A Maoist revolutionary

Print edition : October 24, 1998

THE death of Nagabhushanam Patnaik, the Maoist revolutionary, occurred on October 9, three days after two major naxalite factions, the People's War Group (PWG) of Andhra Pradesh and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity of Bihar, merged with a pledge to carry on class struggle unitedly. Patnaik, as the leader of the armed extremist movement in Andhra Pradesh's Srikakulam and Orissa's Malkangiri and Koraput areas, had been trying to unite the various naxalite factions ever since his release on parole in 1982.

Patnaik, who was a member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M-L) Liberation, began his involvement with the Communist movement when he was a student at the Banaras Hindu University. After the split in the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1964, he joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Patnaik, along with other Communist leaders of Andhra Pradesh such as Tarimala Nagi Reddy, Kolla Venkayya, Devulapalli Venkateswar Rao and Chandra Pulla Reddy was expelled from the CPI(M) following the rejection of their alternative political-organisational proposal at the party's all India plenum at Burdwan in April 1968.

On being expelled from the party, the dissidents declared themselves Comm-unist revolutionaries and formed a State Coordination Committee. The committee proclaimed that Mao's Thoughts formed the basis of Marxism-Leninism in the present epoch. The committee stressed the need to intensify the ideological struggle against the "CPI(M) neo-revisionists," and declared that it would launch another movement in Telangana on the lines of the armed struggle that the region witnessed during 1948-51. Thus, two centres of armed struggle developed in Andhra Pradesh - one in Srikakulam, in the northeast, and the other in the Telangana region. The Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal in 1967 inspired young Communist revolutionaries of Srikakulam, and they gradually turned to the politics of agrarian revolution.

The Srikakulam Communists sent Naga-bhushanam Patnaik and Chowdhury Tejeswara Rao to Calcutta in October 1968, to hold talks with Charu Mazumdar. On their return, the newly formed Srikakulam district coordination committee convened a secret meeting where it was resolved that an armed struggle should be launched immediately. Guerilla squads were formed in the plains as well as in the hills of Srikakulam, with the objective of overthrowing the government and establishing a people's democratic dictatorship led by the proletariat.

The guerilla movement took off with the forcible harvesting of crops from the land of a rich landlord. More significant was what happened in the Parvatipuram area in the hill tracts on November 25, 1968. About 250 tribal people armed with bows and arrows and spears, and led by Vempatapu Satyanarayana and Patnaik, raided the house of a landlord and took possession of rice and other foodgrains that he had hoarded. They also seized documents, promissory notes and other records that had bound the tribal peasants to the landlord, who was also a moneylender. Several such actions followed in Srikakulam.


The guerilla movement spilled over to neighbouring Orissa within a short time, mainly because the jungles of Malkangiri and Koraput in Orissa were adjacent to Srikakulam district. The Communist revolutionaries first confined their activities to Gunupur subdivision of Koraput with the aim of making it a liberated area contiguous with the liberated zone they wanted to establish in Srikakulam district. Patnaik, a lawyer by profession, was in the forefront of the movement. He had won the confidence of the tribal peasants, by appearing for them in legal disputes without taking fees. At a series of secret meetings between January 23 and 28, 1969, it was decided that the Communist guerillas would attack rich peasants and moneylenders of Gunupur. The plan failed as the police, who received information on this, raided the houses of the activists. Patnaik evaded the police and continued his work until he was arrested along with 10 others at Visakha-patnam on July 15, 1969. Three months later, in a daring jail-break, he and his comrades escaped, on October 8.

Patnaik was inducted into the central committee of the CPI (M-L), founded by Charu Mazumdar. In mid-1970, misgivings regarding guerilla operations and the annihilation line recommended by the party leaders in Srikakulam grew with a steady loss of important leaders and cadres. Patnaik went to Calcutta in July 1970 to convey to Charu Mazumdar the mood of the local party organisation. He was arrested from a nursing home there. Subsequently, he was sentenced to death in the Parvatipuram conspiracy case. Patnaik refused to petition the President for mercy. However, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was released in 1982 on parole.

With Charu Mazumdar's death in police custody on July 28, 1972, the CPI(M-L) broke up into several groups. Patnaik along with Kanu Sanyal, Sourin Bose and Chowdhury Tejeswara Rao, announced through a letter in 1972 his non-allegiance to any group or faction. Patnaik believed in the Thoughts of Mao Zedong and the naxalite path but wanted to rectify the mistakes in order to create a new unity to carry forward the armed agrarian struggle.

The news of Nagabhushanam Patnaik's death at the age of 64, reached CPI(M) leaders when the 16th Congress of the party was in session in Calcutta. In a condolence resolution the party's Central Committee said that in Patnaik's death the country had lost a man of principle and conviction, who had consistently stood for the rights and advancement of the working class.

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