ML Update 35 / 2012

MLUpdate

A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol. 15 No. 35 21-27 AUG 2012

Kokrajhar and After: Challenges for Democracy

The violence that broke out in Assam’s Kokrajhar district in the latter half of July is acquiring murkier political overtones with every passing day. Had the state and central governments responded promptly, the violence could have been contained at a much earlier stage. But crucial time was lost as army intervention got delayed apparently on procedural grounds and violence was allowed to escalate. With the state found wanting in terms of administrative initiative and political will, fear and insecurity rapidly engulfed the lower Assam districts of Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang. In an unprecedented instance of mass exodus nearly half a million people were compelled to seek shelter in relief camps. Low-key violence still continues to be reported from the area, taking the resultant death toll beyond 80 even as more people are dying in relief camps because of extremely poor sanitation and insufficient medical care in these camps.

Unlike previous instances of ethnic violence in Assam, the Kokrajhar incidents have had repercussions far beyond the state. The BJP was quick to smell a political opportunity in the Assam violence, blaming it on ‘growing illegal immigration of Bangladeshi Muslims’ and the Congress tradition of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and ‘vote-bank politics’. Advani himself led the charge in the Lok Sabha and the BJP and RSS launched an aggressive propaganda blitzkrieg across the country against their pet theme of ‘infiltration by Bangladeshi Muslims’. Some Muslim organizations in Mumbai organized a protest demonstration leading to clashes with the police leaving two persons killed and at least fifty injured.

And then began a vicious rumour campaign predicting post-Eid attacks on students and workers from the North-East in different parts of India. Thousands of panic-stricken workers and students began rushing back to Assam and other North-Eastern states from cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune. As trains overcrowded with angry passengers returned to the North East, passing through the already tense and violence-affected areas of Kokrajhar and neighbouring districts, communal polarization was refuelled in the state with reports of fresh clashes and even passengers being thrown out of running trains. Once again we saw the cynical use of modern means of communication including the social networking sites on the internet and cellphone messages to stoke fear and prejudices all around.

Several real facts and legitimate concerns are thus being lumped together to construct a mega myth, spread fear psychosis and serve the politics of communal hate and sectarian fanaticism. There is a feverish propaganda that the native population of Assam is being systematically swamped by Bangladeshi Muslim ‘infiltrators’ overturning the delicate demographic balance in the state and making Assam vulnerable to the mythical project of a ‘Greater Bangladesh’. The bogey of ‘Bangladeshi infiltration’ is then tagged to the issue of ‘terrorism’, demonized all too often as ‘Islamic terrorism’ and now through the sinister rumour campaign the whole thing is being sought to be pitted against the sense of humiliation and harassment that students and workers from Assam and the entire North-East often have to undergo in many parts of India, not the least in the national capital.

The discrimination and harassment felt by the common people of the North-East, whether in their home states or in course of education- or work-related migration to elsewhere in the country, is rooted primarily in the overwhelmingly bureaucratic nature of the region’s integration with the narrowly perceived ‘Indian mainstream’, uneven development resulting in widespread unemployment and repressive measures like the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act throttling the democratic voice of the people. The theory of Bangladeshi infiltration taps into this real resentment and seeks to channelize it in a communal direction by portraying Bengali-speaking Muslims as the biggest internal threat to the North-East.

Next only to Jammu and Kashmir, Assam has the second largest proportion of Muslims, roughly a third of the state’s population and there is a significant concentration of Muslims in districts bordering Bangladesh. But much of this concentration happened historically primarily over two phases of mass migration, first during the period of India-Pakistan partition and second during the emergence of Bangladesh. The Assam accord has fixed 1971 as the cut-off year to decide the legality of immigration and a few thousand people have already been deported to Bangladesh over the last two decades. Many Muslims who have taken shelter in the relief camps have lost all their papers in the recent violence and now the Assam government talks of rehabilitating only those who have valid papers. Riots cannot and must not be legitimized as a method of turning people into ‘foreign nationals’.

Census figures show that since 1971, the decadal growth rate of population in Assam has been lower than the all-India growth rate. This clearly refutes the theory of a large and continuing inflow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, yet the RSS-BJP propaganda machinery is working overtime to scare the people with the threat of a lethal mix of cross-border infiltration and terrorism. This, the BJP hopes, could provide the cutting emotive edge of its coming Lok Sabha election campaign.

Within Assam, the BJP has so far failed to make any decisive inroad thanks to the strong influence of regional sentiment and identity issues. But with the progressive weakening of regional forces like the AGP, the BJP sees the current turbulence as a great opportunity to communalise the Assam situation and emerge as a key political force in the fragmented and yet traditionally Congress-dominated political arena of the North-East. It is ironical that the party which dubs every opposition to AFSPA as anti-national and seeks to crush every impulse of self-determination of ethnicities or tribal communities by aggressive politico-military means and thus stands in virulent opposition to the real interests and democratic aspirations of the people of the North-East, and which espouses a ‘cultural nationalist’ ideology that is deeply inimical to the identity and rights of the people of the North East and minorities alike, is now trying to project itself as the champion of the region and reap a communal harvest from the intricacies of the present situation. This dangerous communal gameplan must be defeated and communal forces must not be allowed to vitiate the atmosphere and endanger people’s unity and social harmony in any part of the country.

The widely publicized exodus of workers and students from cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune – some of these people are returning to Assam not just because of fear but pressure exerted by the landlords who are refusing to provide accommodation to people from Assam – has come as a jolt to these growing corporate centres. In the recent past, there have been cases of actual attacks on students and workers from Bihar, Jharkhand and UP in Maharashtra by MNS/Shiv Sena goons – yet ironically enough that never resulted in the kind of scare and exodus that has been witnessed in the wake of the sinister SMS campaign and rumour-mongering that is still going on. Guarantee of the security and rights of migrant workers and students in any part of the country is central to the notion of national unity and rule of law and no organization or government can be allowed to play with the lives and rights of the people. Over the years Assam has historically evolved as a melting pot of people of diverse linguistic and religious communities and ethnicities and a harmonious co-existence of the people in Assam is absolutely central to the strength and viability of the larger social mosaic that is India.

Forbesganj Struggle Continues:

People Construct Bhajanpur-Sheetalpur Road

Thousands of villagers armed with traditional weapons offered ‘shramdaan’ and volunteered as labourers in order to construct the Bhajanpur-Sheetalpur road at Forbesganj, Bihar, on 16 August. This is a victory for the people’s struggle, which has braved the severest repression and communal encirclement.

This public road, which has been in existence for the past 60 years or so, connects the Bhajanpur village (mainly inhabited by 1000 families of the minority community), to the Karbala, Idgah, hospital and local bazaar. Last year, on June 3, police fired on a demonstration by local people protesting against this same public road being blocked off for a private factory owned by the BJP MLC’s son. The factory itself was being constructed on BIADA land that had been illegally allotted. Police not only fired on unarmed protestors, they also jumped viciously on fallen bodies, displaying communal hatred. Four people – Mustafa Ansari, Mukhtar Ansari, Sajmin Khatoon and 8-month old Naushad – were killed in the police brutality.

A whole year has passed – but the people of Forbesganj are yet to get justice. The one-man enquiry commission has barely taken off the ground. Following the firing, the villagers had already constructed the road once last year at the time of Ramzan. But under pressure from above, the road was again destroyed. And the road continued to remain destroyed in spite of repeated appeals to the local administration. Recently, even the Home Secretary was approached, but the Government and administration did not act. Faced with a Government that obstinately closed its ears to pleas for restoration of the road, the villagers decided to construct the road on their own.

Id was approaching, and this road was needed for the villagers to approach the Idgah. Because of the condition of the road, they were even unable to reach the Masjid, though it was the month of Ramzan.

The construction of the road took place in the presence of the large gathering of adivasis and minorities, as well as CPI(ML) central committee member and former MP Rameshwar Prasad, State Committee member and former MLA Mahboob Alam, State Committee member Pankaj Singh, as well as other CPI(ML) leaders and activists.

Addressing the mass meeting following the construction of the road, CPI(ML) leaders observed that the Bhajanpur-Sheetalpur road was not part of BIADA land, and had been forcibly grabbed by the local MLC Ashok Agrawal from the BJP. Yet, the Government had taken no action against the MLC and had instead unleashed repression on the villagers protesting the grabbing of a public road. Keeping a public road in a deliberate state of disrepair and destruction is in itself illegal, since the Government has not acquired the land on which the road stands. There is nothing illegal, in such circumstances, in constructing a public road. It is the Government which is upholding an illegal act of encroachment and land grab, under pressure from corrupt, communal, and powerful local politicians. The CPI(ML) leaders demanded that in public interest, the Government ought, in fact, to make the newly constructed road pucca without delay. Following the mass meeting, a victory procession marched from Bhajanpur through the main road of Forbesganj up to the railway station.

The BJP and Sangh Parivar are making all efforts to incite communal frenzy in the Araria district, in the name of preparing for ‘Mahaviri Jhanda’ to coincide with Id on 19 August. Local BJP and JD(U) leaders like Ashok Agrawal and Moolchand Golccha are terrorising the witnesses of the Forbesganj firing. 12-year-old Talmun Khatun, who got a bullet in her back in the firing, was due to stand witness before the enquiry commission on 18 July. But the BJP-JD(U) leaders threatened her father Mohd.Zaheer Ansari, warning against her giving evidence. Though Talmun Khatun did reach Araria, intending to give evidence, Ashok Agrawal and his goons chased her away. The Government, instead of ensuring protection for the witnesses, is protecting Ashok Agrawal and Moolchand Golccha. Ashok Agrawal has been arrested on charges of murdering his employee, but he is yet to be prosecuted on the murder charges relating to the Forbesganj firing, which took place at his instigation. The Court is yet to take cognisance of the case.

The CPI(ML) has demanded that the judicial enquiry commission should hold hearings in Bhajanpur rather than Araria, so as to ensure greater security for the witnesses.

Release Comrade Tahir Ansari

Withdraw all Cases against Him

On 17th August 2012, Comrade Tahir Ansari, a fighting mass leader of the CPI(ML) in Garhwa district, Jharkhand, was arrested by police in Chana village of Nager block at 11AM.

Com. Tahir belongs to a very poor family. He made contact with the party as a kaleen (carpet) worker in the adjacent area of UP. At a very young age he joined our party and within short time he was actively leading anti feudal struggles, particularly land struggles, against the Nager Untari Estate. He played a key role in mobilizing rural poor in large numbers to capture thousands of acres of land that was illegally occupied by upper caste feudal forces in Garhwa district.

Later, Comrade Tahir also took very effective initiatives alongwith other party activists to face the onslaughts of Maoists to wipe out CPI(ML) in this region. Our militant mass resistance forced Maoists to beat a retreat, though of course many of our valuable comrades had to sacrifice their lives in this struggle.

In this process Comrade Tahir and other leading cadres of this area had to face continuous police repression and harassment, including many fabricated criminal cases. Defying all these odds, Comrade Tahir sustained his mass work and mobilized thousands of the poorest of poor people towards their political assertion. In last assembly election, we secured nearly 20,000 votes in the Bhawnathpur segment.

After the arrest on 17 August, the police initially tried to deny it. But through our prompt initiatives like interaction with the media, pressuring the DGP and Home Secretary, and most importantly, massive mass protest, the police was forced to declare Comrade Tahir’s arrest. Thousands of people from villages came to the street to protest the arrest of their beloved leader in false cases, and the protest march turned into a big mass meeting attended by 4000 people. 18 August was observed as a “protest day” throughout the state, and Garhwa and Palamu pramandal in particular witnessed vigorous protest. On the afternoon of 18 August, Comrade Tahir was prduced in the CJM court. Thousands of people entered the court premises to register their solidarity with Comrade Tahir. The appeal against his remand was rejected and he was sent to jail custody. The SP of Garhwa presented Comrade Tahir before the court as a terrorist, a criminal, a commander’ etc, and he was falsely implicated in 32 cases including some cases of attacks by Maoists on the police.

Comrade Tahir’s arrest is part of the political conspiracy, dictted from the top, against the CPI(ML) movement and leaders in Garhwa. Some months back, CPI(ML) activists were arrested on charges of abetting a Maoist blast follwoing the abduction of Zila Parishad Chairperson from CPI(ML), Comrade Sushma, and a CPI(ML) procession protesting the arrest was met with brutal police repression. On 21 August, a no-confidence motion against the Chairperson Comrade Sushma, was defeated in the Zila Parishad. The arrest of Comrade Tahir was meant to demoralise the party to face the no-confidence motion, but this ploy failed.

The CPI(ML) continues to battle the political conspiracy against its mass leaders with mass protests and political resistance. The party is now preparing for a massive Jail Bharo protest on 31 August against the arrest of Comrade Tahir.

August 31 Jail Bharo Preparations

Padyatras by AICCTU in TN

At the call of the AICCTU’s State council, all affiliated unions throughout the state are preparing for the Aug 31 Jail Bharo agitation. The preparatory meeting at Kanyakumari district held on 12 August was attended by 55 leading cadres and campaign padayatras were planned which will culminate on 31 Jail Bharo. In Tirunelveli district, General body meetings of all affiliated Trade Unions were held. General body meetings of Washermen union , Loadmen union of Iron merchant area, Construction union, Loadmen union of Suthamalli area , Loadmen union of Civil Supplies Corporation and Auto workers union were held between 5 and 12 Aug. A demonstration by construction workers was held on 12 Aug., condemning fatal accident of 10 migrant construction workers in a construction site at private college owned by education mafia Jeppiyar. In Beedi Industry branch level meetings are being organised at Pettai and Alangulam centres in the course of preparation for Jail Bharo.

In Salem, 60 activists of various unions met on 12 August and charted out campaign plan. It was planned to carry out 9 padayatras involving 100 workers to reach out to 20000 masses.

In Chennai, District level GB of AICCTU was held on 15 Aug., attended by more than 200 workers of various Trade Unions of Ambattur, Ayanavaram, Sriperumputhur and Thirumullaivayal areas. Com. Kumaresh presided over the meeting. Com.Jawahar, Honarary President of state AICCTU, dealt in detail about the Objective of the Aug 31 agitation. More than 50 padayatras were planned during the campaign. About 30 migrant workers of Northern states also participated. Com. Bharathi of AISA, Com. Kuppa bai on behalf of AIPWA addressed the gathering.

In Coimbatore, GB of Pricol workers was attended by more than 500 workers. GB elected new office bearers in a democratic way and felicitated the Retired employees. Newly elected office bearers were sworn in by taking pledge to carry forward working class struggles , keeping closer relationship with all toiling masses. Com S. Kumaraswamy , National President of AICCTU and NK Natarajan, State President addressed the workers . GB resolved to take up more than 30 Padayatras to reach out with the campaign message.

60 workers including five women workers participated in GB of Namakkal district. KR Kumarasamy and Saravanan led the meeting. K. Govindaraj, State GS of Civil Supplies Corporation addressed this GB. About 20 Padatatras covering Kumarapalayam, Pallipalayam, Thattan kuttai and Perunthurai of Erode were planned. It was decided to ensure minimum 1000 workers for Jail Bharo.

Demands for a Legislation for TU recognition by secret ballot, President’s assent for LA bill 47/2008 passed by TN legislature to regularise Trainees, Against Capitalist path of development and for pro people development, and Against loot, corporate plunder of natural resources and for strong Lokpal were included for the campaign.

Protest Against Sacking of Maruti Workers

On 17 August, thousands of workers from various automobile and other unions in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera region held a massive protest march at Gurgaon against the sacking of the Maruti workers. AICCTU and AISA activists and leaders joined this march, holding placards, that showed corporations like Maruti pulling the strings of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda.

Sandeep Singh, AISA President, along with other AISA activists, has been meeting the Maruti workers outside as well as inside the jail. Several of the Maruti union leaders and workers in jail were subjected to severe torture (including electric shocks, and rollers on the body) and demeaning acts while on remand. The workers’ lawyer has moved court to demand a Medical Exam of the workers.

AICCTU’s Countrywide Protest

On 22 August, the day the Maruti owner Osamu Suzuki visited India, AICCTU held a countrywide protest, burning the effigy of Bhupinder Hooda and Osamu Suzuki, and protesting the sacking of Maruti workers and deployment of police and paramilitary in and around the Maruti plant. At Delhi, the protest was held at Haryana Bhavan where a memorandum was also sent to CM Haryana.

We Stand By Maruti Workers

Below are excerpts of a statement that was distributed as a leaflet at the 17 August Rally.

“The events of 18th July demand a full and unbiased investigation. Why did the Maruti management introduce hired bouncers inside the factory? Why did the police do nothing to prevent the presence of bouncers inside the factory? Above all, the question needs to be asked – why has the Government of Haryana done nothing to ensure that Maruti and other factories comply with labour laws?

The denial of industrial democracy and violation of labour laws by corporations in collusion with governments is what has led to a spate of incidents similar to what happened at Maruti’s Manesar plant: Pricol (Coimbatore), Graziano (NOIDA), and Regency Ceramic (Puducherry).

Why do the murders of an Ajit Yadav, a Niyogi, a Datta Samant, never evoke the same outrage from the media and the governments? Why is the death of workers at a Metro work site, or in corporation manholes, or in mines, or at construction sites – seen as acceptable, even routine?

While 500 workers have been illegally terminated by the management, it is heard that fresh workers are being illegally recruited. Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda has announced that many battalions of paramilitary forces with 6600 security personnel will be deployed around the Maruti factory. In addition, management has recruited ex-army personnel to be deployed right on the shop floor, fully armed. The already beleaguered workers’ movement is now placed under the ominous shadow of the paramilitary forces! A new chapter is being opened in the history of India’s industrial relations, post-liberalisation, where any talk of democracy, implementation of labour laws, workers’ rights, dignified livelihood and equality will be seen as a threat to the state and Maruti workers will be made to work and assemble cars at gun-point on the shop floor!

The young workers at the Maruti factory breathed fresh energy into the labour movement in the country. We stand by them in their ongoing struggle for justice and for their rights. The defeat of the Maruti workers would mean the defeat of us all – and the victory of unbridled greed that sacrifices human dignity and rights at its altar. We cannot let the Maruti workers be defeated!”

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