More on the Ranvir Sena

[From the appendix to the Political-Organisational Report of the Sixth Party Congress.]

This roving army of professional killers enjoyed overwhelming support from the Bhumihar caste of Bhojpur, from its castemen spread throughout Bihar and even from parts of Uttar Pradesh. Powerful government officials and politicians, cutting across party lines, helped it. It also drew a degree of support from the Rajputs of Bhojpur. Initially it was floated on the pretext of raising agrarian demands of kulaks, mainly on Congress’ initiative. But soon the leadership passed into the hands of BJP and it acquired the character of an armed outfit with the declared aim of liquidating Maley from Bhojpur. JD leaders were also hobnobbing with it, in its formative stages at least, and it took special care to build equations with Yadav kulaks against us. This political united front against us was manifest in 1996 parliamentary elections when the BJP-supported Samata candidate, and Congress as well as JD candidates, all competed with each other in garnering the support of Ranvir Sena. The JD MP, after victory, demanded the lifting of ban on it. It was visible again when they jointly launched a protest movement against the transfer of the DM and SP after the Bathani Tola massacre. CPI-CPI(M) played a very dubious role by conducting sustained propaganda that Maley’s exaggeration of the contradiction between labourers and farmers, its casteist politics and adventurist actions are to be primarily blamed for the rise of Ranvir Sena.

The Ranvir Sena’s propaganda theme against the Party adopted a clear BJP tenor when it accused Maley of being agents of foreign powers viz. China and Pakistan which is out to destroy the social fabric of Indian society, i.e. the caste-based social hierarchy, and vowed to eliminate red flag not only from Bhojpur but from the face of India. Its symbol too was saffron.

A positional war stretching for months went on in Belaur against invading gangs of armed landlords. The mood remained upbeat and a powerful demonstration in Ara rent the air with the cries of ‘Bihta and Ekwari have been smashed and now it is the turn of Belaur’.

In retrospect, many comrades feel that instead of just defending ourselves, had we gone on an all-out offensive to liquidate the armed gangs of Belaur, perhaps the Ranvir Sena could have been nipped in the bud. It is true that at that juncture however, we could not grasp the full implication of this phenomenon and saw the struggle at Belaur as a local phenomenon confined to the village. Caste mobilisation, however, was spreading quite fast and soon clashes began in many Sandesh villages and landlords in hitherto dormant Sahar villages too started exhibiting activism. They began killing all and sundry, while people’s forces confined themselves to selective targets.

Then came the 1995 elections and we won both Sahar and Sandesh seats, thereby for the first time challenging the political hegemony of landlords and kulaks. Though these two block have historically been our best strongholds in Bhojpur, we had failed to win there in the 1990 assembly elections. Our victory made the landlords and our rival political parties desperate. Tension continued to spread and in Ara town a grenade was hurled at our Mahadharna killing one comrade and injuring many others. This prompted a general call for retaliation against Bhumihars even remotely connected with Ranvir Sena, barring children and women. In a single day eight Ranvir Sena men fell victims to the people’s wrath. Killings and counter-killings went on, culminating in an attack by people’s forces killing nine Ranvir Sena supporters at Narhi, just prior to the 1996 parliamentary elections. At this juncture the administration proposed banning our Party and resorted to massive oppression. In 1996 elections however, we more or less maintained our dominance in Sahar and Sandesh.

In the meantime, the centre of conflict had shifted to in and around Bathani Tola. A movement for liberating Karbala land was launched in Karpahari and Nawadih and in the process two influential Rajput leaders became victims of people’s anger. Ranvir Sena organisers and BJP’s political leadership cashed in on their favourite communal card and effected a unity of Rajputs and Bhumihars. This eventually led to the Bathani Tola massacre. Local people’s squads had thwarted several such attacks on Bathani, Chauri and other nearby villages and a practice had developed of people from different villages rushing in to help each other. In Bathani Tola, on that fateful day, the local squad kept the attackers at bay but then a fighter was hit (he subsequently died) and they had run out of ammunition and were forced to make a retreat. Due to some confusions, reinforcements from other villages arrived too late. A powerful political protest movement was also launched on Bathani Tola including a fast-unto-death launched by our MLA Rameshwar Prasad.

Despite Bathani Tola, people were in fighting mood but swift and immediate retaliatory action could not take place owing to a lot of confusion. A direction-less situation prevailed and demand for higher firepower, for sophisticated arms, to fight the well-armed Ranvir Sena assumed prominence.

A daring attempt was made in one case to smash the armed gang of Ranvir Sena but it didn’t succeed fully. Any selective killing from the people’s side resulted in indiscriminate killing of many by Ranvir Sena. The intelligence network remained totally crippled due to high degree of caste polarisation; thus we were deprived of concrete information about the movement of their main armed core.

Ranvir Sena and its social base were jubilant and people’s morale went down. It was a situation of setback and as always happens this gave rise to confusion and debates. One particular view was that our slogan of smashing the savarna (upper caste) feudal dominance and our targeting of broad range of upper caste landowners had led to their high degree of caste mobilisation. This view seems to be an oversimplification and one-sided. Our slogans only reflected the objectivity of the existing characteristics of feudalism prevailing in Bhojpur. We did smash the upper caste mobilisation of Jwala Singh, and despite this slogan succeeded in neutralising a good section of Rajputs in Bihta by repeated explaining our policies of differentiation among different classes.

Actually, by the time the Ranvir Sena phenomenon began, we had already changed our slogan to opposing the communal-feudal dominance reflecting the political development of upper caste feudals switching over to BJP. There were excesses and they did play a role but in no case were they decisive. We conducted special propaganda campaigns among Bhumihars through propaganda leaflets and through peace campaigns, entering into honourable compromises with middle sections and organise seminars where Bhumihar intellectuals attended in large numbers. Despite all odds, the valiant comrades of Bhojpur have persisted in their struggle.

The earlier offensive of Ranvir Sena has now tuned into a stalemate. We have been gradually seizing back the initiative. But they still retain their main armed strength and have now declared their mission to be the assassination of the main Party leaders. They are still capable of creating trouble and organising massacres. Hence there is no room for complacency. We must keep up pressure to move into an offensive. The district committee, through detailed discussions and through a series of cadre conventions has reviewed the whole course of struggle against Ranvir Sena, strengthened its unity, and resolved to carry on the struggle till victory. Bhojpur has done it so many times and once again its gearing up to seize victory.