ON the morrow of the May 30 panchyat poll of 1993, five agrarian labourers were butchered in Karanda village of Burdwan district (another died later at the hospital) and thirty others severely injured at the hands of CPI(M) goons. The goons also set fire to the houses of the agrarian poor. Their only ‘crime’ was that, breaking away from the CPI(M), they had dared to show the ‘audacity’ of contesting elections under the banner of the CPI(ML)-backed Indian People’s Front (IPF). Ramnarain Goswami, the CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP, was widely believed to have masterminded the brutal attack. The CPI(ML) organised widespread protests and also a 12-hour successful Burdwan district bandh on 3rd June, 1993. A protest march to the Writers’ Building was also organised on 8th June, 1993.
The entire press in West Bengal, including the section sympathetic to the CPI(M), exposed the CPI(M)’s political terror. Peasants had been killed before in CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal – the killings of jute growers in Jalpaiguri and peasants agitating for electricity at Shantipur in Nadia being just two well-known instances. But earlier it was the police administration which used to kill, with the CPI(M) providing the ‘political defence’. But in Karanda, it was the party which directly perpetrated the massacre.
It was in the backdrop of an on-going tension in the CPI(M)’s rural social base and the consequent unleashing of terror by the CPI(M) that Paschim Banga Krishak Samity (PBKS) held its fifth conference on 24-25 March, 1994 at Burdwan Town Hall. On the eve of the conference a five thousand strong peasant mobilisation was organised on 23rd March, 1994 at Sidho-Kanu Dahar in Kolkata. Addressing the gathering, Comrade Vinod Mishra asked the peasants to counter the CPI(M)’s continued threat of re-enacting Karanda by resurrecting Naxalbari.
On the third day after the peasant conference, CPI(M) goons killed Comrade Abdul Halim at his bed in the Kalna hospital in Burdwan district. Comrade Halim had been a CPI(M) member and district secretary of its youth wing, but crossed over to the CPI(ML) along with a significant number of activists and followers. The CPI(M) panicked and launched a number of murderous attacks on our comrades, and Comrade Halim had to be hospitalised after one of these attacks. The killing was reportedly masterminded by Harish Kar, the CPI(M)’s Kalna Zonal Committee secretary. Nearly 4000 people joined the funeral procession of Com. Halim. On March 29 Kalna town observed a total bandh and on April 1, life came to a standstill in both the districts of Burdwan and Nadia.
The murderous attacks notwithstanding, the Burdwan peasant conference was followed by quite a few significant land seizure movements. On 15 April, 1994 more than 300 landless and poor peasants organised under the banner of PBKS pulled off the seizure of 100 bighas of land in Charmahatpur (Nadia district) on the bed of river Jalangj. Ten rich peasants — each of them owning about 40-45 bighas of land and enjoying the political patronage of both the CPI(M) and the Congress — had each occupied about 4-8 bighas of the vested land seized by the peasants. The land seizure gave rise to a confrontation between the landless and poor peasants on the one hand and the rich peasants on the other. The rich peasants repeatedly tried to forcibly evict the landless peasants from the land they had seized. In one such attempt hired anti-socials fired indiscriminately to scare the people and destroyed 20 bighas of jute cultivation done by the landless peasants. The landless peasants however put up a militant resistance and beat back the antisocials. In spite of the CPI(M) MLA Mr. Kashem vehemently opposing the labourers and exerting pressure on the administration to come to the aid of the rich peasants, the landless peasants under the leadership of PBKS were able to keep the land under their control.
Like the CPI(M) in Burdwan, in Murshidabad district it was the Congress which, as the main party representing big farmers and landlords, led murderous attacks on our peasant activists and party cadres. Comrade Nurul Haque, a District Comittee member who had led a number of struggles in the Khargram area on land, wage and other issues, was assassinated on 30 November, 1994. A protest bandh was organised, and the struggle continued. In July next year, a militant wage struggle was organised in several blocks and it was crowned with success in many places.
Back in Burdwan, the PBKS captured about 200 bighas of land on 20 December, 1996, on the Debnagar char in the Mertala area under Purbasthali PS. About 140 bighas were distributed among poor and landless peasants for cultivation and the rest was distributed as homestead land.
It is against such heavy odds that the poor and landless peasants and agricultural labourers have been organising and fighting under the banner of our Party and mass organisations like the PBKS and the recently formed Paschim Banga Krishi Majur Samity (PBKMS). Here are some of our more recent major initiatives.
The crossing over of sections of CPI(M) followers to the IPF in a district like Burdwan is not just a case of shifting of political allegiance – this division within the CPI(M)'s own mass base is rapidly assuming the shape of a class division. With the help of their hold over the party-administration-panchyat nexus, the rural elite here have, during the last fifteen years, amassed huge wealth. The rift between this section on the one hand and the poor landless peasants and agrarian labourers and the party comrades close to them on the other has gone on widening. And consequently, this section of onetime CPI(M) activists and supporters have begun crossing over to our side. ... But it is clear that this class division in Burdwan has assumed the form of class struggle. And when political struggles like the panchyat elections begin to stir the hornet's nest the upstart vested interests and their benefactors become desperate. And then Karanda results, the brutality of which is comparable only to the notorious massacres of central Bihar.
Poor people who have got tittle deads under the land redistribution scheme are often prevented from actual use of the plots by dominant class forces with the support of ruling parties and the administration. To take one example, 240 bighes of vested land lay on the river bed of Jalangi near Nakashipara and Chapra blocks of Nadia district. Out of this, only 8 bighas had been officially handed over to 13 agrarian workers back in 1985. But even these 8 bighas remained under the control of the rich and powerful who controlled the rest 232 bighas. On the eve of the May 2001 Assembly elections, peasants captured the entire 240 bighas, but could not start cultivation. On February 2,2002, about 3000 agrarian labourers led by the PBKMS ploughed the land and planted seedlings. The police let loose savage repression, and that in turn gave rise to a series of mass protests. The struggle is still going on.
Following intense flood relief activities, a series of rallies and other forms of protest were organised against the irresponsible attitude of .the central and state governments towards the victims of the devastating floods of September-October, 2000 : (i) March to Writers Buildings in Kolkata on November 2, (ii) a day’s protest bandh in the worst affected districts of Birbhum, Burdwan, Nadia and Murshidabad on December 7, 2000 and (iii) 10,000-strong “Save the Peasants” mobilisation at Kolkata on 9 January, 2001.
In the context of the growing numerical strength and movemental assertion of the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat, the PBKMS was built up from the grassroots level (the inaugural state conference was held at Burdwan on 22-23 September, 2001) as the core of peasant movement. In its local, district level and state level activities it has been able to mobilise a good section of the rural poor otherwise owing allegiance to the CPI(M). It has brought out a handy guidebook to help organise the rural labourers in large numbers and build up struggles on issues ranging from land, employment and wages to intervention in rural development schemes and panchayati raj functioning. On 30 May this year it organised a mass meeting at Kolkata and submitted a memorandum to the state government demanding:
(a) A comprehensive legislation for agrarian labourers;
(b) Re-enumeration of the below poverty line (BPL) list in West Bengal in view of the fact that actually more than 40 per cent (and not 25 per cent as claimed by the state government) of the people in West Bengal live below the poverty line;
(c) Immediate state purchase of foodgrains at the minimum support price;
(d) Withdrawal of the proposed new agrarian policy;
(e) Exemplary punishment of the killers of Karnda.
The PBKMS along with the Paschimbanga Krishak Samity organised road blockades and other forms of agitation throughout the state on 17 June 2002 to press the above demands, followed by a state wide token strike of agrarian labourers on 15 July.