Gujarat: Encouraging Beginnings

In Gujarat, the Party has in the past few years developed work in Sabarkantha, Valsad, Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Anand, and Khera districts.

Sabarkantha district, situated in North East Gujarat bordering Rajasthan, is predominantly populated by Dungri Gadasia and Dungri Bhil adivasis. The forest area in this district comes under the Fifth Schedule category of forests. Here, we began work after 2002, unionising daily wage labourers in the PWD. Through the All Gujarat Jaher Bandh Kam Mazdoor Mandal (Union) we organised daily wagers nearly all over the district. Struggles were waged to demand fixed work, timely disbursal of wages, regularisation of government employees, bonus, and other issues. Many militant demonstrations and gheraos were held at the office of the district’s PWD officers. Some partial demands and bonus were achieved. PWD daily wage workers have achieved bonus only in Sabarkantha district. Their militant struggle influenced the daily workers and guards in the Forest Department too. There are a significant number of these forest workers in the district and most are either adivasi ‘Dungri Gadasiyas’ or Dalit ‘Bankars’. This section has for long been associated with the ‘Eklavya Sena’ of local Congress MP Madhusudan Mistry. But in spite of the fact that it was led by an MP, the Eklavya Sena was unable to achieve the long-pending demands of the forest workers or to rein in the high-handedness of the Forest Department Officers. We organised these workers in various talukas in the district on a range of issues, including regular employment, timely disbursal of wages, checking of arbitrary dismissal by officers and corruption in the Forest Department. Dharnas, demonstrations and processions were often held at the offices of the Forest Ranger, DFO, Collector in the talukas of Kher Brahma, Bhiloda, Eedar, Vijaynagar, Meghraj, Modasan, and Malpur.

Our struggles achieved a considerable degree of success. Along with union activities, party membership among the workers was also a priority right from the start. Since the PWD workers and forest workers are mostly from adivasi villages, they naturally helped the party to establish close contact with the adivasi poor peasants and agrarian labourers in the villages.

As a result of Sabarkantha’s geographical situation (predominantly hills and forest) and backward agricultural economy, it inhabitants are victims of poverty and backwardness. Initially we mobilised the rural poor, in particular the adivasis, to demand drought relief in the drought-affected villages. We held protest demonstrations and road blockades at the Taluka Magistrate’s and the Collector’s against corruption in drought relief. In 2003, the ‘anti-encroachment’ drive all over the forest area of the eastern belt of Gujarat (of which Sabarkantha too is a part), adivasis were evicted from their ancestral lands. Since then, the right of the rural poor over land and forests has become the main issue for our party in that region. As part of a campaign, we held mass meetings among rural adivasis in a large number of villages in all talukas. At many places, we organised the villagers in protests that managed to thwart the government's eviction drive. Between 2003 and 2005, we have held dharnas and protests twice at the District Collectorate and thrice at the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha at Gandhinagar. At the Vidhan Sabha dharna, around 300-400 people had participated.

We also took up several local issues at villages, such as the irregularities in the implementation of NREGS, police repression, demands for roads, drinking water etc… We also formed trade unions in the industrial areas of this district, in Prantij, Himmatnagar, Modala and various GIDC factories. Recently, we mobilised the employees (cooks, helpers, etc…) of the government's mid-day meal scheme against their exploitation, and on 22 December 2007 the CPI(ML) held a militant demonstration on this issue at the Himmatnagar District Collectorate in which 1200 men and women participated. On several occasions we confronted the communal forces and held protests and campaigns on this issue. Many Left activists, especially those who were frustrated by CPI(M)'s surrender to the Congress, were attracted by our movement in this district and joined our party.

In Ahmedabad, Gujarat's most important urban centre, the party has contact amongst workers and people running small trades in the wards of Amraipadi, Bhaipura, Bag-e-Firdaus, Khokhra and Maninagar, all of which are part of the Maninagar Vidhan Sabha constituency. RYA has become popular among sections of students and youth. RYA as well as the party was built here in the backdrop of the 2002 saffron offensive, and has been a bold voice against the communal genocide, fake encounters, and Modi's rule. This area is notorious for the criminalisation of politics. Most of BJP's and Congress' local leaders and corporators are linked to criminal activities. Official records show that in the whole of Gujarat, the maximum number of crimes are recorded in Amraiwadi and Maninagar thanas. Murder, loot, rapes, gambling, illicit liquor and the flesh trade flourish here. RYA has taken up a campaign against criminals and police repression here. We have had to confront criminal elements many times, and have often, through movements, forced senior officers to take legal and administrative action against goons and criminals. We have also taken up local issues of the poor and working class people: for instance the demand to run more state transport buses in the poor and workers' settlements. This struggle has continued since 2005, and students and youth along with workers have participated in good numbers in the processions, dharnas, road blockades, blockade of the bus terminal and so on. Clashes with the police have ensued many times, and our activists have been arrested several times. Eventually the administration was forced to increase the number of buses as we had demanded. Cases imposed on activists during this struggle continue. RYA and CPI(ML) defied the attempt by the police to ban a dharna protesting the Sohrabudding fake encounter issue, and the dharna and mass meeting were held successfully. The recent attack on our candidates and activists on polling day have further increased our appeal among democratic sections.

Our party began work in Valsad in early 2007, when a section left BSP to join our party. This district too is predominantly populated by adivasis - mainly Doriya Patels and Warlis. In the past year, we have developed contacts and work in Valsad, Unergaon, Pardi, Dharmpur talukas. We have been leading a struggle in Valsad town demanding regularisation and plot ownership under Town Planning in the dalit and adivasi bastis in the town. Most of these dalits and adivasis are hand-cart vendors in the city's main bazaar, and in the process of the struggle since July '07, there have been many clashes with BJP-backed goons and police, and 40 activists of our party were arrested too. In Umergaon, adivasis' land was illegally grabbed by GIDC, and CPI(ML)'s candidate in the last elections is a tribal leader who has led a struggle against this land grab for many years; a struggle which to some extent has been successful. After the elections, we plan to hold two cadre conferences focussed on building up a struggle for rights to land and forests.

In Bhavnagar, we revived our work in 2006, and RYA is our main mass organisation here. Here too, police atrocities and criminalisation have emerged as major issues. Here too, as in Ahmedabad, educated youth have been attracted to RYA.

Anand and Khera districts are areas of Gujarat where there has been considerable capitalist development in agriculture. The main farm produce here is tobacco. AIALA is organising farm labourers in Petlad, Borsad, and other talukas here.

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