Agricultural labourers have begun to arrive on the stage; nothing can stop them from winning the great battle for survival and social transformation

[ Excerpts from the concluding address delivered by Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya at the Second All India Conference of AIALA at Rajamundhry, Andhra Pradesh ]

It is impossible to deny the growing presence of agricultural labourers in today's India . From Andhra Pradesh and Bihar to Uttar Pradesh and Punjab , agricultural labourers are increasingly making their presence felt. They are in the news not just for their sufferings, but increasingly also for their heroic struggles. This is the class that is producing heroes like Comrade Bant Singh of Punjab who has lost his limbs because of his insistence on bringing the rapists of his daughter to justice, but who has the courage and determination to declare that he still retains his voice and he would continue to sing for his people. This is the class which is full of brave daughters like Baljeet who has come here to tell you that if her father Bant Singh has lost his limbs fighting for justice for his daughter, she is now going to take up cudgels for her father and for securing justice for all her people.

We at CPI(ML) salute this growing fighting spirit of India 's agricultural labourers, the courage and determination with which the rural proletariat is fighting back for survival as well as social transformation. The All India Agricultural Labour Association has emerged as a fighting class platform of the rural poor for carrying forward this great battle and here in this second conference we have seen ample reflection of its growth and expansion, not only in terms of membership and areas of operation but also in terms of experience of struggles and the development of a courageous and confident leadership. In the 1940s, the great Telengana movement had advanced the clarion call of "bhoomi, mukti, vimukti". It is time for the AIALA to resurrect that great spirit of Telengana and mobilise the entire class of agricultural labouers to realise the Telengana war cry - land, livelihood, liberation!

While we revolutionary communists would like to do all we can to raise the level of organisation, consciousness and fighting capacity of agricultural labourers as an all-India class, the ruling classes and the state are obviously worried about such a prospect and are trying their level best to disintegrate and disorient this class and contain its assertion. They do this not only by unleashing repression and invoking black laws like TADA, but let us not forget for a moment the fact that the state also pursues its agenda even when it is forced to address the basic issues of living conditions of agricultural labourers and come up with apparently pro-poor pieces of legislation.

Take the example of the much hyped employment guarantee act. While the government is busy congratulating itself for this legislation, delegate after delegate have informed this conference that there is little, if any, official preparation on the ground to ensure its immediate implementation. The NREGA is scheduled to become operational from February 2, yet we see little administrative homework in most of the 200 districts for which the Act has been notified. Almost the entire responsibility for implementation of the Act is entrusted with the panchayats and it is not difficult to imagine how in the absence of a powerful organisation and movement of the rural poor the entire scheme would be used by the dominant parties and vested interests to reinforce their power and influence. We must remember that even though the NREGA does not have much of a direct bearing on agrarian relations, like other agrarian legislations, its fate would also depend very much on the organised and conscious intervention of agricultural labourers and the AIALA must strengthen itself in every way to meet this challenge.

Meanwhile, the UPA government is cleverly trying to use the NREGA as a propaganda instrument to sideline other equally explosive concerns of the rural poor. In fact, the government often pits the agenda of employment against issues like food subsidy. In the name of increasing the efficiency of the public distribution system, it has already been heavily truncated. And now the government wants to bring about still greater reduction in food subsidy by increasing prices of food grains and/or reducing the quantity of food grains hitherto available to BPL families. If an agricultural labourer household earning a daily wage of Rs. 60 is subjected to the tyranny of open market prices, employment guarantee will mean no more than guaranteed starvation and malnutrition. AIALA will therefore have to pursue the agenda of assured employment and living wages in conjunction with other basic issues like food, clothing and shelter, healthcare and social security.

Almost everywhere in the country the agricultural labourers' movement experiences severe state repression and the wrath of both feudal forces and the emerging kulak power. The question of democracy and people's rights must therefore figure on top of the AIALA's agenda. It should consistently unite with the democratic aspirations and struggles of other sections of the society. In particular AIALA must forge a firm alliance with the struggles of the displaced and the dispossessed, the adivasis and indigenous people whose traditional rights on land and forest are now being sought to be crushed under the combined weight of state repression and corporate plunder. The middle peasantry is also facing a huge crisis - indebtedness and the increasingly unremunerative terms of agriculture are even driving many to suicide. AIALA will surely stand by the distressed peasantry to resist the disastrous new agricultural policies of the central and state governments.