Kanu Sanyal: Rebel ~ who did not return home

By bappaditya paul

Kanu Sanyal, the firebrand Naxalite leader who committed suicide this Tuesday (23 March), had lit the fire of a violent revolution along with two other Comrades ~ Charu Mazumdar and Jangal Santhal ~ of the Naxalite trio out of a peasant uprising at Naxalbari in northern West Bengal in the late 60’s, although in later years he openly denounced the anarchist deviations that the insurrection had suffered.

Krishna Kumar Sanyal ~ more popularly known as Kanu Sanyal, was born to the third wife of Court clerk Annada Govinda Sanyal ~ late Smt Nirmala Devi ~ at Bhalu Basti in Kurseong in 1930.

There is no authentic document available which mentions his date of birth, though the matriculation certificate issued by the Calcutta University puts his age at 16 years 8 months as on 1 March 1947.

Third among five brothers and two sisters, Kanu received education at the Kurseong Primary School and the Kuserong Pushparani Roy Memorial HE School from where he passed the matriculation examination in 1947.

He then got admitted in the Intermediate of Science (ISc.) course at the Ananda Chandra College in Jalpaiguri. It was around this time that he developed an inclination first towards the Forward Bloc and then towards the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Enmeshed in political quest, Sanyal appeared for the ISc exam in 1948 but failed. He then gave up studies and later that year got appointed in the Kalimpong SDO office as a revenue collection clerk.

In 1948, the Communist Party was banned in India, opposing which Kanu teamed up with student activist Rakhal Choudhury of Babupara in Siliguri and floated the Jana Raksha Samity. The Samity undertook a pro-CPI campaign across Siliguri and created quite a furore by organising a protest rally in the town in 1949 ~ coinciding with the visit of then chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy.

Consequent to this, he was arrested by the police in January 1950 and spent three months in the prison. Coming out of jail, he became a CPI member in April that year and did not report back to official duty.

Early in 1951, he got introduced to Charu Mazumdar and because of his motivation, became a CPI whole-timer in October that year. Following this, he left his family and started living in a party office at Matigara near Siliguri.

Finally, from 1952, he started living at Naxalbari among the Adivasi farmers and tea workers. He gradually got assimilated among his hosts and began organising the exploited masses under the Communist ideology.

Sanyal was specifically assigned the charge of organising the Kishak Sabha in Terai and he successfully carried out a serious of movements to establish the rights of the sharecroppers on the land they tilled.

As a culmination of the series of movements, the landmark Naxalbari Movement broke out on 24 May 1967, wherein the armed Communist activists led by Kanu gave the call for “Land to tillers” and forcibly occupied the lands held by the zemindars above the ceiling limit.

In the course of the Movement, he also went to China through Nepal-Tibet in late 1967 and received armed and political training there for three months. He also met Mao Tse-tung, Chou En Lai there.

By the time he returned to India, the state machineries had quelled the Naxalbari Movement to some extent, but Sanyal and his Comrades continued to regroup themselves.

On 1 May 1969, together with Charu Mazumdar, he announced the birth of the CPI-ML at the Monument Ground in Calcutta, calling for a continuous armed struggle to effect a revolution in India.

However, there did exist a difference of opinion between Mazumdar and Sanyal since the late 50’s over the modus operandi for the revolution. While Mazumdar insisted on carrying out the struggle through small combat groups, Sanyal wanted to further the cause through mass organisations and gradually equipping all cadres with arms.

As a result of the intra-party conflicts and the state suppression, the Naxalbari Movement collapsed in 1971. Late in 1970, Sanyal was arrested from Naxalbari and in the summer of 1971 he was taken to Vishakapatnam Jail in Andhra Pradesh in connection with the Parvatipuram (Srikakulam) Conspiracy Case.

He was shifted to the Alipore Jail in Calcutta in 1977 and was released in 1979. Following his release, Sanyal started living at the CPI-ML party office at Sebdella Jote, Naxalbari till his death.

In the 60-year long political career, he has spent at least 16 years behind the bars. In the post-1979 period and until his aberrant tragic death on 23 March 2010, Sanyal earnestly worked for the unification of the splinterd Communist revolutionaries in India.

He is one of the rare politicians, not only in India but also in the world, who sacrificed his entire life for the cause of Communism. He did not marry and lived a Spartan life amidst the impoverished and exploited Adivasi tea workers and farmers, whose cause he used to champion. Sharing the same underprivileged life of his people, he lived in a humble one-room mud-house that also catered as his party office and commune.

There are many Communists, who once swam along the undeniable current of the Naxalbari insurrection but resultant to the state repression, later returned to the fold of their comfortable middleclass life.

But Kanu Sanyal was an extraordinary Communist. He was a rebel ~ who did not return home.

(The author is a journalist with The Statesman, India. This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 24 March 2010 under a different headline and is now being reproduced here with some additions.)