Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kanu Sanyal: the last Naxalbari legend

Journalists who has reported the death of Krishna Kumar Sanyal, popularly known as Kanu Sanyal, couldn’t fail to describe two things. That he lived in a thatched two-room mud hut at Hatighisa village in Naxalbari where a worn out reed mattress and some plain rugs lay on the floor. His only other possessions were few books, clothes and utensils. The other thing they have noticed are the framed black and white portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao that hung on the mud wall. This description is given to confirm the simple yet ideologically dedicated lifestyle of the legendary Naxal leader who has committed suicide on 23 March. For the last one year, the undisputed leader of the Naxalbari uprising was ailing after a brain hemorrhage and had become too feeble to move outside his home. But even so, he refused treatment from any government hospital in Kolkata. How could he approach the State when he is fighting it? – Kanubabu used to argue. “I was popular once,” he bitterly stated in one of his last interviews, “I have lost my popularity. I am unwell. That is the reason I cannot organize the masses anymore.” Former comrade-in-arms Azizul Haque believes that his suicide is symbolical – a protest against “the slaughter of innocent people in the villages in the name of Maoism and its counter-measures”. Kanubabu was known to be severely critical about the Maoists who often torture and kill poor and innocent villagers for refusing to join their movement or for turning against it. “In this respect, I do not approve of today’s Naxals,” was his sharp and clear remark. The reason behind his suicide remains an enigma. Did he take the extreme step because he could not bear the pain of his diseases anymore? Was he depressed and frustrated by the current form of revolutionary extremism in the country? We can speculate whatever we like but the real truth will never be known.

Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal were the three famous leaders of the Naxalite rebellion that sparked off at Naxalbari on March 1967 when sharecroppers armed with conventional weapons rose in revolt against the local jotedars (landowners) and forcefully occupied farmland. On May 23, when a police force raided a troubled village in the area, armed peasants attacked them and killed a police Inspector. The police hit back two days later, by firing upon a crowd of villagers killing ten, including six women and two children. This event became a flashpoint and soon the movement spread like wildfire all over the land. Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal were the grass-root leaders who practically led the Naxalbari peasant uprising. While the two were involved with the day-to-day struggle, trying to spread the movement among the peasants and mobilizing them, the 49-year old Charu Mazumdar who was basically an ideologue was providing the theoretical guidelines. At some point during the incidence, the idea of capturing State power through an armed struggle was born in Mazumdar’s mind as he perceived that “there was an excellent revolutionary situation in the country with all the classical symptoms”.

Mazumdar had even predicted that Indian people will complete “the great epic of liberation” by the end of 1975. How did he predict this specific time limit? In a speech published as “March Onward, Day of Victory is near” in the September-December, 1970 issue of the Naxalite mouthpiece Liberation, Mazumdar explicates: if the idea of armed struggle that had originated in his “revolutionary consciousness” in 1967 could seep into the minds of ten million people by 1970, “why is it impossible then for those 10 millions to rouse and mobilize 500 million people of India in a surging war by 1975?” A brilliant prediction indeed! Mazumdar’s argument sounds infantile and awful today but during those days his fiery clarion call to “Make the 70s the Decade of Revolution” found wide response among the youth, especially among college and university students from affluent families. Ignited by the “romanticism” of an armed revolution, they jumped into the revolutionary fray to pursue Charu Mazumdar’s mistaken dream. In May 1969, on the hundredth birth anniversary of Lenin, Kanu Sanyal formally announced the formation of CPI(ML) at a rally in Kolkata’s Shahid Minar.

In a 2007 interview, Mazumdar’s erstwhile lieutenant Kanu Sanyal passed a caustic remark to strongly counter the popular belief that Charu Mazumdar was instrumental in initiating the Naxalbari movement. “Charu Mazumdar was never directly attached to the Naxalbari Movement. When the Naxalbari uprising took place, Charuda was bedridden at his Siliguri home, with a severe heart ailment,” Kanubabu bluntly declared in that interview. He further went on to affirm that Mazumdar’s “role was limited to providing the philosophical base for the Naxalbari uprising”. (Source) According to Kanubabu, while all the grass-root leaders of the uprising including him were underground, the radical minded people who became excited by the news of the uprising and wanted to join the movement was only able to approach Charu Mazumdar since he lived in the adjoining town Siliguri and was easily accessible. Mazumdar’s infectious, unequivocal and sharp rhetoric promptly induced and convinced the radicals to fight for the great cause of liberation.

There was serious difference of opinion among the leaders on the strategy of armed struggle from the initial stage of the movement. Mazumdar propagated for instant armed struggle by forming small and mobile guerrilla units which will annihilate individual “class enemies” and take over the lands. Completely ignoring the need of mass movements or mass organizations to build up popular support, Mazumdar announced that “guerrilla struggle is the only form of class struggle” and annihilation was its “higher form”. He thought that the “actions” will instantaneously lit fire among the masses and awaken them to revolt against the system. Though leaders like Kanu Sanyal too believed in armed struggle, yet they stressed on building up mass movement involving the entire working class and peasantry as the primary task before forcefully taking possession of farmlands owned by big landlords. Deploring Mazumdar’s treatise of individual killing, Kanubabu later sarcastically said, “Charuda never missed the opportunity to preach his line of ‘individual terrorism’, labeling it as the spirit of the Naxalbari Movement.” He further argued that, “In a people’s movement, individual feeling, individual anger must first become crystallized for a people’s movement to succeed.” Armed revolution cannot be forced on the people if the objective conditions are not present.

Charu Mazumdar who coined the slogan “China’s Chairman is our Chairman” had even gone to the extent to proclaim that, “He who had not dipped his hand in the hands of class enemies can hardly be called a Communist”. Infatuated by Mazumdar’s incendiary ideas, the Naxalites went ahead to accomplish India’s liberation and started killing landowners, their associates and agents, money lenders, petty businessman and police informers. Initially, the strategy had borne some fruits. Due to the fear of getting killed by the Naxals, many from the oppressor class in the remote villages either fled or knelt down before them creating a power vacuum in the areas to fill by the “revolutionaries”. The Naxals loved to call those areas as “liberated zones”. In numerous cases individual murders were perpetrated by local criminal and lumpen elements those who had silently infiltrated among the Naxalite rank and file. The top Naxal leadership soon started to access the revolutionary triumph and its spread by the number of class enemies killed by them. Jubilant by this initial “success” in some small pockets of a vast country, Charu Mazumdar and his followers started exaggerating their so-called revolutionary achievement, completely underestimating the mighty State power and also the imminent white terror backlash perpetrated by armed goons of the Congress Party.

Mazumdar committed another serious blunder when he granting full sway to the Naxal action squads to plan and execute their own programmes. The squads started to function independently without any coordination between each other which intensified reckless violence and more bloodshed. Instead of creating confidence among the masses, Mazumdar’s erroneous strategy of revolutionary terror largely alienated the masses from the movement. Soon the State forces swung into aggressive action. Kanu Sanyal was captured along with 37 comrades by the police from his northern Bengal jungle hideout on August 1970. Charu Mazumdar was arrested in Kolkata on 16 July 1972. Twelve days later he died in police custody. The movement collapsed into shambles after being brutally crushed by a massive State repression called “Operation Steeplechase”.

Charu Mazumdar desired for an instant revolution – he was literally in too much hurry. His deteriorating health condition could be the vital reasons why the man became so frenetic to achieve the liberation of Indian masses by 1975. Whatever might be the reason, his ultra left-adventurism and revolutionary romanticism was primarily responsible for the heavy losses of precious lives within and outside the movement. Making a pointed attack on Charu Mazumdar’s tactical eccentricity, Kanubabu had stated, “…with arms in hand, youths tend to believe they can bring about a revolution by using bullets alone. But the reality is, they simply can’t. Without a solid mass base, all efforts will be futile.” In his later years, Kanubabu became an unabashed critic of the common perception that gun-culture is the ultimate identity of a communist revolutionary and continued to say that acts of terror can only damage popular movements and alienates the masses.

After his release from Visakhapatnam jail where he was imprisoned for seven years, Kanubabu took the initiative to form the Organizing Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (OCCR) to assimilate splinter Naxal groups. In May 1985, OCCR merged with the Communist Organization of India (Marxist-Leninist). In June 2003 he formed a new CPI(ML) and kept his political activities confined in north Bengal region. Taking up local issues, he continued working quietly among the peasants and tea garden trade unions. Kanubabu was a severe critic of the Left Front government’s industrialization policy as he felt that the policy will only benefit the imperialists. He had also firmly voiced his opposition to the land acquisition methods in Singur and Nandigram. At the same time he was very much skeptical about Mamata Banerjee and the rainbow alliance led by her party, the Trinamool Congress. He had no doubt in his mind that the alliance “lacks the political will to work for the common people”. On a June 2009 interview Kanubabu had also spoken about his disapproval of the Lalgarh agitation. He considered the Lalgarh agitation “strictly an ethnic insurrection by the Adivasi community”. Condemning the Maoists for exploiting the Adivasis to carry forward their agenda of individual terrorism, he had thundered that, “Lalgarh is certainly not a Communist uprising”. (Source)

Since he had openly repudiated the ruthless violence of the neo-Naxals, popularly known as the Maoists, it is quite natural that their backers will consider Kanu Sanyal’s viewpoint as stale and redundant. A soft and lenient Kanubabu was indeed a disappointment for them in comparison to the fire eater Maoists. While Kanubabu lived and died inconspicuously in a remote north Bengal village and has certainly failed to develop into a “collector’s item”, the smart, crafty and “successful” Maoists have attracted the glossy attention of mainstream Indian media and ensured a high-profile, luxury position in it. The Maoist leadership and the neo-liberal media are equally comfortable when the image of a half-naked sexy model is presented next to the stunning image of a gun wielding grim faced Maoist women. For the Maoist leadership, it is free propaganda. For the media, both the images are sensational and thus a highly saleable commodity.

Highbrow intellectuals and celebrity activists who are singing the same tune to sanctify the Maoists and propagate their cause believes like Arundhati Roy that the noteworthy rebels are keeping “hope alive for us all” by creating “the possibilities for an alternative”. In a recent essay-cum-travelogue of her sponsored journey into the Maoists' hotbed Dantewada, Arundhati Roy writes, “Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded (and its many splinter groups) has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream. For that alone, we cannot judge him too harshly.” She wonders if Charu Mazumdar could have ever imagined that the tribals turned Maoist cadres of Dantewada are “the ones on whose shoulders his dreams would come to rest”. Roy is fascinated by the “superbly organised, hugely motivated” Maoist guerrilla fighting force and its members, those who always carry “a weapon and a smile”. She writes emotionally about one Comrade Kamla who told her that she likes watching “Sirf ambush video (Only ambush videos).”

Roy even endorses a Maoists' version of tribal history and shares it with her readers since in her warped “outlook” she measures the tribal people’s struggle for rights and the deceiving politics of the Maoists' as equivalent. Her opposition to the government’s anti-Maoist offensive “Operation Green Hunt” leads her to bizarrely eulogize the total militarization of everyday tribal life, the killing of a village panchayat president because he was a “Tata’s man” and the Maoists' Jan Adalat (kangaroo court) where they regularly try and execute their adversaries. Lionizing the ultra left movement, the believer Roy gets prompted to write, “Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever”. (Source)

Kanu Sanyal was counted out long before his mortal death; today’s neo-Naxals do not need a Charu Mazumdar either. And possibly they never really needed Mao! They just want apostles like Roy to spread their blood thirsty politics under the disguise of a noble intention.

History appears first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. It seems that an over-enthusiastic and obsessive Roy has completely forgotten this basic lesson.

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