By Dr Prakash Louis
Freedom fighter and martyr, Bhagat Singh who inspired and continues to inspire millions of Indians to fight for a democratic, secular, egalitarian Indian society and polity had declared, “Freedom is not when the rule is taken over from the white man to brown man. This is only transfer of power. Real freedom is when the person who works on land does not go to bed hungry, the person who nits clothes does not remain naked and the person who builds houses does not remain homeless”.
It is heartening to see that the farmers’ protest and movement has once again generated in the lives and works of freedom fighters and martyrs of this country. In the decades of 1990s and 2000, there was total vacuum of leadership and inspiration and the country and society, polity and economy went haywire. Not democratic, secular and socialist politics but party politics, electoral politics, politics of compromise, politics of convenience and degraded and deceitful politics became the way of life and politics of the country.
In the last one decade, the constitutional values, national culture of harmony and priority to the weaker sections was thrown to the winds on the one hand, downgrading of rural reconstruction and nation building and doing away with people and poor oriented policies and programs on the other hand. There erupted the protest against CAA coordinated by the spontaneous efforts of students and youth in solidarity with the civil society and conscious citizens of the country. This opened up avenues and opportunities for conscious, committed and consistent resistance to say “NO” to all the sinister moves of the present regime and to say “YES” to all the progressive and liberative forces to wrest the country from this cowardice coterie of ruling elite.
Farmers of the country have shown that this fascist but frightened government has to be fought at all fronts and by all the citizens of the country cutting across caste, class, gender, religion, region, political affiliation etc. What is heartening is that students and youth instead of following the path of MBA and Engineering courses to settle in foreign land have jumped in the ‘Satyagraha’ that is going on in this country.
Ismat Ara, writing in The Wire under the title, “Indiscriminate Arrests Show That the State Is Scared: Nodeep Kaur” highlighted the issue that is haunting the country under this fascist, autocratic, authoritarian, undemocratic and scared government. It is reported that Nodeep Kaur, speaking at a press conference after her release on bail said that anyone who raises their voice is being labelled and booked under stringent laws.
She was speaking at a press conference organised on Monday by 37 groups to discuss “repression by state forces” and to demand the release of Shiv Kumar, president of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan and other “political prisoners”, including those arrested post the riots in Delhi. Along with Kaur, speakers included Shiv Kumar’s father Rajbir, freelance journalist Mandeep Punia and some representatives of trade and farmers’ unions and civil society groups.
Kaur, a 24-year-old activist from the Dalit community, thanked journalists for raising the issue of her arrest and torture in police custody. “But just because I am out of jail, doesn’t mean our fight is over. Our demands are still unmet, we Dalit workers still go to sleep hungry,” she said. Further, commenting on the new labour laws that were passed soon after the three farm laws, she said that making a workers’ union or protesting and demanding fair wages can never be unlawful.
She in clear and categorial terms pointed out to the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the present government. “The government benefits from dividing us into Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. They say that Hindus are in danger because of Muslims. But when you go on the ground, a common person only wants some food and shelter. Nobody cares about creating a separate state. They just want to fill their stomach before they go to sleep,” she said, referring to the government and BJP leaders’ attempts to claim that the farmers’ protest is being led by “Khalistanis” and “terrorists”.
This fact needs to be pointed out to the andhabhakts (blind followers) of the BJP and RSS affiliates that while the government makes all efforts to divide its citizens in the name of religion and region, caste and class, language and land, haves and havenots, ‘deshbhakts and deshdrohis’, ‘hindustanis and pakistanis’, etc. They are doing this not for saving this country, neither are they interested in saving ‘Hindus’ but to sell this land to the corporates and enjoy the kickbacks they get out of it.
Broad Basing the Farmers Movement
Against this evil plan, the farmers movement has raised its voice and has relentlessly fought for the last 100 years and is ready to fight till the end. As reported, farmers’ unions under the Samyukt Kisan Morcha banner and 10 Central trade unions have agreed to carry out a joint campaign, combining their demands and planning common actions. This decision was taken at a meeting of representatives from both sides on 01/03/2021, Monday evening.
The meeting decided to undertake a joint campaign, with five common demands: three demands from the farmers’ side:1) Repeal of the farm reform laws, 2) Withdrawal of Electricity Bill and 3) Legal guarantee for MSP; and two demands from the workers’ side: a) Withdrawal of the labour codes and 2) Stop privatisation. Speaking about the outcome of the joint meeting, All India Kisan Sabha treasurer Krishnaprasad, said, “This is a politically significant meeting at this juncture. Even those [the farm unions] who only joined the agitation on the farm laws are recognising that this is part of a wider reform package, as the government is openly saying. So we must also fight it together,” he added.
All India Trade Union Congress General Secretary, Amarjeet Kaur said that farmers and workers’ representatives discussed the possibility of coming out with a joint statement and programme, which would be announced after the farmers’ meeting on Tuesday. She said the trade unions suggested certain programmes, including observing March 15th as “anti-privatisation day”. The martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru on March 23rd could also be observed jointly, she said.
It is significant to note that the ruling party has betrayed the ‘annadata’ (Food Provider) and labelled them ‘aandolanjivi’ (Agitating beings). On the other hand, the opposition parties are clueless and frightened of being subjected to income scrutiny are keeping quiet. At this depressing political scenario, it is the farmers, students, youth, civil and secular organisations who are forging joint alliances to resist every divisive and disruptive move of the present government. The farmers movement going beyond their own interest is aligning on caste, class, tribal, women, student, youth and political prisoners’ issues.
The Heritage of Farmers Movement in India
India has a rich history of farmers’ agitation and movements. All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), that is, All India Farmers Union, also known as the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, was the name of the peasants front of the Communist Party of India, an important peasant movement formed by Sahajanand Saraswati in 1936 in Bihar. The Kisan Sabha movement started in Bihar under the leadership of Sahajanand Saraswati had formed in 1929 the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS) in order to mobilise peasant grievances against the zamindari attacks on their occupancy rights, and thus sparking the farmers’ movements in India. Bihar which is usually seen as one of the backward states of India, had shown the seed for peasant resistance.
Historical records testify to this fact that gradually the peasant movement intensified and spread across the rest of India. The formation of Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in 1934, helped the Communists to work together with the Indian National Congress (INC). Then in April 1935, noted peasant leaders N.G.Ranga and E.M.S.Namboodripad then Secretary and Joint Secretary respectively of South Indian Federation of Peasants and Agricultural Labour, suggested the formation of an all-India farmers body. Due to the consistent efforts by some of the leaders, soon all these radical developments culminated in the formation of the AIKS at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress on 11th April 1936 with Sahajanand Saraswati elected as its first President.
The following were the people who were in the forefront of these efforts: Ranga, Namboodiripad, Karyanad Sharma, Yamuna Karjee, Yadunandan Sharma, Rahul Sansrityayan, P. Sundarayya, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev and Bankim Mukherjee, etc. The Kisan Manifesto released in August 1936, demanded the abolition of the zamindari system and cancellation of rural debts. In October 1937, it adopted red flag as its banner. Soon, its leaders became increasingly distant with Congress, and repeatedly came in confrontation with Congress governments, in Bihar and United Province. In May 1942, with the formation of the Communist Party of India (CPI), which was finally AIKS was taken over by it and peasant movement spread all over India.
Mahatma Gandhi was one of the leaders who kept his focus on rural India and Indian agriculture. Gandhian thought realised this fact that the backgrounds of industry and of agriculture are different. Agriculture will prosper only when farming communities are able to feed themselves and their neighbors and are able to supply decent surplus to urban areas when villagers don’t feel the need to leave villages and go to cities. When de-urbanization starts happening that will be the decade for agriculture. When we have good agriculture, agro-industry, non-farm cottage industry in rural areas and in totality, as a holistic approach to agriculture, that’s when Indian agriculture will prosper. He suggested cultivation of cash crops such as cotton and castor, as they could be processed in the villages, and could foster an agro-based processing industry there.
But the country and its politicians instead of promoting rural India and its agriculture, opted to ape the west and gave priority to industrialisation. While modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation grew over a period in western countries, in India, these were as if short circuited. Though governments after governments paid lip service to rural India, farmers and agriculture, none of them really gave impetus through various policies and programs to decaying Indian farming sector. Individuals and non-governmental institutions tried to introduce agro-industry, but lack of finance and due to red tapism and corruption, even these efforts were defeated.
It is pertinent to remind ourselves that during the historical sedition trial of 1922, Gandhiji had identified himself as a farmer and weaver by profession in a special court at Ahmedabad. His declaration for the Navjivan Trust in Ahmedabad, in November 1929, read: “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Age 60 years, Hindu, profession weaving and farming”. Though due to freedom struggle he had to keep moving, he kept his heart close to rural India.
Hind Swaraj, written in 1909 was Gandhi’s first major work explaining his world view and his critique of modern civilisation with full force. In its original Gujarati writing, it declared: “In your opinion, India means few princes. To me, it means millions of farmers on whom depend the existence of its princes and our own.” Further, in the same writing, he hailed farmers as those already practising Satyagraha. “Farmers have never been subdued by the sword, and never will be. They do not know the use of sword, and they are not afraid by the use of it by others….The fact is that farmers, the masses have generally used Satyagraha in their own as well as in the state’s matters.”
Historically speaking, most of Gandhi’s Satyagraha movements before the Dandi March, that is, 1930 were directly related to the issues of farmers: Champaran, Kheda, Borsad, Bardoli. But he was against mixing politics with farmers’ issues. Noting the importance and sheer majority of farmers in the working hands of the country, Gandhi wrote, “the kisans should be the Congress. But they are not. When they become conscious of their non-violent strength, no power on earth can resit them”.
It is expedient to clarify this statement that Gandhiji was against mixing politics with farmers’ issues. What is meant by this statement is that farmers’ issues are fundamental and basic. Neither the farmers nor others can drag the issues of the farmers into party politics, politics that is devoid of struggles of common people depended on agriculture. It does not fall within the realm of petty politics which is limited by immediate benefits or electoral benefits. In contrast, farmers struggle has to be pegged at the level of a national satyagraha.
Coming from another background and thought process, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar persuasively argued in his 1918 article that the solution to rural stress is rapid industrialization: “In short, strange as it may seem, industrialization of India is the soundest remedy for the agricultural problems of India. The cumulative effects of industrialization, namely a lessening pressure (of surplus labour) and an increasing amount of capital and capital goods will forcibly create the economic necessity of enlarging the holding. Not only this, but industrialization, by destroying the premium on land, will give rise to few occasions for its sub-division and fragmentation. Industrialization is a natural and powerful remedy…”
Dr. Ambedkar’s views on land holding, collective farming and land revenue are even today considered most useful and thought provoking. Ambedkar argued, land was only one of the many factors of production and the productivity of one factor of production is dependent upon the proportion in which the other factors of production are combined. In his words: ‘the chief object of an efficient production consists in making every factor in the concern contribute its highest; and it can do that only when it can cooperate with its fellow in the required capacity.
Moreover, the problem therefore rests on the inadequacy of other factors of production. The insufficiency of capital needed for acquiring ‘agricultural stock and implements’ arises from savings. There is almost a prophetic statement made by him long before modem theorists of development systematised notions of disguised unemployment or under-employment: “A large agricultural population with the lowest proportion of land in actual cultivation means that a large part of the agricultural population is superfluous and idle”. Even if the lands are consolidated and enlarged and cultivated through capitalistic enterprise, it will not solve the problem as it will only aggravate the evils ‘by adding to our stock of idle labour’.
As a remedy to rectify the agricultural sector of India, Dr. Ambedkar suggested nationalisation of land. After observing the unequal holdings and persistence of tenancy with unfair rents and uncertain tenures, by 1947’Ambedkar came out with radical solution of nationalisation of land and collective farming. He felt that neither consolidation of holdings nor tenancy legislation contributes for improving agricultural productivity.
From the data available to him in 1940s and 50s, Dr. Ambedkar recommended the organisation of agriculture on the following lines: 1) The state should divide the land acquired into farms of standard size and let out the farms for cultivation to residents of the village as tenants, made up of group of families. These tenants may cultivate the land on the following conditions: (a) The farm should be cultivated as a collective farm; (b) The farm should be cultivated in accordance with rules and directions issued by the government; (c) The tenants should share among themselves in the manner prescribed the produce of the farm left after the payment of charges leviable on the farm. 2) The land should be let out to villages without any distinction of caste or creed and in such a manner that there should be no landlord, no tenant, and no landless labourer. 3) It should be the obligation of the State to finance the cultivation of the collective farms by way of supply of water, draught animals, manure, seeds, etc. in order to increase the agricultural output. 4) To prescribe penalties against tenants, who break the conditions of tenancy by willfully neglecting to make the best use of the means of cultivation offered by the State or otherwise work prejudicially to the scheme of the collective farming.
Dr. Ambedkar not only put forward his thoughts on land holding and productive agriculture sector for the ills of India but also demanded that this too be implemented along with the implementation of the Constitution of India. It is not surprising that the Indian parliament then entrenched with landlord class was not ready to take to this path. Though very revolutionary if this was followed, it would not have led to this sorry state of economic and employment affairs of the country.
Farmers’ Movement and Lessons to Save India
The present Farmers’ Movement in India has reached 100 days of its struggle on 4th March, 2021. In a movement where millions of people are involved, to steer the movement, to streamline the movement and to strengthen the movement is not an easy task. But the farmers who are involved, the leaders of farmers unions, the citizens of the country and the civil society, students and youth have shown great grit and dignity to carry forward the farmers’ movement against the regime that indulges in naming, shaming, blaming and deforming.
The broad basing of the demands of the farmers itself is an indication of the great democratic and integrity of the movement. As of 2 March 2021, the farmers’ demands include:
- Convene a special Parliament session to repeal the farm laws
- Make Minimum Support Price (MSP) and state procurement of crops a legal right
- Give assurance that conventional procurement system will remain unaltered
- Implement SwaminathanPanel Report and peg MSP at least 50% more than weighted average cost of production
- Cut diesel prices for agricultural use by 50%
- Repeal of Commission on Air Quality Management in NCR and the adjoining Ordinance 2020 and removal of punishment and fine for stubble burning
- Release of farmers arrested for burning paddy stubble in Punjab
- Abolish the Electricity Ordinance 2020
- Centre should not interfere in state subjects, decentralization in practice
- Withdrawal of all cases against and release of farmer leaders
- Release of all the other political prisoners.
Not withstanding these, the farmers have gone far beyond their issues and have demanded that the democratic, unitary, secular and socialist fabric of this country and the constitution should not be tampered with. They have not only demanded the release of union leaders falsely detained but are also demanding the release and withdrawal of all cases against farmer leaders, CAA protestors, human right activists, poets, intellectuals and writers. It is pertinent to note that this struggle has become a national movement to reestablish an inclusive and egalitarian Indian polity, economy, culture and society.
The Farmers’ Movement has also utilised the cultural ethos of this country. February 23rd was observed as ‘Pagadi Sambhal Diwas’ (Hold Turban High Day) and February 24 as ‘Daman Virodhi Diwas’, essentially to underline that farmers must be respected and no “repressive measures” should be taken against them. Due to their dignified manner of protest, thousands of protesting farmers touched the hearts of Mumbaikars with their quiet dignity during the long march this week as shown in this picture.
Langars (Sikh Food Sharing Centre) which were synonymous with sharing food with all those without any discrimination have once again teaches lessons to the Indians who are trying to divide the citizens. Scores of langars and makeshift kitchens that have been deployed by farmer’s organizations and NGOs to meet the food needs of the tens of thousands of farmers in the farmers-camps at the borders of Delhi after the Delhi Police barred the farmers from entering the city on 26 November 2020. These langars work round the clock and provide free food without distinction of caste, class, or religion. Along with the langars, a makeshift school has been set up at the camp, mostly for children who are unable to attend school due to financial issues and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. When the rulers of the country want to divide the citizens on the basis of caste, class, ethnicity, religion, region and gender, the farmers and the citizens of the country are putting up an united front.
Mahapanchayats or Village Council Meetings organised by local farmers and attend by leaders has established a fact that all the citizens irrespective of caste, class, religion and political affiliation are together to defeat this government. Fear is replaced by force in rural India. One of the statement that is repeated is “We regret having voted BJP to power”.
Farmers’ Movement also taught a lesson to not to pay heed to the irresponsible utterances of the politicians and government officials. Union Minister Piyush Goyal on Saturday said the agitation no longer remains a farmers’ movement as it has been “infiltrated by Leftist and Maoist elements” demanding the release of those put behind bars for “anti-national activities”. This, he said, was clearly to derail agriculture reforms brought by the government. Railway minister should have been concerned about restarting the train services, instead of blaming the farmers.
The Famers’ Movement has also taught a lesson that one need to be cautious and careful from the fake news manufactured by the government and vested interests. Some of them went on to spread allegations of separatism, sedition and ‘anti-national’ activities. For instance, the general secretary of the BJP, Dushyant Kumar Gautam alleged slogans of “Khalistan Zindabad” and “Pakistan Zindabad” being used during the protest. On 28th November, the Haryana Chief Minister declared that “unwanted elements” like radical Khalistan sympathizers have been seen among the peacefully and democratically protesting farmers. These allegations were supported by news outlet, Times Now.
Several BJP politicians, including Union Minister Giriraj Singh shared a video of police officials removing the turban of a Sikh protester, and falsely claimed that the protester was not Sikh but was in fact Muslim, and further claimed that this was evidence of Muslims instigating protests. Against some of these media stooges, the Editors Guild of India asked the media not label protesting farmers as “Khalistanis” or “anti-nationals” saying that “This goes against the tenets of responsible and ethical journalism. Such actions compromise the credibility of the media”.
Interestingly, opposition to the claims of conspiracy has been voiced from within the BJP too. BJP leader Surjit Singh Jyani, who was part of a committee that negotiated with several farmers unions, vocally opposed the claims, stating, “This type of language should be avoided. We know many farmers groups are Left-leaning but branding them tukde tukde gang and anti-national will not end the deadlock.” Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena leader, Uddhav Thackeray has voiced opposition to the labelling of protesters as “anti-national”, pointing to some confusion among BJP leaders about the source of the allegations of conspiracy. He stated that, “BJP leaders should decide who farmers are – are they Leftists, Pakistanis, or they have come from China.” The conspiracy claims have also been opposed by the Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress politician, Ashok Gehlot who urged the government to come to an “amicable solution” with protesting farmers “…instead of blaming gangs, anti-national elements for these protests.”
Taken together, it needs to be reiterated that a cowardice government takes to false propaganda, blame game, accusing the opposition, security threat, pretended willingness to come to negotiating table, fainting ignorance of all the ground swell, hiking petrol-diesel-gas prices, etc. Further, a desperate and despondent government hides behind ‘Toolkit’ hysteria by arresting a 21 year old environmental activist.
National and inter-national pressure to release Disha Ravi finally forced the government to release this young activist. Her own courage has highlighted the fact that there are scores of students and youth who are willing to stick their neck out to defend Indian Constitution and its values of democracy, pluralism, socialism and republic. “Saare Jahan se Achcha Hindustan Hamara is not just from the Red Fort on August 15th but in every Indians lips and lives”.
Prakash Louis is Founder of Indian Christians for Democracy