Peasant Lives Matter?

It is becoming clearer to all, even to the rulers, that Modi’s Land Bill, in its present format, is not acceptable. All data points to continuous land alienation, yet they continue to devise ways to grab more land for non-agricultural purposes. They want to extract more coal and aggravate climate change. They want to bulldoze hills for mining iron and aluminium ores and don’t bother about how tribals living in those hills will survive. They want land at any cost. With the situation hotting up Anna Hazare is back with a bang. This time he has warned of another fast—not fast unto death—on the Land Bill. Anti-corruption fast for which he came to limelight in 2011, is now a passing reference in media, and academic exercises, mostly in seminar halls. Anna, being the self-styled Gandhi of modern era, has urged the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make pro-farmer changes in the Land Bill and he is awaiting the response. Not that he is against land acquisition in principle even if that means irreversible change in Indian agriculture. His objection is mainly against the removal of ‘Private Company’ in the Original Bill, drafted by the erstwhile Congress regime, and replacing it with ‘Private Entity’. They think they have brought in such a ‘basic’ change to help influential individuals operating under cover of registered or unregistered societies, acquire land. In truth it is a minor affair. In any case farmer is going to lose land to money bags. Private companies too in the final analysis, are assemblies of some individuals. It matters little to a farmer who is being asked to part with his land in favour of a company or a society. The neat result is the same : dispossession of farmers.

Hazare’s major allegation is that the Modi government has made the controversial changes in the Bill to facilitate land acquisition for the people close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This is one aspect of the game. But all political parties stand to gain from the changes.

That the proposed amendment to the Land Bill will aggravate the agrarian crisis, forcing more peasants to take extreme steps, is a fact of life. If the Bill comes into effect in its present format, there will be spurt in farmers’ suicides.

The ‘fast experiment’ of Hazare over corruption was not a smooth sailing—though it led to the formation of AAP—Aam Admi Party. Despite AAP’s electoral success in Delhi, it has been struggling from one crisis to another since its inception to project itself as a party without a long-term purpose and a goal to reach. As it has no ideology to offer, it doesn’t make noises over farm suicides. Nor does it utter a word or two about Modi’s neo-liberal policies.

Nobody is raising the issue of how the industry has utilised and is utilising land it has already acquired forcibly or legally. Not all SEZ enclaves are functioning but SEZ land is very much with the industrialists. Mining leases granted to mining giants are not always meant for mining business. There are some mines that have not been developed over the decades though tribals lost their land and livelihood. There remains wide gap between acquisition and actual utilisation. They are acquiring land for future generation industrialists but industrial activity changes with time, making today’s prime industry obsolete tomorrow. But agricultural land is lost forever. Once acquired, it never goes to its original owners—peasants, even if industrialists fail to commission promised plants.

Hazare’s idea of civil disobedience and breaking law over the Land Bill sounds fine, albeit political parties are reluctant. Without an organisation the plan of nation-wide jail bharo on the land question will end in tokenism. And tokenism cannot reverse the process of retrogression. Faced with fierce resistance from Congress and its allies, the Centre may now refer the Bill to a joint committee of both houses of parliament for detailed scrutiny. In other words the passing of the Bill may be delayed a bit because the 30-member Joint Panel is mandated to submit its report on the first day of the Monsoons session.

Indications are that the Bill will be finally passed with some cosmetic changes here and there. For one thing this is an ideal occasion to translate the idea of worker-peasant alliance into reality. A country-wide industrial strike may change the equation and tilt the scale of balance in favour of peasants who are just spectators to the silent procession of ‘suicide squads’. The communist left has been theorising on worker-peasant alliance, right from the beginning, as the basis of radical change in society. But they never tried to motivate workers to support struggling peasants. Their trade unions, notwithstanding their powerful presence in some core sectors in some regions, are more interested in sectarian interests. Nor do they find it justified to agitate on environment. What matters in their existence, is the present, not the future. A threat of indefinite strike in the mining industry may bring in more relief to farmers than Anna Hazare’s fast. What is the relevance of continually raising the slogan of worker-peasant alliance remains open to question.

A dozen Annas cannot change the course of destruction charted by vested interests but even a token strike by industrial workers can easily move the mountain. But that is unlikely to happen in India because workers engaged in formal and informal sectors as well behave like a bunch of privileged few who think they have nothing to lose if the Modis have their way to get Land Bill passed. Ground reality is otherwise—in the end all will suffer. What is urgently needed is to develop a ‘Peasant Lives Matter’ movement. But everything is moving on sheer momentum while all are hoping, somewhat against hopes, for a better tomorrow, relying solely on spontaneity.

Vol. 47, No. 46, May 24 - 30, 2015