Seven red podiums with seven busts — of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Lin Piao, Charu Majumdar, Saroj Dutta and Mahadeb Mukherjee — stand right beside the Bengai Jot Primary School. Beside the busts is a red plaque with names of 11 people, two of them children, who were killed in police firing on May 25 1967, the day the Naxalbari uprising started here, a spark which, fanned by the ultra Left ideology, is now a fire and often counted as among the most pressing internal security challenges.
About 4.5 km away, in Sebdella Jot, stands a recently renovated mud house with a bamboo cane fence. This was once the home of the late Kanu Sanyal, the founding member of the CPI(Marxist-Leninist), the organisation to which the present CPI(Maoist) traces its origin.
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Here in Naxalbari, considered the birthplace of the Naxal movement in India, these two structures are the only remnants of an ideology that has now ceded space to a new political narrative — one centred on how a rising BJP is taking on a mighty Trinamool Congress. Meanwhile, both the CPI(M) and Congress, who had won Naxalbari Assembly seat as part of an alliance but failed to reach an understanding for the Lok Sabha elections, rue the fact that they will be part of a four-cornered fight.
Naxalbari is part of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, where Trinamool Congress’s Amar Singh Rai is pitted against the BJP’s Raju Singh Bhist (who replaced sitting MP S S Ahluwalia). Also in the fray are the Congress’s Shankar Malakar (MLA from Naxalbari-Matigara seat) and CPI(M)’s Saman Pathak.
“We were children when the farmers, led by Kanu Sanyal, rose against land owners and the moneyed class. But gone are those days. Now I have to keep a watch on students who, after school, climb up on the busts and sometimes damage them. On May 25 every year, some people come from Kolkata and raise flags here. The rest of the days no one comes,” says Nripen Burman, headmaster of the Bengai Jot primary school.
About half a kilometre away from Bengai Jot stands Naxalbari Sarada Vidyamandir, the biggest school in the area run by the Sarada Sishu Mandir, an RSS affiliate. Spread across a sprawling six bigha land, the school imparts modern curriculum along with ‘naitik shiksha (moral science)’ and ‘nationalistic values’. The school, established in 1999, has 653 students.
“Our aim is to impart education with Indian values, culture and tradition. We have nothing to do with politics,” said Sujit Das headmaster of the school.
On April 4, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee chose Naxalbari to hold a public meeting, where she drew a good crowd.
“It was only during Mamata Banerjee’s rule that Naxalbari saw some development. That’s why so many people turned up to hear her. It is also a fact that the CPI(M) and Congress are no longer together and this will help us. We are aware that the BJP-RSS are trying to spread their base in Naxalbari through its various affiliates and schools run by them. But they won’t be successful,” says Amar Sinha, a resident of Naxalbari and Trinamool Congress district vice-president.
In the 2016 Assembly polls, Congress candidate Shankar Malakar won Matigara-Naxalbari seat with 86,441 votes, defeating TMC’s Amar Sinha by a margin of 18,627 votes.
Local CPI(M) leaders rued the fact that their party had failed to arrive at a seat sharing agreement with the Congress, forcing them into a four-corner fight.
“There is an attempt by the RSS and BJP to spread extreme nationalist ideas here. On the other hand, there is the Trinamool Congress’s terror tactics. The Left is still relevant here and we did well in the panchayat polls. In the Assembly elections, the Congress won because of our votes. It is unfortunate that this time there is no seat-sharing. We are still fighting for the working class in the tea belt and for farmers here,” says Gautam Ghosh, general secretary of the Chai-Kaman Mazdoor Union that’s affiliated to the Left-backed CITU, sitting at a tea stall in Naxalbari market.
“We are optimistic about winning. People are tired of both the TMC and BJP and our party will form the next government at the Centre. However, it would have been better had there been a seat-sharing deal with the Left,” says Shankar Malakar, Congress candidate from Darjeeling Lok Sabha.
The BJP party office near the Town Club in Naxalbari is buzzing with activity as workers arrange party flags.
“There is so much demand for our party flags. This lot will be sent to the tea garden area. This is the first time we have been able to form booth committees in tea gardens. There is a silent but strong wind in our favour, especially after the air strikes on Pakistan. Many people from here went to Siliguri to hear Narendra Modi when he held a public meeting there,” said Dilip Barai, BJP block president.
At Sebdela Jot, 4.5 km from Naxalbari, 24-year-old Sutam Munda takes visitors around Kanu Sanyal’s mud home that’s now a memorial. Inside, the room is bare, except for a big photograph of Sanyal, along with those of other CPI(ML) founding members.
“I keep this room clean. Some people came from Kolkata this poll season and asked us to vote for NOTA. I am still thinking about it,” says Munda.