It was a heroic emergence. It is a tragic departure. In the middle there lay a long tortuous path to traverse.
Kanu Sanyal was both an architect and a product of the Spring Thunder of Naxalbari upsurge in 1967. An eruption that spread the call of armed uprising and seizure of state power. Its culmination notwithstanding, it played a historic role as a rebellion against the “parliamentary path of revolution” purveyed by the traditional communist current in Indian politics.
Kanu Sanyal and his close comrade-in-arm, Jangal Santhal, turned into revolutionary icons both for the youth and the peasantry of this country. Kanu Sanyal, along with some of his comrades, visited China secretly and met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai and exchanged views over the prospects of Indian revolution. It was Sanyal who acquainted the world with the “contribution of Charu Mazumdar” in the Naxal uprising and the communist “fight against revisionism”.
He also became one of the enthusiastic leaders who championed what nowadays is famous as the CM line, and tried to establish the “revolutionary authority of Charu Mazumdar”. (Ref: ‘Be cautious of those who want to dismantle the revolutionary authority of Charu Mazumdar’.) The privilege to announce the formation of a new party – the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) – conferred on Kanu Sanyal on May 1, 1969, served to underscore his electrifying charisma and the revolutionary esteem he was held in those days.
On the fundamental question, ‘What road is to be followed by the Indian revolution?’, his analysis then was: “The Indian revolution must take the road of relying on the peasants, establishing base areas in the countryside, persisting in protracted armed struggle and using the countryside to encircle and finally capture the cities. This is Mao Tse-tung’s road, the road that has led the Chinese revolution to victory, and the only road to victory for the revolutions of all oppressed nations and peoples.” He pointed out, “The specific nature of the Indian revolution, like that of the Chinese revolution, is armed revolution fighting against armed counter-revolution; armed struggle is the only correct road for the Indian revolution; there is no other road whatsoever.” He further believed “the spark in Darjeeling will start a prairie fire and will certainly set the vast expanses of India ablaze.” (Ref: ‘Report of the Terai Movement’, published at the end of 1968.)
Towards the end of 1972, Kanu Sanyal started questioning the CM line. Subsequently, one of the main founders of the CPI(ML) publicly declared that not only was the formation of a new party a great blunder, it was the product of a handful of conspirators who moved away from the lessons of Naxalbari movement, which he still believed to be a milestone. In April 1973, he wrote ‘More on Naxalbari’ where he categorically challenged the claim that the Naxalbari uprising was the product of the application of CM’s theory, especially his ‘The Eight Documents’, which was circulated among the members of Darjeeling district committee of the CPI(M) long before the uprising. In none of these declarations, statements or writings, was there a serious critical self-evaluation, though Sanyal admitted a Himalayan blunder had been committed.
Being consistent with his evaluation about the formation of the CPI(ML), he refused, unlike other ML fractions, to tag the post-split network he led as CPI(ML) with this or that nomenclature within parenthesis. However, after subsequent splits and mergers he finally agreed in 2005 to be the general secretary of the party that was named CPI (ML) without any further appelation.
He criticised the CM line, especially the line of “annihilation of class enemy”; he revised and redrafted a number of tactical lines; but he could not go beyond the general orientation projected in the Terai Report and adopted by the undivided CPI(ML). As a consequence, he imprisoned himself within the narrow and blind confines of endless permutation-combination of grouping and regrouping of the ‘communist revolutionaries’. He admitted the Himalayan blunder, but could not stretch his capabilities enough to take the rectification drive to the desired level. When thousand inner-party struggles within the ‘communist revolutionaries’ continued to produce only further disillusionment, demoralisation and fragmentation, a personality of the stature of Kanu Sanyal could have been in the forefront of a mission to impart communist inquisitiveness and genuine search for an alternative path of class struggle. A path that would inspire the masses to fight and change.
Dream shattered, mission unaccomplished, he, however, never stopped his journey to organise and reorganise the toiling masses. It is, indeed, a matter of great regret that though he took earnest initiative to organise different sections of the workers, especially the tea garden workers, he neither gave due importance to the historical potential of the working class in changing the world and society, nor let his revolutionary energy flow towards the self-emancipation of the working class, either in his theorisation or his practice.
Kanu Sanyal is dead. Long Live his solitary and collective drive towards communism!