Clouds On the Horizon

Old slogans are obsolete. New slogans are not emerging. But the communist left in India continues to derive comfort from pre-World War-II worldview that has very little relevance to the present globalised reality. They have developed a habit of reacting to spontaneity while resorting to ad-hocism to keep their flag flying. They look over-concerned and, not quite unjustifiably, about industrial aggression and pitfalls associated with it. But they don’t see silent invasion of Indian agriculture by multinationals and the way the Modi government is obliging the corporate lobby’s demand by allowing traditional Indian farm practices to die. Agrarian relations are changing very fast, albeit political forces on the left, are yet to realise the gravity of the agrarian crisis. Indian peasants, not excluding rich peasants, are going to face slow death in the coming days, if the crisis managers in New Delhi have their all-out ‘reforms’ programme gets implemented without any effective resistance. Besides middle and small peasants, even the rich engaged in cultivation are seriously thinking these days beyond farming, for sheer survival. Having failed to cope with the systematic and planned onslaught of agri-business they are looking for new avenues to say ‘good bye’ to farming. There have been a deliberate policy to make traditional farming uneconomic for decades while forcing the vast majority of small producers to make a choice between farming and ‘no farming’.

In the eighties, farmers with reasonable land-holdings under the banner of some independent organisations launched powerful peasant movement demanding remunerative prices for their produce. But the left didn’t intervence as if they had nothing to do in an agitation that was basically, in their view, an assertion of Indian kulaks. In those days farmers in the so-called green revolution belt depending largely on mechanised farming and chemicals, found it very difficult to strike a balance between income and expenditure while seeing in agriculture a loss proposition in the future. The disease seems to have spread like wildfire across the country, affecting all segments of the peasant population. Prices of farm inputs are rising in leaps and bounds undermining the very foundation of Indian agriculture and crippling the small farm sector beyond repair though it is small producers who in reality feed the country. Agony for small peasants throughout the country has compounded over the years because they now solely depend on family labour in many double-crop areas to keep agricultural activities going. During the last five years or so, nominal rural wages had grown at a sharp pace for more than one reason. Rural wages began going up in 2007—even before the introduction of MNREGA—mainly due to non-farm employment opportunities, aided by improved road and telecom connectivity. With new generations from peasant households migrating to different advanced regions otherwise marching ahead with industrialisation in search of jobs other than farming, even family-labour based farming by small and poor peasants looks impossible and uneconomic. In truth family labour means a large part of it comes from female labour. Against the back drop of dismal agrarian scenario for small stakeholders in farming, agri-business is entering the field in a big way, only to evict small and middle peasants, legally. The Left’s old slogan—land to the tiller—won’t work. Nor are they serious about it anymore. Even tillers, supposed to have been benefited from radical land reforms in a state or two, are ready to sell their land as they are not in a position to resist the new rules crafted to ensure the corporate lobby’s total grip over agriculture—from field to market. The saffron government at the centre and many non-saffron governments in states are just toeing the idea of expediting the process of contract farming, inviting big companies to invest in agriculture. But they—particularly foreign investors—will come armed with liberal laws and trade agreements as they are doing it in infrastructure and mining business. For all practical purposes big agri-businesses make their entry into Indian agriculture by negotiating trade agreements that allow patenting of crops by taking away farmers’ rights to use their seeds freely in the first place. India cannot escape the tragedy that is being witnessed by most third world countries where multinationals have succeeded in effecting their strategic trade agreements in agriculture. From Guatemala to Ghana, from Mozambique to Malayasia, farmers are denied to cultivate their land in accordance with their need and traditional practice, thanks to contract farming. In reality trade agreements have became a tool of choice for local governments working with corporate houses to push new rules to restrict farmers’ right to work with their own seeds. The goal of global players is to make it obligatory that companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, which spend money in plant breeding and genetic engineering can control what happens to the seeds they produce by preventing farmers receiving them in much the same way as Hollywood or Microsoft try to stop people from copying and sharing films or software by putting legal and technological locks on them. Trade agreements negotiated outside the WTO framework, especially those initiated by powerful economies of the global North, tend to go much further. They often require signatory countries to patent plant or animals, or to allow the rules of the Geneva-based Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties that provide patent like rights over crop varieties. Stakes are high for the seed industry. Globally just 10 companies control 55 percent of commercial seed market.

As for agriculture they—big business houses, both domestic and foreign—won’t need forcible land acquisition through the new Land Act and the notorious land ordinance that the Modi government has recently promulgated bypassing the parliament. Faced with perpetual distress conditions and uneconomic future prospects, small and middle peasants are bound to opt for contract farming or outright sale of their tiny parcels of land to companies, both Indian and non-Indian.

Unless new slogans are evolved to sustain a prolonged pro-peasant campaign and motivate the vast majority of small and medium peasants who will be immediate victims of Modi’s ‘reforms’ bulldozer, Left will find itself further marginalised, hopefully in the next general elections.

Vol. 47, No. 30, Feb 1 - 7, 2015