GUWAHATI, the capital city of Assam, witnessed a huge rally of workers and peasants on February 26. The rally was organised jointly by the Assam state committees of CITU and AIKS against the anti-worker and anti-peasant policies and the politics of communal divide pursued by the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in the state. In Assam, soon after coming to power, the BJP government unleashed a massive eviction drive of the peasantry and other sections of the working people from ‘khas’, railway, VGR/PGR land. Without making alternative arrangements for their rehabilitation, thousands of families have been evicted and several thousands have been served notices for eviction. What is more atrocious is that in carrying out this eviction drive, the BJP government particularly targeted the religious minorities. The rally demanded immediate halt to such eviction drive and adequate compensation to as well as proper rehabilitation of all those evicted.
The rally also raised several other demands that included a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 per month, recognition of scheme workers belonging to ICDS, Mid-day Meal, ASHA, etc. as worker and payment of wage to them instead of honorarium, halt to the so-called labour law reforms that envisage changing of labour laws in favour of the owners, immediate halt to the process of privatisation and disinvestment of PSUs, remunerative price to the peasants for agricultural produce, permanent solution of the problem of flood and erosion in Assam, massive irrigation, adequate job creation under MGNREGA, expeditious update of National Register of Citizens with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off year for the solution of the vexed problem of foreign nationals, etc.
More than 20,000 workers and peasants from different corners of the state took part in the rally. The spacious bank of the river Brahmaputra, the venue of the rally, turned into a sea of humanity with thousands of red flag with hammer and sickle emblem flying high. It was an inspiring display of fighting unity of the working class and peasantry irrespective of religion, language, caste and ethnicity at a time when the ruling party and the communal forces patronised by it have been working overtime to divide the people of the state on communal lines. The rally demonstrated once again that it is only the struggling bond of workers and peasants organised under the Red Flag that can act as a bulwark against the politics of communal divide being indulged in by the present regime.
Addressing the rally, AIKS vice-president Ashok Dhawale lambasted the anti-peasant and anti-worker policies of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state and said that the ‘achhe din’ (good days) promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP turned out to be a nightmare for the workers, peasants and all sections of the toiling people. Good days came only for the big corporates and landlords. He deplored the fact that the peasantry in Assam was forced to distress sale of paddy at less than Rs 900 a quintal, much below the cost of production. He pointed out that at the time of last Lok Sabha election, the BJP in its election manifesto promised that after coming to power it would fix the MSP for agri produce by adding fifty per cent to the cost of production. But on assuming power, the BJP government shamelessly betrayed the peasantry. The government has been trying to snatch the land of the peasantry without their consent for the interests of the big corporates, he said and referred to the successful resistance movement of the peasantry under the banner of AIKS in Maharashtra against such acquisition of land for SEZ of Mukesh Ambani. He called for militant resistance against such move of the government. He also deplored the fact that even after seventy years after Independence, only five per cent of arable land in Assam is irrigated. What the previous Congress regime did and what the present BJP dispensation is doing in this respect? he asked. Criticising the policy of demonetisation of the Modi government, he said that it could not make even a scratch on the real owners of black money, but devastated the economy. It took away jobs of lakhs and lakhs of workers and affected the agriculture sector in a big way. He said that today two main producing classes of our society, peasantry and workers, are under severe attack and called for unity and united struggles of workers and peasants which alone can resist these policies and bring about a pro-people alternative policy framework. He pointed out that the Left Front government in Tripura and the Left Democratic Front dispensation in Kerala have been pursuing such alternative policies. Cautioning the rally against the machinations of the ruling BJP and its parent organisation RSS to divide the people on communal lines and distracting their attention from the basic issues of lives and livelihood, Dhawale said that the RSS, like the Muslim League, sided with British imperialists during our freedom struggle and today it has been giving sermons on nationalism and patriotism. He called for relentless ideological and organisational struggle against communal forces of all hues.
Jiaul Alam, General Secretary of All India Plantation workers Federation and a veteran leader of CITU, sharply criticised the anti-people and anti-worker/peasant policies of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state. He pointed out how in the name of so-called labour reforms, the working class is sought to be turned into slave labour by the present regime. Trade union and democratic rights realised through exacting struggles are now under severe attack. He said that huge concessions were provided to the big corporate houses and foreign multi-national corporations (MNCs) while back-breaking burdens were being imposed on the workers, peasants and all sections of the common people. The present regime under Narendra Modi has been pursuing more aggressively the same old neo-liberal economic policies pursued by the previous UPA government led by the Congress. Hence the lives and livings of workers and peasantry have been subjected to multi-pronged onslaughts, Alam said. He deplored that the present regime refused to recognise about one crore scheme workers as workers and reduced the state spending on welfare schemes like ICDS, Mid-day Meal, ASHA, etc. The demonetisation policy of the Modi government played havoc with the economy and the lives of the common working people. Alam called upon the rally to build up and intensify the united struggles of the workers and peasantry to reverse the neo-liberal economic policy and to usher in a pro-worker, pro-peasant alternative policy framework which alone can save the country’s economy. He also cautioned the rally against the politics of communal divide pursued by the BJP-RSS which also feeds on the minority communalism and poses a serious challenge not only to the unity of toilers but also to the unity and integrity of the country.
Hemen Das, a veteran leader of the peasant movement in Assam, Deben Bhattacharjee and Tapan Sarma, Vice-President and General Secretary of the CITU Assam State Committee respectively also addressed the rally. Earlier Tiken Das, Secretary of Assam State Kisan Sabha, explained the objectives of the rally. The rally in a resolution also extended its wholehearted support to the bank strike on February 28 called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU). A presidium consisting of Fazlur Rahman (AIKS), Asit Dutta and Niroda Kakati (CITU) presided over the rally.