June 11, 2023

AIAWU Holds Day-Night Dharnas across Bengal

Subinoy Moulik

ON June 1, after months of confronting an administration unwilling to negotiate, agricultural labourers, including women, from different villages sat on dharnas (sit-in protests) outside the offices of the concerned panchayats. The  All India Agricultural Workers ' Union (AIAWU) organised the dharna-deputation programme in panchayats across the state on June 1, demanding resumption of 100 days work, payment of arrear wages, release of money for  houses to be built under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin) and other related issues. At some places from morning to afternoon, at some from noon to night and at others throughout the night, many people sat on dharna ignoring the intense heat.

In some spots such as Sattor in Birbhum district the sit-in demonstrators were assaulted by Trinamool-backed miscreants. Sattor, as all may remember, has remained a breeding ground and a training ground for Trinamool’s terror operations. In 2014, about a thousand crude bombs were   discovered in a block health centre in the village bolstering the fear that Bengal is sitting on a powder keg. Since then, things have remained much the same, and even deteriorated in some respects. But growing numbers of people are now determined to fight back. This has made the miscreants too wary, and too much on the alert. On this day, as soon as the demonstrators gathered near the panchayat office and raised their voices against corruption, the goons attacked the protestors, surrounded them and beat them up mercilessly. They persistently resisted but were ultimately overpowered by the miscreants. The police, as usual, stood as silent spectators when the demonstrators were chased and beaten.

Explaining the context of this protest, Tushar Ghosh, president of the West Bengal state committee of AIAWU, said, “There is no work for people in the villages. The condition of agricultural workers who have the lowest standard of living is simply unbearable. A series of agitations have started since May 29 to find a remedy for this. It will continue till June 8. A special programme was held on June 1. In 400 panchayat areas of the state, dharnas are going on throughout the day and in some places throughout the night. The agricultural workers have submitted deputations to the BDOs.” He also said that the BJP and the Trinamool are playing a tug of war. One side is stopping the allocation of funds keeping the issue of corruption in the forefront and the other side is staging gimmicks in the name of protest. Trapped between these two, the financial situation of the village people is getting worse day by day. Agricultural workers will launch movements on larger scale against this if their demands continue to go unanswered.

Nirapada Sardar, secretary of the West Bengal state committee of AIAWU said, “Poor people in the villages are   coming under the red flag, raising their heads with renewed courage and taking the path of resistance and protest. And this is why the Trinamool is jittery. Trinamool finds itself fast losing ground – the situation is indicating that. Allocations in sectors that benefit the poor have decreased. Then how can the village people get work - there is no answer to this question. So the movement will intensify in the coming days.”

The dharna programme was held in almost all blocks in West Bengal from the plains to the hills and at several places in each block. At every spot the protesting agricultural workers demonstrated for hours at a stretch demanding redress. Several protesters who joined this demonstration later recalled that their action encouraged ordinary village people to raise their voices against the deprivations.

Meanwhile CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim has demanded immediate panchayat elections in the state.  He said that the constitution gave a legal status to decentralisation of governance at the panchayat   level by which functions, powers and financial resources have been devolved to local authorities. It is clear in the constitution that panchayat elections should be held in five years. In this state, the State Election Commission ought to announce the panchayat polls by the second week of June. The newly elected rural local bodies must be constituted by mid-August. Going by the statutory provisions, elections will have to take place by July.  The right to vote is a major right in any democratic society.  If the elections are not declared, we will go for a sit-in demonstration at the office of the State Election Commission, he asserted.

According to Salim, the Trinomool is now shying away from holding panchayat elections as it is jittery about the verdict of the rural electorate. Their position is insecure because of multiple corruption cases, the growing discontent in rural Bengal and the resurgence of the Left. Every ordinary citizen is angry at the audacious corruption that pervades every sphere of governance. Rural Bengal is rising against the communal and divisive forces and reuniting under the red banner.  Rural economy lies shattered with corruption pervading every panchayat scheme as well. A big test lies ahead for the Trinamool Congress and the BJP in the upcoming panchayat polls. That is why they are trying to avoid it. The panchayat election outcome will destroy the myth of the Trinamool Congress-BJP binary in Bengal. They need now to face the electorate without any further delay.