On the Campaign Trail…
A Note from Jharkhand
Koderma Parliamentary constituency in Jharkhand had popped a surprise in the last (2004) election and CPI(ML) candidate was the runner up polling more than 2.5 lakh votes. That is why the ruling class parties were in a state of anxiety this time. Babulal Marandi, ex-CM of the State who quit BJP, is the candidate supported by mafia-contractor-money bag nexus and tried to fool the masses by projecting himself as third front candidate. The campaign pitch and appeal of RJD too was not impressive to arouse enthusiasm among its social base. BJP too had its candidate here.
The rank and file of Party took the call of Central Committee very seriously and whole heartedly to focus on this seat in Jharkhand. We were successful in expanding our class mobilization along with bringing closer newer social bases from Yadav, other backward communities and a large and new section of Muslims. The Party General Secretary too was present for guiding and participating in grassroots mobilization of the newer bases which also enthused the Party members. There was a series of dozens of public meetings and mass contact programmes were held widely for effective propaganda. The highlight of the campaign was a motorcycle rally comprising of more than 2500 motorbikes. The rally toured the entire constituency and helped in energizing the cadres. Jan Sanskriti Manch issued two rousing audio tapes and CDs titled – ‘Voice of Change’ and ‘Battle for Transformation’ which also helped to stir people’s mood further for change. Through these and other propaganda forms we awakened the masses for intensifying the battle against loot-repression regime of UPA and NDA by uniting with CPI(ML) and for building a true people’s bloc and voice inside the Parliament. This was received heartily and warmly by the people.
Similarly, we contested the Chatra Parliamentary seat after a long time. Here we undertook an impressive and aggressive campaign. In addition to the central campaign slogan here we also raised the slogan of Strengthen CPI(ML) Against Feudal-Communal Offensive and Loot-Plunder. Here too an impressive motorbike rally of 400 youth touring the entire constituency energized the campaign. In Barwadih a large rally of rural poor was taken out led by State Secretary Com. Janardan. Com. KD Yadav addressed public meetings in Latehar. Apart from these there were numerous motorbike and bicycle rallies at the local levels livening-up the campaign. Our candidate Ranjan Yadav was earlier a senior-level activist of the People’s War and later Maoist stream and a large social base influenced by him has come closer to us.
In Palamu too our campaign was impressive and reached to the masses. In Garhwa we have been able to attract a large section of Muslims. In the first phase our enthusiasm has got a boost by the active support of various social bases and new forces joining us and we hope to continue the trend.
Fake Encounter in Latehar
Following a Maoist blast in Latehar on April 15 just preceding polling day, a police terror campaign took the lives of 5 young tribals. CPI(ML) sent a fact-finding team comprising Com. Birju Ram (CPI(ML) State Committee member), comrades Surendra Singh and Suresh Ram (District Committee members), Father Siby, priest of a local Church, social activist Victor Kerketta and some others.
A summary of the team’s findings is as follows:
Barhania village is located in the jungle just away from the Barwadih-Mandal road which is 20 km from Barwadih police station in Latehar district of Jharkhand. On the morning of 15 April while the CRPF personnel were going to mandal at 6:30 in the morning, a blast occurred at Barhania and a gun battle with the Maoists ensued. At about 7:30, one hour later, the police went to Barhania village and rounded up five men and dragged them to the road, beating them all the while. These were Sanjay Bodra, 21, a BA student in Ranchi, two sons of Soma Bodra – Supay Bodra (18) and Masih Bodra (16), as well as Pitaye Munda (38) and Supai Bodra (20). When the family members of those taken away tried to follow, they were prevented by the policemen. People were terrified and suddenly another round of firing sound was heard. At first people thought that the policemen would interrogate and then release the five. But when they did not return by afternoon, the villagers marched to Barwadih through the jungle. When they enquired in the Block they were told about some people killed in encounter. When they were finally shown the photographs of the dead bodies they were shocked to find that their boys had been killed mercilessly. The villagers immediately lodged a complaint with the BDO that the killed persons are no naxals but five innocent men from the village who were rounded up by the police and later shot dead. The dead bodies were lying in Barwadih police station but the policemen did not hand over the bodies. After the post-mortem in Latehar Hospital the police declared the bodies to be unclaimed. However, just then comrade Birju Ram, CPI(ML) District Secretary convinced the doctors to give the bodies to the family members. The Administration was bent on cremating the bodies instead of giving them to the family members.
Later, the Party organised a meeting of the villagers where it was decided to launch a protest movement. While the election campaign was going on the Party called for a meeting of local activists from different parties to intensify the struggle against the massacre. Hundreds of villagers marched to the police station on 19 April and registered an FIR against the killers. On the same day a Barhania bundh was called by the Party and all traders downed their shutters on their own in protest against the massacre. Also, a march was held by the Party on the same day in Barhania and immediate arrests of all accused was demanded in addition to Rs. Ten lakh compensation to the kin of those killed. A 21-member all-party committee has been formed with social activist Victor Kerketta as its convenor and CPI(ML) leader Kanhai Singh as co-convenor. The Party has also decided on State-wide protest against this heinous incident. Dharnas and protest demos will be held in different sub-divisions on 21 April and demonstrations will be held at district headquarters on 30th April. If the demands are not met then protest will also be taken to the gates of Governor.
Seeing a general outburst of people after this massacre many political leaders have started shedding crocodile tears. From the local MLA to former Speaker Namdhari Singh have made visits to the village but they also cast doubt on the identity of those killed, suggesting that the incident was condemnable only so long as the victims had no links with Naxals: a position met with much protest and anger by the villagers, who said that a fake, custodial killing was a crime regardless of the political sympathies of the victims. Further these politicians never demanded any punitive action against the killer police personnel.
Battle of Bhojpur
In Bhojpur, it was (hu)manpower battling against money and muscle power in the district. For the District Party Committee, the election was a continuation of ongoing struggles. Movements for inclusion of all poor and agricultural labourers in BPL list, jobs under NREGA and setting up paddy procurement centres for farmers continued right-up-to the day the election was announced. This is one crucial reason why the ruling class parties were not successful in their attempt to hijack the basic issues of people and instead thrust down superficial issues while campaigning for Ara seat.
Due to delimitation of constituencies the Ara Parliamentary seat now only comprises of area falling under Bhojpur district. Assembly-level committees had been formed prior to the election which helped achieve an impressive campaign in comparison to other parties. The late Ramakant Dwivedi Ramta was not physically present amongst us, but his Bhojpuri lyrics sung by artists of Hirawal reverberated in nooks and corners of towns and villages of Ara.
The CPI(ML) candidate Arun Singh received widespread support as the only candidate whose purpose in contesting is not to procure a license to loot. JD(U) had given Meena Singh, wife of ex-MP Ajit Singh as its candidate from Ara. After her husband’s death she had won the Bikramganj by-election. In this election a leaflet from the people of Bikramganj constituency came out addressed to the people of Ara constituency. Meena Singh is daughter-in-law of Tapeshwar Singh, who is regarded as the head of ' co-operatives mafia.' The revelation that the money being spent by her in this election is the wealth looted from the peasants and farmers in the form of taxes of cooperatives was received with anger by the people of Ara. If their efforts of polarising votes along caste lines could not succeed, the fact behind this is that now even the rich farmers after poor-middle peasantry are bearing the brunt of anti-farming economic policies of these parties. In the hope of this kind of polarisation and support of RJD’s social base the LJP brought Rama Singh from Hajipur and made him candidate from Ara. Maner, which before delimitation accounted for one-third of RJD’s vote share has gone out this time from the Ara Parliamentary constituency. RJD gave this seat to LJP fearing chances of defeat. However, as was seen during the campaign and election, neither polarisation of upper caste peasants nor rallying of RJD’s social base happened fully behind LJP. The Congress candidate from here has been involved in defrauding the Food Corporation of India and has amassed huge wealth from that. Taking its cue from the JD(U) and LJP the BSP too fielded Rita Singh in an attempt to appeal to feudal feeling .
Ara went to polls in the first phase (16 April). The progressive-democratic intelligentsia and cultural activists also brought out a leaflet appealing to the people of Ara to ensure victory of CPI(ML) candidate. The Left unity has been welcomed in Bihar and it was evident in Ara also.
Where ever our candidate Com. Arun Singh went he was welcomed and received warmly and with much enthusiasm. Hundreds of people accompanied him on foot in villages and in town lanes. The political awareness campaign undertaken by the Party during struggle march in February exposing the anti-people policies of UPA-NDA also had its impact in this election. Just prior to the nomination of candidates, wide support of people for us was reflected during intensive mass contact campaign in Bhojpur by the General Secretary of our Party.
On polling day this time the ruling class parties could not find agents for preventing the Dalits and weaker section of people from voting. Those booths where voting percentage used to be 80-90 after being controlled by musclemen and locally dominant sections, this time such booths did not record even the average voting. Ara recorded only 38 percent voter turnout, but the notable fact is that the booths considered to be favourable to us have averaged higher than other booths. The poor have cast their vote everywhere. Women supporters of our Party cast their vote but those of JD(U)-BJP or LJP-RJD were relatively lax in coming out to vote. CPI(ML) campaigned to make victorious the voice of people defeating the forces of loot and oppression.
Parallel Poll Campaign in Robertsganj
The CPI(ML) candidate, Jitender Kol’s nomination for the Robertsganj Lok Sabha constituency (Uttar Pradesh) was rejected for having two proposers who had used thumb impressions instead of signatures. Calling this move an act of political victimization and contempt of the illiterate tribal population in the area, CPI(ML) had called for a ‘Put your thumb impression and save democracy campaign’. The campaign involves calling for a boycott of the elections by participating in parallel polls and putting thumb impressions on ballot papers printed for the protest.
The tribal population in the area was being cheated of their forest rights, public funds and by scams in NREGA – and CPI(ML) had led protests against all this. Now the adivasis’ right to choose their own representatives was being challenged. CPI(ML) has been leading the democratic struggles of the poor peasants and tribal population in the region and there has been a huge response to the CPI(ML) called parallel polls as this voiced the anger and grievance of the people. Large numbers of people lined up to put their thumb impression on ballot papers printed for the occasion.
The district administration and police unleashed repression in the villages. In Khaswuan village and Magardahan village, police entered the home of Vijay Kol, an activist of the agrarian labour organisation-AIALA, without search warrants and ransacked his house. Others in these villages have also been harassed. The police in the meantime also campaigned for BSP and SP, as the former’s candidate won by a narrow margin of only 300 votes in the previous election. One policeman, Nathu Yadav, a sub-inspector at Karma police station, harassed the Kol villagers to vote for Samajwadi Party. The district administration instead of taking action against the policemen, clearly violating the election code and service rules, instead has resorted to arresting three of CPI(ML)’s leaders - Manish Sharma, UP State Committee member, Rishidev Shukla, District committee member and Mohammed Qalim, District Committee member – from the party office in Robertsganj. They were released only after intensified people’s protests.