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Oasis where comrades say ‘Ram’

Sikar, Nov. 30: For years, a lone MLA had kept the Red flag aloft in Rajasthan.

Amara Ram, who has won four times, is trying his luck a fifth time from the state’s Sikar district as a CPM candidate. He is contesting from Dantaramgarh, which he wrested from the Congress in 2008.

That was also the year the CPM picked up three seats for the first time in Rajasthan, including Dhod (won by Pemaram) and Anupgarh (won by Pawan Duggal).

The unexpected success led the party to coin the slogan “Ek se teen, teen se tees (one to three, three to thirty)”. Indeed, the CPM is contesting more than 30 seats — 37 to be precise — and hopes to win at least 10.

Most of the party’s candidates are contesting in the Shekhawati region, which includes Churu, Jhunjhunu, Sikar and Ganganagar.

The sloganeering wasn’t the only evidence that the CPM takes itself seriously in Rajasthan, its oasis in north India.

In Sikar town, the party has a three-storey office —named Kisan Singh Daka Memorial Bhavan after a comrade who died in 1989 — a rarity in Rajasthan where outside of Jaipur, even the principal parties, the Congress and the BJP, have no permanent abodes. Daka was the president of the local PG College union and did a jail stint during the Emergency.

The Congress and the BJP believe they are locked in a straight fight for Sikar’s eight seats and the CPM doesn’t matter.

“What Amara Ram? What Pemaram? One has a loud voice; the other is voiceless. This time, people are voting to elect a party and not individuals. The CPM can never leverage its position in an elected government. The fight is between the Congress and the BJP,” claimed Ram Narayan, the sarpanch of Palsana, near Sikar.

CPM workers don’t agree; they insist the party’s CV is more “impressive” than the Congress and the BJP are willing to acknowledge.

For instance, they say, the Left “single-handedly” replicated an Operation Barga in feudal Shekhawati and bestowed a piece of land on every tiller — apart from unionising the unorganised workers in the brick kilns and the state roadways.

Prakash Agarwal, secretary of Sikar’s CPM- controlled dairy cooperative, reeled off his party’s achievements.

He claimed it was his party’s “relentless struggle” that forced the government to restore subsidies on the electricity consumed by farmers, reduce the security they have to initially deposit with the electricity board, enhance payments to brick kiln labourers, and link rural job scheme wages to productivity instead of the duration of the work.

As the ballot clock ticked towards Sunday, when all the seats in the 200-strong Assembly will be up for grabs, a farmer acknowledged the Left’s efforts.

“The BJP and the Congress always promise us big loans and low interest rates but the rising prices have dealt us a big blow. I know Amara Ram has raised our issues several times in the Vidhan Sabha. That’s why I would go along with him,” said Shikaram Choudhary, 40, a farmer in Sikar.

“We have always taken up agitations for farmers and labourers, whether it is for NREGA works, water or electricity. We raise our voice on issues where the BJP and the Congress keep mum,” Amara Ram said.

Rajiv Gupta, head of sociology in Rajasthan University and a keen observer of the Left movement in the state, said the CPM “ideology has been to work hands-on, whether it is an agitation for water and electricity for farmers, or for drinking water or one on labour issues”.

A CPM leader, however, conceded that Rajasthan’s political dynamics limited the party’s scope of activity.

Mangal Singh, secretary of the party’s Sikar secretariat, said: “We have not been able to raise a state cadre. The absence of industries is another constraining factor. We are mainly confined to the agricultural sector.”

Reckoning that Sikar is home to a large number of temples, the CPM treads cautiously around religious issues on its home turf. “People are sensitive about their faith,” Singh said.

So, instead of greeting their supporters with a “lal salaam”, the comrades stick to “Ram, Ram”.


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