(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 31 , 2008
CPI(M) Undertakes Intensive Mass Contact Programme
V Srinivasa Rao
THE CPI(M) Andhra Pradesh state committee has recently launched an intensive mass contact programme throughout the state through padayatras. This programme was organised in the immediate aftermath of the Left’s withdrawal of support to the UPA government at the centre. Five regional-level meetings were organised in preparation for this programme. More than two thousand comrades – Party whole timers, district committee members, and members of the district fraction committees of the mass organisations – took part in these regional-level meetings. The details of the padayatras, covering most of the Mandals (or Tehsils), localities and wards in all the municipal towns in the state, were chalked out in these two-day meetings.
Each team of padayatra was led by a local leader of the Party and all the whole timers working in that area took part in it as members of the team. This team consisted of at least 10 to 15 permanent members remained with it till the end of the yatra. Each padayatra lasted on an average 10-15 days with team members visiting people, staying with them, eating with them and even sleeping in their localities. Even in urban regions where there was a possibility for our comrades to go back to their houses in the night, they remained with the people. Around 40-50 people accompanied this core team at all times. Cultural troupes of Praja Natya Mandali accompanied the most of the teams in padayatras. The teams toured the entire locality, visited every nook and corner, sat with the people, listened to them, noted down all their problems and at the end, one member of the group explained the policies of the state and central governments that were responsible for their problems. Though it was a little difficult to make the common people understand the nuances of the India-US nuclear deal, our comrades were trained to explain the main features of the deal and its impact on people’s livelihood in a popular way. At one place I asked the gathering whether withdrawal of support by the Left parties was correct or not. The overwhelming response was one of approving the Left decision.
LEARNING FROM OWN EXPERIENCES
People, from their own experiences, narrated how their lives have become much harder with the rising prices. They complained about the extra burden that befell upon them through the soaring prices of all commodities in spite of the fact that some of them are getting rice at Rs 2 per kg. Issues such as housing, pending bills of the Indiramma housing scheme, not getting old age and widow pensions, ration cards etc have come out as some of the major problems throughout the state. Together with these issues, local problems like bad condition of drainages, roads and drinking water were mentioned particularly in the urban areas. These padayatras covered 127 municipalities out of a total of 136 in the state. This is for the first time in the recent period that such an intensive mass contact programme was organised by the Party. This programme had not only helped us in knowing the people’s problems but also strengthened our bonds with them and was also a learning process for our cadre.
The entire programme was designed is such a way that local Party and mass organisation leaders develop more intense contacts with the people. Those who have been recruited as whole timers in the recent period spent a minimum of 10 days for political schooling. Such cadres got an opportunity through these padayatras to get trained directly among the masses. In order to meet and interact with a large number of people, the padayatras were undertaken in the early mornings and in the evenings. Priority was given to visit slums, localities where unorganised workers were staying, and in the bastis where dalits, tribals minorities and other less-privileged sections of the society resided. Emphasis was given to spend more time with the people, listening to their grievances and problems rather than on just organising group meetings and giving speeches. Priority was also accorded to tour those regions where our Party and mass organisations had no base earlier.
FROM THE PEOPLE TO THE PEOPLE
These padayatras put into practice what Mao had said, “Maintain close contacts with the people, learn from them and teach them”. These yatras helped our cadre to understand the gravity of people’s problems and gauge their mood. Our cadre could easily understand the growing resentment against the Congress government and this was reflected in some places where the people mistook our team as government officials and started hurling abuses on them! The padayatras were an effective training ground for our cadre. They were taught about how to study and understand people’s problems, talk to the people in simple and convincing language, deal with the officials, lead a simple life facing all the difficulties that a common family faces, approach people when they are ready to listen to us rather than approach them at our convenience and also how to lead a disciplined life. This was a new and good experience especially for the entire new cadre who had joined the Party in the recent period. Another significant feature of these padayatras is the participation and the role of women cadre. Many women who took an active part and played a big role during the land struggle had become whole timers and part timers of the Party. This was an opportunity for them to get reactivated again. Another inspiring feature is the participation of ordinary women from the slums. They took part in the yatras after sending their children to the schools and stayed with the yatra team till their children returned back from the school. And once going back to their houses, they sent their husbands to take part in the padayatra.
Before conducting these yatras, organisational arrangements were made to ensure success this entire programme. And during the yatras and afterwards also, organisational measures of expanding our movement to newer areas, recruiting new cadres and identifying activists from among the masses were some of the important tasks of this programme. Those who actively participated in these yatras and later in follow up agitational programmes were identified and imparted local as well as higher level political schooling. This effort could help us to expand and consolidate our movement.
This experience of padayatras revealed some of our weaknesses and shortcomings while working among the masses. Some comrades did not imbibe the spirit of the programme. Some of them even failed to follow the timetable and schedule of the yatra. There is variance in understanding among committees while preparing plans and resources. Those who are lagging behind the people’s consciousness later realised their shortcomings. This was self-critically reviewed in the meetings at various levels.
PARTY WITH A DIFFERENCE
These padayatras have once again highlighted the difference between the CPI(M) and other bourgeoisie parties. In the recent period many political parties in the state have organised statewide tours and heaped promises on the people. Our padayatras were entirely different from these yatras on many counts. First, our padayatras were carried out by local level leaders and not intended to project any one single individual. Secondly, instead of promising many things to the people, our cadre organised struggles along with the people for the immediate solution of the problems identified and thirdly, the simple life of our comrades and the way they dealt with the people stood out in contrast with the cadre and leaders of other bourgeoisie parties.
TOWARDS FURTHER STRUGGLES
This entire programme was not just confined to padayatras but was also a programme of struggle on issues that were identified during the yatras. Our cadres ensured that in some areas issues like drainage and drinking water etc were solved immediately by summoning the officials to the spot and moving only after the problem was solved. In Vijayawada, women had complained about the harassment of anti-social elements. Our team assured them that they would stay in their locality during the nights throughout the course of the padayatra and provide them with the necessary protection. This is one of my own personal experiences while participating in the yatra. Dharnas and picketings were organised before tehsil, municipal and district headquarters at the culmination of the padayatras. From August 22 onwards land struggle has been resumed in a big way. Mass organisations are planning to organise ‘March to the Assembly’ during the upcoming assembly session.
TASKS IN CHANGING POLITICAL SCENARIO
The political situation in the state is fast changing with the entry of new forces into the political arena. In this scenario, the padayatras have enabled us to take our policies and perspective before the people once again. Moreover, these padayatras have laid the platform for focussing the discussion on people’s issues and made it an agenda before the entire society when there is a lot of premature discussion taking place on alliances and seat adjustments. The Party believes that an alternative can emerge only through people’s struggles and pro-people policies. In this background the Party state committee had given a call for greater cooperation among non-BJP, non-Congress parties for the solution of people’s issues. In this connection, the Party along with the CPI had already organised two meetings with various political parties in the state in support of the August 20 general strike.