By Kanak Tiwari
Nationally acclaimed fire-brand trade union leader of Chhattisgarh fell victim to brutal bullets of assassins in early hours of 28th September 10 years ago. A 12 bore ‘desi katta’ with silencer fitted into it silenced the most vocal protagonist of the downtrodden causes in the eastern Madhya Pradesh although he was acquiring dimensions of a much bigger leader. Niyogi had started living in a small house in Hudco colony adjoining the mighty Bhilal Steel Plant township.
The murderers reportedly drove in a ‘hackneyed’ jeep seen by a BSP employee who was taking his ailing wife to hospital around 3.30 a.m. This colony mainly comprising retired and working employees of the plant consists of tiny and moderate size houses in a thickly populated area. It is deplorable that ‘gasti police’ in the fateful night was not deployed in the entire Durg-Bhilai twin city areas.
Driver Sarkar had parked the union’s car in its office about a kilometer from Niyogi’s rented ground floor apartment. The assassins broke open the windows nearby where, Niyogi was sleeping on an ordinary wooden cot. Six bullets reportedly pierced into his neck and back seriously injuring him. On screams of Niyogi, Bahal rushed in and seeing his leader profusely bleeding ran to the neighbours and drove him in the union’s car to nearby Steel Plant hospital. Niyogi succumbed to the injuries half way to the hospital. The news spread like wildfire. Niyogi’s supporters, leaders and workers of all political hue gathered in thousands in front of the mortuary where his body was being postmortemed.
It was the biggest political murder in Chhattisgarh region of M.P. in trade union movement. Niyogi had become a matinee idol among the downtrodden sections of the society in Chhattisgarh and particularly in Dalli-Rajhara among non-departmental mine workers whom he consolidated as their messiah. Ordinary wage earners at Rs. 3/- per day committed to the vice of drinking and gambling started earning up to 75 rupees per day. He not only built a fairly good private hospital but operated schools, created environment consciousness and horticulture and involved them in several profitable activities of cottage industries and the like. His death has created a void that can not be fulfilled. Niyogi’s death was mourned in innumerable numbers.
A crowd exceeding 50,000 had gathered at the cremation site at Rajhara where his body lay on an open truck with halo of a hero. The slogan “Comrade Niyogi Amar Rahe, Amar Rahe” ranted in the airs. Not a single policeman was deployed despite possible violent reaction among his followers. Chhattisgarh Mines Sharamik Sangh and Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha volunteers-the institutions founded by Niyogi-had displayed inexplicable and memorable self restraint and maintained a much superior level of law and order which an organized police force may envy.
Dinesh Kumar-alias-Shankar Guha Niyogi had reached Bhilai around over 40 years ago after graduation from Calcutta. After a brief stint as a shepherd boy and mine worker Niyogi, stepped into the trade union movement-his avowed goal and destiny. He was also branded a Naxalite and put into jail. He was severely beaten up by police and rival trade unionists.
The liquor lobby virtually had killed him due to his tirade against social evil of drinking but Niyogi with undaunted spirit was emerging day by day invincible. He was gradually establishing himself among the contractual mine workers at Rajhara- a sleepy docile little town in a tribal area about 90 kilometers from Bhilai. Despite the Contract Labour (Regulation And Abolition) Act having been passed by the parliament during the tenure of the powerful steel minister Mohan Kumarmanglam, the agony of the mine workers was immense. Niyogi decided to take on any amount of challenges.
He founded Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh to realize the dreams of the mines workers as future citizens of civilized society. The response was tremendous. Niyogi’s detractors alleged that he was a former Naxalite who was transplanted into Rajhara trade union movement by some mining and transport contractors otherwise opposed to abolishing the contract labour system. Niyogi adopted a seemingly complex technique comprising admixture of violence, adventure, persuasion and aggression in trade union movement. Niyogi used Chhattisgarhi dialect among his comrades and lived like an ordinary labour and drew a meager monthly salary of Rs. Eight hundred from the union office as its organizing secretary.
Niyogi, however, stretched his legs to farther areas upto Baradwar and Hirri Mines in Bilaspur district, BNC Mills-the only textiles mills in Chhattisgarh region as also Archana Potteries at Rajnandgaon and various other odd places in Chhattisgarh upto Bastar district. His seemingly adamant approach would affect the employer when Niyogi would offer a face to face dialogue across the table which he would often turn on the adversary due to his enviable knowledge of trade union laws and mechanism of every important data of the industry.
Niyogi supporters have caused numerous agitations, boycotts, dharnas, strikes and lockouts for months together reminiscent of a Datta Samant but would not desert their leader as he constantly remained their bread winner even during the strike periods. Niyogi would see to it that not only, the striking workers are fed in make shift measures but the dependents get medicines during ailment.
Niyogi was never content raising demands merely within the framework of applicable laws, rules and regulations but to attract the followers would also ask for impossible things to be fulfilled according to the employers. Of late Niyogi had stepped into rather an elevated phase of his life. He had not remained, though not ceased, a mere trade union leader. His liaison was supreme and enviable.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the Jharkand Mukti Morcha, Narmada Bachao Andolan, several other human organizations like Uttara Khand Bachao Sangharshha Samiti etc. found in Niyogi a cementing force to create something like a federal of all the voluntary organizations in the country to dump in sidelines the recognized political parties as irrelevant in the new system that even according to Niyogi was to emerge.
He also apprehended that the BJP administration may settle scores with him. Patwa government did activate the police machinery and warrants of arrests were issued from different courts when Niyogi and his compatriots were reportedly not attending the hearings in scores of criminal cases filed against them due to militant trade union activities. Niyogi supporters swung into action after the leader refused to be bailed out. High Court of M.P. came to their rescue and quashed almost allthe orders even passing strictures in some cases. Patwa government initiated externment proceedings against Niyogi in a desperate bid to throw him out of territories of all the seven districts of Chhattisgarh.
Government action again was challenged in the High Court and the government proceedings were thrown into dustbin of oblivion due to an emphatically worded High Court verdict. Niyogi emerged victorious. The local administration was sandwiched in the light of two giants Chief Minister Patwa and his hater Shankar Guha Niyogi.
As a matter of fact Niyogi was making efforts to settle the dispute of Bhilai to take up further assignments particularly about environmental pollution in various parts of the country. In a way Niyogi was at the threshold of undergoing a ‘nemesis’ of his personality, a complete transformation from a trade union leader to a social reformist. His march from alleged Naxalism to chosen Gandhism was not a retreat but a rebirth from political pathos to societal sublimity. He was an artist and scholar too. He made several valuable presents, of course, his own creations.
The very names of Niyogi’s children Jeet, Kranti and Mukti were symbolic of his dynamic personality. Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and senior leaders like Ramkrishna Hegde, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav and Purshottam Kaushik camped at Rajhara to find out a logical conclusion of their ageold relationship with Niyogi. Niyogi was very deeply hurt due to assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and wrote lengthy articles in the local newspapers concluding Rajiv Gandhi as the last and lost hope for modern India.
After his release from the nefarious National Security Act during Congress regime Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also called Niyogi and was convinced of his approach to the workers’ problems. Niyogi was branded by his detractors in the same breath as a naxalite, a CIA agent, a KGB agent, a reactionary, an anti-Marxist and an illusory leader and what not.
But millions of workers are left rudderless in the deep oceans of uncertainties as their sailor has been drowned by some dungeon hands.
(Kanak Tiwari is seniour advocate in Chhattisgarh)
Views are personal.
(Article First Published at Hitavada)