T HE PRECIOUS BLOOD shed by Butan, Jiut and Sahtu, the immortal martyrs of Bhojpur has not gone in vain – and the rural poor of Bihar today have the strength to avenge every drop of blood by marching forward in great strides” – Comrade Ramnaresh Ram’s words struck like thunder and the audience exploded in applause. He was addressing the mammoth Mazdoor-Kisan Ekta Rally at the Stadium Ground, Ramna Maidan at Ara, Bhojpur, on 14 November 2003, with which began the founding conference of the All India Agricultural Labourers’ Association (AIALA).
Eighteen years ago, on this day, the police had killed Comrades Jiut and Sahtu, two of the most outstanding fighters and leaders of the Bhojpur movement. Every year on 14 November Bhojpur remembers its great martyrs. This year more than a thousand agricultural labour activists from all over the country joined the rural poor of Bhojpur in pledging to fulfil the unfinished dreams and tasks of the martyrs. In fact, between 27 September and 13 November nearly twenty memorials were erected in different parts of the district to pay tribute to the martyrs, the inauguration of which saw a great deal of spontaneous support and enthusiasm in the concerned areas.
Ara was virtually draped in red for this grand occasion. Every street corner was decorated with posters, red flags, festoons, beautiful hoardings, gates and arches dedicated to the memory of martyrs. And as the day grew every road was bursting with surging streams of men and women chanting revolutionary slogans. It was really a day when all roads led to Ramna Maidan where a huge red sickle and a massive plough greeted everybody with the message of the fighting unity between agricultural labourers and the labouring peasantry. Not just rural labourers but the urban poor and the intelligentsia too had turned up in significant strength to make the Mazdoor-Kisan Ekta Rally a huge success.
The proceedings started at around 12.30 PM on 14 November. The octogenarian revolutionary leader of Bhojpur and renowned people’s poet Ramakant Dwivedi ‘Ramta’ hoisted the red flag. Silence was observed for two minutes in memory of martyrs, including comrade Manju , district party leader of Jehanabad and ex-member, panchayat district council, who was murdered only four days back by Ranvir Sena goons when she was conducting propaganda for the conference. Her heroic self-sacrifice came in for special mention in the speeches and the rallyists vowed to avenge the cowardly, dastardly killing.
Apart from AIALA and peasant association leaders, the rally was also addressed by Comrade Bhimrao Bansod of Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) and Party General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya. Comrade Rajaram Singh, convenor of the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, made a fervent appeal for a fighting unity between agricultural labourers and the poor and middle peasantry. Comrade Kunti, Comrade Manju’s close comrade-in-arms, and a member of the Party’s Jehanabad district committee, called upon the rally to avenge the murder of martyr comrades like Manju and Virendra Vidrohi by intensifying the battle for a new Bihar and new India.
Comrade Dipankar expressed the mood of the entire assembly with the slogan “khali karo raste, mazdoor-kisan ke waste; khali karo raste, loktantra ke waste” (clear the way for the contingent of agricultural labour and peasntry, clear the way for people’s democracy). “Three decades ago, the spark of Naxalbari had lit a glowing fire at Ekwari, and no darkness has been able to overshadow this glow. What was Sahar’s battle yesterday has now become the battle of entire Bihar and today vanguards of the rural proletariat from all over the country have assembled here to uphold this banner of struggle,” said Comrade Dipankar.
The open session came to an end with a colourful cultural programme held on the open-air stage by artists from various provinces. The delegate session started later in the evening in a beautifully decorated, spacious pandal, named Ramayan Sabhagaar after martyr Comrade Ramayan Ram. Comrade Rameshwar Prasad presented the draft Manifesto (see below) followed by brief introduction of delegates from different provinces and solidarity greetings by leaders of fraternal mass organisations – AICCTU, AIPWA, RYA, AISA, ASDC(P) and KSA. Comrade Ramji Rai, editor, Lokyudh also addressed this session. He said the achievements of the Bhojpur movement had been quite historic, the old society had been considerably shaken up, and what remained to be done was to take this process of a thorough shake-up through to the end. The session was adjourned at about 11 PM and resumed the next morning at 9 o’clock. On the basis of group discussion among delegates, representatives from different states offered several concrete suggestions especially in terms of immediate demands of the agricultural labour movement.
The suggestions ranged from a floor-level all-India minimum wage for agrarian labourers and mandatory old-age pension of at least Rs. 1,000 for all agrarian labourers over the age of 50 to downward revision of land ceiling, the rural poor’s right to keep arms for self-defence, and loan-waiver for the rural poor under the slogan “ no repayment without adequate wage and round-the year employment.” Some comrades – men and women included – felt our general guideline that women must constitute at least 10 per cent of every delegation and every leading body needed to be written into the AIALA constitution. The lively discussion was summed up by Comrade Rameshwar. The draft was then put to vote and adopted unanimously.
Next the delegates elected a 123-member National Council, which in turn elected a 29-member Central Executive Committee with 13 office-bearers (see box). While one weakness of the otherwise very successful conference lay in the rather low proportion of women among delegates, the council comprised 24 women, i.e., nearly 20 per cent. The conference resolved to make more concerted efforts to improve the participation of women at all levels of leadership commensurate with their outstanding role in grassroots movements.
Overcoming language barriers, delegates and guests immensely enjoyed the songs, dances etc. which were presented during the breaks. Particularly stimulating was the short street-play – ‘Karwan’ – staged by Hirawal of Patna. The play gave a thought-provoking portrayal of the growing fascist threat and political opportunism and ended with a rousing call to various classes and sections of the people to rise in revolt and win freedom and democracy.
From leaders’ speeches to delegates’ deliberations to the cultural events, the entire ambience was that of a festival of the masses. The grassroots activists were very happy to get the rare opportunity of interacting with comrades from all over India: Tripura, Assam, Karbi Anglong, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand, MP, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, Karnataka, Haryana and Punjab. Comrades from Chhattishgarh and Rajasthan could not come because of the ensuing Assembly elections. Meeting in Ramayan Sabhagaar after a membership campaign that evoked tremendous response from the rural poor, they felt inspired and confident.
Everybody was all praise for the comrades of Bhojpur who displayed exemplary tenacity in making the conference memorable in every conceivable way. One could not help remember Comrade Vinod Mishra’s prophetic tribute to the forward post of Indian revolution since the mid-1970s: “All the precious blood of our heroic martyrs spilled over the fields and factories, hamlets and lanes, torture chambers and prison cells all over the country rose high in the sky and there appeared a red glow over Bhojpur. And as subsequent years have proved, the glow was not that of a meteor, but of a star, a red star that has come here to stay and shine”(Introduction to Report From the Flaming Fields of Bihar).
Following the trail blazed by Bhojpur and Bihar, the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat of India have already embarked on a higher course of political assertion against the powers that be. The conference only symbolised this. It is in this context of partly spontaneous class awakening that the Party’s concious role assumes special significance and holds out a great future. The first conference of AIALA will surely go down in the history of our movement as a great breakthrough.
|Ramnaresh Ram||President||Swadesh Bhattacharya||Vice-President||Kshitish Biswal||Vice-President||Pawan Sharma||Vice-President||Krishna Adhikari||Vice-President||S. Balasundaram||Vice-President||Rameshwar Prasad||General Secretary||Bangar Rao||Secretary||Janardan Prasad||Secretary||Rabi Kumar Phangcho||Secretary||Srikant Rana||Secretary||Kunti Devi||Secretary||Sanjay Sharma||Secretary|
W E ARE NEARING THE END of a highly inspiring all-India conference, a milestone in the history of the agricultural labour movement in the country. While extending my revolutionary greetings to all of you who have worked so tirelessly to win this success for the Party, I would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to a few points.
We wanted KHEMAS (Khet Mazdoor Sabha) to become FAMOUS. We have made a good beginning in this respect. It is particularly true for Bhojpur where this conference is being held. Not just agricultural labourers themselves, but all democratic forces and sections of the people in the district have extended their best wishes and cooperation to this effort. Organising agricultural and rural labourers and unleashing their initiative and struggles figures on top of the Party’s agenda in most states and districts. For those states where no serious beginning has been made till date, this conference should provide the necessary impetus. While Khemas has become famous in our Party circle – the nearly 1.5 million members recruited are mostly from areas and people already under the Party’s influence – we now have to move towards making it truly famous in the class whose organisation it is. Let Khemas, or AIALA if you will, become the biggest primary class organisation of agricultural labourers in the country.
Our aim is to unleash the class initiative of agricultural labourers and organise them as an independent class force. To do this AIALA itself will have to display exemplary initiative and independence. Party will of course be there to assist and guide in every possible way, but we must keep it in mind from the inception that the organisation’s own efforts, initiative and role are crucial in ensuring its rapid growth and wider expansion. For Party committees in rural areas, Khemas will always be a key agenda and there need not be any doubt or worry on that score. But at the end of the day, the growth of a mass organisation depends on its own dynamism and initiative, and Khemas must take up this challenge in all earnest. Similarly, it is our demand that agricultural labourers should get employment throughout a year. But as far as AIALA is concerned, there is no scope for any unemployment. AIALA must work round the year, always and everywhere, no matter whether the season is busy or lean.
The launching of AIALA from this founding conference with a one-million plus membership marks the fulfilment of an important task determined by the Party’s Seventh Congress held at Patna last November. We had fixed one million as our minimum membership target. There is nothing magical about this one million figure. Yet we insisted on a minmum number to begin with, because without a minimum numerical strength it does not really make sense to talk about a class, least of a class which is the biggest in India, whose size runs into hundreds of millions. To organise agricultural labourers as an all-India class we must therefore get prepared to think and work in terms of millions and tens of millions. In areas where we have not yet reached the stage of lakhs, we must break the barrier of hundreds to enter the realm of thousands and tens of thousands. While we communists look at agricultural labourers as a growing class and try to organise them on as big a scale as possible, the bourgeois-landlord government treats them at most as a motley crowd of disparate groups to be reached through small self-help groups and sundry decentralised schemes. A major reason why the central and state governments continue to dismiss the demand for separate central or state-level legislation for agricultural labourers is that such a legislation would amount to a legal recognition of agricultural labour as a class and would provide further impetus to their organising as a class.
This difference between the proletarian revolutionary or communist approach and the bourgeois approach towards the agricultural labour question becomes most pronounced with regard to the question of land reforms. For us the question of land reforms is essentially a question of restructuring the existing land relations. Land is an important means of production, land relation is an important component of production relations and consequently also the relations of power. Ending land concentration, i.e., the concentrated control of a small section over the bulk of cultivable land, is therefore central to any democratisation of the rural society. For the bourgeois-landlord state, land reform is just a means to facilitate the transition from feudal concentration to capitalist concentration. Hence the growing official emphasis on exempting various categories of land from any ceiling restriction, upward revision of ceiling or corporatisation of farming, measures that are generally described as reversal of land reforms. Comrades have rightly pointed out that we must resist this attempt head-on and while the government talks of relaxing and waiving the ceiling, we must insist on lowering the ceiling to 5 acres.
Even during the earlier period of land reforms, the point of departure was to distribute some land among the landless through ‘bhoodan’ or redistribution of ceiling-surplus land. The total land redistributed in this manner is a very small fraction of the total cultivable land. And the cases of people either not having entitlement documents to the small plots held by them or, more commonly, people having land only on papers without any control or access whatsoever on the ground, are legion in every state.
Now, of course, there is less and less talk about land reforms, and even the method advocated for land reform is undergoing a distinct change, from intervention by the state to that of the market. The new buzzword is land rights, right to hold small plots of land within a skewed pattern of land distribution. From reforming the overall or ‘macro’ pattern the focus has shifted to ensuring individual ‘rights’, a micro-level arrangement that does not challenge, and let alone change, the macro-level picture. On the face of it, land rights or bhoo-adhikar sounds quite a step forward from the discourse revolving around bhoodan. But a closer look would reveal that the emphasis is clearly on prmoting the land market, facilitating sale and purchase of land and thus encouraging a new kind of land concentration. Without a radical shift in the rural economy and in agrarian policies, people cannot effectively hold on to their small plots of land for a long time, and for small holders the right to hold land is bound to give way to the right to sell while the large holders will exercis etheir right to buy.
The communist vision of revolutionary land reforms aims at transferring effective control over land to the real producers and thus unleashing the fullest potential of productive forces and increasing productivity. And land means not just land, but also all those resources without which land cannot be put to its most productive use. So our fight for land reform goes hand in hand with the fight for provision of cheap credit, cheap inputs, guranteed procurement and extensive public distribution.
For effective elimination of absentee landlordism and all non-productive intermediaries, land nationalisation can also be contemplated. The idea of land nationalisation is however widely misunderstood and it is sought to be portrayed as a dangerous move to impoverish the peasantry and snatch away whatever they have. But imagine a worker-peasant state taking over all large holdings, and transferring effective control to real producers through various modes of collective or cooperative farming. That is the way to bring about a dramatic transformation of the rural economy and the rural relations of production and power.
In India we still have an extensive small peasant economy. Small-scale farming continues to occupy a key place in Indian agriculture. But small farmers have been hit hard by the new policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation and the opening up of the entire agricultural market. How long can small farmers hold out against the powerful onslaught of big capiatl? While standing by the middle peasants and small farmers in their hour of crisis, we must understand that the real answer to the current offensive of big capital lies only in revolutionary land reforms and promotion of various modes of mutual cooperation and collective farming.
Land question apart, we have also discussed the question of rural development and employment-generation schemes. Successive governments have been busy deceiving the people by endlessly renaming and recycling the same old schemes with small changes here and there. The hollowness of these schemes is best exposed by the growing incidence of starvation, suicides and acute agrarian crisis. But the fact remains that considerable amount of capital is being injected into the countryside, but it is being systematically looted and siphoned off by powerful vested interests and networks of middlemen. The rural poor have to wage a major fight on this question. From demanding information and accountability through effective intervention in matters of implementation to having effective say in the designing of these schemes and in the formulation of concerned policies and allocation of resources, the arena of struggle is indeed quite large. The panchayat-level units of AIALA must play an energetic and pro-active role on these issues as well.
We are not the only force trying to organise the agricultural labour. Many other currents and forces are also active in this field. And they are not all paper organisations. Many are real organisations with impressive pockets of work and influence. But there is a crucial difference. Most of these organisatons have a reformist trade union or NGO orientation. They organise agricultural labour as a weaker section without any political say, whereas we want to organise agricultural labour as a class capable of providing alternative social and political leadership to the rural society, as a powerful force in national politics, a rallying centre for the forces of transformation and democracy. Agricultural labourers must stretch out both their hands – one hand joining other segments of the working class engaged in the non-agricultural economy, and the other reaching out to poor and middle peasants, small farmers who can be mobilised against the common enemy.
Some comrade has suggested that local office-bearers of the agricultural labour organisation should all be compulsorily of dalit origin. It is one thing to insist that the fight against social oppression and for social dignity must be a key component of the AIALA agenda, as decided by the conference, and quite another to reduce AIALA to a dalit forum. It is true that the overwhelming majority of dalits in this country are landless labourers. But is it not also equally true that more and more people from a whole range of extreme and other backward castes and occasionally even from upper castes are joining the ranks of agricultural labour. As emerging leaders of the rural society, should not agricultural labourers welcome people from all caste backgrounds to their ranks? This is how life irons out caste prejudices, this is history’s way to end caste oppression.
The founding conference of the All India Agrarian Labour Association saw agrarian labourers and activists from states and regions across India, coming together to share their experiences and assert their unity and solidarity as a class. During the delegate session of the Conference, Liberation met leading activists from some of the areas of struggle, to discuss the range of their experience in some depth.
C OMRADE MOHAN (Sahar, Bhojpur) told us of the different phases of the movements of the rural poor, as well as about some of the recent struggles. He said that at the time when the CPI(ML) first began to organise agrarian labourers, the most immediate issue was the humiliation and exploitation of the landless and poor peasantry (mostly of dalit and extremely backward castes) by the dominant feudal forces. So to begin with, it was a struggle for social dignity and rights. But as agrarian labourers began to organise, resist, and emerge as a political force, the movement sharpened into a political struggle between two classes. In the ’90s, the assaults by the Ranveer Sena were aimed precisely at demolishing the growing assertion of agrarian labour as a class. He described how the ‘tolas’ of the labourers in Belaur would be surrounded and attacked for days on end by the armed Ranveer Sena, while the rural poor had to wage a virtual war to defend their ‘tola’ and their lives. But now, he observed a change. For one, the agrarian labourers now command respect and dignity, due to their political identity. For the other, only a very stubborn section among the upper castes, now actively participates in the Ranveer Sena. There is no active support for the Ranvir Sena from the social base which it could once mobilise actively in its feudal assaults.
Now, fresh struggles for wages and land have sharpened. He said that in Banauti village, a struggle for increased wages went on between 2001 and 2002. Faced with united assaults by Ranveer Sena and RJD, the struggle was a militant one, but it was eventually successful.
In Andhari village (which falls in the same area as Bathani Tola, where the Ranveer Sena massacre took place in 1996), many acres of ‘math’ land were in the control of landlords. When rural poor staked a claim to it and captured this land, the police came out in defence of the landlords. But our organisation could resist the police successfully.
In Barhu, there was a tract of unclaimed (navald) land that we had once captured but had lost to the Ranveer Sena in an earlier phase. In 2001, after some initial hesitation, our organisation boldly decided to renew the struggle for that land. Here, too, we faced police repression, which we resisted successfully.
We spoke to Comrade Shambhu about the struggles in West Champaran. He said that in that district agrarian labourers (mostly dalit and adivasi) are ranged against the powerful feudal forces, locally known as “Sardar”, “Darbar”, or “state’ (for instance, the Ramnagar Raj, Dumariya Raj etc…). These “Sardars” not only own the bulk of the land, they also have a hold over every seat of political power, from zilla parishad to MLA to MP. Here, our movement targetted the medieval ‘hatai’ system of wage-payment in kind, spearheading a struggle for abolition of ‘hatai’ and payment of minimum wages. In this struggle, four of our comrades – Mahendra Majhi, Maharaj Diswa, Mukhlal Mahto and Mohan Paswan, were killed.
Another issue, pertaining especially to women labourers, is that of the rights over forests and hills. There is a high rate of migration among men, and women left behind suffer from severe unemployment, and are often on the edge of starvation. The stranglehold of ‘Sardars’ over forest/hill land prevented these women from eking out survival from these resources. Now, due to our movement, 60% of the forest land is free from feudal stranglehold. We waged struggles against criminals patronised by the ‘Sardars’, against feudal organisations like the Ranveer Sena, and more recently, the kisan Sangh dominated by the BJP leaders who are also estate owners. The RamRahim Sena, now defunct, used to whip up communal violence too.
Sometime back, we also exposed and struggled against the Red Card scam by RJD minister Puranmasi Ram. We have enrolled 43,000 members in the Khet Mazdoor Sabha in this district, a large part of whom are women.
Comrade Tirupati Gomango discussed the experience of building up agrarian labourers’ movement in Rayagada (Orissa). In that district, agrarian labourers constitute 75% of the population, and they are almost totally landless. Most of these are adivasis, while some are dalits. A good section of these labourers do the backbreaking work of building houses etc…in the hills, while others work in fields. There is also some migration. The central issue here is that of redistribution of ceiling surplus and ‘math’ land, and the demand for a classification change of forest lands so as to allow the tribal labourers the right to the forests. Also, of course, other pressing demands are for developmental necessities like roads, electricity, water and tanks. Struggles are also waged for rights under the Indira Awas Yojana or the BPL card scheme.
Comrade Tirupati Gomango and two other activists were arrested in July 2002, and remained in jail for months together, facing false charges of dacoity and murder. There were several mass protests and gheraos against their arrest. Finally, they were released in January 2003, following a wave of protests including a 3000-strong gherao of the block office in Gudari block.
Comrade Gomango spoke of our experiences with land struggles in several villages of Ramnaguda and Padampur blocks, where we have captured and defended ceiling surplus and ‘math’ lands. It is widely acknowledged that the PWG here has failed in land struggles, because its ‘land struggles’ are limited only to harvesting the crops of landlords. There is no protracted mass struggle on PWG’s part, to capture, defend or redistribute land.
We also also spoke to Comrade Murlikrishna of Guntur district, a popular leader who was formerly with the PWG and has now joined CPI(ML). He told us that Guntur suffers from water scarcity and drought. Commercial crops – tobacco, cotton, chilli – are grown here, and agrarian labourers, mostly of dalit and very backward castes, work on the fields. Only two communities monopolise political power – the Kammas and Reddys, who also own most land. There is tremendous social discrimination, and the landed communities have also grabbed endowment (temple) lands which are meant to be redistributed.
Comrade Murlikrishna said that the PWG is unable to carry out sustained land struggles, for lack of popular, mass participation. Organising the masses of agrarian labourers and unleashing their initiative is just not on the PWG’s agenda. With its arrival, CPI(ML) has begun to wage struggles for temple lands in 3 villages, and it has evoked a very good response. As of now, Guntur’s huge army of agrarian labourers remains largely unorganised. There is very high potential here for the AIALA – and building a powerful movement is the challenge we have taken up.
The founding conference of AIALA and the ‘Mazdoor-Kisan Ekta Rally’ with which the conference began evoked warm enthusiastic response from the rural poor all over the district. The people of Ara town and large sections of the middle peasantry too extended their unstinted coopeartion. The only people who were left sulking were the Ranvir Sena. Of course the sena did not dare disturb the preparatory work of the conference. In Ara, they burnt down a hoarding only to be snubbed by cross-sections of the town’s residents. They tried to vent their ire in neighbouring Jahanabad district by killing Comrade Manju, but that too only fetched them unprecedented condemnation. Faced with this wrath of the people they did not initially dare own responsibility for the killing, but eventually they did try to ‘justify’ the dastardly act.
In Bhojpur, it was interesting to watch the Rashtravadi Kisan Sangh, a frontal organisation of the sena, hold a ‘Kisan Chetna Rally’ on the same ground at Ara on November 17. Some 3,000 people were mobilised from all over central Bihar, but more than the crisis facing Indian agriculture, the rally talked more about the so-called threats to Indian culture and echoed all the familiar Sangh Parivar demands. The manifesto of the Kisan Sangh (called ‘dharmyudh kee ghoshna’ or the declaration of a crusade) released on this occasion demanded, among other things, introduction of Presidential system of government, abolition of Article 370, enactment of uniform civil code, ban on cow-slaughter, abolition of caste-based reservation, regularisation of all land held in the name of temples and temple-trusts, protection of ‘undivided Hindu joint family’ as the cornerstone of Indian culture and deportation of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ‘infiltrators’.
Spokesmen of the Kisan Sangh were particularly aghast with the CPI(ML) for inventing ‘mazdoors’ out of ‘kisans’! Anybody having anything to do with agriculture is a ‘kisan’ according to them. Would they first tell the world how many hundreds of kisans they have killed over the last few years?