People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 23, 2007
CPI(M)’s Sanjay Chauhan Is The Front-Runner
N S Arjun
Lower Bazaar area in Shimla is a maze of very narrow lanes peopled by numerous street vendors and petty traders displaying their wares on both sides of the pathways. The area adjoins the famous Mall Road. As CPI(M) candidate Sanjay Chauhan led a procession of around 3000 Party workers and sympathisers through the area seeking votes on December 15, there was intense bustle in the area. The street vendors, petty traders and workers in big shops trooped out and warmly greeted the CPI(M) candidate. The shop owners too greeted him but not as enthusiastically as the others.
It appeared as though everyone in the area knew Sanjay Chauhan quite well. One could hear them say to him, with a firm resolve, “we will ensure your victory this time.” It may be recalled that he had lost to Congress candidate by a slender margin of around 1900 votes in the 2003 election. The faces of street vendors lit up the moment they saw him and the CPI(M) procession winding its way through to Subzi Mandi grounds for the public meeting to be addressed by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP Sitaram Yechury and CPI(M) J&K state secretary and MLA Mohd Yusuf Tarigami, and others. After all it was the CPI(M) and Sanjay Chauhan as Shimla district secretary of the Party who resolutely stood in their defence when efforts were made by the Congress government to evict them.
Apart from traditional strong base among hotel workers and other organised sector working class, in the recent past sections of unorganised sector workers have been drawn into the fold of the CPI(M) due to the various struggles it undertook in defence of their rights. From the government employees, university teachers to petty traders, Kashmiri migrant porters, slum-dwellers and construction workers, everyone have seen the commitment of the CPI(M) to defend their interests, not merely through words but in action. Added to this, the organised, issues-based campaign of the CPI(M) is evoking good response among the people. With polling to take place in another four days, i.e. on December 19, both the Congress and BJP parties are unnerved at these developments and are now concentrating their main attack on CPI(M).
Another major factor in favour of the CPI(M) in this election in Shimla is the non-closure of Himachal University during the polls. In the last few elections, the timing has been such that university was closed for holidays. The last time CPI(M) won Shimla seat was in 1993 when the present state secretary Rakesh Singha won by a margin of around 200 votes. The university had remained open during that election. This time also the university is functioning and it is going to aid the Party much because of its strong presence among students and the university employees. Observers expect the non-closure of university to be a crucial factor this time.
INCREASED MASS BASE
The CPI(M) has increased its mass base in Shimla since last election by waging relentless, militant struggles against the neo-liberal policies pursued by the Congress government which were ruining the lives of working people. Among the major struggles it had undertaken were in defence of the rights of street vendors, against the eviction of slum-dwellers and demolition of hutments in the city, and taking up the cause of construction workers who were being looted by big builders and harassed by the government. The mass organisations of the Party today have a significant presence among these sections. With the enactment of Fiscal Responsibility Management Act by the state government began efforts to severely cut down government expenditure on service sectors like health, education, sanitation, water etc. The CPI(M) state committee and its Shimla unit have effectively waged campaigns and struggles to defend the existing services. Sections of government, university and municipal employees have responded to this campaign positively.
The Congress government had brutally demolished hundreds of hutments of slum-dwellers in the name of their encroachment on forest land. Although the courts have also played a role in facilitating such demolitions, the ire of the slum dwellers is primarily directed against the Congress government and also against BJP for its silent approval. It was only the CPI(M) led by its Shimla secretary Sanjay Chauhan which took to the streets defending the slum-dwellers. The Party has made regularisation of slum-dwellers' hutments at existing place an important issue in its election campaign.
ORGANISED ELECTION MACHINERY
Another distinct feature in the current election has been the well organised election machinery of the CPI(M). According to Onkar Shad, CPI(M) state secretariat member and election incharge of Shimla constituency, 24 area wise committees have been formed to oversee the conduct of organised campaign. Party committees, with a minimum strength of 3 to a maximum of 10 persons, have been formed in each of the 99 electoral booths. These committees are conducting door-to-door campaign in their booth area everyday. Sanjay Chauhan is also participating in this door-to-door campaign. He is also visiting government offices, university and other offices to meet personally the employees and appeal for their votes. Numerous street-corner meetings are also being held. A total of seven pamphlets on specific issues, like appeal to students and youth, appeal to employees, on water scarcity etc have been printed and distributed widely among the people during the campaign. Asked about the response to CPI(M) campaign, Onkar Shad says it has been very good. The last two days before the election will be utilized by the CPI(M) to scrutinize voters list and put in place booth-level arrangement of agents.
The CPI(M) is the only party which has brought out a separate manifesto for Shimla which promised to struggle for the cause of employees, workers and petty traders comprising the majority of the population in the city. It has pledged to restore basic civic amenities for the residents and also provide good infrastructure for tourism. With Shimla facing severe water shortages consistently, the CPI(M) has promised to use hydrology techniques for increasing water supply.
With the BJP mainly banking on anti-incumbency vote against Congress and the Congress trying desperately to retain its increasingly shattering base, it is only the CPI(M) which is waging a spirited, issues-oriented (which also contain clear cut alternatives) election campaign. The increased mass base is supplemented by its candidate Sanjay Chauhan’s popularity among general citizens of the city, making the CPI(M) top favourite in this contest. No doubt, both the BJP and Congress candidates are on tenterhooks.