When the rich brutally attack the poor on a daily basis it is “peace” and when the poor stand up to resist the attacks, then it is said to be “disturbed”, explained a comrade, in a village where we had stopped for the night after campaigning. And by that explanation, Jehanbad and Arwal are “disturbed” areas.
We had arrived at this predominantly dusadh hamlet after the residents had already retired for the night. Most of the persons in the village were involved in agrarian work and had had a long day harvesting the ripe rabi crop. The next day was going to be another long one, yet that did not dampen their curiosity. A group of women and young boys gathered around a lantern in feeble light and asked about the response that we had got during the day. An old woman, who had been listening to the conversation, told us that all the families in the area were firmly with maley. With this announcement the women in the room began to disperse to organize a meal. The rice, flour, dal and milk arrived from different households and the cooking began. There was a well-practiced ease in the entire operation, indicating that people often came unexpectedly to the village.
Members of the campaign team asked the women not to bother much with the cooking and asked them to come up just with the minimum. A woman dismissed the appeal mildly, “You must eat properly, we will also make rotis and sevai. You are doing this for us. You are here because we are here, and party is there because the poor are there.”
The statement carried a weight far beyond the mildness with which she spoke. A barely literate woman, her statement indicated the impact of 25 years of movement in the area in the transformation of consciousness of the people. Neither did she think of waking up in the night to cook as a bother nor the visit of student and cultural activists to the village as unusual. Both were part of common goals and the support that each gave to another as part of comradeship. Such internalization of the need for the party amongst the toiling poor was something commonly seen across different areas of struggle. It is probably with the strength originating from such internalization, that people are able to move further and further into struggle inspite of repression from the state, massacres by Ranveer Sena and misguided attacks of anarchic groups.
In all the places that I stayed, as part of the campaign team, a name that people would often remember, was that of Comrade Manju Devi who broke caste and patriarchal norms all her life, and had dedicated herself to organising agrarian labour with the CPI(ML). She was killed in November 2003 by Ranveer Sena goons, patronised by the JD(U) and protected by the RJD as well as the State Congress President of Bihar, in-front of whose house the murder was committed.
In Karpi, the place that she was born, a black cement bust of Comrade Manju looks towards the village market. The black granite slab has been disfigured twice by the Ranveer Sena, but the statue stands as a salute to determination. The election campaign began in Karpi with a red salute to the martyr.
Just as the election campaign was about to start, on 2 April the Supreme Court, which was expected to dismiss the ridiculous and baseless imposition of TADA on 14 activists in Jehanabad, gave a judgment upholding life imprisonment. From within the jail, the prisoners issued an appeal demanding that if the legal courts were so biased then they be judged by the people’s court. The other prisoners at Jehanabad jail supported the position and contributed their small savings to the struggle. The TADA convicted includes popular leaders like Shah Chand, known for his outstanding work as Mukhiya of Bhadasi- and recognized even by the administration for evolving a new and effective model of canal building. Inspite of the repression and the losses, the public meetings at Jehanabad, Masaudi and Arwal became converging points for hundreds and thousands of people.
It is not as if participating in the election was by itself an easy task. The poor have rarely been allowed to exercise their franchise in these areas. The power lobbies within the village always took for granted that they would vote on behalf of the poor. The poor have resisted this and were now claiming their right to stand on their own as a political force, but the efforts to prevent were many. Booth capturing has become part of booth management. But this time a move by the election commission to shift the polling booths from the community center to the schools precipitated this further. And it was left to CPIML to campaign and point out that, this shift only made it convenient for the power lobbies in the village to get away with the murder of democracy. The schools here are mostly located in upper caste areas and the community centers in the areas resided by low ranked castes. Thus, a shift of booths to the schools helped the upper caste groups to prevent the entry of voters, whom they suspected would vote against them.
Even as the poor were fighting to cast their votes, anarchic groups like MCC and PW were preventing them from voting or campaigning, supposedly in the name of poll boycott. However, it was an open secret all across Arwal and Jehanbad that they were acting as agents of RJD. While they attacked and looted the campaign vehicles and offices of all candidates, those of RJD were spared. The poll boycott imposed with barbaric threats of cutting limbs and private parts, were also only for the dalit and the poor while the rich and the upper caste went and voted without hindrance. A one time tactic of election boycott, was thus being used to keep the poor from emerging as political force by anarchic groups. These groups were thus, at one level, operating in a political line that had frozen in time. At another level, many people pointed out that extortionist, lumpens and erstwhile Bhoomi Sena members had become leaders of the PW –MCC squads and ran them to the instructions of RJD. This was validated by the incidents at Imamganj and Masaudi, where they attacked and set on fire the Maley jeep while the RJD ones moved freely. The suspicious nature of their activities also becomes evident when we see that they have placed Comrade Kunti Devi, a popular woman leader of Jehanabad and involved in organising agrarian labourers on their hit list.
Soon after the elections were over, Ranveer Sena gunned down two people who had been returning form a mela. They were neither the activists of any left organization, nor were they part of any organized village. They were gunned down to create terror. The oppressed try to hold on to their power by wielding fear. But ironically, these acts show how much they fear those who resist and challenge them. q