“Symbol of our patriotism
A small and beautiful State
Free from oppression
Chhattisgarh lives in our dreams.”
What Chhattisgarh of our dreams will look like?
“Drinking water for everyone,
` And water for the land we till,
A job for every hand
The peasant getting his due for the toils.
Hospital in every village,
And school for all the children,
Land and home for every family,
No poor, no place for the exploiters and capitalists.
When will we get Chhattisgarh of our dreams?
Only when the workers and peasants will rule.”
The period I am talking about is the time when the movement for Chhattisgarh was at its peak. But it came into its own much after the Khalistan movement, the movement for Jharkhand, the movement in Kashmir, or the oppressed nationalities’ movements in the North-Eastern States. Later still, the movements for Uttarakhand and Gorkhaland drew more national attention than Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) movement led by Sankar Guha Niyogi. In fact the demand for the statehood of Chhattisgarh is older than Niyogi’s involvement in the movement or the foundation of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha. This early phase of the movement for statehood of Chhattisgarh was led by Pawan Diwan who later became a Congress MP. Even after the death of Niyogi, the demand of statehood didn’t die, and the press often reports local Congress, BJP, and Janata Dal leaders lending their voices in support of a separate state of Chhattisgarh (at the time of writing this article). But the difference between the movement for Chhattisgarh as led by CMM on one hand, and all other movements for statehood on the other, is clear and fundamental. In Niyogi’s own word, Chhattisgarh movement is characterized by protection toiling masses’ interest.
- “The people want that the Chhattisgarh region should develop. It is by no means sure in the present political structure, that the creation of small states will automatically cure all the present ills. Nevertheless, when the vast majority of a nationality group feel that the creation of a smaller state on the basis of a distinct identity will enable them to participate actively in contributing to the national progress, and facilitate the appropriate and planned utilization of the natural resources, and when they are ready to work jointly towards this goal, then the fulfillment of this demand becomes a democratic right of the people. This democratic right must be granted.” (from Niyogi’s writing)
This movement must be directed towards the definite goal of economic, social and cultural liberation of the people.
- “The alternative to our present social order is a society under the leadership of the people, achieved in the course of people’s democratic revolution. The struggle for national identity will help to identify and unite all progressive elements in this effort.” (from Niyogi’s writing)
Unity can be achieved only through struggle, and not by some formal membership in an organization and paying regular subscription.
From the “The Disha, Lakshya, Karmasuchi of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha”, it is clear that Mukti Morcha under the leadership of Niyogi used to see the question of liberation of oppressed nationalities in the light of class struggle.
“Unless the campaign [for national self-determination] is guided in a definite direction and linked up with the question of the struggle for peoples’ liberation, it may be diverted into the wrong channels; militant chauvinism can harm this whole campaign.” (from Niyogi’s writing)
“If this movement does not follow the direction towards the peoples’ economic, social and cultural liberation, it may get into the trap of dangerous chauvinism and separatism.” We have seen it rearing its ugly head in the ‘Bangal Kheda’ movement in Assam, in the so-called ‘Drive the foreigners out’ movement and the anti-infiltration movement led by the BJP, even in the current (at the time of writing this article) Boro-Santhal racial strife.
Here the movement by the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha stands as an outstanding contrast. In the anti-Sikh riot in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the epicenters of CMM’s movement stood unfazed. The Sikhs from different parts of Chattisgarh ran for shelter to Dalli-Rajhara in Durg district, and in Rajnadgaon town in Rajnadgaon district, the two centers of CMM’s movement. Again in 1992, when the riot broke in after the demolition of the Babri Mosque, and the BJP-Bajrang Dal-Shibsena combo were wrecking havoc, when the whole of India including the so-called bastion of the Left Movement, West Bengal, could not resist their ugly designs, Madhyapradesh too was greatly affected. Then the districts of Rajnadgaon and Raipur, and some parts of Bilaspur district were deeply involved in the working class movement in the industrial belt around Bhilai. All the members of the working class in every community were united in their just struggle for livelihood. No communal forces could draw them in the fratricidal post-Babri riots.
This ‘unthinkable’ achievement was by no means accidental. It was the outcome of a well-thought and long-drawn struggle by the CMM. It started with the definition that was used to define a ‘Chhattisgarhi’. The apparently unusual definition was not only just framed in the light of the peoples’ struggle for livelihood and for national self-determination, it was widely circulated among, and accepted by, the people in the region.
Who is a ‘Chhattisgarhi’?
- Chhattisgarhis are those who within the geographical area of Chhattisgarh live their lives through honest toil.
- Who are prepared to devote their lives to secure the freedom of the people of Chhattisgarh.
- Who neither economically nor in any other way conform to the scientific definition of the feudal class.
- Who desire the end of capitalist relations.
- Who will not hinder the development of a democratic Chhattisgarh.
- Who feels brotherhood for the proletarians of the world.
- Whose family has roots in Chhattisgarh, and is staying in some other place now to earn a living, and is not an oppressor of the people.
- People who originally belong to some other places, and staying in the industrial areas of Chhattisgarh, earning an honest livelihood through toil, wish to stay in Chhattisgarh permanently, and participate in the economic, social and cultural development of Chhattisgarh with due sincerity.
Who are the enemies of Chhattisgarh?
The people in the professions of, or with the mindset of, the feudal forces (the moneylenders and the MALGUJARS), semi-feudal forces (contractors, agents, bureaucrats), are enemies of Chhattisgarh, no matter whether they were born in Chhattisgarh or outside it. Two other words were very familiar in Chhattisgarh liberation movement, and they are ‘son of the soil’ and ‘toilers in the soil’. In Hindi they were Bhumiputra-s and Sharamaputra-s. In real terms these words signified the peasants of Chhattisgarhi origin, and the workers in Chhattisgarh, who could be either local, or outsiders by birth. The unity between the Bhumiputra-s and the Sharamaputra-s was the real strength of CMM movement.
Niyogi used to tell the story of Antaeus, the great hero of the Greek mythology. Antaeus was unconquerable so long his feet were on the ground. The working class, Niyogi used to tell, would be unconquerable so long they are in firm alliance with the peasantry.
The Liberation of the Chhattisgarhi nationality: a step towards a Social Revolution
Let me quote Comrade Niyogi from his Chhattisgarh and the National Question.
“For the liberation of the proletariat, a revolution is an absolute historical necessity. For the other progressive elements as well a revolution in the form of a qualitative change in the social order is felt to be necessary. The struggle for national self-determination is a step in the direction of this qualitative change…
The alternative to our present social order is a society under the leadership of the people, achieved in the course of peoples’ democratic revolution. The struggle for national identity will help to identify and unite all progressive elements in this effort. The achievement of a genuine socialist order is the next step in this process.” (from Niyogi’s writing)
Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha: a United Front not only for the Liberation of the Oppressed Nationalities, but also for Peoples’ Democratic Revolution
“Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha is the united front for struggle of the peasants, workers, intellectuals and other patriotic forces. The industrial workers are the leaders of this front. Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha is an organization of the workers, peasants, students, youths, women and other oppressed people of Chhattisgarh, united voluntarily with the objective of qualitative economic, social, and cultural development of the people of Chhattisgarh, and to raise the self-respect of the Chhattisgarhi people by making the geographical area of Chhattisgarh economically self-sufficient, and to progress to a oppression-free society.” From the “The Disha, Lakshya, Karmasuchi of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha”.
On the Question of the Leadership of the Industrial Workers
Marxism teaches us that every nationality has the right to self-determination, and whenever needed, Marxists must rally in support of the struggle for self-determination. But the new feature of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha movement is the establishment of the leadership of the industrial proletariat in the nationality’s struggle for self-determination.
The majority of the people in Chhattisgarh are dependent on agriculture. The peasants, especially the Adivasi peasants are mercilessly oppressed. The land ownership question is intimately dependent on the nationality question, so the peasants were in favour of Chhattisgarh state. The bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie of Chhattisgarh also want Chhattisgarh state for their own class interest. But the leadership of the industrial proletariat is necessary so that the movement does not degenerate the way the Jharkhand movement did. Incidentally, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha were born at about the same time. (I have heard from Comrade Niyogi that the leadership of the two movements sat together and discussed their movements before they formed their organizations. Comrade A. K. Roy even raised the slogan, ‘Jharkhand nehi, Lalkhand’ (‘Red Jharkhand, not merely a State of Jharkhand’), but ultimately failed to consolidate the industrial workers’ leadership, and people like Shibu Soren usurped the leaders’ role. The final outcome of such a process is clear today.
Since the death of Sankar Guha Niyogi till 1991, long 12 years have elapsed. During this time the movement for statehood of Chhattisgarh could have been much stronger than the movement for Jharkhand. But the move under his leadership was not a movement for movements’ sake, neither was it aimed at individual political prominence. It was a movement for a very definite aim. To Niyogi, the primary importance of the movement remained organizing and educating the industrial proletariat.
|The Programme of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha|
Source: Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha ki disha, lokshyo, aur kariyakrom
If we look at the history of the organizational penetration of CMM, we will find that at first the mine labours were organized, labour movements took place, the labour leaders were tempered in the fire of movements. Then an area surrounding that industrial (mining?) belt was organized in a branch of the CMM.
The first organizations that Niyogi made were of the illiterate or semiliterate unskilled mining labours. Those organizations were not fit for leading the liberation movement for the liberation of the whole of Chhattisgarh. Niyogi saw that potential leadership among the engineering and chemical industry labours. So he ignored his own safety, and in spite of threat to his life, he went to Bhilai in search of the right leadership.
The course of movement
19 December 1979 is an important day in the history of Chhattisgarh. This is the day when a new trend in movement started by the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). In the area Sonkhan, situated what is presently the district of Raipur, CMSS observed the Martyrdom Day of the local people’s leader Veer Narayan Singh. Narayan Singh led the fight against the British imperialism and the local feudal lords, and was killed. The British imperialist historians wanted to portray Singh a robber and erase his name from our collective consciousness. 156 years after his martyrdom, CMSS brought the true history of Narayan Singh out in front of the Chhattisgarhi people, and reminded them of their glorious past. Veer Narayan Singh fought against the feudal powers and the later were supported by the British imperialists. Niyogi learned his lessons from history. His clarion call was— the Indian ruling classes were looting the wealth of Chhattisgarh with the help of the local rural feudal system, and the historical duty of the industrial proletariat was to unite all the oppressed people to fight it. Chhattisgarh had huge forest and mineral wealth. To industrialize Chhattisgarh, the Indian ruling classes are following the strategy imposed upon it by the world’s imperialist powers and transnational capital, and their strategy is by necessity anti-people. To fight that, the people of Chhattisgarh must fight the world capitalism. Only then the development of Chhattisgarh will be egalitarian, and it will proceed towards a society free from oppression. To inspire the toiling masses, to ingrain the dream of ‘small and beautiful Chhattisgarh’ before them, Niyogi tried to popularize the slogan through poetry, and I have started this article with that poetry.
The movement for Chhattisgarh as led by Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha was qualitatively different from the ruling parties’ movement for ‘Separate Chhattisgarh’. The ‘Separate Chhattisgarh’ movement was the weapon of the unpatriotic and opportunist forces who wanted to divide the working peoples on the basis of blind petty nationalism. They tried to incite riot between the toiling indigenous people and toiling peoples coming from outside by raising the parochial slogan, ‘Chhattisgarh is for Chhattisgarhis, it’s not anyone’s paternal property’. But much to their frustration, the fratricidal riot did never materialize, for the CMM’s slogan ‘Chhattisgarh is not the fiefdom of the oppressor; it belongs to us’, epitomizing justice and self-determination for the people of Chhattisgarh, was ingrained in their consciousness.
Chhattisgarh need not be separated from India, on the contrary, the CMM tried to popularize the concept of a Chhattisgarh free from oppression as a constituent of a Federal India free from oppression. The slogan that carried the concept to the masses was ‘A new Chhattisgarh for a new India’.
It was, however, not a mere slogan. CMM took steps to make it a reality. The important steps can be summarized:
- To relate the question of culture identity with that of looting of wealth of Chhattisgarh.
- Identifying as ‘enemies’ the powers behind the uneven development of Chhattisgarh, the oppression in the semi-feudal rural economy, the industrialization controlled by international capital for their own gain. (see “Who are the enemies of Chhattisgarh?” above)
- To guide the movement under the leadership of the industrial proletariat and to involve actively all the oppressed sections of people, especially the poor peasants and the jobless.
- Defining the ‘Chhattisgarhi’ at the very outset of the movement, and establishing the unity of the Bhumiputra-s and Sharamaputra-s (the peasants of Chhattisgarhi origin, and the workers in Chhattisgarh, either local, or outsiders by birth).
- In addition to what I have told above, one new and fundamental contribution of Sankar Guha Niyogi— ‘the search of an alternative’.
CMM has searched for an alternative for education, health, culture, science-technology-environment, and all the subjects involving the people’s lives. To establish the Chhattisgarh of our dreams, a revolution is certainly needed, but a part of the dream is partially implemented to give the dream a concrete shape. The experiment has its own slogan, ‘Fight for Creation, create for Fighting’ (Songharsh ke liye nirman, nirman ke liye songharsh). The struggle is to make a new society, and creation is to inspire people to participate in the struggle. The works for creation become the training factory to make people with new value system, people who can lead the fight.
Time will tell us whether Niyogi’s experiments on nationality question were right or wrong. But it is beyond doubt that CMM in his hands brought a fresh approach and thinking on the question of liberation of nationalities.
Niyogi is dead for 5 years (at the time of writing this article; now we have passed 30 years since Niyogi’s death). Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha is not that powerful an organization any more, but the teaching of Chhattisgarh movement will remain as invaluable wealth.
The torch bearer of new direction of the movement for liberation of nationalities and creator of CMM has been martyred in class struggle on 28 September 1991. Today on his fifth martyrdom day. Let us take an oath to create an oppression-free society.
Translated from Bengali by Dr. Jayanta Das