Bihar Polls: Towards a Powerful Left Assertion

As we go to press, the Supreme Court has cast a certain uncertainty on the Bihar polls. Following the earlier verdict of a hung assembly, the bourgeois parties – including those ousted from power as well as those hoping to taste power – blamed the people of Bihar for having thrust fresh elections on the State. In fact, the electorate of Bihar ought to be congratulated for its mature verdict – decisively rejecting the RJD, keeping the NDA at bay, and encouraging the third forces like the CPI(ML). For the people of Bihar , President’s Rule in Bihar proved to be a continuation of their struggles against crime, corruption, hunger and state repression. The impending polls, rather than being a burden, are an opportunity – a continuation of the same struggles.

The Question of a ‘Third Front’

The debate surrounding the formation of a Third Front was one of the central features of the run-up to the fresh elections in Bihar . Within Left ranks – not just the CPI(ML) which emerged as the largest Left force in the last polls, but inside the CPI too – the aspiration for a Left unity was strong. The disastrous consequences of a continued alliance with Laloo was quite clear, and though the CPI(M) refused to entertain any possibility of breaking with the Congress-RJD combine, the urge for a third alternative could no longer be suppressed within the ranks of the CPI. The CPI(ML) maintained all along that any Third Force could not be a mere remake of the UPA-model with a slightly different cast; a meaningful and effective Third Camp could only be forged with a resurgent Left at its centre. The ‘no RJD, no NDA’ formula favoured by the likes of Ram Vilas Paswan was nothing but a convenient political sleight of hand; a third front would also have to explicitly reject any alignment with the Congress which backed the RJD totally.

The joint statement signed by the CPI and CPI(ML) on September 4 had expressed the shared opinion that the LJP should sever its ties with the Congress and should join hands with the Left - an opinion that subsequent events have proved accurate. For all Ram Vilas Paswan’s bluff of independence from the Congress, it is now clear that he is willing to go with a ‘Third Front’ only as long it remained within the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ drawn by the Congress; any alignment with the CPI(ML) would have meant having to cross that line. In his latest statement, Paswan has ruled out ties with the CPI(ML) and the SP, terming them as ‘anti-Congress parties’! He has further clarified his imperatives (and has inadvertently done the service of vindicating the CPI(ML)’s own stance) by declaring that the CPI(ML) is too ‘radical’ a party, and an alliance with it could drive potential LJP voters (read feudal forces) away.

The CPI and CPI(ML) had gradually come closer to a common perspective and an alliance through a process that began soon after the last elections, which had compelled a rethinking on the alliance with the RJD and spurred an urge for Left unity within CPI ranks. The CPI invited the CPI(ML) to its State Conference at Madhubani, and at that Conference, the Bihar State Unit of CPI took a decision to reject an alliance with the RJD. Subsequently, we witnessed a series of united political initiatives – the high point of which was the Bihar Bandh of 24 August – which unleashed the energies of enthusiastic Left unity and raised expectations of a powerful united Left assertion in the immediate polls as well as on the wider political horizon of Bihar .

Folllowing the Bihar Bandh, the CPI and CPI(ML), through an extensive process of dialogue, arrived at a shared political perspective that was to be a sound basis for electoral unity. This perspective was a firm rejection of both the BJP-JD(U) combine as well as the Congress-RJD combine, and the agenda of forging a Third Front with the CPI-CPI(ML) playing a pivotal role. The LJP was identified as a potential candidate for this platform, provided it was willing to break its allegiance to the Congress.

Seat sharing was then discussed in detail, with the CPI(ML) presenting a list of 80 and the CPI one of 59 seats. 14 seats were common to both lists – and eventually all issues were resolved and just two common seats remained. The CPI(ML)’s proposal that these two should be apportioned equally (each conceding one) was viewed favourably by the CPI. This agreement was reached by September 10, well before the CPI’s Executive Committee Meeting, and all that remained was a formal announcement of the alliance.

At that point, the CPI began to dillydally and strategically retreat from the alliance. It declared, following the meeting of its Executive, that an alliance with the LJP had been forged, while ‘talks’ with the CPI(ML) were on! It took on the pose of mediating between the CPI(ML) and the LJP, and began, with the LJP, to voice a promise of ‘secular good governance’ which they claimed would change the face of Bihar . Once again, this was nothing but an echo of the UPA’s ‘human face’ slogan: a carefully calibrated retreat from the fresh and distinct slogan of Left-led people’s struggle that could truly effect a democratic transformation of Bihar .

When the CPI(ML) challenged the CPI to come clear on the question of the alliance with the CPI(ML), it responded with the statement that it would cooperate with the CPI(ML) wherever the CPI(ML) was contesting, with the imperative of defeating the NDA and the RJD. Clearly, this was a retreat from a plank of a committed unity with a positive, shared agenda, to a position of negative, equivocal and conditional support. The CPI went back on its word – over the question of seat sharing, but more fundamentally in political terms as well. By distorting both the content and the form of the Third Front as visualised by the earlier agreement with the CPI(ML), the CPI has violated the basic norms of political transparency and integrity. It is seeking to dilute the agenda of Left unity and revival that was the most inspiring element and the driving spirit of the cooperation between the CPI and CPI(ML).

The CPI(ML) has responded with an appeal to the CPI to honour the joint statement signed on September 4, the subsequent agreement over seats as well as the urge of the Left ranks and the people of Bihar for a Left resurgence. While it seems likely that the CPI will go for the ‘duplicate UPA’ option rather than a platform forged on a solid Left foundation, the CPI(ML) will continue to explore possibilities of a partial adjustment.

The CPI(ML) did succeed in generating a broad, popular debate on the content of the Third Front, and in bringing its own agenda for such a Front to the fore. The CPI(ML) asserted that any Third Front called for consistency and credibility: after all, it was the CPI(ML)’s own resolute battle for the last 15 years, (consistently braving state repression in order to expose and challenge the RJD, while at the same time resisting the BJP-NDA), which created a space and credibility for the third forces. To the narrow and short-sighted plank of piecemeal, single-agenda Third Front, the CPI(ML) counterposed the idea of a genuine alternative platform with a comprehensive agenda – combining resistance to corruption, crime and communalism with a determined assertion for employment, pro-people development and a thorough-going democracy. Undoubtedly, Bihar ’s quest for such a genuine third force will continue – in the polls and after.

‘Code of Conduct’: Disenfranchising the Poor, Intimidating their Political Assertion

In the last polls, the CPI(ML)’s increased tally was not the windfall due to any powerful ally. In each of the three additional seats – Darauli, Sandesh, Paliganj – the victory reflected the gradual emergence of a worker-peasant alliance. In these pockets, this new class alignment worked as a countervailing force, which could, at least in some areas, overwhelm the rigid caste equations that reinforced the oppressive order.

This time around, the political establishment and the administration are going all out to crush the emergence of those class forces. The EC’s orders, issued in the name of curbing criminalisation and ensuring free and fair polls, are in fact being used with a vengeance against the poorest of the poor.

The EC itself has admitted that the Government has not issued any comprehensive list of non-bailable warrants. The EC order is being used by the Administration as a pretext for systematic intimidation and state terror, especially in the designated ‘naxal’ areas (read settlements of the dalit landless poor). In these areas, the flag marches and brutal raids of the STF and paramilitary troops is serving to intimidate and terrorise the vulnerable electorate. In Champaran, Barsoi, Bhojpur, Patna rural, Jehanabad and other areas, there have been wholesale arrests of CPI(ML) activists and supporters. The EC has ordered the deletion of ‘bogus voters’ (voters whose name figures on electoral rolls in more than one constituency) from the rolls. It is, of course, only the well-off who own several homes and enrol themselves multiple times; the poor find it hard enough to get their names on the rolls even once! Ironically, however, it is again the rural poor who are being disenfranchised as ‘bogus’. Entire villages are being wiped off the rolls – though the CPI(ML) has mobilised people to challenge this disenfranchisement at several places. In Darauli (Siwan), for instance, in the village of a former RJD Minister, 2000 bogus names were added to the voter rolls, while the names of thousands of poor voters had never graced the list at all. The CPI(ML) succeeded, through protests, in getting the false names deleted and 7000-8000 genuine voters’ names added to the rolls. Similarly in adjoining Mairwa, the party resisted intimidation by RJD goons and succeeded in getting the names of around 10,000 genuine voters added to the list. In Andar (also in Siwan), a struggle is on to do the same.

CPI(ML) leaders and candidates, including elected MLAs are being singled out and targeted. While the likes of Shahabuddin flaunt their impunity, the sitting MLA from Sandesh Comrade Rameshwar Prasad is in jail – arrested as an ‘absconder’ in a 24-year-old case of a militant demonstration of rural poor! The CPI(ML) candidate from Ara, Comrade Sudama Prasad, too has been jailed on flimsy charges, while the Secretariesof two major Blocks in Bhojpur – Sahar and Tarari – have also been arrested on false charges. The name of CPI(ML)’s long-standing MLA from Barsoi, Mahbub Alam has actually been deleted from the rolls, on the specious presumption that he longer ordinarily resides in his own constituency and area. Incidentally, there are even reports that the SP accused in Comrade Mahendra Singh’s murder, Deepak Varma, has plans to reopen a case of violation of code of conduct in Garhwa (Jharkhand) against the CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya!

Such allegations of ‘violation of code of conduct’ against the CPI(ML), which shuns all pomp and lavishness, uses no helicopters and foreign cars, and contests the polls in an exemplary modest and simple way – reek of blatant victimisation. The CPI(ML), facing all these challenges head on, is gearing up for an even more powerful assertion of the rural poor this time around.