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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Communists struggle to maintain a toehold

In eastern U.P., once a bastion of the CPI, the party is struggling to come to terms with the rise of casteism and communalism, says Javed M. Ansari.

Amid the sound and fury of caste mobilisation and religious realpolitik, there's hardly any space left for the egalitarian ideology of a communist world order. In this pocket of eastern Uttar Pradesh, once a bastion of the communist movement, the past dominates the present — the "lal salaams" have faded and the rhetoric is muted.

It wasn't always this way. Not so long ago, the offices of the Communist Party of India in places such as Varanasi, Mau and Ghazipur, were full of energy. The fields and streets of eastern U.P. would be filled with thousands of young communist supporters, chanting slogans such as "U.P. bhi Bengal banega, Poorvanchal shuruwaat karega (U.P. will also become Bengal and eastern U.P. will show the way)." Emboldened by the communist victories in Kerala and West Bengal, young comrades dreamt of marching to Delhi; it was as if spring was always in the air and the revolution lay just around the corner.

But the times have changed. In the heat and dust of Elections 2004, all that seems a distant memory. The crowds have thinned and the seemingly endless line of workers that thronged the party offices is a thing of the past. Today, the CPI office, housed in the Kaudhi building in Mau wears a deserted look, save for the presence of a handful of party faithful, most of them ageing veterans. The mood is one of nostalgia as they reminisce about the exploits of legendary communist leaders like Jharkhande Rai, Sarju Pande, Z.A. Ahmad and Jai Bahadur Singh. However, what is missing is the vigour of yore.

Led by Sarju Pande, the communist party in eastern U.P. came into its own during the freedom struggle and later cemented its place by leading the anti-zamindari movement in the State. Most of its leaders endured prison terms and were often on the run.

Till the late 1980s, the communist movement in eastern U.P. was a major force to reckon with. It drew wide support from a largely agrarian society, in which neither religion nor caste was a factor.

From Independence till the 1980s, the CPI had a virtual monopoly over the Ghazipur and Mau Parliamentary seats. Mr. Jai Bahadur Singh represented Mau till 1968. Mr. Jharkhande Rai held the seat till he died in 1984. The party held sway over the Ghazipur seat for over 20 years, from 1957 to 1977, winning it again in 1996.

The advent of the politics of Mandal and kamandal (reservations and religion) saw the political fortunes of the communists dip, as the Left struggled to come to terms with the intricate relationship between caste and class. "The failure to counter Mandal and kamandal with movements of their own was one of the main reasons for their [the communists] downfall," says Prof D.G.A. Khan of the department of political science in Benares Hindu University.

The CPI candidate from Mau, 48-year-old Atul Kumar Anjan, understands that the Left bastion in eastern U.P. is crumbling and that some of the fault lies within. "We were not quick enough to grasp the motives of the casteist forces," says Mr. Anjan. Though he does not say it in so many words, the CPI candidate feels that the Left parties have erred grievously.

"We didn't realise it earlier, but the fact is that these parties have used us to increase their influence," says Mr. Anjan.

He has been in the game long enough to realise that by focussing only on the danger from the communal forces, the Left may have failed to comprehend the magnitude of the problem posed by the parties seeking to rally people on the basis of caste. "They are as big a threat to the social fabric of the nation as the communal forces; in fact, some of them are in league with them," says Mr. Anjan.

Nonetheless, the CPI candidate has been campaigning hard. He realises that his party is battling hard to retain a toehold in what was once its bastion. Mr. Anjan knows that he has his task cut out for him, but his spirit is unflagging, and he believes that there is light at the end of the tunnel. "The people will come back to us, for they have begun to realise the futility of running after casteist and communal parties," he says.

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