The month-long Adhikar Abhiyan (Campaign for Rights) called by the Bihar State Committee of CPI(ML) culminated in a massive Adhikar Rally in Patna on 19 February. The campaign highlighted three key demands – education, employment and land rights – of the oppressed and deprived people and gave a powerful voice to the deeply felt anger against the demonetization disaster inflicted by the Modi government in the name of curbing black money and the brazen betrayal of the November 2015 people’s mandate by the RJD-JDU-Congress grand alliance government headed by Nitish Kumar. With the Nitish Kumar government effectively reserving the historic Gandhi Maidan, the traditional Patna ground for major political gatherings, for government-sponsored events, the rally had to be held on the Veterinary College ground near the airport, compelling rallyists to march a long way from the railway stations in the city. Yet defying all odds, the rally was clearly one of the biggest assemblies witnessed in Bihar in recent times.
The wide-ranging popular participation in the rally reflected not only a renewed appeal of the CPI(ML) as a fighting opposition in the state but also a new churning in Bihari society and Bihar politics. The CPI(ML) has been the only party that has forcefully fought for justice in every recent incident of feudal-criminal violence and the cry for justice resonated loudly in the rally. The killings of five dalit communist activists – Mahesh Ram, Rampravesh Ram and Garo Paswan of the CPI(ML) and Rajaram Paswan and Aneeta Devi of the CPI(M) – in three separate incidents in Begusarai and more recently, the killing of two dalit labourers – Chano Ram and Vakil Ram – in Purikh village of Saharsa on 25 December, 2016, the savage attack on CPI(ML) activists on January 1 in Raharia village of Araria and the brutal murder of Dika Kumari in Ambedkar hostel in Hajipur shocked the entire state and it was encouraging to see members of the affected families and large numbers of local villagers participate in the rally to carry forward the battle for justice.
Indeed, the rally was marked by a vibrant spirit of unity and solidarity over a whole range of ongoing struggles for justice and democracy within and beyond Bihar. While Radhika Vemula, the courageous mother of Rohith Vemula whose shocking institutional murder in the central university of Hyderabad in January 2016 triggered a countrywide outrage, could not join the rally in person, the anguished plea of Fatima Nafees for bringing back her missing son Najeeb Ahmad, the student from Badayun who went missing from JNU following an assault by ABVP activists, stirred the tens of thousands of rallyists. The rally also expressed its roaring support for Dika’s mother Kusumi Devi, whose courageous struggle for justice for her daughter has struck a chord with every sensitive student and parent in Bihar. Supporting the two mothers in their battle for justice was Aftab Alam, the young teacher from Muzaffarpur who was harassed by the NIA as a terror suspect in the wake of Modi’s Patna rally in 2013, leading to the formation of the Insaaf Manch as a campaign platform for justice for every victim of human rights violation in Bihar.
The rally provided a collective voice to the deeply felt pain and anger in the wake of the disastrous blow of demonetization. The Prime Minister had promised gains for the common people after fifty days of pain, but even after 100 days of demonetization the pain continues to hurt. For the migrant workers of Bihar who have returned home jobless, for peasants who had their sowing season disrupted and for all the daily wage earners and street vendors and neighbourhood grocers who suffered a major loss of income and livelihood, demonetization has proved to be nothing short of an economic disaster. And for the people of Bihar, the economic blow is compounded by an unmistakable sense of double political betrayal. If the Modi government at the Centre reneged on its promise of curbing black money and ushering in a reign of ‘achchhe din’, a phase of betterment and prosperity, Nitish Kumar, who was voted back for his third term with the promise of defending the interests of Bihar, backstabbed the people by siding with the BJP on the issue of demonetization.
The betrayal of the Nitish Government is not limited to the issue of demonetization though. The early Nitish narrative of ‘good governance’ and ‘development with justice’ has now been reduced to the self-congratulatory propaganda campaign around liquor ban. Having promoted liquor consumption in Bihar during his first two terms and defended it in the face of growing popular opposition as a key source of revenue generation, Nitish Kumar now projects himself as a prohibition messiah. But instead of taking responsibility for the malady of alcoholism that he himself had been instrumental in spreading and making adequate arrangements for rehabilitation of alcohol addicts, he has come up with a draconian law that incriminates and penalizes alleged consumers of liquor. Bihar jails are now filled with thousands of prohibition prisoners and prohibition has become an easy pretext for the police to harass and torture the poor while the liquor mafia enjoys political patronage and impunity to run a parallel system of home delivery of liquor at a premium.
Prohibition has also become the ideal plank for Narendra Modi to pat Nitish Kumar on his back and reciprocate for the crucial support he got from the latter on demonetization, and Bihar is thus witnessing a new phase of Nitish-Modi tango. There is in fact more to this tango than Nitish Kumar’s prolonged NDA past and the two leaders’ new-found convergence over note ban and liquor ban. There is a common streak of arrogance and a shared disdain for democratic protests and people’s grievances. Just as Narendra Modi keeps mum on the continuing episodes of communal mischief and Sanghi vandalism, Nitish Kumar too remains conspicuously silent on the social oppression and violence experienced daily by the oppressed and weaker sections of Bihari society. With Nitish Kumar remaining smug in his characteristic arrogance of power, feudal-communal forces and criminals are enjoying a free hand to unleash a reign of unbridled terror and violence.
While the BJP and sections of the media blithely talk about a return of ‘jungle raj’ in Bihar, what Bihar is witnessing is not so much a return of the economic crimes like kidnapping that had become the defining feature of the later period of RJD government but a renewed spate of social oppression and feudal-patriarchal violence and intensified police brutalities. Along with this rising graph of crime, Bihar is also experiencing systematic low-intensity communal violence and free play of organised corruption rackets in the spheres of education and recruitment. The toppers scam and the recently exposed Bihar Staff Selection Commission scam point to a well entrenched network of corruption akin to the infamous Vyapam scam of Madhya Pradesh. And the lines of political demarcation often get blurred in this confluence of crime, corruption and communalism with considerable evidence of cross-party complicity involving the big three parties RJD, JDU and BJP.
While paying lip service to social justice and invoking competitive models of social engineering, the RJD and JDU have both habitually excelled in appeasing feudal forces and keeping the people deprived of their basic rights. While Lalu Prasad had allowed the Ranvir Sena to perpetrate serial massacres of the rural poor, Nitish Kumar institutionalized impunity by disbanding the probe into the logistical and political patronage enjoyed by the Ranvir Sena and systematically subverting the process of investigation and prosecution to ensure wholesale acquittal of the perpetrators of the massacres. Established dalit leaders in Bihar like Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi have never raised their voice against atrocities on Dalits and as constituents of NDA they currently find themselves further marginalized. The feudal-criminal forces, especially the land, sand and liquor mafia and the contractor lobby, now feel emboldened to evict the poor and grab their land while the government subjects the job-seeking youth to slaving away work for a pittance in flagrant violation of the judicially mandated principle of equal pay for equal work.
Against this backdrop of systematic travesty of social justice and governmental accountability, the Adhikar Rally has not only raised a powerful opposition voice, more importantly, it has held out the vision of a new politics on a higher plane of social justice and basic democratic rights. The battle for social and legal justice with guaranteed education, employment and land rights at its core can give a new impetus to the quest for democracy, development and dignity for all who have been subjected to systematic oppression and deprivation for so long. The indomitable spirit and message of the inspiring Adhikar Rally should now be translated into a powerful people’s movement for the whole gamut of basic rights for a life of dignity. As the leading third force in Bihar Assembly, it is the responsibilityof the CPI(ML) to strengthen its role as the people’s voice within the Assembly and boldly intervene in the growing social churning and turbulent political situation to build a political alternative.