A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 19 | No. 22 | 24 - 30 MAY 2016
The May 2016 Verdict and Lessons for the Left
After suffering a series of electoral debacles all through 2015, the BJP has again made big gains in the recent round of Assembly elections. The party has come to power for the first time in Assam, thereby greatly bolstering its political presence and prospects in the North-East, apart from opening its account in the Assemblies of West Bengal and Kerala, backed by impressive double digit vote share in both the states. Two years into power, when the Modi government finds itself being rapidly discredited on every major front, the Assam victory will provide a much needed shot in the BJP's arm.
The Congress has suffered a comprehensive defeat in both Assam and Kerala. While Kerala has evolved a well established pattern of alternating governments, and the LDF victory conforms to that established pattern, it is the loss in Assam, where the party has been in power for the last fifteen years, which must hurt the Congress really badly. Till recently, the BJP was not in a position to contemplate an immediate ascent to power in Assam even though with its Hindutva politics the BJP always had the potential to manipulate the sensitive 'foreign national' issue to its advantage. It was the split in the Congress in Assam with Tarun Gogoi's once close lieutenant Himanta Biswa Sarma joining the BJP with several MLAs, and the AGP-BJP alliance, which brightened the prospects of the BJP in Assam.
The BJP grabbed this opportunity with both hands, reaching out to the Bodos and a couple of smaller tribes, while the Congress went to this crucial electoral battle isolated and discredited. The end result has been this sweeping victory of the BJP-led alliance which has now placed the BJP in an advantageous position to strengthen its presence in the entire North-Eastern region. The co-option of Assamese regionalism within the RSS-BJP framework of Hindutva is fraught with disturbing political implications. The RSS will now have a free hand to use the delicate and diverse ethno-religious composition of Assam and the North-East for its dangerous divisive agenda.
With the Congress dislodged from power in two more states – it now rules only in Karnataka in the south and in the Himalayan states of Himachal, Uttarakhand in the North and Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram in the North-East – the BJP has surely strengthened its position as the currently dominant all-India party of the Indian ruling classes. The Assam and Kerala blows have deepened the crisis of leadership and direction within the Congress and as it prepares for the next crucial round of elections in Punjab, UP and Uttarakhand, it will have a difficult time keeping its own house in order and contending with the growing pressure of regional parties in the anti-BJP camp.
The Congress and BJP apart, regional parties and the CPI(M)-led Left Front had a lot of stake in these elections. In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK won a decisive victory despite growing disillusionment with her authoritarian and arrogant style of governance, the deepening agrarian and industrial crisis in the state and the huge administrative failure in managing the recent floods in Chennai and coastal Tamil Nadu. The DMK-Congress alliance improved its performance but was nowhere near dislodging the AIADMK from power.
In Tamil Nadu, the CPI(M) and CPI had begun with the idea of a programme-based alternative, floating a People's Welfare Front with parties like VCK and Vaiko's MDMK which had been with the BJP till recently. But as elections drew nearer, they entered into electoral collaboration with even more discredited forces like the DMDK led by actor Vijaykanth and the breakaway Congress group led by GK Vasan. In the process, the Left and even the PWF were relegated to the background and the whole thing became a vehicle for the projection of Vijaykanth as a Chief Minister aspirant. The move flopped spectacularly with Vijaykanth himself finishing a distant third and his party's vote share declining to less than 3 per cent.
For the CPI(M), the big battles were in Kerala and West Bengal. In Kerala the party managed to galvanise its otherwise faction-ridden organisation in a powerful oppositional role vis-a-vis the scam-tainted Congress government and scripted a decisive victory riding on a powerful campaign led by the charismatic nonagenarian 'rebel' CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan. What queered the pitch further for the Congress was the phenomenal rise in the BJP bloc's vote share to an unprecedented 15 per cent (together with its ally, the Bharat Dharma Jan Sena (BDJS) which polled 3.9% votes) much of which came eventually at the cost of the Congress despite Yechury's allegations of a tacit RSS-Congress understanding.
The RSS has long been quite active and organised in Kerala. In Kannur district in north Kerala, RSS and CPI(M) clashes and even gruesome killings have been recurring quite frequently in recent years. But this is the first time the BJP managed to translate its growing presence into an actual victory. But rather than this one seat, one should look at the growing BJP vote share, its influence among the hugely neglected tribal population in the state (Modi's Somalia analogy which many in Kerala considered an 'insult' was actually made in the context of the deprivation of tribal areas in the state) and the rise of BJP allies like the BDJS. Traditionally bipolar Kerala politics now surely has a significant third force in the form of the BJP.
More than Kerala, it was West Bengal which marked the biggest battlefield for the CPI(M) and it has been trounced completely in the battle of Bengal. The result clearly shows that the CPI(M) has made little recovery in rural Bengal, once the strongest bastion of the Left Front and the desperate bid to regain power by cobbling an opportunist alliance with the Congress has proved to be a humiliating disaster. The CPI(M) and the Left Front have been reduced to its lowest ever tally of 32 seats, nearly half of its 2011 tally while the Congress, bolstered by votes transferred by the CPI(M), has emerged as the second biggest party with 44 seats! If the 2011 defeat marked a grievous injury to the CPI(M) after its 34 years of uninterrupted stint in power, the debacle this time has added lethal insult to that injury.
Unable to justify the alliance in terms of the political line adopted by the party at its Visakhapatnam Congress in April 2015, CPI(M) leaders described the Bengal alliance as mere seat adjustment as desired by the people! Nothing could be farther from the political truth known to everyone in West Bengal. The distinction between an alliance and adjustment is not a matter of mere formal nomenclature nor is it determined by the fact whether CPI(M) PB or CC members from outside the state shared platform with Congress leaders or not. The combination was projected as a 'people's alliance', the campaign was conducted jointly all over the state and Surjyakanta Mishra, CPI(M) State Secretary and PBM was projected as the would-be chief minister of the alliance government. Surely, this political readiness to share power – and that too dictated not by any so-called post-poll 'compulsion' but deliberate pre-poll design – matters much more than the diplomatic script of stage-sharing during the election campaign.
It was well known that the Congress vote is concentrated in a few districts and spread very thin in the rest of the state. While the CPI(M) transferred its vote to the Congress – in fact, the Congress campaign in many constituencies ran on the strength and steam provided by the organised Left cadre – traditional Congress voters in most constituencies with Left candidates went over to the TMC or even preferred to vote NOTA, not to mention the 'friendly contests' where the Congress put up its own candidates against the Left. Going by electoral arithmetic, the Congress-Left alliance was expected to sweep in North Bengal, but the results show that of the 76 seats in the North Bengal districts of Alipurduar, Coohbehar, Darjeeling, North and South Dinajpur, Malda and the adjoining central Bengal district of Murshidabad, the TMC has bagged 32 seats, just marginally behind the 38 seats won by the alliance. But within the alliance, it is the Congress which has got the lion's share of 28 seats with the Left getting only 10 seats. Indeed, going by the Assembly segment-based figures of the 2014 elections, the Congress had led in 29 seats, but with CPI(M) support its tally has now gone up to 44 whereas the LF tally continues to stagnate at 32, almost the same level as in 2014.
In the wake of the 2011 defeat, the CPI(M) had talked about undertaking some rectification campaign in West Bengal, but we never saw any serious self-criticism on the party's major blunders that alienated it from large sections of the rural poor and the peasantry as well as the progressive intelligentsia. During the election campaign the CPI(M) harped on the bankrupt theme of Singur-style industrialisation, undertaking a padyatra from Singur to Salboni, two cruel symbols of land acquisition that yielded no industriy or employment while robbing thousands of people of their land and livelihood and in Singur itself, the CPI(M) candidate launched his campaign riding a yellow Nano car, the model that even the Tatas are now discarding as a flawed idea!
Indeed, the only 'rectification' witnessed in practice was this alliance with the Congress, hailed as a 'brilliant, courageous and pragmatic reinvention' of the Left by the influential Ananda Bazar Group which advocated and engineered the alliance and virtually served as the organ of the alliance all through the protracted election campaign. It remains to be seen how the CPI(M) now evaluates its Bengal disaster which has been rendered incredibly profound by the party's stubborn refusal to learn from its mistakes and the opportunist centrist formulations that invited and presided over this disaster.
Far from broadening and reinvigorating the model of Left unity on the lines of the united Left bloc in Bihar, the CPI(M) virtually abandoned its own old model of Left unity in West Bengal and courted the Congress as a reliable 'democratic' ally. Instead of building on the encouraging experience of Bihar, the CPI(M) went in for the grand alliance that it perhaps 'missed' in Bihar, seeking to use West Bengal as a laboratory to replicate the grand alliance experiment. But while the Bihar grand alliance succeeded as an anti-BJP coalition, the West Bengal grand alliance was pitted primarily against the TMC. The unmistakably clear outcome of the disastrous experiment is here for all to see – the TMC has gained as have the Congress and the BJP, and the Left has emerged as the net loser having funded the entire experiment at its own political cost.
As an energised BJP celebrates its Assam victory as its best gift on the second anniversary of the Modi government and the TMC resumes its second term of authoritarian populism in West Bengal, the Left must draw its lessons and strengthen its united and independent political role as the most consistent and credible platform of people's struggles to resist the policies of corporate plunder and the politics of communal fascism.
RYA's Uttar Pradesh State Conference
The 5th Uttar Pradesh State Conference of Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) was held in Lucknow on 19th March. The Conference started off with a Student-Youth March from Charbagh Station to the venue of the Conference, Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall. The March saw enthusiastic participation of around 500 youth from 20 districts in the state. The city echoed with the slogan of azaadi which has become the clarion call of the student youth movement across the country echoed throughout the city. The slogans demanded azaadi from unemployment, from the RSS, from Modi, from communal-fascism and freedom from all forms of oppression. The participants with the red flag in their hands were equally scathing on the misrule of the Samajwadi Party Govt. in the state, asking tough questions to the 'youth' Chief Minister of UP, Akhilesh Yadav who came to power by promising to put an end to unemployment and providing unemployment allowance to the unemployed youth of the state. The anger against the betrayal of the SP govt. was clearly visible in the march.
Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall, the venue of the Conference was filled to the last seat. The session started by the release of the AISA-RYA booklet 'Utho Mere Desh'. The main speakers of the Open Session of the Conference were by JNUSU VP Com. Shehla Rashid, Prof. Rajesh Mishra from Lucknow University and CPI ML PB Member and UP State Secretary Com. Ramji Rai. All the speakers were unanimous in their opinion that the impressive participation of the youth in the conference was a sign of the times that the youth of the state have decided that in the absence of any real opposition in the state it was the student and youth who have to become the real opposition.
Com. Shehla said both the BJP and the SP have started their campaign for the UP elections due in 2017. While the BJP continues its communal campaign of orchestrating riots, the latest being Azamgarh the SP is happy to sit back enjoy the political dividends of the riots. Prof. Rajesh Mishra appealed to the participants of the Conference to take the fire of the student youth movement in the country to each and every district of Uttar Pradesh. Com. Ramji Rai in his speech emphasized the need to expose the betrayal and complete absence of the RSS in the freedom struggle at a time when the students and youth have adopted azaadi as their slogan. He also said that the need of the hour was to take the ideas of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh among the youth and build a country of their dreams a country free from all forms of oppression. Com. Tahira Hassan from AIPWA, Com. Ishwari Prasad from AIKS, Com. Rajesh Sahani from AIARLA, Com. Antas from AISA also congratulated the participants and RYA for ensuring a successful conference. Com. Altaf Hussain the State Secretary of AIYF also addressed the conference and expressed solidarity and congratulations. Com. Rakesh Singh State Convenor conducted the session.
After a discussion on the draft document Com. Ramayan Ram, Central Observer for the Conference and RYA Bihar State Secretary Com. Naveen and RYA National Genera Secretary Com. Om Prasad addressed the participants. The Conference elected a 33 member Council and 19 Member Executive. Com. Atiq Ahmad was elected as State President and Com. Rakesh Singh as State Secretary.
The conference ended by passing a resolution demanding the immediate release of RYA National President Com. Amarjeet Kushwaha and CPI ML from Darauli, Bihar Com. Satyadeo Ram who have been imprisoned on false charges during the course of leading struggles of the rural poor in Siwan.
Attack on Labour Leader in Uttarakhand
The Uttarakhand police tried to abduct AICCTU's Uttarakhand General Secretary KK Bora from the Labour Office premises on 19 May, but were prevented from doing so by workers' resistance. The next day, there was a murderous attack on KK Bora by management-sponsored goons.
Harish Rawat, the CM of Uttarakhand, is celebrating the 'victory of democracy' in the State, after the Courts defeated an attempted coup by the BJP. But when it comes to industrial democracy, is Congress-ruled Uttarakhand any different from BJP-ruled states? Where is democracy if a labour leader can be nearly killed on a public street in broad daylight – and the police try to arrest, not the would-be murderers or their sponsors, but the labour leader himself?
MINDA is a factory producing switch gear, in the Pantnagar SIDCUL industrial area in Rudrapur. Workers formed a Union here, and three workers were thrown out of their jobs for their role in the Union. To protest this illegal act, workers of MINDA held a candle-light march in Haldwani that ended at Ambedkar Chowk. Haldwani is at a considerable distance from the SIDCUL. But when workers came to the factory the next morning ,they found a notice by the MINDA management at the gate, naming 18 workers as being debarred from entering the factory premises for participating in the candle-light march!
We must remember that according to the Labour Code of Industrial Relations Bill 2015 that the Modi Government is trying to enact, 'outsiders' cannot be members of Unions. This will mean that in a place like SIDCUL, not only will labour leaders like KK Bora be debarred from leading Unions, workers who unionise will be turned into 'outsiders' by being dismissed!
Workers challenged this action in the Labour Office, and on 19 May, a tripartite discussion was fixed between the MINDA workers and management at the Labour Office. KK Bora was present from AICCTU. But the MINDA management did not turn up. Instead, the Rudrapur police turned up and tried to forcibly arrest/abduct K K Bora. When asked to show a warrant or summons, the police, lacking these legal documents, instead resorted to using brute force. In the face of strong opposition from the MINDA workers, the police were unable to arrest (kidnap?) Comrade K K Bora and had to return empty-handed.
This attempt to arrest a labour leader during tripartite talks reveals the connivance between the MINDA management and the Uttarakhand Government and police. KK Bora is a well-respected labour leader and is well-known for his struggles for workers' rights. Such behavior by the police against him raises several questions. The State Government and Labour Minister have constantly sided with industrialists and factory owners, and SIDCUL has turned into a veritable graveyard for labour laws. Young men and women are being made to work for amounts far below the minimum wages, unionising is punished with dismissal, and attempts are being made to muzzle voices which speak out against this.
The very next day, KK Bora was attacked by MINDA factory goons. He was traveling in a tempo; the goons approached in a white Scorpio car which was without any number plate, stopped the tempo, made the passengers alight, and beat up Comrade KK Bora. Some of the passengers spoke up for him, and they were beaten up too - a minor girl has also been injured in the process. The attack was definitely murderous – the assailants hit him with big sticks. Comrade KK Bora very courageously protected his head and took most of the attack on his arms and body, and this is why he could save his own life. A crowd that collected at the spot also caused the assailants to flee eventually.
On 23 March, protests were held all over Uttarakhand against this murderous attack on KK Bora.
At Haldwani where AICCTU along with various unions and organizations held a dharna at Ambedkar Park demanding the immediate arrest of the assailants, action against the police personnel who tried to forcibly arrest KK Bora at the ALC office on 19 May, fulfilment of workers' demands in MINDA as well as all other companies, and proper implementation of labour laws in SIDCUL. The dharna was addressed by AICCTU National Vice President Raja Bahuguna who said that if the workers' demands are not met by 26 May, an indefinite dharna will be held at Budh Park from 26 May onwards. Bank union leader KN Sharma, Janwadi Lokmanch leader RC Tripathi, CPI(ML) State Secretary Rajendra Pratholi, RML Union President Mahesh Tiwari also addressed the dharna.
Contract Workers' Union State Vice President Urbadatt Mishra, Deputy Secretary Lalitesh Prasad, MINDA Mazdoor Union VP Rajendra Nagarkoti, General Secretary Sundar Singh, Century Pulp and Paper Mills Union leader Kishan Baghri, HC advocate Durga Singh Mehta, All India Kisan Mahasabha State President Purushottam Sharma, District President Bahadur Singh Jangi, AICCTU leader Kailash Pandey, Naven Kandpal, Shankar Lal, Ashish, Raman, Jagat Singh, Vimla Rauthan, Meena Mehta, Pushkar Dubadiya, Amar Singh Bora and others were present on the occasion. The proceedings were conducted by Lalit Matiyali.
At Dharchula, the AICCTU-affiliated NHPC Contract Workers' Union staged protests at Nigalpani, Tapovan, Elagaad and Chhirkila and burnt effigies of the State government and MINDA Industries (Battery) management.
AICCTU leaders Kishan Singh, NHPC Contract Workers' Union President Uday Singh Dhami, Secretary Vinod Kumar, and Vice President Anup Kumar, Harish Dhami, and other leaders, along with hundreds of contract workers participated in the protests.
At Pithoragarh, a memorandum was sent to the Uttarakhand Chief Minister and the DG Police demanding action against the assailants and conniving police officers was submitted by the CPI(ML). Protests were also held at Ramnagar, Nainital, and SIDCUL Rudrapur.
One day earlier in Srinagar, Garhwal, Left parties, AISA, and workers' organizations burnt the effigies of the MINDA management as well as the State government and the Rudrapur police. A meeting was held at the Gola Park after the effigy burning during which the speakers demanded immediate arrest of the culprits.
Protests were also held in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh and Dhanbad, Jharkhand. A protest demonstration was held at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, and a memorandum was submitted to the Resident Commissioner demanding the immediate arrest of the culprits.