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A hitherto little-noticed Naxal outfit claiming lineage from Charu Mazumdar, the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation (known as ‘Ma-Le’ in Bihar), has emerged as a surprising winner in the closely fought Bihar Assembly elections by riding piggyback with the opposition conglomerate (Mahagathbandhan).
During the three-phase election campaign, national and media attention focused mainly on the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s new leader Tejaswi Yadav, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led the NDA defence. During the long and tense see-saw counting process, most observers noted that if Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United had underperformed for the NDA, the Mahagathbandhan was let down by the Congress party.
The biggest gainer was the CPI-ML Liberation that won 12 seats (close to Congress Party’s 19), whereas the older Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India-Marxist, that fought on six and four seats respectively, won three seats each. This is the best performance ever of the Communist parties in Bihar.
The CPI-ML Liberation wrested 19 out of 29 seats that Tejaswi Yadav offered the Left parties. The ‘Ma-Le’ traces its ideological roots to Charu Mazumdar and his violent revolutionary movement (Naxalbari, West Bengal); its traditional strongholds in Bihar include Bhojpur, Jehanabad, Siwan and Aurangabad. It has a strong cadre and is credited with providing heft to the Mahagathbandhan rallies.
The results have brought it into the national limelight, and vindicate the strategy of CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury that the Left parties should make state-specific seat adjustments to retain relevance after losing West Bengal and Tripura. With this success, the Left is likely to replicate this policy in the assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry in 2021. In 2015, the Left parties tried to fight the Bihar elections without alliances; the CPI and CPI-M came a cropper, though the CPI-ML Liberation managed to win three seats.
‘Ma-Le’ leader Dipankar Bhattacharya concedes that the pact with the RJD was beneficial to both sides. The RJD won three out of seven seats in the Bhojpur region, a CPI-ML Liberation stronghold. Left leaders claim that the RJD accepted their plank of economic justice and spoke of jobs and the economy, while ‘Ma-Le’ reportedly brought Mahadalit and Extremely Backward Caste votes to the Mahagathbandhan kitty.
The sudden rise of the CPI-ML Liberation at a time when the NDA has been fairly successful in stamping out Maoist violence in the country will cause concern to security agencies. The CPI-ML Liberation was founded in 1974 and is listed as a State Party with the Election Commission of India. It had three seats in the outgoing Bihar Assembly (now risen to 12), and one in neighbouring Jharkhand. The party rose during the Bhojpur Movement for land reforms, right to vote for the poor and marginalised, etc., after the death of Charu Majumdar and collapse of the CPI-ML; it claims to have a presence in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, West Bengal, Delhi, Rajasthan, Odisha, Karnataka, Assam and Tamil Nadu.
The CPI-ML went through a number of splits in the 1970s before the anti-Lin Biao group emerged as the CPI-ML Liberation. Lin Biao was a military leader of the Red Army who played a major role in the victory of the Communists in the Chinese civil war and was an important Chinese leader before he fell out with Chairman Mao.
As splits continued, the CPI-ML Liberation created the Indian People’s Front in 1982 to build ties with democratic forces (legal political parties) but remained wedded to the ideals of Charu Majumdar – Chinese-style violent revolution – that typified the Naxalbari movement. Towards the end of the decade, the IPF decided to contest parliamentary elections and in 1989, Rameshwar Prasad was elected to the Lok Sabha from Ara (Bhojpur). In 1990, it won seven seats in the Bihar Assembly.
It made inroads in Assam as the People’s Democratic Front (PDF) in Karbi Anglong district and won a seat in the state assembly in 1985. In the guise of the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC), it got Jayanta Rongpi elected to the Lok Sabha from the Autonomous District constituency in Assam, in 1991, 1996 and 1998 but in 1999, Rongpi was elected as a member of the CPI-ML as the party, which had emerged from the underground in 1992, decided to assume a higher public profile.
Throughout, the party escaped media attention because much of the Maoist/Naxal violence in the past two decades has mainly been concentrated in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha. Under Dipankar Bhattacharya, it won seats in the legislative assemblies of Bihar and Jharkhand in 2016, as well as in panchayats of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Punjab.
Its startling success in Bihar – close to the Congress Party’s 19 seats – suggests that it could try to assume the leadership of the Left movement in India, and inject a new radicalism in the body politic. While this is still in the womb of the future, it is the party that is worth watching.
Dipankar Bhattacharya has told the media that while the party will focus on the forthcoming elections in West Bengal and Assam, its main ideological foe is the Bharatiya Janata Party. Hinting at a tacit understanding with the Trinamool Congress, he said, “We have to be more anti-BJP than anti-TMC. We have to compete with TMC only to defeat the BJP.” This suggests that the party could be soft towards illegal immigration from a neighbouring country, and is a warning that the TMC’s street power could be powerfully augmented.