Questions that cannot be bought by bribes or silenced by bullets

We carry the following foreword by Dipankar Bhattacharya to a book of Comrade Mahendra’s speeches in the Jharkhand Assembly, Vicharon Ki Yuddh Mein, followed by the text of one of the speeches.

This is a collection of selected speeches delivered by Comrade Mahendra Singh on the floor of the first Assembly of the newly formed Jharkhand State. These speeches convey the vision and concerns of Comrade Mahendra about the future of the new state and its people. They tell us how Mahendra had emerged as the moving spirit of the ‘opposition’ – or more precisely, the people’s position – in the Jharkhand Assembly. They also tell us why the BJP and the powers that be had no other way of facing him than getting him physically eliminated.
The formation of Jharkhand in November 2000 should have been a dream come true for a people who had waited and fought for decades for this moment. It should have been a great occasion for mass celebrations. Yet when the BJP assumed the reins of power in the newly formed state, Ranchi was wrapped in an eerie silence. From day one the police began spraying bullets on unarmed citizens to tell the world what the BJP’s declared objective of making Jharkhand an ‘ideal state’ really meant.
Instead of fulfilling a long cherished dream of the people, in real life Jharkhand unfolded as another story of a great betrayal. There was not even time to get acclimatized to this shock. The air became palpably heavy with frustration and the Sangh brigade was desperate to fan this fire to further its divide-and-rule agenda. It was at this juncture that Mahendra made his presence felt in the Jharkhand Assembly with his powerful arguments and revolutionary energy and initiative.
His job was not to spread the I-told-you-so kind of pedantic pessimism and cynicism, but to channelise mass discontent into powerful democratic action, to discover and ignite the sparks of mass resistance against a brutal, corrupt and unjust order. And he did it with great gusto and consummate skill. He would expose every act of social injustice and economic loot, he would challenge every incident of state repression. Policy of rehabilitation for the ‘development’-evicted refugees, provision of relief for the starving masses in drought-hit areas, revival of sick and closed industries, prosecution of the corrupt and the enemies of human rights - Mahendra would always find his way to intervene in every situation and force the government to act or face exposure.
We often hear that legislative bodies are the supreme platforms in a democracy. True communists have however never been carried away by such illusory ideas about the ‘omnipotence’ of parliamentary institutions. Even in the best of parliamentary traditions, the real exercise of state-power remains largely outside the ambit of any kind of parliamentary control. Parliamentary institutions only play a legitimising role by providing a forum for legislation and informed debate. The great divide between legislative and executive powers in a parliamentary democracy is comparable to the hiatus between ownership and management in a capitalist enterprise, between a diffused democracy of shareholders and exercise of well-entrenched corporate control by a small coterie of capital-managers.
This is why the Marxist-Leninist concept of participatory democracy insists on a functional fusion of legislative and executive powers by subjecting every institution, including the bureaucracy and judiciary, to democratic elections and popular supervision. The Leninist vision of a truly democratic parliament is not one which is merely a debating platform, a glorified ‘talking shop’, but one which is a real working body, on the lines of the historic Paris Commune, the first attempt by the modern working class to fashion its own state.
As a revolutionary communist leader, Mahendra was always aware of the essential contrast between the two democracies, the corporate democracy of big capital and the market and the democracy of the ordinary or working men and women. As an elected representative of the people, as a Member of Legislative Assembly, he was uniquely placed to explore the former and fight for the latter. With his keen knowledge about the conventions, rules and procedures that supposedly govern the proceedings of a State Assembly, Mahendra was never short of ideas as to how to raise his issues in a most forceful manner and get heard on every occasion.
Once when ruling party and opposition MLAs had made common cause cutting across parties to corner him for allegedly undermining the dignity of the Speaker (Mahendra had gone to the Speaker’s constituency in Palamu to camapign against corruption in schemes sponsored by the MLA’s constituency development fund), he quickly turned the table on them by resigning from the Assembly and promptly vacating his MLA flat. A popular outrage followed and the Speaker had no other option but to turn down Mahendra’s resignation.
As an activist of CPI(ML), Mahendra had begun his political life canvassing for boycott of elections. Subsequently in the mid-1980s as the Party opted for participation in elections, he was quick to explore the possibilities of electoral struggle for a rapid and determined advance of the revolutionary agenda of independent political assertion of the rural poor and pro-poor middle sections. In 1985 he unsuccessfully contested his first election from jail. But by February 1990 the political balance in his constituency had tilted decisively in favour of the Party and Mahendra was never to lose another Assembly election.
In February 1990, Mahendra was elected the leader of the seven-member legislature party of the Indian People’s Front in Bihar Assembly. Within two years, there was a major setback and four of the seven MLAs crossed over to the ruling Janata Dal. This early attack of parliamentary opportunism and degeneration made him particularly aware of the vulnerabilities of elected representatives and strengthened his communist resolve to serve the people and defeat the illusions and allurements of bourgeois politics. Mahendra would never support moves to increase salaries and allowances payable to elected representatives; he would never accept any gift, not even a wrist watch or a briefcase, from any corporate concern or ministry.
In the 1990s, the Indian state introduced the concept of a constituency development fund allocated to every MP or MLA. This has been done in the name of making every representative ‘accountable’ for ‘development’ in his or her own constituency. This has been an interesting corollary of the new economic policies whereby the government is abdicating its institutional responsibility in key areas of the economy including manufacturing and social services while making MPs and MLAs individually responsible for an annual expenditure of a few hundred thousand rupees. Probably the idea has been to conveniently divert the people’s attention away from the government, from the big picture of the national economy, from big national issues like prices and wages and employment, to the local representative and local concerns, while leaving the government free to pursue its own ‘free market’ policies!
The scheme has not only opened the floodgates of corruption, as recently exposed on camera, it distorts the very basis of the elector-elected equation on the lines of yet another patron-client relationship. The elected representative spends public money like an act of private charity and seeks private publicity while the people compete among themselves to secure some small benefits out of it. Mahendra was quick to see through this game and unleash new, imaginative forms of popular mobilisation to challenge this ‘politics of plaques’.
The other day television channels showed us how some of our Members of Parliament accept and even demand money for asking questions. Watching parliament question hours or televised debates on no-confidence motions or budget proposals may now really be likened to watching films and serials on the small screen where we are told every few minutes which part of a serial is sponsored by the manufacturers of which soap or toothpaste. The political or moral code of our parliamentary system found this too obnoxious to tolerate. We do not as yet know whether the problem is with the venality associated with accepting or demanding cash for questions, or as Advani candidly put it, with the stupidity of these rather amateurish MPs who got caught on camera accepting such paltry sums of money. All the members of the dirty dozen, 11 from the Lok Sabha and one from the house of ‘elders’, have been quickly expelled. The precedent will perhaps hold good till such time as our parliamentary system liberalises its ‘moral code’ and replaces it by a more transparent and legally enforceable system of open commercial contracts.
Whichever way the system may deal with such ‘wayward’ members, it knows how to deal with them. The system has also become mature enough in the ways it treats some of our better known elected Left representatives – giving them ‘best parliamentarian’ or ‘best legislator’ awards, making them Speakers or even offering to make them Prime Ministers. But it still does not know how to deal with someone like Mahendra Singh. He was jailed for leading a mass agitation, he came out on bail. He was sought to be cornered for an alleged breach of the Speaker’s privilege, he stumped everybody by resigning. Left perhaps with no other option, the system finally faced him with the ultimate mode of elimination: assassin’s bullets. One year since the assassination, the CBI probe drags on, and the two key accused, who masterminded the assassination, are yet to be brought within the purview of any kind of investigation.
Nothing could probably better illustrate the relevance or necessity of Mahendra Singh than this desperation of the system. Clearly, our revolution needs more Mahendra Singhs, as communist elected representatives, as revolutionary leaders of people’s struggles. People who can demand answers to questions that owe their existence only to a ceaseless quest for justice and revolution, questions that cannot be sponsored by bribes or silenced by bullets.