Mass Political Campaign in Jharkhand : An Overview
D P Bakshi
On 15 November 2011, the state of Jharkhand completed 11 years. In its journey of more than a decade, Jharkhand has acquired two persistent characteristics: as a fertile ground for growing loot, and recurring political instability.
Corporate loot of natural rsources (land, forest, water and minerals) and human resources (cheap labour) has aggravated the loot in rural schemes below, and “commission”-centric loot by Ministers and bureaucrats at the top.
Conflicts emerging from the growing loot are a crucial factor behind the political instability in Jharkhand, but there are other factors too. The first-ever government in Jharkhand was formed by the saffron forces, which had had nothing whatsoever to do with 50 years of the legacy of the Jharkhand movement. As a result the Government, from its very birth, was marked by alienation from the broad aspirations of Jharkhandi people. None of the successive governments could eliminate this birth-mark, and all governments, BJP or non-BJP, remained products of crude opportunism and pragmatism, with no roots in popular support.
Second, regionalism in Jharkhand forced both BJP and Congress, or UPA and NDA, to depend on regional forces to form any government. Challenging the hegemony of JMM, the Sudesh Mahato-led AJSU and Babulal Marandi-led JVM have emerged as viable regional forces in Jharkhand. The AJSU began as a representative of the kulak power group of Kurmi background, promoting lumpenisation among a section of youth, and using the influence of deserted leaders of different political parties. And the JVM targeted a section of BJP’s support base among upper castes and the traders’ community and Congress’ support base among dalits and Muslims to strike a new social equation. The new generation JMM led by Hemant Soren, as well as AJSU and JVM also symbolise the degeneration of “regionalism” - into direct sharing of corporate loot. They are desperate to capture power in the state, to gain the bargaining power to woo corporate houses. This aspect of regional forces, beyond the limits of mere political collaboration with all-India parties, also fosters political instability.
Third, the long-cherished dreams and aspirations of Jharkhandi people are so fundamental and lively in nature, that it is very difficult for a government involved in growing loot, to create a smoke screen of “populism”. And without the ability to fool people at least some of the time with doses of “populism,” it is very difficult for any government to achieve political stability. For instance, in spite of repeated promises, the Jharkhand government has failed to issue any new ration card or red card for the rural poor.
Right from the beginning, CPI(ML) has recognised this inbuilt paradox of Jharkhand, championing the aspirations of its people with the agenda of “Jharkhand Punarnirman,” and combining our active and vibrant voice in the Assembly with militant mass struggles on the streets. This has expanded our profile both in terms of political identity and social support.
Intervening in the political situation in Jharkhand, CPI(ML) has conducted a concerted mass political campaign in Jharkhand over the past couple of months. Below we look at the backdrop and experiences of that campaign.
New Paths of Corporate Plunder
The Arjun Munda Government’s latest ploy to expand the scope of corporate loot has been an amendment in the state’s mining policy, placed last August in the Assembly session. Generally, “lumps” of iron ore (of relatively big size) are extracted for the production of steel. In this process, “fines” (granules of iron ore) are also produced which cannot be used in steel production. Recently, China has developed a specific technology to exploit the “fines” in the process of steel production. Reports suggest that China has adopted the policy of keeping the reserve of iron ore in its country intact as far as possible, maintaining the major part of steel production through importing “fines”. In Jharkhand, 80-90% of iron mines are captive mines. The proposed amendment suggests that captive mines be allowed to sell “fines” in the open market. Of course, the amendment does not propose that these fines be directly exported (though this distinction is meaningless, since there cannot be any meaningful restriction of “export” via any party in the internal open market). Moreover, the amendment suggests that the size of “fines” be changed, thereby facilitating the smuggling of “lumps” of smaller size in the name of “fines.”
The lone CPI(ML) MLA, Comrade Vinod Singh, raised a powerful voice against this proposed amendment. Gradually, more or less the entire opposition, especially the JVM, actively joined this protest. When the Government seemed all set to go ahead despite repeated adjournment of the Assembly session and heated debates, Comrade Vinod, along with more or less the entire opposition, began a “silent” sit-in demonstration in front of the well of the house. The Government insisted on proceeding, ignoring this all-out protest inside the Assembly. Eventually, the Assembly session concluded with a postponement of the amendment of the mining policy, instead of rejection as demanded by the Opposition.
Meanwhile, the Munda Cabinet adopted the proposed amendment, bypassing the Assembly. In the next winter session in November 2011, Comrade Vinod repeatedly raised his voice against this new mining policy and its undemocratic implementation. The Assembly deliberately refused to debate the issue or respond to his objections. Even the entire Opposition, including the JVM MLAs, kept silent on the issue, leading to speculations about a deal of crores of rupees involving corporates, Government and Opposition parties.
CPI(ML) took up an intense campaign against corruption and corporate loot, exposing the new mining policy of the Munda government, being introduced with the collusion of all ruling class forces in the state.
Some Recent Experiences of Struggle and Expansion
Chandankyari block of Bokaro district
This block is an emerging industrial hub, with Electrosteel Company, private coal mining, ONGC’s methane gas plant, and a mega-power plant which is a joint venture of NTPC & SAIL. This block is witnessing a belated reaction by farmers displaced by the Electrosteel Company, which accumulated small tracts of land at nominal prices through a network of middlemen, instead of land acquisition by the government with ‘standard’ compensation, and also the anger of contract workers engaged in construction for the same company.
Comrade Vinod’s intervention in the Assembly resulted in the formation of a House Committee (of which Comrade Vinod is a member) to investigate the land acquisition and status of contract workers of the Electrosteel company. The Bokaro district Party also led several protest movements, organising displaced farmers and contract workers alike. The party led protests against the death of a contract worker, who was also a local villager, in firing by a security guard of the Electrosteel company. Thanks to such struggles and Comrade Vinod’s intervention, some of displaced farmers could get better compensation, and the Electrosteel Management was forced to pay minimum wage, and declare the list of contract workers through a notice board in front of Electrosteel gate.
Starting from scratch, we established a primary party network in the area in the course of such struggles and efforts for the past year and a half, and an AICCTU-affiliated unit of Jharkhand General Mazdoor Union with at least 500 members is now active in Chandankyari.
Chandowara block, Kodarma District
DVC is constructing a Mega Power Plant in this block. In 5 panchayats nearby, some struggling forces joined our party, and we could form a party unit. We began to mobilise both displaced farmers, as well as contract workers employed in the construction process in struggles and campaigns.
A militant month long strike was organised by construction contract workers, demanding minimum wage as fixed by central public enterprise (which is 2-3 times more than the minimum wage fixed by the state). This struggle is especially significant because displaced farmers actively supported the contract workers’ strike in every way. After a protracted struggle, the district administration was forced to intervene, and the demand was achieved. Throughout, ruling class parties like BJP, Congress, and JVM openly stood by the management.
Our Party also won some crucial victories in Panchayat elections, securing the post of Vice President of Panchayat Samiti.
Sikaripara Block of Dumka District:
Jindal has started land acquisition here for a Mega Power Plant and other industries. Dumka is a tribal-dominated scheduled area. A few years ago, 3 tribals protesting land grab were killed in police firing in the in adjacent Katikund block. In Sikaripara, our Party’s intervened consistently in the mass resistance struggle against land grab. The ensuing support resulted in the victory of all ward members, Mukhia and Panchayat Samiti member in the last Panchayat elections in Haripur panchayat.
Recently we intensified our efforts to organise workers of stone quarries in the AICCTU-affiliated Construction Workers’ Union, with struggles on the issues of minimum wage and work place safety.
As suggested by the experiences recounted above, our party’s efforts in Jharkhand are to consolidate and expand our political presence with effective and forceful intervention in the changing scenario of land grab and industrialisation.
Police Conspiracy In Garhwa
Mass Political Campaign Against Plunder and Repression, For People’s Rights
The Jharkhand unit of the party decided to organise a state wide mass political campaign from 16 November 2011 to 16 January 2012, immediately after the Jharkhand Formation Day (15 November) 2011. The campaign would focus on people’s rights against corruption, corporate loot, state terror and repeated betrayals by state governments.
The campaign began with a rally at Bishungarh (Hazaribagh district), addressed by the party General Secretary Comrade Dipankar, which sparked off our election campaign in the Mandu by-polls.
In addition to a vigorous election campaign, mobilised at short notice, we could also add some new dimensions to our anti-corruption campaign, catching JMM and AJSU brokers red handed as they distributed money and clothes. We got 23,100 votes (about 2,700 less than in the last Assembly election). BJP and AJSU, who had contested the last elections, supported JMM, resulting in sharp polarisation this time around. In this backdrop, our votes can be considered more or less satisfactory.
This was followed by a “Halla Bol” Rally at Rajdhanwar (Giridhi) on 17 November 2011, addressed by Comrades Rajkumar Yadav, Vinod Singh, party CC member Manoj Bhakta and Comrade Dipankar.
On 14th December 2011, a “Parivartan Rally” was held at Garhwa, addressed by State Secretary Comrade Janardan Prasad, Comrades Kalicharan Mehato, Ravindra Ram, Zila Parishad Chairperson Comrade Sushma, and party GS Comrade Dipankar. Following the success of this rally, the administration in collusion with ruling parties has unleashed a campaign of state terror against our party, attempting to frame leaders in false cases and link CPI(ML) with ‘ISI’ and Maoists.
On 19 December 2011, a “Jan Akrosh” rally was organised at Deori (Giridih), with impressive mobilisation of rural poor including considerable sections of minority and tribal people along with women. The rally was addressed by Comrades Satya Narayan Das, Osman Ansari, J P Verma and Comrade Dipankar among many others. The rally was a befitting reply to AJSU/JVM’s attempts to misguide the people of the Jamua Assembly area.
On 22 December 2011, an impressive rally was organised at Dumka to observe Santhal Pargana Divas (anniversary of the date when the British were forced to form a separate district here). The majority of the participants were poor tribals of Santhal background, half of whom were women.
From 25 December 2011 to 10 January 2012, the Party organised an intensive Padayatra (march on foot) in Giridih in four assembly segments - Bagodar, Rajdhanwar, Jamua and Gandey. The campaign focused on the betrayal of people’s aspirations by all state governments of Jharkhand, and on people’s rights, including ration cards, other rural development, land, democratic rights and dignity.
The entire party leadership from block to district to the state, including the party’s MLA, was the core force which led this Padayatra in four regions. The Padayatra would begin with a core force of 50–200 people, accompanied by a section of people from every village that was crossed. When the Padayatra had covered the entire Panchayat, the mobilisation would reach between 500-3000 people. At the borders of the next Panchayat, at least 100 to 200 people would wait, welcoming the padayatra, and there the people of former Panchayat would bid goodbye to the yatra (journey). Except for a brief break for lunch in some village, the yatra used to continue for 10 hours at a stretch. The leading comrades including Comrades Manoj Bhakt, Vinod Singh, Rajkumar Yadav, and Rajesh Yadav, walked nearly 400 km on an average in 10 days.
The Padayatra turned into a virtual festival of the people, decked with the red flag and with the traditional cultural touch of drums, nagara, madal etc. The campaign culminated in the “Sankalp Sabha” on 16 January 2012 (martyrdom day of the party’s late MLA and CC member, Comrade Mahendra Singh) at Bagodar. The Sankalp Sabha was addressed by Comrades Janardan, Manoj Bhakt, Shubhendu Sen, Vinod Singh, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya as well as several state and district leaders of the party.
Taking the campaign into its next phase, the Jharkhand party is now preparing for its State Conference at Kodarma, to begin on 23rd March 2012 (Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day) with an impressive mass rally.