Kanu Sanyal, soldier of Naxalbari, dead — old foes mourn (Lead)

March 23rd, 2010 - 9:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Siliguri (West Bengal), March 23 (IANS) Kanu Sanyal, who spearheaded the Naxalbari uprising in 1967 giving birth to a Maoist movement that now threatens the Indian state, was Tuesday found hanging in his humble home here. He was 78, an ailing bachelor and a virtual pauper.
One of the founding members of the Left extremist movement in India, no one could say why Sanyal killed himself. But police officers maintained it was suicide.

His thatched home is located in the Siliguri sub-division of Darjeeling district, where Sanyal and a select few made history over four decades ago when they launched a violent peasant uprising in Naxalbari village.

After endorsement of the bloody tactics by Mao’s Communists, Naxalbari became a household word in India and beyond, unleashing a violent movement that continues to haunt the country.

Guided by Charu Mazumdar, a maverick who gave ideological shape to that peasant movement, Sanyal helped found the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML), whose adherants came to be dubbed Naxalites.

The CPI-ML, which quickly won recognition from Beijing, was born after a crippling split in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). It unleashed violence across the length and breadth of India that left many thousands — Maoists, security personnel and civilians — dead.

By the time the Indian state cracked down hard on the CPI-ML and its general secretary Mazumdar died in Kolkata’s Presidency Jail in July 1972, Sanyal was a broken man.

Although he distanced himself from Mazumdar’s advocacy of annihilation of “class enemies”, Sanyal remained wedded to Maoist ideology - but minus its gory past.

A graduate from Siliguri’s A.C. College, Sanyal suffered repeated imprisonment before he decided, in the 1980s, to reorganise the scattered Indian Maoists.

The experiment was a failure although by now he was ready to take part in the “bourgeois democracy” he had once denounced. However candidates he put up lost badly in the hills of West Bengal.

All that disappointed him. Over the years, he not only suffered from poor health but he was disgusted with the violent tactics of the present lot of Indian Maoists, who incidentally consider Mazumdar as their god.

Although an iconic figure in and around the village of Naxalbari, he led a spartan life, keeping mostly to himself.

When the police entered his home Tuesday, they found few possessions — apart from his books, clothes and utensils and some framed black and white photographs of leaders from the Communist pantheon.

In one of his last interviews, Sanyal said: “I was popular once. I have lost my popularity. I am unwell. That is the reason I cannot organise the masses any more.”

Azizul Haq, one of his contemporaries from the Naxalbari era, shed tears in Kolkata as he paid an emotive homage to his former comrade.

“Sanyal will be remembered as one of the best leaders of the Naxalite movement,” Haq told IANS. “Although he was ailing, he never took treatment from any government hospital. His argument was he could not approach the state when he was fighting it.”

It was in the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) that Sanyal began his political career decades ago before switching over to the breakaway CPI-M in 1964. Once he joined CPI-ML, the Naxalite leader denounced both the CPI and CPI-M as revisionists.

But on Tuesday, his former ideological foes hailed him.

“He was a very popular leader in the early days of Naxalbari,” CPI’s S. Sudhakar Reddy told IANS. “Although we disagree with his Maoist ideology, he contributed greatly to the communist movement.”

CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury said Sanyal’s death was “very unfortunate” and added that the Naxal leader had been critical of the line adopted by the present Maoist guerrillas.

“After Nandigram and Lalgarh (in West Bengal), Sanyal had been saying that the line adopted by Maoists do not conform to the revolutionary understanding adopted when the Naxalite movement started,” Yechury added.

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