By Arun Srivastava
Political intervention and participating in the political process are two distinct different narrations. After eight months of farmers’ satyagrah, some people have started strongly advocating that the farmers must actively take to electoral politics and assert their physical might. Though they do not openly object to the farmers holding Kisan Sansad, they nurse the view that it at some level symbolised diminishing support.
Little doubt their concern, their anguish, is misplaced. The world history is full of the narratives of the peasant struggles and uprising. In India too we have before us many peasant struggles. Those uprisings entirely had a different perspective and dimension.
Early peasant movements were usually against the feudal and semi-feudal societies, and resulted in violent uprisings. But recent movements are much less violent, and their demands are centred on better prices for agricultural produce, better wages and working conditions for the agricultural labourers, and increasing the agricultural production. The economic policies of the British adversely affected the Indian peasants. The peasants in Bengal formed their union and revolted against the compulsion of cultivating indigo. Indigo rebellion is an important part of the peasants struggle in Bengal. Later under the leadership of the CPI, peasants in Bengal launched the tebhaga movement in 1940s.
The Kisan (farmer) Sabha movement started in Bihar under the leadership of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, who formed the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS) in 1929 to mobilise peasant grievances against the zamindari attacks on their occupancy rights. In 1938,the crops in Eastern Khandesh were destroyed due to heavy rains. The peasants were ruined. In order to get the land revenue waived, Sane Guruji organized meetings and processions in many places and took out marches to the Collector’s office. The peasants joined the revolutionary movement of 1942 in great numbers. It was a sort of political intervention.
We ought to realise the difference between the earlier peasant struggles and the current farmers’ movement. It farmers can effectively make political intervene but it would be really tough proposition for them to float their own political party for participating in the electoral process.
The farmers’ satyagrah that has been going on in India is of unique political nature and this type of movement has taken place in the past anywhere throughout the world. It has been sustaining also owes to its uniqueness. A look at the 40 odd farmers’ unions that constitute the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), spearheading the satyagrah would make it explicit that they nurse their own political ideologies and affiliations, but for the greater cause they have kept their political ideologies on back burners. This is in fact the primary reason for the success of the satryagrah and failure of the Modi government to break the unity of the farmers and finish the agitation.
Participants at the sansad reveal that Mandi system crumbling. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana spoke about how the mandi system is under duress. They narrate how a lot has changed since they first started protesting at Delhi’s borders in late November last year. A farmer from Haryana said mandis have stopped functioning in four districts in the state. Many also raised questions about the minimum support price (MSP) and how many farmers actually receive it. Speakers are emphatic; “Mandi system has its flaws but we were asking them to fix it. Instead, they’ve finished around 80 mandis in the state. It is eventually becoming completely privatised.”
“The government did not purchase moong and makki from farmers this year but procured it privately. By discouraging us to grow certain crops, they are indirectly encouraging private players. This is what happened with soya bean oil, which is now only produced privately and costs around Rs 250 per litre. Earlier, it was lower than Rs 100. If no one else grows it, private players hoard it and the price keeps increasing.” He added that farmers and labourers struggled during the second wave of Covid as they did not receive their dues, nor could they approach courts.
Holding of the Kisan Sansad that too participated by mere 200 farmers apparently may look like a desperate attempt to keep alive the movement. To some extent they may be right in their perceptions. But it cannot be denied that it is the best mechanism to counter the canard of the Modi government that farmers have no alternative to the existing three black laws to place before the country. The Kisan Sansad protest is running parallel to the proceedings at Sansad Bhawan barely a kilometre away.
All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah rightly pointed out; “We are showing them how to conduct a Parliament with knowledgeable discussions. The government says the farmers are uneducated, they say they need to educate the farmers about the impact of these three farm laws. Listen to the debates here. Is it not clear that the farmers have understood how their lives and livelihoods will be hurt by these laws?”
This will also make the common farmers conscious of the spirit and dynamics of their movement. Speakers have been laying out their charges against the three laws, that they were unconstitutional, that they were enacted using undemocratic practices, and that they will devastate the rural economy.
No doubt maha-panchayats enthused, aroused and motivated the farmers. But with movement entering into a new phase where the farmers would be faced with the challenges to explain the rational of the movement, with the announcement of the electoral battle, it becomes imperative that a comprehensive effort should be made to educate them with the correct ideological inputs and feedback.
The gains of the initiative could be made out from the speech of Jasbir Kaur, committee member of Punjab Kisan Union, at the Sansad. She was one of only seven women among the protestors on Thursday. She underlined; “These laws will lead to the end of the existing mandi system and MSP procurement. It will result in farmers, agricultural labourers and mandi workers being deprived of their jobs. And when the private mandis come, replacing the government mandis, their infrastructure will only benefit Ambani and Adani, not farmers,”
“If the fields and crops of this country go into the hands of corporates, if they take control of our harvests and our grain, then it is the people who will go hungry and face starvation. That is why this is the protest not just of farmers, but of the people. This is a jansansad,” said Raminder Singh Patiala, a leader of the Kirti Kisan Union. Half of the protestors were from Punjab, where the agitation has been strongest, with the other half hailing from other States.
“These laws are actually dead already, but we still need the government to issue the death certificate,” said Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav. He warned Opposition MPs, who have been issued a “voters whip” by the farmers that if they fail to take up the issue continuously in Parliament, they will face the same farmers’ boycott as BJP MPs. It was quite significant that while the Parliament session was ongoing, more than 20 MPs from Kerala arrived at the Kisan Sansad to express their solidarity. But they were not allowed to speak at the Kisan Sansad. This is in fact the strength of the movement.
The farmers’ movement has been consistently striving to protect the democratic institutions from being subverted and reinvigorate the political system. Farmer leaders going around the country must not be construed as their weakness. This was their fraternal gesture for conjuring the voters and common people not to support the BJP which has been jeopardising their economic interest. The farmers’ of Punjab and Haryana could well had organised their but it is a matter to ponder seriously what impact it would had on the farmers of other states. Only a visit to the states would have made the sceptics to realise how much the visits had enthused and rejuvenated the farmers of that states.
Rakesh Tikait, who heads a large faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in western Uttar Pradesh correctly holds that the arrival of farmers at Jantar Mantar was a sign of progress. “The distance between us and the parliament is constantly reducing, we are just a few hundred metres away now,” he said.
The Kisan Sansad has attained importance for one important reason. This has provided the much needed opportunity to the women representatives to express their views and it was encouraging to notice that they were more incisive and focused than the male leaders. Their presence also negated the insinuated campaign against the satyagrah by the BJP leaders.
It is worth noting that forty-five speakers spoke on the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020. This is for the first time in the history of Independent India that a parliament of farmers was in session simultaneously with the Indian Parliament. Already farmer from 20 states have reached the agitation site and as Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav informed that farmers from more states would come to the capital to take part in the Sansad.
Benoy Thomas of Vellad village in Kerala’s Kannur district said, “I am a lawyer, but I cultivate two acres in my village. According to the Essential monsoon session barricades Commodities (Amendment) Act, any person can now store agricultural produce without limit. This will lead to hoarding and during wars or pandemics, the government may not be able to provide food grain to the poor.” Joy Kannanchira added that farmers had been protesting against the farm bills across Kerala.
Holding of Kisan Sansad is also important for the reason that it has brought farmers’ agitation to the vicinity of Parliament. While the BJP and Modi government has been making “brazen” attempts to “stifle” farmers’ voices and finish the protest, the Kisan Sansad heralds a new beginning of the farmers’ agitation. (IPA Service)