Hoisting red flag amid green shadows

Peasant movement going from strength to strength

By: Farooq Tariq

The historic and victorious lawyer's movement was a rainbow of various political colour. One could see all sorts of political trends trying to give their colors to lawyer's movement. There were greens like Jamaat-I Islami and Muslim League Nawaz, reds like Labour Party and National Workers Party. There was tri-color Pakistan Peoples Party. Similarly, Tehreek Insaaf and some of the nationalist parties would join with their multi-coloured flags. Finally, the victory of the lawyer's movement was not seen as victory for a particular colour. Thus the victory brought partial successes for everybody but not a decisive one for anybody.

Now a new movement is building up. It is a peasant movement that going on for nine long years. And its colour is red.

On 17 April, thousands of peasants were flying red flags amid shadows of green-fields. But even importantly, during a period when politics has gone 'green'. Unlike West, the colour green in Pakistan signifies right-wing and Islamists.

At Okara Military Farms, when over 20,000 peasants and tenants gathered on April 17, it was the biggest red-dominated event in last three decades (police estimated 15,000). The event was organized by Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (AMP). The demand was simple: ''Give us the land we are cultivating for the last 100 years''.

They want to have ownership rights for 68000 acres of land, occupied by Military Farms management though the owner of the land is Punjab government.

Despite repeated assurances and promises by successive governments for last 61 years, the issue is still to be resolved. On April 17 that also was International Day of Peasants, the promise made by the late Benazir Bhutto, whose party rules Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif, whose party rules Punjab province, were discussed at the tent-city erected outside of Chack 4/4L at Okara Military Farms.

It was a scene beyond description. Peasants, clad in their traditional dresses, were reaching the venue brimming with emotions. They were dancing to Dhool-beats. The peasant leaders atop others shoulders, were taken to the platform. There were a lot of stalls set up especially for the event. A group was dressed all red. There were over three thousands peasant women. Nobody wearing any burqa, hijab or niqab. They were all sitting together and no so-called religious restrictions were accepted by them. Religious harmony was reflected by the fact that Muslim and Christian were attending and organizing the event together.

This was the fifth peasant convention in last three months. Over 30,000 peasants participated in these conventions in different parts of Punjab, demanding the land ownership. Three peasants were killed during this round of struggle and 27 injured when the gangsters of the military generals and other top officers opened fire on the peasants at Chack 28/RB at Kulyana Military Estate. The peasants responded by occupying the land leased to top military officers and distributing among the families of martyrs and injured ones. The top military officers wanted to crush   this uprising. They choose a wrong time and their estimation of the consequences of this brutal attack brought results just the opposite of their expectations. This incident has strengthened the movement and did not weaken it as they were hoping for.

This new round of struggle was started in the beginning of 2009 by reorganizing the AMP. The decision to form village-level committees proved absolutely correct. The suggestion to continue with the women in the lead was another fact that enthused the movement.     

The April 17 convention was addressed by the local leaders of AMP, Labour Party Pakistan and representatives of lawyer's movement. The local leadership of Pakistan Peoples Party also turned up, including the provincial labour minister. The labour minister must have seen the live coverage of the convention aired by GEO, Dunia, ARY and Dawn news channels. He must have been eager to show his face to the public. Unfortunate for him as when he arrived, the electronic media had left. He was not invited by the organizers. The presence of these PPP leaders at the convention shows the power of the movement where the leaders of bourgeois parties are eager to come to express hypocratic solidarity.

The speakers from AMP set dead line for the acceptance of their demand. The deadline announced was 21 May 2009, granting nearly 5 weeks to the government to act. These leaders declared that the long march would start from Multan and reach Lahore to Gherao the Chief Minister's secretariat. The AMP leaders are serious in their warning of a long march. They have marched several times during Musharaf dictatorship. They faced brutal treatment at the hands of the dictator's police but refused to budge. Seven tenants were killed during that repression, many more injured, arrested and implicated in fake cases. All these repressive measures could not disillusion the movement.

The historic gathering on 17 April is not just a one time event. It is continuation of the struggle launched in year 2000. Several large scale mass meetings have been organized in the last nine years but this one was the largest so for. It seems that all the peasants of the area were there. Several small scale farms that were not part of the movement decided yesterday to be part of the movement after what they say a peasant uprising on the making. It will influence all the peasants in Punjab particularly who are in the grip of feudal system and are eager to find a way out.

The gathering had nothing to do with the tactics used by the parties of the rich and feudal. These parties provide transport, food and some pocket money to most of the participants to have "mass" meetings. Here the peasants came on their tractors-trollies, motorcycles and cycles, by foot and in buses they rented after collecting the funds among themselves. There were peasants from Lahore, Sarghoda, and Faisalabad, Khanewal, Sahiwal, Pakpattan and Qasur district. There was not a single participant of this gathering that was brought directly by the organizers from other districts paying for their transport. There were plenty of small scale shops out side the venue where the peasants were buying their food.

One aspect of the convention was the sale of Weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (www.jeddojuhd.com). 440 copies sold at the convention showing the respect that the paper has build by providing its full cooperation to this movement.

The color of the flag of the AMP is red with their traditional image of plough. There were hundreds of red flags. Rafiq Saraf from Checha Watni, a veteran left leader in his eighties remarked that he could die in peace now. "I have never seen so many red flags in any event. I am sick and tired of seeing green flags of the conservatives and Islamic parties all over. It is good to see the red flag amid green shadows" he remarked.

A new movement is in the making. This time it is led by the progressive forces. It is building an alternative politics also. It is the most powerful movement of the progressive forces after long time in Pakistan. A class-based movement is spreading. It is not an abstract movement. It is very clear in its aims and objectives. It is not just demanding land for the tenants but challenging the hegemony of the politics of the rich. It is led by the peasants themselves. It is not any outsider that is making inroads in the movement. The leadership of AMP, many of them members of Labour Party, is committed to build the movement with a wider perspectives and linking it to end the feudal and capitalist system while introducing the superiority of Socialist ideas in practice.

It is movement that must be supported by all those who want a progressive Pakistan with the empowerment of the most down trodden strata of society. It is time to shed all the confusions and time to take a side. We have taken a side since 2000; it is your turn now.  


 

 

        Hearing the Unheard
  
                    Pictures

          
                  Posters
     

 

 


Labour Education Foundation