Towards Bihar Elections: Asserting a People's Agenda

With the announcement of dates for the five-phase Bihar elections and finalisation of seat-sharing agreements within various alliances, Bihar is now ready for what promises to be the biggest electoral battle since the Modi government came to power in May 2014. The stakes are admittedly quite high for both Nitish Kumar, who had been sharing power with the BJP till June 2013, and Narendra Modi, who had managed to win as many as 31 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar after Nitish Kumar terminated his nearly two decades long alliance with the BJP. But the elections in Bihar are by no means a bipolar battle between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar and their respective alliances as the mainstream media would suggest.

On the face of it, Modi and Nitish Kumar are both heading bigger alliances in these Assembly elections. But as the opinion polls clearly reflect, common voters are disillusioned with the rulers in both Patna and Delhi, and there is little visible support on the ground in favour of either alliance. Apart from Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP and Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP, the BJP has now found a fresh new ally for the NDA in Jitan Ram Manjhi's fledgling outfit known as the Hindustani Awami Morcha (Secular) or HAM(S). Nitish Kumar's JD(U) is now in an alliance with the RJD and the Congress. The three parties call their combination the 'grand alliance' even though talks with three potential partners - the NCP, SP and JMM - did not bear fruit. The NCP and SP have now joined hands with expelled RJD MP Pappu Yadav's Jan Adhikar Party and three other smaller outfits to form their own 'Samajwadi Dharmnirpeksh Morcha' (Socialist Secular Alliance). The MIM has also chosen to enter the fray in the Seemanchal districts of Araria, Purnea, Katihar and Kishanganj.

The CPI(ML), CPI, CPI(M), SUCI(C), FB and RSP are contesting these elections as a united and independent Left bloc. The joint convention of the Left in Patna on 7 September saw an enthusiastic assembly of Left activists from across Bihar. The joint appeal issued by the convention has put forward a 21-point charter with alternative priorities and direction for a pro-people development agenda for Bihar. Though a complete seat-sharing agreement once again proved elusive, the six parties have succeeded in thrashing out an arrangement that will ensure maximum agreement covering over 200 seats.

In contrast to the NDA and UPA poll rhetoric that revolves around either old fears and prejudices or empty future 'visions' and fraudulent mega packages, the CPI(ML) campaign is premised firmly on the basic concerns and ongoing everyday struggles that define the reality of life for the overwhelming majority of people in Bihar. The Bihar economy currently has two major components - agriculture and services - with little industrial dynamism. Successive Bihar governments have refused to carry out land reforms and recognise the rights and basic interests of sharecroppers and tenants who bear the main burden of agriculture without any assistance from the state. While denial of rights and lack of public investment have stifled agricultural growth, the contract system leaves the young employees who runs the wheels of governance cruelly underpaid and thoroughly demoralised. The Left agenda accords topmost priority to the concerns of the agricultural population and the contractual employees of Bihar.

While calling upon the Bihar electorate to give a fitting rebuff to the BJP, the CPI(ML) campaign highlights the centrality of anti-feudal resistance as the key to defeating and checking the BJP in Bihar. The stopping of Advani's rathyatra was doubtless a powerful symbolic act by the united Janata Dal government headed by Lalu Prasad. But thereafter, his reign became notorious not only for crime and corruption, but also for serial massacres of the fighting rural poor and killings of Left leaders including Comrades Chandrashekhar and Manju of CPI(ML) and Ajit Sarkar of CPI(M). The BJP drew strength from the failure and betrayal of the Lalu era and Nitish Kumar not only shared power with the BJP but virtually put his entire government at the BJP's service, dumping the Bandyopadhyay Commission report on land reforms and disbanding the Amir Das Commission on Ranveer Sena to appease the BJP and its feudal social base. This is why the anti-BJP claims of the JDU and RJD, not to speak of the Congress, ring so hollow.

The CPI(ML) list of candidates combines experience with energy. Alongside six former MLAs and several other leading comrades from the state and district committees of the Party and various mass organisations, there are also many young and fresh faces among the 90-odd CPI(ML) candidates. Party branches are playing a key role in running the grassroots campaign. The CPI(ML) campaign relies entirely on the support and sympathy of the people and the sweat and toil of grassroots campaigners to take on the money-, media- and muscle-power of the bigger parties. It is an unequal battle in many ways, but the courage and resolve of the fighting poor and the tireless efforts of the Party organisation do have the magical power to defeat the arrogance of the oppressors.

Left Parties' Joint Convention Towards Bihar Polls

Six Left parties organized a joint political convention in Patna with slogans that echoed their main aim of defeating the feudal, communal, pro-corporate alliance under the BJP as well as the opportunistic and deceitful JD (U)-RJD-Congress alliance. Over 5,000 activists from CPI, CPM, CPI-ML, SUCI, Forward Bloc and RSP from districts across Bihar attended this historic convention on 7 September 2015. Great enthusiasm and energy was evinced, especially among the younger participants, as this was the first joint programme of its kind.

Senior Left party leaders A B Bardhan, Sitaram Yechury, Dipankar Bhattacharya, Chhaya Mukherjee, Debabrat Biswas, Abani Roy, and other leaders were present on the dais. These Left parties had prepared ‘a joint Left appeal to the voters of Bihar/an alternative agenda for the pro-people development of Bihar’ which was presented at the convention by Com. Dhirendra Jha. The appeal asserted that Employment For All and Land Reform were the foundation of any meaningful development agenda for Bihar’s people. The appeal also highlighted the issues of justice denied for victims of the Bhagalpur riots, and successive massacres of Dalit rural poor by the Ranveer Sena.

The appeal called the bluff of competitive announcements of ‘packages’ by both Modi and Nitish Kumar. In contrast, the Left parties presented an alternative agenda of pro-people development that included:

1. Comprehensive land and agrarian reforms (including redistribution of ceiling-surplus and bhoodan land among the 22 lakh landless families; homestead land for all; registration of all sharecroppers, fixing of rent and all kinds of support for tenant farmers.

2. Agricultural Development: expansion and modernization of irrigation facilities; guarantee of water conservation and flood control; timely provision of all farmers’ needs at subsidized rates; affordable loans; remunerative pricing; improving storage facilities and guaranteed procurement; implementation of Swaminathan Commission recommendations.

3. A stop to mindless and forced land acquisition

4. Freedom from usury and money-lending

5. Housing for all

6. Food for all

7. Education for all

8. Health for all

9. Healthy and pollution-free environment

10. Industrialization, emphasis on agriculture-based and traditional industries; employment for all, livelihood and social security

11. Cheap electricity for every home

12. Approach road for every village and hamlet, and public transport

13. Youth policy and a cultural policy to promote progressive social consciousness

14. Equal opportunities and justice for all

15. Fair and just share for deprived sections in development

16. Women’s rights and just share in power

17. Corruption-free governance

18. Curbing crime and ensuring fearless and dignified life for all citizens, especially dalits, adivasis, minorities, women and all poor and marginalized people

19. Expansion of the cooperative schemes

20. Encouraging entrepreneurship

21. Election Reform

The Left parties have launched a spirited campaign based on this agenda, that is receiving enthusiastic support from the people of Bihar.

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