Salient Features of BPMO March in Bengal

Shyamal Chakraborty

TO carry out people’s struggle on the broadest possible scale, the mass organisations of different sections of people of West Bengal have come together to form BPMO – Bengal Platform of Mass Organisations. The main objective of BPMO is to reach the polling booth areas of the state with people’s issues. Last year, the BPMO initiative achieved significant success. The popular response had been striking.

 This year from October 22 to November 3, the state-wide mass march of BPMO gave a new dimension to the mass movement. Initiative has been taken to reach 77,000 booths with the demands of the people. This article is written in the context of the experience gathered during the march.

The movement of this phase of the BPMO crossed a level. At this stage, we had aimed at reaching all the 77,000 booths in West Bengal as far as possible. We had set up targets to get to the booth level as the 'booth' can be identified as the lowest level of political structure.

There is no alternative to communicating with the people at the lowest level in the area for the preparation of greater movement. Without the direct participation of the people, the movement does not increase in depth, the vitality does not come, it becomes conventional – there is no creativity in the movement. So we have repeatedly decided that we must go among the broader masses.

We gathered some experiences in this year's movement. In some areas like the Jangalmahal, for nearly ten years and in many other villages and/or blocks, in the last six years of state-sponsored terrorism, the democratic rights of the opposition, particularly of the Left, have been blocked. More than 300 people have been killed. In this region and elsewhere, this year's march has gained spontaneous support for the common people.

The situation was far from repression-free. Many areas have been terrorised. People have been forbidden to participate in the march. In terror-ridden zones, pictures of the marchers were taken – a clear threat of future reprisal.

 Areas have been bombed overnight targeting at the marchers of Birbhum in the tribal villages where Biman Basu was leading the march while staying there during the period. The marchers have been attacked in eastern Bardhaman, in Khajuria of East Midnapore and in Goghat in Hooghly, Chapra in Nadia and in many other regions. In Goghat the attack has been repeated. Still, the processions continued everywhere braving the terror.

In the initial review we saw that the total number of booths in the state is 76,666, excluding the Darjeeling hill region. Till date, we have reached 40,304 booths. A total of 23,656 kilometres have been covered. The number of participants was 3, 78,944. It is observed that in two districts, we have been able to go to about 70-80 per cent of the booths, in five districts the achievement has been from 60-70 per cent. In six districts, the figure ranges from 50-60 per cent, and 33-40 per cent have gone to the booth in another six districts. In two districts, we could access 33 per cent or less. It has been possible to achieve this success in just 12 days. But much work still remains to be done. The unfinished work will be done throughout the months of November-December and more direct movement shall begin in January.

We have decided that in the months of November-December, initiative will be taken to access those booths that have been left untouched. Our goal is that we shall touch all booths in the state. We have to do this work at the initiative of district BPMOs.

On November 8, in the extended meeting of the steering committee of the BPMO it has been decided that despite the success, we have to identify and correct our weaknesses. In some cases, the booths were not “pre-prepared” in the sense that before the march the local mass organisations within the booths were not activated. Now we have to do that work. We have to do our pre-preparatory work in all the places in booths where we could go and in those where we could not go. The preliminary condition of pre-preparation is to integrate the workers of each of the mass organisations involved in the booth area into the BPMO and the names of the workers/activists have to be enlisted.

As a part of this work, list of activists should be made by the respective organisations – farmers, agricultural labourers, women and youth, by organising meetings of the regional committees or village committees. In the case of central trade unions (CITU, UTUC, TUCC, AITUC), convening the meeting of the district committee or base-level committee meeting is necessary. With the help of these meetings, booth-based list of activists in the lowest-level committee of various profession-related unions have to be finalised. Booth-based workers of different village organisations should be gathered.  The initiative in the rural area concerned should be mainly led by the farmers’ and youth organisations.

This type of work will be initiated in the city mainly by trade union, youth and women's leadership. In case of slum dwellers, mainly the slum committee, women and trade union related leadership should take charge. But this is not a rigid decision. The level of strength and activity of the mass organisation has to be taken into account in determining who will take the initiative.

The BPMO programme for the next phase has been chalked out where the movement would raise realisable demands along with the campaign. The 17-point general demand charter would be highlighted in the movement. Side by side the following eight realisable demands would be stressed upon in our booth-to-booth campaign.

Activists will get in touch with those who are deprived of the following, go to their homes and make their list: who does not have digital ration card; who is entitled to 100 days of work but cannot get enrolled (for showing the higher average figure for 100 days work, the state administration has recently instructed that those who did not get work for a single day will not be given work henceforth); many employees have worked for 100 days but are not getting their wages (the payment for 9 crore 10 lakhs of man days is outstanding throughout the country); who does not get 2 kilograms of rice; what problems are there in villages or areas that need to be done now (roads, lack of light etc); farmers who have been affected by wheat degradation disease should be given alternate seeds and materials; who does not get the benefit of social security; who are not getting the money for widow pension, old age pension and family planning allowance etc; all those who have old ration cards, including kerosene, should be given 2 litres of the fuel. The list of people, who are deprived, would be made. Together, they would be involved in the movement.

In order to make all the programmes successful, the convention of the district BPMO would be held by November 25.

Every mass organisation will mobilise their own organisations and movements according to their own demands. BPMO is not an alternative to a mass organisation. BPMO is a joint platform. Joint platform movements can bring more people to the field of struggle. From October 22 to November 3, we experienced this to the fullest degree. This has been appreciated by all the constituent mass organisations.

BPMO has achieved the confidence of the people through the last phase of the movement. This phase of struggle has established BPMO as a real platform for the struggling people of Bengal. Another significant achievement is the unified movement in the rural area of peasants, agricultural labourers and rural workers. Through the movement in the rural areas, the foundation of lasting worker-peasant alliance has begun. Adding new people to the movement has increased the strength and power of the movement. In the month of January there will be a movement on a much larger scale focussing on realisable demands both at the block and the municipality level. The list of deprived people prepared in November-December will be thoroughly explored and these people would be brought to the forefront of the struggle. In January we will most certainly launch another much larger movement and we intend to persist until our demands are met.

The only goal of all of us is to create a new India, which will not have any injustice; the message of justice will not be silently crying in the wilderness, the futile tears of the deprived that have wet the earth for centuries will be wiped out. 

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