Dr Ashok Dhawale
The unprecedented Kisan struggle that began on November 26, 2020, has been the largest, the longest and the most powerful nationwide farmers’ struggle in the history of Independent India. This struggle has several distinctive features.
First, it is led by over 500 farmers’ organisations in the country, who have united under the platform of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM). All sections of the peasantry have joined together.
Second, it has combated tremendous repression from BJP state governments in the form of teargas shells, water cannons, lathi charges, and after the government-sponsored violence in Delhi on January 26, the indiscriminate arrests of farmers, FIRs against farmer leaders, eminent journalists, arrests of climate activists, ED raids on independent news portals like NewsClick, and has overcome it all.
Third, it has faced constant defamation from the BJP-RSS and has been accused of being instigated by Khalistanis, Maoists, Naxalites, and by Pakistan and China. It has stood its ground.
Fourth, in spite of lakhs of farmers laying siege to Delhi for over 90 days and nights, it has been completely peaceful and democratic. Over 250 farmers have been martyred in this struggle so far. It has also victoriously combated the criminal conspiracy of violence unleashed by the BJP central government, its police and its agent provocateurs on January 26, Republic Day.
Fifth, it has been entirely secular. The farmers in struggle all over India belong to all religions, all castes and speak all Indian languages. This has made it more difficult to suppress the struggle.
Sixth, after the unprecedented success of the Bharat Bandh on December 8, with great support from the working class and all other sections of society, it is becoming a people’s struggle.
Seventh, and most important, this struggle has directly identified and attacked the corrupt nexus between the BJP-RSS-led central government and the Indian and foreign corporate lobby, symbolised by Ambani and Adani. For the first time, a nationwide call has been given for the boycott of Ambani and Adani products and services. Through its three major demands, this historic class struggle of the peasantry has squarely attacked the neoliberal policies themselves.
Repeal of pro-corporate Farm Acts
The first demand is the repeal of the three anti-farmer, anti-people and pro-corporate Farm Acts which were passed through Parliament after trampling on all democratic norms. No Kisan organisation worth its name had demanded any of these laws, and no Kisan organisation was ever consulted before these laws were first promulgated as ordinances in June 2020. Although agriculture is a state subject under the Constitution, no state government was ever consulted. The same method was used to annul 29 labour laws that had been won by the working class after bitter struggles and to ram through four anti-worker Labour Codes through Parliament.
The first Farm Act aims to dismantle APMCs and hand over the entire trade in agricultural produce to domestic and foreign corporates. This will destroy farmers and agriculture, and will also compromise the food security of the country. The Bihar state government under Nitish Kumar dismantled APMCs in 2006. As a result, farmers in Bihar are getting around Rs 800 to 1000 less per quintal of paddy than the MSP which is Rs 1,878. This Act eventually aims to do away with MSP and government procurement of food grains altogether. With this, the entire public distribution system will be dismantled. This will hit millions of both urban and rural poor.
The second Farm Act aims to encourage and promote contract farming across the country. As our previous experience of contract farming in India and the world shows, this will only help the powerful corporate companies to loot the farmers. In a travesty of justice, there is no provision for farmers for approaching courts in case of any dispute. The real alternative to corporate farming is co-operative farming, which the government is not at all willing to consider.
The third Farm Act is a disastrous amendment to the Essential Commodities Act. The central government has removed all restrictions on stocks of seven most essential items, viz. rice, wheat, pulses, cooking oil, onions and potatoes. This will give the corporates and the big traders a free hand to hoard and black market these essential items and will hike their prices manifold. This will also endanger food security. In the Global Hunger Index figures declared recently, India already ranks 94th among 107 countries. This will aggravate even further.
Legal guarantee of MSP and procurement
The second demand is for a law to guarantee MSP and procurement of all agricultural produce at one and a half times the comprehensive cost of production (C2 + 50%), as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers, headed by Dr M S Swaminathan. The Modi regime is uttering a white lie when it claims that it has already implemented MSP at this rate. It has applied the formula A2 + FL, which is much lower than C2 + 50%, and has thus tried to deceive farmers.
Moreover, in most parts of our country, the MSP declared by the central government for 23 different crops has no meaning, simply because there is no government procurement in most of the states. Hence traders routinely buy agricultural produce from farmers at much less than the MSP. Even in Punjab and Haryana, government procurement is restricted mainly to only paddy and wheat. Hence this is a key demand of farmers from all over the country.
Successive central governments implementing neo liberal policies have increased the cost of production in agriculture manifold over the last three decades. One, by slashing subsidies on agricultural inputs like fertilisers. Two, by encouraging rapacious corporates in the manufacture of seeds, fertilisers and insecticides. Three, by greatly increasing the price of diesel, petrol, power and irrigation. However, the price that the farmer gets for his crop has never increased in the same proportion. This is the root of the agrarian crisis and massive peasant indebtedness, leading to farmer suicides on the one hand and distress sales of farm land on the other.
This is further aggravated by natural calamities like severe droughts, floods, hailstorms and unseasonal rains, with no proper crop insurance cover. The PM Fasal Bima Yojana has proved to be a farce, enriching corporate insurance companies at the expense of farmers. With huge amounts of credit being channelised to the corporates, there is a credit crunch in the farm sector, especially for small and middle farmers. The agricultural import-export policies adopted under WTO dictates and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have also hit farmers very hard.
It is for all these reasons that the farmers struggle has demanded a law to guarantee MSP and procurement at one and a half times the cost of production. Another related demand of the peasant movement has been a complete loan waiver to the peasantry by the central government, which has no compunctions in granting loan waivers and tax waivers of lakhs of crores of rupees per year to its handful of favourite crony corporates.
The third demand is the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020, which shamelessly promotes further privatisation of power and aims to end the cross subsidy. This will lead to a massive hike in power bills not only for irrigation pumps of farmers, but also for domestic use in both rural and urban areas throughout the country. This will hit all sections of working people.
Savage attack of crony capitalist (neo-liberal) policies
The neo-liberal policies in our country, and in agriculture in particular, were begun by the Congress central government in 1991 and have been taken forward exponentially by the current Modi-led BJP regime.
The 27th national conference of the AIKS held at Hisar in 1992 was the first that was held after the beginning of the neo-liberal policies. It tore apart the neo-liberal policies and warned, “The present policies of the Union government will have a serious adverse impact on the peasantry. This will speed up pauperisation of the poor, the small and middle peasants. The number of unemployed youth, both in the urban and the rural sides will again rise to unprecedented heights.” The seminal presidential address of Harkishan Singh Surjeet at this conference elaborated on these and other aspects further. Significantly, the AIKS made this assessment of the neo-liberal policies within a year, when almost all other peasant organisations were supporting the new economic and agricultural policies. The warnings of the Hisar conference have been more than vindicated by agrarian developments over the last 30 years.
‘The Alternative Agricultural Policy’ document adopted by the AIKS and the AIAWU in December 2003 broadly divided the post-independence period of capitalist development in agriculture into two phases – the state-sponsored phase from 1947 to 1990 and the liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation (LPG) phase from 1991 onwards. In the light of this, it outlined the two main rural contradictions as follows:
“From the above analysis, it is clear that the present situation in Indian agriculture is characterised by two important contradictions. The first is the sharp division between the rural rich, comprising landlords, big capitalist farmers, large traders, money-lenders and their allies on the one hand and the mass of the peasantry, comprising agricultural workers, poor and middle peasants and rural artisans on the other. The second is the growing opposition to imperialist-driven LPG policies of the government, not only from the mass of the peasantry but also from sections of the rural rich.”
Worst culprit: BJP-RSS’ Modi regime
While the first contradiction is and will continue to be very relevant, it is the second contradiction that has been consistently emerged at the forefront in the last three decades, more sharply in the last seven years of the Modi-led BJP-RSS regime. The last few years have seen a steady strengthening of peasant resistance against the neoliberal assault on their livelihoods by the Modi government. As agrarian distress intensified because of its policies, farmers and rural workers began to strongly raise their voices against them.
Most of these protests by farmers in the recent years – the nationwide peasant struggle in 2015 against the Land Acquisition Ordinance led by the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), a joint platform that was initiated by the AIKS; the AIKS-led Kisan struggle of Rajasthan in 2017-18 for loan waiver and MSP: the 11-day united Farmers’ Strike in Maharashtra in June 2017 and the AIKS-led Kisan Long March in Maharashtra in March 2018, both of which succeeded in wresting a large loan waiver package from the BJP state government and also some progress in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA); the AIKSCC-led Kisan Mukti Sansad in Delhi in November 2017; the CITU-AIKS-AIAWU-led Mazdoor Kisan Rally in New Delhi in September 2018; and the AIKSCC-led Kisan Mukti March in Delhi in November 2018 – were dominated by poor and middle sections of the peasantry and by rural workers as their livelihoods were threatened the most. The participation of rich peasants in these protests was moderate, at best.
Over the years, two demands – implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of guarantee of MSP and procurement at one and a half times the entire cost of production (C2 + 50%) and freedom from debt for farmers – became the main focus of the demands of the peasantry. The current nationwide farmers’ struggle represents the climax of all these earlier peasant struggles.
The current farmers’ struggle realises that the BJP central government led by Narendra Modi has been the worst culprit in intensifying neo-liberal policies in agriculture, industry and all other sectors. BJP-led state governments have followed suit.
An unprecedented Agrarian crisis
The agrarian crisis in India has reached extremely serious proportions due to the neo liberal policies of the last three decades. As per the figures of the National Crime Records Bureau under the Union Home Ministry, nearly four lakh farmers in India have been forced to commit suicide due to indebtedness in the last 25 years from 1995 to 2020. Lakhs of children of Adivasi, Dalit and backward families in our country die every year due to starvation and malnutrition.
Profit maximisation is being sought by squeezing the peasantry through neo-liberal agricultural policies. It is precisely these policies that are fuelling the catastrophic phenomenon of lakhs of suicides of debt-ridden peasants. Slashing of subsidies and an open door to rapacious MNCs and corporates in the production of agricultural inputs leading to massive increase in the cost of production; consistent refusal to give remunerative prices for agricultural produce under pressure of foreign finance capital; a glut in agricultural imports and a slew of free trade agreements that further ruin the peasantry; crunch in formal agricultural credit and siphoning it away to the corporates, this leading to increased dependence of farmers on usurious private moneylenders; a series of natural calamities like drought, floods, hailstorms as well as attacks by pests and by wild animals and a bogus crop insurance scheme designed to benefit not farmers but corporate insurance companies; savage cuts in public investment in agriculture, especially on irrigation and power with a thrust towards their privatisation – these are some of the main aspects of the neo-liberal attacks on agriculture that are responsible for the deepening agrarian crisis, rising indebtedness and alarming peasant suicides and landlessness.
Class implications of this struggle
With the enactment of the three Farm Laws in 2020, the Modi government has opened a battle front in which all sections of the peasantry face a crisis. This has enthused all sections of the peasantry to join the struggle, and even sections of rich peasants have joined the struggle in considerable force. Kisans have been protesting against these laws since June 2020 itself, when the three ordinances were first promulgated. The struggle intensified with the ramming through of the laws in Parliament in September and reached its pitch with the Delhi siege from November 26, 2020. Over the last nine months, innumerable protests – with the participation of millions of farmers – have taken place across the country against these ordinances and laws.
But it would be entirely wrong, as the BJP-RSS rumour mill has been churning out, to characterise the present phase of the Kisan struggle as a struggle of the large farmers, or as a struggle of the Punjab and Haryana famers alone. The protests against these farm laws must be seen as a continuation of the Kisan protests over the last six years, enumerated above. While poorer sections of the peasantry, who have been hit the hardest by the policies of the Modi government, have led the struggle thus far, enactment of these farm laws has enthused middle and large farmers to also join the struggle in bigger numbers. This has resulted in a consolidation of the class alliance of all sections of the peasantry against this government.
Similarly, the fact that the borders of Delhi are dominated by farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Western UP can hardly be interpreted to mean that only farmers from these states are unhappy with the three laws. It is obvious that the proximity of these states to Delhi meant that the farmers of these states had to take the lead in the battle on the borders of Delhi. It is noteworthy that, even in the protests on the borders of Delhi, farmers from every state have participated. Farmers from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and from as far as Odisha, Andhra and Kerala, have been participating at the Shahajahanpur and Palwal borders. This is apart from the lakhs of farmers who are enthusiastically participating in all the struggle calls of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) in almost all states of the country.
So far as the class aspects of this struggle are concerned, let us consider some hard facts. As per the latest Agricultural Census (2015-16), 86.2 per cent of the cultivators in India have less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land. The estimate from the 2012-13 NSS Survey of Land and Livestock Holdings is also similar, at 90 per cent. The average size of land holdings in rural India, as per the Agricultural Census of 2015-16, was only 1.08 hectares.
According to the same data source, the share of the number of marginal holdings (i.e., less than 1 hectare) in the total number of operational holdings increased from 62.9 per cent in 2000-01 to 68.5 per cent in 2015-16. The share of small holdings (1 hectare to 2 hectares) decreased from 18.9 per cent to 17.7 per cent during this period. Hence, if we add marginal and small holdings, we see that 86.2 per cent of the holdings were either marginal or small. Large holdings (above 4 hectares) decreased from 6.5 per cent to 4.3 percent between 2000-01 and 2015-16.
The above figures were for the number of holdings. Let us now come to the area under holdings. The area operated by the marginal and small farmers increased from 38.9 per cent in 2000-01 to 47.4 per cent in 2015-16, while the area operated by large holdings decreased from 37.2 per cent to 20 per cent during this period.
The average monthly income of an agricultural household in India in 2012-13 (according to the Situation Assessment Survey of the NSSO, 70th round) was only Rs 6426. If we consider this for across land size classes, the average monthly income of an agricultural household was Rs 5247 for those with 0.41 to 1 hectare, it was Rs 7348 for those between 1 and 2 hectares. The average monthly income was Rs 19,637 where land size was between 4 and 10 hectares and Rs 41,388 where land size exceeded 10 hectares.
The average monthly income of an agricultural household in Punjab was Rs 18,059, in Haryana it was Rs 14,434, in UP it was Rs 4,923. On a per capita basis, this comes to be only Rs 3450 in Punjab, Rs 2450 in Haryana and Rs 863 in UP. In most other states, it is even less.
This was the stark reality of the state of farmers in India in 2012-13. Now 8 more years have passed. There has been no NSSO survey in this period. But with the aggressive neo-liberal onslaught of the Modi-led BJP central government that came to power in 2014, and the Covid pandemic in 2020-21, it is crystal clear that the situation of farmers has further deteriorated.
The above facts and figures also clearly imply that a large majority of those who are participating in the current farmers struggle throughout the country come from the 86 per cent whose land holdings are less than 2 hectares. They are the ones who are the hardest hit. The present anti-corporate, issue-based struggle for the repeal of the three Farm Laws and for a law to guarantee a remunerative MSP and procurement, is strengthened by the entry of sections of the rich peasantry. This is a welcome development in the direction of larger peasant unity.
However, as AIKS has consistently emphasised in its documents and reports, we must realize that the class struggle in the rural areas does not come to an end with the current farmers’ struggle. If this struggle is a success, we would still need to return to our core class issues for our movement to grow. The issues of land, wages, implementation of MNREGA, PDS, FRA 2006, and of course the whole gamut of issues related to caste and gender will remain. Both the contradictions explained in the AIKS/AIAWU Alternative Agricultural Policy 2003 and mentioned above will have to be dealt with and fought against together.
True significance of the current farmers’ struggle
The nakedly pro-corporate policies of the Modi-led BJP government, which are aimed at selling off the whole country under cover of the hypocritical slogan of ‘atmanirbharata’ are making things much worse. There is almost no sector in India which the Modi regime has not put up for privatisation and sale to Indian and foreign corporates – be it railways, airlines, airports, ports, mines, telecom, public sector, banks, insurance, irrigation, power, education, health, and even defence. Now it is agriculture and land which is on its hit list. And this is being bitterly opposed.
The true significance of the ongoing historic farmers’ struggle throughout the country is that it strikes squarely at the disastrous, anti-national, neo-liberal policies of the BJP-RSS regime, which has always acted as the most servile agent of the corporate and imperialist lobby, right from the days of our glorious freedom struggle. It is a patriotic struggle waged by millions of farmers not only for themselves, but also in defence of the people and of the entire country, in defence of our sovereignty, democracy, secularism, federalism and our Constitution itself.
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) is an integral and important part of the united leadership of this historic farmers’ struggle. It appeals to all peasants, agricultural labourers, workers, employees, women, youth and students all over the country to strengthen this crucial class struggle in all possible ways, until victory is achieved.
(The author is President, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)
(February 22, 2021)