There is something ironical about communists ending their life by committing suicide. Kanu Sanyal, the legendary who set a generation take up arms, in the belief that violence was inevitable to change the world into a better place, was found dead hanging himself to the ceiling. Kanu Sanyal, along with Charu Mazumdar and Jungal Santhal belonged to the CPI(M) initially and broke out of the party to found the CPI(ML). While Charu Mazumdar died while in jail (and many believe that it was not a natural death) in 1972, Jugal Santhal too passed away after his release from a long jail term in 1981.
When Charu Mazumdar passed away, it was felt that the Naxalite movement that had taken shape just about a few years ago at that time had been put to rest. But then, the movement did show its signs of existence and even recorded its role in the resistance to the Emergency regime. The Emergency, in fact, provided the context for the post-Charu Mazumdar generation of the Naxalite leadership to reinvent themselves. In this phase, they were seen struggling in defence of the constitution and the democratic rights it guaranteed.
Jungal Santhal lived longer, but more as a mental wreck, to see the Naxalite movement splinter into groups and fragment in the years after the Emergency was over. There was hardly any movement when he died in 1981. West Bengal, from where the fire was lit, was by that time firmly under the CPI(M)’s hold and the legatees of the Naxalite movement were reduced to holding fort in a few university centres and colleges in Calcutta; and even in those places they were known to be fond of endless discussions on radical issues rather than being part of any radical actions.
But then, the Naxalite movement had established roots in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and the Chattisgarh part of the then Madhya Pradesh by this time. In other words, Kanu Sanyal, unlike his two other comrades, did survive a prison term and also lived longer to see the movement reinventing itself. It grew in strength in Andhra Pradesh, entrenched itself in Chattisgarh, established into a major force in Bihar and has emerged into a resurgent force in West Bengal too. But then, in all these places and elsewhere, the movement has undergone several mutations from where it began.
The simple point is that the Maoists, whom the articulate sections of our society now blame for the underdevelopment of the tribal regions in many States are indeed the products of all the changes and the mutations of the idea that was set rolling by the Naxalbari revolt of 1967. From being a spontaneous action by the landless agricultural labouerers who claimed that the land they tilled must be given to them, the Naxalite movement soon turned into the platform into which bright young men and women from some of the best colleges decided to join; they did so because they believed that the world had to be made into a better place not just for themselves but for those who toiled and suffered oppression of various kinds.
And it is most appropriate to state here that Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal inspired them to do so. They were made to believe that the world will change for sure. But then, it is also important to say here that those were times when the youth were exposed to such legends as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. The existentialists and their novels had influenced the generation that went to college in the Sixties to simply resist against the given system. That was the time when the students were resisting regimes everywhere in the world and Kanu Sanyal’s intervention made the colleges and universities into the haven for idealists.
The Maoist movement may have a few things in common with that era but then it is certainly not the force that determines the culture in the universities and the colleges of today. It’s cadres seem to be drawn from the ranks of the adivasis who are forced out of the forests and their homes in the name of development and the farmers whose land is being compulsorily acquired by the state to be handed over to house-builders and companies that build fantasy parks as well as IT parks. The average middle class youth is rather a beneficiary of this regime and is not driven by ideals of the kind that drove the youth in Kanu Sanyal’s days.
In other words, Kanu Sanyal lived longer to see Camus, Sartre and Kafka being sent out of circulation by management gurus who churn out books that preach the idea of self-preservation and self-promotion. It is a fact that a majority of those in college today are caught up with another kind of existentialism: Their very existence, in fact, is dependent and defined by their material accomplishments. And hence it is another world that Kanu Sanyal was beginning to see even while he saw the movement he founded entrenching itself into a force that is being seen as the most serious threat by the Union Government as well as the various States.
Well. For the existentialist of the old world, these were realities that were beyond his comprehension. And Kanu Sanyal perhaps could not wait endlessly to get out of this dilemma. In his death, he will be remembered for having intervened in the lives of a generation of young men and women to adopt a set of ideals and live up to those.