The Road From Ekwari

Seventy or more children of varying sizes from Siri tola rushed down the lane towards the ML party office, a few days before the April 20 election in Arrah constituency, jumping up and down with excitement. They were vigorously raising slogans in favour of the CPI-ML candidate and their sudden arrival took everyone by surprise. Between 6 and 16 years of age, they were many years away from being granted voting rights. Yet, they insisted about campaigning for Comrade Ram Naresh Ram and had come prepared with red flags with three stars, without any prompting from any adult.

In Bhojpur, 35 years after the origin of the movement of the agrarian poor for dignity, wage and political power, even children discuss politics and have their positions worked out. And since the CPI-ML candidate for the 2004 Lok Sabha Elections was one of the architects of the movement himself, the enthusiasm was unbridled. The resurgence of the Naxalite movement in Bhojpur changed the story of the oppression of the poor to a story of assertion and people respectfully mentioned the names of Comrade Ram Naresh Ram, Rameshwar Ahir, Jagdish Master and of countless other party activists who lived and died for the movement.

In different parts of the town and in the villages, amongst the rural and urban poor, the minority areas and amongst exasperated professionals, there was an intense hope that the outcome of the 2004 elections would reflect a change in the state of affairs in Bhojpur, Bihar and the country. Even when the party activists were busy in organising the rural peasantry and the agararian labourers, who form the backbone of our movement, offers to campaign for CPI(ML) came from unexpected quarters. Those who came to do their bit included veteran communists from the official left embarrassed about their own party’s position of not supporting the only left candidate in the constituency. It was clear that in Arrah it was “Aar ya par” i.e. this way or that. You could be with CPI(ML) or against it.

Those who were with the ruling parties arrived by choppers, for their brief appearances, while others traversed on what must have been roads at some point in history. Jeeps, carts, cycles and other vehicles pulled themselves painfully over stretches of rubble and mud that the government claimed were roads. To draw the government’s attention to them, RYA activists in an earlier campaign within Arrah town had transplanted seedlings on these “roads” and declared it fit for agriculture, since anyway it is so hard to distinguish them from the fields.

Apart from the campaign cassette and cultural team from Patna, local sympathisers also developed their own cassettes with compositions requesting people to standby CPI(ML). Often the ML campaign caravan would be stopped to accommodate a local talent. In Saraiya Bazar, it was a young boy who requested to be heard. He hopped into the jeep, took over the mike and rendered a song that he had written asking people to support Comrade Ram Naresh Ram.

The public gatherings often were an extension of one of the songs, which said, “Aye bhaiya uthalaba lalki lahriya” or ‘Hey brother the red wave is rising’, particularly when the caravan moved into Sahar, the assembly seat that Comrade Ram Naresh Ram represented. Even in Sandesh and Tarari blocks as the caravan criss-crossed golden wheat and gram fields by the river Sone, the red wave indeed appeared to be rising. Flying red flags of the jeeps were met by fluttering red flags on huts, houses, shops, cycles, hands of old people, young people, children, women , men … everyone. And memorials of the heroes of the peasant struggle at every other turn reminded how the red wave was created in these areas. Each memorial, reflecting the unrelenting struggle of the poor for dignity and against feudal-state terror.

Struggle has changed many things in Bhojpur and overcoming fear has been one of the achievements. Women came in large numbers in Tarari, many of them had swum through a canal to get to the meeting. They were women from villages like Kurti, who had put up a fearless fight against the private feudal armies. One of the groups that arrived for a meeting at Sandesh Bazar, wore red paper caps, especially made at home for the “sabha”. They had walked barefoot for several kilometers and arrived with a band playing Bhojpuri folk songs. Two of the boys in the group had danced all the way to the meeting. In a madarsa at Sahar, the teachers and students had gone out of the way to cook special dishes for the campaigners. In Tarari, the meeting began with drums beats and sounds of the bigul (trumpet).

The festivity was celebratory and determined. These were areas, where the dalit and the poor could not sit on a cot in their own houses, where they could not clap their hands and sing for their own joy, where they could not look up at the landlord. The excitement of becoming a political force of their own was hard to hide and indicated the long way traversed.

In parts of Bhojpur, performing a street play by the peasants and communists could lead to arrests and torture, following the case of Sakla Bazar in the 1980s, where peasants, angered by the depiction of exploitation in the play had organised themselves against the landlords. With the growing assertion and organization of the poor, street plays could be held once more. And the election meetings began with the play Karwan Urf Feel Good and the audience responded cheerfully to the characters representing their politics.

In Ekwari, the village that became the seed of the Naxalite movement in Bhojpur and Bihar, Holi was celebrated together by the poor of all castes this year. The supposedly ‘high’ and ‘low’castes united by their emerging class bonding, reaffirmed the fact that unity emerges only when there is no oppression, when there is no humiliation and when people begin to strive towards common goals of defeating the true enemies of the people. But during elections, fresh efforts were on to foment trouble in Ekwari with a shooting incident. The road from Ekwari has not been easy.

In the town, the wall writing of the first all India conference of AIALA are still visible and residents recollect visions of a sea of people with red flags swirling through the town in a renewed assertion of the agricultural poor in November 2003. The contest for minimum wage at many places has been won through unyielding struggle but even today no national policy exists for agricultural labourers. Feudal oppression and caste hatred, as it used to exist have to some extent given away under the growing organization of the poor. And the communist revolutionaries living and spending their lives amongst the rural poor have changed the way they lead their lives but it is not as if the battle for political assertion is easy, nor will elections be a cake walk. Political power is something that the ruling class is defiant about conceding to the poor. The hurdles are many and in many parts of Bhojpur, the old struggles continue within new contexts. q