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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 28 New Delhi July 2, 2016

Shankar Guha Niyogi: 25 Years of Martyrdom

Friday 1 July 2016, by Arup Kumar Sen

Shankar Guha Niyogi, the legendary leader of workers in Chhattisgarh, was brutally murdered by the hired goons of industrialists in 1991. He started his political journey in the official Communist Parties in India and went beyond the frame of their politics. He was impressed by the Naxalbari peasant uprising, but severed his connection with the CPI (ML) as it decided to give farewell to mass organisations like trade unions.

Niyogi’s notion of trade unions was com-pletely different from that of traditional trade unions. He criticised the economism and political bankruptcy of Left trade unions. He believed that the trade unions should work in the workers’ slums to be a part of the social and cultural life of workers. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) founded by him tried to address the problems of women, alcoholism among workers, the land question and the questions of health and environmental protection. This holistic approach to trade union politics is a unique contribution to workers’ struggles in India. The CMM brought the ‘footloose’ mine workers of Chhattisgarh in the arena of struggle and posed a challenge to the captains of industry and the dominant paradigm of trade unionism.

The question of local development was an important element in the imagination of Niyogi. He argued that as most of the workers of Bhilai, Bokaro and Tata steel plants came from outside, the question of local development did not matter to them. In the course of his work, Niyogi made a thorough survey of the economy, language and culture of Chhattisgarh.

The flag of the CMM was designed to incorporate both red and green colours to highlight its mission of doing work among the workers and peasants. It may be mentioned in this connection that the CMM revived the local memory of martyrdom of Virnarayan Singh, who fought against the British rulers and the local oppressive merchants in 1856-57, to inspire people in their struggle.

Shankar Guha Niyogi is no more. But, his brainchild, the CMM, has created for us a rich legacy of creative workers’ struggles in India.

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