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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 51 New Delhi December 12, 2015

Resurgence of the Communist Revolutionary Force in Bihar

Sunday 13 December 2015

by Arun Srivastava

In globalised India, the Left appears to be in a state of inertia; losing initiative and ideological mooring. With the state abandoning its responsibility towards the people, its inclusive growth and empowerment, the Left forces, the CPI-M, CPI, and others, have lost the will to intervene and organise the poor. On the plea of introducing reforms and promoting rapid economic growth, the ruling classes have adopted the strategy of refashioning the role of the state and handed over the reins of the economy to the market forces, led by big capital working in close collaboration with foreign corporations. This strategy has subjected the working people to displacement, dispossession and impoverishment.

Since theoretically the Marxist forces are opposed to this development, the Communist Parties should have launched a grassroot agitation. But this is not happening. It is an irony that even today they are confused about the character of the state and what should be done in the present situation. It is a bare fact that by aligning with the Centrist, casteist and liberal forces the Left has given respectability to them but in the process sacrificed and lost its own credibility and the people’s trust.

The failure of the Indian Left to experiment with the Marxist tenets has been the primary reason of their seeking solace in the reformist programmes. Their main goal has turned out to be winning the elections. For accomplishing the goal they have to bend before leaders like Mulayam Singh and Laloo Yadav. Unfortunately they failed to carve out an independent space and make an impact on the political institutions of the country. The rural poor, the proletariat, which is supposed to be the vanguard of the Left movement, has been forced to find the saviour in the casteist political outfits.

It was after a long stretch of time, realising the compulsion, six Left parties joined hands and went to the Assembly polls in Bihar. Their performance was undoubtedly impressive. Of course, the most successful has been the CPI-ML (Liberation). It won three seats: Balrampur, Darauli and Tarari. The CPI-M, CPI, SUCI, RSP and Forward Bloc might have failed to win a seat but what is remarkable is the their combined vote-share of nearly four per cent marks out the Left as the only potential third force in a bipolar Bihar.

If the Delhi mandate gave the first resounding rebuff to the RSS and the Narendra Modi Government, Bihar has once again unfurled the banner of revolt. Describing the Bihar Assembly results as a vote against divisive politics of communal hate and religious intolerance practised by the BJP would indeed be a too simplistic evaluation of the mandate. A closer look at the nature of the verdict makes is explicit that it was a protest against the policy of hegemony of the upper castes and landed gentry.

Till the nineties Bihar had been a strong base of the Left parties. But during the last 25 years it lost the ground to the Centrist and casteist forces and parties primarily due to their failure to identify with the rural poor. Nevertheless the lone exception has been the CPI-ML. It fought against the private armies of the landlords and spearheaded many agrarian struggles. In the 1991 Assembly elections its frontal organisation had won nearly 12 seats. This time amid the face-off between the BJP-led NDA and JD(U)-RJD-Congress ‘grand alliance’, the CPI-ML succeeded in snatching these seats. The CPI-ML candidate from Dharauli in West Bihar won by 13,000 votes, while in Balrampur the CPI-ML has won by a margin of over 22,000. Sudama Prasad wrested the Tarari seat from the wife of the JD(U) don, Sunil Pandey.

An insight into the results would make it explicit that this victory underlines the upsurge and assertion of the rights of the rural poor and proletariat. The party lost 22 seats by narrow margins. Obviously it implied that the poor people preferred the Liberation to JD(U) or RJD. They voted on the class line. Down the line it also reflects the emergence of the new political line in Bihar. This victory is also significant for the reason that it has come in the backdrop of the intense fight between the Mandal and Kamandal forces. The people of Bihar preferred to be identified with the political forces and leaders which represented their aspirations. Basically this was the reason that Bihar attracted the ominous identity of being the most caste-ridden State.

While this win vindicates the core strength of the Left, it also reinforces the fact that the Bihar election was fought on the class line. The rural poor, landless labourers and Scheduled Castes had organised on the class line to oppose the policy of hegemony of the upper-caste feudal lords who were contemplating to stage a comeback through the BJP.

The victory of the CPI-ML from Tarari in Bhojpur has many significant aspects. The CPI- ML candidate, Sudama Prasad, defeated the NDA candidate by a margin of 296 votes, the primary reason being the defeat of Indubhusan Singh, son of Barmeshwar Singh, the supreme commander of the landlords’ militia, Ranavir Sena. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh had fielded Indubhushan Singh, who now leads the organisation, as his party’s candidate. The Mahagatbandhan had fielded Akhilesh Prasad Singh, the former RJD MP and Union Minister, as a Congress nominee. Incidentally Akhilesh at the funeral of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh had referred to the architect of the massacres of Dalit and labourers as “a towering personality the likes of whom are born once in 100-200 years, whose stature remains higher than any MP or MLA”.

The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan had fielded Geeta Pandey, the wife of the dreaded don, Sunil Pandey, who had been the sitting MLA from Tarari, elected an a JD(U) ticket. At Tarari all other candidates had connections with the Ranvir Sena. Once this seat was held by the architect of the Naxalite movement in Biharf, Ram Naresh Ram, but the party lost it in 2010. The CPI-ML’s win in Tarari is being viewed as the renewal of its traditional stronghold in Bhojpur. Once the cradle of Naxalism in Bihar, Bhojpur has been witness to the killings of Dalits and the downtrodden in the 1990s during Laloo-Rabri regime. Several ML grassroots workers had to sacrifice their lives in dozens of carnages.

In Bhojpur CPI-ML leader Satish Yadav was killed just on the eve of the elections and three of the CPI-ML’s most prospective candidates— agricultural labour leader Satyadeo Ram, who has won from Darauli in Siwan, and Amarjeet Kushwaha and Manoj Manzil who finished close from Zeradei (Siwan) and Agiaon (Bhojpur)— were arrested on fabricated charges at the time of filing their nominations.

Satyadeo Ram (Darauli, Siwan), who defeated the BJP candidate by a margin of 10,000 votes, contested from jail. The CPI-ML candidate from Ziradei, Amarjit Kushwaha, is also in jail. Cases were slapped on them in 2013 during a struggle of the Dalit landless labourers. The BJP-backed landlords, led by the local BJP MLA, had fired on the Dalits. Mahboob Alam was elected from the Balrampur seat in Katihar district, defeating the BJP candidate by a margin of nearly 23,000 votes. What makes this victory truly memorable is the extremely unequal nature of the electoral battle and the inhospitable media environment. While the media projected the non-existent SP-NCP-Pappu Yadav coalition as the real ‘third front’, it ignored the Left bloc. The results reveal that the third front has been a real non-starter. Combined together they could not muster more than 1.5 per cent of the votes.

Rejuvenating the old base built through decades of struggles, which has turned dormant during the last decade following the creeping-in of certain ambiguity in the Left forces, and particularly in the CPI-ML after the emergence of Laloo Yadav as the voice of the oppressed, and translating the Left’s undisputed credibility and goodwill in terms of pro-people politics into votes were indeed an arduous task in the present backdrop. But it was the division of the rural society on the class line and the CPI-ML digging deep into its core strength that helped it win its three seats in the midst of this electoral storm.

The CPI-ML had gone to the elections projecting the alliance as the forum to start an “agitation” in Bihar to “defeat feudal, communal and corporate forces” and to provide “people’s rule” in the true sense. The observation of the CPI-ML General Secretary, Dipankar Bhatta-charya, is explicit: “We have been waiting for this moment for years. We were asked why can’t the Left parties unite. The year 2014 was a year of ‘jumla’ (rhetoric) and Modi, but 2015 was a year of agitations across the country forcing the BJP and RSS on the backfoot.” He also hit out at Nitish Kumar for shielding the criminals of Ranvir Sena by dismantling the Amir Das Commission formed to probe into its activities.

Senior CPI leader A.B. Bardhan had also said: “We are starting an agitation for the State and the country. We will awaken the people of Bihar to defeat the feudal, communal, corporate forces led by the BJP and the opportunistic alliance of Prasad, Kumar and the Congress. Around 90 per cent population of Bihar is still poor. This is why the third alliance of Left parties is needed here. The fight in the State will decide the future of our country.”

Sitaram Yechury, the CPI-M General Secretary, also reinforced the need for Left unity: “the only option available to the people in the country. We are amidst a political triangle with the communal forces led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on one corner, the second corner is occupied by the casteist political forces led by the RJD and JD(U) who exploit the sentiments of the poor to capture power and the third corner constituting of Left parties which offers people’s rule.”

It is encouraging to note that the CPI-M belatedly and painfully woke up to the reality of uniting the Left forces. There is no denying the fact that the attitude of the CPI-M leadership was a major deterrent in uniting the Left parties. The CPI-M preferred to ignore the need for unity on the plea that the Left Front symbolises the aspirations of the common people which was in reality not the case. Instead of giving credence to the plea of unity, the CPI-M insisted that they should abandon their organisations and merge. Had the CPI-M enjoyed the trust of the people, the Trinamul Congress would not have succeeded in wresting the power from it in Bengal. It was only after the CPI-M lost power in West Bengal that it started feeling the heat of the people’s disillusionment and turned amenable to accepting the other Left parties, especially the revolutionary Communists, as equal partners. This change of attitude and approach has in fact shown positive results too. The CPI-M agreed to join hands with the CPI-ML to launch a front for going to the elections.

Reacting to this, the CPI-ML (Liberation) leader, Vinod Mishra, had observed: “What is this nonsensical talk about the ‘hostility’ towards the Left Front Government? It may not be to their liking but we have a principled and historically evolved position of a revolutionary Left opposition to the Left Front Government. Differences on this score can only be resolved through principled polemics and in the course of political developments. No amount of persuasion by a benign big brother can resolve such matters. ‘Hostility’ does not define our relations with the CPI-M and LF Government as we have never hesitated to cooperate with the CPI-M wherever and whenever possible. Hostility bordering on hysteria is characteristic of the CPI-M’s approach towards us and the CPI will serve the cause of Left unity better if it applies its persuasive skills to the CPI-M.”

In Bihar the decline in the Left’s share of votes has been sharp over the past 30 years; from 10 per cent it is down to between 2-2.5 per cent. The decline in seats is even worse. In 2010 it was down to one—with the CPI holding on to Bachwara in Begusarai district—from about 14 in 2000 and nine in 2005. After Bengal, Bihar has been the citadel of the Left. At one stage the CPI was the main Opposition party. The State has given birth to a number of prominent Left leaders. But today the traditional Left is in shambles. During these years the Left in Bihar has been busy practising the policy of social engineering and turned to ideologically conservative, structurally orthodox choices where social hierarchies have succeeded in blocking radical change.

Senior CPI-M leader Hannan Mollah, speaking on behalf of the Left alliance, confessed: “We found that we have been marginalised in the interests of maintaining the broad democratic, secular, progressive anti-Congress, anti-BJP platform. The RJD benefited from the Left’s credentials as the party of the poor, for robust welfare schemes by the State, for secularism and against economic reforms that hurt the poor, the peasants and women. In return, the Left’s image was tarnished due to support for Laloo Prasad and the corruption that was synonymous with his regime.”

The time has come for the Left to pursue its own programme and policies instead of following the diktats of the Centrist and casteist parties. The alienation of the Left from Bihar’s long history of peasant movements over land rights, wages and agricultural prices had virtually turned it non-existent. The report of the CPI-M’s 20th State Committee meeting spelt out: “In the Hindi region, we frequently find sharp reactions and spontaneous movements on various issues in absence of organised movements and limited appeal of the Left parties. We must intervene into this and try and give direction and reach out to newer sections of people.”

The communist movement in India has a history of nine decades. It is a complex and chequered history. The form of unity of the Left at the present stage can only be in the nature of a confederation where individual parties are free to practice their own tactical lines in different States.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com