During the 10th Party Congress of the CPI (ML) Liberation at Mansa, Punjab from 23-28 2018, what most impressed the delegates who had come from all parts of the country was the warm cooperation, affection and hospitality of the people from Mansa city and nearby places.
The Party central leadership as well as the local leadership had both entertained doubts as to whether the organizational structure of the Party in Punjab and especially in Mansa district was capable of successfully hosting the 6-day long huge Party Congress with 1500 delegates and international guests to be looked after. In addition, we also had the task of successful campaigning, mobilization and preparation for 3 programmes on 23 March: the meeting on the occasion of the unveiling of the statues of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev at Shaheed Baba Jeevan Singh Park; the Inquilab Rally and huge public meeting in the afternoon at Dana Mandi; and the huge all-India cultural programme in the evening. Moreover, as the date of the Congress drew near, we got the information that the final meeting of the outgoing Central Committee would also be held in Mansa on 21-22 March. This in effect meant that we had to prepare for an 8-day programme.
But all our fears that the task might prove too much for us were laid to rest by the enthusiastic and strong campaign run by the Party cadres and the warm and overwhelming response given by the local people and we were able to conduct the Party Congress smoothly and effectively.
While the party cadres enthusiastically campaigned to raise funds from among party supporters, personal relations and villages and cities, the Punjab units and village branches of the Punjab Kisan Union and Mazdoor Mukti Morcha cooperated by giving generously of materials and services. Through this farmers’ and workers’ families donated huge amounts of rice, atta, sugar, tea, jaggery and salt for the community feeding (langar). Naturally, the main responsibility for collecting rations fell on Mansa district, but the districts of Bhatinda, Sangrur, Barnala and the Party’s Chandigarh unit also made significant contributions. The shopkeepers of Mansa city not only gave funds enthusiastically but many also asked for Party flags and displayed them proudly on their shops. In fact, today even a month after the Congress the red flags are visible at many places in the town.
Not only that, the 4 marriage halls where the delegates stayed for 7 days were made available to the Party at greatly subsidized rates. The Kirana Merchant Association, greengrocers, woodwork shops, gas agencies and tent house owners gave us their wares at very reasonable rates and also contributed generously to the Party Congress funds. Many of the rickshaw and rehadi (handcart) drivers in the city festooned their vehicles with the Party flags and took part in the campaign and also helped to convey delegates and materials to and from the venue as needed.
It should be noted that, thanks to the Modi-BJP notorious gau-raksha campaign, huge stray oxen are roaming here and there in large numbers in the city. The guards whom the farmers collectively employ to guard their crops from the oxen at night are workers from a very poor and landless Scheduled Tribe. Their organization in Mansa district collected donations from their members and raised Rs 55,000 for the Party Congress.
About 3 months prior to the Party Congress the residents of Ward No 25 and the Managing Committee of the nearby Gurudwara Sahib had decided to develop a big vacant community land as Baba Jeevan Singh Shaheedi Park so that the statues of our 3 great revolutionary martyrs could be installed there to commemorate the 10th Party Congress.
After the foundation stone was laid, the responsibility for the construction of the park did not rest with the Party alone; it became the collective responsibility of the citizens. Children, elders, youth, women from Ward No 25 and other places, the Gurudwara Committee, shopkeepers, artists, some associations and organizations, and many Municipal Councilors joined in the work of construction, curing, bringing soil and other materials. The Gate of the park was donated by the Gurudwara Committee. Artists painted the walls with slogans and graffiti. The Environmental Society active in the city provided flowers and plants. Some narrow-minded political opponents tried to misguide the citizens and went to the administration with false complaints but could not impede the people and Party’s enthusiastic initiative. On the contrary, the residents of the Ward and the common people were full of praise for this initiative by the Party and came out in large numbers on 23 March for the unveiling of the statues of the 3 revolutionary martyrs.
The delegates for the Congress started arriving at Mansa in large numbers from the evening of 22 March. However, arrangements had been made for centralized preparation and serving of meals at the Congress venue from the morning of 24 March. So the question was how to cater till the night of 23 March for the hundreds of delegates staying at 6 different places? The Langar Committeell of the city’s Triveni Mandir came forward at this crucial juncture. They prepared and distributed food for the delegates from 22 March evening till the night of 23 March and also for the thousands of comrades who joined in the Inquilab Rally on 23 March.
Similarly, the Mansa Truck Operators’ Union ran a langar of delicious sweet rice for the thousands who participated in the Inquilab Rally, cooking 7 quintals of rice for this. Local shopkeepers expressed their support to the rally by distributing laddus and toffees. Shopkeepers near the rally pandal served water and tea to the participants and provided toilet and bathroom facilities in their shops for the women participants. A religious institution near the city, Jogi Peer, provided free use of steel utensils and cooking pots for the occasion. Volunteers from the Medical Practitioners’ Association, Punjab and Mansa Civil Hospital staff ran a medical camp during the entire period of the Congress.
The citizens were very impressed by the discipline and enthusiasm of the Inquilab Rally on 23 March and compared it with the indiscipline and rowdyism displayed during rallies by the Congress, BJP and Akalis. This was the first time Mansa residents came into contact with communists from all parts of the country and had free and frank discussions with the delegates on the socio-political and economic situation in their States and the impact of the CPI(ML). They were very impressed by the simplicity, knowledge, and camaraderie of the delegates and astonished by the fact that the central leadership of the Party as well as their MLAs mingled among the people like any others and freely met and spoke with anyone who wished to do so. It was also a talking point that despite hundreds of delegates staying in the city for 8 days, the liquor shop did not register any increased crowd or sales!
The common citizens and nearby villagers came forward voluntarily to help the delegates in every way. Some medical shopkeepers refused to take payment for the medicines provided to the delegates. The managing committee of a big newly built Jain Temple in a posh city area gave over their Hall for the delegates’ stay free of cost for a week. Several local supporters of the Party volunteered to provide special meals for any delegates who needed it for health reasons, and regularly brought the meals cooked in their homes. During the Congress our comrade from Odisha Duryodhan Behera passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. The local people mourned his death deeply and spoke to the delegates to learn about his life, political work and family.
Local volunteers, those bringing milk and other daily needs, women, and youth came in good numbers to the venue to meet and speak with revolutionary leaders from different parts of the country and to know more about the Congress. On the first day the security volunteers at the gate allowed entry only to badge holders as per instructions given to them. But after Party supporters phoned in large numbers and protested against this, it was decided that the security volunteers could get permission from the Party leaders at the Reception counter and get passes issued to the local Party supporters.
While making arrangements for the Party Congress All India Kisan Mahasabha leader and Punjab Kisan Union President Com Ruldu Singh slipped and fell on 22 March, incurring serious injuries. He was immediately taken to Chandigarh where he was operated upon. Despite this he came in an ambulance to the Congress on 28 March and greeted and addressed the delegates from his prone position on the stretcher.
Punjab Kisan Union activists collected milk from their villages from 22 to 29 March and supplied it to the Congress. For this they used to request the villagers on the Gurudwara loudspeakers for contributions of milk. Mansa city Gurudwara management actually scolded the Party leaders for not giving them ‘any opportunity to serve’ during the Congress! Party activists had decorated the main Chowk in the city with the hammer-and-sickle and red flags. After the conclusion of the Congress when they went there to remove the flags, the neighbouring shopkeepers and even the police personnel requested them not to remove the decorations. When asked why, they replied that the Chowk had been broken during a clash with the Dera Sirsa in 2007 and had remained forsaken till now. “You have brightened and beautified it again with your hard work; please let it remain so”, they requested.
Our narrative will be incomplete unless we talk about the coverage given by the media to the Congress. Newspaper and channel editors including Doordarshan responded excellently to the Party leadership’s appeal. As a result, the 7 day Congress received wide coverage on the print and electronic media; newspapers also published special reports on different aspects of the Congress.
If we try to understand the basis for the sympathetic and supportive environment in Mansa and nearby areas on the occasion of the Party Congress, some specific points emerge: for instance, the traditional deeply ingrained sense of hospitality in the Punjabi people, the historic impact of the Communist and Naxalbari movement, and the fact that this small city was for the first time hosting such a big Congress; these factors have a big hand in the natural curiosity and enthusiasm of the people.
The class, political and social struggles carried on untiringly by the CPI(ML) for the past 3 decades also contributes hugely to the support given by the people. In 1986-87 during the phase of sharp clashes between the government and Khalistani terror, the Party had started its activities in Mansa city under the banner of the Indian People’s Front. Instead of targeting Khalistani terror alone like the traditional communist parties or many naxal groups or blaming both parties equally under the guise of being ‘non-partisan’, the Party even in those days targeted the Central government for its policy of suppressing the people’s natural and democratic demands and aspirations by unleashing state terror and repression even as it strongly condemned the communal frenzy and anti-people actions of the Khalistani organizations. At that time the ambit of the Party was limited to a few mohallas in Mansa city and the dalit workers of a handful of villages. Facing the challenges of desertion by a few leaders for selfish purposes on different occasions, and attacks by wealthy dominant forces, casteist forces and police and administration, the Party gradually succeeded in expanding its organizational and social base.
In 2006 and 2009 the Party organized two powerful struggles, against the attack on Bant Singh and on the demand for homestead land for Dalit landless labourers (Plot Kabja agitation) respectively. Since 1999-2000 the Party has also consistently fought on the issue of farmers’ debts. In 2011 a Conference on Farmers’ Freedom from Loans was organized at Mansa where a call was given to make farmers’ loan waivers a national issue. The Party established a class and political impact on the farmers by struggling on issues such as loan waiver, ending of confiscation and auctions, proper price for crops, compensation and rehabilitation for farmers’ suicide victims’ families. The Party has always had as its main agenda economic demands as well as dignity and equality for dalits and oppressed classes; it has also always focused on the current issues facing women, youth, and students. In the past 2 decades we have organized intellectual activities like seminars, symposia and conventions in the city under the banner of the Radical People’s Forum.
For the past few years the Party has been associated with new activities in the urban areas and is placing special emphasis on organizing construction workers, carpentry workers, rehadi workers, auto drivers, milkmen etc. The formation of the ‘Civil Hospital Reform Committee’ and the ‘Educational Reform Agitation Committee’ are initiatives to stop the loot of the middle class by private schools and hospitals. The trading community is facing a grave crisis due to economic recession, FDI, and the spawning of several Malls and online shopping and are finding themselves unable to repay bank loans and on the verge of bankruptcy. Only the CPI(ML) has come forward to help such shopkeepers and traders. Our Party comrades have successfully stopped about a dozen auctions of homes and shops of shopkeepers and traders in Mansa and Bhikhi who are unable to repay their bank loans. As a result of these initiatives, the people of Mansa are looking up to the CPI(ML) and the revolutionary communist movement with a new hope.