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India: towards a third alternative

- Sujatha Fernandes

NEW DELHI — “Gulamiya ab ham nahi bajai bo, aazadiya hamra ki bhave le” — We won’t be slaves any more. We’ve come to like freedom.

Drumming vigorously on the back of the truck and singing this Bhojpuri peasant song, 15 Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) activists set off for an all-night paste-up to advertise the CPI-ML Adhikar (rights) rally on March 11. By early morning, the official government buildings, walls, urinals and bus stops of New Delhi are covered in propaganda for the rally.

Meanwhile, other CPI-ML activists are busy at Lal Kila (Red Fort), preparing the large open grounds behind the fort for a camp that will house 100,000 people for up to a week. In the camp there are a bookshop, a tent selling T-shirts and badges, a medical tent, three canteens, a control room and a media room. Nearby, two smaller camp sites are being prepared.

Four days before the march, people start pouring in. The majority of them are from agricultural labourer, poor peasant or working-class background. They march the four kilometres from the railway station to the camp under the banner of their respective district or locality organisation.

Despite train rides of up to 40 hours, people enter the camp in high spirits, waving small red flags, wearing red bandannas and proudly displaying their banners. As the people march, they chant the main slogan of the rally: “Roji, roti, lal nishan, mang raha hai Hindustan” — Work, bread, red flag: this is what today’s India demands.

Ram Chandra Das, secretary of Ushnanchak Panchayat in Patna, Bihar, explains to me: “We organised meetings at the village and panchayat (a form of rural government) levels and introduced people to the problems being faced at the national level. We talked to them about the policies of liberalisation and globalisation of the Congress-I central government. We discussed the way in which capital-intensive technology and the entry of multinationals will harm the interests of the people.”

The administrative headquarters of the camp is staffed by students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University, who are organised into 12-hour shifts. These students are members of the All India Students’ Association (AISA), the mass students’ organisation of the CPI-ML. For more than a month they have been campaigning for the rally, organising public meetings and forums around the issues, raising funds, having poster workshops and organising volunteers to administer the camp.

Chandra Shekar, president of JNU students’ union and Delhi state committee member of AISA, said, “The majority of people participating in the rally are young and most of the volunteers are young people. This augurs well for the future of the party.

“One of the central themes of the rally is self-reliance. This links into the campaign of AISA against privatisation and for the right to education and employment. These are issues that are very important for young people, especially in the face of shrinking job opportunities and education becoming a commodity.”

Before the march, news arrives at the camp that police have lathi-charged (armed with sticks) a train coming from Calcutta; hundreds of people travelling in the unreserved section of the train without tickets have been forced to disembark in isolated rural areas. Some have been injured.

Next we hear that a carriage of women travelling to the rally from Gujarat has been attacked by members of the communalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some of the women have been raped. The right-wing forces in India will use any methods to prevent people from mobilising in defence of their rights, particularly women.

Later that evening, the people at the camp are entertained by street theatre, which has played an important role in disseminating revolutionary ideas in largely illiterate India. A figure dressed as Uncle Sam holds two men on chains — one wears the white cap of the Congress Party and the other wears the saffron-coloured cap of the BJP. These men prostrate themselves before Uncle Sam, quarrelling about who is the best lackey. The audience laughs but the message is very clear — they need a third alternative in politics.

The next day there is a march organised for International Women’s Day by the All India Progressive Women’s Organisation (AIPWA), the mass women’s organisation of the CPI-ML. Three thousand women attend.

The main slogans of the IWD rally are self-reliance, secularism and social justice. Kumudini Pati, the general secretary of AIPWA, says, “When we talk of self-reliance we are talking about [the fact that] … both Congress and BJP have made the women the first and worst targets of economic liberalisation.

“When we talk of secularism, as women we feel that the growth of communalism has curtailed women’s rights and is endangering women’s participation in social, political and economic spheres. The whole politics of the BJP is about women being mothers, wives, sisters, as units within the family system.

“When we speak of social justice, the question of women’s oppression is brought into sharp focus. Recently we have seen a spate of incidents in which the upper castes have been making women the targets of social oppression. If there is no movement for social transformation, then women as individuals are not going to gain their rights.”

AIPWA has been working hard to build the Adhikar rally among women. Pati says, ” We have explained to AIPWA members how these issues relate to women because this will lead to greater politicisation of women. We feel we must assert ourselves as an independent force within the left and within the women’s movement. This rally will end tomorrow, but our movement will go on.”

On the day of the rally there are more than 80,000 people from the main camp who need to be organised into contingents. The people from Assam head the rally with a vibrant, colourful contingent and a bold banner reading “Self rule to tribal people of Jharkan and Assam”. The Indian communist movement has long been plagued by the nationality question, and the CPI-ML is the first to make a breakthrough in this area, playing a leading role in the recent popular mass upsurge among the tribal people of the NC Hills and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam.

Then follow contingents from all parts of India — the multicoloured turbans of the Punjabi contingent from the far north of India, the militant peasant women marching under the Bihar banner, the impressive trade union contingent from Tamil Nadu in the south and the adivasi (tribal) people, the Bengalis, Rajasthanis and Gujaratis. The diversity of the Indian revolutionary movement is striking.

The placards and banners show the range of issues that the CPI-ML is involved with. Some protest against state repression and police atrocities, while others take up aspects such as the industrial policy and pension scheme recently introduced by the Congress Party.

The demands of the march take up nationwide issues such as an end to the war with Pakistan, an end to the arms race and an end to the Indo-US military pact and joint military exercises with the US. They also include support of the nationality aspirations of people in Kashmir.

Speakers describe the twin offensives of the New Economic Policy, where multinational companies and the IMF/World Bank have intervened into every aspect of government in the name of privatisation and liberalisation, and the threat presented by communalism. They also talk about the recent Hawala scandal, in which leaders from all the major political parties were accused of bribery, scams and corruption.

The CPI-ML leaders call for a third force. Party politburo member Nag Bhushan Patnayak says, “We should mobilise on common, national issues. We need a minimum democratic program that can be agreed on and a consistent left force to monitor the third front. The left is the only force that can sustain a third front because we are the only ones who have consistently fought communalism, who have consistently fought the New Economic Policy and who are not tainted by the Hawala scandal.”

According to Patnayak, the third front should include other left parties like the CPM and CPI, but would also have to include the environment movement, the Dalit (lower caste and “untouchable”) movement and all other forces fighting for social justice.

It is estimated that around 400,000 people attended the Adhikar rally. It marked a very significant stage in their movement. Ram Chandra Das said, “We have come to politically assert ourselves in Delhi … it is not only at the regional level where we are opposing the policies of the Congress and BJP, but we can provide an alternative at the national level as well.”

[From Green Left Weekly issue 228: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/12033]