The Decline of Communist Mass Base in Bihar: Jagannath Sarkar

[JAGANNATH SARKAR, who passed away in April, was among those who led the spectacular rise of CPI in Bihar in the 1960s and 1970s. He was among a handful of Bihar CPI leaders who envisioned the crisis in CPI in the mid-1970s. Today is his first birthday after he passed away – he was born on 25 September 1919.  The piece below is an important document that gives a glimpse of the debate on new caste assertions in the CPI. It was written by Sarkar in 1998, following the National Council meeting of the CPI. It has been translated by Raj Ballabh from Hindi. – AN]

The National Council of the CPI accepted, if belatedly, in its review report of March 1998 that there has been a serious decline in the basic mass base of the party and its class-based mass base has fragmented on the basis of caste. It has accepted that the party could not face the deviation of ‘social justice’ in the form of ‘backward casteism’ in its theatricality, or indeed politically and practically; that the party could not maintain its distinct identity, as a party that was politically and practically different from the Laloo-led Janata Dal Government. What is more, the toxin of casteism began to show its effects within the party as well. Indeed, it is an issue of serious concern which should be analyzed in detail.

Though the symptoms of stagnation in the party in Bihar had begun to appear some two decades ago, but the reasons behind it could never be discussed seriously. A severe decrease in the political mass base of the party in the recent years is the result of the theoretical decline of the party in post-Mandal years and the totally erroneous and defective understanding expounded by Janata Dal.

At first, the party did not understand Mandalism correctly. On the contrary, it accepted it as a theory of social justice. The correct approach of party on reservation had been reviewed in detail some one and a half decade ago which was also accepted by the National Council in July, 1982. Unfortunately, in recent years, this correct understanding was presented in such a distorted way that it altered its very fundamental democratic form.

In the National Council report of July 1982, it has been clearly stated, “Though reservation in employment is necessary to control the social atrocities and discrimination, it should also be clear that, based on mere reservation, no egalitarian society can be established without fundamental change in the socio-economic structure of the society. It is a reality that such type of change is more important than reservation.”

But unfortunately, under the pressure of Janata Party, the party deviated from its original path and adopted such policies which were not only politically, theoretically and tactically defective, but distorted as well. That is why when B. P. Singh, the self-proclaimed chieftain of Mandalism, after returning from his England visit, stated that all political parties have almost accepted the theory of social justice, he should have also declared that the next Prime Minister of India and Chief Ministers of 80 percent states would either belong to backward or dalit sections. The CPI (and perhaps other left parties also) thought it better to be tight lipped on this issue as all important questions related to socio-economic change are useless for them. After some days, speaking on reservation of seats in the Parliament and the Legislative Assembly, Laloo Prasad stated in his feudal rustic style, “It is just a start; please see, what is going to take place in coming days.” Even then, the party did not say even a word; just kept quiet.

Thereafter, the Janata Dal used to declare time to time that the most important (if not the only) aspect of social justice is transfer of power from the forwards to the backwards. No doubt, enthroning of the backwards is a prime concern of social justice, but if all other related facts are ignored or opposed to achieve this goal, the principle of so called social justice can become useless and it will become the synonym of all types of social injustice. This aspect has been clearly underlined in the National Council Report, July 1982. The report States:

“On the one side, some exploiter elements, in the name of backwardism, are engaged in the mischievous activities of establishing their social and political domination on other oppressed castes of their own society, in the name of opposing the exploitation, done by forward castes over backward castes; on the other, the advantaged section of forward castes implements new tactics day after day to strengthen its stronghold over the disadvantaged sections of their own society, by making the excuse of forward casteism. By giving a fillip to existing formidable casteist sentiments to protect their narrow and split class interests, such types of bourgeois elements make planned attempts to weaken the solidarity of the people. In 1978, the same was witnessed in Bihar. Which of the oppressed and exploited castes and communities were presumed to be included in the reservation design… which way was selected to establish faith and brotherhood among different castes and communities, was distorted by the exploiter elements of the society in their interest. The result was contrary. The society was fragmented. Be it the casteism of forwards or of backwards, both are dangerous because they create rift among working people and the general public in the name of caste by giving a fillip to the casteists, encourage hate and malice which results in emergence of separatism, casteist secessonism and such other disintegrative tendencies.”

Though the party was clearly alert to the serious dangers, emerging from the malign tendencies of making immoral play with the theory of social justice by the exploiter elements present within the backwards, the party ignored the experiences gained in 1978 and reversed the essence of the report. The notion of enthroning the backwards by dethroning the forwards, similar to thoughts of Janata Dal, was assumed as motivating element by the CPI for all its programmes. Moreover, other important provisions of social justice the provisions related to socio-economic changes in particular – can in fact be sidelined as well.

It will be relevant to mention here that the manner in which the party ignored the principle of fundamental socio-economic change related to social justice, which is directly related with the problems of working people, reveals its theoretical-political bankruptcy.

The distribution of land beyond ceiling limit and Bhudan land, facilitating re-occupation of grabbed land by tenants, evacuating the ghair mazrua (common) land unjustly and illegally encroached by landlords, facilitating the subtenants in acquiring tenancy right and the agrarian labourers to earn ‘sufficient wages’, leading aggressive struggles against various types of semi-feudal exploitation and atrocities in rural areas, raising voice for labour union rights and ‘reasonable wages’ to the industrial workers, insisting on the enactment of old agreements between owners and workers, strong protest against transfer of important public sector enterprises or privatisation, employment guarantee to the unemployed persons, protest against price rise, struggle for adequate arrangement of drinking water as well as health and education facilities, etc – all these are issues related to social justice for which the party should have led popular movements organising its primary base. But during the last 15 years, the party could lead no such movement.

It is an interesting feature that day to day theoretical deviations infiltrating into the party blunted the party mentally and its fighting character was paralysed. Even the mention of above stated social justice-related issues used to raise the eyebrows of the Janata Dal, its leaders in particular. Though the Janata Dal does not lack old socialists, but due to fear of the backwards, the reign of the party is in the hands of neo-feudals which was correctly recognised in the National Council Report, 1982. Whenever we think of leading a movement on these issues, the Janata Dal misleads the people in the name of so called social justice and not only opposes such movements, but also creates obstacles before the same.

It needs to be remembered once again that just as the party decided to render its support to the Janata Dal Government, it naturally demanded to formulate a common minimum program and to constitute a coordination committee or liaison committee for its proper implementation. But the demand of the party was ignored humiliatingly. It will be relevent to mention here that during the last elections, the Janata Dal did not find it pertinent to mention even a word on the implementation of land reform in its election manifesto. Instantaneously, it repealed all the restrictions on sale of ST land, by amending the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act which cleared the hurdles before big industrialists and multinationals for infiltration in this region. It has adopted an aggressive approach towards all types of strikes of workers and employees and its attempts to split the unity of various worker unions by provoking casteist passions are continuing. The Panchayat elections have not been held in Bihar for more than two decades. The Janata Dal Government has been postponing these elections by making some excuse or other, however, the Panchayats have been provided with rather more power and resources by amending the Constitution. Even so, Bihar is the only state of the country which has not held Panchayat elections so far. What is more, it has been continuously opposing the issue of reservation for women in the legislature.

In 1978, in order to make provision of reservation in employment, the Karpoori Thakur Government had provided due respect to several important democratic forms in which a provision of 3 percent reservation was made to the female category, the most socially and educationally backward section of our society.

The Janata Dal came to the understanding that only forward caste women are benefitted with this reservation provision. Therefore, they eliminated this provision – the provision of reservation for women. Second, there was a provision of reservation that was more beneficial for the backward castes of Annexure–1 in comparison to that of Annexure–2. The new Janata Dal Government almost eliminated this difference. Third, the provision of reservation in employment was limited to the appointment only – not in promotions. It was also altered by the Janata Dal government. Fourth, the backwards having income below income tax limit only were eligible to the benefits of the provision of reservation in employment, but this provision was also altered. Fifth, there was also a provision of 3 percent reservation to the economically backward section of upper castes which was completely eliminated by the Janata Dal government. And lastly, the Karpoori formula of reservation had clear conception that the principle of reservation is not permanent. It will be reviewed in a time bound manner and as soon as it appears that it has accomplished its purpose, it will at once be eliminated.

Along with the protection of interests of backwards in government employment, the Karpoori formula had included several such democratic values which could be helpful in establishing solidarity and harmony among the people from all the castes. So far as the question of advantaged classes of the society, the Karpoori formula made no difference between backwards and forwards. This is the reason, it was never preferred by the well to do section of the backwards. By eliminating these reservation provisions, the Janata Dal Government provided another weapon to the well-to-do elements of backward castes to exploit and incite social acrimony. It had no interest in establishing democratic solidarity based on social justice. Instead, its purpose was to strengthen its mass base by inciting casteist passion against forward castes. Supporting these nasty amendments politely, the CPI knelt down before the rich and exploiter leadership of Janata Dal. In other words, as a result of this primary surrender, a series of humiliating surrenders before Janata Dal leaders was initiated. Its consequences proved to be appalling for the party.

With the exposure of the activities of Janata Dal, the correctness of the National Council Report of July 1982 was also confirmed. It is mentioned in the report that such types of bourgeois elements utilize the principle of reservation in employment as a weapon, with the purpose of inciting heinous casteist passion and damaging the solidarity of the people, to fulfill their narrow and fragmented class interests. In the light of this truth, the party should have led popular movements with its own capacity by mobilizing the exploited sections of the society. But the party proved to be completely unsuccessful in fulfilling its obligation.

As an example, in leading movements, the party kept in mind the willingness and unwillingness of Janata Dal only. It assumed that opposing the incorrect policies of Janata Dal would mean harming the solidarity of backward castes. And, is not the solidarity of backward casts a necessary condition for their coming into power? Again, is not the large scale participation of backwards in power the most important aspect of the principle of social justice? Moreover, will not the discussion on other subjects be obstructive in the solidarity of backwards?

Owing to this defective understanding, the CPI turned back from its essential obligation of leading popular movements by organising the people to achieve the goal of fundamental socio-economic change. It proved suicidal for the party.

The party proved to be completely unsuccessful in playing its role, but it continued its absurd efforts of justifying its wrong perceptions with the help of empty arguments. Somebody argued that the issue of land reform was almost dead and had no relevance in the current situation. There were also such people who thought that in the current phase of social justice centred movement, the principle of socio-economic change should be postponed for the time being to keep the solidarity of backward castes intact. They also assumed that the class struggle can be sharpened in the next phase by combating against the exploiter elements present within backward castes.

In such circumstances, a dangerous trend emerged in the party. Instead of fulfilling their democratic demands by leading movements, mobilizing the people, the followers of these trends had clear notion that the persons belonging to forward castes should be displaced from all the key posts of labour organisation, peasants’ organisation, students’ organisation, etc of the party. In this situation, the mentality of flattering Janata Dal leaders developed in the party. The hold of flatterers became so strong on the party that they might go to any extent against the party with the purpose of being close to Janata Dal.

The CPI in Bihar mentioned in its draft review report that after the fodder scam, they had initiated their attempts to establish their independent recognition, distinct from the Janata Dal Government, led by Lalu Prasad. In other words, it meant that our distance from Janata Dal is on the issue of corruption only, and so far as the question of important democratic issues is concerned, our stand is almost same as it was in the past. On the whole, there is no fundamental change in the thinking of the party.

On the issue of corruption, there seems a clear division between the BJP-Samata alliance and the Janata Dal in comparison with the party. Their (of BJP-Samata alliance) struggle against corruption has been stronger than ours. The theoretical understanding, developed in the party during the last decade, has resulted in considerable decline in the basic mass base of the party. Nothing can be imagined other than the same. In the first place, the party should have played leading role in mobilizing the democratic powers after attracting them under its leadership, but instead of doing so, the party left the people at the mercy of BJP and narrow minded and casteist Janata Dal. The people got split into two fragments — backwards and forwards. The symptoms of fragmentation began to appear clearly in the whole social structure in the state.

All democratic forces also split into two fragments i.e. backwards and forwards. Overall, the environment of distrust and apprehension prevailed in the whole state. This fury did not spare even the party. The party also suffered with the deviation based on backward-forward sentiment. In a certain section of the party, the tendency of flattering the casteist leaders of Janata Dal and strengthen its hold on the party on the basis of same was on rise. Whoever talked of the principles to establish the democratic values, democratic policies or mass movement, was called as enemy of the power of social justice and agent of forward castes.

In such circumstances, victims of so called social justice regime inside and outside the party faced defeat and received a severe setback, and the people started gathering around BJP-Samta alliance willingly or unwillingly. This is the fact behind the amazing rise in the mass base of BJP in recent years, which  is not so much on account of Hindu communalism as the erroneous policies of CPI, decrease in its mass base and the resultant vacuum created in politics.

The symptoms of the deviation in the party, discussed above, are so real that the party will have to make fundamental change in its policies on each and every front – political, theoretical and tactical – to overcome the same. Even then, the party will only be able to make up partly in reversing the process of erosion in its basic mass base.

12 thoughts on “The Decline of Communist Mass Base in Bihar: Jagannath Sarkar”

  1. Time has come now for progressive forces to rally and agitate for “End of Reservations system by progressive elimination processes” – this system on the whole had done more to fragment society along caste lines and promote undesirable and revolting hatred between communities than to uplift the really needy and backward. I think in many states considerable number of backward classes (or castes) enjoying reservations benefits have developed so well that in the open categories (merit lists) they are coming in first ranks compared to the forward caste candidates. So such of the castes can be safely and should be at any cost eliminated from reservation benefits by periodic reviews and in their stead the more needy and backward castes and classes be allowed to benefit. Gradually reservation quota in any State or in any public employment project should be reduced to 25-30% on caste lines and another 15-20% should be made (reserved) on sheer economic backwardness (irrespective of caste or religion) lines and I think this arrangement can be worked for considerable period of time when perhaps the need for reservations system of any type will shrink to near zero limits.


  2. Halfway down the page, the article repeats itself. “In such circumstances, victims of so called social justice regime inside and outside the party faced defeat, and the abandoned people started assembling around BJP-Samata alliance willingly or unwillingly. This is the fact behind”: Immediately after this. Seems like an editing error


  3. प्रिय आदित्या जी, आप के इस शानदार लेख ने बरसो बाद कामरेडो की एक बार फिर याद दिला दी..लाखो ईमानदार लोग मार्क्स वाद से प्रभावित हो कर ,इंसानियत पसंद लोग ,शोषनराहित समाज बनाने का सपना ले कर कामरेड बन गये..परंतु उनका सपना पूरा ना हुआ और शायद हो भी ना सके गा..क्योकि ईमानदार वयक्ति तिकड़म नही जानता …और बिना तिकड़म संगठन प्रमुख नही बन सकता…चालक लोग पार्टी यो के सर्वो सर्वा बन जाते है..ईमानदार कामरेड भूख ग़रीबी से लाइलाज बीमारियो का शिकार हो दिवंगत हो जाता है…जनांदोलन करने की ताक़त रखने वाले कामरेड को उसी की पार्टी के ताकतवर लोग पनपे नही देते …
    सलाम है उन ईमानदार ,जुझारू कामरेडो को जिन्होने सारा जीवन कष्ट सहे..बिना किसी फल की इच्च्छा के..


  4. Open-minded thinking by one of stalwarts of communist thought. In fact, it gives real picture of mandalism and how it has been hijacked by people with vested interest of vote-bank-politics.


  5. Communist parties by aligning with outfits which were openly caste based wrote their own epitaph.


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