We cannot observe the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising without remembering Comrade Jangal Santhal. Comrade Jangal Santhal stands tall alongside Comrades Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal. In 1949 – Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal together fought against the reactionary feudal rule of the Rana dynasty. In one phase the movement called for Chandragori Jail Break movement to free political prisoners. Jangal Santhal actively joined that movement. That’s how his political journey started which went on uninterrupted to end only with his death on 4 December 1988.
Jangal’s father Kanna Kisku was a worker in the Kamalpur tea garden. After his father’s death, his mother moved to Naxalbari with her three sons and one daughter. Jangal became a tenant farmer on the land of jotedar (landlord) Durlabh Mohammad. Soon he came into contact with the Communist movement through Comrade Chunilal Gowala. He was inspired hearing about peasant movement and agrarian revolution from Comrade Chunilal. It did not take him long to join the Kisan Sabha and plunge into the peasant movement. Towards the end of 1953 he became a member of the undivided Communist Party of India.
Unusual courage, dedication, unparalleled discipline, unimaginable hard work, love for toiling people, all this made Jangal the tall leader that he was. Landlords painted him as a cruel, devilish, murderous villain, but peasants and tea garden workers loved him as their leader. In the early 1950s, a movement broke out demanding tebhaga in the land of landlord Sherket Singh. Comrade Jangal Santhal and Kanu Sanyal were badly beaten up in the course of that movement. Jangal never stopped after that – he became even more determined to organize peasants in the terai region.
Not only in the peasant movement, Com Jangal’s contribution to the tea garden workers’ movement is also huge. Indeed, he must be acknowledged as a founder leader of today’s tea garden workers’ movement. Com Jangal played a key role in the 1955 Darjeeling tea garden strike for the demand of payment of bonus. In 1959 Com Jangal led a movement to liberate benami land. When the owner of the Chaupukhuria tea garden stopped supply of irrigation water to a farmer’s land, Com Jangal led a movement to remove the water blockade by the landlord. In 1957 at Naxalbari, when there was an attempt to foment communal tension between Hindu and Muslim farmers, Com Jangal heard of it, reached the spot, achieved a reconciliation and averted riots.
Within the communist movement, from the very beginning Jangal fought against the tendency of a section of leaders to avoid struggles. When the CPI(M) was formed in 1964 following a split, Comrade Jangal hailed and joined the new party, saying ‘the new party represents our line’. Com Jangal contested elections twice from the Phansidewa assembly constituency, in 1962 (as CPI candidate), and 1967 (as CPI(M) candidate, when he polled 10, 500 votes and was defeated by the Congress candidate by 6000 votes). Following the example of Comrade Charu Mazumdar who had contested the Siliguri by-poll in 1963 to conduct revolutionary propaganda among the masses, Comrade Jangal too used the 1967 election to popularise the line of revolutionary peasant struggle.
A leaflet signed by Jangal Santhal in 1967, which was widely known as Jangal Santhal’s Red Leaflet, proved to be a crucial spark for the peasant movement. The leaflet called for solidarity with the struggling peasants of the terai region against the repression by the landlords and United Front Government. When the uprising of Naxalbari created a wave in the entire Terai region and adjoining areas, Comrade Jangal became widely known as a front ranking leader, as a ‘new leader of new India’. West Bengal State Conference of CPI(ML) held in 1970 January elected him as a member of the 14-member State Committee. In July that year Com Jangal was arrested from Patagara area of Islampur PS in what was then West Dinajpur. He was in jail till 1977, first in Darjeeling jail and then in Alipur Central Jail. While in jail, he was an enthusiastic leader of all the struggles of Naxalite prisoners.
When Janata Party MP Krishnakant made the insulting proposal that Naxalite prisoners could be released from jail if they abjured armed struggle and joined the “mainstream”, Comrade Jangal along with many other leaders resoundingly rebuffed the proposal. Even though he was very close to Comrade Kanu Sanyal, Comrade Jangal Santhal did not support Comrade Kanu’s bid to put the blame for Naxalbari’s failure on Comrade Charu Mazumdar’s shoulders.
After being released from jail, Comrade Jangal wanted to revive the Naxalbari movement. In the face of ruling class attempts to co-opt him and multiple divisions within the movement, he became frustrated, but never did he abandon his organic ties with his class.