How A Single Spark Can Ignite A Fire

This article was originally published in The Truth, as the editorial in its January 2022 issue, about the recent protests in Bihar.

A video on the protests from Workers’ Unity.

This particularly became more evident when RRB-GroupD job aspirants, having come to know that they will have to clear two exams to get the job, also joined the protest on 25th January 2022. It brought into the protest more anti-BJP and anti-Modi flavor. This is certainly a new thing. All of them could be seen giving priority to raising real issues and problems of their life over communal and jingoistic issues while talking of politics in general and BJP politics in particular. Apart from raising their immediate issues related with RRB-NTPC-GroupD exams and their results, they were also concerned with the issue of privatisation in private or public talks, although it did not clearly figure out in their main slogans.

It however doesn’t mean that these protesters were ready to lend support to other parties or enter into political arena. Nor does it automatically erase this important fact that this protest was for a very-very limited demand and led by their coaching masters who were guided by the shallow interests of their own occupation. However, it raised an important question which is very important and must be seriously pondered over; how come even this simple and short-sighted protest produced so much of energy and sent such destabilising tremors into the whole system that all state agencies from administration to media became anxiously active to contain its further spread? The railway minister comes out with a ‘solution’ and the PM himself is said to have got involved in this. On the other hand, how come even this short-term simple protest immediately struck chord with the general people’s sentiments and obtained their sympathy? The rest was all clear from the very beginning that once their very limited demands are fulfilled the protest would vanish within a moment. But the situation is such that even this is not coming even after the involvement of Modi. Hoodwinking is still the main mantras, even in this case. Otherwise the railway minister would have come with a proper solid and reliable solution in place of the announcement of formation of an Inquiry Committee which nobody believes will do justice to the students. It is mainly meant to buy time to diffuse the protests as well as allow this crucial election time to pass peacefully. 

The limitations of this movement were obvious from the very beginning. It highlighted the issue of unemployment, but to raise the issue of unemployment wasn’t in its agenda. Similarly, the protest highlighted the darkest side of privatisation – the gravest dangers of total loss of government jobs – even then it didn’t set an agenda towards giving a call to fight against it. We must not forget that the protest was disorganised and without any proper leadership. The motive of the protest was just to draw the attention of the government towards their grievances. It is another matter that once it started it gathered and demonstrated the pent-up frustrations, largely against Modi’s policies. 

We know that the basic problem of unemployment and the issue of privatisation can’t be addressed and solved within the boundary of the bourgeois rule and system. Then why did the bourgeois and revisionist parties jumped into it so desperately? Will these opposition parties ever be able to solve these problems, even if they are voted to power? No, not at all. Their policies are no better or different than Modi’s. Then why did they join the bandwagon? It was only the overtly anti-BJP overtone of the protesters and also its impact on general public mood that the opposition bourgeois-revisionist parties and their students organisations just got on the bandwagon to cash in on,without thinking even for a moment that such a desperate act of jumping would harm this movement by obstructing its natural and gradual growth from a short-term protest into a long-term serious struggle. Even if they counted it only as an opportunity to build upon it their own short-sighted political agenda, then also it was a premature step to immediately and desperately jump into it. But to demand from these bourgeois and revisionist parties to act with such a caution and honesty is expecting moon from them. These parties are no better than BJP so far as their lust for power is concerned. Their aim is also limited to utilising every single dissent to their own short-sighted benefits. These parties had no time to see even this that the protesters were inactive for the last two days and did nothing to make their own call of Bihar band successful. Despite all these things, the opposition parties and their students outfit went on to observe Bihar band in support of the protesters when the protesters themselves had clearly withdrawn their protest in view of various assurances given by the Railway Minister, including the announcement of formation of a Committee to look into the things that RRB foolishly did and led to such huge protests. To believe that RRB did these things unknowingly or on its own without the knowledge of the Ministry and the PMO is simply untenable. Yes, it is true that RRB could not anticipate that the job aspirants will start protests in the manner they did.

When these lines are being penned, Mahagathbandhan parties and their student organisations, desperate to use this protest to their own benefit, are observing band in Bihar, though the actual protesters have chosen to stay away from this. This kind of desperate jumping into a movement led by coaching masters for a very narrow and completely limited set of demands, is often counterproductive. It has obstructed and stalled the possibility of its growth into a truly serious struggle, the possibility of which was/is immense in this protest. The protesters students, who were just beginning to be vocal against Modi, must have definitely seen a particular design in this support being given by these opposition parties, particularly when they themselves have withdrawn their protest. This perception will certainly harm the cause of growth of this limited protest movement into a serious political struggle even if the existing situation is helpful. In the nutshell, such short-sighted tactics and attempts to hijack a nascent anti-BJP students protest will only harm its growth and expansion. But despite all these things, this fact remains that what a simple struggle of RRB-NTPC job aspirants finally headed to become is undoubtedly a symptom of a deeper malaise that has set in the system, because of which it also instantly struck a chord with other sections of the masses who in general were in support and sympathetic to this protest.

The very objective socio-economic conditions marked by deep-seated people’s frustrations and anguish resulting from their acute economic plight are such that even a very small spark can turn into a blaze of fire. It shows that there objectively exists a very volatile and fragile, and thus a very critical situation for the ruling classes. The same is also true for the people at large. Peace for both of them is gone, destined to be threatened till some new balance is achieved as a result of the struggle between them. RRB-NTPC protest is symptomatic of this fact that even a simple protest of a very insignificant segment of society involving a real issue that affects their life deeply, does send destabilising tremors into the well-fortified capitalist system. It is a symptom of a serious crisis ahead.

The capitalist system as a whole has become fragile for the common people as a whole see no rays of hope of improvement in their economic condition that is deteriorating day by day. Particularly students and youth are fast losing their patience and subsequently their faith in the system for their future life is being increasingly challenged with every passing day by soaring unemployment on the one hand, and the rising cost of living on the other. The lack of quality/government jobs are haunting them. They see no future in private jobs. All thanks to Mr. Modi who has hastened this process of disillusionment by a myriad of ways. With privatisation of all sectors of industries and economy going on unabated and at a fast pace under Modi’s rule, they can see that government jobs are now nowhere in sight while youth and students do clearly see how workers’ and employees’ lives, employed in privatised industries, have become uncertain and as bad as a Hell. This situation forces them to grab whatever little opportunity in the form of government jobs comes in their way. When there is one in sight, they all become restless and simultaneously turn to grab it, knowing very well that all of them will not get the job even if the exams are held fairly. Unless job for all is not ascertained, no section of masses will enjoy surety of jobs.

Crores of students applied for one and a half lakh posts (vacancies) announced by the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) in Group D and Non-Technical Popular Category. And see the hell like situation of these students. They filled up their forms for these posts way back in Feb-March in 2019 and they are still waiting for their exams to be held! While Group-D aspirants waited for three years to see RRB finally announce their exam dates, this further pushed their dream away. It turned into a nightmare for they were asked to clear two levels of examinations (preliminary and mains!) as well as a PT just within a month or two. Similarly, the NTPC (Non-Technical Popular Category) aspirants have other reasons to get agitated. When their CBT1 result finally came out (forms for NTPC job were also filled up in Feb-March 2019) on this 24th January, the high handed approach of the RRB cheated them. RRB had promised in its notification of vacancy itself that it would select in the CBT1 (first exam) as many students as 20 times the notified vacancies (35,277). Thus 20 times 35,277 (more than 7 lakhs) students were to be selected, while the published result contains the name of the same students (and their number is too high) in more than one level (there are 5-6 levels according to the hierarchy of posts). So, while more than 1.3 crores appeared in CBT1, only some 3 lakhs have been selected. According to protesting students it stands out to be between 10 and 11 times and due to this a huge number of students are feeling cheated. As a result, they threw themselves in the agitation to force the government to immediately look into their grievances.

These vacancies were one such opportunity. When they saw that even this was not coming their way in the manner they had thought and planned, they lost patience and threw themselves into this spontaneous agitation, which like a single spark spread fire in the whole forest.

When the protesters kept gheraoing till late evening, the police finally resorted to lathicharge brutally beating them all that left many of them injured and wounded. Those who were seriously wounded were hospitalised. Arrests were also made. Tear gas bullets were also fired in good number. Hundreds of footwears were found scattered in the premises of Rajendra Nagar railway junction after they were chased. In the meanwhile, photos and videos of the protest and police brutalities etc. got viral on social media and face book. And within no time the spark spread like a wild fire. Next day i.e. the day before the Republic Day celebrations, the protest spreads to nearly all the urban railway centers of Bihar and UP. Reports of protests coming from different districts of Bihar showed that it was the strongest in Gaya, Nawada, Jehanabad, Buxar, Ara, etc. Bhikhna Pahadi area of Patna and their students’ lodges became an intense battle ground in the evening of 25th January. From UP, the news of protests kept pouring in the whole day. The protest was so strong that police had to use brutal force at many places to disperse the gathering. The news of severe police brutalities on students living in lodges also started pouring in from Prayagraj (Allahabad). The following  day, on 26th January, the situation was normal but boiling from within. Ultimately the railway minister had to come out with a plan according to which the announced dates for exams of Group-D job aspirants as well as the CBT1 Results of NTPC both stand cancelled till further notification based on the report of the enquiry committee formed by the RRB under the direction of the Railway Ministry.

Now that the RRB has cancelled both the NTPC CBT1 results as well as the exam dates of Group D, and the Railway Ministry has appointed an Inquiry Committee, will this movement end? As the protesters have also stayed away from today’s Bihar band, this possibility is being widely speculated. In our view, the protesters have withdrawn their protest only for the time being. They are feeling having been cheated and this feeling hasn’t been addressed till date by the government which has only announced the formation of a committee. Now everything depends on its report that will come on 4th March. Due to this, students’ feeling of having been cheated has not subsided. They withdrew their protest only when they saw that their coaching teachers weren’t ready to further support their struggle. See what is the existing situation now for them. Nothing precious except for some assurances and the formation of a committee has been delivered as a result of their protest. So there is all likelihood that the existing situation, if it remains unchanged, will force them again to come in protest. They have also seen that their coaching teachers’ ability in leading such big protest is very limited. They have seen how Khan Sir ran away from the struggle and capitulated in the middle of the struggle. On the other hand, they are least impressed by mainstream political parties. They may vote them to power in the absence of an alternative that they would have liked, but they know that even if these parties come to power, they can neither solve their problem of unemployment nor stop the privatisation drive. They also know they won’t lead them in their direct struggle either, beyond a point. This is one side of the existing situation. The other side of the situation is that the protesting students in general, though fighting for a limited demand, seemed to be politically awakened in the sense that they knew the well-known befooling tricks of Modi government as insiders. They know that the committee has been appointed to buy time till there are elections in UP and other states. They also seem to have come to know the fall out of privatisation of the railways and understand it well that once these RRB-NTPC-GroupD vacancies are spoiled, the chances of their getting government jobs via railways will be over forever. So, in our view, the movement will continue though in a different mode,in a restlessly driven wait and watch mode till they decide some action plan for the next time.The students are aware that neither the railway ministry nor the RRB has announced anything precious benefitting them. But as they strongly feel that opposition parties are no better, they are wary of lending them support or taking support from them. At least we can say they are not much interested in them. The way they tried to hijack their movement has further alienated them from politics. The result is that the students are option less. That is why they heeded to what their coaching masters particularly Khan Sir advised them to do i.e. abstain from protests and Bihar band. The RRB or the Railway Ministry have delivered only an Inquiry Committee. What will this inquiry committee inquire? There is nothing that needs inquiry. Everyone knows it. This committee will submit a report, as directed, on 4th March, 2022. The students are well aware that this is how Modi government wants them to still wait for final results and joining letters till 2024 general elections. So, in students mind, it is clear that the committee report is bound to be fruitless. It means that there are chances that they will be forced to throw themselves into struggle once again.

And it is here that revolutionaries working among the students can effectively intervene. But what they need to do is a consistent, patient and hardworking campaign among them to make them able to understand how their fate and the fate of their fellowmen can change only with the overthrow of capitalism. It is from this point onward that the revolutionarisation of such grassroot protests can be taken up. The revolutionaries must not identify themselves with the political stunt of the bourgeois and revisionist parties at this point of time and in such a nascent movement. It will further alienate the students.

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