Reading the Left Right

Reading the Left Right

Amit Bhattacharyya's book conflates Naxalism with the larger ambit of the Maoist movement

Amit Bhattacharyya, Amit Bhattacharyya's book on naxalism, naxalities, Storming the Gates of Heaven: The Maoist Movement in India, Storming the Gates of Heaven: The Maoist Movement in India book review
Storming the Gates of Heaven: The Maoist Movement in India

Book name: Storming the Gates of Heaven: The Maoist Movement in India, A Critical Study 1972-2014

Author: Amit Bhattacharyya

Publisher: Setu Prakashani

Pages: 558

Price:  1200

Amit Bhattacharyya’s appendix lists the names of 439 women killed in the course of India’s Maoist movements. They have died at the hands of security forces and anti-Maoist vigilante groups supported by the ruling classes, like the Ranvir Sena of Bihar, which includes upper castes. They also use rape, a weapon that runs a knife through the heart of society. The politics of Ram and Rahim may kill more, but the Maoist movement has been more resilient in India than the mandir-masjid battle. Even the current ruling party in West Bengal had tied up with them at a subterranean level to liberate the people from the void of governance under the CPI(M). Trinamool Congress chairperson and chief minister Mamata Bannerjee found an accord with the CPI(Maoist) expedient, following the Arthashastra: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

That the unnatural coalition was only a means was inscribed in bold relief when the Americans recognised it first. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had visited Kolkata to congratulate the new chief minister, the communist slayer. But a few years later her nephew, a neophyte, described the “encounter” killing of a Maoist motormouth, Kishenji, as an extrajudicial killing.

Prof Amit Bhattacharyya, a historian at Jadavpur University, had the honour of being named in a public meeting by Mamata Banerjee as one who abetted Maoism. He survived to tell this tale. His book’s biggest failure is a conflation of Naxalism — named after the Naxalbari movement of 1967 — with the much larger footprint of the Maoist movement that refuses to die down. The politics of the Indian communist movement is not linear like in China, where nationalism had created the biggest popular mobilisation, led jointly by Mao Zhedong and his Red Army, along with nationalist forces inspired by Sun Yat Sen’s ideology of a China free from Japanese and British imperialism. Led by ‘Generalissimo’ Chiang Kai-shek, the nationalist forces turned their guns on the Red Army. The massacre of Jiangxi forced the Red Army into the strategic withdrawal called the Long March, and finally Chiang’s forces were routed in a civil war in 1949.

Besides, this chronicle begins in 1972, marked by the death in judicial custody of Charu Mazumdar, a former zonal committee member of the CPI(M) in north Bengal who walked out of the party in 1969 to form the CPI (Marxist-Leninist). It held its first party congress in 1970, rather dramatically disguised as a wedding event. His party had attracted largely the urban youth of what Suniti Kumar Ghosh — sort of an ideologue of the party — identified as the ‘upper, middle and lower’ bourgeoisie. Ghosh himself had remained controversial within the ranks of the fractious CPI(ML).

Mao had sent even the youth of Zhongnanhai — the large compound across Tienanmen Square where the high functionaries of the Communist Party of China (CPC) live — to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. President Xi Jinping is one of those ‘sent down’ youths. Mazumdar’s youth cadres had aunts and uncles in the West. After selective jail terms they all got a second shot in life once they emigrated. Except those who had what was commonly called the Fourth Tribunal cases, most of them were released in 1977-78 in a general amnesty declared by Chaudhury Charan Singh, then Union Home Minister.

The Tudus and Murmus, tribal sons of the soil, are rather different. They have somewhat taken over the Maoist movement after the first flush of Operation Greenhunt, which decimated the Andhra-based leadership of the CPI(Maoist). Barring Comrade ‘Ganapathy’, general secretary of the newly reconstituted party, the tribal leaders and their cadres are putting up a stiff resistance to the extent that prime minister Manmohan Singh identified them as “the single biggest threat to the nation”.


This resistance at Vedanta’s Niyamgiri and at sites of planned nuclear plants amidst rural, populated regions, constitute a people’s movement often organised by the Maoists. This could be the seed of a ‘new left’ movement that would not need a Bhattacharyya or a Kobad Gandhi to lionise, but would address objective realities through peaceful civil disobedience. Increasingly, they will ask political power what development is, and for whom it is. Tough questions, those.