Rural Poor Turn Out in Massive CPI(ML) Rally at Patna
Even as Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s much-hyped ‘Seva Yatras’ were proving to be a flop show, thousands of peasants, labourers and other sections of the rural poor turned out in CPI(ML)’s Rally at Gandhi Maidan, Patna on November 21.
The “Bhrastachar Mitao-Loktantra Bachao” (Wipe Out Corruption - Save Democracy) Rally pointed out that corporate loot of land and resources was by far the most pervasive form of corruption. The participation of rural poor in the Rally in large numbers testified to the rejection of the Nitish Government’s claims of fighting corruption or empowering the poor and oppressed. It was widely recognized, even by the media which has largely been cosy with Nitish hitherto, that this was the largest rally in Bihar against the Nitish-led NDA Government.
The rally was addressed by Comrades Dipankar Bhattacharya (General Secretary of the party), Arun Ghatani (CPRM Darjeeling), Mangat Ram Pasla (CPM Punjab), Rajaram Singh (CPIML’s CCM and General Secretary of the All India Kisan Mahasabha), Meena Tiwari (Party’s CCM and General Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association), Rameshwar Prasad (Party’s CCM and President of the All India Agricultural Labourers’ Association), KD Yadav (Party’s CCM and Bihar State President of the AIKM), Arun Singh (member of Party’s State Standing Committee), Mahbub Alam (Party’s State Committee member) and Satyadeo Ram (Party’s SCM and Bihar State President of AIALA). Comrade Rameshwar Prasad conducted the proceedings of the rally and public meeting. Also present on the dais were several senior-most leaders of CPI(ML), including- Comrades Swadesh Bhattacharya, Ramji Rai, DP Bakshi, Kartik Pal, Ram Jatan Sharma, Amar (all Politburo members), Dhirendra Jha (AIALA’s General Secretary and Party’s CCM), Brij Bihari Pandey, Kunal and Saroj Chaubey (Party CCMs). Apart from them State leaders of mass organisations were also present.
Addressing the rally, the CPI(ML) General Secretary called for a powerful movement to ensure a Lokpal Bill that brought everyone from patwari to PM, corporates and judiciary, under its ambit. However, he said, a law, however comprehensive, was far from enough to get rid of corruption. Economic policies responsible for handing over land and resources to corporate control must be reversed to root out corruption. Comrade Dipankar said that the Lokayukta law that the Nitish Government was eyewash, in which selection and investigation would all remain in Government control. Calling for CBI enquiries into AC-DC Bill scam, BIADA land scam and Forbesganj police firing, he said that a empowered, people’s Lokayukta was needed in Bihar and not a sarkari one.
Towards its conclusion the rally passed a seven-point resolution that was proposed by AISA leader Abhyuday. One of the key resolutions called for block-level demonstrations and gheraos on December 15 on burning issues of the rural poor.
4th National Conference of AIALA at Patna
The 4th National Conference of AIALA took place at Patna on 22 November 2011, with the central slogan ‘Against Hunger, Corruption, Repression; For Land, Livelihood, Social Security and Dignity!’ The Conference venue was named after Comrade Ram Naresh Ram, and the streets of Patna (rechristened Baba Nagarjun Nagar on the occasion), were decorated with welcome arches and red flags.
The Conference began with the hoisting of the red flag and homage to the martyrs. Hirawal, Comrade Ramashankar Nirmohi and Babuni, and cultural activists from Karnataka presented rousing revolutionary songs. Comrade Rameshwar Prasad, National President of AIALA, gave the welcome address.
On the dais were Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML), Arun Ghatani of Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM), Rajaram Singh, GS, AIKM, and Meena Tiwari, GS, AIPWA. The Conference was inaugurated by Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya.
Comrade Dhirendra Jha, the outgoing GS of AIALA, presented the Conference report, which was discussed by delegates. 1388 delegates from 15 states – participated in the Conference.
The Conference discussed the issues and challenges before the task of organizing agricultural workers and resolved to intensify the movement of rural poor against corruption, land grab, and for their rights.
The Conference rejected the Draft Food Security Bill proposed by the Government as a mockery, since it is a far cry from guaranteeing food security and in fact proposes replacing rations with cash, and resolved to build a countrywide struggle of rural poor demanding universalisation of PDS and guarantee of 50 kg of food grain as well as pulses, vegetables, milk, oil and other essentials as subsidized rations. The Conference condemned the fact that the Government had yet to withdraw the infamous ‘Rs.26-Rs.32’ poverty line. The Government had merely said that some above this line would also be entitled to food rations. The Conference instead demanded that the vast majority of the population excluding the unquestionably rich, be included in the BPL list – with automatic inclusion of all agricultural workers, landless, sharecroppers, marginal farmers, contract and honorarium workers. The Conference demanded provision of subsidized food rations as well as all other social welfare benefits to this BPL section of people. The Conference demanded that the questionnaire for BPL census be prepared with consultation with agricultural workers’ organizations and trade unions. The Conference announced a countrywide campaign with the slogan – ‘Awaken the Poor: Let No Poor Be Left Out, And No Rich Find a Place in the BPL List’.
On the question of corruption in MNREGA and other rural welfare schemes, and well as inclusion of all the poor in the BPL list, the Conference announced a countrywide protest at block HQs on 15 December. In Bihar, the AIALA would gherao the block HQs on this question.
The Conference rejected the LARR (Land Acquisition) Bill proposed by the Government, terming it a document to legalise land grab. The Conference instead demanded protection of all agricultural, forest and coastal land. The Conference also demanded land reform laws to ensure the rights of sharecroppers, as well as shelter rights and 10 decimals of homestead land to each agricultural labourer.
The Conference demanded a comprehensive legislation for the welfare and rights of agricultural labourers. Noting the callousness of state and central Governments towards rural healthcare (especially the instance of the encephalitis epidemic in Uttar Pradesh and high maternal mortality all over India), the Conference demanded comprehensive rural healthcare as a priority.
Addressing the Conference, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya said that legacy of Comrade Ram Naresh Ram would inspire the struggles of rural workers and poor even though he is no longer with us. Agricultural workers, he said, are not just struggling for their own rights; their struggle is in fact to save agriculture, save the country. He cited the instance of the Kaun Banega Crorepati winner from Bihar being declared the brand ambassador of MNREGA, saying that in doing so, the Government has unwittingly revealed the truth – that MNREGA, far from being a job guarantee, is in fact a lottery. He said that MNREGA should, in fact, provide jobs round the year, for at least 300 days a year, and the MNREGA wage should not be less than Rs 300 a day. There is merit in the argument that MNREGA be extended to agriculture, so that it can contribute to combating the agricultural crisis.
He called for land reforms, housing rights, as well as education and health rights for rural poor. He said that AIALA needs to develop continuity as an organization that works round the year to give shape to the aspirations and struggles of rural poor. The initiative of rural labour activists in the villages needs to be unleashed. Even while fighting for small issues, he said, we should be inspired by big dreams and revolutionary vision, striving to make those dreams of a bigger, stronger AIALA and more vibrant struggles for a new society and politics, a reality.
The Conference unanimously adopted the report after Comrade Dhirendra’s summing up of the debates. A 175-member national council was elected with a 47-member executive, and Comrades Rameshwar Prasad and Dhirendra Jha were reelected National President and General Secretary respectively.
Guarantee Land Reforms and Land Rights,
Extend MNREGA to Agriculture, Stop Rural Loot
(excerpts from Comrade Dipankar’s concluding address at the 4th National Conference of AIALA in Patna on 22 November 2011)
Land Reforms and Land Rights :
As far as land is concerned, the government now only talks of land acquisition and land market. Peasant organizations have rightly rejected this policy and called for protection of agricultural land as well as forest and coastal land from corporate invasion or state-led acquisition of such land in corporate or commercial interest. The agricultural labour movement in the country must also come out boldly against the state-corporate drive for land acquisition and insist on land reforms and land rights.
Today governments of various hues are not only abandoning land reforms but are also systematically trying to rob the rural poor of whatever gains they have made through years of struggle. The new TMC government of West Bengal has even termed the agricultural labour or poor peasant or tenant a land robber – it calls the rural poor’s hold on land achieved through years of struggle an act of land robbery! We must resist and defeat this eviction drive and move forward to force these governments to carry out land reforms and guarantee the land and shelter rights of the landless rural poor. The fight for homestead land has already started gathering momentum in many states and we must intensify this battle.
Improve MNREGA, Extend it to Agriculture:
The MNREGA has been the UPA government’s biggest talking point in recent years. Ground reports from almost all states however continue to confirm that the Act has made very little difference to the rural employment scene. Reports of all kinds of irregularities abound and rural labourers are often denied their due wages, and delayed payment of wages has become the normal practice. Now by making the KBC winner from Bihar the brand ambassador for MNREGA, the UPA government has also inadvertently revealed the true nature of the Act. The message has gone out that MNREGA too is more a case of chance like the Kaun Banega Krorepati game show where a fortunate few can gain something, and it does not provide effective guarantee of an assured right.
This conference has rightly demanded improved MNREGA terms – more workdays, better wages, prompt payment. A concerted move is underway to truncate and even scuttle the Act. We must resist this move and fight for expansion of MNREGA schemes. It is time MNREGA is also extended to agriculture. At a time when the small and marginal farmers have been hit hard by the agrarian crisis, and agricultural employment and wages are also adversely affected, extension of MNREGA to agriculture could provide some relief to the crisis-ridden peasantry and also bolster agricultural employment and wages.
Rural Labour in the Battle against Rural Loot:
Corruption has emerged as a major concern for the whole country and the rural poor are its worst victims. The mega corporate scams and huge corporate exemptions devour up funds that could be allocated for rural development while the corrupt system entrenched in blocks and panchayats claims the lion’s share of funds flowing through the panchayats. Mega corruption and mass pauperization go hand in hand. This is why the battle against loot and corruption must be treated as a key task for the agricultural labour movement in the country. It is important to force the government to enact strong anti-corruption legislation, but we must carry the anti-corruption battle beyond the limited agenda of Lokpal and Lokayuktas to the point of reversal of pro-corporate policies and overthrow of the anti-people nexus that retards and obstructs any real rural development.
AIALA has now spread to nearly twenty states. It has developed a two million-strong steady membership base. But the real strength of AIALA will always lie in its ability to develop a vibrant organizational network at panchayat level that can subject the panchayats to mass supervision and intervention, and wage determined struggles against the forces of loot and oppression. May this 4th National Conference of AIALA mark an important milestone in this cherished direction.
Agricultural Workers Hold Demos and Gheraos at Block HQs Countrywide
In keeping with the call given by the ‘Combat Corruption, Save Democracy’ Rally and the AIALA National Conference, the AIALA held militant demonstrations at the block-level all over the country, and gheraos of block headquarters in Bihar, in which tens of thousands of agricultural workers participated.
The demands raised in the agitation included – an end to the Rs 26-Rs32 type ‘poverty lines’; automatic inclusion of all agricultural workers, landless, sharecroppers, marginal farmers, contract and honorarium workers in the BPL category; passage of a genuine food security bill that ensures universalisation of PDS and guarantee of 50 kg of food grain as well as pulses, vegetables, milk, oil and other essentials as subsidized rations; 200 days of work at Rs.300 per day; recognition and security of sharecroppers; implementation of land reforms; and an end to the grab or diversion of agricultural and homestead land. In addition, in Bihar, the agricultural workers protested against Nitish Kumar’s betrayal of his announcement of BPL cards and rations to 1.5 crore poor families; 3 decimals of land to all landless and an end to eviction of sharecroppers and landless; and demanding an enquiry into the rampant corruption and loot in social welfare schemes and BIADA land scam.
In Odisha, around 3000 workers participated in demonstrations at block HQs at Rayagada, Muniguda, Padampur, Gunupur,Kalayansinghpur, Bissamcuttack and other blocks. In UP, hundreds participated in militant demonstrations in 35 blocks in 12 districts including Ballia, Maharajganj, Sonebhadra, Banaras, Bhadohi, Sitapur,Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, and Jalaun. Good block-level demonstrations were held in districts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, as well as Jharkhand, Bengal, Assam.
In Bihar, militant gheraos were held in spite of the bitterly cold weather, in 205 blocks and 12 sub-division HQs all over the state. At scores of blocks, the workers locked the HQs, and prevented officials from entering. In the course of these protests, tens of thousands of memorandums demanding homestead plots were submitted, and demanding papers under the 1948 PP Act for land which people had occupied for years. In Bihar, there are around 18 lakh families settled on gair mazarua and government land, who are yet to get their papers for homestead land, as a result of which they are deprived of benefits of the Indira Awas Yojana.
Workers who participated in the December 15 demonstration at the remote eastern block of Darbhanga, Kusheshwar, had earlier been associated with the JD(U) Mahadalit Wing, but on December 18, participated en masse in the party’s cadre convention and filled up party membership forms publicly.
In Bhojpur, homestead land remained a central issue, and demonstrations were held at 16 blocks. 5000 agricultural labourers participated in the protest at Jagdishpur. There was good participation at Koelwar, Bihiya and Shahpur, as well as other blocks. Militant demonstrations and gheraos also took place at Buxar, Kaimur, Patna rural, Jehenabad, Arwal, Gaya, Nalanda, Aurangabad, and Nawada districts. Militant protests took place at most distrocts of East Bihar – Begusarai, Khagaria, Araria, Purnea, Supaul, Saharsa etc. In North Bihar too, demonstrations took place at most districts, including 12 blocks of Siwan, 15 blocks of Darbhanga, 12 blocks of Samastipur, Bagha in Champaran, nine blocks of West Champaran and five blocks of East Champaran, as well as Sitamarhi, and Madhubani.
Observing the December 15 call, the Mumbai-Thane unit of the party held a procession of 300 adivasi workers of several villages near Bohisar to Palghar. The workers, protesting against the lack of water and electricity, corruption in MNREGA and rationing system, marched from the Tarapur crossing to Bohisar railway station, where they took a train to Palghar. From Palghar station they marched to the tehsildar office where they held a protest meeting and submitted a memorandum with their demands. The meeting was addressed by leaders from the respective villages, and by CPI(ML) leaders Comrade Dhiraj Rathor and Shyam Gohil.