Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kanu Sanyal, who along with Charu Majumdar started the Naxal movement from Naxalbari. A file Photo: Sushanta Patronobish.Kanu Sanyal, one of the founders of the Naxal movement in India, committed suicide at his residence at Seftullajote village in north Bengal on Tuesday.
We take a look at the life and time of the veteran leader, who changed the course of Communist politics in India.
Who was Kanu Sanyal?
Kanu Sanyal was one of the founder members of the Naxal movement. Sanyal, along with fellow Communist revolutionary Charu Majumdar, started the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal on May 25, 1967. Though the movement was brutally crushed by the police within a few months, Naxalism as an ideology managed to survive and has evolved into the Maoist insurgency, considered to be the biggest threat to internal security in India today.
Sanyal was born in 1932 at Kurseong in Darjeeling. While working as a revenue clerk at the Siliguri court, Sanyal was arrested for waving a black flag at then West Bengal chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy, to protest the Centre's ban on the Communist Party of India.
He was lodged at the Jalpaiguri jail, where he met then CPI district secretariat member and future comrade-in-arms Charu Majumdar. Influenced heavily by Majumdar's ideology, Sanyal joined the CPI after his release, and later sided with the CPI-M after the party split over the Indo-China war.
Sanyal soon became known for his firebrand politics, and in 1967, he famously led the armed peasant's movement in Naxalbari village in north Bengal. The movement marked the beginning of armed Communist struggle against the government, which later spread to other states and assumed virulent proportions in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
What happened at Naxalbari?
In May 1967, an armed peasant uprising against the oppression of landlords broke out in Naxalbari village in Darjeeling district.
Led actively by Sanyal and Majumdar, the movement was envisaged as an 'agrarian revolution to eliminate the feudal order'. Both Sanyal and Majumdar defended the use of arms and violence to fight back against the landlords. However, the state police, led by then chief minister Siddharth Shankar Roy, brutally suppressed the movement within a few months.
But the discontent and anger of the marginalised and the underprivileged sections of society continued to simmer in Bengal, which witnessed an intense surge in Naxal violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
What was Sanyal's next step towards a Communist revolution?
Sanyal and Majumdar founded the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist in 1969. The duo aimed for an 'Indian revolution' via a sustained arms struggle, to establish 'liberated zones' across the country that would eventually be merged into a single vast unit completely under Naxal control.
Sanyal publicly sought help from China to further the arms struggle, and reportedly even visited Beijing, via Kathmandu, Nepal, in September 1967. However, it is not clear whether China offered any moral, financial or logistical support to the Naxal movement raging in Bengal.
What were the activities of the CPI-ML?
The CPI-ML believed in capturing power by violent means and carried out political assassinations by targeting the 'enemies of the proletariat'. They also conducted raids on banks and armouries to build up their resources.
Was Sanyal arrested for the group's activities?
Sanyal, who had gone underground, was arrested in August 1970. He was convicted in the Parvatipuram case (an organised uprising against landlords in Andhra Prdesh and Orissa), often dubbed as the biggest conspiracy case in history, and imprisoned for seven years at a jail in Visakhapatnam.
In July 1972, Majumdar was arrested from his hide-out, and he died in police custody at a Kolkata jail a fortnight later.
By 1977, West Bengal had heralded in a Communist government and then chief minister Jyoti Basu personally intervened to ensure Sanyal's release.
Was Sanyal involved in politics even after his release?
Though Sanyal had renounced armed struggle, he formed the Organising Committee of Communist Revolutionaries after his release. He later merged the OCCR with the Communist Organisation of India-Marxist-Leninist.
Sanyal later became the general secretary of the revamped CPI-ML, which was formed when several like-minded groups coalesced to form a Left-wing organisation.
On January 18, 2006, Sanyal was arrested with fellow agitators for disrupting a Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express train at the New Jalpaiguri Railway Station in Siliguri, while protesting against closures of tea gardens in the region.
Sanyal was a vocal critic of the land acquisition methods adopted by the state government in Singur and Nandigram. He slammed the CPI-M-led government, calling it capitalist, and hailed the popular uprisings in the two regions. Sanyal believed that led by selfless and strong leadership, the protests in Nandigram had the potential to surpass even the Naxalbari movement.
What were Sanyal's views about the Maoist insurgency?
Ironically, Sanyal often spoke out against the Maoist movement, even though he is considered to be one of its founding fathers. He was disillusioned by the relentless violence perpetrated by the Maoists, and the indiscriminate victimisation of poor farmers and tribals.
Readily admitting the mistakes made by his CPI-ML in its hey days, Sanyal often declared that acts of terror could not bring change; they only hurt popular movements and alienated the masses. (Meri News)
Interview with Kanu
When I met Kanu Sanyal
Abhijit Ghose (story & photo), TOI
I met Kanu Sanyal only once. In May 2007 I was assigned to do a full-page story on the 40 years of the Naxalbari movement. I knew that talking to one of the tallest leaders of the armed struggle would be invaluable for my story. A journalist-friend from Kolkata had given me his landline number. On reaching Siliguri in north Bengal, I called him up from my hotel room. Sanyal himself picked up the phone. “Come in the evening. We will talk,” he said.
The bus dropped me off at a point that I don’t remember by name. When I mentioned Kanu Sanyal and Hatigisha to villagers, they immediately showed me a narrow road that snaked past bamboo groves, a rivulet and small hamlets. It was a two-km walk in tranquil surroundings.
Sanyal, then 75 plus, was sitting outside a sparse mud house, which also served as a one-room party office in Hatigisha. The sun was dying and fearing it would get dark soon, I immediately clicked his photographs.

Sanyal said he had been ailing for some time. He looked frail. In the sixties, the bylanes of Calcutta and the paddy fields of Naxalbari echoed the slogan “Jail ka tala tootega/Kanu, Jangal chhootega (The locks of prison will break, Kanu and Jangal Santhal will be freed). One wondered how he would have looked then.
What followed was a 60-minute interview. It could have been longer but I was worried if I would get a return bus. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I will send someone to escort you back.” Two things were clear during that interview – the radical Left leader’s mind was as sharp as ever and that he remained committed to the revolution through mass struggle.
Excerpts from the interview, parts of which were published in The Times of India in May 2007:
What are your memories of May 25, 1967, the day the Naxalbari movement began?For us, May 24 is the Naxalbari day. That day, the police were informed that some leaders of the Naxalbari movement were hiding in Boro Jhorojote village. There were no leaders there but a huge gathering of peasantry and tea garden workers. One police officer was killed there. Since the peasant understood and accepted our politics and took up arms on their own, we celebrate that day as a victory of our political ideas. Other groups observe May 25 as Martyrs’ Day, when 11 activists were killed.
In retrospect, do you think that Charu Mazumdar's “annihilation of class enemy” line was a historical error?It was not only a historical error but also a fundamental deviation from Marxism-Leninism and the thoughts of Mao. But remember we did not follow the annihilation line (forming small squads and killing landlords, policemen and other class enemies) in the Naxalbari struggle. Only one landlord was killed during the struggle. In practice, the annihilation line was first followed in Srikakulam area of Andhra Pradesh in late 1969.
Why did the Naxalbari movement fail?
We had a strong base among the peasants and the tea garden workers. But we carried on the movement without a proper party structure. That was the main reason.
What are the long-term gains?
There was no protection to sharecroppers earlier. We captured land in Naxalbari and the peasants are still in control over the land. After 1977, the West Bengal government was forced to bring the Bargadari Act through which some hereditary rights were given to the sharecroppers. Another question that came up is that if we want to lead an agrarian revolution, we need a strong party. Consequently, the CPI (ML) was formed in 1969.
But that too wasn't successful in the long run because Charu Mazumdar's annihilation of class enemies line prevailed. In a very subtle way, he said that peasant committees and associations are not necessary. Neither were mass organizations necessary. Only form small squads and start annihilation of class enemies. So I don't agree that after forming CPI (ML) agrarian struggle started in new areas. Mobilising and organizing peasants and taking them ahead in the struggle was not done.
Did you meet Mao secretly in 1967?
Yes. It was a 45-minute meeting. We went by road to Kathmandu. From there Chinese comrades took us by jeep to Peking. We stayed in Tibet too. We reached China on September 30. The next day we saw them celebrate October 1 as National Day. I could see people weeping after seeing Mao. We met Mao, Chow En Lai and the commander in chief. Mao's advice was: whatever you learn in China, try to forget it. Go to your own country, try to understand the specific situation and carry the revolution forward.
If you were the chief minister of West Bengal today, how would you have dealt with Nandigram?
I can only answer the question from a peasant organiser point of view. I feel the issue cannot be resolved. If you think deeply, Nandigram isn't just about the March 14 police firing. It is a question of policy. They say that agrarian reform is done. So we are opting for industrialisation. But the truth is that they have not completed the task of agrarian reform in West Bengal. Besides, thousands of industries have been closed. The entire 150-year-old tea industry is facing a deep crisis but the CPI (M)-led state government has been unable to resolve the problem. We should be asking whom does the industrialization benefit. During the French revolution, under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, land was given to the tillers. They should follow the French model.
What is the larger point emerging from Nandigram?
India still needs an agrarian revolution. Without solving the agrarian problem, you cannot develop the country by industrialisation.
The Maoists are present to a greater or lesser degree in over 150 districts. What is their future?
The Maoists are sure to meet with failure. In an Andhra Pradesh village, where they are very powerful, I found out that some peasants were not tilling their land. I asked them, why? They said, “If we do so, the landlords will come and ask for the produce. And if we do what the Maoists tell us, the forces will come.” The Maoists, in spite of having guns, have failed to assure the peasants that they should serve a radical land reform in the countryside. Back in 1969, when CPI (ML) was formed, we used to say after one action in a district that agrarian revolution is going ahead. And that guerrilla warfare has started. The Maoists have started the same thing in a wider form. Only now guns are more easily available. But I can say that they are detached from the people.
The Maoists cannot see. Earlier this month people revolted in Ranchi against Reliance Retail. The Maoists are active in the areas in and around Ranchi but they cannot see what is happening. They just want state power first. They feel that by killing some policemen and blasting some police jeeps, the agrarian revolution is going ahead. In Iraq, people have no option but fight the American forces. That's what the Iraqi people are doing. They feel if we kill more and more foreigners, they will go back to their own country. Such an option is justified in Iraq. But not in India.

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