Ranjit Gupta, police commissioner of Calcutta when the Naxalite movement was at its peak in 1970-71, is both admired and reviled for his strong-arm tactics. Gupta, 87, still keeps himself busy writing books. Two of them are ready for publication - The Maoist Terror in India: A Search for a Solution and Birat Rajar Deshe, a history of the myths of Medinipur, where he was posted as superintendent of police early in his career. He recalled the turbulent days of the Naxalite movement to Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay.
How do you look back at the Naxalite movement?
The Naxalites had committed several mistakes. When Charu Majumdar, or Charubabu as he was known then, came to Calcutta, he was speaking of a liberated countryside and the final rise of Naxalite forces from the city. It never happened that way. City students who went to rural areas and attacked jotdars (landowners) were badly disillusioned.
Their prime weakness was lack of weapons. Charubabu made a mistake by following the Chinese model of Maoist movement - elimination of class enemy. The Naxalite cadres began trooping back to the city, which was not part of Charubabu's plan. When he failed to stop this retreat, he began pretending that what was happening was according to plan. But many of the retreating Naxalites fell into the hands of police. At that time, several anti-social elements had also joined the movement, who were used by the police.
Was the brutal repression of Naxalites necessary?
The commissionerate took the view that the Naxalite storm of killing policemen and judges would blow over if faced with great courage. That courage was shown by the Calcutta police. There was devolution of power from the control room to the police station or to the officer-in-charge. Each OC formed a joint force with police and anti-socials to combat the Naxalites. In this fight, many were killed on either side. I have no doubts that the Naxalite style of killing asked for retribution. However, many of the killings of Naxalites were in reality carried out by CPM-supported goons and Congress-backed anti-socials.
Did fake encounters occur?
Yes fake killings happened. To a major extent the police force was controlled in its response. But they were in a vengeful mood with so many policemen being killed.
But police brutality could not finish the Naxalite movement.
Yes, the Naxalite ideology lived on. There are now 40-50 large and small Naxalite groups all over the country. Today, in West Bengal, the Naxalites have penetrated as far as Nandigram. The current breed of Naxalites is far better grounded in ideology. Their weaponry is, of course, much better. They are better equipped to take advantage of the administration's failings.
Toilet Paper of India