Letter from Patna


(In the wake of the 28 July CC Call, a range of measures were undertaken in the Patna Rural district of Bihar to reorient the party organisation to correct alien trends and deepen the integration with the people. These were accompanied by several militant mass initiatives on burning issues. The militant struggle against corruption in PDS rations, in particular, should be seen in the larger context of a spate of hunger deaths in Bihar. An account by Comrade Kunal, Central Committee member and party in-charge for Patna Rural. – Ed/-)

Flood- and drought- ravaged Patna Rural district has witnessed consistent mass mobilisations by people for relief, rations and jobs. The party district committee decided to intensify such protests with a campaign to ‘Corner the Dealers, Take the Rations that are our Due’ and ‘Corner the mukhiya, take our due wages.’
Struggles against mukhiyas could take place at two centres (one panchayat each in Naubatpur and Dulhin Bazar), and people could succeed in ensuring payment of pending wages to the extent of Rs. 85, 000. The struggle against dealers was conducted more widely, with movements waged against 22 dealers especially in Masaurhi and Dhanarua blocks. In other blocks, movements could take place at 8 centres, and there is still scope for efforts to be made at many other centres.
Challenging the Ration Mafia     
There is a ration mafia in every block, who buys the rations from dealers, or buys up the dealership itself and sells on the black market. As a rule, he has powerful political and administrative clout. If the dealer is cornered at any point, it is he who comes to the rescue. This new class of looter, instead of having to store rations in his own godown, actually colludes with administrative authorities to sell rations straight from the FCI godowns!
Lakhandev Prasad is one such ration mafia, operating in the Masaurhi-Dhanarua block. A former Chairman of the Masaurhi Notified Area Committee, he contested the November 2005 Assembly polls on an LJP ticket but is now in JD(U). He has reportedly bought up 18 dealerships. During a struggle against Kameshwar Paswan, a dealer of Bedauli (Masaurhi), we found that Lakhandev had bought up Kameshwar’s dealership for Rs. 2 lakh. During a struggle against another dealer of Bedauli, Subas Prasad who had failed to distribute rations to 260 people for 10 months, Lakhandev intervened during our meeting with the SDO, and promised the people that he would distribute 2 months worth of rations on Subas’ behalf.
We conducted a sustained struggle against Lakhandev in Devariya (Masaurhi); the Devariya dealership is nominally in his cousin’s name, but effectively controlled by him. When Lakhandev arrived at Devariya with 1 truckload and one tractor-load of goods, the poor surrounded him to collect 3 months worth of rations. When rations were distributed at the rate of 20 kilos instead of the rightful 25, people were determined to teach him a lesson. Lakhandev smelled trouble and beat a retreat, but the poor not only collected all the rations laden on the truck and tractor, but even got the clerk to open the godown and took away 1000 sacks of grain. We have learnt that Lakhandev has held a meeting with criminals to plan assaults on leaders of this movement.
At Sarbadahi, (Masaurhi), people took dealer and JD(U) leader Suresh Prasad Singh to task. He had withheld rations for 7 months, siphoning off rations to Masaurhi rather than the village, and beating up anyone who demanded 25 kgs of rations. He had swallowed a total of 20 months’ worth of rations due to the poor of Vishambharpur and Sarbadahi, the market value of which amounted to more than Rs 14.5 lakh. A past criminal with links with the Bhoomi Sena and Kisan Sangh, and now a close confidante of JD(U) MLA Poonam Devi he would even brandish a rifle and threaten people on occasion.
When the drought-affected people got tired of pleading in vain for their rations to the BDO-SDO, they surrounded Suresh Prasad Singh’s house, broke his door and entered to find him missing. When the DCLR and Marketing Officer came to talk with the angry gathering, they too had to face the wrath of the people. They called in the police – and a huge troop of police and CRPF gathered, led by the SDO and DSP, and openly threatened to ‘make rivers of blood flow.’ Protests against this threat were held all over the block.   
Defying the police threats, people eventually caught Suresh Prasad Singh while he was driving his tractor, tied his hands, publicly punished him and then paraded him in the village. Then the enraged people held him in the village until pending rations were distributed to all people in the village. He distributed one month’s rations; in addition, people got him to pay the cost of 10 kgs wheat at the rate of Rs. 12 per kg, and 15 kgs rice at the rate of Rs 13 per kg. The people also imposed a fine of one kilo of grain per family which he will be asked to pay in the next instalment. 
At Kharaant (Masaurhi), RJD activist Lal Bihari Yadav had not distributed 6 months worth of rations, and had given 160 coupons (rightfully belonging to the poor) to rich people. When people surrounded his house and prevented him from leaving, he first got his son to retrieve the coupons to return to the rightful owners and gave the cash equivalent of 5 months of rations (wheat at the rate of Rs. 13 per kg and rice at Rs. 15 per kg), promising to give the amount due for the remaining month later.
At Masaurhi SDO office, Ward No. 13, dealer Pankaj Sharma in collusion with Ward Councillor Devanand Bind (local JD(U) leader) had failed to distribute rations to 245 people for 12 months. He used to sell coupons (for anything from Rs. 50 to Rs. 500 per coupon). It took a militant demonstration at the SDO and Town Council offices to secure retrieval of the coupons and distribution of rations.
Similarly, at Siriya (Dhanarua), people retrieved 10 months worth of pending rations from RJD strongman Ramanand Yadav. People surrounded his house, found a hoard of grains there and distributed it among 60 people, thrashed him and handed him over to the police station. He is now in jail and the pending rations were distributed by the SDO himself.        
In order to extract 4 months worth of due rations from the dealer at Sevti (Dhanarua) – local JD(U) leader Arvind Singh – people had to drag the Marketing Officer out of his chamber by force. Threatened with a thrashing, he promised to distribute the rations within four days. He kept his word and also suspended the dealer.
At Bholachak (Dhanarua), when the dealer Dasharath Paswan not only refused to distribute 6 months of pending rations but instead abused and threatened to beat up people, people thrashed him soundly and handed him over to the police station. But the mukhiya got the dealer released from police custody. Enraged by this, people confiscated the dealer’s motorcycle; after which he begged pardon and distributed the rations.     
At Kalyanpur Musahari (Dhanarua) when people shut RJD’s Sadhu Yadav up in his house for 12 hours in order to get 8 months worth of pending rations from him, his family called the police. But the dealer, fearful of people’s wrath, denied any ill-treatment and distributed 5 months of rations. He now has 2 guards for his protection!
At Repura (Dhanarua), a People’s Court was held against two dealers (Rajiv Singh and Akhilesh Thakur, both belonging to the JD(U)) on the charges of having siphoned off 9 and 6 months worth of rations respectively. When these dealers did not present themselves at the People’s Court, enraged people surrounded both their houses. Rajiv Singh managed to climb over the wall and escape, but Akhilesh Thakur was caught. People hung a notice announcing “I’m a ration thief” around his neck and paraded him in three villages; then returned to the village to face the People’s Court, which decided in favour of searching the homes of both dealers for rations. No grains were to be found at Akhilesh’s house, but 9 sacks of grain were found at Rajiv’s, which were confiscated by the people. Akhilesh asked pardon of the people and distributed rations on 29 September, along with 2 kilos of grain per family by way of a fine. A TV channel happened to telecast some part of these events, and Patna being the capital-district, the issue gained a political dimension. As a result, the Government tried to crush the struggle, and the DM ordered an enquiry into the People’s Court. But this came to nought as the dealers denied any ill-treatment.      
At Manki Par (Dhanarua), JD(U) leader and ration dealer Madhav Singh, who calls himself a brother of the local MLA Poonam Devi, had siphoned off 5 months worth of rations. He too was made to parade the village with hands folded in apology (this too was telecast live on TV). Later, at a public meeting, the dealer begged pardon and began to distribute the cash equivalent of 3 months worth of rations. While this was going on, a large police force arrived, and began to intimidate people. But when people began to surround the police with every intention of giving them too a taste of the same medicine, but the police sensed trouble and left, and ration distribution continued till 9 at night.
At Dulhin Bazaar block, a struggle was conducted against two dealers who were supporters of CPI(ML); both had failed to distribute rations for 8 months each. The party held a Jan Adalat followed by a demonstration at the SDO office. The dealers, initially defiant, but eventually surrendered in front of the party and promised to uphold the decisions of the Jan Adalat.
At many other places too, there have been spontaneous struggles against dealers. In this region, many dealers have begun to distribute rations on time, fearing the people’s anger. Even the middle class is supportive, because as a result of the struggles, dealers who previously used to avoid distributing oil, have now begun to do so.
The present market value of rations siphoned off in the PDS scam by the 30 dealers targeted by the movement amounts to over Rs. 1.5 crore; there are around 100 dealers in this block and all are guilty of similar corruption. Of the 30 dealers, 12 were from JD(U) (responsible for a scam of Rs. 66 lakh), 10 from RJD (Rs. 51 lakh) and 6 from LJP (Rs. 28 lakh). In the movement as a whole, people succeeded in extracting rations worth around Rs. 69.5 lakh (less than the full amount of 1.5 crore because people agreed to accept less than the market rate).      
Anti-feudal struggles
In the course of the Strengthen the Party campaign, several struggles took place against feudal assaults on the dignity and rights of the poor and dalits. At Phulwari Sharif, the old feudal practice of disallowing the poor to sit on cots resurfaced in a new form, when dalit youths were beaten up for listening to songs on mobile phones. The dalits in turn beat up the perpetrators, and the struggle to make them apologise publicly continues. In Maner block, Kurmi strongmen who support the JD(U) cut the electricity supply to the dalit settlement (all registered consumers) for the last 16 months. It seems the feudal forces cannot bear it that dalits enjoy the breeze of a fan or electrical lights. When petitions and letters were in vain, the poor laid siege to the electricity office and forced the SDO, accompanied by a police force, to re-connect the electricity line. However, as soon as they left, the line was cut again. When the situation became tense and a clash between dalits and feudal forces became imminent, eventually the electricity line was restored. But there are several other cases in the district of electricity supply being cut in dalit settlements. At one village in Bikram block, the poor got together to beat up one feudal lumpen of the BJP who had beaten a poor Muslim on the day of Id. He had also grabbed a drinking-water tap installed by an NGO and was using the water to irrigate his fields; he now freed the tap for public use. 
There have also been several struggles for wage increase and in Dulhin Bazar, 2 bighas of gairmazarua land has been seized by the poor. There have also been several spirited movements against a gangrape in Paliganj, in which a Paliganj-bandh called by the party got widespread support; the murder of Rudul Yadav by liquor mafia goons against which people gheraoed the Sigori thana; and several other instances of rape and murder. At Bhagwanganj, one schoolteacher was attacked by criminals and his money looted. When he went to the local thana to register an FIR, he was appalled to see the very same criminals there intimately talking with the SHO! When he protested, the SHO beat him up. There was a sharp struggle by the party on this issue, which eventually forced the DSP to register an FIR against the SHO.

The above issues – raised through struggle in the district adjoining the State Capital, are a commentary on the real face of Nitish Kumar’s ‘development’ claims. If this is the state of affairs in the capital, one can only imagine the situation in the rest of the state.