Chalo Mansa: Cradle of Left in Punjab calls for Dalit-Left unity to challenge BJP
Mansa, the nerve centre of the Left in Punjab's Malwa region, saw a call for coming together of the Dalit and Left forces in the country. The aim is to raise the banner of the right to dissent and fight against anti-people and the divisive policies of the BJP-led central government.
Activists from not only across Punjab but as far as Mumbai, Nagpur and Lucknow descended on this sleepy town on Sunday to discuss a strategy to counter the 'fascist' forces in the country that are threatening the freedom of the masses.
Mansa's Left connect
It needs to be pointed out that this region has been witness to several movements led by the Left since the Independence. The villages around Mansa have made their contribution to the Independence struggle, the Mujahra movement of the early 1950's and later, fighting the militancy in the 1980s and the 1990s.
This area also kept on electing representatives to both the Parliament and the state Assembly till the mid-1980s.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Left Bloc across the world and because of the failure of the Left parties to give effective political programmes, the Left started losing the polls and witnessed a scattering of its cadre in the area.
But even today, the Left forces enjoy large-scale public support and there are several Left organisations active in Mansa. The support for the Left ideology remains intact, however, these organisations are divided on issues and that is what has prevented them from winning elections.
Mansa and its adjoining villages still see large-scale sale of Leftist literature, even the radical kind. And it is not surprising to see people discussing Operation Green Hunt or talking about developments in the Maoist belt.
Old timers like Master Bhura Singh, who was a CPI member, still have fond memories of evening classes being run by the Marxist Study Circle and how the Khalistani militants never created trouble in the area because of the strong Left presence.
“In the 1992 Assembly polls, the militants had given a call for a boycott but we ensured that not only were the votes cast by the people but even booths were set up in the face of those boycott calls. I had returned home from my duty in Barnala to find that my 70-year-old mother had been the first to cast the vote and soon there was a line of voters eagerly waiting to exercise their right to franchise,” Bhura Singh says while talking about several daring acts of the Left party workers.
An interesting dimension to the issue is that the region has also come on the radar of the RSS with its head, Mohan Bhagwat, having made two visits in the last three to four years.
Keeping up with its politically vibrant history, Mansa brought together filmmakers, writers, poets, Dalit activists under the banner of 'Jutan'. Jutan is a country-wide initiative that intends to bring people together to challenge the policies of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre.
The problems identified by Jutan included –
– Cow vigilantism
– The politics of communal polarisation that is at work across the country
– The rising cases of atrocities against the Dalits and the minorities
– The rising unemployment
– Policies promoting privatisation of education making it unaffordable for the poor and the marginalised
– The encroachment upon public space in the social sphere by the RSS and other Hindutva organisations
The debate also revolved around the need to bring together the Left and those working for Dalit rights.
Mansa incidentally has a substantial Dalit population majority of whom continue to work as farm labourers. A large number of them have committed suicides on account of the continuing farm distress.
Harshali Potdar an activist from Samta Vidyarthi Agadi, an organisation working for Dalit rights in Jalgaon, Nagpur and Mumbai, called for the need for various Left and Dalit organisations to give respect to each others' struggles and eventually join hands to thwart the forces of regression.
Potdar pointed out that there was a need to understand the objective reality that there is a reluctance amongst Left organisations to work with others who follow Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar's philosophy.
“The slogan of Jai Bhim-Lal Salaam should come with complete sincerity and not out of some symbolic compulsion,” she added.
Speaking to Catch, Potdar said that by curtailing scholarships and fellowships at the level of higher education the government is sending the message of exclusion.
“They do not want people to fill intellectual spaces and ask questions,” she said. She also pointed out that the government has ensured the closing of Ambedkar-Phule-Periyar study circles in various institutions.
Similarly, Sudhir Dhawale of the Republican Panthers Jati Vinash ka Andolan asserted that atrocities against Dalits have been continuing and they keep not being appropriately covered in mainstream media.
“It is true that the protests against them are not planned but people keep hitting the streets in the name of Ambedkar. It needs to be understood that the Dalit and caste issues are related to the struggle of the class. Ambedkar's parliamentary experiment was short lived and eventually, he too had to change his path to radical politics. He was prevented from drafting a socialist constitution and pushing through the Hindu Code Reforms Bill in one go,” Dhawale said.
Dhawale further said that the issue of reservation is being used by the government to divide people and the affluent castes seeking reservation is scientifically wrong.
“Since you need Dalits as a vote bank and are not bothered about their economic development, you take refuge in politics of cow and religion,” he claimed.
Katyayni, a poet and social activist from Lucknow, accused other poets and writers of being oblivious to the onslaught of Hindutva. “They should stop doing Raas Leela with the government and instead focus on the problems of the masses,” she said.
Noted Punjabi poet and writer Darshan Khatkar said that along with the BJP and the RSS, the Congress is equally responsible for the 'fascist' onslaught on the people as this was the party that showed the way through the imposition of the Emergency.
He hit out at the BJP government and accused them of giving irrational solutions to genuine problems and of resorting to the policy of distortion combined with populism. Khatkar explained how the Modi government wants to impose Golwalkar's nationalism, that stands on religion, to justify every one of its decisions. “They want to throw out educated people by altering the syllabus in universities,” he said.
Such a gathering of activists and the call for countering the present government's narrative on issues from a place like Malwa has immense significance in the context of Punjab. This place might once again be on the brink of triggering a historic movement.