Popular Struggles and Left Assertion
Punjab is going through a lot of turmoil. The state which is known as the granary of India is now in the grip of an acute agrarian crisis. Reeling under spiralling debts, marginal peasants and agricultural labourers in many parts of Punjab are being driven out of agriculture. According to Prof. Sukhpal of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, around 2.5 lakh households have been pushed out of agriculture during 1995-2005 and 7,500 new households have joined the category of rich farmers with landholding exceeding 25 acres.
Contract farming is on in full swing with Reliance, Nestle, Pepsico and other MNCs taking over large tracts of farm lands on lease for a period of anything between 10 to 55 years. Large tracts of land are also being appropriated by the education mafia for private engineering and medical colleges run by the kulak-trader lobby. Massive real estate projects are coming up on agricultural land in the vicinity of towns and highways.
Only a handful of farmers and traders (not more than 7%) are reaping the harvest of this narrow kulak-landlord path of development and appropriating all government resources, while 65% of the farming population holding less than 10 acres of cultivable land are facing acute crisis. There is no increased industrial development in the state to absorb the people who are being pushed out of agriculture. The scope of employment in government jobs and public sector has been steadily declining while the private sector prefers to employ un-unionised migrant labour with low wages and little or no obligation to offer social securities of health, housing and pension benefits.
The Akali-BJP government is further burdening the common people by increasing taxes, levying user charges, raising transport fares and electricity tariffs and promoting privatization and corporatization in every possible sector. This has only aggravated the crisis and fuelled the anger of the common people who are bearing the brunt of the government policies.
There is a surge in ground-level popular struggles and various Left forces are playing a key role in many of these struggles. The ongoing movement against the unbundling of Punjab state electricity board has acquired a sustained and broad popular dimension defying severe repression, police firing and repeated victimizations through fake cases and arrests. Recently the movement has witnessed two massive mobilizations of 30 to 50 thousand farmers and agricultural labourers in Jagram and Moga.
There is of course a section of rich peasants who wants to blunt the political edge of the movement and restrict its scope by excluding the issues of the agricultural labourers and often settle half way through talks and deals with the government. However, the movement has galvanized the people at the grassroots and is objectively acquiring a growing political edge.
There is also a growing movement of students demanding concessional bus passes in the private buses even as the Badal government is steadily privatizing the state transport service. Since Mr. Badal’s family is virtually monopolizing the ownership of private fleets in state roadways, massive attacks by the goonda-police nexus were unleashed on the protesting students. Student organizations responded with huge state-wide mobilisations in Moga against these attacks. Mr. Badal came out with an ordinance to force the students to pay for ‘damages caused to the buses by the agitation’. A large number of youths who were recruited as teachers on contract basis are fighting for the status of government employees. The self-immolation of one young woman at a dharna in Kapurthala gave rise to massive protests and pushed the government to concede some demands. The government employees had a good mobilization in Chandigarh centring on the demand of payment of 6th Pay Commission arrears.
But the social force whose assertion is most visible is the class of rural/agricultural labourers. The Mansa struggle just before the last assembly elections led by our Party on the issues of homestead land and NREGA attracted the attention of the whole state. Recently, when the sowing season of paddy started, our demand for Rs 2500 per acre for sowing paddy found widespread support and inspired the agrarian labourers. The drop in migrant labour gave a boost to the demand for local agrarian labour. Defying social boycotts and repressive and divisive tactics of the kulak lobby, agrarian labourers have won impressive wage increases with per acre sowing rate going up from Rs. 900-1200 to Rs. 1900-2300. This achievement has infused agrarian labourers in the entire Malwa belt with a new confidence and enthusiasm.
Another key issue of mobilization is the fight for implementation of NREGA. The government deliberately discourages the implementation of NREGA so that there is a large reserve of unemployed rural labour, particularly women, who can be recruited at very low wages and in humiliating conditions for sundry household and agricultural work in kulak households. Thus, though in Barnala and Mansa around 30% of the population comprises agrarian labourers with large number of reported cases of suicides, only 11 families in Barnala and 107 families in Mansa got 100 days jobs last year while nobody got unemployment allowance in these two districts. There is enthusiastic response amongst the rural labour, particularly among women, on the issue of NREGA. Now in the entire Malwa district, a massive campaign is being launched on the issues of homestead land, NREGA, BPL cards, wages and dignity.
The Badal government is coming down heavily on these movements with massive police repression and systematic attempts to justify these crackdowns by invoking the bogey of Maoism. Several leaders and activists have been booked under UAPA and the DGP has been holding press conferences to declare how firm he is in wiping out the “Maoist menace”. Former Chief Minister and other Congress leaders are also blaming the Badal government for its “failure” to tackle the Maoist problem which according to them has spread to all the 22 districts. And surprisingly, the CPI(M) too has raised the Maoist issue to dissociate from the united anti-privatisation movement. The mass organizations of the CPI and CPI(M), who were part of this movement, got isolated in the Jagram rally when other organizations refused to accept their sectarian demand of passing a resolution “condemning the Maoists for destabilizing the Left Front government in West Bengal”.
The need of the hour is to give the growing grassroots churnings a stronger political direction and work for a powerful Left assertion by taking agrarian labour activism as the key and uniting with the small-marginal peasantry. Given the strong caste-community links in the society and strong grip of religious bodies like SGPC which are controlled by the kulak lobby, it is difficult to make inroads in the farmers’ movement, but the government policies of opening up of agriculture and resultant agrarian crisis are providing the basis for increased differentiation within the peasantry. We must formulate correct policies to properly articulate and earnestly take up the real issues of the small-marginal farmers and agrarian labourers to bring about a change in the class-balance of forces in rural Punjab, particularly in the Malwa belt. This is essential for the assertion of the Left as an independent force in the challenging political scene of Punjab.
Mounting State Repression in Maya Raj
ON 13 May, Mayawati completed 3 years in office. In these three years, the BSP has systematised an extremely repressive regime in the state with steady erosion of all democratic rights.
It is indeed ironical that despite the Chief Minister being a woman and a Dalit, the crimes against these very social groups have increased tremendously under her rule, and the state police on several occasions have even refused to register their complaints. Mocking BSP’s poll-time promise of cleansing the state’s politics of criminal elements, we find that many known criminals, mafia dons and history-sheeters have found a safe haven in the BSP itself. The cleansing act has been reduced to an occasional arrest or a rare farcical expulsion. The abysmal state of law and order was evident when in March 2010 communal riots were allowed to escalate and continue for days in Bareilly, while the entire state and police machinery was kept occupied for “smooth” conduct of birthday celebrations of Kanshiram on March 15, 2010.
Farmers in particular are victims of the intensified loot and repression, at the mercy of middlemen who procure their produce at below the minimum support price and then sell them at support price. Recently, in Maikalganj (Lakhimpur Khiri) CPI(ML) activists caught one such truck that was carrying food grains procured from farmers by the middlemen. Farmers protesting against grab of fertile land by big corporate houses have been greeted with police firing as was recently witnessed across the stretch from Noida to Mathura. University campuses have also been targeted by this anti-democratic regime with a ban on student elections continuing across campuses in UP.
According to the figures released by the National Crime Record Bureau, the number of people killed in police firing in 2008 in UP is more than the number killed in police firing even in Kashmir. UP tops the list in encounter killings as well as in custodial deaths. The State Human Rights Commission has been purposely weakened leaving a majority of human rights violation cases unheard. Bureaucracy and police have been given a free hand to curb all democratic struggles raising issues of lives, livelihood and rights of poor people in the state. The entire range of forces of people’s struggle, civil rights groups and particularly CPI(ML) activists have been targets of politically motivated assaults and repression.
A case in point is a string of incidents in Ghazipur (which in recent times has emerged as a significant area of the CPI(ML) movement), which indicate that the state government has decided to systematically implicate our leaders and activists in numerous false cases and keep them behind bars in a desperate bid to curb the democratic struggles raising the concerns of the poor and the marginalised. On 28 September 2009, in the Lahana village of the district, our party activists caught some middlemen red handed while they were trying to sell away 16 sacks of rice for school mid-day meal scheme. The confiscated rice sacks were then deposited in the local police station. Later, when police did not take any action against the head of this racket, the party organised a Lahana March on 25 November, where the DSO gave a written assurance to initiate action against the corrupt traders and contractors involved in the black marketing of mid-day meal rice. But no action was initiated against these contractors and the middlemen. Instead, the CPI(ML) activists who caught the racketeers red handed were framed with false charges. Every time our leaders and activists have raised issues of corruption and siphoning of public funds, atrocities on the adivasis, they have been arrested, tortured in the police station and jailed with false charges under the 7th CLA act, Gangster Act etc slapped on them.
In a recent incident, on 14 May 2010, when CPI (ML) district head Rampyaare Ram and AISA’s Rajiv Gupta had gone to Ghazipur district jail to meet some of our party activists falsely framed and arrested under the Gangster Act, the police officials humiliated them hurling casteist abuses and assaulted them inside the police station itself. When they protested, they were booked under several fake cases and were subsequently arrested. Inside the jail too, ML activists and leaders are being targeted and denied even basic minimum facilities like bed and utensils.
Pilhibit has emerged as another key centre of repression of ML activists. Activists protesting against corruption in public distribution system, misuse of BPL funds and other malpractices have been brutally targeted and booked under false charges. In this series as many as 54 CPI(ML) leaders and activists have been jailed in recent times.
Against the organised loot, corruption and mounting state repression by the Mayawati govt, CPI(ML) organised a march in Varanasi on 2 June 2010. It was led by Polit Bureau member Comrade Ramji Rai and CPI(ML) UP state secretary Comrade Sudhakar Yadav. Despite the sweltering heat of the summer afternoon, hundreds of people and activists, including a large number of women, participated in the march. They marched from Cantt. Station to the Block office, raising slogans against the anti-people and repressive Mayawati government and demanded the release of all the ML activists booked under false charges in Ghazipur. The party state unit has decided to observe 26 June (Emergency Day) as Anti-Repression Day against the state-sponsored loot and repression.
RSS Goons Attack CPI(ML) Leader in Kalahandi :
Police Station Gheraoed in Protest
In protest against the brutal attack by RSS, BJP and BJD goons on Orissa state committee member Com Nilanjan Bhattacharya and demolition of tribal and dalit Christian houses in Ulladani village panchayat of Rampur block in Kalahandi district, nearly 500 activists of CPI(ML) gheraoed Kalahandi police station on 19 June. The CPI(ML) has been fighting for last four years for land and housing rights of local tribal and dalit Christian people. The local RSS unit however has been trying its level best to stop these people from getting their land rights so that communists did not get any foothold in that area. Yet defying RSS pressure, the land rights campaign succeeded in securing patta for some people. The RSS-BJP-BJD goons then forcibly demolished the huts set up by the CPI(ML) supporters on 9 June. When on the next day, Comrade Nilanjan went to investigate the case, the RSS-BJP-BJD goons assaulted and abducted him. Following intervention by the State Committee and a visit to the area by State secretary Comrade Khitish Biswal on 11 June, Comrade Nilanjan was eventually released. On 19 June nearly 500 people led by Comrades Nilanjan Bhattacharaya, Mahendra Parida, Arjun Majhi, Sanjay Naik, Balaram Hota and Joseph gheraoed the Kalahandi police station and asked the SP to take immediate action against the RSS-BJP goons. It may be noted that the area borders the Kandhamal region where the RSS-BJP had repeatedly unleashed anti-Christian communal violence in recent past.
CPI(ML) Team Visits Anti-Posco Struggle Area
A CPI(ML) team of leaders from Odisha comprising State Secretary Comrade Khitish Biswal, State Committee member Comrade Yudhisthir Mahapatra and AICCTU leader Comrade Mahendra Parida visited the anti-Posco struggle area on 7 June 2010 and talked to several activists and local people involved in the anti-Posco people’s struggle. Five years ago, Posco had signed an MoU with the Odisha government for setting up a steel plant in Jagatsinghpur. Billed as the biggest ever FDI project in India (involving an investment of $12 bn or Rs. 52,000 crore), the project has invited tremendous mass opposition ever since the MoU was signed five years ago. The project involves more than 4,000 acres of land including 3,000 acres of forest land and a proposed port at Jatadhari near the Bay of Bengal which clashes with the jurisdiction of the Paradip port.
While the local people have successfully resisted the Posco project for so long, official pressure for the beginning of the project has intensified in recent months. CPI leader Abhay Sahoo had a leading role in the movement, but during the last Lok Sabha elections the CPI entered into a seat-sharing alliance with the ruling BJD and won from Jagatsinghpur (the constituency that covers the proposed Posco project area) with BJD support. And then this year, the South Korean President was the guest of honour for the Republic Day parade and he threw all his official weight behind the project. In a clever move to divide the anti-Posco movement, Naveen Patnaik has requested Posco to relinquish its claim on the 300 acres of privately owned land leading to speculation that the government would like to facilitate a deal by separating the state land from privately owned land. In their discussion with movement activists, the CPI(ML) leaders cautioned against the government’s ploy and reiterated the party’s unflinching support for the land and livelihood issues of the people over the entire 4,000 acres of land and against any attempt to reduce the movement to the question of defending only the 300 acres of privately-owned land. Unfortunately, during the Rajya Sabha election the CPI had a discussion with the BJD under which the movement leaders have been persuaded to allow Posco officials to enter the area in the name of carrying out land survey.
AICCTU Leads Determined Struggle in Wazirpur Ind. Area
A workers' struggle has been on for past several months in the Wazirpur industrial area in Delhi. The workers of W.C. Steel factory have been fighting a protracted struggle for ensuring their basic mandated rights and facilities as the owner of the factory continues to deny them even the minimum wages. The struggle started in January with a petition submitted to the labour minister who is yet to take any action on the matter. With the Delhi government, labourv office and courts all siding with the recalcitrant owner, the workers faced retrenchments and all kinds of threats. However, the workers, despite being thrown out, have chosen to organise themselves under the banner of AICCTU and strike back with determination. For the past few weeks, the retrenched workers along with workers from other factories in the area have been sitting on a dharna at the factory gate braving all the usual intimidatory tactics, including a court case, by the factory owner to break the struggle.
On 21 June, AICCTU organised a massive demonstration at the local Deputy Labour Commissioner’s office. A large number of demonstrators with significant participation of women gheraoed the DLC office protesting against the collusion of the labour department with the guilty factory owners and demanding implementation of minimum wages and other legal provisions in the industrial area. The demonstration was led by AICCTU State Secretary Com. Santosh Roy and All India General Kamgar Union General Secretary Com. VKS Gautam. Several student leaders and activists from AISA also joined the demonstration in solidarity.
Addressing the demonstration, Com. Mathura Paswan of AICCTU unit of North-West Delhi accused the Delhi govt of wilfully allowing the violations of labour laws to continue in all the industrial areas. The fact that the labour laws are so brazenly violated even in the national capital exposes the real anti-working class politics of both the Congress and BJP, who have ruled Delhi all these days only to benefit the factory owners, he added. Com. Santosh Roy said that while the Sheila Dikshit govt is draining thousands of crores to project the Commonwealth Games as a symbol of ‘Delhi’s pride’, the wilful denial of legal rights of the millions of workers in Delhi’s vast unorganised sector and their abysmal working and living conditions should indeed be a matter of Delhi’s shame.
The demonstration forced the DLC to ask the factory owner to come for negotiations. The factory owner, however, refused to come to the spot. In fact, while staying away from negotiations on pretext of illness, the factory owner has mobilised other factory owners in the area to speak to the leaders of the struggle. In this meeting, they said that minimum wages were not paid anywhere in Delhi and they (the owners of other factories) would not allow it to be paid in a single factory. Local MLAs from the Congress and the BJP are clearly active on behalf of the owners.
Workers have decided to continue with their dharna at the factory gate till the guilty factory owner is brought to the negotiating table, all the retrenched workers are taken back and all pending payments according to the minimum wage laws are cleared. The ongoing struggle has become a rallying point for other workers in the area, who for too long had been browbeaten into submission and denied their mandated rights by a nexus of local police, labour department and govt officials, labour courts and the factory owners. AICCTU is determined to intensify the struggle and ensure that the unholy stranglehold of factory owners, local goons and government officials is decisively challenged by the collective unity of the workers in this industrial area.
Conference of Rickshaw Pullers
THE Delhi State Committee of CPI(ML) successfully organised the 1st Conference of cycle-rickshaw pullers at Sector 25 in Noida on 23 May. Two hundred rickshaw pullers participated in the Conference. A 15 member committee with Comrades Shyam Kishore Yadav and Suresh Paswan as President and Secretary respectively was elected through the Conference. AICCTU General Secretary Com. Swapan Mukherjee and Delhi Secretary Com. Sanjay Sharma addressed the conference and congratulated the participants. The Conference passed resolutions on several immediate demands of the rickshaw pullers including (i) granting of licences to all rickshaw-pullers and their mandatory inclusion in BPL and social security list, (ii) construction of cycle-rickshaw stands with shades and drinking water amenities, (iii) granting of easy loan and micro credits from banks to free them from the clutches of usurers, (iv) stopping all harassment by the police and administration and (v) recognising their service for its contribution to minimising environmental pollution.
Rural Poor Resist Pro-BJP Feudal Conspiracy to Stop Construction of Rural Road in Patna
LIKE the Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), Bihar Chief Minister too has a scheme of construction of rural roads in the name of “Mukhyamantri Gram Sadak Yojana” (Chief Minister Rural Road Scheme). But the scheme of a 300 metre road linking village Ghurnabigha in Paliganj to the main road, which was recommended by the local CPI(ML) MLA and approvedin 2006 itself could not be completed because of the stubborn resistance pro-BJP feudal elements.
Ghurnabigha is a predominantly dalit-backward village – it has 80 dalit households, 50 Yadav households and 20 families belonging to Extremely Backward Castes. Before the road was approved, all concerned households in Ghurnabigha and neighbouring villages had given their consent. Ghurnabigha residents even readjusted their houses to make room for the road, but pro-BJP feudal elements in neighbouring Bhedariya village refused to part with the 45 cents of land belonging to 9 families in their village and blocked the construction of the road.
Nitish Kumar government which brandishes roads as its single biggest achievement and loses no time to acquire poor peasants’ lands for building 4-lane roads (meticulously avoiding the land of the rural rich and feudal elements, even redesigning roads if necessary) could not settle the issue with 9 families for mere 45 decimal land. Comrade NK Nanda, CPI(ML) MLA from Paliganj repeatedly raised the issue in the Assembly and with concerned administrative authorities, but to no avail. Paliganj Area Committee of the CPI(ML) organized a dharna in front of the Paliganj SDO on May 26 and announced direct action on 14 June if the administration failed to resume construction work till June 13.
With administrative inaction continuing, hundreds of people led by Comrade NK Nanda began construction work on 14 June. Some miscreants from Bhedariya village had threatened to invite the Ranvir Sena to settle scores, but had to retreat in the face of the advancing contingent of the people which stormed barricades put up by the CRPF and Bihar Police commandos to proceed towards the road construction site. The people eventually relented only after the administration gave assurance of completing the construction work within 15 July.
RYA Indicts Nitish Kumar for Betraying Bihar's Youth
THOUSANDS of activists and members of Revolutionary Youth Association took out a protest march in Patna on 10 June indicting Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his act of betrayal against the youth of Bihar. The march led by RYA National President Mohammad Salim, General Secretary Kamlesh Sharma and Bihar State RYA Secretary Amarjit Kushwaha focused on the issue of increasing unemployment and job insecurity facing the Bihari youth. The marchers insisted on immediate filling up of 600,000 vacant posts in government employment in Bihar. They termed Nitish Kumar’s development rhetoric hollow and empty. “How can there be ‘development’ without employment, and how can there be employment without land reforms and industrialization”, asked the RYA marchers. The march also condemned the UPA government at the Centre for its shameless act of appeasement of US imperialism on the question of justice for the gas victims of Bhopal.
AICCTU Spearheads Struggle of Rice Mill Workers in Gangavati
RICE mill workers in Gangavati are on the path of struggles against illegal closures and denial of ESI and PF benefits. There is no semblance of implementation of any labour law in the entire region, where more than 10,000 workers are employed in rice mills. They work in pathetic conditions where not even muster rolls are being maintained. On 20 May, hundreds of workers gheraoed the office of the local BJP MLA stressing their demands. Industrial disputes and other legal proceedings are going on. In the meanwhile, workers are exerting pressure on the administration, the MP and MLAs.
On May 23, the workers organised a rally demanding action against the management. In the midst of this struggle, through contributions from rice mill workers, a new branch office of AICCTU was constructed in the area, which was inaugurated on 31 May by Party Central Committee member Com. Shankar. After inauguration of the office, a meeting of hundreds of workers was organized at the premises of a mill whose owner has been absconding for more than three months. The meeting was chaired by J Bharadwaj, State Leading Team member of the party. The entire mill premise has been occupied by workers and is being used for the purpose of workers’ meetings and struggles. Rice mill workers have started joining AICCTU rejecting established social democratic unions and their corrupt local leaders for their treachery. On 22 June, AICCTU organised a dharna in front of Gangavati taluk office highlighting the demands of rice mill workers. More than 200 workers from various mills participated in the dharna. Com. Bharadwaj, member of the State Leading Team of the Party led the agitation.
AISA Victory in Struggle Against Donations at Harapanhalli Colleges
AISA organized a rally and demonstration on 1 June against collection of exorbitant fees and donations for admissions in colleges in Harapanhalli taluk. Subsequent to the rally, the taluk administration was forced to convene a tripartite meeting of Assistant Commissioner, Tahsildar, Dy SP, principals of all colleges in the town numbering around 11 along with representatives of AISA. Because of pressure from AISA, the tripartite meeting abolished the donation component of Rs.2500 and decided to collect only Rs.2500 that mainly comprised the tuition fee and few others. Decisions of the meeting and also the revised fees were announced through notice board in each college. The abolition of donation would have benefited thousands of students while more than hundred students benefited directly because of the intervention of AISA activists. NEC member of AISA DM. Prasad, District President Parameshwarappa and taluk president Santosh led the entire struggle.
A new team of student leaders and hundreds of members have recently joined AISA in the taluk, leaving SFI due to its hand-in-glove role with hostel warden against students. AISA leaders thwarted attempts by the Warden for a compromise. Now, the students are being extended all facilities entitled to them, which was so long denied by the warden in connivance with the then student organization.
Movement for the Roofless
Shri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry is getting ready to celebrate the centenary of Shri Aurobindo’s arrival in the Union Territory. Shri Aurobindo, a great freedom fighter and poet and philosopher who had inspired many young Indian patriots in the battle for national liberation from the clutches of British colonialism, had reached this French Protectorate to evade the dragnets of British Rule.
Today, Shri Aurobindo Ashram has about 1400 inmates from different countries, living in about 500 spacious bungalows spread over 1000 acres. The Ashram also has about 2000 acres of vacant lands and around 1000 acres of Garden Estates Land for agriculture, horticulture and dairy farming. The Ashram Trust that was formed on the basis of the cardinal principle of “liberty, equality and fraternity” now presides over different kinds of businesses and commercial and industrial activities employing hundreds of workers and a large number of domestic helps, men as well as women, who are all being paid meagre wages, contrary to the founding principles of the Ashram and minimum wages and other relevant labour and social legislations of the country.
On the eve of the Centenary celebrations in Puducherry, the Movement for Protection of the Roofless has submitted a memorandum to the Aurobindo Ashram Trust management highlighting the following demands:
1. Ensure payment of minimum living wage to the workers and domestic helps who are working in different industrialand commercial units, and agricultural/horticultural/dairy operations run by the Ashram Trust and its subsidiaries and in Ashram housing quarters and shops;
2. Construct housing quarters for these workmen and domestic helps;
3. Run separate shools exclusively for the children of workmen and domestic helps; and
4. Provide a free hospital for the general public in Puducherry.
The memorandum, signed by S. Motilal, General Secretary of the Movement for Protection of the Roofless, has been submitted on June 7.