Life has not been kind to Kanu Sanyal. Perhaps history will not be, either.
For, his end marked the suicide of an ideology that had spread its wings after the peasant revolt in a north Bengal hamlet, Naxalbari, in 1967. But over the next four decades, it degenerated into a Left adventurism that thrives on extortion.
Sanyal featured nowhere in the scene although during his nearly four-decade-long political career, he was always a rebel.
The last of the giants of the Naxalite movement refused to accept poor health and loosening grip on politics. If Naxalbari was the epicentre of India’s first radical Left movement, Sanyal was at the heart of it with Charu Mazumdar, the all-powerful theoretician-leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) that spearheaded the movement from 1967 to 1973.
But former Naxalite leader and author Saibal Mitra said, “It was actually Sanyal who started the Naxalbari movement. He always underplayed his role. Kanubabu is the one and only example as to how politicians should lead their life.” “He was the one who truly succeeded in integrating with the peasants. He was their brother, till the last,” said Suniti Kumar Ghosh, one of the founders of the CPI (ML). “We talk a lot about getting integrated with peasants and being declassed. I don’t know how many of us practise it in real life, but Kanu was a bright and rare example.”
This was echoed even by the people who were supposed to be his enemies. Former chief of West Bengal Police Arun Prasad Mukhopadhyay, who arrested him in 1968 from a north Bengal village, said, “Kanubabu was very polite, honest and dedicated.” He remembered the day of Sanyal’s arrest. “We started searching every hut of the village. Suddenly, I found a manger behind a hut. I found two persons were hiding behind a bale of hay. Both had covered themselves with blankets.
“I moved forward and removed the blanket from the face of one of them. ‘Oh! Aapni Ese gachen! (Oh! You have come!),’ said Sanyal. He almost looked relieved seeing me.”
Soon after his brief tryst with fame when he announced the formation of the CPI(ML) in 1969 in Kolkata, Sanyal seemed to start developing doubts over Mazumdar’s politics of individual killings.
He made his point clear in More About Naxalbari, a document he published after returning in 1977 from a seven-year jail stint in Visakhapatnam. He defined the Naxalbari uprising as a peasant revolt, as the country was not ready for a class struggle in the urban areas.
And thus, he made it clear that he was never a blind follower of Mazumdar.
A critic of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal, Sanyal also rejected the present day avatar of his own creation, the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
He agreed that armed struggle was the way to seize state power, but did not accept that violence was the only way. The Maoists were not kind to him, either. While their area of influence spanned 13 states, Kanu Sanyal was not even a little spec on the map, they said.