The spectre of Jagannath Sarkar, one of the finest Marxist leaders in India, haunts the troubled state of Bihar, which awaits a crucial election between October 8 and November 5. During his stewardship in the late 1960s, the Communist Part of India (CPI) became the most powerful Left party in the state. Unfortunately, the CPI leaders today — as also their counterparts in the CPI(ML) Liberation and CPI(M) — do not wage a social jihad against the privileged castes that own and control the property and also torture the underprivileged masses.
With the RSS calling the shots, especially in the Hindi belt, the cobra-hold of extremely in-egalitarian property relations in Bihar is stronger than ever, thanks to the decimation of the three official Left parties. Democratic forces and civil rights organisations need to emerge and lend support to chief minister Nitish Kumar to halt saffron politics. Kumar showed the courage to set up a one-man committee for agrarian reforms, under chairmanship of D Bandyopadhyay, but shelved the report and its recommendations. So the Left’s criticism of Kumar’s back-down in implementing the recommendations of the Bandyopadhyay committee was conscientious but not in sync with the socio-politically nebulous nature of the BIMARU state.
True, the top brass of the JD(U), like the once-powerful Samyukta Socialist Party, have ‘no interest in establishing democratic solidarity based on social justice. Instead, its purpose was to strengthen its mass base by inciting cattiest passion against forward castes’, observed Sarkar in a note to his party’s national council in 1998 on the reasons for the vertical decline of the CPI’s masses in Bihar from the early 1980s.
Yet Kumar tried to chart a new governance that the Left parties never studied dispassionately. They never appreciated steps such as curbing of criminal raj (life imprisonment for nearly 6,000 criminals and death sentence for over 80) between 2006 and 2008. Laws such as the Bihar Special Court Act, 2008, empowering the state to seize the assets of public servants proved to possess disproportionate assets and mandatory utilisation of forfeited assets for primary or secondary schools, and the Right to Service Act,2008, to end red-tapism in the issuance of caste certificates, birth and death registration, are of no value to them. These laws were never thought by the CPI(M)-led governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. All this is simply parliamentary opportunism thriving on negative politics.
CPI(M) polit bureau-member Brinda Karat looks forward to “a strong political and electoral intervention” as the Left parties have been “fighting on people’s issues in Bihar since long” in contrast to other alliances — implying that the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine has ‘no ideology and are fighting on seat-sharing issues’. She reflects her obsession with vacuous conceit, evading the reality of the alienation of the Left from the upper-caste-oppressed people in ‘chill penury’.
For elite-brand leaders like her, Ravidas, Kanu, Lohar, Paswan and Dusadh are Greek. Little wonder that out of the over 100 candidates fielded by the Left parties in the last assembly polls, only one seat was won and that too by the CPI. They refuse to learn the lesson, excepting a showbiz self-critique that has no impact on the electorate.
Sankar Ray is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed are personal.