The politics of opportunism masquerading as secularism does great damage to the real battles being fought on the ground for justice against communal and feudal bias
In the early hours of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day on March 23 this year, villagers of Repura in the Ara Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar found the body of Budhram Paswan, secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)’s Charpokhri block committee. He had been killed the previous night, as he was returning to the village for a meeting in preparation for the filing of Lok Sabha nominations by CPI (ML) candidates. The FIR has named several well-known feudal elements of the neighbouring village, including three men accused in the Ranvir Sena’s 1998 Nagari Bazaar massacre.
Mr. Paswan was one of the key activists who helped ensure that witnesses in the case withstood feudal terror and intimidation, and testified in court. This resulted in the conviction of the accused in the sessions court in 2010. The conviction was overturned by the Bihar High Court in 2013 — part of a series of such verdicts discrediting testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses, and overturning lower court convictions in Ranvir Sena massacre cases. Mr. Paswan also helped the survivors find courage and determination to appeal against the acquittal in the Supreme Court. On March 23, Ranvir Sena supporters celebrated Mr. Paswan’s assassination, gleefully firing shots in the air. Such celebrations underline the fact that the murder is a political one, intended to terrorise CPI (ML) supporters with a show of feudal muscle on the eve of an election in which the CPI (ML) is a strong contender from the Ara seat.
Spate of terror
Ideologues of the Bihar Chief Minister like to claim that feudal violence is a thing of the past thanks to sushasan (good governance) in the past nine years. Is this true? In the 80s, feudal forces who unleashed terror to stop Dalits from casting their votes had to contend with successful struggles by the oppressed and landless poor under the banner of CPI (ML) to avail of their right to vote. The same forces faced with CPI (ML) victories in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha seats in Bhojpur in the late 80s and early 90s formed the Ranvir Sena and conducted a spate of massacres with the purpose of terrorising the poor and checking their social and political assertion. Now their strategy is to eliminate leaders and cadres like the CPI (ML)’s Rohtas Secretary Bhaiyyaram Yadav (killed in 2012) and Mr. Paswan. On Independence Day last year, the Dalits of Baddi were subjected to organised feudal violence that claimed a life, injured several people and destroyed a temple of the poet-saint Ravidas, revered by the Dalits.
The continuous thread of feudal violence in Bihar resonates with the hollowness of Mr. Kumar’s claims of ‘good governance’ and ‘development with justice,’ as well as his claims of principled aversion to Narendra Modi’s politics. His government began its first tenure by hastily dismantling the Justice Amir Das Commission that had been set up after the Lakshmanpur Bathe massacre to probe the political linkages of the banned Ranvir Sena. The Commission was at the point of submitting its conclusions, and was likely to name several prominent national and State-level politicians, mostly from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United), but also some from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. Therefore there was, among Bihar’s ruling parties, a tacit consensus on the burial of the Commission. The massacres took place with the open collusion of the RJD government, with Lalu Prasad declaring his willingness to ‘ally with the forces of hell’ to contend with the CPI (ML), and the mass acquittals took place under the aegis of Mr. Kumar.
The BJP link
Mr. Modi, in his recent visits to Bihar, has carefully chosen to project himself as a champion of the backward castes. For Bihar which has witnessed the Ranvir Sena in action, this posture is especially mendacious. At Bathani Tola, the Ranvir Sena butchered women and children from the oppressed castes as well as backward Muslims. The Ranvir Sena distributed election leaflets in the 90s seeking votes for the BJP. Brahmeshwar Singh, chief of the Ranvir Sena, in interviews given close to his death, openly admitted to having been a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre since childhood, and wanting to see Mr. Modi as Prime Minister. Much of the literature of the Ranvir Sena was copy-pasted from RSS tracts, including demands for abolition of Article 370, ban on cow slaughter and shrill anti-communism.
If anyone needed further proof of the intimate ties of the BJP and the Ranvir Sena or any illusions of justice from Mr. Kumar, they should study the aftermath of the killing of Brahmeshwar Singh in 2012. BJP leader Giriraj Singh described Brahmeshwar Singh as Bihar’s Gandhi; Mr. Kumar took a leaf from Mr. Modi’s model of ‘rajdharm’; the police stood mute and allowed Ranvir Sena supporters to run amok in Ara and Patna, unleashing violence on Dalits and on public property. Brahmeshwar Singh’s funeral and shraddh ceremony found several members of Mr. Kumar’s cabinet in attendance, not to mention an array of BJP leaders along with those from the JDU, the RJD and the Congress.
The thread of organised massacres and the quest for justice, of course, extends beyond Bihar. In many ways, the nature of these Bihar massacres presaged what would unfold in Gujarat in 2002. Bihar, Gujarat, and Muzaffarnagar, and of course Delhi in 1984, have all been witness to organised pogroms conducted with political motives with the tacit or open collusion of the government and state machinery.
On the issue of ‘development,’ the choice between the ‘Nitish model’ and ‘Modi model’ is a dismal and misleading one. Mr. Kumar’s claims of miraculous development (echoed till his party’s recent divorce with the BJP) owes much to a carefully-crafted media campaign. The reality check is provided by the unstoppable flow of Bihari youth out of the State, seeking education and employment that is denied to them at home. And it is ironic that Mr. Modi, bragging to the people of Bihar about the development model of the ‘western states,’ forgets that the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena — both vying to offer him allegiance in Maharashtra — are responsible for thrashing migrant labourers from Bihar and other eastern states, whose labour contributes in no small way to the corporate-led ‘development’ of those States.
Mr. Modi’s campaign has essentially been dominated by ‘theme Gujarat’ and ‘team Gujarat,’ for which the Gujarat government’s resources are being used. With Raj Thackeray’s support in addition to the Shiv Sena’s, Maharashtra’s might has been added to Gujarat’s fuel power. Gujarat and Maharashtra are both arenas of corporate assertion and the corporate model of ‘development,’ and Mr. Modi’s campaign has taken on the overtones of the corporate home base against more backward regions.
If the RJD regime allowed the feudal-communal Ranvir Sena a free run in Bihar, Mr. Kumar’s regime allowed the RSS and the BJP to strike deep communal roots in Bihar.
The BJP’s candidate from Ara is R.K. Singh, former Home Secretary. The spate of people joining the BJP after resigning from top positions in police, intelligence, and the Home departments ought to alert us to the deep-seated communal and political bias that exists at the heart of such institutions, as a result of which saffron—terror linkages are seldom probed while communal profiling is rampant.
The case of Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party is a fresh reminder of the fact that the politics of opportunism masquerading as secularism, far from being a reliable bulwark against communal and authoritarian politics, does great damage to the real battles being fought on the ground for justice against communal and feudal bias and violence. In this poll, the challenge for progressive forces is to keep the struggles for justice and truth from ‘disappearing’ or being turned into a farce.
(Kavita Krishnan is polit bureau member, CPI (ML) Liberation.)