Kanu Sanyal (1932-2010): The architect of Naxalbari Peasant Uprising and of the Rectification Attempts

Daya Varma


The political foundation of the Naxalbari Peasant uprising of 1967, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution initiated by the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Zedong, crumbled a long time ago. The architect of Naxalbari, Kanu Sanyal (Krishna Kumar Sanyal), died 43 years later on March 23. He did not die daydreaming of the success of Naxalbari.  Hopefully, he died dreaming, nevertheless, for a bright future for the masses of India.


Kanu Sanyal articulated the most important theoretical formulation of the Naxalbari peasant movement in his article on the Peasant Movement in Terai Region, in which he concluded that the peasants were fighting for political power and not for land.  Charu Mazumdar vulgarized this formulation by his thesis that the ‘annihilation of class enemy’ and abandoning mass struggle was the road to India’s liberation. Thus, it was on the question of how to capture political power in a country like India of the 1960’s that Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar differed.


What Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar had in common was their faith in the genius of the Chinese Communist Party and the correctness of the positions put forward by Chairman Mao. As the Naxalbari movement faced setbacks, Souren Bose secretly visited China on behalf of CPI (ML), the formation of which was announced on May 1, 1969 by Kanu Sanyal, and met Chou En-Lai on October 29, 1970. Chou En-Lai was warm but not very helpful; he did express his disagreement with Charu Mazumdar’s favorite slogans: “China’s Chairman is Our Chairman” and “China’s Path is Our Path.” Chou also said that no national party could solve the problems of another nation’s party. He even remarked that the collapse of the Third International facilitated the victory of the Chinese revolution, which was another way of saying that the freedom from Stalinist control of the Communist Party of China was the key to the success of the Chinese Revolution.


Souren Bose was arrested while reentering India and sent to Vishakhapatnam Jail; when Kanu Sanyal was arrested a bit later in 1971, he too was sent to the same jail.  It is from this jail that Kanu Sanyal, Chowdhary Tejeswara Rao, Souren Bose, D. Nagabhusanam Patnaik, Kolla Venkaiah and D. Bhuvan Mohan Patnaik, sent their letter to ‘Frontier’. In this historic letter, which was published on November 4, 1972, all these leaders admitted their guilt in the left adventurist line followed by CPI (ML). They all started the process of rectification; Kanu Sanyal was the last survivor of this group. But the legacy of Naxalbari has degenerated to the core and his apparent suicide shows that this degeneration was, perhaps, too much to bear for Kanu Sanyal. According to newspaper accounts, Kanu Sanyal was severely critical of the policies of individual killings of political opponents by a section who claim descent from Naxalbari, the Maoists, who have recently been the subject of a hagiographic journalistic account by the writer Arundhati Roy.

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