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CPI(ML) at the Hustings — A Preview

The 12th Lok Sabha elections are now only a few days away. By all indications, these elections would
mark a critical watershed in India’s parliamentary history. The BJP, bursting with both money- and muscle-power, is making a desperate attempt to foist its fascist rule on the country; Sonia Gandhi is trying hard to rework the old aura of the dynasty in a last-ditch bid to resuscitate the moribund Congress; the Left parties are busy selling the United Front to a much-betrayed electorate even as UF leaders themselves are somehow trying to survive with borrowed and smuggled support from alien quarters.
Behind this sordid opera of political opportunism and bankruptcy, the working people and all the forces and values of progress and democracy are confronted with a major crisis. If aggressive communalism is snuffing out the light of secularism, the countryside is reeling under a veritable counter-revolution and the entire society is marked by dangerous dichotomies on almost all fronts. Mind you, these are not phrases borrowed from any radical poll manifesto, this is the language used by none other than the President of India in his address to the nation on the Republic Day eve.
For the CPI(ML), the elections are but an important means for galvanising the people on the margin for a decisive encounter with the forces at the centre who are directly responsible for this miserable state of affairs. The battle is of course thoroughly unequal. The rules of the game are all heavily loaded against the downtrodden men and women who are trying to rise in defiance of centuries of brutal social oppression, extreme economic deprivation and institutionalised political marginalisation.
On the one hand, the forces of reaction are trying to stop the people physically by perpetrating carnages and spreading terror. Arrah, Jehanabad, Siwan, Gonda ... in more than a dozen constituencies of Bihar and UP, contesting the elections invariably means confronting such an organised campaign of intimidation and feudal-mafia violence. The administration, on the other hand, either looks the other way or in most cases throws its full weight against the oppressed and fighting people. With poll fever hotting up, partisan and even sponsored electoral speculation and vulgar propaganda get the better of the print and electronic media and the struggles and concerns of the rural poor are almost systematically blacked out.
In what follows, Liberation tries to bring you a broad overview of the CPI(ML)’s election campaign. Unfortunately we are going to press at a time when the filing of nominations has just begun and the campaign proper is yet to take off in most constituencies. Under these circumstances we have had to basically confine ourselves to early assessments of the poll scenario in the four major states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal which account for 29 of the 41 candidates put up by the party. There are also some details about certain major constituencies and candidates.

 Golden Jubilee Confessions of a President
Trickle-down Truths!

The food and nutritional needs of the poor in India especially of children and women must be tackled. Besides, on this anniversary of our republic we must resolve to complete the unfinished task of land reforms that we embarked upon years ago and empower the landless poor and small farmers who have not got any benefit In spite of the green revolution it is an unfortunate fact that hunger and malnutrition persists in our rural as well as urban areas. There is the need now to go beyond the green revolution and bring about a nutritional revolution in the country.s from the green revolution.
Much of the poverty and unrest in rural India — the caste conflicts and the economic violence — can be traced to the gross injustice in the distribution of land and to some kind of a counter-revolution that is taking place holding up the implementation of the land reforms and the snatching away of whatever benefits progressive legislations had bestowed upon the poor.
... why is it that after fifty years of Independence, there are in India the largest number of people living below the poverty line. And that in the midst of plenty and wasteful conspicuous consumption among sections of our society.
... Ours is a society divided vertically and horizontally in innumerable compartments. Economic development, technological changes, social reform movements have not succeeded in pulling down these domestic walls, even though they have been considerably lowered, and benefits of development do not flow from one compartment to another.
The result is uneven development and existence of plenty and poverty, change and stagnation almost side by side. How can we tolerate indefinitely these dangerous dichotomies and inequalities?
We are witnessing today uncontrolled growth of communalism and casteism snuffing out the lights of secularism in our society, and the increase in corruption, violence and criminalisation of politics and society.
(Excerpts from the Republic Day eve address of the President, KR Narayanan. Source: The Hindu)


Towards a Powerful Left Assertion

There are three major contending camps in the elections in Bihar. But complete electoral understanding does not look likely within these camps. The picture that has emerged so far is somewhat like this.
RJD-led Jan Morcha: In Bihar the main forces of this front are RJD, JMM (Soren) and Congress. The first two are already present in the government. After Sonia’s coming to the centrestage of Congress(I) affairs, Laloo’s hold over the Congress has weakened. In other words, the chacha-bhatija (uncle-nephew) relationship won’t work now and that is why in matters of seat- sharing Congress claims have become stronger. Laloo’s charisma is not as effective as before. Though RJD is still the largest party in Bihar, its electoral performance will be weaker this time.
BJP-Samata alliance: Before the entry of Sonia Gandhi, the preference of the forward castes - the traditional Congress base - was predominantly for this alliance. Even now a large section of the forward castes will remain with this alliance, along with a large section of the Kurmis. In the pre-poll political picture that has emerged till now the main contention will be between RJD and the BJP-Samata alliance.
17-party left-democratic front: With certain sections of this front harbouring a soft corner for, and even hobnobbing with, the BJP-Samata alliance - as illustrated during the MLC election contested by Rabri Devi - this front has not been successful in growing into a cohesive political alliance for the polls. There has also been no effective understanding on seat-sharing.
Seat adjustments have also eluded the left. The CPI’s refusal to appreciate the changed ground realities of Bihar and its insistence on absolutely unreasonable and one-way sacrifice from our party in the name of Left unity has once again queered the pitch. Due to the strained relations between the RJD and the CPI and CPI(M), the latter’s performance is expected to be weaker this time. We have always been contesting independently and thanks to our powerful initiatives in the field of mass movement and steady growth of our base and the organisation, we hope to do better this time.
Communalism, corruption, criminality and Bihar’s all-round development have emerged as the key poll issues till now. The BJP-Samata alliance is raising the issues of terrorism, law and order situation, failure of RJD government and Bihar’s development. For RJD, the main issue is communalism, but with the growing offensive of Ranvir Sena, RJD too cannot absolutely ignore the question of criminalisation.
In keeping with our overall political campaign and the concrete situation of Bihar, we have made the BJP-Samata alliance our prime target. To beat back the aggression of the upper caste feudal armed gang, the Ranvir Sena, it is extremely important to defeat the BJP in the elections. We will also keep up our sharp offensive against the RJD.
In these elections we will have to make an all-out effort to galvanise the oppressed rural poor and also to make inroads into part of the RJD’s social base which has now started getting fed up with the gimmicks of Laloo Yadav. Our aim this time will be to emerge as the biggest communist party of Bihar in the electoral arena as well. Till now, conditions appear quite ripe for this.

--Ram Jatan Sharma

Bathe March and After

Amonth back Laxmanpur-Bathe was covered with a shroud of grief and terror. Ranvir Sena’s barbarous massacre — the biggest in the history of Bihar — had shaken the conscience of all democratic and progressive people in India and abroad. Various protests by individuals and groups outside our SParty fold were seen during this last one month. A month later, on 6 January, the Bathe March organised by RYA and AISA brought back hope and confidence among the terror-stricken villagers. More than 15,000 people gathered at Laxmanpur Bathe from Jehanabad and the neighbouring districts of Bhojpur, Nalanda, Patna and Aurangabad. Student and youth representatives from Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh also participated in the March.
Addressing the gathering, CPI(ML) General Secretary, Vinod Mishra said that the such a heinous and dastardly act by the Ranvir Sena would not go unanswered. The huge gathering emboldened the spirits of the rural poor of that region who live under the perpetual terror of the landlords’ private army. The terror is aggravated in the face of a thoroughly partisan police and administration. After the Bathani Tola carnage, Ranvir Sena has perpetrated many other massacres in Bhojpur, Rural Patna and Jehanabad. But till date the state government has desisted from taking any concrete action against this killer army.
Three days later, on 9 January, the people avenged the Bathe carnage by killing 6 Ranvir Sena men at Rampur Chauram. This BJP-Ranvir Sena stronghold is where the Sena began its march in Jehanabad district. Among the six Sena men, some were involved in the Bathe massacre and one of them in the Bathani Tola massacre. The incident spread waves and waves of enthusiasm among the rural poor all over Central Bihar.
Sushil Modi, the BJP chief in Bihar, came out with a demand to ban Maley and arrest Vinod Mishra. His demand is only a shameless confession of the organic relation that the BJP and the Ranvir Sena share. In a surprising move, provoked by the Rampur Chauram event and three days after the Bathe March, the police belatedly decided to register a case in Mehendia police station in Jehanabad, against the Party for organising the March. In their petition to the election officer in Jehanabad, the police has alleged that organising the procession, using loudspeakers etc. was against the model code of conduct for elections as the elections had already been declared.
In yet another surprising development, CPI organised a condolence meeting in memory of the six ‘martyrs’ of Rampur Chauram at Mehendia. Incidentally, none of the traditional left parties have reacted to the demand made by Sushil Modi.

Campaign in Siwan: Some features

(Ramesh Singh Kushwaha, CPI(ML)’s candidate from Siwan tells us about the pre-poll situation in his constituency and our Party’s campaign.)

The CPI(ML) base in this constituency is concentrated among agricultural labourers and poor peasants. In caste terms, they almost invariably belong to the dalit and extremely backward category. We also command a good influence among the small and medium peasantry from the Koeri caste. In caste terms, the composition of the electorate is roughly as follows: the upper castes number about one and a half lakh which is about 15% of the electorate. Muslims constitute about 12.5%, Yadavs 8%, Awadhia Kurmis 3.5%, Koeris 11%, Vaishyas 5%, dalits 20% and the extremely backward castes 25%.

The BJP which finished second in the last election, obviously enjoys the overwhelming support of the upper castes while the RJD draws its strength mostly from the Muslims and large sections of Yadavs. However at the parliamentary level we have so far not been able to bring about 50% of the dalits and extremely backwards to our fold. During the days of RJD’s ascendance 50% of the dalits and extremely backwards were with Laloo. Our main effort is to bring over this large population of dalits and extremely backwards to our fold and at the same time deepening our relations with a section of the Yadavs who are getting disillusioned with Laloo.

In Siwan our contention is primarily with RJD and next with BJP. BJP’s poll strategy while centring around forward castes and taking along Samata’s Awadhia base, will be to try to attract the Koeris.RJD’s poll strategy obviously revolves around large-scale loot of dalit and extremely backward votes on the basis of an aggressive Yadav consolidation. CPI(ML) on the other hand will try to foil these strategies by organising the dalits and extremely backwards as a fighting political force and mobilising around it large sections of the Koeris as well as a section of the Yadavs.

Apart from the general campaign of the Party for the entire elections, our focus here in Siwan will be on criminalisation of politics. For a long time now we have been a waging a relentless campaign against criminalisation of politics whose epitome is Siwan’s RJD MP, Shahabuddin whose henchmen have killed Comrades Chandrashekhar, Shyam Narain Yadav, Surendra Yadav, Kedar Shah and many more activists and also perpetrated many massacres. As a result we will emphasise maximum on the criminalisation of politics.

Even though our number one target at Siwan will be RJD, this time we will further sharpen our attack on BJP.

For us elections are a mass movement. In the recent past we had built up a strong resistance against the feudal forces centring around the question of social justice. It is only our Party which has also been at the forefront of the mass movement against criminalisation of politics. In these elections it will be our endeavour to mobilise the masses on a larger scale and give a decisive blow to the forces of communal fascism and aggressive criminality.

(Postscript: On the day of filling nominations in Siwan, more than 8,000 people accompanied their candidate Ramesh Kushwaha in a march from Bindusar, the native village of Martyr Chandrashekhar to Siwan town. The huge gathering was addressed by Vinod Mishra and Kaushalya Devi, mother of Chandrashekhar.)

Uttar Pradesh
A Determined Encounter with the Saffron Threat

In spite of engineering a split within Congress, giving important ministerial berths to notorious mafia-criminal elements and mobilising the forward castes, till date BJP does not appear confident of retaining its 52 Lok Sabha seats from UP. However, in public it is boasting of winning 70 seats in the coming polls. Mulayam Singh’s position has improved from before and the BSP support has been stripped down to its original dalit base. Other bourgeois parties and factions do not have much relevance. CPI and CPI(M) are also in a bad shape in the state.

Kalyan Singh’s government has completed 100 days in office but during its tenure the government has done nothing that can be presented as an achievement to the people. Law and order situation has worsened in the state. Murders, crime, oppression of women and violation of civil liberties have become the order of the day. Academic autonomy has also come under systematic attack of saffronisation. Thousands of teachers and employees are on the war path. Communal and violent incidents are being reported from all corners of the state. The police IG is himself acknowledging the growing feudal attacks on dalit agrarian labourers.

The figures of atrocities on dalits are horrifying. Under the Dalit Act, more than 13,000 FIRs relating to dalit oppression were lodged in police stations between 21 September and 10 December. Even though Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh had launched a campaign alleging the Act’s misuse by the Mayawati government, after verification most of the cases have been were found to be valid. Apart from making some empty official statements, the government has failed to take any concrete steps to provide relief to peasants who suffered losses due to natural calamities. Along with Tikait, many other peasant leaders are in jail. And the terrified people of the state are not able to digest Kalyan Singh’s words after he gave criminals the right to frame laws. As a whole it can be said that Kalyan Singh’s government has only come to mean terror and insecurity for the people of the state.

The people of Uttarakhand are also disillusioned with this government because the culprits of the Muzaffarnagar rape case have yet not been punished despite a second reminder from the High Court to do so. On the question of Uttarakhand too, the BJP’s politics of doublespeak stands exposed.

Speaking in terms of social compositon, it can be said that BJP has failed to expand its old base. A large section of the extremely backwards who once were with Mulayam, have gone back to the SP after the weakening of BSP. Majority of Muslims are still with Mulayam due to a lack of alternative. Muslim organisations have not been able to make their presence felt. At the same time, within the forward castes a section of the feudals and those from the royal families belonging to the Rajput communities have allied with SP. With the gradual weakening of the left-progressive camp, the liberal opinion has also tilted considerably towards Mulayam Singh. In this way the SP has improved its position relatively.

Sonia Gandhi’s plunge into electioneering has certainly shaken the BJP. Though it is true that she is not in a position to revive the Congress in the state and that the forward caste mass base is still with BJP, a dilemma can already be seen within the Brahmin power lobby, and their attraction to the Gandhi family as their natural leader has increased. A large number ofpeople from this section might turn up for the election meetings to hear Sonia. At a psychological level this will harm the BJP offensive and the popularity of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. BJP is aware of these limitations and it knows that if a major section of the extremely backwards allies with Mulayam and if Mulayam manages to make even a small inroad into the forward castes, then BJP will not be able to retain its earlier position. That is why, in spite of presenting a relatively liberal image at the national level, it is trying to whip up communal tension in the state. Creating a communal atmosphere in the state to win over the Valmikis in western UP and the extremely backwards elsewhere in the state, could prove an important tool for the polls. Fascist organisations in the Sangh Parivar like VHP and Bajrang Dal are threatening to repeat Ayodhaya in Kashi and Mathura. Right now Kanpur is engulfed in riots. Earlier BJP had been trying to instigate riots in Gonda and other districts by attacking the minorities and it is still heading in that direction so as to consolidate the Hindu vote and stop the minorities from casting their vote by creating terror within them.

Though Mulayam has emerged as a strong pole against the BJP for these elections yet his plank has been no less reactionary. During Mayawati’s tenure he had joined chorus with Kalyan Singh in condemning the so-called misuse of the Dalit Act by the Mayawati government. And now again he has intensified his tirade against the dalits with a view to appeasing and weaning away a section of the upper caste base of the BJP.

Kanpur, Varanasi, Gazipur etc. used to be the traditional seats of CPI and CPI(M). But due to their opportunist politics their mass base has been drastically reduced. That is why Mulayam is not in favour of giving these seats to his left allies and for some of these seats he has already unofficially declared the names of SP candidates. Under compulsions of national politics even if he finally concedes these seats to the left parties, it is very difficult for them to win them.

In these elections our Party is contesting in the constituencies of Salempur, Gazipur, Chandauli, Gonda, Pilibhit, Nainital and Jalaun. While making communal fascism our main target, we will raise the issues of social change, democracy, secularism, defence of the nation’s economic sovereignty and all the grassroots issues of the people.

The constituency of Salempur in the Poorvanchal region of UP covers old areas of our work. Covering parts of Balia and Deoria districts, it is dominated by the Kushwaha community, and the upper castes are a weak force here. In the last assembly polls we had polled more than 5,000 votes in one of the assembly segments of this constituency. We are concentrating on the dalits who are currently disillusioned with the BSP after its truck with BJP. Chandouli, which is one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies of Varanasi district, is also an old area of work. Here too large sections of dalits are disillusioned with the BSP. We also enjoy good support among the Muslims.

At Gonda, an upper caste dominated constituency, we have been at the forefront of the protests against the recent attacks on Muslims by BJP along with mafia gangs (see box). The BJP’s attempts to instigate communal riots was met with powerful protests from our Party. AISA led a more than 1,000-strong students’ protest and interestingly a large number of students belonged to poor or middle sections of the forward castes. This has won us a new mass base apart from the Muslims. In the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, we had polled more than 17,000 votes in this constituency.

Gazipur was a long-time CPI bastion, but due to its opportunist politics and consequent erosion of mass base, the CPI lost this strong seat in the last polls. We are concentrating on reviving the left base here which had shifted over mainly to the BSP. In Nainital in Uttarakhand, our main strength lies in the plains part of the constituency and also among women. Uttarakhand Kranti Dal is supporting us from this seat and we will support them in neighbouring Almora.

Jalaun is an extremely backward district of the Bundelkhand region of the state. Earlier CPI had an MP from this reserved constituency but today almost its entire base has been destroyed with majority shifting over to the BSP. However over the past few years, there has been a steady flow of CPI and CPI(M) activists and leaders to our fold though no significant mass base has crossed over to our fold. This is a new area of work for us and these elections will help us in making inroads into this region of the state. Our entry into the fray will also mean a reassertion of the left in this constituency which holds immense potential for work in the future.

We are hopeful that in these elections we will definitely be successful in advancing our work at the grassroots and also filling up, to an extent, the void that has come in the progressive camp in the state.

 --Akhilendra Pratap Singh

BJP-Police attack on CPI (ML) Meeting

The poll campaign in this constituency of UP had just kicked off when the BJP showed its true fascist colours. On 20 January CPI(ML) had organised a well-attended mass meeting at Ramlila Maidan of Colonelganj in Gonda district. The pre-declared meeting was first stopped by the police and immediately afterwards a gang of about 300 goons comprising BJP activists led by none other than their local MLA, Abhay Pratap Singh and another important activist, Guddu Singh.

While resisting the heinous attack by the goons and the disruption by the police, 125 CPI(ML) activists were arrested. Among those arrested were Lal Bahadur Singh, our parliamentary candidate from Gonda and Mahesh Singh, district secretary of the Party. By evening 93 activists had been sent to jail. Senior police officials present at the site mutely watched as the gang led by the MLA broke and tore apart the dais and walked away with all our campaign materials. The arrested leaders and activists were finally released following powerful protests. The District Bar Association struck work and some 300 lawyers gheraoed the DM.

Earlier on 31 December Guddu Singh and his goons had made a murderous attack on CPI(ML)’s Colonelganj office and the house of an activist. Three CPI(ML) activists were injured in the attack. An FIR was also lodged in Guddu Singh’s name but he is still roaming around scot-free.

The heinous attack on the CPI(ML) meeting was pre-planned. The attackers enjoy the full support of Kalyan Singh. The police here acts at the behest of BJP leaders.

These attacks are traced to the two solid campaigns undertaken by CPI(ML) against these two notorious MLAs last year. On 5 December a FIR was lodged at the Colnelganj police station against Ajay Pratap for employing bonded labour under him. The FIR was registeredunder IPC sections 374, 342, 504, 506, 323, 394 and other sections of the Bonded Labour Act. This was backed by a strong protest movement by our Party.

The other campaign was to thwart all efforts by the BJP activists and the local mafia led by Bawan Singh to incite communal violence. This had shot CPI(ML) into prominence as a consistent and serious anti-communal force and developed enormous potential for it to provide a stiff challenge to the BJP in the future. On 7 July Bawan Singh along with his brother and his goons were named in a FIR for inciting communal violence and terrorising Muslims in Colnelganj. Due to timely resistance from our Party serious communal conflagaration had been averted on that occasion. Yet again, on 31 October, the BJP activists and goons led by him tried to incite communal violence in Bangaon and nearby areas which are under his assembly constituency, by taking out processions of statues through prohibited areas in more than fifty villages. The local SI, SN Singh has accepted this in his report. A common muslim was also framed with the false charge of beheading a cow. He was kept under illegal detention and later a back-dated case was registered against him. The violence resulted in loss of life and property. On the same day launched a powerful movement against the MLA and demanded a judicial nquiry. Before this event the police had been forewarned by our local leaders but no action was taken.

These events had shot CPI(ML) into prominence as a consistent and serious anti-communal force and developed enormous potential for it to provide a stiff challenge to the BJP in the future. All these attacks by the BJP which are intended to intimidate us and keep us out of their territory only expose the BJP’s growing desperation.

--Arun Kumar


Constituency Profile: Pilibhit

The social composition in this constituency is rather unique. Settlers from outside constitute the determining force in victory or defeat in the elections. Economically dominant among them are Banias and rich Sikh farmers. There are a large number of "purbiah" (people from Eastern UP) settlers are well as Bengali settlers, some of whom are locally known as "withouts" (those without land and excluded from the voters’ list) and others as "thouts" (those who have lands and voting rights). For long years we have been known here as a party of the purbiahs and "withouts", but in recent times we have expanded our base among other sections. We have also been able to regain that part of our dalit base which had shifted to the BSP. Incidentally,in this part of the state the latter is a declining force now.

Politically our main target is the BJP-supported ‘independent’ candidate Maneka Gandhi, who had won the earlier election as a JD candidate. The main contest here however will be between the BJP and SP.

So far as our party is concerned, we expect to get votes from dalits and other lower castes like Pasi, Jathav, Tharu etc. and from oppressed people belonging to all castes and communities on the strength of our movemental identity developed over the decades. During Mayawati’s rule we had led an agitation for "red cards" (subsidised ration cards for the very poor) and got some 13,000 cards distributed in and around Puranpur sub-division of Pilibhit district.

In the middle of January this year, a pregnant lady named Saraswati Ghosh in the village Neuria (Bengali colony) under Neuria police station was tortured, stripped and sexually assaulted in the police station where she had been taken in connection with a false charge of murder in which her husband was also arrested. The dominant BJP leaders in the name of helping the victim supported the local and district authorities in hushing up the matter. The CPI(ML) and AIPWA formed a joint investigation team which conducted a thorough enquiry, and a militant demonstration was staged in front of the DM’s office along with a deputation, in which Smt. Ghosh also participated. In all these initiatives the leadership was provided by our Central Committee member and AIPWA leader Krishna Adhikari, who is our candidate in Pilibhit constituency. We also put pressure through the Women’s Commission in Delhi.

The authorities, as usual, continue to deny any such incident and to carry on repression. Very recently several of our comrades were arrested in connection with struggles conducted earlier, and two of them were charged under the National Security Act. But in the face of such odds, the movement is on and is surely growing stronger.

(Prepared on the basis of telephonic conversation with CPI(ML) candidate from Pilibhit, Comrade Krishna Adhikari)


Decadent Regionalism and Resurgent Tribal Movements

Hectic political activities are going on for political alliances, seat adjustments and overt and covert understandings for the coming Lok Sabha election in Assam. But all these things are yet to crystallise to give a clear picture. There are four contending forces in the state i.e. the Congress(I), the BJP, the regional forces and the revolutionary Left fighting under the banner of Assam People’s Front.
The national crisis of Congress(I) has had its impact in Assam and here too it is on the verge of a split although it may be a marginal one. However, from the analysis of 1996 elections in the state, it seems that the overall position of Congress has consolidated after the Tiwari Congress returned to its fold. In 1991, when AGP had split into AGP and NAGP (led by Bhrigu Phukan), Congress had secured 28.98% votes. In the next parliamentary polls in 1996, when the Congress had split, in spite of the mass resentment against the then Saikia government (1991-96), the Congress(I) secured 30.56% votes on its own while the breakaway Congress(T) managed 3.70% votes.
During the last 18-months rule of AGP, people are totally disillusioned with the Mahanta government for its complete betrayal. Among other things, the imposition of the Unified Command and Mahanta’s involvement with the LoC scam have chiefly fuelled this resentment. Moreover, AGP is again faced with another split. On the other hand, Congress having a statewide organisation, has support among almost all segments of the state population specially the tea workers and Muslims. United Minority Front’s (UMF) recent proximity to the Congress has come as an additional shot in the arm. In spite of the internal bickerings among the state leadership and desertion of some individuals like ex-MP, Bedabrata Barooah and Biswanarayan Sastri to the BJP and Kirip Chaliha to AGP, Congress is still in a favourable position from the poll point of view.
Of latr, the BJP has recorded quite a rapid and steady growth in Assam. Its vote-share increased by 4% in the 1996 polls. It is cashing in on the people’s resentment against the last 18 months of Mahanta government’s misrule. In particular, it could hijack some of the slogans of regionalism like deportation of foreign nationals, cancellation of the IMDT Act, preparation of correct voter’s list by deleting the names of foreigners etc., albeit giving them a communal bias. In this way it could eat up AGP’s mass base to some extent. BJP’s aggressive approach to capturing power at the centre has had its impact in Assam too. In particular, its apparent flexibility towards religious minorities and in turn snatching part of the vote bank of the Congress has also been reflected in its recent talks with the UMF although the talks ended up in a fiasco. But still it was successful in wooing important minority leader and an ex-AGP MP, Saifuddin. It will not be a surprise if BJP can moderately improve upon its 1996 tally.
Things are certainly not at all well with the AGP-led front. CBI’s seeking permission of the governor to chargesheet Mahanta in the LoC scam has further damaged AGP’s position. PDF, a Bodo political organisation, after severing its relation with the AGP-led front is again trying to forge ties with the front, but Bodos are not united. BSMC, another Bodo organisation backed by ABSU, has unilaterally announced the name of its candidate for the important Bodo dominated Kokrajhar constituency and Premsing Brahma, representing another Bodo faction, has joined Congress recently. Thus if the Bodo organisations do not unite among themselves, PDF’s unity with the AGP-led front will not have much of an impact.
This time AGP’s real problem is based on the divisions within the regional camp. Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, the erstwhile AGP leader who organised the new Anchalik Rajnity Suraksha Samity (ARSS), has just floated a new regional political party at a convention on 22 January. The Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) organised a political convention on 3-4 January. AASU organised a similar convention on 8-9 January 1998. All these are being held in search of a regional political alternative to AGP.
In the 1996 polls, ULFA backed AGP but after the elections the AGP government imposed the Unified Command sharpening the contradiction between AGP and ULFA. This time there is no possibility of ULFA’s support to AGP, rather they might extend support on an individual basis and may create violence during elections to regain their lost image. On the whole, the regional camp seems to be in deep trouble, and probably this indicates the growing disillusionment of the Assamese middle classs with the AGP brand of of regionalism.
The last but not the least important feature is the initiatives released by the left forces. While the official left has tied their fate to AGP, surrendering their independent left position, we in CPI(ML) have been consistently trying to polarise the polity to develop an alternative to Congress, BJP and AGP in which the Left, struggling tribal organisations and progressive regional forces would strategically come together. The formation of APF consisting of CPI(ML), ASDC, Mising Memang Kebag (MMK) and ADSF (leading autonomy movements for Tiwa tribe), has been an encouraging step forward in this direction. It has also begun to attract other plain tribes of Assam towards it. Particularly, Rabhas and Sonowal Kacharis have developed relations with APF. The Tribal Students’ Federation (TSF) has been trying to organise the tribal students on the line of APF and recently on 8 January, a political convention of tribals was organised.
ASDC’s role in all these initiatives in the overall state politics is very encouraging. Even though the ASDC candidate would face a tough resistance this time from Congress, BJP and AGP, we are hopeful that ASDC will retain the Autonomous District seat. The other APF constituents who are contesting from Lakhimpur and Nagaon seats are also hopeful of doing better. As a partner of APF, CPI(ML) this time will be putting up two candidates from Dibrugarh and Tezpur. This is the first time we will be contesting for the Tezpur seat which covers a number of tea-worker dominated assembly segments. Dibrugarh, a seat we have fought a couple of times earlier, also has a sizeable proportion of tea workers. Our work in these areas, especially among tea workers and sections of rural poor, has been steadily progressing and it will be our effort to consolidate our influence into a powerful political force.

--Anil Kr. Barooah


Realignment in the Right Reaction Camp

Just on the eve of the parliamentary elections, some features indicating changes in the political scenario of West Bengal have come to the fore. The internal friction between the Pradesh Congress Committee and the Youth Congress would not be resolved even by the intervention of the central leadership including Sonia Gandhi, and that culminated in the formation of the Trinamul Congress under the leadership of Ms Mamata Banerjee. In addition she floated the idea of a ‘save-Bengal Front’ in a bid to unite all the forces of opposition against the Left Front government. BJP also declared that it would unite with the forces capable of combating the ruling Left. However, after a prolonged process of negotiation the two reactionary outfits failed to forge an electoral alliance. As of now, the ultimate shape of their love-hate relationship is not very clear, but some sort of seat-sharing adjustment is definitely being hammered out. But so far as Mamata’s `Save-Bengal Front’ is concerned, she has failed to enlist any of the forces or political trends with a social base.
For the last twenty years the Congress could maintain a steady vote-bank of around 40%. In the 1996 parliamentary elections when in the rest of the country the Congress cut a very sorry figure with its corruption-tainted image looming large, the picture here was different. It could double its tally. But this time around its disaster at the national level, its synonimity with corruption and its split in the West Bengal unit will surely leave their mark in the coming elections in West Bengal.
The CPI(M) and the LF think that the division in the Congress vote-bank will yield it handsome advantage. But within the CPI(M) too, debates and factional infighting are on the rise. One cannot forget that in the 1996 elections in quite a few places there was negative polling which ultimately helped none but the Congress.
The people are increasingly feeling the impact of the anti-people policies of the LF Government. Add to it CPI(M)’s political terror and the repression by the police and the administration. The most embarrassing aspect for CPI(M) is that even after allowing rich concessions to the multinationals and the capitalists, and even after signing scores of MoUs, the industrial scene looks bleak and new industries are few and far between. Moreover there are countless closed and sick industries, and their numbers are on the rise. Eviction of hawkers, the passing of industrial lands to the promoters, the repression of the workers’ movements and hobnobbing with the capitalists — all these had their impact on the industrial belts of Hooghly, Howrah, North 24 Paraganas and Burdwan during the last elections, and this time also these issues are going to leave their mark. During the last two years the CPI(M) and the Left could not recover the lost ground so far as these issues are concerned.
As for the BJP, in the last elections its share of votes in the state was reduced by 6%, and the alternative left trend also fared badly. In the present election the BJP is in a better position at the national level and is likely to increase its share of votes in the state a little.
Mamata Banerjee has a substantial following among the youth section of the Congress, and she may slip in with a seat or two and dent the traditional vote-bank of the Congress. However her influence among the peasantry and the workers are negligible. Her hobnobbing with Siddhartha Ray, notorious for his role during the black days of the ’70s, in West Bengal, is also being widely criticised.
As for our own participation in the polls, the perspective is that of making our presence felt as an alternative force in the left movement. The SUCI is the other contender which also seeks to project itself as an alternative left force against the Left Front government.
We shall contest in the main areas of our movement, particularly in those constituencies where our party is coming up with its own identity. Our party has been able to a certain extent to establish its base among the agrarian labourers and poor peasants in the rural areas of the districts of Burdwan, Nadia, North Dinajpur etc. In Burdwan district, the struggling forces and a section of agrarian labourers from the CPI(M) base are joining our party defying CPI(M)’s politics of terror and murder. The same holds true in North Dinajpur. In these two districts we are contesting the Katwa and Raiganj seats respectively. In Nadia we have a traditional area of work, and the party here has a very positive record of developing struggles on various issues of the peasantry and against the police terror. Here in Krishnanagar we are trying to better our previous performance. We also have a positive appeal in the industrial belt of North 24 Paraganas, particularly among the jute workers. We are contesting the Barrackpore seat to increase our influence among the workers.
In all these four constituencies the CPI(M) is the leading force. Next comes Congress, and then BJP. Along with the main slogans suited to the national political scene, we will also forcefully raise the class issues relevant in the particular constituencies. Our campaign will also take on sharply the rightist propaganda of the BJP and the Trinamul Congress.

--Kartick Pal

Constituency Profile: Katwa
Numerically, agrarian labourers and poor peasants predominate among the voters. Also there are a good number of powerloom and handloom workers. Almost 40 per cent of voters belong to the Muslim community. We are trying to expand our base among, and hope to secure votes from, the agrarian workers and poor peasants. Our expectation is based on the fact that over the last few years we have been conducting struggle on various demands of these sections, resulting in a considerable shift of CPI(M)’s mass base to our fold in various parts of Burdwan and particularly in this area. We are also laying special emphasis on getting the support of Muslim masses.
The two main contenders are the CPI(M) and the Congress. At this primary phase, the former is spearheading attack against the BJP and soliciting people’s support for strengthening the UF. The Congress is highlighting the failures of the UF government and carrying on propaganda against the BJP’s slogan of stable government. We on our part have taken the CPI(M) as our target number one, exposing it politically for its apathy towards the interests of the toiling masses. Simultaneously, of course, we are carrying on our national campaign against the BJP and the Congress. In our poll-propaganda we are also highlighting the same demands of the toiling peasantry on which we have been conducting agitations in the fields for years on end.
(Prepared on the basis of interview with our candidate Kartick Pal, member of Polit Bureau)

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