'We Have Failed In Our Duty'

In a freewheeling interview to Outlook, veteran Naxalite leader Kanu Sanyal hits out at the Opposition for its ineffectiveness to corner the Government on the Gujarat riots.

'We Have Failed In Our Duty'

At 70, veteran Naxalite leader Kanu Sanyal remains as sprightly as ever.Recently he was in the news for his stand on principles. Sanyal applied for power supply at his residence inJalpaiguri district, but the departmental staff asked for a bribe which herefused. As a result, there was no power for months despite a proper connection.

A visiting scribe reported this, following which West Bengal Chief MinisterBuddhadeb Bhattacharji ordered immediate supply, alongwith an apology from theconcerned staff. All very fine and noble, but Sanyal remains sceptical: "Ifthis is what happens to us, then how do you think common people manage?" heasks.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sanyal, once synonymous with armed agrarianstruggles in the Terai and Naxalbari, outlines the radical Left assessment of thepresent political situation in India with special reference to Gujarat andBengal, together with a candid assessment of the Bhattacharji's performance.

What is your assessment of the Gurajat riots and the official steps takenso far?

We sent a team to Gujarat, but officials suppressed many facts. The riotsthis time were unlike any that this country has seen before. Some people, backedby the VHP and the RSS are openly threatening Muslims, who are as Indian as anyof us, to pack up and leave. The concerned government has done little to preventthis. I think we all have failed to do our duty.

I would like to point to the impact of these riots in other states.Werecently visited Jaunpur and Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. We found that minoritiesthere were extremely scared of what had happened and were now wondering whetherthey could stay in India! A whisper campaign is being carried out by the VHP andthe RSS against them, and again the administration has done little.

What about the role played by the media?

I would rather not comment on the coverage of the riots. Even in thissituation, there are papers published from Maharashtra which claim that Muslimsare planning to take "massive revenge" for what has happened.

This I find dangerous, for it could mean fresh attacks in other states. Lookat the element of planning that precedes communal violence. It is as though onegroup of people is openly telling another, you are no good, you don't count, wecan do what we like with you ....

Your views on the role of the Opposition.

I really do not know. I would like to take a broader view and I think it isnot just a question of the communal riots, the Opposition did not fight hardenough against the atrocious Union Budget presented this year.

The CPI (M) instead of debating the issues, staged a walkout. This onlyhelped the government. Then instead of dealing with the burning issues, therewere these meaningless debates on Sections 184, Article 356 and so on to keepeverybody engaged in the worst form of parliamentarianism.

Why was Advani for instance not pressured into disowning Modi in Gujarat, or(Yashwant) Sinha for the damage they had caused? The people feel deeply let downby the Opposition.

You say this helps the government?

Of course. The BJP and the NDA take advantage of the the confusion anddisunity within the Opposition ranks.

What is your take on some of the NDA partners?

That is more interesting. At least Ram Vilas Paswan took a bold stand, butthe Trinamool Congress was simply disgusting in its opportunism. Mamata Banerjeesimply cannot wait to become Minister again. The TDP too was guilty ofduplicity.

What steps have your groups taken?

Apart from our visits, we met former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, but beforeour programme with him could be finalised (for north India), he suddenly fellsick. However, we are still in touch and are not exactly idle. We have organisedprotests, marches, demostrations. But certainly more was needed, I admit.

What of the Congress, the biggest secular party in the country?

I do not know. The Congress may not be communal like the BJP, but itscommunal record is not inspiring. Perhaps the last two secular leaders of theparty were Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. In Gujarat, we receiveddisturbing reports that in some areas Congress and BJP supporters hadparticipated in riots jointly.

Could there really be an alternative to the BJP without a centrestage rolefor the Congress, for all its shortcomings?

The Congress cannot be relied upon specially in crisis situations. But somecoordination at the floor level and co-operation is always possible to isolatethe BJP. But the Left parties want to impress the people that this is the bestthat can be done in the situation, and they cannot do more. This I oppose moststrongly. On economic matters where is the difference between the BJP andCongress policies?

Is a different economic approach possible in these days of liberalisation?

Certainly, we can still call for a self reliant economy and help our ownindustries by deciding to back swadeshi goods. It won't be easy convincing thepeople of the efficacy of our slogans, but agitation and struggle will benecessary.


Unfortunately the Left, the parliamentary Left is now participating in thesystem that stands for this liberalised economy, instead of launching massstruggles as outlined in their own programmes. They have betrayed the Leftcause.

Turning to Bengal, the Left Front has completed 25 years of its rule andBhattacharji one year of his tenure. How do you assess the LF performance from aradical Left viewpoint?

I would say that from a bourgeois standpoint, there has been some progress.For instance , the sharecroppers (bargadars) now have been registered and enjoysome rights they did not have before. There has been a rise in production. InKarnataka, they made the sharecroppers owners of their plots about a decade ago.So who is ahead?


Factories close down in Bengal, but workers do not get the protection andhelp they got earlier. Jyoti Basu openly said: "Since we are in government,we cannot agitate." What does such a statement mean for the peasants andworkers? Have all their grievances been met?

Even politically, there is less freedom than before. The other day, a man wasarrested in Siliguri for putting up a Maoist poster. Under the Congress we werearrested for putting up pro-China or Vietnam posters.

Under the Congress it was not necessary to secure police permission to holdrallies or organise protests. These days the government has made it compulsoryfor parties to secure permission. Is this an improvement for politicalactivists, I ask you.


Instead of addressing genuine grievances of the oppressed Rajbangshi peoplein north Bengal, Bhattacharji, surprisingly, declared war against them. He doesnot know that his police have herded over 400 innocent people including womenand children in jails on trumped up charges. Is this good governance by anymeans?

So it is difficult to answer in brief whether the LF rule has been a boon ora curse for Bengal. The issue is more complicated than that.