Chhattisgarh: Nationality Movement And The Oppressed


This article was published in a book Social Movements in Contemporary India edited by SK Chaube in 1996

Many small Nadis join to make the Mahanadi. This statement of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the architect and the ideologue of the Chhattisgarh movement under the red –green banner of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), explains the motif of its slogan, ‘A New Chhattisgarh for a new India’ (Sadgopal, 1993. This is a unique nationality movement, not only because it links the nationality question with social and perspective of the oppressed, but also in the sense that its expressed concerns are much wider and extend to the world proletarian solidarity with a final objective of creating a socialist world order. It is not a ‘separate state’ movement in the conventional sense, but a nationality movement for a just socie-economic order under the organised leadership of peasants and workers (William 1989)

At a time when parliamentary democracy is fast losing its credibility and the traditional left has failed to provide a concrete alternative model of struggle and social reconstruction, the ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement is provides an alternative model. Chhattisgarh movement is a  reference point for the study of social movements involving nationality question. If opens up a new perspective in the study of politics, history and ideology of the movements involving nationality question and holds out as a ‘resource of hope’ (Times of India 1997) for the oppressed.

The Context

Chhatisgarh, comprising 7 districts (Surguja, Raigarh, Bilaspur, Raipur, Durg, Rajnadgaon and Bastar) is generally known as the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh. The people christened as tribals count for over one fifth of M. P.’s total population (Patriot, 1979). This tribal belt 11 parliamentry constituencies spread over 67000 sq. km is almost as big as Kerala in area (Varma, 1991) Majority of its population is agrarian, though the process of setting up industries had started by the late 19th country (Gupta, 1996). Establishment of Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) after independence marked the beginning of a new era of industrialization (Shukla 1988)

The hilly terrains and the plateau of Satpura are rich in minerals and forests whereas the plain area of Chhattisgarh is known as the ‘rice bowl’ of M. P. (Mishra, 1981). The region, rich in natural resources, earns foreign exchange worth hundreds of crores by export of mineral and forest products but most of its people, mainly tribals, live in the state of utter poverty and misery. Chhattisgarh movement, under the leadership of CMM, seeks to challenge this imbalance. The challenge became so serious for the exploiters of Chhattisgarhi resources and people that they (industrialists, mafia, contractors, liquor lobby,) in collusion with the state machinery and politicians, conspired to physically eliminate Nigogi in 1991.

Chhattisgarh, a landlocked and underdeveloped area comprising south – eastern M.P. in central India, has a long historical legacy and was known as Dakshina Koshal, Dandakaranya, Ratanpr and Gondwana. The term Chhattisgarh was for the first time used by a folk poet, Dalram Rao of Khairagarh in 1487 (Shukla, 1988). According to a historical account, the ancestors of Chhattisgarhis are Mundas Dravidians and Aryans. Mundas belong to the Austric group who came to Chhaattisgarh around B.C. 3000 followed byDravidinans from Indus valley around B.C 2800 and Aryans around B.C. 800 (Shukla, 1988). In course of historical developments, there developed a Chhattisgarhi culture and language. Thearea, due toits geographical features and its flora, was cut off from other parts of India. This led to the development of institutions unique to the area. its primitive institutions, customs and traditions have survived till today (Gupta, 1996).

Demand for a separate Chhattisgarh state was first raised in 1947and was reiterated in 1954-55 at the time of linguistic reorganization of states. Ever since, the ‘Prithak Chhattisgarh’ demand  isechoedtime and again by different sections of social and economic elite of the area (Sadopal, 1993).

The history of ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement can be said to have begun in 1977 with the organization of Chhattisgarh Mines Shramid Sangh (CMSS) which provided infrastructural basis for the formation of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) under the dynamic leadership of Shankar Guha Niyogi . The new movement seeks to combine the trade union and peasant movements and link them with question of Chhattisgarh nationality and the issues of social reconstruction and attempts to provide alternative model of development for Chhattisgarh (Shukla.1988).

The Chhattisgarhi identity and the working people

Chhattisgarh, a great inland basin drained off by Mahanadi and its tributaries, is the south-eastern division of Madhya Pradesh. In the west, broken spurs of Satpura hills divide it from the Wainganaga valley and to the north is Maikal range which loses itself in the rugged country of what is known as Jharkhand. In the south are the remote and sparsely populated territories of Kanker and Bastar and in the east are the forest and hilly areas of Orissa (Wills, 1919). Though the area is inhabited by people with distinct ethnic groups composed of numerous stocks at different levels of ethnic evolution and with distinct languages/dialects, in course of time they have developed cultural and linguistic unity giving rise to Chhattisgarhi culture, language and identity. A historian of Chhattisgarh, while emphasising the ‘marked identity, of the area has opined, ‘In their speech, dress and their manners the inhabitants of the country have many peculiarities of their own. There is more homogeneity among them than is found in any other part of the province. And their political history also developed on independent lines.’ (Shukla, 19888)

Advent of British rule in the 19th century converted almost the entire Chhattisgarh into a colony of European capitalism leading to the growth of local commodity markets around the urban centres such as Raipur, Durg, Rajnandgaon, Raigarh and Jagdalpur. By that time Chhattisgarh had already become appendage of British for the supply of raw materials. Most of the local merchant bourgeoisie was composed of non-Chhattisgarhis, the local population of impoverished peasantry was on the way to destitution (Sadgopal et. al, 1993) and hilly terrains, rich in mineral and forest products. Were pushe4d into a backward type of economic system due to mindless exploitation of its resources. After independence, despite the establishment of big industries like Bhilai Steel Plant and its associated industries and large cale mining in the area. Many parts of Chhattisgarh are even today living in pre-industrial age (Sadgopal, 1993) in the industrial sectors the industrial and mining workers, mostly contract labourers, were living absolutely inhumane conditions. leaders of traditional trade unions affiliated to INTUC and AITUC adopted compromising tactics for minor economic gains and left contract workers deprived of even that (Sadgopal,1993). The area has 17 big industries including Bhilai Steel Plant and there are over 100 steel based industrial units (Sadgopal et. al, 1993) till 1977. Workers were exploited by industrialists and contractors and duped by traditional trade Unions like AITUC and INTUC (Sadgopal et. al, 1193).

It is in this background that the workers and peasants of the area started organizing themselves in a new pattern under the guidance of Shankar Guha Niyogi to carry out the twin goal of the struggle and construction (Sangharh Aur Nirman). Niyogi, who led the movement till his assassination in 1991,  stressed that, while struggle against injustice and exploitation was the basic task, it has to be combined as much as possible with constructive work and that the struggle, at the present stage, has to be carried on as far as possible peacefully. That is why, a fortnight after the martyrdom of Niyogi in September 27-28, 1991, over 40,000 people from mines, factories, cities and distant villages – from all corners of Chhattisgarh – men, women and children joined the Sanghars Yatra and the mass-meeting at Bhilai, the town where he had started his political activism and where he became a martyr and remained peaceful depite the unprovoked firing by police. They were determined to carry forward the movement and to continue their struggle for creation of a new society based on justice, equality and human values as envisased by Niyogi. In course of nearly three decades, he not only innovated a lot but also implemented his programmes in the most difficult situations (Sadgopal, 1993). Niyogi, as the leader and ideologues, provided and new approach to trade union movement and linked it with not only simultaneous constructive programmes but also  with peasants’ struggles and nationality question embodied in CMM’s comprehensive political programme of ‘New Chhattisgarh’ (Sadgopal,1993)

Niyogi and his Political Activities

Since Niyogi played pivotal role in the formation and activities of CMM and remained its undisputed leader and the chief ideologue till his martyrdom, a glance at the political experience of Niyogi shall be helpful in understanding the movement.

The beginning of 1960s was marked by the rise of mass movements as a consequence of disillusionment of the working masses with the policies of government. The young Dhiresh Niyogi joined the Students Federtion of India (SFI) and became a student activist. To raise the level of people’s political consciousness, he established a library at Jalpaiguri, his native town in West Bengal, with the help of contributions of local people (Sadgopal, 1993). At the age of around 20, Dhiresh came to Bhilai and joined Bhilai Steel Plant as a Junior operative trainee. He involved himself in trade union activities and formed the ‘Coke Oven Action Committee” which irked the management. After split in CPI in 1964, Niyogi became active in the Bhilai Unit of CPI (M). workers of BSPwent on strike and Niyogi played a leading role in it (Sadgopal et. al, 1993)

After the outbreak of Naxlbari movement in 1967. Niyogi  left CPI (M) and joined the ‘All-India  Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries’ formed for the organization of CPI (ML). His style of militant trade unionism was opposed by the existing trade union leaders. He had aleady attracted police alternation by his revolutionary activities and in 1968 his job at BSP was terminated. It provided him with an opportunity for full-time political activism. For propagation of revolutionary ideas, he brought out journal Sophulinga (Sadgopal, 1993) Alongwith his comrders, Niyogi published a booklet was banned by the Government (Sadgopla 1993). This marked the beginning of a new thought process inhim which culminated in the movement for a ‘New Chhattisgarh for a new India’ by the end of 1970s.

In 1969 Niyogi had joined CPI (ML) and was soon expelled due tohis critical approach on policies, particularly his views on the question  of mass organization (Sadgopl, 1993) Niyogi left Bhilai and went to the countryside with the aim of organizing peasants and started attempts at interpretation of the basic principles of Marxism – Leninism in the context of Chhattisgarh in particular and of India in general  (Sadgopal, 1993). He was arrested in 1970-71 and, after coming out of jail, changed his name from Dhiresh Guha Niyogi to Shanker Lal Thakur and subsequently came to be known as Shankar Guha Niyogi.

In order to understand the land and the people of Chhattisgarh, Shankar became a wanderer. He used boiled leaves as his food during the days he spent among the tribals. He took up many professions and vocations, e.g., fishing, landed labour, pastoralism. During this period he organized the struggle against Mongra dam which endangered the lives of thousands of tibals in Rajnandgaon district and started cooperative effort of constructing a reservoir, a pond, in Danitola quartz mines in Durg and got the labour cost paid by government. This probably gave the idea to Shankar of Sangharsh Aur Nirman, the twin objectives of the movement. In caurse of his wandering (1971-75), Shankar organized the mine workers at Danitoal mines and of the public sector unit H.S.C.L.  Here, Niyogi seems to have established permanent concern with the mines, the mine workers, the mining process and the forms of exploitation. By 1975. Niyogi became a popular trade union leder in Danitola and Rajhara mining areas. He married a tribal mine worker, Asha, and was interned and tortured during Emergency. This was his fifth arrest and by 1977. When he was released  after emergency, Niyogi had acquired reputation of an honest and militant leader (Sadgopal, 1993)

When Niyogi came out of jail, the workers of Dalli-Rajhara were already on the path of agitation for parity of contract labourers with deparmentalised workers of BSP and fall back wages. They had lost faith in the leadership of AIUC and INTUC terming them collaborationists and opportunists (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). Workers spontaneously struck the work and gathered in thousands to agitate for their demands. Thus started a spontaneous movement, the intensity of which forced the management to recognize and negotiate with its leaders. This spontaneous  movement lacked an articulate leadership. When Niyogi reached Dalli Rajhara after his release he received unprecedented welcome and was requested by agitating workers to lead them.  The formation of ‘Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh’ (CMSS) was formalised and this marked the beginning of a new phase of militant trade union movent in chattisgarh (Sadgopa et. al, 1993).

Niyogi realised the significance of participation of women in the movement and of organising the peasants and the rural proletariat for the creation of an exploitation- free Chhattisgarh. Thus were founded Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and Chhattisgarh Mahila Mukti Morcha on the organizational infrastructure of CMSS. The movement started with the trade union demands – betterment of working and living conditions of workers, fallback wage scheme and departmentalisaton,  etc. – and in course of a couple of years, developed into a nationality movement with strong cultural ethos (Sadgopal, 1993)

Along with the policy of struggle for the rights of working people, Niyogi seriously studied the problems of Chhattisgarhi people and launched the simultaneous programme of construction by taking upon issue of health, education and prohibition, etc.

‘Nationality Question and ‘New Chhattisgarh’

CMM’s definition of nationality differentiates the ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement not only from Prithak Chhattisgarh movement, but also from other separate state movements. CMM thoroughly debated the nature and scope of ‘New Chhattisgarh’ and alternative policies of industrial and agricultural developments. In   1989 convention were the definition of ‘Chhattisgarhi’; the reasons of their poverty and backwardness; and the enemies of ‘New Chhattisgarh’. The convention debated the methods and stragegies to achieve the objectives of ‘New Chhattisgarh for a new India.

According to a CMM document, a Chhattisgarh is one who lives in the geographical region of Chhattisgarh, earns his livelihood through honest work, is dedicated to the cause of emancipation of Chhattisgarh and committed to struggles against feudal and capitalist forms of exploitation and to international proleterian solidarity. Also, Chhattisgarhi’s are those who belong to Chhattisgarh but have settled elsewhere and are not involved in any form of exploitation and those who belong to some other nationality but are settled in Chhattisgarh’s industrial belts and earn their livelihood with honesty, intend to permanently live there with the aspiration of being part of the movements and the processes of social, political, economic and cultural development of Chhattisgarh (Sadgopal, 1993)

Enemies of new Chhattisgar, according to the aforesaid document, are people with feudal (landlords and money lenders) and semi –feudal  contractors and corrupt bureaucrate) tendencies. Even if they are natives of Chhattisgarh and speak Chhattisgarh (Sadgopal, 1993)

The reasons for backwardness of Chhattisgarh, according to CMM are: (a) colonial economic structure, industrial policy and mindless mechanization, (b) feudal rural economic structure and semi-fedual contract labour-system, and (c) lack of agricultural facilities.

This redical definition of Chhattisgarh  gave a new dimension to the nationality movement which encompasses all aspects of human life – education, health. Science and technology, energy, rights over forest, management and use of mineral, forest and water resources and the issues related to cultural values and consumerism. The  movement for ‘New Chhattisgarh for a new India’ is to e conducted under the leadership of the working class which has to internalise the philosophy of Sangharsh aur Nirman as two integral parts of the nationality movement (Sadgopal, 1993).

This radically different nationality movement envisages a ‘New India’ as a confederation of many small, beautiful, patriotic and egalitarian nationalities (Sadgopal, 1993). Since ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement views the nationality issue in its totality as an organic whole of its cultural. Social, economic, political and intellectual dimensions, CMM focuses on the need  for linking the question of cultural identity with the struggles against the loot and exploitation of Chhattisgarh’s resources, uneven development, semi-feudal rural exploitation and the industrial exploitation controlled by multinational and foreign capital. The leadership has been quite aware of the dangers of degeneration of a ‘Separate State’ movement into a chauvinist one andy Niyogi has warned about it in an article in 1981 (Sadgopal, 1993).

Trade Union Principles and Activities

As the movement started on the infrastructure of CMSS which ws formed in 1977 to lead the trade union movement to mine works of Dalli – Rajhara for economic demands like bonus, allowance for repair of huts and fallback wages, it is imperative to briefly deal with CMM’s trade union policy, approach and activities and agitational methods.

The intensity of the movement and courge of workers with new found confidence was such that the nexus of BSP bureaucracy, contractors and ‘established’ trade unions got panicked and connived with the district administration to get Niyogi arrested. The workers’ peaceful  protest was met with brute force and II workers, including a woman and a boy, Sudama, become martyrs. After police firing the movement became more intense forcing the management to concede their demands (Sadgopal, 1993). The success of 56 day agitation of workers brought the entire mining zone under the red-green banner of CMMS

Beyond economics

Niyogi wanted qualitative, pervasive and comprehensive betterment of workers, so he quashed the paradigm of economic determinism (Sadgopal 1993) and embarked upon the programme of struggle and constructive activities for which 17 cells covering different aspects, such as folk culture, sports, health activities (Sadgopal, 1993) were created in Niyogi’s view, linking the workers. Economics determinism is not struggling of  workers economic rights but isolating if from cultural, political and social questions and undermining them (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). While advocating class struggle along with the production struggle, CMM recognised the existence of different, classes and nationalities with different class interests and advocated scientific and ideological unity and synthesis of various classes of exploited people and nationalities as the basic principle of trade union movement (Sadgopal et. al, 19930.

The present policy of recruitment of industrial workers from far – off  places is a legacy of colonialism. Approximately 19 per cent off industrial workers of the Bhilia industrial belt are non-Chhattisgarhis. In Bokaro, Durgarpur and Tata industries of Jharkhand region, the number of Jharkhand workers is very small. The colonialists, apprehensive of a people’s democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class, particularly after the October Revolution in Russia, adopted a policy of not recruiting the workers from the local population but from other regions. For example, Bhojpuri workers were employed in the mines of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand whereas Jharkhandi and Chhattisgarhi workers were employed in Assam tea plantations and so on (Sadgopal, 1993).

Participation of local people in regional development is the only guarantee of national development. The workers from far-off regions belong to different nationalities, cultures and economic background and do not easily assimilate in the mainstream of the region’s development and nationality movements. It is only by reversing this colonial recruitment policy and basing the struggle on the principle of synthesis of class and nationality interests that the trade union movement can struggle for challenging the existing production system and replace it with the alternative one with popular support and local resources (Sadgopal, 1993).

CMM recognizes the revolutionary role of working class whose organized instrument is trade union that is why it rejects economic determinism and revisionism in established trade unions like INTUC, AITUC and CITU. The Naxal movement under the leadership of Charu Mazumder, instead of purging revisionism from TU movement, abandoned it altogether (Sadgopal, 1993).

CMM stands for transparency in decision making on the principles of democratic centralism and a class-conscious leadership. It can play a leading in the process of revolutionary change only if it has created a basis for alliance with other oppressed classes against the common enemy, the reactionary classes. For this, there is, need for right need for right leadership, capable of formulating right policies and action plan by comprehensively linking the general conditions with specific ones (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). In order to free the TU movements from the dangerous trend of economic determinism, it has to be organically linked with radical social, political and cultural movements. To quote Niyogi: ‘We don’t want the darkness of economism, along with economic struggle we want the light of freedom with the respect for working class dignity. We want fresh air of a new culture, a revolutionary Trade Union’ (Sadgopal et. al, 1993)

Niyogi, while making distinction between violence and militancy, was an advocate of peaceful, militant mass movement for the dignity of labour through raising the consciousness of people regarding their rights and the strength and the strength of their unity (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). In Niyogi’s view, opposition to the existing system is necessary but not sufficient. Positive alternatives have to be worked out through collective experience and creativity. In his life time, Niyogi worked out alternatives regarding industrial and agrarian policies and issues related to natural resources management, ecology, culture and other issue. He tried to debate these alternatives at national level with different groups and organisations fighting for people’s rights in different parts of the country (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

‘Sangharsh aur Nirman’

Creation of alternatives corresponding to the rising consciousness of the working population, was Niyogi’s special concern. The polities of Sangharsh aur Nirman is like the two legs of a man. According to this principle, political actions of the working class can be meaningful only if Sangharsh in accompanied by Nirman. The politics of Sangharsh aur Nirman underlines the need to scientifically work out the alternatives to the systems the movement opposes (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). The Shaheed Hospital established by CMM is not just to cure desease but also to spread health consciousness and to make workers collectively self-dependent in medical and other needs. The Shaheed School, alongwith imparting qualitatively better education to the working class children, seeks to create an educational consciousness from the people’s perspective. The workers effort in health and education compelled the government and the BSP management to open new hospital and schools and expand the existing ones (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). CMM’s continuous search and working-out of alternatives gives workers new strength and confidence and has added new dimensions to the movement.

The ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement considers Sangharsh and Nirman as integral parts of one organic whole. The policy of constructive and creative works alongwith mass struggles creates a new political consciousness among the masses and rejuvenates them with the dream of an alternative social order (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

CMM’s perception of Nirman is quite pervasive and covers almost all aspects of society’s development and reorganization. Writing of pro-people history and creating a people’s culture by incorporating the folk element into it are important aspects of Nirman and so are the research for patriotic agricultural and industrial policies in place of the existing anti-people policies. CMM’s successful campaign for semi-mechanisation of mining operations, instead of complete mechanisation, is a landmark in its programme of Sangharsh and Nirman. It successfully fought against full mechanization of minig and demonstrated that semi-mechanised, semi-manual mining gives superior results in the given context (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). By applying the principle of combining the constructive activities and creation of alternative with mass struggle s in the movement, Niyogi has presented an inspiring and pragmatic model of social change (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

CMM emphasizes the need to evolve and experiment the alternatives in the process of mass struggles led by the working class on the basis of its collective strength and capacity of mobilise resources. This lively dialectical relationship between Sangarsh and Nirman acts as the driving force and keeps the movement dynamic.

Niyogi envisaged the politics of Sangharsh aur Nirman as an effective instrument for bringing about political and social change and creation of ‘New India’ (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). For CMM, Nirman does not mean only constructive activities and collective efforts to develop pro-people alternative models but also to successfully campaign for removal of social evils like drinking prevalent among the masses (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

In Niyogi’s view, drinking habit not only adds to the poverty and misery of workers but causes obstacles in the process of their organisation and unity. Hence, freeing the workers from the habit of drinking becomes a prerequisite condition to work among them. As the women and children are the worst victims of alcoholism, they readily get involved in the compaign at a pervasive scale and it assumes political from with the rise of social and economic consciousness. CMM and its anti-drinking cell used many innovative and politically useful methods in this campaign. The campaign against liquor by CMM turned into a social movement involving men, women and children and is pressed into the service of the political movement or ‘New Chhattisgarh’ (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

Women constitute almost half the work force. Before the formation of CMSS, workers in general were subjected to inhumane exploitation but women were the worst victim. They were additionally subjected to sexual and other gender-based subjugation and exploitation. After the formation of CMSS and CMM, in all the agitations and campaigns,  women not only participated in large number but were in the forefront, in 1979 when the Mahila Mukti Morcha was formed under the auspices of CMM, it attracted women from neighbouring villages alongwith women workers. Equal participation of women in the movement has created a new consciousness and has linged gendr-specific issues with the broader issue of social reconstruction on the principals of equality (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

Educational Activities

CMM combined the anti-liquor compaign with political education and turned its attention to the issue of education of the children of the workers. With the participations of and contributions from the workers, CMM started many primary schools. This initial step towards educational activities acaroused unprecedented response from the masses and the CMM leadership did many experiments of formal and mass education. It has been working in association with other activist groups and organization active in the field of education to develop alternatives regarding content, role and function of education from a pro-people perspective (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

CMM carries on educational activities through wall-magazines, leaflets, poster, group meetings and cultural programmes for workers and their children. The cultural group Navan Anjor has been active with its plays and songs since 1981. The  Morcha considers film and exhibition as effective educational media.  The  Union purchased a projector for showing educative films and organizes exhibitions. Audio cassets  (Mitan Ki Awaz series) are a medium of mass education. Workers training programmers are used as part of political education and popularization of revolutionary literature (Sadgopal et. al, 1993)

In Niyogi’s view, India could be transformed into a better society – prosperous, happy, humane and creative – for 800 million Indians with the help of correct and scientific education by making people acquainted and aware with right ideas. Right ideas emanate from social work – struggles for production, class struggle, and scientific experiments (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). In CMM’s view, the present education system, despite the constitution of various commission and committees after Independence, has not been able to free itself from the legacies of Macaulay, who had conceived it as a bridge between colonial rulers and natives by way of producing clerks. The education system has failed to fulfill the nation’s needs and people’s aspirations. In CMM’s opinion, the existing education system has led to anti – people development policies and has blunted the thinking faculties which give an insight to judge between right and wrong, necessary and unnecessary, just and unjust. Niyogi advocated inclusion of the knowledge of working men and women into the realm of education and wanted to make it socially useful. He advocated unity between students. Workers and nationality movements and expected the students movements, to play a leading role in India’s social transformation (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). CMM formed the Chhattisgarh Students Federation (CSF) in 1988 and the Chhattisgarh Pragatisheel  Yuva Sangh (Chhattisgarh Progressive Youth Organisation) (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

The CMM leadership recognised the importance and need of giving a cultural orientation to the movement by highlighting Chhattisgarhi culture. Niyogi and his comrades underlook serious research work on the history of Narain Singh, a martyr of 1857 inorder to have a historical hero for the movement (Sadgopal, 1993). In 1983, the cultural group Navan Anjor (New Light) was formed to tour around the villages and tell people about the history of Chhattisgarh and the movement for ‘New Chhattisgarh’ through songs and performances (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

While underlining the role of intellectuals and intelligentsia for the purpose of correct socio-economic analysis and in theorization regarding the structure of the future society, CMM emphasises the need of keeping the leadership in the hands of working class. The leaders of peasants and workers have to be from the working – peasants parties – involved in workers and peasants politics (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).


A part from providing alternative industrial and agricultural developmental policy, CMM took  up the task to identify and analyse the reasons of ecological degradation and to develop a comprehensive awareness at the national level. In its view, ecological degradation could be effectively checked through local peoples’ involvement. People living in the forest areas would identify with the forest if their traditional rights are protected. In this direction CMM has launched a programme Apne Jungle Ko Pahchano (know your forest), under which mindless feling and faulty forest policies are opposed and an ecological awareness campaign, with a comprehensive ecological prgramme, is carried on among the people (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

On Agricultural and Industrial Policies

CMM underlines the need of an integrated pro-people policy of agricultural development aiming at overall enhancement in production leading to the increase in the purchasing power of the common people. Special attention is to be given to the research in traditional methods of farming and experiences of agriculturists in formulating the agricultural policy. It stresses the need to develop separate agricultural policies for forest and tribal areas with introduction of suitable cash crops (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). It has suggested a specific agricultural model for Chhattisgarh involving construction of many small dams and launching of lift irrigation projects. CMM has demonstrated the economic viability of such projects by completing Kusumkasa small irrigation project with the help of local people and some NGOs (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). View, the integrated agricultural policy should involve the creation of a network of the block level small scale industries based on agricultural and other locally available resources to generate employment and fulfill local consumer needs. Encouragement and furtherance of skills of traditional crafts and artisanship’s have potentialities to take care of local needs and of creating market in urban areas and abroad with adequate arrangements. Training and the programmes of diversification (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

CMM is highly critical of, and concerned at the increasing pressure of foreign capital in theindustrial development of India in general and Chhattisgarh in particular. In its opinion, industrial development for the fulfillment of the needs of the working masses is possible only through developing the national capital. It is also necessary to protect the interests of agriculturists, small traders and people involved in other traditional craft. Opposing the policy of big dams and ‘green revolution’ by chemical farming, CMM advocates ‘patriotic agricultural policy’ by way of developing indigenous agricultural methods and small irrigation projects and insurance of appropriate agricultural share from traditional water sources, most of which is presently diverted to industrial use (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

One of the serious problems CMM has had to confront was that of unemployment in the wake of mechanisation of mines. The CMM is working out pro-people policy of industrialization and development as a whole (Sadgopal, 1993). CMM opposed the mechanization plans of Dalli- Rajhara mines by BSP management, and presented the alternative of semi-mechanised mining. By experimenting this alternative in Dalli-Rajhara mines CMM proved their claim of its being cost-effective and its superiority in terms of quality of the product, apart from protecting the employment of workers (Sadgopal, 1993). Niyogi considered full mechanisation as anti-national technology and semi-mechansation as patriotic technology. He  also distinguished ‘anti-national modernisation’ from patriotic modernisaton’ (Sadgopal, 1993).

The struggle for semi-mechanization against full mechanization launched by CMM since 1978-79 has raised fundamental questions regarding technological policies not only of India but of the third world countries in general. Niyogi, in a paper titled ‘Mines, Mechanization and People’ presented in a seminar organized by PUDR in 1983, argued against mindless mechanization and its broader social repercussions in terms of unemployment and   enhanced inequality. If there is a dearth of workers, mechanization is a boon, but if there is excess of them it is curse – he argued on the Gandhian line.

Politics of CMM

The red-green banner of CMM is the mark of its gelife in the revolutionary potential and role of the united force of workers and peasants under the leadership of a class – conscious working class. It aims at uniting the struggle for production with class struggle (Niyogi, 1991).

Niyogi believed that revolutionary political activities must be adequately supported by mass movements, mass organisations and mass-conciousness. None of the official communist parties ever recognised the ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement as Marxist and Niyogi was critical of reformism and adventurism of the communist parties, but he never abandoned Marxism as the guiding principle and scientific ideology (Sadgopal et. al, 1993). According to him, whenever a true Marxist Party is formed in India, CMM shall be in the forefront (Niyogi, 1991). CMM considers Marxism as a creative science and accepts dialectial materialism as the guiding principle to understand the world history which has been the history of class-struggle at different stages (Niyogi, 1991).

According to Niyogi, the present stage of ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement is that of democratic struggle. The working class gathers strength by participating in democratic struggles and acquires qualities to provide leadership to masses and forms a broad democratic front with peasants and other progressive sections of the society. In this phase of struggle, workers have also to fight against such tendencies which make their exploitation easier and deprive them of their fighting capacity. In Niyogi’s opinion, to end a political system, the first step is to demolish it at the ideological level by peaceful democratic struggles. After mobilisting the masses and raising the class  consciousness among them, the organised working class should lead the democratic front to the next phase of the movement, the people’s democratic struggle, in which an armed squad of peasants and workers defend the gains of democratic struggles. In the phase of the struggle, it gathers strength for the revolutionary struggle to  transform the socio-economic and political structures in the interest of the working masses (Niyogi, 1991). Niyogi rejected reformism as well as left adventurism in the communist movement. A reformist intrudes upon working class leadership with capitalist ideology whereas left adventurism undermines the strength of the enemy and does not have faith in the strengthof the masses and mass movements (Sadgopal, 1993). Niyogi’s critical attitude of established communist trends led him to emphasise the need for expansion of the organisations based on the principles of dialectical materialism. CMM accepts the basic principles the basic principles of Maxims-Leninism and Mao-tse Tung’s thought, but insists o translating them into the context fo Chhattisgarh Sadgopal et. al, 1993.)

In the words of A.K. Roy, ‘Niyogi, having gone through the experiences of all the three streams of India’s communist movement create the fourth stream -Sangharsh  Se Nirman,  Niyogi considered PWC and IPF close to his politics, his criticism of PWC being based on its total reliance on armed squads. In his view, armed struggle should be preceded by, and accompanied with, mass-mobilisations through intensifications of democratic struggles IPF in his opinion was moving towards revisionism’ (Sadgopal, 1993).

CMM considers participation in elections as a means of propagating revolutionary and democratic ideas and of mass education. CMM has been participating in elections since 1980 and in 1985 its candidate Janaklal Thakur was elected to M.P. assembly. For the purpose of mass education, CMM prepares specific literature. All the candidates supported by CMM have to take a pledge in public meeting to remain committed to the cause of creating an exploitantin free society and to stand uncorrupted in the face of allutements of personal gains (Sadgopal et. al, 1993).

CMM’s  notion of ‘New Chhattisgarh for a New India’resembles the Gandhian nation of the Indian state as the outermost circle of several coincentric circles with the individual at the centre and the willage as the innermost circle (Sadgopal, 1993). Niyogi made several efforts to establish a confederation of mass movements and grass root organisations. CMM continues coordination with movements like Narmada Bachao Andolan and Adivasi Mukti Sangathana, and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) under the leadership of Medha Patekar of NBA. It is a step in the direction of formation of an all-India confederation of peoples’organisations.


Role of mass movements for a qualitative change in socio-economic structures has been recognised for a long time. New, Niyogi added a new dimension to it and that is the integral relationship of Sangharsh aur Nirman. In a society based on exploitation, the Nirman, i.e. constructive  activities by workers in different in character from the programmes of Nirman (construction) by the ruling class. On the one hand it concretises the idea of an alternative society. On the other, it provides inspiration for struggles. As it is based not on the charity of the ruling class but on the strength of the struggles, it accentuates the workers’ disaffection towards the institutions of present socio-economic and political system and their desire to smash it and replace it by a new and just system. The experiences of Nirman enrich the workers ideologically and equip them with new strength for new struggles.

Thus, the ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement, repudiating the existing forms of trade union movements and their economic determinism, created a new model of the movement and combined the trade union movement with peasants’ struggles, social and political movements and the nationality question. It is a nationality movement, not for separate state but to create a new small and beautiful, exploitation free Chhattisgarh based on the principles of equality and justice in order to create a ‘New India’ as a confederation of such exploitation free small units. The CMM leadership, while adhering to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, insists on preparing its ‘Chhattisgarh edition’ in accordance with the local context and demands. It does not show typical apathy and detestation towards Gandhism as was usual for the Indian Marxism, Niyogi is on records, extensively, quoting Gandhi while proving correctness of CMM’s policy regarding mechanization, heavy industrialization and prohibition. CMM has picked up the progressive elements of Gandhism and has synthesized it with the principles of class-struggle. For socio-economic transformation of society, CMM relies on the strength of the masses and mass organizations and the leadership of the conscious working class. It distinguishes between the stages of democratic and people democratic struggles for political power. The working class has to create theoretical models   for future society and has to link the demand for the workers’ economic rights with the issues confronting other oppressed sections of society and eventually convert their movement into a comprehensive and all-encompassing nationality movement involving youth, students, women and peasants.

The ‘New Chhattisgarh’ movement, thus, presents a model for theoretical analysis at a time when the apologists of world capitalism are announcing the end of ideology and the traditional left, unable to grasp the dynamics of the world changing at a fast pace, is in a defeatist mood. History would acknowledge this unique contribution of Niyogi to the history of peoples’ movement.

Ish Mishra, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Hindu College, University of Delhi


Sadgopal, Anil and Namra, Shyam Bahadur (ed.), Sangharsh aur Nirman: Shaheed Shankar Guha Niyogi aur Unka Naye Bharat ka Sapana (Sangharsh aur Nirman, Henceforth), 1993, New Delhi

Williams, Raymond, Resource of Hope: Culture Democracy, Socialism, London, 1989.

Times of India, New Delhi 17 January, 1997

Patriot, New Delhi 25, Fed. 1991.

Varma, Bhagwan Singh, Chhattisgarh ka itihas : Rajnaitik aur SAnskritik (upto 1947), Bhopal, 1991,

Gupta, Madan Lal, Chhattisgarh Digdarshan, Vol. II, Durg, 1996.

Shukal, H. L., Social History of Chhattisgrah, Delhi, 1988.

Mishra, Ramendra, British Kaaleen Chhattisgarh Ka  Itihas Rajput Kingdoms of  Medieval Chhattisgarh’, JASB XV, 1919.

Niyogi, Marxvad Ka Mool Sootra, CMM publication, 1991.


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