1. ‘An Anti-Peasant, Anti-Social Extremist Menace’
If you happen to visit the flaming fields of Bihar, you will perhaps hear a landlord or a well-off peasant saying : ‘It’s horrible ! The harijans have gone astray. The lives and property of the peasants are at stake. It’s all Naxalite menace’. And if you are fortunate enough to meet a minister or a government official, he will tell you, ‘These are all extremist activities. The extremists are taking the law into their own hands.’ He will further add, ‘Yes, it’s also a socio-economic problem. The government is aware of that and measures are being taken. But Naxalites will be sternly dealt with.’ Many small and middle landowners, particularly those belonging to the upper castes who do not till their lands themselves, also get carried away by this sort of propaganda. Liberals, ‘Socialists’, and ‘Communists’ of the CPI-CPI(M) variety, too, echo more or less the sentiments of the rural gentry and the officials.
Now turn to the other side of the fence. You will find labouring women, ill-fed and ill-clad, sowing and singing with full vigour, ‘ab na sahab ham gulamiya tohar …’ (no more shall your chains of slavery bind us), or your attention will be attracted to roaring voices ‘Jote boye kate dhan, khet ka malik wahi kisan’ (those who till and sow and harvest, only they are the owners of the land). And agricultural labourers and poor peasants will argue : ‘What’s wrong in it if we refuse to be oppressed and exploited, if we get organised for our rights and fight out the tyrants who have made the society a living hell ?’ They will further add, ‘Landlords and their musclemen threaten us with their guns, and the government and its police side with them and protect them. That has been our fate since ages. What alternative is left to us ? Of course, it is the Naxalites and the Kisan Sabhas who have taught us to get organised and fight out the oppressors. Don’t we have the right to self-defence and to manage and control our own affairs ?’
In fact, these two reactions reflect two diametrically opposite class positions, two diametrically opposite ideologies — one reflects the interests of the landed gentry and the ideology of status quo, the other mirrors the interests of the oppressed peasantry and the ideology of revolution.
2. ‘Peasants : Yes, Party: No, Arms : Never’
There are certain other sections of people who complain, ‘It’s true that the rural poor, particularly the harijans, are extremely oppressed and exploited. Landlordism must be abolished, land must go to the tillers, and labourers must get fair wages. And for all these, they must struggle. But here they are going too far, they are committing excesses.’ Liberals sermonise the peasants: ‘Struggle, but with a decency, according to the rules of the game.’ And the name of this game is ‘politics without arms, politics without anything like the illegal and the underground, or, politics without any revolutionary party’.
Peasants in general and peasant struggles in particular never fit in the framework of decency as perceived by these liberals. Decency in rural areas is another name for the diabolical discipline imposed by the most indecent, most uncivilised sections of our society : the landlords. This, so-called decency is based on the acceptance of certain norms and taboos and privileges. Hence the first act of each and every peasant movement worth the name has always been to break these chains of decency. And the peasants in the struggling areas of Bihar are precisely doing that.
This does not imply that the peasants of Bihar are led by the dictum of ‘an eye for an eye’. Brutal oppression by the landlords, coupled with rigid caste polarisations, does sometimes provoke them into indulging in indiscriminate retaliation; but they readily understand that such an attitude will only harm their struggle. From the very experiences of life, peasants know who is bad and who is not, who can be reformed and who cannot, who should be punished heavily and who deserves somewhat softer treatment. And their own experiences apart, there is the network of the Party activists who rigorously explain to them the positions of various classes in the countryside and the necessity of forging a broad-based people’s front so as to isolate the chief enemy who acts as the pillar of this oppressive system. It is this combination of Marxist-Leninist politics with the peasants’ very own experiences of life that is working wonders in the age-old caste-ridden rural society of ‘backward’ Bihar, and by now, the tendency of blind retaliation on the part of the oppressed peasantry has been more or less transformed into organised mass resistance.
Just as the peasants have realised, in the course of their struggle, that blind retaliation will not take them anywhere, so have they learnt that without a Marxist-Leninist Party and without arms they cannot overpower their enemy. Any one who wants to analyse the ongoing peasant struggle in a narrow framework devoid of these two inalienable components, viz., the Party and the arms, is bound to fail miserably in his endeavour. All reformists and liberals try to separate the peasants from their Party and arms, but while they persist in their efforts, peasants stubbornly cling to their precious realisation regarding the indsipensability of these two weapons, a realisation that has taken them long years of experience and a lot of blood.
The path of so-called extremism is prompted by this reality and illumined by these lessons of history, and the peasants of Bihar have declared in no uncertain terms their determination to stick to this path, come what may.
3. ‘Excitative Violence, Pure and Simple’
Deep influence of the Gandhian ideology leads many people to condemn violence as such and they make no distinction between the counter-revolutionary violence of the landlords and the state and the revolutionary violence of the oppressed peasantry and the revolutionaries. Some of them, who also wear the mask of ‘total revolution’ and maintain spurious links with imperialist-funded voluntary agencies, go so far as to suggest that mindless violence is a creed with the Naxalites. In a recently published piece of yellow journalism, Kuldip Nayar even attributed the terrorist theory of ‘excitative violence’ to a ‘mysterious’ Naxalite leader.
The experience of the ‘peaceful class struggle’ as undertaken by the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini against the Mahant of Bodh Gaya were greatly highlighted in the bourgeois press and by liberals of all hues as a living counter-model against the Naxalite tactics. Well, nobody talks of these experiences any more. The activists of the Vahini and the peasants were severely beaten up by the Mahant’s goons and the police. Strangely enough, few of the activists were even accused of being Naxalites and charged with attempts at seizing rifles from the police. Under persistent demands of the peasants for retaliation, some activists tried to formulate a line of defensive resistance. And this brought the split and the struggle simply petered out. We deliberately kept ourselves away from Bodh Gaya and decided to watch the ‘experiments’ of our friends, while actively opposing every instance of repression on them.
Some people are more clever and oppose revolutionary violence not on idealistic Gandhian pretexts, but on the plea that the modern state being heavily armed, the poor are simply no match and hence revolutionary violence is only suicidal. In practice, this theory leads to the Gandhian ‘tactics’ of abject surrender and ‘heart-transformation’ of class enemies as opposed to devising ways and means for arming the broad masses and dismantling the state.
Yet others, wearing the Marxist and even ‘Naxalite’ garb, oppose revolutionary violence under the pretext of opposing ‘anarchism’, ‘individual assassination’ etc.
First of all, we do not subscribe to any theory of ‘excitative violence’ or to the so-called creed of mindless violence, and still less, to ‘individual assassination’. Violence, always and everywhere, is perpetrated by the landlords and the police on the rural poor. Everywhere in Bihar, it is the landlords who are armed to the teeth, and derive a sadistic pleasure by beating and killing poor peasants, burning their houses and raping their women. If one wishes to trace the creed of senseless violence, various landlord-Senas and the Bihar Police are the best sources. Pipra carnage, Bhagalpur blinding, Banjhi killings and the latest Arwal massacre—are these not sufficient evidences ?
As for the allegation about our banking on ‘excitative violence’ to rouse the masses, is it not clear enough that they are already on the move ? The point is not to rouse the masses with artificial stimulants, but to prevent them from taking hasty steps and retaliatory actions, to guide them along the road of mass movements and mass resistance. The point will be clear from the following comparison. After the Parasbigha incident, where upper-caste landlords had indiscriminately killed many people of a lower caste, one witnessed lower-caste people from many a neighbouring village assemble together and launch a retaliatory attack on one Dohia village inhabited by upper-caste people in the same brutal fashion, killing a number of people and molesting their women. It is to be noted that no Party organisation was there at that time.
Similarly after the Pipra carnage, in which as many as 13 persons — old, women and children alike — were killed or simply burnt alive by upper-caste landlords, harijans from neighbouring villages came together and started chalking out plans to attack a Kurmi village in exactly the same fashion. But the Party decisively intervened and prevented them from carrying out their plans. Our cadres were taunted as cowards and abused by the masses, some fighters of the armed unit threw away their rifles and left the unit, but the cadres remained steadfast, and acting according to the firm instructions of the Party Central Committee that in no way should any harm be done to innocent Kurmi peasants and their women and children, they did not allow any repetition of the Dohia episode. In subsequent months, one by one many culprits of the Pipra carnage were executed by our squads. If in the given stage of mass movement, awarding death penalties on persistent demands from the people to these infamous killers, each one of whom had murdered scores of people in cold blood and had either not been arrested at all or left scot-free by the courts due to ‘lack of evidences’, is considered ‘excitative violence’ or ‘individual assassination’, we are helpless.
Secondly, by any human logic whatsoever, the rural poor cannot be denied their right to organise their own resistance forces and to acquire arms so as to counter the attacks of the landlord-armies and even to form their own armed forces, particularly when the police machinery is openly siding with the landlords. No constitution or supreme court has ever accorded the right to revolution to the people. Still revolutions have taken place in world history. The Bolsheviks in Russia were officially branded as terrorists and criminals, and the Communists in China were called ‘red bandits’. No wonder that in contrast to the ‘gentlemen communists’, Naxalites are labelled as criminals and all that in our country. We do recognise that the enemy is quite powerful and hence any direct, frontal and immature attack will prove suicidal. And that is why we lay stress on political tactics to change the balance of class forces, on the broadest mobilisation of the masses, on disintegrating the enemy forces, and above all, on the tactics of guerilla warfare, raising the struggle step by step.
Thirdly, if peasant struggle takes violent forms in Bihar, the root must be sought in the forms of oppression. The more severe, violent and brutal the oppression, the sharper will be the edge of the retaliation, no matter what this or that individual may wish. In the past, peasant rebels used to hit back in similar fashion and end up as dacoit leaders indulging in destructive violence. The intervention of the Communist Party has simply channelised this violence along constructive lines, and peasant rebels have been moulded into revolutionary vanguards, and passive peasant masses into active participants in the struggle for progressive social transformation. Violence is forced upon the masses by the reactionaries and not superimposed on ‘inherently peaceful’ mass movements by the Naxalites as the Gandhians would like everybody to believe.
And finally, when forced to engage in revolutionary violence as the last resort, the communists, unlike the Gandhians, do not refuse to accept the historical responsibility on the pretext that violence breeds hate and destruction. On the contrary, they believe that force is the midwife of a new society, that revolutionary violence revolutionises the society, freeing the minds of the people from filth, inertia, staleness and all other vices of the old society.
4. ‘Private Armies at War’
It is well-known that there exist a number of private armies in rural Bihar — Bhoomi Sena, Lorik Sena, Brahmarshi Sena, Shoshit Dalit Samajvadi Sena, Shoshit Mukti Sena and so on and so forth. But there are different interpretations of this Sena phenomenon. For some, all these Senas are caste-armies, and they brand the Lal Sena? too, as the harijans’ private army. The CPI and the CPI(M) do differentiate between the private armies of the landlords and the Lal Sena, but they hasten to add, ‘It is the so-called Lal Sena’s extremist activities that have given the landlords the excuse to form their own armies’. And if you meet a political spokesman of the Bhoomi Sena, he will perhaps say, ‘The kisans’ lives and property are in danger, and the government has failed miserably in protecting them; so the kisans must themselves protect their lives and property’. The ministers and government officials, you will find, always wax eloquent about their determination to wipe out all these Senas (though at times, they even refuse to admit the existence of private armies), but in actual practice they launch repressive and punitive campaigns only against the Lal Sena or the ‘extremists’. And some outspoken landlord would declare, ‘The labourers have turned defiant. They are all possessed by the evil spirit of Naxalism. We will teach them a good lesson and drive out the evil spirit once and for all’. The rural poor, however, react quite the other way, ‘All these Senas are nothing but hirelings of the landlords, and they have made life a hell for us. The Lal Sena is quite a different proposition. They are our boys, our kith and kin. They have given us a new strength, a new life’. So once again it is the difference in various class positions that explains the whole thing.
Armed gangs of the landlords are nothing new in a semi-feudal society, and more so in Bihar. However, since late seventies, there have been certain changes. As the rural poor started getting organised, they came to face the attacks of the landed nobility and its hired goons. Gradually some criminal-turned-politicians (having feudal background and engaging in all sorts of criminal activities including smuggling, dacoity, arson, rape, killing etc.) took the lead and began to organise armed gangs under popular names so as to mobilise, or at least, to attract their respective caste-men. Krishna Singh ( a Bhumihar and a one-time Congress(I) MLA ) with his Brahmarshi Sena and Anand Mohan Singh (a Rajput, and a leader of anti-reservation movement) with his Krantikari Samajvadi Sena are the two pioneers of the Sena culture in Bihar. Seemingly enjoying the support of their general caste-men, these ringleaders are in constant touch with the landed nobility, readily lending a ‘helping hand’ whenever such a ‘necessity’ arises.
Then comes the second category of Senas comprising Dinesh Yadav’s Shoshit Dalit Samajvadi Sena, Sheonandan Paswan’s Shoshit Mukti Sena, and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Dalit Sena. All these three persons are Lok Dal leaders. Now, why should Lok Dal at all need a Sena, and that too, not one but three Senas ? Some consider it as the result of personal/factional feud within the Lok Dal, while some others see in it the Lok Dal’s policy of distributing its eggs in various baskets. Anyway, for all practical purposes, these Senas are all paper-Sends, and at the most they have attained the status of political formations without acquiring any military character so far.
In contrast to the Senas belonging to the first two categories, the Bhoomi Sena and the Lorik Sena, the two Senas comprising the third category, are quite often in the news, and of them, the Bhoomi Sena in particular has developed as a veritable politico-military formation. Readers may like to know the background, character and activities of these two Senas in detail, and as such we are discussing them separately. This will be followed by a comparative account of the Lal Sena as well.
Bhoomi Sena :
It was 1979. The struggle in the Poonpoon-Masaurhi belt of Patna district was reviving after setbacks — this time in the form of militant mass movements. A peasant committee was formed, the armed unit was re-organised, and it armed itself through a raid on the Akbarpur police camp. The landlords, rich peasants and enemy agents who were actively involved in ‘encirclement and suppression campaigns’ earlier, and had actively collaborated with the police, were warned and asked to submit before the committee. Dwarika Singh, one notorious landlord of Deokuli village, was one such tyrant. He had actively collaborated with the police in killing and looting, in getting many peasants/activists arrested, and in compelling the harijans and other labouring masses of Deokuli to leave the village. But far from mending his ways, he arrogantly started ganging up again, and was duly punished by death.
Meanwhile, the area was hit by drought and the people demanded that it be declared as such, voicing the demand through mass meetings rallies, deputations and demonstrations. In other words, this time the rural poor refused to be starved to death. En masse (ranging from 50 to 1,000), they approached the landlords and well-off peasants of many villages and asked them to contribute foodgrains. While many well-to-do middle peasants, irrespective of their castes, contributed voluntarily, some landlords and rich peasants had to be forced to contribute.
Alarmed at this primary assertion of the rural poor, the landlords began desperate attempts to gang up against them. But their efforts to win over the middle peasants, even those of the Kurmi caste, met with failure. Then they launched a new propaganda : ‘Harijans are extorting grains from the Awadhias (a sect of the Kurmis)’. Soon afterwards Ramsharan Singh (later president of the Congress (I) in Bihar), Nawal Kishore Singh (Patna district Congress (I) president). Bhola Singh (the then president of Bihar Lok Dal), Bipin Bihari Singh, Godhan Singh and Laddu Singh (later principal convicts in the Pipra carnage), Girish Singh (a landlord of Kamalpura village) and others formed a Kisan Suraksha Samlti (Association for the Protection of the Peasants). Armed members of this Samiti used to meet frequently and plan armed raids on this or that tola. And indeed, they conducted several successful and unsuccessful armed raids — burning, looting and killing all the way from Sahbajpur to Pipra, But these raids did not go without resistance — poor people from neighbouring villages would rush to the spot with whatever arms they had. Open letters were issued to all erring individuals, warning them not to associate themselves with the enemy. Appeals were made to the peasants, particularly those belonging to the Kurmi caste, not to get deceived by these armed gangsters. In this process, three ringleaders of this gang were punished by death — two of them were landlords and the other a rich peasant. Broad sections of Kurmi peasants remained passive and a small section even came in our support. Frustrated in its efforts, the Kisan Suraksha Samiti — virtually a united front of the Congress(I), Lok Dal and the CPI ( or one can say, a united front of landlords, rich peasants and a small section of corrupt middle class Kurmis), and formed with the specific object of finishing off the Naxalites by rallying the rich and middle peasants behind the landlords — finally ended up disintegrated.
The late 1980 harvesting season witnessed a wave of crop seizure movements and the sowing season in 1981 was marked by widespread strikes for wage-increase. These were followed by some successful mass movements aimed at occupying some small plots of vested land, ahars (water reservoirs), tanks etc. as well as securing fishing rights in the river, and curbing criminal acts (like rape) committed by the landed gentry. Finally came the Lahsuna incident (for details see Chapter-11) and the subsequent upsurge. Meanwhile some Kurmi landlords, bad gentry and professional criminals had again taken initiative to form an armed gang. They accumulated a huge quantity of arms, recruited some Kurmi youths (mostly lumpens from well-to-do families) and by early 1982 launched a professional armed gang, named the Bhoomi Sena. As usual, the Bhoomi Sena went on a “loot all, burn all, kill all” spree. To mobilise the entire Kurmi middle peasantry, they however changed their propaganda.
To a rich, well-to-do Kurmi peasant, they would say, ‘The life, liberty and property of the Kurmis are at stake. What remains in our life if there is no prestige and dignity ?’ And to the middle peasants or other middle strata the approach would be somewhat different : ‘You see, input costs are rising and you are the worst sufferers. And these Naxalites are instigating the labourers to demand higher wages. Those who are well-to-do can afford higher wages, but you will be ruined’. Further they would add, These Naxalites won’t spare anybody. Moreover today they are demanding higher wages and crops, tomorrow they will take your land also’. They used to publicly chant slogans like, ‘Mazdur kisan bhai-bhai, Naxali beech mein kahan se ai (Agricultural labourers and peasants are like brothers, why allow the Naxalites to come in between?)’. They fully utilised some of our mistakes like seizure of crops of some middle peasants, capturing some vested land under the occupation of middle peasants, killing or heavily punishing certain persons who should have better been handled in a different way, or taking the wage movement to the extreme, even at the cost of many plots of land lying uncultivated.
Initially the Bhoomi Sena conducted its activities in the blocks of Poonpoon, Masaurhi, Naubatpur, and partly, Dhanarua in Patna district. During the hey-day of their activities they extended their operations to the Patna-Gaya border area in Jehanabad sub-division, too. During 1982-85, they killed at least 65 persons, mostly rural poor (38 in Poonpoon alone), including 4 of our Party members (one being a fighter of an armed squad), set 216 houses ablaze, and drove out 325 families from 13 villages of Poonpoon, Naubatpur and Masaurhi blocks. In the process, their heavy hand fell on their caste brethren also. They used to extort a massive amount of levy from Kurmi peasants, and also used to force them to provide shelters, chicken, liquor, and at times even women. And the Kurmis who sided with the peasant movement were simply done away with —Lalbabu Singh (mukhiya), Sharada Singh and Premchand Sinha (student leader) being three glaring victims.
However, the Bhoomi Sena was dealt a heavy blow by our armed squads. Many of their leaders were executed. Their efforts to expand their activities to other parts of Patna and Gaya did not succeed either. In Jehanabad, they were given a serious blow by the armed squads of CPI (ML) (Party Unity). For all practical purposes, they are now confined to 7 to 8 villages of Poonpoon and Masaurhi blocks of Patna district, where, too, they are now in a process of retreat. Their disintegration has been hastened all the more by their internal bickerings. Their social base among the Kurmis has also become considerably weak. And the landed gentry, too, seems to be divided — one section under the Congress(I) now prefers to collaborate with Bhumihar landlord gangs, while the other section, inclined to the Lok Dal, chooses to remain independent.
So far as the role of the government is concerned, any careful observer can notice that whenever the forces of the landlords get weakened, the government and its allied machineries enter the scene with their ‘peace mission’ and try to weaken or suppress the forces of the movement while enabling the forces of the landlords to regain their lost strength. That the police generally side with the Bhoomi Sena against the Naxalites has also been admitted by Shashi Bhusan Sahay, a DIG of Bihar Police, in his secret report entitled The Extremists in Bihar and the Bhoami Sena.
Lorik Sena :
The Lorik Sena appeared only recently in parts of Hilsa-Ekangarsarai blocks of Nalanda district. But soon it spread its activities to other parts of the district as well as to some villages of Ghosi block in Gaya and Dhanarua block in Patna.
In the last Assembly elections, candidates of the Indian People’s Front (IPF) drew a large number of votes in these areas. Casteist leaders of the ruling-class parties naturally read a portent of grave danger in the IPF’s increasing popularity. More specifically, it was perhaps Ramashraya Singh (a Yadava), the CPI MP, who felt the immediate threat since the majority of Yadava peasants were sympathetic to the movement and a good section of them was very much in the movement.
Already, the landed gentry and rich peasants of upper-castes (mainly Bhumihars) were seriously concerned over the ‘spurt in Naxalite activities’. But at the same time, the Bhumihars were also locked in a traditionally sharp rivalry with the Yadavas and this is the Naxalites were using to their advantage. To strengthen its anti-Naxalite drive, the Dubey government naturally sought to mobilise the combined strength of these two castes and also to enlist a more active involvement of the CPI. As a first step, Jagdish Sharma (Bhumihar Congress(I) MLA) and Ramashraya Singh addressed a mass meeting from a common dais.
The Yadava peasantry in some of these areas displays dual allegiance — to the Lok Dal as well as to the peasant movement. The Lok Dal’s anti-Naxalite propaganda did influence a section of the Yadava peasants, if only temporarily.
The peasant association’s campaign against theft and dacoity had produced a good, healthy impact upon different sections of the people in these areas, but then it was taken too far, even cases of petty theft were not spared. This and certain other actions of ours hurt a section of the Yadavas directly and dacoit kings got a scope to use all resulting contradictions against the movement. Some opportunist rich and middle-class casteist leaders, a few of them once being active elements inside the movement, fully utilised this situation and portrayed the whole movement as being anti-Yadava. Soon all these aggrieved elements joined hands and with armed criminals providing the core and Ramashraya Singh providing the brain and also the shape, the Lorik Sena was born.
Armed with guns and rifles, the Lorik Sena began its operations in the true traditions of Sena culture in Bihar. In April 1985, they killed one Paswan of Korthu village and looted his house. On August 30, they shot to death Munna Thakur and Potari Dom of Naima village. On September 24, they attacked and ransacked one tola in Mandachh village. The next day they caught one youth of this village, brutally hacked him to death and threw the mutilated body into the river Lokayan. Not only that, when one woman of this very village was running away from the clutches of the police, this gang headed by Shyam Yadav caught her, and she was then gang-raped and paraded in the nude in broad daylight. In the morning of October 5, its members attacked Khaddi village and fired at a child. On October 9, the gang encircled Naima village with a view to killing one of our cadres in the village. But in the face of resistance they fled away. One Yadava of Khaddi-Lodipur Village had joined a mass meeting of the Kisan Sabha in Hilsa — the gang looted his house and even threatened to kill him. On October 10, it set fire to ten houses in Mandachh village, and on October 19, it robbed two businessmen of all their goods. In the morning of October 27, they looted many houses in Masarh and Sikandarpur villages. Here there was one chhilka (water reservoir adjacent to and fed by a river, specifically meant for fishing) under the collective control and management of the people. Peasants of all castes used to fish in this chhilka and a part of the income therefrom used to be set aside for purposes of collective development. Bhumihar vested interests egged on this gang to capture this chhilka — and capture it did in return for lavish entertainments and a free hand in fishing. And all this went on under active protection extended by the police and administration. So, this was how the Lorik Sena — the Sena that is named after one of the legendary heroes of the Yadava community who had fought against a tyrant Yadava landlord of his time alongwith the dalit masses — declared its arrival on the rural scene of Bihar.
Naturally, this gang did not spare the Yadavas either. Roving with guns and rifles, they would extort money from the Yadava peasants, and would even threaten them with dire consequences in case they refused to join the gang.
Under these circumstances, it did not take the Yadavas too long to realise that the Lorik Sena was more a liability than an asset. Initially, the Sena could mobilise 50 to 200 Yadava masses in its areas of influence. But gradually this participation began to peter out. Many of the middle class initiators have also lost much of their control on the activities of the Lorik Sena. The Lok Dal finds it a losing proposition, and the government, too, no longer seems to favour the idea of a Lorik Sena, though it certainly wants a greater involvement of the CPI and the Yadavas in dealing a heavy blow to the Naxalites. If the internal basis of the Sena was already becoming weak, timely steps taken by our Party as well as by some enlightened persons among the Yadavas have further hastened the process of its disintegration. But though the Lorik Sena has got largely disintegrated in the areas where it had originally emerged, in many other parts of these central districts of Bihar, powerful Yadava gangs of dacoits and other lumpen elements are nowadays sporting the Lorik Sena badge, or at least, that is how their activities are reported in the press.
Lal Sena :
In contrast to all these Senas, the regular armed units led by our Party (popularly known as the Lal Sena) stand in a diametrically opposite category in that they have a flesh and blood relationship with the masses. (See Appendix : Declaration of the Armed Units). They live with the people, share their sorrows and sufferings, and under certain conditions, even take part in productive labour with them. And above all, they bring the message of revolution to the people through meetings, speeches, revolutionary stories and songs, help them solve their internal disputes and also in waging a united struggle against their enemy, and actively assist them in resisting the enemy’s onslaughts. That the masses regard these armed units as their own Sena becomes crystal clear when thousands of people rush to Arrah (the headquarter of Bhojpur district) to demand the release of Girija Ram, a member of an armed unit (in fact, the organisers had a tough time pacifying the demonstrators and desisting them from raiding Arrah jail); when defying all hardship and death, over 5,000 people march to Kunai (under Jagdishpur PS of Bhojpur district) to erect a martyrs’ column in memory of their beloved armed fighters Jiut and Sahato; or when over 10,000 people gather in Kaithi to pay homage to their beloved martyrs (including two members of an armed unit).
During the present phase of the movement, these armed units are acting as the core force in mobilising the masses in resistance struggles and other movements, and also in expanding the areas of struggle. And more importantly, such units have proved to be very effective schools for educating, training and developing excellent communist cadres from among the lower strata of the peasantry.
There is, however, no denying the fact that, at times, these armed units, too, commit certain mistakes which definitely bring in losses and create confusions among the people. The Party constantly strives to overcome these deviations whenever they are detected.
Putting the Lal Sena at par with other Senas, or blaming it for the formation of the counter-revolutionary private armies, is nothing but putting revolution and reaction at par, which in essence serves the cause of reaction only.
5. ‘Nothing but Caste Conflict’
‘Harijano ka man barh gaya hai (harijans have turned defiant)’, bemoans the landed gentry. This lamentation is shared by upper-caste peasants and a section of intermediate-caste well-off peasants as well. Some advocates of class struggle, too, complain, “It’s a harijan movement pure and simple. Class struggle has nothing to do with it”. Accordingly, some people portray the struggle as a purely harijan-Kurmi conflict, some others view it as a clash between the harijans and the Yadavas, yet others interpret it as a caste war against all upper-castes in general.
It is a fact that the harijans in general are very much in the movement. So far as the intermediate castes are concerned, the economically lower group actively takes part in the movement; the middle group extends its support and sympathy; and among the well-off, a small section does occasionally support the movement, a large section supports actions against upper-caste big bosses as well as actions which strike at upper-caste privileges, and only a tiny section of highly ambitious rich peasants shows hostility. Certain exceptions are, however, there among the Kurmis and Yadavas. In Poonpoon-Masaurhi area of Patna district where Kurmi landlords are dominant and where there has emerged a tiny section of highly ambitious Kurmi peasants, even the large majority of Kurmi middle peasants remain under the influence of the enemy. The Yadavas in Nalanda-Patna-Gaya border belt vacillate between the reactionary camp and the camp of agrarian movements. Our consistent struggle against the arch-reactionary sections of landlords and their armed gangs, our constant attempts to differentiate between various sections of the enemy and to adopt separate policies towards different sections, rectification of our old mistakes including the tendency to take instant revenge, and above all, our constant efforts to involve the middle peasants in a broad-based peasant movement — all these factors, coupled with the middle peasants’ very own nightmarish experience of fascist caste gangs, have accelerated the dilution of caste solidarity that was earlier so pronounced, particularly among the Kurmis and to some extent among tne Yadavas.
It is but quite understandable that initially when a struggle is launched against a tiny section of upper-caste/intermediate-caste landlords, they would try to mobilise their fellow caste-men behind them and this gives caste form to an essentially class battle. The caste appearance is further strengthened by the fact that one single caste, viz., the harijans, constitutes the predominant segment of the fighting peasantry. And this is quite natural since the harijans form the bulk of agrarian labourers (nearly 30 to 40 per cent of the population of agrarian labourers in the areas of peasant struggle) and more so, since they are the worst sufferers of both class and caste oppression.
The militant awakening of this most oppressed community, a communtity that has been denied for centuries even the barest of freedom, and its increasing participation in local Kisan Sabha bodies or armed propaganda squads is one of the most significant features of the ongoing peasant struggle in Bihar, not only from the point of view of establishing agrarian labourers’ and poor peasants’ hegemony over the peasant movement, but from the point of view of cultural revolution as well. What we are witnessing in rural Bihar is nothing short of a great cultural revolution. A strong foundation is being laid through these struggles for a future society that will not pooh-pooh one of its toiling communities as ‘outcaste’ or ‘untouchable’.
Moreover, these peasant struggles also provide living examples of the vanguard role being played by the agrarian labourers and poor peasants in agrarian movements. In other words, they serve as stunning refutations of all those theories that refuse to accept agrarian labourers and poor peasants as the vanguard contingent on the plea that in a semi-feudal economy, these classes remain too burdened with numerous ties of bondage with the landlords to give the lead, ascribing that role to the middle peasants who are all supposed to be ‘independent proprietors’.
However, caste sentiments do exist among these classes, too, and at times, lumpen and casteist elements among them are indeed able to derail the movement by cashing in on these sentiments. Particularly, the reformist policies of the government have over the years given rise to some harijan elements in almost each and every village who serve as middlemen to the block officials, are associated with the Congress and are constantly trying to mobilise the harijans on caste basis. Hence, carrying on the peasant movement along anti-feudal lines on the basis of broad peasant unity is at the same time also a question of waging a relentless political struggle against all such tendencies. And herein again lies the role of the Party.
In contrast to the landlords’ politics of caste-based mobilisation, mobilisation of broad peasant masses along class lines is a very complex process and cannot be achieved overnight. But the protracted peasant movement in Bihar has made it unmistakably clear that it is not caste, but class, that is the growing basis of the mobilisation of the peasantry.
The class interests behind the landlords’ politics of caste- based mobilisation are also becoming increasingly clear. For example, when Laddu Singh (whose family owns 100 acres of land and who once held an important position in the CPI) and Bipin Bihari Singh (secretary of the Poonpoon block committee of the CPI, he too owns 100 acres of land) led the infamous Pipra carnage, they certainly did that from a definite class position, even regarding it as a veritable ‘class struggle’. Same was the case with Divakar Sharma and Jayaprakash Singh of the Congress(I), Subhash Chandra Singh, vice-president of the Patna district Bharatiya Janata Party, and Sidheshwar Singh, secretary of the Bikram block committee of the CPI, when they all forgot their political differences to unitedly organise an armed procession of landlords at Bikram on 22 October, 1981, defying Section 144. And then there is the example of Ramashraya Singh, the CPI MP, who is the well-known ‘brain’ behind the Lorik Sena. The more the class interests of these caste leaders get exposed, the more rapidly will erode their ability of caste-based mobilisation. And that is precisely what is happening in the areas of peasant struggle in rural Bihar.
6. ‘The Rural Poor ; The Worst Trouble-makers’
For the landlords and the government, the rural poor are the real ‘trouble-makers’. That is why, despite all tall talks about the welfare and upliftment of the harijans and other weaker sections of the society, it is they who become the first and foremost victims of each and every punitive campaign let loose by the landlords and the government. Their houses are ransacked and set ablaze, their women raped and the men arrested, beaten and killed indiscriminately. Their leaders are put behind the bars under the NSA or Bihar Crime Control Act, or simply killed in fake encounters (like the case of Dr. Gopal Prasad in Hilsa, Nalanda, or Jiut and Sahato, who were killed when asleep). In contrast, one never hears of raids on Bhoomi Sena dens, or of arrests of Bhoomi Sena chieftains. All police repression is directed almost exclusively against the rural poor, simply because they dare to aspire for a better life and have learnt to press for their rights.
As against this view of the establishment, those who are on the side of agrarian movements look upon the rural poor as the vanguards. Of course, they do not deny that the rural poor, too, have their share of drawbacks. The curse of casteism apart, there are various other corrupting influences of the semi-feudal society (like gambling, liquor addiction, theft etc.). But with the development of the movement and the organisation, the poor are fast ridding themselves of these vices.
Throughout these long years of struggle, it is the rural poor who have proved to be the most consistent force standing at the head of the movement — be it the period of only underground and illegal activities as in the past or of both legal and illegal activities as in the present, be it the period of severe repression or of widespread upsurge. It is they who have always borne the brunt of all barbarous repression, and have yet stood firmly in the forefront—whether in elections, in demonstrations and rallies on general demands, in resistance movements against police atrocities and landlords’ attacks, in struggles for democratic rights (the movement for the withdrawal of the Bihar Press Bill for instance), or in various other programmes of the Indian People’s Front. They are the real vanguards, they are the nucleus in all local organisations of the Kisan Sabha and the Party as well as in the armed units.