Vinod Nikole in Dahanu: Left victory with a history

Print edition : November 22, 2019

The CPI (M)'s candidate Vinod Nikole at a victory rally in Dahanu along with Ashok Dhawale (left), national president of the All India Kisan Sabha. Photo: by special arrangement

THE inspirational quote “from small things come big victories” encapsulates the victory of Vinod Nikole, a poor peasant who contested the Maharashtra Assembly election on the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ticket from the Dahanu (Scheduled Tribe) seat. It was the only seat won by the Left in the State in the elections held on October 21.

Nikole, 48, defeated the incumbent Member of the Legislative Assembly, Pascal Dhanare of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), by a margin of 4,742 votes. Nikole is a member of the State Committee of the CPI(M) and has been a party whole-timer for the past 15 years. He is the State secretary and the Thane-Palghar district secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and until recently was a member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India State committee. The interesting fact is that he was one of the 40,000 peasants who participated in the 200-kilometre-long march from Nashik to Mumbai organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in March 2018 to highlight agricultural distress.

Activists of the CPI(M) and its mass fronts such as the AIKS, the CITU and the All India Democratic Women’s Association and political parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party, Hitendra Thakur’s Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA), the Congress and the Kashtakari Sanghatana banded together loosely to ensure that the BJP was defeated in the six Assembly seats in the coastal Palghar district in western Maharashtra. The BJP’s two sitting MLAs lost. Of the six seats, the BJP’s alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, won Palghar, the BVA Vasai, Nalasopara and Boisar and the NCP Vikramgad.

The CPI(M) had been elected from the Dahanu seat nine times since 1978, and it was only in 2014 that it lost to the BJP. Reclaiming it has been more than just a moral or a political victory. It is almost like a right given the history of the region.

Although there are still many orchards and agricultural land in the district, Palghar is industrialised. The days when it was an agriculturist’s paradise, it was also farm labourers’ nightmare. Tyrannical landlords ruled the local Adivasis. Slavery, torture, bonded labour and rape were the accepted ways. Land was a common resource among Adivasis. Ownership was alien to them, but new laws permitted land ownership. The unlettered Adivasis suffered as their ancestral lands were taken away with a mere thumb impression on a document that they could not read.

That is, until the Warli Adivasi movement was initiated in the 1940s. Godavari and Shamrao Parulekar were both Communist Party members committed to an oppression-free, egalitarian society. After initial meetings with Adivasis, a plan unfolded to band them together. In 1945, at a meeting at Zari village, a decision was taken that no Adivasi would work for less than one rupee for eight hours of work and a one-hour break for lunch. The Warlis went on strike to see that this was implemented, and the landlords had no choice but to agree. But Adivasis paid a price for this.

At first the strike worked, with about 15,000 grass-cutter Adivasis refusing to cut grass. It was a masterstroke because the grass was needed by the dairy industry. It was so successful that the Milk Commissioner of the erstwhile Bombay State and landlords tried to work out a compromise wage rate, but the Parulekars recognised this as a ploy to water down the movement and refused the deal. This is when it turned dirty. Rumours were spread by agents of the landlords that Godavari Parulekar had organised a large meeting and that there was a plan to attack her and so Adivasis must arm themselves to protect her.

Believing that they were protecting their beloved Godutai, about 30,000 Adivasis gathered armed with axes, lathis, bamboo poles and spears. The alarmed administration tried to disperse them. Shots were fired and five Warli men were killed and many were injured. The Talwada firings are now part of the oral history among Warlis. The larger significance of this was that it firmly cemented the relationship between the Kisan Sabha and the Adivasis, a relationship that continues to this day, which is why the victory of the CPI(M)’s Nikole was so appropriate.

 

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