Maharashtra: Political Chauvinism in the Service of Capital
Maharashtra recently witnessed a spate of violent attacks on workers from other states, especially from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. Spearheading this campaign of chauvinistic frenzy was Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the chauvinistic cousin of Shiv Sena, the original party of ‘Maratha pride’. It all began with Raj Thackeray accusing Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan of using Maharashtra as his operational base only to shower ‘benefits’ on Uttar Pradesh, but in no time it escalated into a generalised outburst of chauvinistic venom directed against ‘North Indian’ immigrants in general. With Raj Thackeray thus staking his claim to the Sena’s legacy of militant chauvinism, cousin Uddhav also promptly joined the competition by threatening to deport any outside workers employed in airport modernisation work as ‘cargo’ material!
With the two cousins trying to outbid each other as the true champion of ‘Marathi interests’, media analysts have tended to treat the whole thing in the narrow context of ‘turf war’ between the two cousins. But once again what emboldened the ‘sainiks’ was the complicity of the Congress-NCP government. No action whatsoever was taken against Raj Thackeray even as his men went on a rampage all over Mumbai. Eventually when the Deshmukh government ‘acted’, it was only to enact a calculated farce. Raj Thackeray was arrested only to be promptly let off on bail. A similar treatment was meted out to the Samajwadi Party chief in Maharashtra, thereby striking a juridical equality between the rampaging sainiks and their immigrant victims!
Fifteen years ago, it was under another Congress regime when Bal Thackeray’s ‘sainiks’ had taken over Mumbai, inflicting a communal carnage the scars of which have not healed till today. And subsequently even after the Sena was indicted categorically by the Srikrishna Commission, the Congress-NCP government of Maharashtra chose not to initiate any action against the culprits. Indeed, the Sena has always enjoyed sufficient impunity in carrying out all its lethal political experiments. In its early years, the Sena was patronised as a brigade of thugs and demagogues that helped Mumbai industrialists to divide and ‘discipline’ the working class and weaken the powerful communist-led trade union movement.
Maharashtra being the classical home of India’s big business, the impunity extended historically by the state to the Sena’s politics of chauvinism can only be understood in the context of the changing requirements of big capital. Over the last two decades the industrial scene in Maharashtra has undergone a sea change. Traditional industries like textile have been restructured by closing down most of the so-called ‘sick’ textile mills, shedding labour and ‘modernising’ production. Nothing mirrors this restructuring better than the changing landscape of metropolitan Mumbai where factories of yesteryears have been transformed into huge chunks of lucrative real estate. While manufacturing industries close down and the organised working class is steadily downsized, massive SEZs announce their arrival on ruins of industry. Meanwhile, the whole of Vidarbha continues to reel under acute agrarian distress.
People’s resentment is naturally running high in the state against this large-scale destruction of jobs and livelihood. Powerful united struggles of the working people are also coming up challenging the destructive whims of big capital. In neighbouring Goa the state government has been forced to scrap all the SEZs that had already been notified. Will the people of Maharashtra too have a similar success in reining in the marauding march of big business? It is precisely at this crucial juncture that we are seeing this ugly resurrection of the politics of anti-immigrant chauvinism. The Sena Parivar taps into the simmering mass discontent in Maharashtra to refuel its divisive anti-immigrant agenda. What better way can there be to divide the working people of Maharashtra and enforce the whims and writs of a globalising big business?
Globalisation demands unfettered freedom for capital while keeping labour as much fragmented, localised and terrorised as possible. This is where the Senas step in to establish their ‘political relevance’. And for the same reason, it is absolutely essential for the working people to thwart these thugs and demagogues.
AIALA Nation-Wide Protest
The AIALA held protests in state capitals including Patna, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Bhubaneshwar, as well as in Diphu, the headquarters of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous district in Assam, on February 23, highlighting a 10-point Charter of Demands to the Prime Minister. The major demands are to institute a CBI inquiry into the rampant corruption and huge misappropriation of funds under the NREGA in the light of recent CAG draft report and to allocate at least Rs. 50,000 Crores for the NREGA in the budget proposals to be presented in Parliament. Similar protests are also planned to be held on Feb. 25 in Guwahati and on Feb 27 in Ranchi and Jaipur.
AIALA has also demanded from all state governments to publish a White Paper after convening a special session of the State Assembly on the actual status of the NREGS in respective states. Waiver of all types of loans to Agricultural Workers and poor peasants is also being demanded from the governments. Earlier on Feb. 2, ’08, on the occasion of the second anniversary of the NREGA implementation, AIALA has sent an open letter the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on this issue.
AIALA has launched a nationwide campaign beginning on February 23 to highlight the issues of the rural poor and agrarian labourers, especially the reduction of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act into a mere show-piece, shrinking of PDS, ever expanding poverty being restricted to pre-decided BPL quotas, loan waiver, rampant loot and corruption in various developmental schemes and programmes, displacement of agricultural labourers and peasants by SEZ and other schemes, and rising malnutrition, hunger and starvation deaths, etc. This campaign will culminate on March 27 in a “Seize the Block Office” movement where block/Mandal level offices will be gheraoed in protest of reducing NREGA and PDS into showpieces and making them centres of rampant corruption. Village/Panchayat level agitations will also be held during this campaign.
Some AIALA Reports from the Fields
On February 19, registered labourers under the banner of AIALA staged a demonstration in front of the Habibpur Block development office demanding unemployment allowance for job cardholders under NREGA. This is third time the AIALA has organised a demonstration demanding compensation for 240 registered labourers in Habibpur Block who did not get an opportunity for 100 days’ job in their localities. According to the NREGA, the job card holders will get compensation if the administration is unable to provide job within a stipulated time of 14 days after registering their names on demand.
Agrarian Worker Commits Suicide in Jharkhand
In Bundu, Jharkhand, an agricultural labourer and job card-holder Turia Munda committed suicide after being denied employment under NREGA. The CPI(ML) and JHAMKIS held a successful Bundu Bandh on 13 February, to demand action against the SDO and BDO, and compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the victims’ family and education for his children. Many leading CPI(ML) activists were arrested and detained during the Bandh. A massive protest meeting was held on 18 February in Bundu, and will be followed by a protest demonstration at the Jharkhand Assembly on 27 February.
Pipra Massacre: Sign of Rising Morale of Feudal Forces in Nitish Rule
Three CPI(ML) supporters were killed on February 21 in Pipra village of Chhoradano block of East Champaran by the gang of local feudal lord Mahendra Singh, supported by the local JD(U) MLA. The CPI(ML) has demanded the immediate arrest of landlord Harendra Singh and his goons, and investigation of the involvement of local JD(U) MLA Shyambihari Singh in this massacre. The Nitish Government has boosted the morale of feudal forces in the state, first by dismantling the Amir Das Commission meant to expose the Ranvir Sena’s political links and then by not taking any action in incidents of many massacres took place earlier in spite of High Court’s rulings in this regard.
Pirpa is witness to the valiant land struggle that took place in 1989 resulting in seizure and redistribution of 200 acres of ceiling surplus and math land. People have been tilling this land for nearly 20 years. The Land Reform Commission Chairperson D Bandopadhyay had also visited this area last year. Now these killings are meant only to displace the poor from their lands. This incident has once again exposed the hollowness of Nitish Kumar’s ‘rule of law’ and ‘Land Reforms Commission’.
The CPI(ML) legislative group raised strong protest inside the Bihar Assembly on February 22 against the massacre while a fact finding team was also sent to the spot of the massacre.
AIKSS Team Visits Struggle Against Power Plant Land Grab in Punjab
A team of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, led by National Convenor Prem SIngh Gehlawat, visited affected people of the four villages of Mansa district of Punjab, who are agitating against a proposal to acquire their 2300 acres of land to set up a 2000 MW thermal power plant.
The AIKSS team expressed support for the farmers and agricultural labour of the affected villages which include Banawali, Peeron, Raipur and Talwandi Akliya who are not only resisting the land grab, but also opposing the proposal of handing over the plant on the "Build Operate Own" basis to some private company.
The three member AIKSS team included the Convenor of the Punjab Kisan Union (PKU), Sube Singh and former MLA, Tarsem Singh Jodhan.
The team noted the local administration was highly politicised in favour of the ruling establishment, and condemned the fact that the police falsely booked six persons by name and nearly four dozens of the "unidentified" persons under section 307 of the IPC for 'Attempt to Murder'. The team also condemned the role of a former MP and senior Akali leader, B.S. Bhunder and the sitting Congress MLA, Ajit Inder Singh Mofar in misleading and confusing the local people in the interests of the land grab.
Most of the farmers had settled there after the partition of the country in 1947. Many have pledged their lands either to the banks or commission agents (Ahrtiya) for loans. There were numerous cases where though they had physical possession, the ownership of the land in records stood in the name of the traditional 'Jagirdars' or 'Zamindar'. Such farmers would get nothing in compensation, if their lands were acquired.
Protest Against Land Grab at Nalanda
Report by a CPI(ML) Investigation Team
On February 8, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited Pilkhi village of Nalanda (his home district) along with Ex-President Kalam to show him the proposed site for Nalanda University. Thousands of peasants, angry at the forced acquisition of their land at throwaway prices, assembled there and started raising slogans. It is alleged that the agitated peasants threw stones at the Chief Minister, injuring him on his head. Thus Nitish Kumar became the fourth CM in a row – after KB Sahai, Jagannath Mishra and Bhagawat Jha Azad, to be humiliated by the masses. A CPI (ML) Investigation Team visited Pilkhi to find out truth and understand the reasons behind the agitation and anger of the peasants. The team comprised CPI (ML) CC Member KD Yadav, All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti President Raja Ram Singh, Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha State Secretary Rajendra Patel, State Committee Member Pal Bihari Lal and CPI(ML) district committee Member Anil Patel.
According to peasants, land is being acquired in 18 villages in the name of setting up Nalanda University. Sale and purchase of land has been legally banned in these villages. And under the area to be acquired fall residential areas as well as the cremation ground, public toilets and other public places. The land to be acquired is fertile three-crop land and apart from wheat and rice, commercial crops like potato, onion, garlic and spices are also produced here. With their hard labour peasants have irrigated the land. For example, there are 70 families in village Mudaffarpur who possess 50 hand pumps and 5 transformers. Obviously the Government’s claim that all land is unirrigated is false. While the market rate of the land is generally nowhere less than Rs. 22000 per kattha, the government is providing only Rs. 7750 per kattha for all types of land.
One more glaring fact was reported to the investigation team that Rs. 38 crore was issued from the Government treasury for compensation to the peasants but instead of distributing it to the farmers, the DM deposited this money in his own account to reap a handsome interest. And when the programme for Ex-President’s visit was declared, a compensation camp was set up in a hurry on February 6. This was also one reason behind the anger of the peasants and the resultant pandemonium. The DM and SP of Nalanda, known as CM loyalists, are also notorious for brutal suppression of democratic movements.
Returning back to Patna, Nitish Kumar said that he was not aware of the peasants’ resentment. This was an obvious lie as the peasants were consistently agitating for the last one year, organizing demonstrations and dharna at district HQ as well as Patna.
The acquisition will result in landlessness of a large number of peasants. In many villages the entire population dependent on agriculture will be deprived of their only means of livelihood. Agricultural workers will be the worst hit, losing their dwellings and employment. However in utter disregard for the popular opposition, the Chief Minister arrogantly declared that the proposed plans in Nalanda will be completed at any cost
Regarding the official propaganda about ‘planned conspiracy of murderous assault on the CM’, peasants said that it was patently false and fabricated. They said that no stone was thrown as there were no stones at all in the vicinity. They said that it is possible that someone among the agitated villagers threw mud, as the soil was wet there. False cases under Article 307 (attempt to murder) have been lodged against 25 villagers, and this has further angered the peasants. It is interesting to note that the agitating peasants have mainly been voters of JD(U).
Whatever Nitish Kumar may claim, acquisition of so much land in Rajgir seems to be part of the SEZ model of ‘development’, though by the backdoor. Such a large tract of land could not be required just for a university and a police camp. Peasants are also wondering what good the Nalanda University will do for their lives. Why should they accept homelessness and joblessness for a University where their own children won’t be able to study?
‘People’s Assertion Rally’ in Siwan
ON February 18, CPI(ML) organized a massive ‘Jan Davedari Rally’ (People’s Assertion Rally) in Gandhi Maidan, Siwan. More than 10, 000 participated in the rally. Addressing it as the main speaker Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML), spoke of the struggles of Siwan that had defied the terror of mafia dons and criminal gangs patronised by those in power. He said that the Nitish Kumar government had been unable to provide good governance to Bihar even in 30 months, let alone in 3 months as claimed by him when he was sworn in as Chief Minister. Nitish’s humiliation at the hands of agitating peasants in his own home district amply demonstrates the deeper resentment accumulating against him. Comrade Dipankar called upon people to participate in CPI(ML)’s ‘Pol Khol’ Rally in Patna on March 18.
Others who addressed the rally were Comrades Rameshwar Prasad, CC Member and National President AIALA, Dhirendra Jha, CCM and General Secretary AIALA, Amar Yadav, State Committee member and MLA, Satya Dev Ram, State Secretary AIALA, Javed Beg, Co-convener, Inquilabi Muslim Conference and AIPWA leader Comrades Sohila Gupta. Comrade Ghughali Prasad presided over the meeting.
Ara Remembers Comrade Sufiyan and ‘Ramtaji’
On 16 February, a Seminar was held on the topic ‘Comrade Sufiyan’s Martyrdom and the Question of Resistance to the Criminal System’. In the light of Comrade Sufiyan’s martyrdom, the issues of the struggle for democracy and secularism were discussed. The main speaker was CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya. Along with CPI(ML) leaders (PB member Ramji Rai, AIALA President Rameshwar Prasad, and others), Ara’s democratic intelligentsia also participated. Advocate Tunna Babu, Professor Balraj Thakur, trader Nityanand Varma and many others also addressed the Seminar, and resolved to carry forward the struggle to bring Comrade Sufiyan’s killers to justice.
On 17 February, a cultural event was organized by Jan Sanskriti Manch in Ara to remember Comrade Ramakant Dwivedi ‘Ramta’. Ramji Rai, Alakh Narayan Chaudhary, Balbhadra, Dashrath Singh and Sudhir Suman recited many of Ramtaji’s poems on this occasion. Ramtaji’s comrade-in-arms during the freedom struggle Ramasan Singh and CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya offered garlands to the photo of the departed revolutionary poet. Eminent Bhojpuri scholar Prof. Gadadhar Singh, Ramnihal Gunjan, Dr. Ravindra Nath Rai, CPI(ML) CC member KD Yadav addressed the meet while Comrade Dipankar spoke as the chief guest.
7-yr Jail Term for Bant’s Attackers
Seven of the attackers of Bant Singh Jhabbar, responsible for the assault in January 2006 that cost him three of his limbs, have been sentenced by a local court to seven years of rigorous imprisonment. The court also handed out a fine of Rs 7,000 to each accused.
The verdict, however, while being an acknowledgement of the assault, is far from satisfactory or adequate. The bench took a very narrow interpretation of the SC/ST Act, and refused to apply it, holding that Bant in his initial statement had not claimed it to be a caste assault. This interpretation negates the complex social reality of class, caste and political identity. The attack on Bant was an act of intimidation to him as a Dalit agricultural labour leader, cultural activist and CPI(ML) activist, fighting for justice for his raped daughter, to ‘punish’ him for confronting the feudal forces of Mansa; and also a gruesome warning against others of his class and caste against political assertion. The CPI(ML) has decided to appeal against the mild verdict in the high court, demanding life imprisonment for the attackers.
Jute Workers' Protest in Kolkata
Bengal Chatkal Majdur Federation (BCMF) affiliated to AICCTU organised a protest demonstration in front of state PF department on Feb 21 to demand PF and pension settlement for the workers of the closed Naihati Gouripur jute mill, PF enrollment for the deprived workers of the jute mills in Naihati, Kakinara, Agarpara etc, and election of the Trusty Boards of the jute mills, which are pending for a long time owing to the unholy nexus between owners, government and union leaders. The concerned officials promised to call a meeting with the workers' representatives in a couple of weeks.
AISA for Safety of Migrant Workers
AISA organised a protest rally in Kolkata on 23 February demanding safety of the migrant workers in Maharashtra. An effigy of Raj Thakre was burnt in the protest. A number of migrant workers also joined the protesting students.