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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 20

The Basic Imperative

Friday 9 May 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty

The Union Government, according to press reports, has woken up to the urgent need for firm measures for the protection of the Harijans. The Bihar Chief Minister, it has been publicised, has been telephonically pulled up to see to it that there was no further recurrence of bloody attacks on the Harijans in which the police so far has taken to the bystander’s indifference.

Such admonitions, however welcome, can by no means meet the forbidding challenge of the rural rich attacking the rural poor—a phenomenon now fairly widespread, and which is the essence of the prevailing atrocities on the Harijan. Although the Janata Party’s class base is the same as that of the Congress, there is no gainsaying the fact that in many parts of the country from Haryana to Bihar, from Uttar Pradesh to Andhra Pradesh, the rural rich has on his own identified himself as a Janata votary mistaking the cosmetic constraints of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Twenty Points as an assault, however populist and therefore ineffective, on his closely fortified citadel in the countryside. The mere talk of abolition of usury or grant of house sites for the homeless, alerted the powerful agrarian vested interests, and to that extent, these forces put their trust on the Janata. In their eyes, a Charan Singh symbolises their power more than a Chandra Shekhar or a Madhu Limaye their disinheritance.

On the part of the Janata Party leadership, the neglect of the rural sector, the lack of urgency in mobilising the village poor who indeed constitute the overwhelming millions of this country, has been almost a suicidal mistake. This is a point which Jagjivan Ram has not overlooked nor indeed has Indira Gandhi who mustered her party’s votes in the Andhra villages mainly on this platform of defence of the rural underprivileged. In her new role as an Opposition leader, she has the advantage of making promises without having to keep them.

In the situation as it stands today, neither the Janata nor either of the two Congress outfits can really uplift the condition of the have-nots in our countryside. Had the Congress been in a position to do so, it would not have been dislodged from power; even if it had alienated the rural rich by mere programmatic threats the fact is indisputable that vast majorities in the villages—who obviously are the rural poor—kept away from the Congress in the last year’s poll battles. The inescapable reality is that the Congress in many of these States, in Bihar and West Bengal for instance, can claim among its luminaries the rural rich whose record does not inspire the awakened rural masses to follow them.

The Janata Party’s class composition as it is, emasculates even the better elements within its leadership, and they find it difficult to enforce a programme which in conditions of growing polarisation in the rural sector, can rally the poor in defiance of the rich. With all the rural bias proclaimed in the coming Plan, the nagging question persists: which section in the countryside will benefit more than others under the new dispensation? The village poor will hold back his judgment on the Janata Raj until he has seen the results. Meanwhile, the rapacity and violence perpetrated in different places by the rural rich, if left unchecked, will certainly bring the Janata Party down in the eyes of the millions in the countryside.

It is here, in this strategic sector of India’s economy as also its polity that the Left can play a decisive role. The Communists enlisted in their different parties or outside these parties can certainly take the lead in organising as well as awakening the consciousness of the rural poor. They have the undoubted advantage of not being branded as belonging to the rural rich provided they choose to stand out unencumbered by alliances and commitments to parties that are organically linked to the exploiting elements in the village.

Whatever strategy or tactics the Communists work out in their respective conclaves, there is no escape from the basic imperative for single-minded tenacity for organising the toiling millions and making them politically conscious; and in a country where more than eighty out of every hundred live in the village, there can be no purposeful politics, not to speak of revolutionary advance, without mobilising the rural poor. All questions of united front or advance through parliamentary path have to be resolved within the framework of this basic imperative. In terms of gearing up the sagging economy—in which the affluent engaged in production processes are no less interested—the improvement of the living conditions of this vast humanity in our villages raising their purchasing power leading to capital formation, has become an immediate necessity. It is this class approach that alone can build genuine and unbreakable Left and Democratic Unity about which there is so much talk today but so far so little of achievement.

To the village with the focus on the dispossessed—was Gandhi’s strategy five decades ago in the struggle to liquidate foreign rule. The very same strategy with a richer content presents itself today before all those who are seriously interested in liquidating poverty from the face of this rich and beautiful land of ours.

This way alone shall we seek out a new ethos for our country and our people?

(Mainstream, April 1, 1978)

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