With all its achievements, the movement also has its share of problems and weaknesses. Let us now take a close look at some of the major lacunae, indicating at the same time the measures being taken to remedy them.
1. The Problem of Consolidating the Gains
This problem is most acute in case of land struggle. True, the immediate conditions do not permit any thoroughgoing land reform, but there does exist plenty of scope for partial land reforms. Struggles on questions of land disputed on account of tenancy, math land, land illegally occupied by landlords (benami or gair mazarua land, i.e., vested land being held by landlords despite the fact that parchas for such lands have been issued against landless and poor peasants), government land, forest land, land used for storing water, garden land, etc. have been an important component of the peasant struggle in Bihar. In the process, peasants have laid their claim to thousands of acres of land, and have indeed been able to occupy hundreds of acres in the main arena of struggle. However, the distribution and management of this land, and ultimately its retention, are the most complex problems the movement faces today.
In the first place, a great majority of disputes found their way to the courts, with even minor cases lingering indefinitely for years together. But the judicial system has managed to keep alive the illusion of a favourable judgement among a large section of the peasants, drawing them away from the path of struggle. And this has also considerably damaged the peasants’ collective will as they face the state as individuals. In the typical instance of Kathrai village in Bhojpur (where 350 bighas of land lie locked in bataidari disputes), the case has been going on for 7 years, being moved from lower courts to higher ones, and there too, from one bench to another. Meanwhile the whole stretch of land lies uncultivated and the bataidars keep on hoping that after another five years, the land would automatically become theirs.
Secondly, distribution itself generates new contradictions among different sections of the people, particularly if it is not done according to appropriate policies, giving in the process opportunist elements a scope to create all sorts of troubles in connivance with landlords.
Let us consider the typical example of Deora Math in Ghosi block of Gaya. Here the peasants had succeeded in occupying a good amount of land through what must be reckoned as one of the bloodiest struggles in the early 80s. According to the distribution policy formulated by the Party, the poorest people of neighbouring villages who had extended active help in the struggle and suffered a lot, were also to get a share for the purpose of dwelling, apart from the cultivators who were originally tilling the land under the Mahant. This was essential for maintaining unity among the broad peasant masses. But at the instigation of the landlords, certain opportunist elements of the village declined to part with any share of the seized land and they managed to dupe the masses as well. Subsequently, the Mahant regrouped his forces, launched a series of bloody assaults on the people and drove them out of the village. And as was only to be expected, this time there was no support from any of the neighbouring villages, whereas earlier thousands would have come rushing to the spot. While those opportunist elements are still languishing in the jail, the Mahant has reestablished his control over the land.
Thirdly, the administration is always there to disrupt the militant unity of the peasants and to spread illusions. In a typical instance at Mathila village in Dumraon block of Bhojpur, government officials refused to give parchas for the gair mazarua land seized by the peasants from landlords of their own village and served encroachment notices on 40 peasants, while simultaneously allotting land to those very peasants in a neighbouring village, clearly with a view to causing conflicts among the people of these two villages, for the people in the other village were also preparing to seize the same land. This example typically reveals the essence of the oft-repeated government proclamation of ‘speeding up land reforms to tackle the Naxalite problem on the political plane’.
Fourthly, even where the land is ultimately distributed by the revolutionary peasant organisation, many recipients who get better off in the process, often become the least interested in struggle, instead concentrating on securing government parchas in order to legalise their hold over the land. Often some cunning elements begin to prosper at the cost of others, particularly in case of common properties like water reservoirs for irrigation and fishing and gardens. People’s control becomes a hollow phrase with all major benefits being grabbed by only a handful of persons.
In the final analysis, this problem reflects a serious gap in the thinking of many cadres of the Party and the peasant association. Basing on an ultra-left premise, they negate the importance of taking up economic work in real earnest, for they consider it to be a wastage of time and energy in the period of sharp class war when guns are roaring all around. This ideological gap prevents the Party and the peasant organisation from formulating a well-defined land policy and consistently implementing the same, from taking up deep-going political work to raise the people’s consciousness and organising a strong leading core of revolutionary vanguards in the villages. However, following a comprehensive political education campaign in recent months, comrades have begun laying greater emphasis on this score.
2. The Problem of Developing a Well-planned Consistent Movement
Although there have been hundreds of events of mass protest and resistance, the problem of developing a consistent movement still remains. Often, mass movements are looked upon simply as means to recruiting some forces for the underground, losing sight of their independent role in leading towards insurrection and people’s war. Some-times, the main issue gets lost mid-way. For example, suppose the police has intervened in a land movement. To protest against this police action demonstrations are staged, mass meetings are held, deputations are sent, and gradually the leaders get entangled in court cases. The land movement disappears and the masses become passive. Again, at times the cadres get almost obsessed with the desire of taking revenge. Suppose, the masses have risen in their thousands against police atrocities in general or against some specific incident of police-firing on a mass demonstration. People from different walks of life condemn this incident and demand action against the guilty officials. In such a situation, if our armed squads kill these officials out of revenge, the mass movement suffers a sudden end. Such premature killings halt the advance of the people’s movement. Often, in the name of drawing a line of demarcation with others and of placing advanced demands, vague demands are raised without caring about their practicability and acceptability. In certain cases, the leaders want to carry forward a movement in a pre-determined framework, forgetting that the forms of a movement are to be determined through proper evaluation of the development of the movement from various angles, through close contact with the masses and through regular investigations. Moreover, without a well-knit organisational structure, no consistent movement can ever be developed ; only a well-knit, even if small, organisation can lead a broad mass movement, drawing vast sections of the masses in its fold.
To overcome these problems, the Kisan Sabha is taking the following set of fresh measures :
(a) Concretising demands and slogans : In its massive rally on 23 February this year (marking the fifth anniversary of its foundation), the BPKS resolved to launch a new phase of movement on the following demands—
(i) judicial enquiry into killings in the areas of peasant struggle;
(ii) withdrawal of all false and fabricated cases against peasant cadres and immediate release of all of them;
(iii) disbanding of feudal private armies, provision of arms to the harijans and other weaker sections of the people for purposes of self-defence;
(iv) distribution of vested, surplus and Bhoodan land;
(v) conducting fresh survey and settlement of land and making revisions in the existing ceiling acts (the BPKS intends to put forth concrete proposals in this regard);
(vi) annulment of all uncleared bank loans of poor and middle peasants; and
(vii) payment of wages as fixed by the Kisan Sabha.
(b) Introducing a pocket guide book for local cadres activists : This guide book will dwell on
(i) informations about various laws and acts concerning agriculture as well as civil rights;
(ii) informations about the over-all land/class/caste structure in Bihar, e.g., about land concentration, surplus land above ceiling and its actual distribution, proportions of various classes and castes, characteristics of different castes etc.;
(iii) analysis of different classes in the rural society (with typical examples of several families belonging to different classes);
(iv) experiences of various movements (to help peasant cadres/activists organise a movement); and
(v) the structure of the organisation (citing model examples).
(c) Regularisation of membership : 1986 has been declared as the year of membership campaign for the Kisan Sabha. This campaign is intended to generate a sense of organisation and commitment among the broad masses of the peasantry.
(d) Restructuring the organisation : The organisation will be restructured with a view to
(i) consolidating the local units, so that they become competent enough to take independent and instant decisions and to adapt themselves to working under illegal conditions; and
(ii) treating each struggling pocket as a single unit, making one single leader responsible for each such unit.
The leadership will undertake a concrete programme for educating and training 10 to 15 activists in each of these struggling pockets. This will include, among other things, (1) explaining the guidebook to the activists, (2) clarifying the interrelation between peasant movement and national level democratic movement, and (3) helping them formulate concrete demands/slogans through lively mutual consultations.
Regarding local-level structures of the Kisan Sabha, the idea is : “solidity rather than formality”. The emphasis should be on developing a solid body of leadership, and formal declarations of the names of committee members (barring one or two) below district committees should rather be avoided.
3. The Problem of Unity with the Middle Peasants
So far as the middle peasants / strata are concerned, the landlords and rich peasants of their castes influence them not only on caste lines, but on economic, political and cultural lines as well. And this makes the problem of forging unity with them all the more complex. The failure of the leaders of the movement to ease this complex-turned-tense situation by taking timely steps has, on many occasions, brought great losses to the movement. At times the movement has even got deviated from its original object, tending to degenerate into a veritable war of attrition.
The experience of Lahsuna is a case in point. One lower-caste rich peasant of this village had some dispute over land with a Kurmi rich peasant, which gradually took an antagonistic turn. The former then joined the peasant organisation and was soon found occupying, for all practical purposes, the leading position in the village, thanks to his display of great initiative and zeal. As the struggle got intensified, many Kurmi peasants expressed their desire to follow the organisation, if only to safeguard themselves. But that opportunist man would not allow the organisation to initiate any dialogue with the Kurmi peasants, displaying, as he did, always an extra zeal in fighting the Kurmis. During the crop-seizure movement, there took place several cases of indiscriminate crop-seizure in clear violation of the decision of the area organisation. Here the Bhoomi Sena had earlier indulged in indiscriminate killings, and the harijan masses were naturally dying for revenge. Some local squad members, too, got influenced by this sentiment of revenge and consequently, there took place certain unnecessary killings from our end too — the Dularpur incident being the worst instance.
However, since then the organisation has taken earnest measures to set things to rights, and the situation is getting normalised. Still the problem of forging firm unity with the middle peasants/strata, particularly of upper and certain backward castes, and mobilising them in agrarian struggles remains a major problem in the movement.
4. The Problem of Developing Resistance Struggles on the Basis of Broad Peasant Unity
The problem is, in essence, a problem of developing united front work at lower levels. This work is quite weak in rural areas. Some persons would even say, ‘United front? It’s a fine idea, no doubt; but it is applicable only in urban areas. Here in the countryside we have to develop peasant struggles.’ In theory, everybody is for ‘combination of armed activities and mass movements’, and for ‘combination of peasant struggles and united front work’. But in practice, often it amounts to transplantation of one in place of the other. So long as the Kisan Sabha functions, armed squads are sought to be kept idle and vice versa; and similarly, while peasant struggles are on, the perspective of the united front is lost, and when united front work is really taken up, peasant struggles are diluted or abandoned. To combine these two aspects in a single organic whole still remains a problem. To overcome this problem,
(i) Consolidation and expansion of the organisation’s mass base among agrarian labourers, and poor and lower, middle peasants should be taken as the keylink.
(ii) All-out efforts should be made to unleash the initiative of the middle peasants/strata. This includes
(a) establishing wide contacts and conducting widespread propaganda among them through leaflets, propaganda teams, etc.;
(b) deputing some cadres to work exclusively among them;
(c) rectifying certain mistakes of the past and guaranteeing that their interests will not be hurt by any means;
(d) raising with all seriousness certain burning issues concerning them directly and to pursue these issues till some success is achieved;
(e) taking care of their caste sentiments and taking them into confidence in all matters concerning village affairs; and
(f) non-interference of armed forces in disputes among the people.
(iii) Caste problems need to be handled carefully. It is a very complicated task. No doubt, any peasant comes under a definite economic category — a class-in-itself. But that is not all. Particularly in Bihar, he displays a strong allegiance to his caste. Again, every caste has its own characteristics. One cannot undermine these factors. Take the case of the Yadavas for example. They constitute the single largest community in Bihar. The vast majority of them are middle, lower-middle and poor peasants. Now, suppose a person is punished for theft or some other misdeeds, and by chance, he happens to be a Yadava by caste, Some people of his caste will come and say, ‘What tamasha/Are Yadavas dead ? How dare harijans undertake the trial of a Yadava ?’ And thus tensions would rise high and the whole thing would tend to degenerate into a caste conflict. Now, one may say, ‘What’s wrong in punishing a thief ?’ Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong in it. But in concrete conditions, this process of punishing a Yadava thief may prove unwise. In such cases, it is better to place the matter before the Yadavas themselves, or at least, to take them into confidence before taking any action, Similarly, to expose any opportunist caste leader, instead of conducting any abstract exposure campaign, it is necessary to raise such economic and political issues which concern the majority of the peasants of that caste, and only by so mobilising the majority, can we proceed towards exposing that leader.
Moreover, attempts should be made to develop at least a few leaders who enjoy the confidence and recognition of broad sections of the people belonging to different castes.
(iv) There should be absolutely no going back from, our consistent policy of repulsing armed onslaughts of the enemy by armed means. But a strict vigilance should always be maintained so that the activities of the armed units do not go against the policy of building broad peasant unity.
(v) Armed units and local Kisan Sabha bodies should function as two legs of the same person.
(vi) Armed actions should be taken in direct and immediate relation to mass movements, thereby developing a proper combination of armed actions and mass movements.
(vii) The Kisan Sabha should make it a point not to concentrate too much on questions of social oppression, or for that matter, not to carry struggles against theft and robbery too far.
(viii) Legal scopes should be utilised tactfully. Some people completely undermine legal scopes, while there are certain others who fail to utilise these scopes tactfully. Naturally, legalistic illusions and dependence on this or that official develop in the latter case.
Peasant organisations will have to learn the art of negotiation and develop through practice their own tactics of dealing with officials. But the basic aim of involving and educating the broad masses should never be lost sight of.
Moreover, the administration deliberately adopts the tactics of utilising the contradictions among different parties/organisations working in the same area. Sometimes they allow certain concessions to one organisation and praise it while concentrating repression on other organisations. They even try to involve one organisation in repressing others. We must remember that our struggle against the administration or the enemy, and our political struggle with other political organisations are two altogether different things. It is our consistent policy to firmly oppose any repression on democratic organisations/people by the enemy.
5. The Problem of Developing Counter-strategy against Combing and Suppression Campaigns
The movement continuously faces ‘encirclement and suppression’ campaigns launched by the government. Such operations conducted by armed policemen and paramilitary forces constitute an integral part of the enemy’s strategy to crush the morale of the people and their resistance struggles.
To combat such operations, the following measures are presently being adopted :
(i) The people are being prepared in advance for protesting and resisting such repressive campaigns in various ways.
(ii) The underground network of the organisation is being strengthened so that it can carry on work even under such complex conditions, maintain close contact with the peasant masses and lead them in struggles at opportune moments-
(iii) Armed units may have to beat a temporary retreat, letting the heat of the operation cool off. Meanwhile, they can carry out some actions in certain far away areas so as to divert the attention of the enemy. To accomplish this, the areas of operation of the armed units are being made flexible so that the main forces may continue their operation from outside the enemy’s encirclement. A mechanism is being developed so as to maintain a living contact between forces within the areas encircled and those outside.
(iv) Well-knit arrangements are being made to hide arms under the possession of the people.
(v) A system of counter-intelligence is also being developed.
(vi) The Kisan Sabha is developing a mechanism to retain its initiative, both from above as well as from below, even under conditions of encirclement and suppression.
However, given the poor success-record so far of all the general campaigns of ‘encirclement and suppression’ which require the mobilisation of a very large number of forces and cause a lot of resentment among large sections of the people due to harassment by the police and para-military forces, the enemy seems to be contemplating new strategy of strengthening its intelligence network to find out the exact locations of the people’s armed forces and organising sudden ‘commando’ raids. The latest pattern of raids bear testimony to this new-found strategy, ostensibly supplied by the Central advisers, and the enemy has indeed been successful in a few cases.
To counter this new strategy of the enemy, the armed units are also heightening their vigilance, they are dealing mercilessly with the agents of the police and are frequently shifting their locations so as to deny the ‘commandoes’ of the enemy any specific target.
6. The Problem of Forming Separate Class and Sectional Organisations
The basic organisation in rural areas is, no doubt, the peasant organisation. Yet different other rural classes and sections of people have their specific problems and they should be organised in separate organisations. This comprises an essential part of united front work from below and helps in forging broad peasant unity as well. Our achievements on this score are as yet quite marginal. However, in certain rural bazars, businessmen and shopkeepers have been organised by the Kisan Sabha.
7. The Problem of Developing a Strong Civil Liberties Movement
Civil liberties movement is very weak in Bihar. We badly need to develop a strong civil liberties movement as well as a legal aid system. This would also help peasant leaders to concentrate on their own jobs. Moreover, broad sections of democratic opinion in the State can and should be mobilised through such movements against the complete denial of civil liberties to vast sections of the peasantry and against the worst type of state repression that is going on in Bihar.
8. The Problem of Developing a Strong Socio-cultural Movement
A strong cultural movement against illiteracy, superstitions, lack of civic sense, various addictions, obscenity, etc., and in favour of progressive reforms is one of the vital needs of the hour. The continuing strong peasant movement provides a very fertile ground for developing such a cultural movement which will, in its turn, strengthen the peasant movement all the more.