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Life and times of Kanu Sanyal: Rebel with a cause

March 23, 2010 16:21 IST
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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. takes 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.

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