All is Possible

They are not at the level of a decisive moment where all is possible. Today’s Congress seems to be talking of a leap forward that the old guards could not. Human conditions are reaching such an unbearable point that even disgruntled farmers now see in Rahul Gandhi, a saviour. The occasion was the first anniversary of martyrdom of six farmers who were killed in police firing on 6 June, 2017 during the farmers’ agitation at the Pipalya Mandi area of Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh. Thousands of ordinary people and farmers belonging to some 190 peasant associations reportedly attended the Congress president’s meeting. In truth it was an election rally as Madhya Pradesh would go to polls in the year-end. No doubt the massive mobilisation of peasants created some political hiccups in the saffron camp. And Rahul Gandhi, being the chief election campaigner of Congress, made no mistake by pledging ‘loan-waiver’ for farmers. Whether populism would pay or not in the long run is a different matter. But he made the announcement in no uncertain terms that all loans of farmers of the state would be waived off within 10 days if the Congress came to power. So veteran saffronite Arun Jaitley lost no time in hitting back by ridiculing Rahul’s ignorance about peasant economy vis-a-vis farm loans.

As it was basically an election rally Rahul Gandhi in his aggressive stance attacked prime minister Narendra Modi for betraying farmers and youths. Before elections Modi promised ‘moon’ to the people and after four years in office he has no option but to reiterate old promises. Now it is the time for the Congress to make the same promises, hoping, not against hope, that they could beat Modi and his party—Bharatiya Janata Party—on their own track.

The hard fact is that the Congress party, of late, is getting some positive response from the on-going peasant movement in some states. Strangely, they never raise the issue of abnormal hike in fuel prices and its consequent impact on  retail market affecting people of all walks of life, not excluding farmers. The way they present the farmers’ case looks as if ‘loan waiver’ is the magic wand that could galvanise the agrarian scenario. The situation is more grave than what it appears on the surface.

True, ‘loan-waiver’ slogan has appeal to voters but it is unlikely to address today’s peasant question in its totality. India’s planned ecological self-destruction—deforestation, desertification of aquifers, transformation of wetlands into dry wastelands and damming of all major and minor rivers—has brought immense poverty, massive displacement and unemployment to rural population.

For one thing wasteful irrigation and construction of endless dams to divert water toward large industrial and agro-industrial complexes have left behind dust and droughts for farmers. How ground water has been depleted, particularly in ‘advanced’ states, deserves serious attention and remedial action. It’s basically a life-and-death question of farmers, why farmers fail to repay loans in the first place, hardly gets focused in their ‘loan waiver’ jugglery. After all bank loans form only a fraction of total debt incurred by Indian farmers. They are forced to borrow from multiple private sources. Also, the question of land reforms has taken a back seat because reforms that started in the ’50s and ’60s paving the way for limited social mobility, were deliberately abandoned. It’s no longer on the agenda of any political party, not to speak of Congress party that now posses itself as a champion of farmers’ cause.

Congress cannot agitate for basic restructuring of land-relations in the country. Nor do they like to go beyond a certain point—‘controlled’ peasant agitation that they are now organising as a dress rehearsal for 2019 parliamentary polls.

That peasant power can radically alter the status quo, has just been demonstrated by the left-led long march of peasants in Maharashtra. Unlike in yester years when marginalised segments of peasant population were vocal about their plight, today farmers trapped by market regulated farming techniques and practices, look more vocal under this banner or that, without really specifying a definite goal to reach.

Not that the established left differs much from Congress in articulating farmers’ aspiration at this stage. They too are eloquent about ‘loan-waiver’ and remunerative prices of farm produce. But the issue of remunerative prices of crops is not a recent phenomenon. From place to place it varies but it has been there for long without being properly addressed by any government in the past. Nor will Modi defy market mechanism that determines the fate of peasants and distress sales of their produce, without bringing back the tenancy question, the question of concentration of land in a few hands in any given region, of middlemen in marketing and without acknowledging the huge alienation of land, particularly in tribal belt and backward areas, nothing will move for the better.

The recent spurt in peasant mobilisation even under the banner of Congress is actually raising a number of contentious questions that demand answers. Congress has no answer other than relief measures it is now promising as a way of vote-catching exercise. Nor does the official left feel comfortable in addressing the peasant problem beyond official limits. The past experience—its power from below but as well as its half-heartedness and ultimate failure to transform Indian village society—might have something to say to the difficulties the farmers are facing today in their efforts to uproot the old and reach toward an equitable future. The enemy, sitting elsewhere is invisible. What is necessary is to make it visible.

Vol. 50, No.50, June 17 - 23, 2018