Punjab – A report on the Pagri Sammelan in Barnala

February 6, 2012

by Harsh Thakor

(The author recently visited Punjab and made this report regarding his own experiences and notes from struggling sections.)

Amidst the intensified political atmosphere in the Punjab state assembly elections, a “Pagri Sambhal Campaign Committee Punjab” has been organized by different prominent and struggling personalities. The committee will hold a State level “Pagri Sambhal Conference” on January 27th at Grain Market Barnala to strip bare the deceitful game of elections and to proclaim the actual pro-people path of struggle.

In Punjab the mass revolutionary Movement is making history by staging the huge Pagri Sammelan conference. The purpose of the conference was to create political consciousness to the broad revolutionary masses on the coming parliamentary elections in Punjab on January 30th, be it the students, youth, working class or peasantry. A huge series of meetings have been held by the Lok Morcha Punjab, the Bharatiya Kisan Union-Ekta(Ugrahan), the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union and the Naujavan Bharat Sabha propogating that all the political parties are simply hoodwinking the people and fighting to the last to mobilize the struggling sections to attend the meeting in Barnala.

All these organizations have played a prominent role in the democratic revolutionary movement of Punjab. They do not support candidates or participate in parliamentary elections nor do they call for boycotting parliamentary elections. They believe that the people’s day to day class struggles and political consciousness have to be built up by assimilating politics of agrarian revolution and also by building their own democratic institutions of political power. Today the peasantry is subjected to the burden of merciless exploitation, becoming victims of money lenders and are forced into debt resulting in a series of suicides. The landless labourers, mainly dalits are denied their minimum wages or the right to own a plot. The working class is subordinated to unprecedented repression in terms of retrenchments, denial of living wages and improper working or living conditions. The youth are victims of unemployment because of the tentacles of globalization and privatization and similarly the student community hardly has access to proper facilities nor can afford the exorbitant fee hikes.The problem with the working class is that 90% of its composition is of migrant labour from other states like Bihar ,Uttar Pradesh etc. All these workers are virtually forced to earn a living working in factories as they lost their lands in their native villages or were unable to earn a living from it.. This sharply contradicts any thesis that India is a fully developed capitalist society. The chief problem of the peasantry is the non acceptance of the landed sections to accept the landless Dalit class peasantry into the struggles.This is why separate organizations were created for the landed and landless peasantry. A model organization has to be created for the uniting of both the classes especially considering the organization of the Dalit peasantry.

While addressing the press conference, committee members declared that all the opportunist political parties, along with the ruling Akali-BJP combine, Congress and so called third alternative of Manpreet-Left brand Front, are in agreement with those anti-national policies which are responsible for the crises of farm-laborers, farmers, industrial and electricity workers, employees, unemployed, youth, and women in Punjab as well as in country. In Punjab too, people have lived through and experienced the rule of different political parties but to no avail. The toiling people, therefore, in order to get rid of their crises, should organize and march forward on the path of intense, united struggles. They further said that though the government will be changed as a result of the present elections, but, they warn, no one should hope that the policies, serving the interest of feudal lords and national-multinational capitalists; and exploiting and oppressing the people, will ever change through elections. Neither the repressive black laws, framed only to impose these policies on peoples, will be changed; nor the police, the jails and the bureaucrats, who punish people for demanding their rights, are going to change. Through elections, these parties only resolve the issue of political power and the division of the plunder among themselves.

The Lok Morcha ,Punjab held a meeting for activists on Bhatinda at Teachers Home on January 15th on the democratic alternative. Here the people were meticulously explained the need to propagate to the common people to form their alternative forms of political power. Gurdial Singh Bhangal gave a historical preview explaing how since 1947 the peasants and workers were denied their basic rights and how from the 1990’s the globalization has worsened their plight. N.K.Jeet explained the same with economic figures and examples. Finally Amolak Singh theoretically projected what the democratic state would resemble. The author was deeply impressed with the readiness and preparation of the activists who attended the meeting. They listened to everything intensely assimilating the politics projected.

Later I attended a spate of meetings where the revolutionary mass organizations propagated the message of the Pagadi Sammelan committee.The most significant meetings were that staged at Lambai, first by the Punjab Khet Mazdur Union and the Technical Services Union. In the P.M.K.U.meeting, the author witnessed the strong preparation of the landless peasants and their readiness to welcome a change from their present plight. Laxman Singh Sewewala, secretary of the P.K.M.U, explained the peasants how the parliamentary political parties were fooling them with all their promises and contrasted the lifestyles of the politicians who literally grabbed the land of the common people. He spoke about the false promises of chana and ata and the very government policies that denied the common people these very necessities. He described the very steps the landless peasants had to adopt in order to win their right for minimum wages and land. He elaborated that for the acquiring of any rights, intense class struggle had to be launched. He also refuted the casteist policies of the rulers. It is significant that the P.K.M.U. led a long protracted struggle for the peasantry to acquire plots and for them to have electricity.

What was significant in Lambi area was the way chief minister Badal was challenged and the extent to which he was shaken. His daughter in law had to virtually bow down to the masses trying to appease them. However they all shook their heads in disbelief that their demands would be addressed.

In the meeting of the Technical Services Union, 1000 activists attended from all over the state and I was impressed with the preparation of the meetings.The workers displayed great enthusiasm in receiving the revolutionary politics.The speakers described the policies of retrenchment of the industrialists and government and the deployment of the contract system.It was explained how so many crores of money was stolen by the corporate firms of the workers and the need for them to not only organize but give solidarity to other struggling sections of workers and the peasantry.The speakers gave a clear-cut stand demarcating the ruling class politics from the democratic stand .The intense onslaught of the ruling classes and institutions was explained.

The B.K.U.(Ekta Ugrahan) staged rallies in Nathpur, Malouka and Selbrah on 23rd January, where I was present..The speakers stressed the need for the landed peasants to wage a protracted struggle against usury, cancellation of debts, opposing corporate seizure of lands etc.They also stressed the need on uniting with the landless peasants.They also described the historic struggles in Gobindpura against land seizure and how the stealing of several crores from the peasantry was prevented. Janda Singh Jethuke stated that with a contingent of only 500 people several crores stolen was recovered and that a sensational impact would have been made if thousands of peasants had participated.Significant plays and cultural programmes were staged at Kotha Gura village. Jagseer Seedda a famous cultural singer, performed and his song reverberated through the hearts of the masses.2 plays were held explaining how the ruling parties made promises to the people but ultimately betrayed them giving agony to the masses who aspired for change.Amolak Singh made a gripping speech which captured the hearts to of the participants.

Flag marches were held in Gaggar, Mithri, Singhewala, Killian Wali, Waring Kera and Mehna. In Nathpura, Ganga, Giddar, Neor, Malooka, Kothaguru, Dyalpura Mirza, Gumti, Bhai Rupa, Burj Gill, Selbrah, Sidhana, Phul and Mehraj both the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Punjab Khet Mazdur union participated.

Finally, the Naujawan Bharat Sabha staged some significant protests and meetings in Bhatinda and Moga. This organization was re-organised last year by the members of the Piunjab Students Union (Shaheed Randhawa group). They held meetings propagating the anti-feudal, anti-imperialist politics of Bhagat Singh and their relevance to the youth. They explained how corrupt the rulers were, who denied employment and made the youth victims of the imperialist culture. Propaganda was made against drugs. The Naujavan Bharat Sabha has 3 area committees in Punjab and had to literally start work from scratch. However in spite of small numbers, they have made significant impact if you consider the time. Meticulous work was done to explain the need for the youth to combat the political oppression of the day. A convention was held in August.In October with Punjab Students Union (Shaheed Randhwa) – it led a procession protesting against corruption.On December 30th it lead a rally in Bhatinda propagating that the parliamentary political parties were simply creating illusions amongst the people. On January 23rd, in a prominent educational centre of Punjab, called Rajendra college, a meeting of about 400 youths took place.The students received it well. Pavel Kussa, secretary of the Naujawan Bhrat Sabha explained how in today’s situation the youth of Punjab cannot assimilate politics beyond a certain level and the trend of other youth organizations in the revolutionary camp to either impose the political content through slogans or by mere rhetoric propaganda.

The B.K.U-Ekta Ugrahan propagated in 400 villages of Malwa region of Punjab, with support from the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union. The Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union propagated in 120 villages and in 30 villages where no B.K.U.unit existed.The Naujavan Bharat Sabha carried out campaigns in 40 villages.In some of the areas the Naujavan Bhrat Sabha started from scratch.

In the conference at Barnala on January 27th it appeared like a tornado emerging. People thronged from all parts of Punjab like several streams flowing into a river or bees swarming in. I estimated about 17,000 people attended the conference.The venue was literally lit with red lamps and the venue resembled a huge red flame burning.The three main speakers were Gurdial Bhangal, Laxman Singh Sewewala and Jhanda Singh Jethuke. Gurdial Bhangal elaborated the oppressive policies of the government and the impact of globalization which had their roots from 1947. He explained how landlordism still existed and how the working class was still a great victim of the government policies. He stated that the contract system virtually enslaved the workers who were denied a living wage. Laxman Singh Sewewala explained the peoples alternative politics in detail and prescribed the model of an actual revolutionary democratic state where land belonged to the tiller, usury was abolished, there was employment for everyone, housing and literacy for everybody and where prices and inflation were regulated to make all essential commodities affordable, etc. He stressed on how in the actual democratic form of government, the toiling people would own the resources be it the peasantry or the working class. He explained the need for the masses to build up their class organizations. Jhanda Singh Jethuke stressed on the problems of building the peasant movement which was afflicted with strong trends of castiesm and communalism. He said it was encouraging that movements like the uprisings in Tunisia and the Arab world took place and that the Indian masses should be inspired by them. He said that at least 7000 acres of land was illegally held by landlords. He explained how till today landless peasants who were Dalits were not accepted by the landed Jat peasantry and the painstaking work done by the organization to bridge the gap and bring them together. He explained the need of the unity of the landed peasantry with the landless peasantry and felt that the trend to project the movement on caste lines or struggles without analyzing class should be combated. He also stressed that in today’s context it was wrong to give the call of seizure of lands as the peasants had not reached that level of consciousness. Finally he gave the example of the victory of peasants with just a 7000 strong force in defeating the corporate Trident in Gobindpura stating that imagine what results would take place if the forces were larger. Two independent factions of the KIsan Sangharsh Samiti from Amritsar also participated.The most significant aspect was that peasants, agricultural workers, industrial workers as well as the students and youth participated.

The Barnala conference was the biggest gathering of revolutionary forces amongst all trends not only in Punjab, but the whole of India. Other trends advocated boycott or participation, unlike the Pagri Sammelan campaign which stressed on the people creating their own forms of organization and class struggle. It is a lesson to revolutionary and democratic forces all over the country.