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An Interview with Kanu Sanyal

'Nandigram can excel Naxalbari'

Founder of the landmark Naxalbari Movement, Kanu Sanyal was born in 1929, at Kurseong in Darjeeling. His father, the late Annada Govinda Sanyal, was a court clerk and posted at Kurseong at the time of his death. The youngest but one among five brothers and a sister, Mr Sanyal went to Kurseong ME School (renamed Pushparani Roy Memorial High School) and became a matriculate in 1946. He did not complete the intermediate course in science at the Jalpaiguri College.

In 1949, Mr Sanyal got recruited at the Kalimpong court as a revenue clerk, only to continue in the service for six months until his transfer to the Siliguri court. He was arrested on the charge of waving a black flag at the then chief minister of Bengal, the late Bidhan Chandra Roy, in Siliguri. The agitation was in protest against the Centre's ban on the undivided Communist Party of India in 1948.

At the Jalpaiguri Jail, where he was lodged during the brief imprisonment in 1949, Mr Sanyal met his future comrade, the then CPI district secretariat member, the late Charu Majumdar. Immediately after his release, Mr Sanyal joined the CPI, and became a whole-time member the following year. In 1964, when the CPI split on the issue of the Sino-Indian conflict, he sided with the new faction, the CPI-M.

A revolutionary at heart, Mr Sanyal could not concur with the "revisionist" stance of the CPI-M and soon stood out as a prominent activist of the party's "radical faction". In 1967, it was Mr Sanyal, who practically led the famous peasants' uprising at Naxalbari village in West Bengal, leading to the birth of "Naxalism" ~ which till date is the most prominent form of armed Communist struggle in India.

Mao Zedong had largely influenced Mr Sanyal's political philosophy. In September 1967, he went to China via Kathmandu and met the Chinese Communist leader to brief him on the developments at Naxalbari. In the 59 years of his life as a revolutionary Communist, Mr Sanyal has spent 14 years behind bars. With an ever-deteriorating health, he now leads the CPI-ML as it general secretary. In an interview with BAPPADITYA PAUL, he speaks about the Naxalbari Movement's relevance in the contest of farmers' struggles. Excerpts:


Q: As per popular perception, the late Charu Majumdar was instrumental in initiating the Naxalbari Movement and you assisted him as a trusted comrade. How far is this true?

This is a wrong perception. Charu Majumdar 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. I must refer to the difference of opinion we had over how to bring about a Communist revolution by "radical Communists".
Charuda and his followers believed a revolution can be materialised by raising small groups of armed Communists and killing the individual "class" enemies. He also rubbished the idea of trade union practices. But a majority within the "radical Communists", including myself, was opposed to such views.

While we, too, believed an armed struggle was inevitable for waging a revolution, we wanted to materialise it by involving the entire working class, especially the peasantry. We never subscribed to the idea of targeting individual "class" enemies and instead, were in favour of marching forward by forceful possession of farmlands owned by zamindars and big landlords.

When the differences with Charuda grew deeper, without any sign of either group budging on its stand, a way had to be worked out. It was agreed that Charuda would experiment with his ideas in the Chathat area (on the outskirts of Siliguri), while we would go ahead with ours, at Naxalbari. The ideas that proved successful would be adopted as an undisputed strategy of the "radical Communists".

We began work in earnest at Naxalbari and the peasant uprising became a reality in 1967. But Charuda failed to ignite any such movement at Chathat and was summarily proved wrong.


Q: But outside Naxalbari, it was Majumdar's "individual terrorism" line that was by and large adhered to. Those who spread the Naxalbari Movement elsewhere in the state, took the same to be the true spirit of Naxalbari?

That's true. It happened primarily because of two reasons. First, as I was enmeshed in the struggle at Naxalbari and underground, I was detached from the outer world. Second, despite his ways being proved wrong, Charuda did not shun his strategy of "individual terrorism" and was always on the lookout to press it into action.

When the news of an armed peasant uprising at Naxalbari spread, "radical Communists" from across the state and from other parts of the country started showing their eagerness to join the fray. As Charuda was based in Siliguri then and was accessible, they looked to him for guidance. Charuda never missed the opportunity to preach his line of "individual terrorism", labelling it as the spirit of the Naxalbari Movement.

The Press helped spread Charuda's strategies, by referring to his comments in news coverage published on the Naxalbari uprising at the time. It was also because the Press could hardly access anyone else.

Q: Are you suggesting that in reality, Majumdar hardly played any role in the Naxalbari Movement?

Not exactly. Rather, what I am saying is, his role was limited to providing the philosophical base for the Naxalbari uprising, to a certain extent. But I would reiterate, Charuda was never directly involved in the Naxalbari Movement, nor was he aware of the day-to-day developments taking place in the field of struggle.


Q: Then why is it so that Naxalism, as perceived and practised in several parts of India now, seem to be adhering to the "individual terrorism" strategy, which Majumdar spoke of?

So far as perception is concerned, I think, I have already answered that question. With regard to the preference for "individual terrorism", I would say, the "romanticism" of an armed revolution is luring "radical Communists" away. Particularly, 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.


Q: What is the future of Maoist or Naxalite insurgency, active in many parts of India?

They will vanish with time, unless they strengthen their mass base immediately. I have been to an Andhra Pradesh village where Maoists claim dominance. I was astonished that even with arms in hand, the Maoists could hardly generate confidence among the peasantry to cultivate their own lands.

The peasantry there prefers approaching the police camp, to save themselves both from the Maoists and the forces of the landlords.


Q: Coming to West Bengal, what is your view on the latest industry-agriculture conflict? How do you take the ongoing anti-farmland acquisition movement at Singur and Nandigram? Do you find any similarity with the Naxalbari Movement?

See, there is hardly anyone who doesn't want industrialisation in Bengal. But the question is for whose benefit it is. The industrialisation policy has been adopted and implemented by the Left Front government solely to benefit the imperialists and so, we oppose it. We say, set up need-based industries, keeping in mind the resources of a particular area and drive it for the general wellbeing of the common man. But the government is ruthlessly adamant on setting up industries by trampling farmlands.

The chief minister is harping on industrialisation and believes that everyone, barring himself, is wrong. But my question is, if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wants to rejuvenate the industrial scenario, why doesn't he first reopen the nearly 56,000 closed industrial units in the state? Why is there no effort to save the tea gardens in the Dooars and the labourers from starvation?

Singur and Nandigram have unmasked the cruel facets of the CPI-M, which fancies itself to be a party of the underprivileged. The movement that has generated out of Singur and Nandigram, if explored properly, can bring about a sea change in West Bengal. So far as the form is concerned, I find a great deal of similarity between Nandigram and the Naxalbari Movement. The ongoing fight in Nandigram, in particular, has the potential to excel the Naxalbari Movement. The only thing needed is a strong, selfless, political leadership to sustain it.

Q: Why single out Nandigram, when the same fight is on at Singur?

Mamata Banerjee has ruined the movement in Singur. By embarking on a hunger-strike, she spoilt the ignition of the Singur farmers.

I am sure the farmers of Singur will never get back their lands and Miss Banerjee is solely responsible for this. Just take a look at the happenings in Singur, as long as the farmers were battling it out themselves, the state government could not erect a fence on the acquired land.
But soon after Miss Banerjee hijacked the movement and started her fast, the focus shifted to Esplanade and fencing work went on in Singur unabated. Whereas in Nandigram, farmers and locals relied on their own strength and even on the face of a persistent joint offensive by the police and CPI-M goons, they have so far managed to resist the imperialist invasion.


Q: But Miss Banerjee is the one considered capable of throwing out the Left Front? In fact, the Jamait-ul-Ulema-e-Hind leader, Mr Siddiqulla Choudhury, is talking of a grand alliance with the Trinamul and others, to fight the CPI-M?

See, capturing power is one thing and fighting the imperialists is another. For the moment, even if a grand alliance were to pull down the Left Front government, would it make any difference to the poor, the framers? Rather, the alliance would continue in the wake of what the CPI-M-led government is doing now, albeit with a different set of propaganda. I say this because like the CPI-M, the Trinamul, the Jamait and the rest lack the political will to work for the common people. If I am wrong, then let them first make a public declaration what radical changes they would initiate for the benefit of the farmers, if elected to power.


Q: In this context, how do you rate the role of the Left Front allies?

I don't find their role satisfactory either. If parties like the CPI, RSP and the Forward Bloc are really opposed to the CPI-M's ruthless industrialisation agenda, why don't they step out of the Front? I advised some of their leaders to come out of the government, at least that would have created pressure on the CPI-M. But despite continuous humiliation at the hands of the CPI-M, they seem only too eager to continue sharing power.


Q: If we were to leave out the Trinamul, the Jamait and the Left allies, who then would lead the movement forward?

United Naxalites alone can guide the movement on the right path. I urge all Naxalite factions to form a common platform and take the anti-farmland acquisition movement to every corner of the state. Forget about the elections, just make a collective effort to intensify and sustain the struggle generated out of Singur and Nandigram. The Statesman

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posted by Resistance 3/31/2007 10:11:00 AM,

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