(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 11, 2008
BY the time Biman Basu, Bengal Left Front chairman and senior CPI(M) leader, went into Bandowan, a tiny suburban township in the southern tip of the Purulia district, (he was in the district on a two-day programme that included addressing three mass rallies) the fierce, blazing summer sun had been well up for several hours -- and yet, the rally ground was full of the rural folks, shouting slogans, waving thousands of Red flags, singing, dancing, blowing on large hornpipes, and beating huge and sonorous-sounding kettle drums called dhamsas.
The enthusiasm of the people of this district, especially come election time, has never ceased to amaze us. They would simply not bother about the vagaries of weather or the escalation of armed attacks of the Jharkhandists and the so-called Maoists from across the three Jharkhand (erstwhile south of Bihar) districts of Hazaribag, Singhbhum, and Dhanbad to come out in their hundreds of thousands to vote with zest for the CPI(M) and the Left Front.
‘Our Party and our government must win in a big way every time’ is the simple general sentiment and feeling that run sharp all-the-while in the hearts-and-minds of the masses of people of this arid district that is trying hard to develop industrially and agriculturally. Still, as of now, over 70 per cent of the farmers here are marginal, and 21 per cent are termed small. The change that is coming is seen in the agricultural sector with total production of food crops (MT/per capita/per year) now at an average higher than that of the state – a considerable achievement of the three-tier Panchayati raj system that has paid systematic attention to food crops production over the years and decades in this red clay zone of stark aridity and precious little rainfall.
Biman Basu served a gentle reminder to the rallyists as he spoke that it was here at Bandowan that a senior CPI(M) leader of Purulia of long-standing, Rabindranath Kar and his wife Anandamoyee, were shot and then burnt alive by the 'Maoists' back in December 2005. In the same year, the 'Maoists' had shot and killed Mahendra Mahato, a zonal committee member of the CPI(M), again at Bandowan. The nights preceding Biman Basu’s rally had seen covert threats from both 'Maoists' and Jharkhandists (of both factions) threatening the village folks to boycott the rally — the terrorisation has expectedly had little effect.
Sharply critical of the unprincipled right-left mahajot that sought to confront the popular Left Front, Biman Basu said that the mainstream bourgeois parties would not think twice about joining hands, in their anti-communist and anti-people spite, with the separatist Jharkhandists and the ultra left sectarian elements like the 'Maoists'. He called upon the self-styled Maoists to take a long hard look at what was happening over in Nepal where the CPN (Maoists) had joined the electoral process of multi-party democracy and were engaged in the general process of democratising a country hitherto under a monarchical institution.
The 'Maoists' here in contrast have gone on a killing spree against the CPI(M), assassinating around 40 CPI(M) workers over 2006-2008. They have also targeted the administration, killing a number of police personnel, and looting armaments. The anarchists have blown up government offices, tourist resorts, and road links. Extorting money from the local populace and from contractors, the 'Maoists' have also been running a prosperous and illegal trade in forest resources, stripping the area of trees, and selling the wood. Biman Basu called upon the people to isolate the enemies of the people, the enemies of democracy, and deal a massive rebuff in the ballot boxes to the mahajot.
PANCHAYATI RAJ IN ACTION
Profiling in brief the three-tier Panchayati raj in operation in Bengal in tandem with redistributive land reforms, Biman Basu said that the whole stream of development of the rural areas had served to empower the poor and bring about important changes in the correlation of class forces forced over the past three decades. Elections are held regularly to the Panchayat bodies – something quite out of line of the thought processes of the Indian ruling classes. Does one see Panchayat elections held regularly in neighbouring Jharkhand? The answer was an emphatic ‘no.’
The ensuing Panchayat polls comprise another political struggle for the democratic-minded people of Bengal. The people of the country look to Bengal as the forward post of democracy. Biman Basu urged upon the people to make sure that the CPI(M) and the Left Front won a massive majority in the three-tier polls being held over three separate days.
The unity of the Left Front stands strong, despite efforts to the contrary from various quarters. Seat adjustments have been well adhered to. The task before the people is now to keep up the momentum of rural development and the flourishing further of democratic governance by making the LF come back in a big way come the Panchayat general elections that loom closer than ever.
Speakers at this and the other two rallies (held at Manbazar and Cheliyama) also included Manindra Gope, Swapan Mukherjee, Dinabandhu Banerjee, Samyapyari Mahato, Upen Hansda, and Shakti Bauri et al.
MASSIVE RALLY IN BURDWAN
As we left the old, constricted, and circuitous Grand Trunk Toad and climbed onto the six-lane Durgapur Expressway, the scenario changed. We were on our way deep into the rice bowl of Bengal, the district of Burdwan, to attend the first Panchayat campaign rally addressed by the Bengal CPI(M) unit’s secretary Biman Basu.
Vast greenery continually swept past us and then the hum of industrial activity around a now-quiescent Singur greeted us as a near-complete structure of lofty sheds and wide concrete platforms from where cars would roll off by the end of the year, came into view.
Even from a distance the fleeting glance we had of a large number of people busy with various sorts of construction work, as the smell of cooking wafted across from the all-women-run canteens, and a complicated and multi-lateral spider-net of local road linkages to interior villages and rural markets away from the expressway, that ran on straight as an arrow towards the west, appeared to be fully functional. Guarding of the fencing was no longer needed as Singur started to raise its head on the industrial map of Bengal.
Running off the expressway near and turning into Burdwan, now a spreading urban conurbation, we negotiated a crowded mid-afternoon, market-day traffic and we could see the strong way the rural market had exerted a hold on the township’s bazaars – there was a brisk buying-and-selling going on and it was quite astonishing sight for us to denote the population density of cellphone users in the township and beyond, as we ran past Burdwan and did a wide 15-mile turn right into the centre of rural Burdwan via Guskara towards and into the prosperous village of Avirampur where the rally was scheduled.
The venue was a wide field that had been harvested of late and was now ready for the next cropping pattern of the boro season. The entire sweep of the area is almost completely dominated by members of various scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and minority communities. This is one of zones where a very high voting percentage - in favour of the CPI (M) - had helped the Party win more than 60 per cent of the seats in the 2003 Panchayat general elections. Veteran kisan leader, Achintya Mullick of the Burdwan district unit of the CPI(M) - and now a state committee member - would describe the entire stretch of rural Burdwan as the ‘core’ of the Red bastion of Bengal.
Biman Basu was quite overwhelmed with emotions as he gave the clenched fist Red Salute to more than 15,000 people who had crowded the venue, ignoring the blaze of the sun from a cloudless sky, and a hot wind. Earlier, he had been received into the rally by a large group of tribal women dressed in red, and performing the traditional baha dance celebrating the first harvesting season.
Biman Basu commenced his address by enumerating the development of rural Bengal ever since the Bengal Left Front had swept the first Panchayat elections back in 1978. By the time the first rural polls were held, the voting age has been reduced to 18 years. Then commenced a series of strenuous efforts for Bengal’s rural development with decentralisation of administrative powers, and financial powers. ‘The Left Front government would not function only out of the corridors of Writers’ Buildings,’ had been the then chief minister Jyoti Basu’s cautionary declaration.
Several Constitutional amendments later, and these too had to be struggled through, the present system of Panchayati raj – declared by a reluctant central government as well as by foreign observers – as the best in the country, and a model – with its three-tiered functional levels came into being. Regular holding of elections for the rural bodies every five years saw the Left Front grow stronger ever onwards from 1978.
The fact of the development of rural Bengal under the democratically-elected Panchayats and the many ombudsman bodies that act as the popular watchdogs, irrespective of political leanings, was clear from the size of the rural markets. From a notional existence under the hooliganism practiced by the zamindars and jotdars during three decades of Congress mis-rule, the rural purchasing power has grown to the extent that it exceeds in sum that of the cities and townships.
PROSPERITY AND GROWTH
Biman Basu quoted statistics to state that the rural market presently had a purchasing capacity, which translated into rupees would yield the impressive figure of Rs 21 thousand crore, exceeding in size its urban counterpart at Rs 18-odd thousand crore. The rural offtake of medicine in places like Burdwan is Rs 5600 crore per annum at present.
Yet, the rural people have realised that population pressure on agricultural plots have had a law of diminishing returns effect on income and on employment generation. Industrialisation was a need. There was no issue of this versus that, and ‘we want both our solid agricultural base to grow and diversify as the fledgling steps were made in a pro-people and pro-poor direction of industrialisation,’ said Biman Basu.
Biman Basu emphasised on an intensification of the ongoing house-to-house campaign as the first poll dates drew nearer. He was glad to know from the local leadership that CPI(M) workers were engaged in speaking to the rural populace about their problems and answering their queries while clearing their doubts. ‘This was the correct approach to the election campaign, for an electoral battle is a political battle,’ said Biman Basu who urged upon the leadership to bring in more and more of the rural populace under the Panchayat system of growth and development, economically as well as politically. A sound defeat was what the unprincipled right-left compilation called mahajot deserved in the rural polls, Biman Basu declared amidst cheers.
The other principal speaker besides Biman Basu and Achintya Mullick was Achintya Majumdar who presided.