Peasant Struggles in Central Bihar

[From the Political-Organisational Report adopted at the Fourth Party Congress, 1987.]

The movement in central Bihar covers seven districts: Bhojpur, Rohtas, Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad and Nalanda. Our Party is the main leading force behind it. This phase of peasant struggles in Bihar with its genesis in the heroic struggles of Bhojpur and Patna between 1972 and 1979, represents the third milestone after Telengana in 1946-49 and the Naxalbari phase of 1967-1971.

The present phase of peasant struggle began in the rural areas of Patna in the early ’80s and soon spread to Nalanda and Jehanabad. A new awakening took place in Bhojpur, Aurangabad, Rohtas and parts of Gaya. The government replied with massive police actions, sometimes termed as Operation Task Force. Assisting the armed gangs of landlords, better known as private armies, undertaking certain administrative and economic reforms, mobilising the support of different political parties, particularly the CPI and Sarvodaya groups, as well as of the news media — thus the government made multi-pronged attempts to suppress the movement. In the face of these governmental measures and due to our own tactical mistakes, we suffered setbacks and losses in certain areas and had to make retreats and readjustments in many other areas of operation. On the whole, however, we successfully countered these measures and succeeded in disintegrating the private armies, restricting our losses to a minimum and retaining the initiative in our hands.

In essence, the entire struggle revolves around three issues:

(i) For an increase in the wages of agrarian labourers who account for 30-40% of the rural population in these areas. Now a considerable section of landowners does not engage in field labour because of feudal traditions as well as the availability of cheap labour. Obviously, the target range of this struggle becomes quite large and provides scope to reactionaries for caste-based mobilisation and formation of private armies. The form of struggle usually resorted to is strike which often develops into armed confrontations. We stand for boldly expanding strike struggles over large areas, if possible including several blocks of a district. This is essential for the development of class consciousness and class solidarity among agrarian labourers and as communists, it is the foremost duty of ours to organise this class, the most advanced revolutionary detachment in the countryside. Contrary to the liberal mode of thinking which prefers to avoid this struggle for the sake of so-called broad peasant unity, in actual practice, organising the strike struggle over a large area alone can break the reactionary alliance of landowners, and facilitate compromise with the middle sections.

(ii) For the seizure of surplus, vested and homestead land under the occupation of landlords, mahants and rich peasants; and distribution of the same among landless and poor peasants. In this struggle the target-range is narrowed down to the possible minimum. Generally, the middle sections possessing vested lands are spared and the course of persuasion and exerting pressure is adopted in the case of rich peasants. In the distribution of land, attempts are made to involve and unify the people. The seizure of lands, crops, ponds, and assertion over fishing rights in canals or rivers etc. often lead to armed confrontations.

In the whole process of seizure and distribution of land, acquisition of patta rights, organising the production, and finally, in preventing usurpation of the gains by dubious elements from among the people, the struggle generally tends to get blocked at one stage or another. There are, perhaps, more instances of failure than success. Of late, with the formulation of proper policy guidelines and stricter implementation, things however seem to be improving.

(iii) For the social dignity of dalits and backward castes. As it strikes at the root of feudal authority, this struggle tends to become quite intense and the entire range of upper castes of babusahebs, babhans and babajis becomes the target. On the other hand, such struggles draw support from almost all the classes of backward castes. There are always some exceptions though, from both the sides. Generally, in all the villages a small section of progressive people from upper castes cooperate with this struggle, while sections of backward castes join hands with reactionaries from upper castes. Under the impact of struggle over all these years, certain sections of upper castes in several areas have begun to change their traditional attitudes.

To effect a greater polarisation among people on class lines and to unite broad sections of rural population, we are trying to take up many other related issues as well, say, recording of tenancy rights, mobilising people against the corruption of block officials, etc. The question of corruption is linked with agrarian development, as the lion’s share of benefits is usurped by these officials in collusion with local reactionaries. Besides, action against dacoit gangs, certain village development works, relief measures etc. are also taken up to unite the broad masses of rural population.

We hold that only an integrated programme of struggles and activities on all such issues can ensure broad peasant unity under the leadership of agrarian labourers and poor peasants. We are often accused by opportunists of all hues of disrupting the broad peasant unity and of pitting agrarian labourers against peasants. By sacrificing the interests of agrarian labourers and poor peasants and by refusing to mobilise them in mass struggles, their class consciousness and class solidarity cannot be developed, nor can their leadership be established over the peasant movement. Naturally, the so-called broad peasant unity simply boils down to unity under the leadership of rich peasants. There is no middle way.

We still cannot claim to have altered the class and caste balance in our favour, but gradually we are heading towards building this unity on a new basis. In certain areas, middle peasants and middle sections of upper castes are also being mobilised under the banner of Kisan Sabha.

It must be mentioned here that the Party Consolidation Campaign was taken up quite seriously and effectively in these areas. Neglecting the task of party building, particularly during the phase of high tides in the movement, has been a common weakness in our Party’s history. And this has been the main reason behind long-term setbacks in many areas. Strengthening the Party is imperative for checking negative tendencies which appear in the course of the movement, for formulating correct policies and ensuring their implementation, for transforming the hundreds of activists brought into the fore by the movement into permanent assets of the Party, and of course, for continuing the struggle and raising it to ever higher levels.

Now, there is a certain trend of thought which belittles this role of conscious effort on the plea that it hampers the growth of peoples’ independent initiatives. In fact, it is not excess of conscious efforts but the lack of it which derails the struggle, strengthens a narrow peasant mentality, degenerates the fighters into bandits and bogs the struggle down in futile skirmishes, and ultimately blocks the independent initiative of the people. The MCC’s indulgence in caste war of attrition in parts of Aurangabad and the COC(PU)’s activities in certain parts of Jehanabad confirm this. We too have similar experiences in parts of Patna, Nalanda and Jehanabad. Fortunately, our Party organisation has, in the main, overcome such negative trends and Party work is now organised in a more rational way. And it was the Party Consolidation Campaign, which brought about the essential breakthrough in this regard.

In the course of our practice in the past few years many new features have come up in the movement which are being popularised in the entire region and the whole work is undergoing a certain reorganisation. Let us briefly discuss these changes and new developments in this chapter.

Forming Village Committees

We found that in a certain village in Bhojpur, local comrades were going about the formation of village committee in a way different from the formal one practised till then by the Kisan Sabha. The village was a local centre of struggle and while forming the village committee a new dynamic concept was introduced there. They vowed to turn the formation of the village committee into a festival of the masses, and step-by-step mobilised them in democratically electing their own committee. We have seen in our past experience that during the upsurge in the movement, people built up their own village committees as the centre of all activities. In contrast, the formation of village committees by the Kisan Sabha as its lowest unit appeared to be too stereotyped, too formal an affair. In many a case, the village committee simply turned into a village development body, devoid of class struggle and detached from the Kisan Sabha. Taking the cue from the Bhojpur experiment the Party subsequently improved upon the concept of village committee. The village committee came to be emphasised as the key to releasing the people’s initiative at the grassroots level, as a living mechanism for enhancing their democratic consciousness, integrating into their subjective consciousness the concept of revolutionary democracy. Militant movements or general political mobilisations of peasants do not resolve the problem of revolutionisation of the consciousness of the broad masses which would enable them to grasp the futility of the bourgeois organs of formal democracy. Village committees built upon the basis of developing class struggle and practising democratic norms to the core help the masses differentiate in concrete terms between our democracy and their democracy. Consciously oriented by the Communist Party, these committees may be transformed into revolutionary committees in the future.

Building Pockets

To fight the roving style of work of our organisers and strengthen the Party apparatus at the grassroots, we introduced the concepts of pockets. Every organiser is assigned a pocket of 10 to 15 villages by the Party committee concerned and there he is instructed to develop a Party unit and along with it an entire network of organisations so that even in times of white terror he can stay in his pocket, maintain contacts with the masses there and organise them in protest actions. He can leave the pocket only when so instructed by the Party Committee. This concept has lent more seriousness to the work of the organisers, increased the involvement of many organiser comrades who were earlier on the periphery of the Party organisation and also helped them plan and organise their work better. Such pockets are regularly assessed and classified accordingly. The number of pockets and of organisers making serious and successful efforts is increasing and in certain pockets strong Party units have already developed.

Reorganising the Peasant Association

Emphasis has been placed on organising peasant associations at block levels, first concentrating on a belt of 30 to 40 villages and then gradually spreading the work to the rest of the block. As the brunt of the most severe repression has to be borne by the local level peasant associations, a certain restructuring of their leadership has been felt necessary. It is not a wise policy to open all of one’s leaders before the enemy. They should, therefore, learn to function in a rather semi-underground way. On the other hand, they have been asked to launch extensive membership drives, mobilise masses in a big way during their conferences and interfere more and more in the affairs of Block offices so as to expose the real nature of the various reforms undertaken by the administration.

Peasant associations in some areas have also organised conferences of tenants and of middle peasants. At some places they have organised sittings with general peasant representatives from different villages, so as to learn first hand about their demands. At many places nowadays they storm the Block offices with hundreds and thousands of peasants and demand explanations from government officials, force government officials’ camps for relief and reforms to shift to poor people’s tolas (hamlets), and represent the demands of the masses on their behalf. Their slogan is: everything through the peasant associations. This has helped frustrate the government designs to subvert the organisation through distribution of meagre relief.

Organising Village Defence Corps

In comparison to earlier periods this aspect is now receiving greater attention. In certain areas large number of youth are organised in such forces. Armed with spears, they spell panic in the enemies’ hearts. It is they who play the main role in resistance struggles, in rescuing peasant leaders and in organising and protecting processions. These village defence forces operate under the command of village committees.

These are the forms of organisations at the lower level which since the beginning of the Party Consolidation Campaign, are being organised with greater emphasis and clarity. Charpokhri in Bhojpur, Islampur in Nalanda and Daoodnagar in Aurangabad are three areas where all the aspects of work discussed so far have been combined to a considerable extent. Many are the old areas of work where some of these aspects have been implemented and there have also emerged many new pockets of work in Rohtas and Gaya districts. In the districts of Nalanda and Aurangabad where the Party structure had been very weak for a long time, the district Party committee as well as the overall Party structure is now much better organised.

People’s Armed Forces

Not all comrades know that by the end of 1975 we were left with only one armed unit in Sahar, Bhojpur, and that this armed unit too had developed strong roving tendencies and that it had become difficult even for the political commissar to manage it. And subsequently, we had to disperse its members as individual organisers by the end of 1976. Another armed unit was then just in the making, centring Comrade Jiut in a new area of work. In Patna, too, only one armed unit was left and that too had reached the point of dissolution. The majority of leaders and cadres were either killed or arrested. White terror was prevailing all over our old areas and the masses were subdued. The remaining Party organisers, however, carried on the work defying harsh conditions and kept the flame of struggle alive. Without the Rectification Movement in 1977 and without the drastic changes in the political line in the 1979 Special Conference, there would have been no peasant struggle or armed struggle today. Armed actions with a new spirit were revived from 1977 onwards and, in terms of the number of armed units and firearms, in terms of scale of their operation, today we far surpass our earlier phase. Today’s village committees exercise much more authority than the revolutionary committees of those days and today’s red patches are far redder than the red areas of that time. This advance in real life has been rendered possible by our retreat in concepts, whereas the earlier advance in concepts meant retreat in real life.

Still, we prefer to call the revolutionary peasant struggle in Bihar as being at its primary stage. This means, we shall have to go a long way in changing the balance of class forces. We must preserve our forces, accumulate strength and step by step expand and raise the struggle to higher levels.

The state of our armed forces is dictated by this reality. For years, we made desperate efforts to build regular armed units in as big numbers as possible. Our experience shows that though many fighters came to join such units, eventually only some could stay. They were basically those who could be developed to the level of Party cadres. Despite all our efforts, the growth of regular and stable armed units remained quite slow.

Basing on these conditions, we decided to put emphasis on building local squads. Now, not much progress could be made in this direction because of our inability to concretise tasks for such squads in the new situation. To begin with, we discouraged the earlier practice of building squads for and through annihilations. Then the concept of armed propaganda squads was clinched and such local armed squads were defined as the link between regular armed units and village defence forces. Areas comprising 15-20 villages were demarcated where these squads would march as armed propaganda squads for a fixed period every month. Many fighters who could not stay in regular armed units were mobilised in these squads. Regular units maintain links with them and whenever necessary they are mobilised in armed action. They take action against local reactionaries and snatch firearms on their own initiatives. They also organise general village youth in village defence forces.

In the present phase of armed struggle, we feel that the main emphasis should be laid on these armed propaganda squads. They also provide the necessary infrastructure for regular armed units, and in future, regular armed units can be developed extensively recruiting forces from these squads.

In the last few years, our regular armed units suffered some serious losses at Kaithi (Aurangabad), Kunai (Bhojpur) and Gangabigha (Nalanda). Analysis of all these cases reveals that agents from within the villages concerned, supplied information to the landlords and from there it went to the police. We had remained in the dark about the activities of these agents and the whole concept of security of our armed units had revolved around remaining alert about the landlords and the known agents and, of course, undertaking nightlong vigil in the darkness.

After these incidents, agents in all the cases were punished with death. But these exemplary punishments have not, and could not have, wiped out the entire intelligence network of the enemy. Class struggle is a very complex process and our enemy is quite capable of recruiting its agents from our own villages. In the face of our sharp retaliations, the enemy network often gets snapped, but then it is soon restored in ways more shrewd and subtle.

Our concept of security had been too simplistic and outmoded for any modern war. Now we are laying emphasis on building our own intelligence network. We should cultivate sources within the enemy camp, and recruit trained personnel for specific intelligence purposes. Apart from a regular armed unit and an integrated system of local armed squads, any complete system of armed formation, even at this stage, must have its own intelligence network, sources for manufacturing and procuring components of firearms, a medical branch and a scout system. Only such a complete system can provide armed units with the necessary freedom in their movements and only then can they have adequate initiative in their operations. We consider it necessary that Party district committees in these areas must appoint a capable comrade at the district level to look after the building of this system. Armed units and armed struggles are not playthings and there should not be any casual attitude towards them.

At this stage of the struggle, the regular armed units should concentrate on organising decisive armed actions against powerful armed gangs of the landlords. They should also defend the masses in the face of police atrocities and mete out appropriate punishments to the erring police officials.

In conclusion, I must say that:

This is for the first time that Indian communists have succeeded in continuing the peasant struggle over such a long period, steadily expanding its frontiers.

This is for the first time that Indian communists have taken up all forms of struggle, legal and illegal, extra-parliamentary and parliamentary, armed actions and mass struggles, and made serious efforts to combine them, without surrendering one for the other.

This is for the first time that Indian communists have tried to tackle the problems of both caste and class struggle, dealing a heavy blow to caste oppression, simultaneously enabling dalits to raise their heads while uniting agrarian labourers, poor and middle peasants on their class demands.

This is for the first time that innumerable leaders and cadres have emerged from among the ranks of the rural poor and it is they who form the main core of the Party. It is they who organise and lead the work and struggle on all fronts. And broad sections of rural poor have been mobilised in direct political struggle of national importance.

And, this is for the first time that Indian communists have succeeded in defending the unity of the party organisation spearheading the struggle, despite all manoeuvrings of ruling classes, despite all disruptionist activities of liquidationists and semi-anarchists, despite all the stresses and strains of setbacks and losses. We have made drastic changes in our line and policies, we had serious differences and debates among ourselves, but we always acted unitedly in a firm, disciplined manner.