People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 01, 2007
INTERVIEW WITH B V RAGHAVULU
“We Will Continue & Intensify The Land Struggle”
The CPI(M) has asserted that it will continue the land struggle and intensify it further till the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh accedes to the demand for distribution of land and house-sites to the poor. It said that it is prepared to participate in talks with the state government but wanted the government to spell out clearly the basis for such talks.
CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Andhra Pradesh state secretary B V Raghavulu, who was in New Delhi for central committee meetings, spoke to People’s Democracy on the ongoing land struggle in the state. He said that the struggle is evoking good response from the people and it is expanding into new areas and new sections.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Q. What is the situation after the talks held by AICC general secretary in-charge of Andhra Pradesh affairs Digvijay Singh and chief minister Y S Rajashekara Reddy with the central leadership of CPI(M)? What will be the future course of action?
BVR: The outcome of the discussions held at AKG Bhavan is that the state government has expressed willingness to discuss with the CPI(M) on the land issues. However till now they have not contacted us, maybe the flood situation in the state is a cause for the delay. Our attitude is that if the government invites us for talks, we will certainly go and discuss with them. But the basis on which these talks will be held by the government is not clear. We have raised certain issues and put specific proposals for solving them, the chief one being holding of an independent enquiry into the Indiramma housing programme.
It seems Digvijay Singh and CM told our leadership that 40 lakh houses are being constructed under this programme for the poor and thereby questioned the need for the CPI(M) to undertake this struggle. This claim of the state government is false. The programme is being implemented in a fraudulent manner, where nearly 50 per cent of eligible, needy persons have been kept out of the lists. Even the media has brought out the scale of corruption taking place in this scheme. In many places money is being siphoned off without constructing any houses, and in some instances it was found that existing constructed houses have been shown as new ones and money claimed! It is clearly a scheme designed for enriching Congress cadre and leaders. If the government’s claim of 40 lakh houses is true there would not be such a response from the people. Therefore to prove or disprove this claim it is imperative that a prominent person with integrity be appointed to go into all allegations and recommend corrective measures. If this is done, we will stop the struggle.
Q. The Congress leaders and the government are alleging that CPI(M) has undertaken this struggle only now in order to bring the TDP back into power. How do you respond?
BVR: This is a lie. Immediately after the Congress government assumed power, CPI(M) and CPI demanded the government to take up land distribution. The government in fact said it will discuss with Maoists also. Some intellectuals, retired officers, jurists etc who had formed a ‘Concerned Citizens Committee’ advocated land distribution saying it will be a solution for the naxal problem also. At that time the government formed a committee headed by a minister in the cabinet, Koneru Ranga Rao, to go into this issue. He prepared the report in 2005 and submitted it in 2006. The government is just sitting on the report. Only after sustained pressure brought by CPI(M), both within and outside the state assembly, the government finally released the report recently. Knowing that it is a report of a bourgeoisie party-run government, we however feel the recommendations made in the report would provide some relief to the poor. That is why we are demanding its implementation.
Another thing to be remembered here is that this struggle is not a sudden one. We have been conducting programmes on this issue continuously for the last three years. Thousands of applications for house-sites were given by the poor under our leadership thrice in the past. In July 2005 CPI(M) organised a big campaign, with 25 leaders from across the state going on a hunger strike for 7 days demanding house-sites for the poor. The hunger-strike was withdrawn only after the government had a written agreement with us saying it will settle the land issues in six months. The government promised to locate house-sites for urban poor. But nothing happened. The agreement has been thrown into dust-bin. This is the background in which we began the struggle. The government is now saying that no lands are available for distribution. We started this struggle of occupation of vacant government lands and illegally usurped assigned lands in order to show the government the lands which are available and which can be allotted. In some places, the poor are staying on the occupied lands for the last one month.
Q. What has been the response from the people?
BVR: The struggle enthused the people a lot. They feel they can get something if they kept up the struggle. Our focus on implementation of Koneru Ranga Rao committee, by stressing that it is a committee formed by the state government itself, has caught the imagination of the people in the state. In urban areas hundreds of thousands of people are living in canal-bund areas, hill slopes, along railway property areas etc since many decades. We are demanding regularisation of these dwellings by granting pattas. For instance in Vijayawada city alone, there would be around 3 lakh people living in such dwellings.
Another section which is supporting this struggle is dalits. The state government is building an Outer Ring Road around Hyderabad. Many Congress leaders grabbed land in this area seeing high real estate potential. Much of this land belongs mostly to dalits and small and marginal farmers. We have taken up this issue. There was a PIL in AP High Court demanding enquiry into the grabbing of 150 acres of government land in this area by a ruling party MP. As per the court order the Ranga Reddy district collector enquired and submitted a report to the court stating that around 8000 acres of government land is occupied by various persons. We got hold of the list prepared by the collector and released it to the press. The media, with most of which the government is having a running feud, also enquired into these and exposed a number of scams. Sensing that the nearly 300 acres of land held illegally by him in his native district would also be exposed, the chief minister hurriedly donated those lands. He explained that his father mistakenly took possession of these assigned lands! And for this the Congress leaders have tom-tommed the CM as a latter day Vinobha Bhave! All this has discredited the government and the chief minister to a great extent.
On the contrary with 195 organisations – among which included Left mass organisations, dalit organisations, NGOs working on land issues – involved in this struggle, there is a greater credibility to it. It has also gained support among the middle classes, as was seen in many sms polls conducted by private TV channels.
Q. Although repression on CPI(M)-led movements is not new in Andhra Pradesh, how are the people, particularly newcomers into the struggle, coping with it?
BVR: Upto June 19, nearly 10,000 persons have been booked under various sections of IPC. Around 400-500 are still in jails. It is not only Party cadre, which is in forefront of the struggle, which is bearing the repression. Even ordinary women/men are in the forefront and facing the repression boldly. They are absolutely not cowed down by this heavy-handedness. If the police brutally throws them out of occupied lands, they are returning back with greater determination the next day. In Nellore, where there has been a most atrocious attack on women, children and old by the police, the people refused to vacate the lands despite our people trying to persuade them to retreat temporarily. A spontaneous bandh was observed by all sections of Nellore town in protest of the police brutalities. The Party leadership at various levels is, of course, in the forefront, braving the lathicharges and attacks of the police and this is giving confidence to the people. In Nalgonda, our Party district secretary has been injured in the police lathicharge. The people are now not scared of police repression.
Q. What has been the attitude of other political parties to the struggle?
BVR: Initially the CPI was not interested but has now joined the struggle. A section of ML has also joined the struggle. The TDP kept silent on the issues raised by the struggle, limiting itself to condemning the police repression on the struggle. However, recently in some places TDP activists have tried to occupy lands grabbed by Congress leaders. It is a good thing that the struggle is spreading into new areas and new sections. The Congress leaders in the state are agitated at the developing situation. Under pressure from their high command, which fears that the dalit base of the party in the state may dwindle if nothing is done about this struggle, they came for talks with our central leadership. But the class nature of the party is pulling them back from conceding to the demands raised in the struggle. This is a contradiction they are grappling with. However, we want to continue the struggle and intensify it further.
Q. The Congress state unit has mounted a malicious campaign against the Left Front government of West Bengal. What has been the impact of it on the struggle and how is it being countered?
BVR: The Congress government, like the British imperialists, is using two methods in dealing with the land struggle –– repression and misinformation campaign. It is propagating that the Left Front government of West Bengal has fared worst in many spheres and that the Congress government in the state is doing much better. Therefore the CPI(M) has no right to raise these demands here. This campaign is mainly meant to divert the attention of people from the land issues and put our Party on the defensive. Another campaign they have launched is that this struggle is intended to help TDP return to power. The people of the state have understood the nature of this campaign and see it as lies.
Q. Finally, how is the mass support coming for this struggle being consolidated?
BVR: Wherever we are conducting the struggle, much before it begins, we are forming struggle committees with wide representation from the organisations participating in the movement. We are able to go into new areas through this movement. We have decided that in around 350-400 mandals, the struggle would take place in every village. We are also taking organisational steps during the course of the struggle itself. Our campaign on dalit issues is helping in widening this struggle. As part of cycle yatras, around 5000 dalit habitations were visited recently.