The Bihar Scenario : A Proletarian Perspective
Working as a member of the volunteer team from JJSS (Jan Jagran Sakhti Sangathan) that conducted social audits in three panchayats, I had the opportunity to meet Comrade. Giranand Paswan, a Communist Party of India member and former upa-mukhiya and ward member of Gorraha-Vishanpur panchayat. Com. Giranand is a district council member of CPI, state council member of Khet Mazdoor Union (Union of peasants) and former director of Indian Public Theatre Association (IPTA) of Araria district. Warm and knowledgeable, Com. Giranand struck a cord with the audit team at once. Our meeting was at Gadhgawan Middle School building and went on for an hour and half in which we discussed polity and the condition of agriculture at local panchayat levels. Excerpts of the interview is given here.
You said that you were involved with IPTA. Can you tell me what the activities of IPTA in Araria were? Is it functional now?
Our activities were through the medium of songs (geet mandali). The problems of people and the solutions to them were presented in front of the people. We had theatre personnel as well as those who could handle Harmonium and dholak easily. The goal of the plays were mainly to influence the society and to introduce communist thought to them. The Communist Party of India has benefited largely through this. People came to recognise the party’s efforts and the cooperation from them in the wake of party activities also increased. But as time passed by, two of the main players were expelled from the party for their deviant behaviour. They later joined CPI(ML) and the organisation is defunct in Araria now. I have been working for long to bring it back to fore.
How do you know JJS? And I believe that none of the political parties have extended support for the social audits that are happening here. What do you think of it?
I came to know of the organisation from a training I attended in Allahabad. I've known the activities of JJSS from its founding. Their attempts have left a positive impact on the people. Personally I think the Communists should support it. But this is not an issue on which I should be commenting. Everything has to be decided by the party.
What do you think are the reasons for Communist parties not getting a sizable number of seats in Bihar even though they have been working here for years?
The principles of Marxism-Leninism don't get foothold when communalism is shooting up. The Communist party is a political party of the working class. Their ideology is of class struggle. But at present the Hindi speaking states are mired in caste struggle. The split that has to happen along the class lines as proletariat and bourgeoisie is taking place along caste lines. The high caste and the low caste. The political organisations like BJP and Congress are exploiting this split to a major extent. The rich do not want to increase the wages of the workers and this polarisation becomes intense with a particular leader of a particular caste getting a large following. The leaders have very different aspirations and eventually, they too side with the rich. The consequence is the maintenance of the status quo. The middle class is warded off from the party largely by popular misconceptions such as that the communists do not respect religion and culture and that they kill old people. And largely the people are not well educated. This is the reason for them not taking interest in communism.
I've heard people say about Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar in the same breadth as they are the chief ministers of the rapidly growing and developing states. Modi's reign has not seen any considerable increase in HDI of the state. But with Bihar, there is a consensus that the state is seeing a 'real' development. As a native of Bihar, what do you think of the government headed by Nitish Kumar?
People were essentially confused. It is a fact that mankind yearns for a better life always. They are not satisfied with their current living conditions. A question was raised to Lenin as to whether the class struggle will end when communism becomes widespread. But the answer was no; they will crave for more. This building of the school where we are sitting was renovated when my wife was the mukhiya (chief) of this panchayat. Now, since the school is built, there will be a demand for more facilities here. Such as benches and desks for the students, fans in each rooms. This is the same thing that happened in West Bengal. The people wanted paribartan (change) for they wanted more. The gyaan (knowledge) was given a back seat. Nitish Kumar has sure initiated development programmes. He is doing something. But what is the cost for the development? The development schemes that should be completed with Rs. 20,000-25,000 are taking around Rs. 90,000-95,000. You might have noticed this while looking at the files of various schemes carried out in the panchayat. The officials are corrupt and they eat up most of the money and the construction or the activity being implemented through the scheme gets done with its original cost.
Do you think that people in West Bengal voted the left parties out of power because they wanted more? And the Biharis are deceived in the name of development only because the Nitish sarkar is offering more than the previous governments?
We have to respect democracy. The educated people of Kerala and West Bengal at the same time do not realise that the education they received was the result of the activities of left parties. Cheaters won't teach you anything. You give money to someone. But if he doesn't know how to count that, then what's the use? A small damage was done by Nano company (Tata Motors). A little damage was done to the agriculture. Caste factor and problems in leadership affected in West Bengal. Similarly, in Bihar the caste politics have a big role to play. There are caste groups that support Nitish Kumar as their leader, majority of the yadavs support Lalu Prasad and the paswans have aligned themselves with Ram Vilas Paswan. The labour class could not identify between those who earn and those who loot the earner. And this has affected the development considerably. The communists never asked votes for building mandirs or in the name of caste. No communist could split the society in the name of frivolous caste issues. This has, however not been grasped by the poor farmers and peasants.
Does being a non-believer cause you problems in working with people?
The biggest worship is in considering people you serve as your mother. No one can cheat one's mother. One has to act for the people in the way they would like it and it is not impossible. For me a communist should be as stubborn as the mighty Himalayas when it comes to ideology and should be as soft as candle wax when it comes to practice. Friendly affection and fraternity are to be upheld when one is among the people. I joined CPI in 1969. And when my wife became the mukhiya of this panchayat, I was able to do a lot of things for this village. The school was renovated. Unfortunately I couldn't do well in acting against the biggest scam of these days in the village, Indira Awas Yojana. The corrupt officials are eating up more than four times the money given to the villagers. And very rarely you find people granted funds under this scheme. A large chunk of funds are being diverted and registers are filled with bogus names and records. Given a chance I would like to bring the discrepancies to light. I would like you (JJSS) to take up this issue also for social audits.
Can you elaborate your experiences being the Upamukhiya of this panchayat?
I consider my election victory to be the result of honesty. I didn't make tea or paan for any of the villagers to influence them. When my wife fought for the post of mukhiya, I stood for the election of ward member. When I got elected, I was unanimously elected for the post of upa-mukhiya. There was very little expenses from my side. In fact nothing. I didn't buy anything for me or others. It was the people who led elections for me. I didn't take anything from the people too. There were a lot of avenues where the concerted efforts have paid off. But I regret for not capitalising on Indira Awas Yojana scheme. During my tenure (2006-'11), 700-800 Indira Awas were passed. We received the material for only 5%. Where did the rest of the money go? We were not able to find that out. And I think there is a nexus of high officials operating to extort public money.
The present UPA government doesn't have a clean record in peasant related issues. On the basis of your experiences, what do you think should be the framework for a good agricultural policy?
The thought is fundamental enough to be grasped by everyone. In the industrial sector, the manufacturer determines the price of the product. Why doesn't the farmer get to decide on the price of his produce? This has been a very old demand of the communist party. The organisation of farmers and peasants are very weak in Bihar. Unless there is a strong cooperation between the two groups, the agriculture sector can't improve in the present condition.
On interacting with the villagers, it was seen that most of the young villagers have left for Punjab. What, do you think, are the primary reasons for this migration?
Yes, lot of the villagers migrate to the states Punjab and Haryana to work in the factories there. The reasons for this are unstable work and often, lack of work. The industrial sector here is also not developed. But it has seen a surge in those states and they get a stable job if not higher wages. I have a concern regarding NREGA. The workers here are mostly peasants. They get fully involved in the works like NREGA that they don't get enough time to look after their work in the fields. When they are devoting their time for NREGA, either the wages are not provided on time or regular works are not given. This has generated a stalemate and some of them leave working in the field to work for NREGA. I think this situation can be erased by having agriculture works under NREGA.
Anything else that you would like to say.
The corruption in the government schemes have increased. I would like to see it stopped with the involvement of organisation like yours and with people's efforts. Other than that I would like to commemorate a man who has done a lot for the development of this panchayat and this village. His name is Dunmun Sah. He called the BDO of Tamganj block to visit the village and when the BDO arrived, one person from the crowd gathered yelled out with joy, “BDO Maharani ko jai ho” (Long live BDO maharani). BDO who was a male officer (and the salutation should be in the same gender) was startled at the response of the villagers. He proposed to set up a school in the village so that the villagers have an educated generation to avoid situations like this. I would like to see Dunmun Sah's statue erected in this school compound or a tournament being conducted in his name.
It was time for us to wind up. Com. Giranand left with hopes of getting his dreams fulfilled in his village. His face glowed when he discussed the development projects concerning the village with us. When asked about his enthusiasm about the villagers and their uplift, he remarked casually, “I'm a born Communist”.
Ashish Ranjan and Kamayani Swami.
The Social audit team members: Ranjit Paswan, Kundan Sah, Raju Poddar and Aakash Karkare.
Jan Jagran Sakhti Sangathan is a registered trade union working in the Araria district of Bihar. Their activities include fighting for peasant rights in relation to NREGA (now MGNREGA). The public hearings conducted in various panchayats in order to lay open NREGA and ICDS schemes have in effect triggered a people's movement. This is evident from the responses that the social audit team got from some of the panchayats. The good will of the people and awareness of their rights have made them courageous as they come out in front of others to expose corrupt government officers. You can read more about Jan Jagran Sakthi Sangathan (JJSS) from www.jjabihar.org )