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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 44 New Delhi October 20, 2018

Decline of the Communist Mass Base in Bihar

Friday 19 October 2018

by Jagannath Sarkar

Jagannath Sarkar, who passed away in April 2010, was among those who led the spectacular rise of the CPI in Bihar in the 1960s and 1970s. He was among a handful of Bihar CPI leaders who envisioned the crisis in the CPI in the mid-1970s. On his first birthday after he passed away—he was born on September 25, 1919—the following article by him came out in English on September 25, 2011. It gives a glimpse of the debate on new caste assertions in the CPI. It was written by Sarkar in 1998, following a National Council meeting of the CPI. It was translated by Raj Ballabh from Hindi. Now that his birth centenary has begun from September 25 this year, the article is being reproduced here.

The National Council of the CPI accepted, if belatedly, in its review report of March 1998 that there has been a serious decline in the basic mass base of the party and its class-based mass base has fragmented on the basis of caste. It has accepted that the party could not face the deviation of ‘social justice’ in the form of ‘backward casteism’ in its theatricality, or indeed politically and practically; that the party could not maintain its distinct identity, as a party that was politically and practically different from the Laloo-led Janata Dal Government. What is more, the toxin of casteism began to show its effects within the party as well. Indeed, it is an issue of serious concern which should be analysed in detail.

Though the symptoms of stagnation in the party in Bihar had begun to appear some two decades ago, the reasons behind it could never be discussed seriously. A severe decrease in the political mass base of the party in recent years is the result of the theoretical decline of the party in the post-Mandal years and the totally erroneous and defective understanding expounded by the Janata Dal.

At first, the party did not understand Mandalism correctly. On the contrary, it accepted it as a theory of social justice. The correct approach of the party on reservation had been reviewed in detail some one-and-a-half decade ago and this was also accepted by the National Council in July 1982. Unfortunately, in recent years, this correct understanding was presented in such a distorted way that it altered its very fundamental democratic form.

In the National Council report of July 1982, it has been clearly stated: “Though reservation in employment is necessary to control the social atrocities and discrimination, it should also be clear that, based on mere reservation, no egali-tarian society can be established without funda-mental change in the socio-economic structure of the society. It is a reality that such type of change is more important than reservation.”

But unfortunately, under the pressure of the Janata Party, the party deviated from its original path and adopted such policies which were not only politically, theoretically and tactically defective, but distorted as well. That is why when B. P. Singh, the self-proclaimed chieftain of Mandalism, after returning from his England visit, stated that all political parties have almost accepted the theory of social justice, he should have also declared that the next Prime Minister of India and Chief Ministers of 80 per cent States would either belong to backward or Dalit sections. The CPI (and perhaps other Left parties also) thought it better to be tight-lipped on this issue as all important questions related to socio-economic change are useless for them. After some days, speaking on reservation of seats in Parliament and the Legislative Assembly, Laloo Prasad stated in his feudal rustic style: “It is just a start; please see, what is going to take place in coming days.” Even then, the party did not say even a word; just kept quiet.

Thereafter, the Janata Dal used to declare from time to time that the most important (if not the only) aspect of social justice is transfer of power from the forwards to the backwards. No doubt, enthroning of the backwards is a prime concern of social justice, but if all other related facts are ignored or opposed to achieve this goal, the principle of so-called social justice can become useless and it will become the synonym of all types of social injustice. This aspect has been clearly underlined in the National Council Report, July 1982. The report States:

“On the one side, some exploiter elements, in the name of backwardism, are engaged in the mischievous activities of establishing their social and political domination on other oppressed castes of their own society, in the name of opposing the exploitation, done by forward castes over backward castes; on the other, the advantaged section of the forward castes implements new tactics day after day to strengthen its stronghold over the disadvantaged sections of their own society, by making the excuse of forward casteism. By giving a fillip to the existing formidable casteist sentiments to protect their narrow and split class interests, such types of bourgeois elements make planned attempts to weaken the solidarity of the people. In 1978, the same was witnessed in Bihar. Which of the oppressed and exploited castes and communities were presumed to be included in the reservation design... which way was selected to establish faith and brotherhood among different castes and communities, was distorted by the exploiter elements of the society in their interest. The result was contrary. The society was fragmented. Be it the casteism of forwards or of backwards, both are dangerous because they create rift among the working people and general public in the name of caste by giving a fillip to the casteists, encourage hate and malice which results in the emergence of separatism, casteist secessonism and such other disintegrative tendencies.”

Though the party was clearly alert to the serious dangers emerging from the malign tendencies of making immoral play with the theory of social justice by the exploiter elements present within the backwards, the party ignored the experiences gained in 1978 and reversed the essence of the report. The notion of enthroning the backwards by dethroning the forwards, similar to the thoughts of the Janata Dal, was assumed as a motivating element by the CPI for all its programmes. Moreover, other important provisions of social justice, the provisions related to socio-economic changes in particular, can in fact be sidelined as well.

It will be relevant to mention here that the manner in which the party ignored the principle of fundamental socio-economic change related to social justice, which is directly related with the problems of working people, reveals its theoretical-political bankruptcy.

The distribution of land beyond ceiling limit and Bhudan land, facilitating re-occupation of grabbed land by tenants, evacuating the ghair mazrua (common) land unjustly and illegally encroached by the landlords, facilitating the subtenants in acquiring tenancy right and the agrarian labourers to earn ‘sufficient wages’, leading aggressive struggles against various types of semi-feudal exploitation and atrocities in rural areas, raising voice for labour union rights and ‘reasonable wages’ to the industrial workers, insisting on the enactment of old agreements between owners and workers, strong protest against transfer of important public sector enterprises or privatisation, employment guarantee to the unemployed persons, protest against price rise, struggle for adequate arrangement of drinking water as well as health and education facilities, etc.—all these are issues related to social justice for which the party should have led popular movements organising its primary base. But during the last 15 years, the party could lead no such movement.

It is an interesting feature that day-to-day theoretical deviations infiltrating into the party blunted the party mentally and its fighting character was paralysed. Even the mention of the above-stated social justice-related issues used to raise the eyebrows of the Janata Dal, its leaders in particular. Though the Janata Dal does not lack old socialists, but due to the fear of the backwards, the reign of the party is in the hands of neo-feudals which was correctly recognised in the National Council Report, 1982. Whenever we think of leading a movement on these issues, the Janata Dal misleads the people in the name of so-called social justice and not only opposes such movements, but also creates obstacles before the same.

It needs to be remembered once again that just as the party decided to render its support to the Janata Dal Government, it naturally demanded to formulate a common minimum programme and to constitute a coordination committee or liaison committee for its proper implementation. But the demand of the party was ignored humiliatingly. It will be relevent to mention here that during the last elections, the Janata Dal did not find it pertinent to mention even a word on the implementation of land reform in its election manifesto. Instantaneously, it repealed all the restrictions on the sale of ST land, by amending the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act which cleared the hurdles before big industrialists and multinationals for infiltration in this region. It has adopted an aggressive approach towards all types of strikes of workers and employees and its attempts to split the unity of various worker unions by provoking casteist passions are continuing. The Panchayat elections have not been held in Bihar for more than two decades. The Janata Dal Government has been postponing these elections by making some excuse or the other; however, the Panchayats have been provided with rather more power and resources by amending the Constitution. Even so, Bihar is the only State of the country which has not held Panchayat elections so far. What is more, it has been continuously opposing the issue of reservation for women in the legislature.

In 1978, in order to make the provision of reservation in employment, the Karpoori Thakur Government had provided due respect to several important democratic forms in which a provision of three per cent reservation was made to the female category, the most socially and educationally backward section of our society.

The Janata Dal came to the understanding that only forward caste women are benefited with this reservation provision. Therefore, they eliminated this provision—the provision of reservation for women. Second, there was a provision of reservation that was more bene-ficial for the backward castes of Annexure-1 in comparison to that of Annexure-2. The new Janata Dal Government almost eliminated this difference. Third, the provision of reservation in employment was limited to the appointment only—not in promotions. It was also altered by the Janata Dal Government. Fourth, the back-wards having income below income tax limit only were eligible to the benefits of the provision of reservation in employment, but this provision was also altered. Fifth, there was also a provision of three per cent reservation to the economically backward section of the upper castes which was completely eliminated by the Janata Dal Government. And lastly, the Karpoori formula of reservation had the clear conception that the principle of reservation is not permanent. It will be reviewed in a time-bound manner and as soon as it appears that it has accomplished its purpose, it will at once be eliminated.

Along with the protection of interests of the backwards in government employment, the Karpoori formula had included several such democratic values which could be helpful in establishing solidarity and harmony among the people from all the castes. As far as the question of advantaged classes of the society, the Karpoori formula made no difference between the backwards and forwards. This is the reason, it was never preferred by the well-to-do section of the backwards. By eliminating these reservation provisions, the Janata Dal Govern-ment provided another weapon to the well-to-do elements of backward castes to exploit and incite social acrimony. It had no interest in establishing democratic solidarity based on social justice. Instead, its purpose was to strengthen its mass base by inciting casteist passion against the forward castes. Supporting these nasty amendments politely, the CPI knelt down before the rich and exploiter leadership of the Janata Dal. In other words, as a result of this primary surrender, a series of humiliating surrenders before the Janata Dal leaders was initiated. Its consequences proved to be appalling for the party.

With the exposure of the activities of the Janata Dal, the correctness of the National Council Report of July 1982 was also confirmed. It is mentioned in the report that such types of bourgeois elements utilise the principle of reservation in employment as a weapon, with the purpose of inciting heinous casteist passions and damaging the solidarity of the people, to fulfil their narrow and fragmented class interests. In the light of this truth, the party should have led popular movements in its own capacity by mobilising the exploited sections of the society. But the party proved to be completely unsuccessful in fulfilling its obligation.

As an example, in leading movements, the party kept in mind the willingness and unwillingness of the Janata Dal only. It assumed that opposing the incorrect policies of the Janata Dal would mean harming the solidarity of the backward castes. And, is not the solidarity of backward casts a necessary condition for their coming to power? Again, is not the large scale participation of backwards in power the most important aspect of the principle of social justice? Moreover, will not the discussion on other subjects be obstructive in the solidarity of backwards?

Owing to this defective understanding, the CPI turned back from its essential obligation of leading popular movements by organising the people to achieve the goal of fundamental socio-economic change. This proved suicidal for the party.

The party proved to be completely un-successful in playing its role, but it continued its absurd efforts of justifying its wrong perceptions with the help of empty arguments. Somebody argued that the issue of land reform was almost dead and had no relevance in the current situation. There were also such people who thought that in the current phase of social justice-centred movement, the principle of socio-economic change should be postponed for the time being to keep the solidarity of the backward castes intact. They also assumed that the class struggle can be sharpened in the next phase by combating against the exploiter elements present within the backward castes.

In such circumstances, a dangerous trend emerged in the party. Instead of fulfilling their democratic demands by leading movements, mobilising the people, the followers of these trends had the clear notion that the persons belonging to forward castes should be displaced from all the key posts of labour organisation, peasants’ organisation, students’ organisation, etc. of the party. In this situation, the mentality of flattering the Janata Dal leaders developed in the party. The hold of flatterers became so strong on the party that they might go to any extent against the party with the purpose of being close to the Janata Dal.

The CPI in Bihar mentioned in its draft review report that after the fodder scam, they had initiated their attempts to establish their independent recognition, distinct from the Janata Dal Government, led by Lalu Prasad. In other words, it meant that our distance from the Janata Dal is on the issue of corruption only, and so far as the question of important democratic issues is concerned, our stand is almost the same as it was in the past. On the whole, there is no fundamental change in the thinking of the party.

On the issue of corruption, there seems a clear division between the BJP-Samata alliance and Janata Dal in comparison with the party. Their (of the BJP-Samata alliance) struggle against corruption has been stronger than ours. The theoretical understanding, developed in the party during the last decade, has resulted in considerable decline in the basic mass base of the party. Nothing can be imagined other than the same. In the first place, the party should have played the leading role in mobilising the democratic forces after attracting them under its leadership, but instead of doing so, the party left the people at the mercy of the BJP and narrow-minded and casteist Janata Dal. The people got split into two fragments—backwards and forwards. The symptoms of fragmentation began to appear clearly in the whole social structure in the State.

All democratic forces also split into two fragments, that is, backwards and forwards. Overall, the environment of distrust and apprehension prevailed in the whole State. This fury did not spare even the party. The party also suffered with the deviation based on backward-forward sentiment. In a certain section of the party, the tendency of flattering the casteist leaders of the Janata Dal and strengthen its hold on the party on the basis of the same was on the rise. Whoever talked of the principles to establish the democratic values, democratic policies or mass movement, was called as enemy of the power of social justice and agent of the forward castes.

In such circumstances, victims of the so-called social justice regime inside and outside the party faced defeat and received a severe setback, and the people started gathering around the BJP-Samata alliance willingly or unwillingly. This is the fact behind the amazing rise in the mass base of the BJP in recent years, which is not so much on account of Hindu communalism as the erroneous policies of the CPI, decrease in its mass base and the resultant vacuum created in politics.

The symptoms of the deviation in the party, discussed above, are so real that the party will have to make fundamental changes in its policies on each and every front—political, theoretical and tactical—to overcome the same. Even then, the party will only be able to make up partly in reversing the process of erosion in its basic mass base.

(Courtesy: kafila-online)

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