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Eastward ho: The Bihar Model

Poornima Joshi | Updated on December 03, 2020 Published on December 03, 2020

Left turn: What ‘Maley’, its candidates and history in Bihar represent is a combination of an alternative vision, credible candidates and committed cadre   -  THE HINDU/ RANJEET KUMAR

A Left party with a revolutionary past hopes to provide the much-needed ingredients of credibility and vision to the Opposition

*In an age when most other so-called “secular” parties dither over fielding Muslims in elections, CPI (ML) (Liberation) candidate Mahboob Alam not only won from Balrampur by the highest margin of 53,078 votes, he also polled the highest votes

* In Bihar, ‘Maley’ has consistently espoused the cause of land reforms and social justice and was the single biggest victim of the anarchy and caste wars that engulfed the state during Lalu Prasad Yadav’s tenure as chief minister

* That the Congress wrangled 70 seats in the jointly contested elections and managed to win only 19 gives a fillip to Dipankar Bhattacharya’s argument that if ‘Maley’ had been given a larger share, the outcome of 2020 Bihar elections would have been different

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In Bihar, it is known as ‘Maley’ — an acronym for the Hindi name of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Liberation). In the just-concluded state Assembly election, the party emerged as a contrasting ideological alternative to the Bharatiya Janta Party’s (BJP) dominant political platform that subsumes regional or caste identities with its overarching Hindutva-nationalist appeal.

What gives clarity to this opposing political force is the rag-tag ‘Maley’ army, which has infused energy and credibility to the idea of social justice and secularism. A young party with a revolutionary past is a catalytic foil to the formidable caste alignments around Lalu Prasad and Tejaswi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and a moribund Congress. And it shines a torch on ideas that can become a binding agent for forces opposed to the BJP.

In parts of Bihar, and elsewhere, the CPI(ML) (Liberation)’s stunning victory from Balrampur is still being celebrated. In an age when most other so-called “secular” parties dither over fielding Muslims in elections because of their “doubtful winnability”, the party’s Mahboob Alam not only won this seat by the highest margin of 53,078 votes, he also polled the highest votes — 1,03,746 in his favour. Symbolically, it also shattered what CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya calls the “social-engineering-cum Hindutva combination” that the BJP has honed to perfection in the Hindi heartland.

“The BJP props up small parties or individuals who signify either lower OBCs or Dalits anywhere in the Hindi-speaking states — there is Apna Dal representing the Kurmis in Uttar Pradesh, and then there is what is called the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) that represents the Sahnis or the Mullahs in Bihar,” he said. “They will find their caste icons and pit them against the Muslims in a mythological or false historical battle. The BJP will fund them, disperse largesse and promote them in constituencies where it has traditionally not won either as vote cutters or plausible candidates,” Bhattacharya added.

Balrampur is a case study in this phenomenon. Barun Kumar Jha, who’d contested the 2015 elections on a BJP ticket, shifted to the VIP and was pitted against Alam, while the BJP — which had adopted the VIP, led by Mukesh Sahni — did not field a candidate. The NDA jointly rallied behind Jha. And yet, he was trounced.

Alam is duly deferential to the alliance with the RJD that helped him but is clear that while caste and community identities are important considerations in elections, what eventually matters is the credentials and credibility of a candidate.

“Secularism and social justice are not just slogans for me,” he told BLink. “I have been a communist all my life because I believe that everyone, regardless of where he is born, has equal rights to land, resources and social dignity. I was underground for years and have fought the feudal casteist structures in Bihar.”

Alam stressed that he believed in a “modern, secular India” where everyone had equal rights. “And because of the life I have led among my people, they recognise it as a genuine commitment and they vote for me because they know that I am not here only to win their vote but actually to work for them,” he said over the phone from Patna where he is organising farmers against central farm laws in solidarity with the protesting farmers of Punjab and Haryana in Delhi.

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Driving force: CPI (ML) (Liberation) is a progeny of former Naxalites who joined the political mainstream under the iconic Vinod Mishra   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

What ‘Maley’, its candidates and history in Bihar represent is a combination of an alternative vision, credible candidates and committed cadre. The party is a progeny of former Naxalites who joined the political mainstream under the iconic Vinod Mishra. Mishra led the underground cadre into the Indian People’s Front (IPF) in the 1980s.

By the end of the decade, the IPF had begun to participate in elections. In 1989, IPF’s Rameshwar Prasad won the Arrah Lok Sabha seat and the IPF went on to win seven seats in the Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1990. The CPI (ML) (Liberation) is the surviving faction of the IPF with trade unions, peasant organisations and the student group called the All India Students Association (AISA), which has made significant inroads in student politics on campuses across Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Allahabad University and other institutes.

In Bihar, ‘Maley’ has consistently espoused the cause of land reforms and social justice and was the single biggest victim of the anarchy and caste wars that engulfed the state during Lalu Prasad Yadav’s tenure as chief minister. The ML cadre, largely Dalit and lower OBC groups, which were a part of the movement for land rights and social dignity, especially in central Bihar, clashed with the upper caste militia Ranvir Sena whom they accused of benefiting from Lalu’s covert support.

Bad blood: There is a history of violence between the ML cadre, largely Dalit and lower OBC groups, and the upper caste militia Ranvir Sena. In July 1996, the Sena killed 21 people of Bathani Tola village (in the image)   -  THE HINDU/ RANJEET KUMAR

 

Violent encounters and massacres occurred in the villages of Laxmanpur Bathe and Bathani Tola, where the Sena carried out retaliatory killings against landless labourers who were mainly Dalits and aligned with the CPI (ML) (Liberation). In 1997, a budding ML leader and AISA activist Chandrashekhar, who was also president of the JNU students’ union, was killed by mercenaries allegedly employed by the don-turned-RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin. Shahabuddin was named in the FIR but the state police never chargesheeted him in Chandrashekhar’s murder.

Bhattacharya stressed that the adoption of a peaceful, parliamentary process was aimed at securing the basic rights of the common people and there was a widespread recognition in Bihar of the party for their consistent work.

“Parties like the RJD and JD(U) [Janata Dal (United)] came up on the plank of social justice and socialism and benefited electorally because of the consistent work that we had done. Social justice however is not an election plank for us, but a belief system. We understand that caste and communal identities have a popular appeal but our aim is to steer popular consciousness above identity politics and towards a genuine egalitarian society,” Bhattacharya said.

But, according to Congress MLA Shakeel Ahmad Khan, who won the Kadwa Assembly constituency, the electoral success of the CPI(ML) (Liberation) — it captured 12 of the 19 seats it contested from in the Assembly polls — should not undermine the strength and endurance of caste politics in the Hindi heartland.

“The ML benefited from an alliance with the RJD and the Congress,” said Ahmad, who, incidentally, led the Students’ Federation of India while he was studying in JNU in the ’90s. “Look at a seat like Digha in Patna district. The ML had only got about 1,100 votes in 2015 whereas, in this election, it secured over 50,000 votes. They shouldn’t get ahead of themselves,” he said.

The fact, however, is that the Congress wrangled 70 tickets in the jointly contested elections and managed to win only 19 seats, giving a fillip to Bhattacharya’s argument that if the ML had been given a larger share, the outcome of the elections would have been different. In any case, what this experiment proves is that a party with candidates from the poorest sections of the society has contested and won a hard-fought election purely on the strength of fresh ideas, committed cadre and credibility.

What India’s Opposition sorely lacks is exactly these ingredients.

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Published on December 03, 2020
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