To get the pulse of North Bengal for the ongoing Bengal polls, we planned to move to Siliguri from Kolkata. After reaching the commercial hub of North Bengal in the second week of April, we embarked upon to Naxalbari the next day. It is barely 25 km from Siliguri. Since childhood, we read name of this dreaded place in textbooks and heard about it in news, but finally we got the opportunity to visit this historic place. It’s historic for bloodshed.
While moving towards Naxalbari, we saw hundreds of Saffron flags (BJP flags) on the roadside. Trinamool flags were also fluttering but one colour that was prominently missing was ‘Red’. After some distance, we did manage to see few Red flags; which were on top of dilapidated houses. The drastic reduction in number of flags clearly highlighted the fact that Red has lost its sheen in its bastion.
Situated in the Siliguri subdivision of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, Naxalbari is a small village. The village was the site of a revolt in 1967 that ultimately led to the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency.
LOTUS BLOOM: BJP has made dep inroads in Naxalbari (Photo by Ashutosh Kumar)
With the passing of time, Naxalbari, the cradle of an over 50-year-old Maoist movement, has been witnessing a transition from a Red bastion to a Saffron zone. The village had been the hotbed of the violent movement but one can easily see that the Red belt has moved on from its violent past
The area was once the epicentre of Left politics and was the home to the founder of CPI (ML), Charu Majumdar, a Maoist who led the Naxalbari movement. It was in 1967, when a group of Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders led by Charu Majumdar decided to break away and launch armed struggle against landowners. Majumdar was of the opinion that the situation was suitable for establishing an armed protracted people's war in India following the Chinese Revolution, Vietnam War and Cuban Revolution. Also, Charu Majumdar was highly influenced and inspired by the Chinese-Communist leader Mao Zedong, who spearheaded the Communist Movement in China. Charu was the first to call for an armed peasant revolution in India. In 1969, Charu launched CPI(ML).
With the passing of time, Naxalbari, the cradle of an over 50-year-old Maoist movement, has been witnessing a transition from a Red bastion to a Saffron zone. The village had been the hotbed of the violent movement but one can easily see that the Red belt has moved on from its violent past.
As we were discussing about Naxalbari, suddenly the driver interrupted, “Dada, ye dekho, sab waampanthiyon ki murti bani hai (Dada, see the statues of Leftists)”. I asked him to stop the car. We approached the seven red podiums of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Lin Piao, Charu Majumdar, Saroj Dutta and Mahadeb Mukherjee — standing right beside the Bengai Jot Primary School. The driver said, “yahi se Naxalbari movement shuru hua tha (Naxalbari Movement started from this place only”.
We stayed near statues for a few minutes and then moved on to a hut nearby where we met two persons in their 40s. One of them was sitting on a bench and another on ground. Sambhu, the man sitting on the bench who was a resident of Naxalbari, told Organiser, “BJP hi jitega (BJP will only win)” when we casually asked him which party was winning in Bengal.
When I asked him to explain the reason, Sambhu said, “Poribortan hoga (change will happen this time). Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing a good job, and this time we also want a change in Bengal.”
“Mamata Didi kaam accha karta hai lekin unka neta log sab gadbad kar deta hai.”(Mamata does good work but TMC leaders do wrong things), Sambhu told the magazine. When asked why the people of Naxalbari are leaving the Left ideology, he replied, “We have seen the rule of the Left Government for over 30 years.We also saw Mamata’srule but now we want to give a chance to BJP too. Nobody here is interested in violent politics of Left and TMC.”
While reaching out to the people to understand the issues concerning Naxalbari, we met a first-time voter, MD Abdul. Whenever we talk about Muslim voters in Bengal, almost every political observer considers them as a votebank of Trinamool Congress or some other party except BJP.But in Naxalbari, things are different. Abdul categorically replied that he will vote for BJP as the states where the Saffron party is in power are doing well. “I am hugely disappointed with the law and order situation in the State. Mamata Banerjee hasn't done basic work for the welfare of people of Naxalbari,” he said.
For Abdul, Rohingyas and Bangladeshi Muslims need to be sent back home, as they are depriving Indian nationals of their rights. “Outsiders are buying land in our area and they are being funded for this illegal work by Mamata Didi. TMC people are helping them in getting voter-ID cards, ration cards and many more documents. Due to outsiders settling down, the cost of land is getting higher,” he said.
According to Abdul, the Mamata Government is supporting illegal migrants to buy land in Bengal. “While TMC is helping them to settledown here, the BJP is the only party that can send them back,” he said.
Unemployment is another issue confronting the locals. Abdul went a step fusrther by alleging that the Chief Minister had given jobs to her relatives during her eight year rule.
Winds of Change
In the Left hub, we tried to find out the reason behind the socio-political changes in their area. We spoke to a number of voters, who were earlier sympathisers of the Left. But they are now praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Decimation of Left support base is the biggest reason for people’s decision to vote en masse to the Saffron in the Assembly elections.
A student of electronic engineering in Naxalbari said, “Bengal has been a land of great personas and rich in many senses. But now it has fallen back due to lack of industrialisation”. He gave the example of Tata Motors who had moved out of Singur after Mamata Banerjee’s agitation over land acquisition for an automobile factory.
Naxalbari is part of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, where BJP’s Raju Bista (who replaced sitting MP SS Ahluwalia) in 2019 by defeatingTrinamool Congress’s candidate Amar Singh Rai by a big margin.
While talking to Organiser, MP from Darjeeling, Raju Bista, said, “We are doing politics based on developmental agenda. Our only aim is to work for each and every section of the society.People are fed up with the Left and Mamata Governmentover the past four decades.This is the prime reason behind BJP emerging as an ideal choice for voters. We are reaching out to every section of the society.We don’t see ideology of voters.”
He exuded optimism on BJP reaping rich electoral harvest in the elections. “You should take a look on voting percentage in favour of BJP during 2019 Lok Sabha polls in this region,” said the Darjeeling MP, to hint that the party would win by a bigger margin this time round.
“The people of Naxalbari are now concerned about lack of development, educational institutions, jobs and many other things which are needed by people to earn livelihood. The people of Naxalbari are not only upset with Left but also with Mamata Banerjee because of rampant corruption and appeasement politics,” he said.
Saffron School in Red Belt
One can't deny the fact that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is the key factor behind this change in the Left bastion. When we were exploring different areas of Naxalbari, we came across Sarada Vidya Mandir, the biggest school in the area run by the RSS. The school imparts modern curriculum along with naitik shiksha (moral education) and nationalistic values. Established in 1999, the school has now 753 students.
The corridor, on the school’s ground floor, was adorned with boards inscribed with quotes of Vivekananda and other famous personalities. Outside every classroom, portraits of the likes of Chanakya, Madan Mohan Malviya, S Radhakrishnanand Vivekananda share space with Bhagat Singh and Rabindranath Tagore. In the prayer hall of the school, one can prominently see the portraits of RSS founder Dr KB Hedgewar along with second Sarsanghchalak of RSS MS Golwalkar, famously called Guruji.
The school was closed due to the corona pandemic but few students were there to submit their assignments. We had a conversation with them on nationalism.
A girl of Tenth Standard, said, “We don't believe in any ideology which leads to violence. After completing education, we want to contribute to the society.”
Sarada Vidya Mandir, run by an RSS-inspired organisation, is one of the
most sought-after institutions in Naxalbari (Photo by Ashutosh Kumar)
Though the school follows the curriculum of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Surodeep Dutta said there are separate classes where the Ramayana and Mahabharata are also taught. “Our motto is simple — Shiksha (education), Sanskar (culture) and Seva Bhav (selfless work),” said Surodeep Dutta. He disclosed that the school does Seva as its endeavor is to help all needy persons in this region
The school bears a dynamic infrastructure and has modern day amenities like computer lab, library and many more for students. The school has more than 300 girl students. Teachers Surodeep Dutta and Tapos told us that the Bengali medium school began in a rented house with just a handful of students in 1999. “We have come a long way— with classes up to Class 10, the school today has its own building and 753 students on its rolls,” said Tapos.
(Photo by Ashutosh Kumar)
Though the school follows the curriculum of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Surodeep Dutta said there are separate classes where the Ramayana and Mahabharata are also taught. “Our motto is simple — Shiksha (education), Sanskar (culture) and Seva Bhav (selfless work),” said Surodeep Dutta. He disclosed that the school does Seva as its endeavor is to help all needy persons in this region. “Even in the pandemic, we reached out to the people to help them,” he added.
Tapos said, “Earlier parents were apprehensive about sending their children to the school but things have changed now. We are now saying no to parents as we do not have the capacity to accommodate more students.”
Commenting on the comparison of RSS schools with Pakistan’s madrasas by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Tapos told us, “Rahul Gandhi accused RSS for running its propaganda through its schools. He should make a visit to our school, spend a day here and analyse how we are preparing our youth in nation-building with own culture as basic strength.”
RSS Behind BJP’s Rise
When we talk about elections in Bengal, one can't ignore the planned strategy of BJP. Apart from massive rallies and roadshows of political figures, the tireless work grassroots level work of RSS is visible. The organisation always prefers to work from behind the curtains. It is the work of RSS on the ground that made the party increase its footprint in West Bengal, especially in North Bengal.
Even the Left parties concede that the RSS has been gaining ground.
When we had a talk with Abhijit Majumdar, CPI-ML leader and son of Naxal leader Charu Majumdar, he also agreed that RSS workers have worked very hard for propagating their ideology among the people of Naxalbari, although he doesn’t agree with the ideology of RSS. He said that the organisation has concentrated its activities in tribal areas.
Asked about Naxalbari’s transformation, a TMC leader, on request of anonymity, said, “Red to saffron did not happen in one day, one week or one month. It is result of hard work of many years. It is the RSS that has put a lot of effort in this direction. The BJP could not have done this alone.”
Abhijit Majumdar, CPI-ML leader
Even the Left parties concede that the RSS has been gaining ground. When we had a talk with Abhijit Majumdar, CPI-ML leader and son of Naxal leader Charu Majumdar, he also agreed that RSS workers have worked very hard for propagating their ideology among the people of Naxalbari, although he doesn’t agree with the ideology of RSS. He said that the organisation has concentrated its activities in tribal areas
The former Rajya Sabha member also said that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's misrule was the reason behind BJP’s emergence in this area. “For this situation, close associates of Mamata Banerjee are responsible. The RSS has been present in North Bengal for the last two decades but it is only in the last few years, it has become more active not only in Naxalbari but across North Bengal.”
“The presence of RSS has helped BJP to expand its base here and strengthen the party’s almost non-existent structure in Bengal,” said the TMC leader.
In 2016, Sankar Malakar of Congress won from Matigara-Naxalbari but the BJP garnered 21.31 per cent of the vote-share, a huge leap from the 4.47 per cent it managed in the 2011 Assembly elections.