The late 1960s were heady times. In China, the Cultural Revolution was in progress. And in Calcutta, in eastern India, restless and angry youths were hurling crude bombs at police vans.
It was not far from there that a Maoist rebellion broke out in 1967, which China termed as “a peal of spring thunder”. India had gained independence 20 years ago. But nothing had changed for its poor. Many young men and women rose to the call of revolution, drawing inspiration from Maoist ideology. Many of them came from middle-class families.
One such young man returned to India from London, without completing a course in accountancy. He returned wearing an overcoat that had 24 secret pockets, all stuffed with Maoist literature. Kobad Ghandy came from a wealthy family in Bombay – his father was the finance director of Glaxo pharmaceuticals. Kobad had been radicalised in the UK and would become the leading light of the Maoist movement in India, only arrested by the police in 2009. Towards the end of 1969 a young British teacher, Mary Tyler, also came to India along with her Indian husband Amalendu Sen. They joined a Maoist group active on the Bengal-Bihar border in eastern India. But shortly afterwards, they were arrested by the police.
Mary spent five years in an Indian jail. Defending the actions of her rebel husband she writes: “Amalendu’s crime … is the crime of all those who cannot remain unmoved and inactive in an India … where justice is the exception and injustice the rule.”
The Maoism of Comrade Bala had been a historical footnote until now. But it is that sense of injustice that is still attracting thousands of people – mostly tribal people known as the Adivasis – to the Maoist movement. The Maoists are active in central and eastern India areas left ungoverned for decades. It is this void that the Maoists have filled.
But revolution remains a utopia. The Adivasis are now caught in a vicious war between the Maoists and the state. They continue to suffer.
Rahul Pandita is the author of ‘Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement’.