THE REBEL WHO NEVER RE­TURNED

Bappaditya Paul’s biog­ra­phy of Kanu Sanyal presents the evo­lu­tion of the Com­mu­nist rebel while also high­light­ing the stages of the Nax­alite move­ment in In­dia

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - HT DO - Kum Kum Das­gupta ■ kumkum.das­gupta@hin­dus­tan­times.com

Bappaditya Paul’s The First Naxal is the first au­tho­rised biog­ra­phy of Kanu Sanyal, one of the key lead­ers of the Nax­al­bari move­ment that be­gan as a peas­ant up­ris­ing in the spring of 1967 in West Ben­gal. This in­for­ma­tive book nar­rates the mak­ing of Sanyal right from his child­hood to the days of the Nax­al­bari up­ris­ing and beyond. It goes deep into the evo­lu­tion of Sanyal as a Com­mu­nist rebel and throws light on the var­i­ous stages of the Nax­alite move­ment in In­dia.

When and how did you meet Kanu Sanyal?

In 2005, I was posted in Silig­uri as a staff re­porter of The States­man. Nax­al­bari is just 25 km away from Silig­uri. I started read­ing about the move­ment and would visit the place once in a while. It was only in 2007, when the Nandi­gram anti-land ac­qui­si­tion protests were at its peak, a col­league sug­gested that I in­ter­view Sanyal on the topic. But when I met Sanyal, he re­fused to be in­ter­viewed, say­ing that jour­nal­ists have al­ways “twisted” his com­ments to suit their story. He re­lented when I promised to show him the draft of the in­ter­view.

How did the book come about?

He was happy with the Nandi­gram in­ter­view and over the next few months, a kind of trust de­vel­oped be­tween us. Be­fore I met Sanyal, like many oth­ers, I thought it was Charu Mazum­dar who had waged the Nax­alite move­ment and Sanyal was his fol­lower lieu­tenant. But after I started in­ter­act­ing with him, I re­alised that Sanyal was a po­lit­i­cal star in his own right. Then I started search­ing for books on his life, his jour­ney to China and his con­tri­bu­tion to the Naxal move­ment but could not find even one.

Did he autho­rise you write the book?

I was not the first jour­nal­ist to ap­proach him. He had turned down the ear­lier of­fers, say­ing that there was noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar about his life. But he ac­cepted my pro­posal when I pointed out that his story was also the story of the Nax­alite move­ment and that after him, there would be no one to throw light on its ori­gin, evo­lu­tion, dis­in­te­gra­tion and the sub­se­quent re­vival. This clicked with him be­cause sev­eral mis­con­cep­tions about Nax­al­ism had made their way into pub­lic per­cep­tion and Sanyal wanted to clear the air. There is no writ­ten au­tho­riza­tion that I am his bi­og­ra­pher. How­ever, dur­ing the course of the in­ter­view, he in­tro­duced me to his fam­ily and friends. By do­ing so, he cre­ated a con- nec­tion be­tween them and me. They also un­der­stood that the book had Sanyal’s con­sent.

Be­gin­ning 2007, over the next three years, you met him Sanyal at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. You have 121 recorded in­ter­views with him. How did he come across as a per­son?

A: After he gave his con­sent for the book, he be­came very in­ter­ested in the project. He had a sharp mem­ory but some­times he would go back to his com­rades to cross­check events and in­for­ma­tion. He col­lected books and doc­u­ments for me to read and would of­ten call me to know about the progress of the book. Sanyal was a great lis­tener though not very talk­a­tive. His an­swers would al­ways be straight and forth­right, and he was al­ways open to crit­i­cal as­sess­ments. In fact, it was he who told me about his two al­leged ‘af­fairs’. It was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort. I think peo­ple like him are one in a mil­lion; he lived as he preached and not many In­dian lead­ers are known to do that. Sanyal was a rebel who never re­turned home.

It is un­for­tu­nate that he did not see the fi­nal prod­uct.

Yes, that’s a pity. Seven days be­fore he com­mit­ted sui­cide (March 23, 2010), Sanyal called me to ask about the progress of the book. When I told him that I was do­ing my last chap­ter, he asked me twice whether I needed any­thing more.

The book very skil­fully brings out some un­known facets about the Naxal move­ment: the ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween Sanyal and Mazum­dar and its im­pact on the move­ment; Sanyal’s ad­ven­tur­ous jour­ney to China and his meet­ings with Mao Ze­dong and Zhou En-lai and the fact that Mao told the In­dian Nax­alites not to blindly copy the tac­tics that brought him to power. Was Sanyal up­set that the Chi­nese did not support the move­ment?

When I asked him this ques­tion, Sanyal said that he did not go to China for funds or to learn mil­i­tary train­ing. All he wanted to see was how they im­ple­mented the the­o­ret­i­cal as­pect of Com­mu­nism in daily life. When the Maoist is­sue be­came big news in Nepal, Sanyal told me that com­mu­nists of one coun­try should not repli­cate what com­mu­nists of other coun­tries do be­cause the ground sit­u­a­tions are dif­fer­ent.

Did he have any re­grets?

Sanyal’s big­gest re­gret was that he did not speak up on cer­tain is­sues that he felt could harm the move­ment at the right time. He could not do so for sev­eral rea­sons: one, he was a fugi­tive and speak­ing out would mean com­pro­mis­ing with his se­cu­rity and the pace and di­rec­tion of the revo­lu­tion. He also feared that some of Charu Mazum­dar’s blind sup­port­ers would harm him phys­i­cally.

Kanu Sanyal, leader of Nax­al­bari, in a pic­ture dated 22 Au­gust, 1996/ GETTY IMAGES

Au­thor Bappaditya Paul

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