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CPI(M) Answers NREGA Protests with Bullets
The killing of four Forward Bloc activists and supporters in police firing in Coochbehar district of West Bengal and the statewide bandh called in protest by the Bloc next day have raised many a political eyebrow. The Forward Bloc is the second largest constituent of the ruling Left Front and usually supporters of a party in power are not expected to be greeted with bullets. The incident is also being seen in the context of widening differences between the CPI(M) and the Bloc. The latter has sought to distance itself over the events in Singur and Nandigram and has also been particularly opposed to the LF government’s policy of inviting corporate entry into the retail economy of the state. It has also publicly announced its intention of contesting the forthcoming panchayat elections independently, and in neighbouring Tripura, it has already severed electoral ties with the CPI(M).
The Dinhata firing must not however be seen merely in the context of the presumed souring of the Forward Bloc’s ties with the CPI(M). The Bloc supporters in their thousands were demonstrating in front of the SDO office of Dinhata over a set of issues that are haunting the whole of rural Bengal – virtual non-implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act with only 12 days’ employment having been provided last year against the promised quantum of 100 days, continuing delay and uncertainty over the BPL list and mounting corruption in the public distribution system, to name only the three most pressing concerns of the rural poor in the state, or for that matter, almost in every other state in the country. With panchayat elections due in May, it was not surprising that the Forward Bloc had chosen to embark on a statewide campaign on these burning issues.
Thirty years ago when the Left Front came to power in West Bengal, it marked a much awaited respite for the people of the state from the repressive reign of the Congress. A key promise of the new government was comprehensive restoration of democracy, not letting lose the police to suppress the democratic movement. But over the years, like most other promises made by the Left Front government in its initial years, the promise of democracy has also been consigned to the waste-paper basket. Instances of police firing have now become pretty common and the serial massacres last year at Nandigram revealed a nefarious nexus between the police and armed miscreants hired or backed by the CPI(M).
What does the Dinhata firing portend for the forthcoming panchayat election in West Bengal? The CPI(M) has always been known for using strong-arm tactics to ‘discipline’ the rural poor, especially to silence any whiff of a revolt in its own base. Fifteen years ago, when rural labourers began to raise their voice against corruption and the CPI(M)’s growing tilt towards the rural rich, the CPI(M) responded by burning six agricultural labourers alive in Karanda village close to Bardhaman town. That was panchayat poll time and the CPI(M) had made it clear that it was prepared to go to any length to combat the defiance of the rural poor.
The resentment of the rural poor has however only grown stronger since then. The CPI(M)’s package of relief is now hardly trickling down to the poor while its discourse of ‘development’ is now openly tilted in favour of the rich and the powerful. The panchayats are now largely controlled by the rural rich and diversion and misappropriation of panchayat funds has now assumed serious proportions. Unable to contain the growing anger of the people, the CPI(M) has now begun to resort to large-scale terror and repression. If the serial massacres perpetrated at Nandigram last year rocked the entire nation, now Dinhata has proved that Nandigram was by no means an aberration. Whether it is the CPI(M)’s own mass base resisting its SEZ policy or a Front partner questioning the non-implementation of NREGA, the CPI(M) has made it clear that it will not brook any opposition from within.
The situation of West Bengal will not however oblige the CPI(M) for any indefinite length of time. All the by-elections held in recent months have pointed to a growing erosion in the CPI(M)’s base and authority. The forthcoming panchayat election will be no exception and the firing in Dinhata may have only added to the people’s anger and resolve. The growing unrest of the rural poor cannot be suppressed by bullets.
Sena, MNS, BJP and the Politics of Chauvinism
Raj Thackeray's MNS and Udhav's Shiv Sena are busy in competitive one-upmanship to harvest the political crop of Maharashtrian chauvinism. Both cousins compete to be the champion 'son of the soil'. On the heels of Raj Thackeray's rants against North Indians comes Udhav Thackeray's threat regarding airport workers, "If you bring outside workers, then they will be packed off in a parcel and sent back in a cargo plane." At the receiving end of Uddhav's and Raj's rhetoric and rage are Mumbai's poor immigrant workers. The BJP which shares the same ideological colour, has expressed some verbal disapproval of Raj (though it has maintained silence on Uddhav). But it is well known that on many past occasions, the BJP has appealed to precisely such sentiments in order to consolidate itself in cities like Delhi. These organisations are cut from the same saffron cloth, and their methods follow a familiar pattern, though the targets vary. The pattern is: foster and fan up a sense of grievance and of 'community in danger' among the dominant social section (it may be Hindus or on occasion Maharashtrians), and blame the insecurity, joblessness and other real or imagined ills on a demonised 'Other' (it may be Muslims, Christians, Tamils, 'Bhaiyyas' from UP/Bihar/Jharkhand); warn the 'Other' to adopt the cultural identity of the dominant section (this sentiment is reflected in slogans like 'Bharat mein rahna hai to jai shri ram kehna hoga' or Raj Thackeray's warning that the migrants must speak the Marathi not Bhojpuri language, films etc..). On this latest occasion, the BJP wishes to unite Hindus both Marathi and non-Marathi, so it is distancing from Raj Thackeray, but it spreads the same brand of hatred. The saffron brigade keeps talking of 'One India' and accuses those on the Left as well as minorities of 'breaking' the country. But the events at Maharashtra yet again reveal the farcical nature of this claim. What kind of 'One India' do they mean, in which poor migrants will have their belongings and livelihood and lives at threat in the nation's metros? Where taxi drivers and vendors with hand carts and domestic workers are the 'enemy'?
Meanwhile, Maharashtra's Congress CM fiddled while Mumbai burned for days; only now has an FIR been filed against Raj Thackeray. In fact, Raj Thackeray boasted of Vilasrao's cloak of protection to him as a fellow-Maharashtrian, saying in a public function, "Don't thank me. Thank Vilasrao that I am still out"! Such softness on the forces of communal fascism and regional chauvinism is nothing new for the Congress. This is the same Vilasrao who says, repeatedly, that he can’t find any evidence to indict Bal Thackeray in the Mumbai riots on 1992, despite the indictment by the Srikrishna Commission Report. Congress leader Y B Chavan once said in public that Shiv Sena was valiantly upholding the proud tradition of Shivaji. When Shiv Sena attacked James Lane's book on Shivaji or targeted a young woman historian for writing a piece in the Illustrated Weekly on Shivaji, Congress regimes and the party either joined the bandwagon and competed to be champions of blind 'Maratha pride' or remained silent and turned a blind eye to the vandals. Combined with the issue of chauvinism against the migrants and minorities is the issue of the tremendous vulnerability of the migrants of all hues in the face of routine police harassment, jhuggi demolition and constant threat of eviction.
Condemn the Persecution of Journalists and Political Activists for their Political Views
At a Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security last December, PM Manmohan Singh described "left-wing extremism" as the "single biggest security challenge" in the country. In doing so, he only echoed former Home Minister L K Advani who had once described Naxalism as the "worst enemy of the Indian dream". Manmohan in that speech referred to Naxalism as a "virus", and asked state governments to "choke" Naxal infrastructure, "cripple" their activities. Interestingly and significantly, Manmohan Singh does not consider communal fascism to be any threat to Indian security or democracy, and has never deployed such language about the saffron brigade, despite the fact that communal carnage engineered by the Sangh Parivar and other saffron fascists have claimed the lives of thousands, time and again. The same Maharashtra Government, however, is pursuing cases of 'abetting terror' against those running the publishing house Daanish Books, for the 'crime' of selling the works of Bhagat Singh and Clara Zetkin and Marx! Saamna spewing venom and demanding the blood of Muslims is not terror-speak, but Bhagat Singh is, in the eyes of the Congress, it seems.
It isn't just BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh that has arrested people like Dr. Binayak Sen; Congress Governments too have invoked the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA: successor to draconian laws like POTA and TADA) liberally against perceived 'synpathisers' of Naxalites, and the bogey of Maoism is invoked by governments of all hues to crack down on civil liberties and the right to dissent.
The latest in this series of arrests is that of Govindan Kutty, 68-year old editor of the People's March by the Kerala Government. Kutty is on a hunger fast in prison presently, and at his advanced age, his incarceration endangers his life, yet the LDF Government insists on portraying him as a "security threat" and banning People's March. Along with a host of senior journalists, writers, civil libertarians and citizens, including Kuldip Nayyar, Praful Bidwai, Vinod Mehta (Editor, Outlook), Pankaj Bisht (Editor, Samayantar), the CPI(ML) too has demanded the release of Govindan Kutty and the lifting of the ban on People's March.
CPI(ML) has also condemned the recent spate of arrests and persecution on political grounds in the name of "choking" the infrastructure of Naxalite "extremism" and "terrorism" which has included the arrests of several journalists like Prashant Rahi (Uttarakhand correspondent of Statesman) in Uttarakhand and Lachit Bordoloi in Assam. Bordoloi, a senior journalist and human rights activist, had been a member of the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG) that was set up in September 2005 to initiate discussions between the Government of India and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) - yet he has been arrested on charges of supposed links with ULFA.
Farmers' Suicides Puncture Modi's 'Growing Gujarat' Claims
A range of CEOs and many sections of the media have hailed Modi as a growth genie of sorts, who has won the polls due to his successful 'development' of Gujarat. Facts revealed through an RTI by a social activist reveal that Modi is not just a communal mass murderer; like his Congress counterpart in neighbouring Maharashtra, he is also a mass murderer of the peasantry! The facts: 100 farmers kill themselves in the state every year. 42 farmers committed suicide in Gujarat between April 2007 and October 2007. Most of these suicides were of cotton farmers in Saurashtra. As is the case in Vidarbha, the peasants are caught in the web of liberalised policies that mire them in debt. Both the state home minister and Modi have tried to claim that Gujarat is free of farmers' suicides, but the facts prove them false.
Maheshwar Theatre Inaugurated in Rohtas
The Maheshwar Rangalaya, a theatre named after the revolutionary poet, thinker, journalist, former editor of Samkalin Janmat and former General Secretary of Jan Sanskriti Manch Comrade Maheshwar, was inaugurated on 4 February at Sakla Bazar in Rohtas district. A two-day cultural programme was organized on this occasion, and also to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the theatre group Navjagaran. This theatre was dedicated by CPI(ML) MLA and deputy leader of Party’s Legislative group in Bihar Assembly Arun Singh to poet Maheshwar, while cultural activists sang his famous poem ‘Shristi Beej ka naash na ho’. Comrade Arun Singh spoke of the rich legacy of anti-feudal struggles in the region and said that this theatre will further the cause of the people’s struggles by encouraging the revolutionary cultural movement in the region. He also announced his plans of helping to provide funds for a library and a hall in the theatre.
Jan Sanskriti Manch’s National Vice President Ramji Rai delivered the inaugural speech. Santosh Jha of Hirawal hailed the efforts of Comrade Arun Singh who arranged for the funds for theatre construction and hoped that this would emerge an important cultural centre in Bihar. Editor of Samkalin Janmat Sudhir Suman described the setting up of Maheshwar Rangalaya as an outcome of the people’s cultural and political need against the pro-imperialist capitalist culture being propagated by the ruling classes.
A discussion on ‘The tradition of people’s resistance and people’s theatre’ was also organized in a separate session. This session was presided over by Suresh Singh who recalled Bhikhari Thakur and his role in furthering a progressive people’s culture.
Hirawal staged the play ‘Duniya roj Badalti hai’; Navjagaran staged the play scripted by Santosh Jha, 'Order, Order'.
The next day there was a Poetry Reading Session dedicated to the memory of Ramtaji, Vijendra Anil and Trilochan, presided by Kamlakar Kashish and conducted by Sudhir Suman. In subsequent sessions, Yuvaniti (Ara) performed the plays 'Jamun ka Ped' and 'The Golden Road'.
Students' Procession Against Dinhata Firing
A procession was taken out from College Square, Kolkata on 7 February by AISA, All India Students' Bloc, APDR, USDF and some other organizations to protest against the police firing on Forward Bloc activists at Dinhata, Cooch Behar on 5 February which caused the death of four people. Renowned writer Mahashweta Devi and noted theatre personality Shaoli Mitra and other members of civil society and concerned citizens spontaneously joined the procession. A huge red flag fluttered high above the procession as it made its way to Metro Channel.
CPI(ML) Holds Peasants' Dharna in Hamirpur, Bundelkhand
Bundelkhand is reeling under a severe drought, which is driving farmers to suicide. CPI(ML)'s fledgling unit in Hamirpur, Bundelkhand district, organized a dharna on of peasants against rampant violation of land reform laws, corruption and irregularities in NREGS, PDS, BPL and APL ration distribution, as well as old-age and widow pensions and benefits. Failure to provide drought relief, and severe unemployment is forcing youth to migrate from their villages. In most villages, job-card holders have not been provided with even a single day's employment. CPI(ML) conducted a campaign for immediate drought relief, subsidised diesel, loan waivers, red-card to all the poor, and provision of food grains at the rate of Rs. 2 per kg, and guarantee of work under NREGS.
In a peasants' conference on 22 January, it was decided that protests would be held at all block headquarters on the occasion of 'Tehsil Divas' with the above demands. Accordingly, on 29 January, when Tehsil Divas was being observed by the Administration, around 200 people from many villages marched to the Block HQs, and held a dharna under the banner of CPI(ML) and Bundelkhand Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Morcha.
CPI(ML) Holds State-wide Protests in Chhattisgarh
CPI(ML)'s Chhattisgarh unit held state-wide protests on a 9-point charter of demands that included implementation of NREGS, inclusion of every poor person in the BPL list, guarantee of houses and civic amenities, and a stop displacement in the name of development, checking the price rise, equal wages for equal work for men and women, punishment for atrocities on adivasis, dalits and women, against handing over of arable lands and mineral resources to corporate industries, demanding release of Dr. Binayak Sen and scrapping of the draconian Chhattisgarh PSA. Dharnas were organized on 31 January at Berla in Durg, Dharsiwan in Raipur and district HQs at Bilaspur. A fortnight-long campaign was conducted in preparation for this programme. At Bastar, near the site of the Tata Steel Project, the Administration refused permission to hold the protest. Addressing the protests at various places, Comrades Brijendra Tiwari (Bhilai), Narottam Sharma (Raipur) and Lalan Ram (Bilaspur) condemned the BJP's Raman Singh Government for its anti-people and anti-democratic policies, for promoting industrialists like Tata and Jindal while grabbing the lands of poor peasants under cover of the Salwa Judum.
CSW joins Protest in Bhilai for Review of Wage Agreement
In Bhilai, the Centre for Steel Workers, affiliated to AICCTU, joined protests of BSP (Bhilai Steel Plant) workers under the banner of Committee of Public Sector Trade Unions, demanding a fresh wage agreement with a five-year tenure, and guaranteed SAIL's minimum wages to contract workers employed in BSP. The protesting workers held a vehicle rally and submitted a memorandum to the SAIL Chairman.
Memorial Meeting on Comrade Ajanta Lohit's First Death Anniversary
A Memorial Meeting to pay tribute to Comrade Ajanta Lohit on her first death anniversary was held at the Ambedkar Mahasabha Sabhagar on 2 February 2008 in Lucknow, organized by AIPWA and JSM.
Ajanta Lohit was an inspiring communist leader, cultural activist and writer, respected and loved not just by her own comrades but among a very wide circle of people. She fought for women's rights and all kinds of discrimination against women and the poor. People gathered in her memory felt her absence keenly. The Memorial Meeting was presided by AIPWA National Vice-President Tahira Hasan, the main speaker was Anil Singh, journalist and JSM National Executive Committee member and the program was conducted by journalist, poet, writer and Ex-General Secretary of JSM Ajay Singh. The dais was shared by CPI(ML) leader Dinkar Kapoor, Anil Singh, Tahira Hasan, Ajay Singh and Dalit Mukti Andolan convener S.R.Darapuri.
The program began with the recitation of a poem "Comrade Lal Salam" written by Shobha Singh and recited by Ajay Singh. People who paid tribute to Ajanta in the memorial meeting were Mahila Federation leader Asha Mishra, Comrade Rakesh from IPTA, poet and writer Shyam Ankuram, Bhagwan Swaroop Katiyar, Kaushal Kishore, Rajesh Kumar, Tashna Almi, lawyer Y S Lohit and Balram Yadav, Jashodhara from Sahyog, Arundhati Dhruv from ASHA, journalist Shahira Naeem, Trade Union leader T N Gupta, Office Secretary of CPI(ML) Arun Kumar, Comrade Raghunath, and Ajanta's daughter Khushi.
Long Live Comrade Ajanta's memory!