If in the wake of the lifting of the black curtain of the Emergency the country witnessed a general awakening among various social classes and strata, Bihar saw a veritable upheaval of the peasantry.
The years 1977-80 were marked by various new types of initiatives on the part of our Party forces, culminating in the emergence of a host of local-level mass organisations— Kisan Sanghas (peasant associations), Sangharsha Samitis (action committees), Jan Kalyan Samitis (people’s welfare committees) and so on and so forth — in different parts of rural Bihar. Under the leadership of these organisations, peasants began to voice their long-standing yet immediate demands, holding meetings, taking out processions, and staging demonstrations before all sorts of government officials from the Block Development Officers to the District Magistrates. Though the issues and forms of protest varied from one place to another, on the whole, the following issues emerged as the major focal points—stopping all atrocities on the oppressed classes and castes and meting out punishment to the offenders; enforcement of the minimum wages act; distribution of surplus and vested land among landless and poor peasants; provision of adequate irrigation facilities; regular supply of electricity, seeds and fertilisers at cheaper rates; disbursement of drought relief and agricultural loans among deserving peasants; fair compensation and rehabilitation in case of displacement; weakening and liquidating landlords’ control over all communal properties; opposing various corruptions and malpractices of government officials and the police, and so on. Strikes were conducted to secure increases in wages, attempts were made to capture vested land, some notorious thieves and dacoits were punished at some places, and during the days of drought the rich landed gentry was asked, and at times forced, to contribute foodgrains for the sustenance of the rural poor.
This was the period of the Janata rule both in the Centre and at the State. At the helm of affairs in Bihar was the ‘Socialist’ Karpoori Thakur, the self-styled messiah of the backwards and harijans. Meanwhile, our Party had undergone a thoroughgoing rectification campaign, leading to drastic changes in the Party line in accordance with our appraisal of the post-Emergency situation. Undoubtedly, this played a profound part in ridding our work among the Bihar peasants of all the old rigidities and dogmatic notions, and consequently, in unleashing the unprecedented peasant upsurge that soon shook the plains of Central Bihar, with Patna standing in the forefront. And with the formation of the Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha (BPKS, 23 February, 1981), the whole process got a new fillip. The BPKS came up with a comprehensive programme and started coordinating all local-level activities, gradually raising them to district-level and even to State-level. And finally, as an important constituent of the People’s Front, it began to rally the peasantry in general democratic movements as well.
The year 1981-82 witnessed a veritable storm of peasant struggle that brought to the fore miraculous potentialities inherent in the organised strength of the rural poor. Thousands of peasants rose in waves of mass movements, protests and resistance struggles with whatever arms they had in their possession. They assembled in mammoth mass meetings to voice their demands and to proclaim their determination for relentless struggle. Demonstrations and militant gheraos became a normal feature. The crudest among the landlords and their criminal gangs were taken as targets. The upsurge (concentrated in Patna and adjoining areas of Gaya and Nalanda districts) mainly centred on
- smashing the control of the landlords over village properties (tanks, common land, etc.) and bringing them under the control of the village people;
seizure of vested land held illegally by the landlords;
smashing feudal social oppression;
curbing social evils like theft and dacoity;
curbing oppression of women, especially harjjan women;
smashing armed gangs of the landlords; and
resisting police atrocities.
Demonstrations, mass meetings, gheraos, strikes, masses in their hundreds and thousands encircling thanas (police stations) and forcing the authorities to release their arrested comrades, executions of notorious landlords and their muscle-men, snatching firearms from the landlords’ armed gangs and from tyrant landlords themselves as well as from the police—these were the main forms of struggle through which the peasants vented their ire. The landed gentry were very much robbed of their habitual ‘special privileges’. Utmost care was taken not to hurt those who were not among the listed targets of struggle, even in the face of serious provocations on the part of many such persons who, because of caste prejudices or for some reasons or other, indulged in certain hostile acts against the downtrodden.
Village committees sprang up like mushrooms after the first rain, and peasants displayed exemplary solidarity, militancy and tenacity. Often, a single village or a cluster of 5 to 10 villages emerged as the leading centre for an entire area covering 50 to 60 villages. Braving severe repression, the people at these centres put up heroic resistance against constant enemy attacks. The movement went through a number of ups and downs, and in the process, there emerged in each centre (i) a small but strong leading group of Party elements (popularly known as agua, i.e., the vanguard), (ii) local armed squads, and (iii) powerful village committees, generally the village units of the peasant association. As a rule, these centres fall within the interior boundary of the areas of operation of the regular armed units. In such areas, mass participation in meetings and demonstrations has jumped from 100 to 10,000 or more, and armed resistance against landlords and their henchmen by a few has given way to armed mass resistance involving hundreds of peasants. If a village or tola (hamlet) is attacked, hundreds of peasants from neighbouring villages rush with arms and join forces with the resistance. Following are some such major storm centres where the peasant struggle has decidedly entered the phase of large-scale agitations embracing thousands of masses :
Sikandarpur-Lahsuna (Poonpoon-Naubatpur-Masaurhi border belt of Patna district),
Narhi-Pirhi (northern part of Bikram block bordering Pali and Naubatpur block in Patna district),
Mathila (Dumraon block of Bhojpur district),
Baruha (Nawanagar-Brahmapur-Jagdishpur border belt in Bhojpur district)
Masarh (the belt bordering Hilsa and Ekangarsarai blocks of Nalanda, Ghosi block of Gaya and Dhanarua block of Patna), and
Kaithi (Obra-Daudnagar-Hanspura border belt in Aurangabad district).
While retaining and consolidating its grip over the old areas of struggle, the upheaval has also spread to newer areas, covering 26 of the 38 districts of Bihar. In terms of the emergence of stable centres of struggle, and intensity and expansion of work, these twenty six districts can be divided into three categories.
In the first category fall those districts where work has spread to well over three-fourths of the district, the struggle is most intense and is marked by regular occurrence of armed clashes and guerilla operations. Rural areas of Patna and Gaya, the entire district of Bhojpur along with a few adjoining blocks of Rohtas district, and the districts of Nalanda and Aurangabad constitute this category.
The second category comprises districts where work has spread to several pockets, and where the struggle has reached the level of mass movements with occasional instances of mass resistance and armed clashes. The remaining blocks of Rohtas and the districts of Nawada, Hazaribagh, East Champaran, Madhubani, Vaishali, Begusarai, Muzaffar-pur, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur, Purnea, Giridih and Palamau fall in this category.
Work in the third category districts is confined to certain pockets and is still at the level of propaganda and organisation. In some of these districts mass movements did take place in the past, but the movement as well as the organisation could not be sustained, while in the others work has just begun. The districts of Siwan, Samastipur, West Champaran, Munger, Gopalganj, Khagaria, Madhepura and Ranchi belong to this category.
In all, our work has spread to nearly 140 blocks of these 26 districts (each district has on an average 14 to 16 blocks and each block, in its turn, covers some 100 villages). In the region under the first category, 60 blocks out of 90 are under the grip of peasant movement, and to be more specific, the struggle is highly intense in 26 blocks. The combined rural population of this region is over one crore.