Report of the 5th National Conference of AIARLA
The Fifth National Conference of AIALA, held in Bhubaneshwar on 3rd and 4th April 2015, squarely addressed the contemporary challenges and tasks of organizing the rural poor in the backdrop of the changing village in India. AIALA, by now famous as the khemas in the Hindi belt, Mazdoor Mukti Morcha in Punjab and AIALA in other parts of the country will continue its work as All India Agricultural and Rural Labour Association (AIARLA) from now on as per the resolution passed in the 5th National Conference. The change in name is in recognition of the varied organizing work being taken on; and required in rural areas for the assertion of rural poor and agrarian workers.
The Conference began with tributes paid to the heroic struggles of the activists and leaders who had laid down their lives in the struggle for a life of dignity and rights of the rural poor and workers. The halls accepted the legacy of the struggles led by the martyred adivasi comrades Ganga Ram Kol and Purnendu Gomango. It was followed by an impressive rally on 3rd April through the streets of Nagabhushan Nagar (Bhubaneshwar).The city was decorated for the conference in red flags, festoons and wall writing. As the rally proceeded back to the conference site, dancing cultural troupes from Andhra, Jharkhand and Bihar celebrated the militant culture of the rural workers and the resilient spirit of India’s toiling masses under the blazing Bhubaneshwar sun. The rally was joined by guests and delegates upto Shaheed Gangaram Kol Sabhaghar (Adivasi Exhibition Ground), the venue of the Conference.
The 5h National Conference began with an open session on the agrarian situation in the country and the state of India’s democracy for the rural poor. It was addressed among others by Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, Professor Manoranjan Mohanty and Dr Kalpana Wilson of South Asian Solidarity. Addressing the opening session of the conference CPI-ML, General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said that concerted and intensified efforts were needed to build a strong resistance against the onslaught of Modi government, which was intent on snatching even the small measure of support and rights that had been won after prolonged struggles. Comrade Bhattacharya said that the Modi government which had promised ‘good days’ had instead offered evil to the toiling poor of the country. He said that India was being pushed into the status of a ‘Company Raj’ and the need of the hour was another resolute and intense freedom struggle to reclaim our democracy.
In the course of the two days of deliberations, several veteran leaders of the communist movement and leaders of workers’ and peasants’ movements in Odisha joined in solidarity. The Conference’s reception committee also felicitated these veterans.
The closed session saw the participation of 792 delegates , observers from 18 States and 45 guests. The delegates were according to the total membership 18 lakhs attained till the time of the Conference. It was decided that the membership drive would continue till 25 May and become the basis for the state, block and district conferences. Deliberations on the draft document saw the participation of 57 speakers and 20 written suggestions. Special slogans were coined to focus on the thrust areas. The Conference raised the slogan ‘Call of every village, every town! Company Raj down, down!’ emphasizing the integration of agrarian struggles with other struggles. Securing India’s freedom from the designs of the pro-corporate policies of the Modi government resonated in the slogan ‘No to Commercialization! No to Saffronization!’ Resistance to corporate loot was emphasized, along with specific demands of the agricultural workers, such as land struggle and opposing the moves to reverse land reform. Call was given for ‘scrapping the Land Acquisition Ordinance’. The right of the tillers and share croppers was also asserted. MNREGA which has been under serious threat by the Modi government continued to be in focus during the Conference as an employer of the rural poor. Demands were made for 200 days work and Rs. 500 as daily wages. The conference demanded the Rights of the rural poor to land, food, livelihood, shelter and housing. Further specific demands on quality education through fully state supported common schooling and universal health care was demanded. Strengthening the struggle for democracy the rural poor and agricultural workers resolved to rise against injustices perpetrated on dalits, adivasi, women and minorities. The defiant and militant spirit of the agrarian workers was underlined by the slogan ‘We shall fight, We shall win!’ In spirit with the tasks on hand, the conference gates were named after the important struggles of Odisha as Posco gate and Kalinganagar gate.
The reports from the state indicate a worrying trend of declining tribal population as a result of poor health, nutrition and poverty. Further distress migration and loss of land and livelihood because of rivers’ shifting course and floods, displacement in the name of conservation from forests called for new kinds of intervention and organizational work in various states.
The Conference was also addressed by CPI (ML) Politburo member Com. Ramji Rai who pointed out how the government of the day was facilitating loot through lies and propaganda for the companies by claiming that the Land Acquisition Ordinance was keeping in mind the interests of the rural poor. He referred to how alongside the battle to defend lands the rural poor would ensure that the agenda of land reforms and redistribution was pursued. Comrade Shashi Yadav, addressed on behalf of AIPWA and pointed how women have been leading rural struggles on issues such as those by midday meal workers in Patna. The Conference took on the task of developing women who were at the forefront of several struggles into cadres and leaders. Comrade Kumarswami, AICCTU, pointed to global changes and national shifts in the status of labour over the years. He said how the cities instead of offering refuge had instead become a ground for discarding the toiling masses displaced from the villages, hence making issues of migrant workers important areas of concern. Comrade Amarjeet Kushwaha, RYA, pointed to the significant role that youth could play in the combined struggles to reassert the rights of the rural workers on common village land.
Delegates from different states shared their experience of the ongoing assault on their land and livelihood and condemned the moves of the government to snatch the land from the poor, curtail the social security of deprived social groups, inadequate provisions of the current food security act and the cuts in MNREGA. They pointed to significant struggles for forest rights, land, livelihood, water and other resources. Victories achieved after protracted battles for land, justice, caste indignities and against administrative negligence.
Comrade Dhirendra Jha, outgoing General Secretary placed the report and the tasks ahead. He summarized the deliberations and said while opposing the onslaught of the corporate communal forces that the organisational tasks must involve mobilizing a fitting response by agrarian workers and rural labour. He laid out the historic role of the agricultural struggle in freeing workers from villages to assert their rights over their own labour. However the Company Raj was also a time wherein the capitalist development was reorganizing the old feudal forces and further tying up the rural poor in bonded relationships as emerged from reports in Punjab. Bihar survey also points to serious rural indebtedness. The banks were gleefully, in the meantime, surrendering their money to Adanis while all Modi government offered was empty bank accounts, ownership of which is anyway people’s right.
The villages in the meantime are no doubt changing but their free engagement of labour also raises questions of where they would live, where their children would study, what kind of livelihood they will get and so on. Pro-corporate policies were in the meantime taking away whatever small had been won , and the elected representatives in Indian Parliament were the rich and wealthy, leaving the rural poor with no voice in the policies that were being made. AIARLA’s role was hence presented as a platform for collective rural assertion based on people’s unity by strengthening the Gram Sabhas and the Panchayats and converting them into platforms of struggle. These structures had to move in the direction of defeating communal terror that Modi-Sangh Parivar were propagating through their cadre in India’s villages.
Focused work in 1000 panchayats has been targeted for developing specific practice that could develop rural resistance against corporate, communal offensive. Further MNREGA workers at various levels and as part of AIARLA will be organized A national campaign on shelter rights will be organised in the coming period with the slogan Modi sarkar ho rajya sarkar, ladke lenge vas awas ka adhikar. The conference also decided to strengthen the 100 days land rights and labour rights campaign of AIPF, for which AIARLA will mobilize for block level demonstrations.
The Conference concluded with re-election of Comrade Rameshwar Prasad as the President of AIARLA and Comrade Dhirendra Jha as the General Secretary of the organisation. The conference elected 201 national council members and 61 national executive members. Veteran CPI (ML) leader of Com. Kshitish Biswal was elected Honorary President.