Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kanu Sanyal: A killer kills himself

A killer kills himself

Kanchan Gupta

The last of the three men who launched a violent agitation in the closing years of the tumultuous 1960s when West Bengal was wracked by unprecedented political and social upheaval is dead. Like Charu Mazumdar and Jangal Santhal, his two comrades-in-arms, Kanu Sanyal believed that by mobilising the rural underclass with the help of urban youth committed to the radical ideology of Left extremism fashioned after Mao Tse Tung’s interpretation of Marxism and Leninism, the ‘bourgeois system of governance’ in India, dominated by the ‘upper class’, could be replaced with a revolutionary regime controlled by the ‘proletariat’.

Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal saw themselves as leaders of the masses, but like many Communist leaders of the time, they were not from the masses. Both were formidable Marxists of north Bengal who had chosen to throw in their lot with the CPI(M) when the Communist Party of India split in 1964. But within a couple of years, they debunked the CPI(M)s “struggle against revisionism and sectarianism in the Communist movement” and contested the party’s commitment to “the scientific and revolutionary tenets of Marxism-Leninism and its appropriate application in the concrete Indian conditions”.

The need of the hour, Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal decided, was a “revolutionary opposition” that would strike out on its own and in defiance of the CPI(M)’s stated position. Primarily, their objection was to the CPI(M)’s decision to participate in parliamentary democracy, which they believed was meaningless as it was a barrier to ‘class struggle’ and an obstacle in the path of the proletariat. Parliament, they decreed, was a “pig sty” and hence held little or no significance for the masses.

The simmering conflict between the far Left faction, led by Charu Mazumdar, and the rest in the CPI(M) in West Bengal reached a flashpoint in the summer of 1967. Landless farmers of Naxalbari had launched an agitation demanding rights for the tillers and the United Front Government, of which the CPI(M) was a member, feared the incipient prairie fire would rapidly spread across the State. Or, it may have simply been a case of the CPI(M) not wanting the far Left to run away with its land reforms programme.

An anaemic effort was made by the local administration to end the agitation in Naxalbari through dialogue; that didn’t work. Meanwhile, a local landlord — or jotedar — let loose his thugs on the protesting peasants. There was retaliatory violence. Subsequently, the police were ordered to use force. The resultant deaths were sufficient to light the fuse and provide the opportunity which Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal were looking for to launch their ‘revolution’. Jangal Santhal joined them in their endeavour. May 25, 1967 remains an important date for the Naxalites and the inheritors of their legacy, the Maobadis. Had that day passed peacefully, perhaps history would have taken a different course.

The next two years saw Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal mobilising people in north Bengal’s villages and drafting college and university students for their cause through the All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries, which brought together various factions, groups and individuals on the far Left of the Communist movement. The formation of the AICCCR also marked the parting of ways between the ‘Naxalbadis’ and the ‘Marxbadis’; the breach was never to be repaired. Some of the brightest minds were persuaded by Charu Mazumdar’s exposition of Marxism-Leninism, which was really a tribute to his pamphleteering skills rather than the substance of the violent ideology he espoused with amazing passion. He was a thin man, a chain smoker (legend has it that he smoked Charminars), and those who knew him aver that he was extraordinarily soft-spoken and polite.

But when it came to putting his political beliefs into words, he wielded a powerful pen; as a public speaker, he could stir primitive emotions. Charu Mazumdar, who was a great admirer of Mao Tse Tung, wrote eight pamphlets extolling the virtues of ‘Maoism’. The ‘Historic Eight Documents’, as the pamphlets came to be known, made four points: The Indian state was a ‘bourgeois institution’; the Soviet Union deserved to be denounced for supporting the Indian state (conversely, China merited praise for not toeing the Soviet line!); Communists affiliated to the CPI and the CPI(M) were ‘revisionists’ and had abandoned the toiling masses; and, true revolutionaries should resort to armed struggle to overthrow the ‘bourgeois state’.

Groups of young men and women set out each night from their homes, armed with paint and brushes, to scrawl revolutionary messages on every available wall. The most prominent of these were: “Bonduk’er nol khomotaa’r utsa!” (Power flows from the barrel of a gun) and “China’r chairman amaader chairman” (China’s chairman is our chairman — a reference to Mao Tse Tung). This was in Kolkata. In the villages, armed groups began attacking jotedars, killing and maiming ‘class enemies’.

Two years later, in 1969, the CPI (ML) was formally launched at a huge rally on Lenin’s birth anniversary. Addressing the crowd, Kanu Sanyal compared Charu Mazumdar with Mao and urged people to join the armed struggle. It was a passionate call to revolt against the ‘bourgeois system’ which saw a surge in targeted killing of policemen, jotedars, pro-CPI(M) intellectuals, and petty traders. A statue of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was decapitated, though nobody could quite explain how he qualified as a ‘class enemy of the toiling masses’. Pipe guns and bombs were the mainstay of the Naxalites’ arsenal; the occasional .303 looted from a hapless constable added to their firepower.

Meanwhile, students, some of them still in their teens, gave up promising careers as engineers and doctors to join the armed insurrection. Many of them just disappeared — they were listed by the police as ‘pherari’. The Congress came to power in West Bengal and Mr Siddhartha Shankar Ray, as Chief Minister, ordered a ruthless crackdown on the Naxalites. Charu Mazumdar was arrested from his hideout and died within days in police custody. Parents lived in fear of the dreaded midnight knock. Armed goons of the Congress (referred to as ‘Congshals’) helped the police track down and get rid of Naxals.

By 1977, it was all over. The revolution had failed. Jangal Santhal died unnoticed, unsung. Kanu Sanyal retired to a lonely life in Naxalbari, occasionally expressing regret over the mindless bloodletting. He committed suicide on March 23. But the dragon’s teeth sown by him and his comrades have proved to be extremely fertile. Today’s Maoists are the inheritors of the blood-soaked legacy of Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal.

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