A public meeting to press longstanding demands of the Dalit community became a show of strength for the CPM with hundreds of members of its mass organisations turning up at Jantar Mantar on Monday.
The impressive turnout, especially from south Indian states, came just a day after the BJP swept to power in three Hindi-belt states.
The Coordination Committee for Dalit Rights, which called the meeting, is a non-partisan forum that has collected more than 60 lakh signatures in support of a charter adopted at a national Dalit summit in Hyderabad in August.
The demands include the strict implementation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976; distribution of land among the landless and the ensuring of access to land deeds distributed earlier; an end to privatisation of the public sector and education and health services; revocation of the New Education Policy; increased outlay for the MGNREGA, an assured daily wage of Rs 600 and 300 days of work a year; and stringent punishment for those guilty of assaulting Dalit women and girls.
Most participants at the rally held flags and banners of the CPM-backed All India Agricultural Workers Union.
Its general secretary Vikram Singh told The Telegraph that the organisers had sought an appointment with President Droupadi Murmu to present a memorandum with these demands, which also include a call for a caste census to be carried out along with the population census, pending since 2021.
“The marginalised have to take forward the struggle to defeat the BJP, which is dictated by Manuvadi (casteist and misogynistic) policies,” Singh, the first Dalit general secretary of CPM student wing SFI, said.
“Today’s turnout shows the importance of people’s struggles. The Opposition may have just been defeated politically, but the masses are ready to face the challenge of the BJP.”
Speaking at the rally, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha said: “In elections, your issues get lost. We have to bring those issues back…. The country is in crisis. That is too important an issue to be left to political parties alone.”
He added: “As MPs we can stand with you but this struggle is getting harder every day. Those in power know how to win elections without work. They win despite atrocities on Dalits and land grabs from Adivasis. What is this magic? It is the magic of capitalists.
“If you want to change your destiny, then this anger should be seen on the streets. Anger comes from hunger. One cannot understand (the attempt to dismiss) this anger just with 5kg of grains (free rations given by the Centre). We need to ask why there is hunger in the first place.”
CPM parliamentarian John Brittas told the gathering: “Everyone should get at least five acres of land…. We have to agitate to win. We are with you in Parliament and outside for the rights of Dalits and agricultural workers.”