The Panchayat elections and self-empowerment of the rural poor

This is a translated version of a leaflet from the Krishak Committee (KC), written and distributed at the advent of Panchayat elections in West Bengal. The Sharamik Sangram Committee (SSC), a small fraternal organisation of the Krishak Commitee, leads the union at Hindustan Lever.

April 12, 2008

Brothers and sisters of the rural poor,

Another Panchayat election is knocking at the door. For nearly 30 years you have been living within this Panchayati system. What has been your experience?

Before voting once again let’s reckon the balance-sheet of the last 30 years.

Long ago, in 1978, during the first Panchayat election, the CPIM said that every village would have its Writers Building (the government would be at the doorsteps of the rural poor!), poor people would be empowered; the Congress said that Ram-rajya would be established. Many of you believed them at that time. You took their words to be true. To save yourselves from the hands of Congress goons of the time, the landlords, and the police, you embraced the Panchayat.

How do you feel today? Does the Panchayat really mean rural power? The main problems of the rural masses are land, job, poverty, medical treatment, dwelling place, and the disparities between the rural rich and the rural poor, the disparity between (caste-religion-wise) Bhadralok (gentlemen) and Chhotolok (inferiors). Has any of them been solved?

You have seen that the Panchayat could do nothing when the government tried to take away lands in Singur and Nandigram. If the Panchayat system really meant empowerment of the poor then it would have done something about it. The truth is, the Panchayat has none of those powers. The CPIM and the Congress misled you at that time.

During the last 30 years CPIM has time and again lured the masses with promises. The gulf between promise and implementation is enormous. Once it was declared that the poor would become self-dependent with IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Program) loans. Did that happen? Could even a single person achieve this? It was heard that the village Panchayat would provide jobs for the unemployed — sometimes you heard of food-for-work programs, sometimes you heard of the Jawahar Rojgar Yojna, and now you hear of the 100 days work program – the NREGA.

How many days have you been employed? How many days have you got a full meal? Instead of the promised 100 days, you were engaged for 14 days or 24 days. At one time there was a mad rush for ‘Swambhar Gosthi’ (Self-help Groups) which promised independent earning from alternative jobs. The government, we were told, would provide loans and training. There were huge and costly advertisements and campaigns. Womenfolk ran, one and all. ‘Gosthhis’ sprang up. But government reports reveal that more than 75% of these ‘Gosthis’ failed to cross the primary stage.

Time and again you have been duped by the system. You even fought among yourselves. And today it may be said that we cannot carry on depending on the Panchayat and the party leaders any more. The only thing that has lead to is poverty, a “relief-n-dole” existence, eked out by abject surrender to Party babu-s. It has become clear to many that it is impossible to live with self respect and prestige.

Today, the Panchayat is not merely an appendage of the central and the state government. The Panchayat is working in the interest of all propertied classes of the country. ‘Industrialization’ is being done in favour of capitalists and the Panchayat is making arrangements for land acquisition for this industrialization. Foreign imperialist projects are being undertaken through the Panchayat system. Foreign capitalists and their Indian counterparts are praising it.

A power-structure has grown up in the rural belt, that of the CPIM. The power-structure includes the Rural Rich, the Party, the Panchayat, and the Police. Today this power nexus is ruling the mass from above. And you are responsible for the formation of this unlimited power of the Party. From the time of the first Panchayat, the rural poor had mortgaged everything, including their future, with the Party. You thought that the CPIM party was your own since you sacrificed so much for it. When it promised you that it would do good, it would do so. You voluntarily gave up your struggle and organization and started depending solely on the Party. Afterwards, when you looked back, you found yourself alone. And you began to prepare for the lonely road ahead – to move forward and leave others behind. Enmity among yourselves started.

It is a fact that CPIM has emerged as the ruler of rural Bengal; Party leaders wield tremendous power in settling even petty matters like problems between brothers or between neighbours. A signature of the Party leader is necessary for getting a ration card or for getting hospital admission for a patient, and to get that signature you are kept waiting for ages, you are compelled to bow down to the leaders. You are forced to walk in Party processions against your wishes. Physical assault, threat and even police arrests have become common phenomena if anybody dares to disobey. Party leaders grow richer and you are allowed some leftovers if you obey.

That the Party could carry on in such a manner is because of you — your passive permission, your inaction and lack of endeavour, your effort to live by yourself has rendered you powerless. And all power has accumulated in the hands of the Party.

But today, you have started resisting this. When in some places you stood up united against theft in rations, you witnessed how those powerful leaders just turned and ran. When some hundred poor together demanded ration card or job card, things were done. You yourselves have proved that the real power lies only with you.

Your long-lasting lack of enthusiasm, lack of struggle and unity, has given the CPIM the power that is now manifest. Wherever you have stood in unison, the Party’s power has been destroyed. That is why if you clutch the hands of the TMC or the BJP or any other parties to oust the CPIM from power, then someday these parties will usurp and control you. At one time, you took the help of the CPIM to beat back the Congress Party, and today you are subjugated by the CPIM. You have been paying dearly for this for the last 30 years. How long will this continue?

For this reason today your slogan should be — Oust Passivity!! Build up your own struggle and organization! Keep the helm of power in your own hands.

Then you will see that neither any party nor any Panchayat or government can coerce you. By organizing your own power it will be possible for you to build for a new life, a humane life, a life with rights.

You have to oppose not only those who are trying to make you dependent on the parties by keeping you inert and passive, but also the Maoists who, while ignoring mass movements, talk about election boycott and perform a few “annihilations”, themselves dissociated from mass movements.

We, the Krishak Committee, are with you in these struggles of yours. Wherever you, yourselves, have taken the initiative of fighting the Panchayat election, we will try our best to help you. And where we have been present for a long time with the struggle of the people, we will fight the elections with Krishak Committee candidates.

Krishak Committee
April 12, 2008.