Boddapadu’s Revolutionary Legacy
CC member, Comrade Malleshwar Rao, a native of Boddapadu, penned a history of revolutionary political activity there.
Like most villages in India, Boddapadu immediately post-Independence was extremely backward. It had no roads, no electricity. The poor survived on different kinds of tubers and roots and banana-trunk. Rice was a luxury few could afford. Villagers walked 2-3 kilometers to fetch drinking water from streams and ponds. No one in the village could read and write, so one had to find a literate person in another village to get them to read one’s letters. Medical facilities did not exist. The youth had neither much education nor employment – and were expected to live in an intoxicated haze. Living conditions were inhuman; untouchability was the rule.
The Communist Party made Dharmapuri Krishnamurthy responsible for organizing people in the Uddanam region (where Boddapadu is located). On a visit to a high school in the neighbouring village of Ankupalli in 1952, he had a chance meeting with young Thamada Ganapati, who was from one of the well-off families in Boddapadu. A bond was forged that was to last the next 17 years: a period in which both Ganapati and his village were to undergo a political transformation.
Ganapati became a communist party organiser and mobilized the youth in the village around the issues of education and literacy, and along with Krishnamurthy, involved the youth in sports and cultural activities, under the banner of the Boddapadu Yuvajan Sangham in 1954. This youth organization became the fulcrum for political mobilisation in the village – against authoritarianism, against liquor and drugs, against superstitions and untouchability, in favour of literacy and also, of course, communist ideology. The organization spread to 50 neighbouring villages with its headquarters at Boddapadu. It also organized agitations demanding basic rights like drinking water and a school. They began construction of a school at their own initiative and pressed for the government to recognise it. Once the primary school was set up they pushed the demand for a high school. The party also made arrangements for food and stay for the children in Boddapadu village, to provide an incentive for them to join the school.
Subbarao Panigrahi had come from Kharagpur to live in Sompeta. A small Shiva temple in Boddapadu needed a priest and in 1958, he was encouraged by the party to fill the opening. It was here that Panigrahi started his journey as poet, cultural activist and revolutionary organiser.
Panchadri Krishnamurthy too shifted to Boddapadu in that period. In this way, Boddapadu became the karmabhumi of the revolutionary triad: Panchadri Krishnamurty as the leader of the Party, Thamada Ganapati as leader of the masses and Subbarao Panigrahi as people’s poet and cultural activist. This is the time when Boddapadu popularly came to be called ‘Stalingrad.’
Then came Naxalbari – and the Srikakulam movement began, with Palkonda and Parvathipuram as some of its main centres. Vempatapu Satyam and Adibatla Kailasam were the two key leaders of these struggles.
Boddapadu is witness to all developments within the Communist movement in this country. When the Communist Party split in 1964, the Party’s unit in the village associated itself with the CPI(M). When CPI(M) split again, the party unit here joined the AICCCR. The comrades here supported the Naxalbari struggle and Subbarao Panigrahi welcomed it with the following lines: ‘Where are you going, O brothers? Wait for us! We shall march together’; ‘Your songs have shaken the establishment in Kolkata; Our enemies are afraid, our friends are overjoyed.’ Panigrahi was so popular in the region that once in a public meeting the people were asked whether they want to hear a speech by Comrade Sundaraiyya (then CPI(M) Secretary) or Panigrahi’s songs. ‘Panigrahi’s songs!’ the people cried out in unison and Sundaraiyya left the dais in a huff.
Girijan adivasis from different villages arriving for a Girijan Sangham Conference in 1967 were shot at by the zamindars in the nearby forest. Two members, Com. Koranna and Com. Monganna were killed in this shooting. They were the first martyrs of Srikakulam struggles. The police held the Communist leaders responsible for the shootout and slapped false cases on them. Subbarao Panigrahi wrote Jamukula Katha based on this incident. He and his team toured the Andhra region performing this story before the masses. CPI(M) held a meeting in Boddapadu in 1968, trying to convince the Srikakulam district committee not to join the Naxalbari struggle.
A rally on 24 November 1968 demanding increase in daily wages of agrarian labourers, led by Subbarao Panigrahi, Panchadri Krishnamurthy, Nirmala Krishnamurthy and others entered village Garudbhadra, about 2 kilometers away from Boddapadu. The zamindars assaulted the comrades. In retaliation, the crops of zamindar Maddi Kameshwar Rao were harvested. A severe police crackdown ensued, Boddapadu was declared a ‘disturbed area’ and the party pushed underground. People fled the village. The villagers of Boddapadu also had to report to the police camp before going out of the village.
12 comrades were killed by the police between 1968 and 1972: Panchadri Krishnamurthy, Thamada Ganapati, Subbarao Panigrahi, Pothanapalli Apparao, Panchadri Nirmala, Telukala Sarawati, Madanala Dushyant, Dunna Gopalrao, Gedala Loknadam, Byrapalli Paparao, Thamada Chirubabu and Dhananjay Rao. The remaining leadership had been arrested.
The masses were demoralized, helpless and distanced from the Party. The ruling class rode the repression to re-establish control over the village. All left-wing political activity came to an end. Two comrades from CPI (ML) joined PCC-CPI (ML). One of them was Potannapalli Paramma (Chittamma) who later joined the Maoists and was martyred in an encounter. The second comrade was Potannapalli Appalaswami (Kumar) who became District Secretary of PCC-CPI (ML). He too was martyred in an encounter. Another comrade, Pothanapalli Rukmani (Aruna) joined People’s War and died of accidental firing.
In 1982, some comrades were released from jail among them Malleshwar Rao. About the same time, IPF had been formed and was attracting attention in Andhra Pradesh too. Malleshwar Rao joined IPF and started seeking out party links. He once again formed a youth group in the village, braving threats by Congress goons. In the process, the scattered ML factions came together in solidarity. Once again, agitations were organised on the village-level issues: drinking water, hostel for backward castes and appointment of teachers in the village high school. People were willing to struggle but were still fearful of the red flag of the communists which reminded them of the terrible repression. Overriding the objections of People’s War, PCC and the Lin Piao group, we took the initiative of organising the protest minus the red banner. A demonstration was held in Mandasa, which was the first agitation of any kind in this area after the repression. People’s War and PCC also joined the agitation when they saw the people’s participation; the Lin Piao group was sidelined.
This movement witnessed a series of agitations: demonstrations, relay hunger strike, a highly successful bandh in Palasa and finally an indefinite hunger strike. After 10 days, a Minister of the N T Rama Rao government promised to fulfil our demands. The people returned victorious and organized a public meeting in the village. Once again the red flag of the party was unfurled, and once again communist politics established in Boddapadu.
In 1995, we mobilized the villagers to build a community hall in the memory of martyrs. All ML groups were invited to contribute and share it. More recently, we have won several local elections. However, we lost the last Panchayat elections. This was because Congress, TDP, CPI(M), and CPIML) New Democracy joined forces against us. In spite of the brutal repression and the attempts by the ruling class to snuff out the very memory of the movement, Boddapadu lived up to its reputation as ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Naxalite village’: the party regained its dignity and re-established the people’s pride in their revolutionary legacy.