Patna: Maoism travelled from Naxalbari in West Bengal to Ekwari village in Bihar’s Arrah where the extreme Left militants launched their first armed struggle in the early Seventies.
A group of Maoists, mostly drawn from the Dalit community, annihilated Bhumihar landlord Shankh Singh to mark their entry into Bihar.
A chain of retaliatory massacres ensued, thereafter, in which hundreds of lives of landlords and Maoists were lost.
The flame of Naxalism that spread from Ekwari engulfed the entire south-central Bihar and a number of splinter groups of Red army operating in different parts of the state.
Some of these splinter groups even claimed to have ‘liberated’ certain areas of Bhojpur (Arrah) district, often referred to as ‘flaming fields of Bihar’ and established their own system of governance for some time challenging the sovereignty of India.
Veteran Communist leader, late Ram Naresh Ram, who belonged to Ekwari, founded the underground CPI-ML (Liberation) along with Jagdish Master and led a sustained armed struggle against landowners, who later established their private army, called the Ranbir Sena.
By early 1980s, the Maoist leaders felt the need for an overground outfit along with the underground armed squad and floated the Indian People’s Front (IPF) as the CPI-ML’s front organization in 1982.
The IPF contested the Lok Sabha election from Arrah in 1989 and its nominee Rameshwar Prasad became the first representative of the extreme Left outfit in Parliament.
Eventually, the CPI-ML itself became overground and turned into a full-fledged political party fighting Assembly and parliamentary elections.
Having contested several elections after 1989, the CPI-ML, this time, is taking on the BJP candidate and sitting MP Raj Kumar Singh in the Arrah Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to poll in the seventh phase on May 19.
Arrah is the only constituency that has been spared for the CPI-ML by Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) from its quota of 20 seats in the grand alliance.
With a solid backing of mahagathbandhan allies, CPI-ML candidate Raju Yadav has embarked on a direct contest with the BJP nominee and sitting MP.
In 2014, Singh, who is also the former Union home secretary, had defeated the RJD candidate Sribhagwan Singh Kushwaha by over 1.35 lakh votes.
Yadav had secured 98,000-odd votes, while Janata Dal (United) candidate and then sitting MP Meena Singh had secured 75000-odd votes.
“It is a masterstroke of the RJD chief — leaving Arrah for the CPI-ML which has a considerable influence in all the seven assembly segments of this constituency. The combined votes of RJD, JDU and CPI-ML outnumber the votes polled by the BJP candidate last time. This time, we will claim 70% of the total votes in the constituency," said Santosh Sahar, a CPI-ML activist.
Though massacres and retaliatory killings are things of past today, the divide between haves and have-nots are clearly visible and caste sentiments, especially those of extremely backward castes and Dalits, are still directed against the landed gentry of upper castes and some land-owning intermediary castes.
For the CPI-ML, it is a golden opportunity to win this seat again after 1989.
Despite having contested in subsequent general elections, the party has failed to cut much ice.
It is in this background that the CPI-ML candidate Raju Yadav, son of a former party leader Ram Tavakya Singh, is trying to rope in the support of the intermediary castes and Dalits.
“It is expected that anti-BJP votes will not be divided this time like in the past elections because the mahagathbandhan allies are with us,” Yadav said.
Aware of the risk of sharp polarisation of backwards and Dalits in favour of the CPI-ML, the BJP is harping on the issues of nationalism, popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the image of its sitting MP RK Singh, known for his integrity and impartiality.
The BJP has put up posters with slogans like ‘Jaatiwad na Naxalwad, sabse upar rashtravad’ (It is neither casteism nor Naxalism, but all-surmounting nationalism) throughout the constituency.
Old-timers feel that with mahagathbandhan allies supporting the CPI-ML, it may turn out to be a tough fight between the CPI-ML, which has its roots in Arrah, and the BJP, which has the backing of supporters of the erstwhile Ranbir Sena, an outfit of landlords.
At Khopira, the village of dreaded Ranbir Sena chief late, Barmeshwar Mukhia, a school teacher, Shiv Sharma, said it was difficult to gauge people’s mood, though there was a visible undercurrent for the BJP among well-off sections and sympathy for the CPI-ML among the poor.
However, the Mandal politics pursued by Lalu Prasad Yadav after 1990 has mitigated the sharp divide between haves and have-nots and the area has undergone a radical change in its socio-political profile.
For the past two decades, guns have stopped booming and the internecine fights between the Ranbir Sena and CPI-ML cadres have almost come to an end.
Landlords are no more oppressive and wages for labourers are paid as per the government rules. Some of the landless labourers have even purchased land during this period.
There is complete peace as both the groups have settled for what is ‘legal, socially prudent and permissible under the law.’
The most remarkable change that has occurred in this erstwhile violence-ridden area is the attitude of people towards each other.
In the past, their rivalry has led to several ghastly massacres taking 250-odd lives. Perhaps, the huge loss of human lives that they suffered during the past three decades has led them to realise that ‘peaceful coexistence’ alone would end the social strife.
The wind of change is certainly blowing across the Son river, which used to often turn red during the Seventies and Eighties.
(Author is a senior journalist)