‘All Can’t Breathe’

Whether uproar in parliament can alter the ground reality is debatable. But it is the latest political fashion to shed tears for farmers. All are worried about the plight of farmers. Yet farmer’s suicide is a regular feature of Indian panorama. Not that the Modi government has succeeded, and quite expectedly, to get the controversial Land Bill, with cosmetic changes here and there, passed in the Upper House of Parliament. That they won’t be able to have their way in the upper house—Rajya Sabha—is a fact. But that is not the point at issue. What is important to the Modi brigade is the spirit of pro-corporate lobby which is reflected in their every exercise—in parliament and in the field as well. As the Opposition parties, mainly Congress and Left parties, not to speak of nuisance-making casteist outfits, are more interested in debating over the Bill in parliament, it is a matter of time that the Modis will have their required numbers in the upper house in due season as it has happened in case of Insurance Bill seeking to hike Foreign Direct Investment from 26 percent to 49 percent. The Bill was passed by the lower house of Parliament on March 4. Finding a solution to the stalled Land Bill is imperative for both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Opposition Congress.

Barring some independent organisations or semi-political organisations and some NGOs with human face, no major political party or what they call mainstream party took to the streets to continue a sustained campaign against the Land Bill which is the most precious gift to the corporate houses by the Modi dispensation. Given past experience Congress is likely to fall in line after some initial shadow-boxing as the Modi government is trying to exert pressure on Sonia Gandhi’s party by reactivating the coal-gate scam in which former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was implicated. The massive February rally in Delhi to protest the land acquisition ordinance, was organised by more than a dozen independent organisations—many of them are just social welfare bodies without any political goal to reach—with limited localised influence though they somehow remain in the media focus for more than one reason. As their objective is limited, farmer’s agony is viewed through the lens of Land Bill or Land Ordinance as if land acquisition is the only issue that affects India’s rural life.

Though politicians of all hues never get tired to repeat the oft-repeated rhetoric that India lives in villages, it is rural India again that gets the raw deal in government functioning for indebted farmers who commit suicide. It is remunerative price that matters. Even the minimum support price regulation as mandated by the Centre from time to time for certain crops, both cash and non-cash, becomes useless because of the prevailing market mechanism for which growers are being forced to resort to distress sales. Cotton farmers apart, even potato cultivators too are committing suicide. It is a deliberate policy to make agrarian practice uneconomic and it works for the persons in power.

In truth peasants in India have long lost control over agricultural practice. Today everything is market-driven. Farmers seek advice from the market for every step—from sowing to harvesting. They cannot decide about seed. They have no option but to purchase whatever is available in the market, sometimes against their will. From Asia to South Africa, the EU to Caribbean, the corporate seed industry is using international trade agreements to criminalise farmers for saving seeds. They cannot think of farming without fertilisers and pesticides. As for traditional farming and its usefulness in the Indian context, it is more like an academic exercise today; farmers are not talking about it.

Land acquisition cannot be the only issue around which the peasant question can be formulated or re-formulated in a radically changed situation where farmers, small and medium farmers, are bound to progressively lose land. Agri-business and industrial farming controlled by multinational corporations and their Indian agents cannot be adequately fought without asking small and medium peasants to abandon market-dictated agricultural practice. It is the question of how to go back to basics. Even left parties, including communist parties, simply react to spontaneity without exploring any serious strategy to organise peasants against market-scripted farming. Acquisition of land for industry is not a recent phenomenon. Previously the scale of acquisition was limited, it was limited because the British business houses, rather monopoly houses, treated India as their captive market while refusing to allow other global players to share the cake. Of 80 or so jute mills in the forties, only one company—Ludlow—was American and the rest British. This was perhaps the general scenario in other core industrial sectors. But today things are pole apart. Gone are the days of British industrial hegemony. All prominent international players are very much in the race. As a result scramble for land is increasing abnormally, destroying the old equilibrium in land relations. With gradual but systematic shriknage of agrarian acreage and forest cover, families dependent on agriculture and forest for livelihood, there is only one solution for them : to fight. They will embark on this struggle—land struggle—and they will have to pursue it, not as the result of a Marxist or idealistic analysis, but quite simply because their survival is threatened.

While the far left continues to address the peasant question in old ways, rather pre-liberated Chinese ways, the official left has no idea as to how to motivate peasant masses other than offering sops through administrative fiat. As radical change is not on their agenda government sponsored poverty alleviation schemes are the sole areas of their operation. But this ‘relief movement’ is no answer to land acquisition drive by the pro-corporate administration. So long as they remain mute spectators to market-oriented agrarian relations, they cannot offer any effective resistance to land acquisition. Shouting in parliament will subside after some time. For all practical purposes their strategy of inaction in the field, in reality, boosts political right.

Vol. 47, No. 38, Mar 29 - Apr 4, 2015