Dipankar Bhattacharya succeeded Vinod Mishra as the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation in 1998.
Son of a railway employee, Mr Bhattacharya was born in Guwahati in December 1961. He talks excitedly about his early schooling at Alipurduar ~ “that is when everything was happening, it made me curious and my father with his Marxist inclination helped my understanding”. All the walls in the railway township were painted red with maps of India and the slogan,
“Turn the decade of seventies into the decade of liberation”. It triggered his curiosity and the question, “was not the country already liberated”, haunted him.
Mr Bhattacharya feels there was nothing “abrupt” in his switch to politics from his studies at the Indian Statistical Institute which he joined in 1979. His specialisation covered Indian agriculture, and in his own words: “This education also in a way helped me to understand the society and my formal and political education evolved together. Politics is a transition of knowledge put into practice.” He was given the degree only in 1985.
In 1986, he went underground in an working class area; a year later, he was with the Indian People’s Front (IPF) that was an over-ground affiliate of the party.
In an interview to Hemendra Narayan in the backdrop of the happenings at Nandigram in West Bengal and Naxalite killings in Jharkhand, Mr Bhattacharya discussed a wide spectrum of the Left and ultra-Left politics.
How do you react to the killings in Jharkhand by the Communist Party (Maoists) cadres? Your party has a strong base in the area. Babulal Marandi is said to be campaigning against Maoists there. Are you losing out to the Maoists in Jharkhand?
I do not see any political logic in these killings. They (Maoists) are killing innocent people. The person they were targeting, Marandi’s brother, escaped. These killings are mindless and completely indefensible. We do not see much in Marandi’s activities. As chief minister, he had indulged in fake surrender of Maoists. There is not much evidence of Marandi countering Maoists and other leaders of the BJP were using Maoists against us.
No, we are certainly not losing out to the Maoists. By terror tactics, they have tried to prevent our supporters from voting our candidates in elections.
Maoist squads have targeted our workers and campaigners in the elections. This had no impact and people have seen through their game. In Chatra and Palamu, their supporters have been joining us.
But does the violence by them have an impact on your over-ground party participating in elections?
Maoist activity does give the state a handle (against us). It does become a handicap in the area where our identity is not well known. But in the area where we are known, it does not matter. We are not losing political space to the Maoists. There are cases where our offices have been targeted and the state aggression has been directed gainst us. We have been singled out for state suppression. This is not a case of mistaken identity, this is because of our identity ~ for we have been at the forefront of the militant assertion by the people. Action against Maoists has been a ploy to justify suppression of our activities.
How do look at the tactics of Naxalites ~ at times, your party has been their target?
After their military strategy in Andhra Pradesh, the pendulum shifted to talks. The government trapped them into talks. They are trying to make up for it by their action in Chhattisgrah and Jharkhand. The people have seen the futility of their activity and loss of initiative. The people are appreciating our point.
However, in spite of the fact that they have indulged in killing our comrades, we have avoided retaliation, and also we have never supported state repression against Maoists.
The two extreme Left groups ~ the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the CPI (ML) People’s War ~ have merged to form the Communist Party (Maoists). What are the chances of merger of other extreme Left groups?
The two groups have yet to sort out all issues. They have no immediate political agenda. We are trying to unite people who do not subscribe to their anarchist policy. Also, in the Left spectrum there are people who are perturbed over the Right-wing shift of the CPI-M. We are trying to give this a shape. People from the CPI-M in Punjab were split on the ideological point.
Such shift has also taken place in Orissa. In West Bengal, serious Left forces, activists are looking up to us and joining us. The feeling is that sections of the CPI-M have become power seekers and power brokers without any Left content being left in them. People with roots in the ideology are turning towards CPI-(ML) Liberation.
What do you think of Nandigram and the CPI-M’s moves there?
The CPI-M’s calculation appears to be that a friendly Central government would help them assert themselves in Nandigram and recover respectability. The party has never been so discredited and isolated in West Bengal as it is now.
All democratic norms have been flouted with impunity.
After 30 years in power, the CPI-M just cannot accept the fact that the rural poor have the guts to challenge it. This intolerance is at the heart of the whole episode. Another reprehensible aspect is that there appears to be a link now between the CPI-M’s Nandigram strategy and their softening of opposition to the nuclear deal.
In West Bengal, the incidents of ration riots recently took place across the state, particularly in Bankura. The ruling party has blamed the extreme Left, as in Nandigram, by pointing to arson as a tool to cause these riots. What have you to say?
Well, the public distribution system is in a shambles in many parts of the country. In West Bengal, the nexus between corrupt PDS dealers and panchayat officials is presided over by the CPI-M. They have consolidated this nexus for the last thirty years and rural people have been exploited. Now they are blaming the extreme Left for everything.
The ruling Left Front has forgotten the language of protest. Such a language of protest could be traced right through the 1857 Uprising, Chauri Chaura episode of Gandhi days; Jayaprakash Narayan was leading the freedom movement in 1942 when rail lines were uprooted. This is the language of the people when they are angry. They (Left Front) are deceiving themselves and do not recognise the reality.
How about the situation in Siwan now that Shahabuddin is in jail. It is an area where your party has a strong base?
People in Siwan are yearning for the end of Shahbuddin’s terror. CPI-ML’s protracted struggle has been a factor in cornering Shahabuddin. Our comrades, our party have played a role. He is down but not out yet. Among the Muslim community, there was a contrived sense of polarisation, but now within that community also we find our role being taken in the right perspective and we strike a stronger chord with the Muslims now.
What is the situation in Bhojpur? It gave your party’s first MP? For many, it has been Naxalbari manifesting itself in the sprawling Ikwari village in the district.
We have managed to consolidate our strength. It is clear to everybody. It has taken many years. Jawala Singh (a feudal lord of yesteryears in the area) and Ranbir Sena are not in the scene now.
Our party enjoys a lot of respect. The attrition and confrontation with the Ranbir Sena has taken a lot of our energy. We have to expand, for there are areas where we have a slim presence. We have overcome the challenge and are now reaching out to all sections.
A significant activity was the celebrations of the 1857 event in Bhojpur. We organised a programme in the name of Kuer Singh (an Uprising hero). We freed Kuer from getting a caste tag as there was an attempt to bind his legacy to a caste. We projected Kuer’s revolt in a different light. This has been an eye opener. There are positive signs and the party has been able to broaden its base.
Alipurduar is not far from Naxalbari. Did you visit Naxalbari?
With the advent of the Naxalbari movement, all the walls of Alipurduar had been painted red with maps of India bearing slogans like “Turn the seventies into the decade of liberation”. It had triggered my curiosity as to why liberate the country again. The first dead body I saw in my life was that of a young comrade, a martyr.
The All India Students Association, CPI(ML) Liberation’s students wing, has emerged on top in the recent JNU elections. How do you see it?
Basically the revival was on account of AISA’s activities on the campus. AISA took up the cause of workers of the university.
The CPI-M’s activities in West Bengal have angered the students. It is for the first time that the SFI, the students wing of the CPI-M, has not won a single seat in the JNU since 1989 when Army tanks rolled down Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Nandigram has proved to be the CPI-M’s Tiananmen Square.
How do you view the developments in Nepal with Maoists getting power in the government?
We do not formally have any party-to-party relationship with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). They have certainly shown better political maturity than the self-styled Indian Maoists and Marxists. They have combined people’s war and the mass upsurge well. Now, the difficult part of the journey has begun. Sitting in India, we can wish them well.
The establishment of Nepal as a Republic and the restoration of democracy without any foreign intervention would be an achievement there.
(The interviewer is a Special Representative, The Statesman, New Delhi.)