committee had ganged-up against the official line and was trying to vilify Com. CM, personally. On the one hand, they devised to sabotage the Party organisation by raising a hue and cry over CM’s “authoritative functioning”; and on the other, tried to build up the People’s Army from a bureaucratic and mechanical point of view. They also pressurised the Central Committee to ridicule the heroic war of liberation of East Pakistani Marxist-Leninists and argued in favour of the genocidal activities of the Yahiya Government. At that point in time, it was under Nishith-da and Azizul-da’s competent leadership that the members of the Jail Party Committee (JPC) stood firm by Com. CM.
Crisis further deepened with the martyrdom of Com. CM and Vice Chairman Lin Piao (Saroj Dutta had been killed a year ago by the state machinery). At that time Nishith-da and Azizul-da had to share the task of organising the pro-CM, pro-Lin Piao radicals in Presidency JPC. Com. Saroj Dutta’s document on jail-policy was their guideline.
Outside, the Party organisation was in absolute doldrums. The Central Committee was defunct, its members in complete denial mode. Amidst such crises, Mahadev Mukherjee of West Bengal Provincial Committee and Sharma, a Central Committee Member (CCM) from Punjab, reorganised the Central Committee. This, however, could not put a stop to the nuisance of factionalism. The opening of the Tenth Congress of CPC further deteriorated the state of the Pro-CM radicals, splitting them into pro-Lin Piao and anti-Lin Piao groups. Mahadev Mukherjee assumed the post of the Secretary General of the pro-Lin, pro-CM stream, and organised the Second Party Congress of CPI (M-L) at Kamalpur, a rural bastion of revolutionary peasant guerrillas situated on the Hooghly-Burdwan district frontiers. The Presidency JPC under Nishith-da’s leadership extended its support to the Congress.
Though the reconstituted Central Committee led a few peasant struggles here and there and organised some sporadic rifle snatchings in Nadia, Hooghly and Burdwan, it could not develop the tempo of the movement. Further, it issued a number of metaphysical slogans that had least commonness to reality. As a result, when the state went hammer and tongs at the Party, almost every CCM evaded his responsibility and laid blame solely on Mahadev Mukherjee. Trouble increased manifold when these CCMs succumbed before state repression and became approvers. Mahadev Mukherjee, too, now utterly depressed, gave in. Even at that grave moment of catastrophe, Nishith-da led from the front, toiling vigorously to rejuvenate the general cadres in prison. He ran a principled fight against opportunists of all hues and established the correctness of Com. CM’s politics, also providing apt reasons behind upholding Lin Piao’s proletarian revolutionary line, which he scientifically substantiated to be an integral part of Mao Tse-tung Thought.
By the middle of the 1970s, even the last flickers of armed struggle had burnt out. There was no movement anywhere. A dead silence was prevailing—as if to hope for a revolutionary revival was something utterly utopian. But contrary to this leprous state of revolutionary activism, the realm of mainstream politics was experiencing an unusual heat. In 1975, Mrs. Gandhi, going by Moscow’s report of increasing U.S. impact on Indian polity, declared internal Emergency, in so doing curbing every avenue of exercising one’s democratic rights.
Under such adverse situation, all major political parties, cutting across their ideological beliefs, adopted a defensive tactic, leaving no quarter for resistance. But for Nishith-da, things were exactly the opposite. His undaunted will was too hard to be broken. If he and Azizul-da were not there, nobody could have imagined that a handful of people, physically crippled due to state atrocity, would retort so vigorously and demolish the bulwark of the fascist administration. The Jailbreak of February 24 (1976) is a historic event in the annals of communist revolutionism. It not only took the jail line of Com. Saroj Dutta to a higher level, but also substantiated Chairman Mao’s famous saying—‘all reactionaries are paper tigers’. And it was because of Nishith-da and Azizul-da that the revolutionaries so successfully attained this unattainable feat.
Although the jailbreak exposed the crisis of the ruling coterie, absence of a potent Party organisation frustrated the effort. In a month or two, almost half of the jail-breakers were once again taken into custody. Nishith-da was picked up in July from Khanakul, owing to a link failure. What followed was unprecedented coercion. Apart from the compulsory dose of beating, his and Azizul-da’s feet were burnt; the jailer issued orders that all jail-breakers should be locked in bar fetters 24×7. But despite such fierce torture, the administration could not compel them to stoop to its feet for mercy.
In 1977, as Mrs. Gandhi asked the President to lift the Emergency, and called for holding elections, she could seldom anticipate what suffering the future had in stock for her. As results came out, the Congress was completely whitewashed, its vote share going abysmally low. Morarji Desai was sworn as the new Prime Minister. In West Bengal, CPI (M)-led left front (LF) had come to power. Keeping in mind what it had promised before the elections, the LF released a considerable number of revolutionaries.
By that time, a large section of CPI (M-L) cadres had given up armed struggle and started participating in elections. But the other section, with Nishith-da at its core, vowed to fulfil Com. CM’s unrealised dream of liberated India with the red flag flying high! As soon as they came out, without returning to their homes or taking up jobs to fit themselves to the mainstream, most of the revolutionary communists of Presidency JPC went to different parts of Bengal and Bihar to reorganise the Party anew.
After they had done their work, they requested Mahadev Mukherjee to assume the charge of the organisation. But he could not prove himself worthy of it. All his militant patters came to a halt the moment the Party embarked on the path of class enemy annihilation. He became so scared that he immediately stepped down from the post of the Party Secretary and threatened to issue a press statement of disapproval in bourgeois newspapers including Ananda Bazar. As expected, the revolutionary communists were left with little option but to throw him out of the organisation. And in doing so, the Party had to experience another split, albeit for the better.
This incident resulted in the formation of the Second Central Committee of CPI (M-L) in 1978. Nishith-da was the new General Secretary.
Without entering into unnecessary discords with other CPI (M-L) groups over petty tactical issues, Nishith-da sought to resolve certain ideological questions, the major ones being the idea of new era, nature of the Three World Theory, political implication of Com. CM’s line of class enemy annihilation, etc. It was under his direction that the Second Central Committee, unlike other CPI (M-L) factions, branded post-Mao China as a social imperialist country. Time has proved the correctness of this evaluation.
From 1978 to 1982—in these four years, under Nishith-da’s competent command, CPI (M-L) realised great victories. West Bengal, Bihar and a few pockets in Uttar Pradesh lived through a higher phase of revolutionary activism and pro-people advance. Instead of taking refuge in forest areas or mountains, Second CC cadres worked in plane lands and won over the poorest section of the peasantry. The People’s Army and the revolutionary committees emerged as sources of true people’s governance against the impositions of the state apparatus. The revolutionary committees ran parallel administrative systems in the villages. Redistribution of farmlands, confiscation and distribution of food grains and other possessions of wealthy landlords and setting up of prices of crops through people’s committees were notable accomplishments Second CC leadership. Moreover, proper implementation of the line of annihilation gave the toiling masses the taste of freedom. The Central Committee creatively developed the revolutionary essence of Com. CM’s political line and launched a principled battle against right and left opportunism.
But as the famous adage goes—‘all good things must come to an end’, CPI (M-L) Second CC too could not cling on to its exponential graph of uninterrupted success. Presence of petty bourgeois egotism in the highest body barred some of the CCMs from appreciating the qualities of their counterparts, thereby turning into saboteurs. Under the pretext of holding two-line struggles, they hurled blatant abuses at each other, fomented factional in-fighting. And amid such chaos, our Nishith-da, a person with a golden heart, felt more and more dejected, estranged from all those comrades upon whom he had once pinned his hopes for changing the society.
At the extended Central Committee meeting held on May 25, 1982 in Siwan district of Bihar, when the Party came to the verge of a 50-50 split, Nishith-da, to prevent the organisation from further dismemberment, resigned from his post. While returning to his shelter in Bhagalpur, on May 28, 1982, he and six of his comrades were suddenly caught by the police who had been tipped off by some unknown men. With this arrest, the second major phase of revolutionary communist movement in India came to a close.
Many of his ex-comrades criticise Nishith-da for holding a liberal attitude towards the saboteurs. I do not know whether this criticism is correct or not, for the tales hidden behind the curtains are still to be deciphered. But what is certain is that—Nishith-da lived and died for a cause which is yet unfulfilled. So, if we and the generation after emulate his life and learn to seek inspiration from it, it is the toiling people of the country that we would be serving, serving to foster a society based on egalitarian ownership and harmonious distribution.
Basu Acharya is a social activist.