Revolutionary slokas

Maoists in Bihar are mixing Leftist politics with social engagement to increase their mass base, reports Sanjay Upadhyay

On the freezing wintry night of December 27, 2012, a group of nearly 100 men, buried under swathes of quilt and thick winter-wear, gather at the diara or riverine area next to the swirling Baghmati in north Bihar.

In the dark expanse and quiet, save the noise of the river, Giddha in Sitamarhi district is not the kind of place you are likely to see anyone or anything except a congregation like this –  a meeting of some of the top ranking Maoist radical leaders from north Bihar.

This place, considered a positive security hazard for most except this motley crowd present, can hardly be more suitably located, adjacent as it is to the Indo-Nepal border. To be sure, there is more than a hint of fraternal links across the invisible line between the two countries.

Welcome to the Shahid Mela or Martyr’s Fair. This meeting is no cold-blooded plan of the radical Reds to rid the society of its class enemies through wanton violence, neither a Naxalite kangaroo court which delivers primordial justice to the land holder for his perceived excesses, all under the cover of darkness.

Instead it is a popular village fair which proposes to turn Mao Zedong on his head, a new paradigm as it were: power does not flow from the barrel of gun, as the great helmsman had once famously wrote, but through social reform, dialogue and raising issues in the most bourgeoisie democratic fashion possible.

It is by no means a lone view. Of the Maoists gathered here, there is an increasing consensus that non-violence will fetch them better results than all the blood shed in the world. This theme dominates their conversation and talks continue through the night until the first rays of sun break through.

Then, the scene is markedly different. In the sparkling sun, with pakoras and jalebis fresh out of the wok, the chattering of children and the queue for piping hot tea, it looks an unlikely place for nearly 50,000 odd revolutionaries to assemble for a political cause.

But then such are the persuasive powers of the influential Nari Mukti Morcha, the largest umbrella organisation of Maoists in north Bihar and the main organiser of the Martyr’s Fair.

At the fair itself – a much-publicised meeting for those who cared to know  – arms and ammunition are the last thing on anyones’mind. Keeping social sensitivities in mind, it is what you would see at any village get together. There is the Meena Bazaar, which is enough to get the women folk chattering: bangles, colourful clothes, sindur and make up. The pattern follows itself; the nights dominated by classic left polemics and the day by the gaily coloured village stalls.

As a symbolic gesture towards changing a degenerate social order, a model marriage is solemnised between Amit, a resident of East Champaran and Sangeena. In what could be considered an extraordinary first, the slokas are recited hand in hand with revolutionary Maoist ballads. A cultural team from the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) is at hand to provide the musical score and it looks like the original fun place.

Outsiders are carefully screened and are requested to stay away after 9 PM, when the meeting gets down to actual business. This fair, we are informed, is of four-year vintage, organised for the first time by Naxalite leader Raja in memory of departed comrade Mainuddin alias Raviji, who was slain in a police encounter on November 28, 2005.

Gidda is what would fit the description of a ‘liberated’ area. It is at the Sitamarhi-Motihari-Muzaffarpur trijunction, a hot bed for Maoist politics. In the day time, even the police stays away from patrolling but under orders from the top, make a formal appearance at the venue, to merely scrape and scratch at some seditious Maoist literature and posters but not do much more.

The outcome of the four-day meeting is summed up by a spokesman who requests anonymity. “After four nights of deliberations, we have concluded that the Maoist movement in Bihar needs new ideas and a connection with social issues of the day to increase their mass base. Party ideology has been diluted and there is a general crisis of credibility. In addition, there are certain elements that need to be weeded out of the revolutionary struggle.”

This is by far the most candid admission by Bihari Maoists that their tactics have not worked and there is an urgent need to take the political agitation to another level, a level which can only be attained by broad basing the social content of their movement.

Well placed sources say that Maoist groups active in north Bihar are themselves tired of internecine bloodshed which has alienated the mass of people instead of attracting them to the fold. In the last six or seven years, there have been several cases of extreme Left violence in north Bihar.

Included in this list is a 36-hour pitched encounter with the police at a market complex owned by Bihar Minister Sitaram Singh in East Champaran; a daring attack on the Riga police station in the same district followed by a night-long encounter; an armed attack in Sheohar district’s Dubba Ghat and the murder of Shyampur Bataha police in charge along with seven others. The list is long and bloody. As a leader confides, “Nepal is our model; arms as well as social movements as a two-pronged offensive to broad base the Maoist struggle.”  Maybe Bihar too needs a Prachanda.

[Article posted in The Sunday Indian]


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