Terror can’t bring change, says Naxalism’s founding leader

By Sujoy Dhar


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Naxalbari (West Bengal) : At his humble mud house here in north Bengal, Kanu Sanyal battles senility, age and a blurring eyesight. But the fire of the ultra-left revolution, known as the Naxalite movement after the village where it began 40 years ago, has not dimmed in his heart although he no longer supports his own anarchist past.

The recent peasant activism in West Bengal's Singur and Nandigram areas, where thousands protested the takeover of their farmland for industry, has only given a new lease of life to his revolutionary ideals.

Even as the bachelor 78-year-old founding leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) continues to believe in the ideology that led to what came to be known as the Naxalite movement in 1967, he abhors violence unleashed by today's Maoists though he passionately hates the mainstream communists as well.

"Terror campaign cannot solve problems. A single conspiratorial killing cannot bring change. Such actions only will cause harm to the movement and alienate the masses," said Sanyal, who was once a key leader behind a peasant insurrection in this village four decades ago.

May 25 is considered the birth anniversary of Naxalism. But Kanu Sanyal wants to correct some misconception about the date.

"May 25 is the martyr's day because on that day in 1967 the police shot dead seven women and a child to avenge the incidents a day before when the farmers attacked landlords. So May 24 is the birthday of Naxalbari movement," Sanyal told IANS in an interview.

The peasant uprising in Naxalbari village – until then an unknown spot on West Bengal's northern map – became a revolutionary affair when radical members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) broke away from the party in support of the revolt and two years later formed the CPI-ML.

In the communist world then where China and the Soviet Union never saw eye to eye, the Chinese promptly came out in support of the Naxalbari uprising, giving a new word to leftwing dictionary: Naxalites.

In no time, the Naxalite movement spread all over the country. Maoist groups even in neighbouring countries came to known as Naxalites. Sanyal was the right hand of CPI-ML's founder general secretary Charu Mazumdar, who died while in police custody July 28, 1972. By then, the Naxalite movement was in tatters.

Today, the dominant Maoist or Naxalite group goes by the name of the Communist Party of India-Maoist.

While Sanyal, now the general secretary of one of the factions of CPI-ML, shuns the violence adopted by Maoists in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, he never regrets the path adopted 40 years ago.

Again and again he harps on the "injustice" done to the poor set to lose land in places like Singur.

"Singur, where the government is bent upon handing over land to the Tatas by grabbing it from the farmers, proved the real face of CPI-M, which believes in capitalism. Both in Singur and Nandigram the CPI-M is following the path of America which grabbed land from Red Indians," said Sanyal.

"While the Naxalbari movement was in the model of French revolution, the CPI-M is a follower of the British and American ways of land grabbing," he went on.

"CPI-M is a party of the corrupt. Once (former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu) asked us to return to the party, but I said: 'We have burnt out bridges in 1967, we cannot go back.'

"The CPI-M did good work only in its first five years of ruling West Bengal and never after that. Actually, the CPI-M or the CPI (Communist Party of India) do not believe in total land reforms," he said.

Sanyal also admits the mistakes committed by his party.

"The CPI-ML formed in 1969 was communist in name but anarchist in deeds just like the CPI-M which is communist in name but revisionist (modification of Marxism-Leninism) in deed," he said. "The CPI-ML I lead now is not the one of 1969."