The Crisis of Survival

Congress is facing an existential crisis’. That was Jairam Ramesh, senior Congress leader and ex-union minister. True, it is an existential crisis, not an electoral crisis. Ramesh was candid enough to admit the ground reality. That Congress has outlived its utility is a fact of life. To talk of Nehru legacy makes little sense today. Then India has changed a lot since the days of Indira Gandhi but the Congress has failed to change in the changed context. That old slogans don't work is a fact. Also old formulas of manipulative politics for which Congress earned legendary notoriety, don't work. Congress, the driver of neo-liberal swing in Indian economy is trapped by its own strategy. It cannot oppose neo-liberalism in principle. Nor can it swallow its bitter fruit for which it suffers mass isolation. Being the aggressive implementor of neo-liberal policies, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now the principal mouthpiece of Indian corporate houses. The decline of Congress has its roots in the corporate lobby's refusal to back it. Unless they get back support from Indian big business it is unlikely for them to bounce back in electoral politics anytime soon. Leaders are created by the corporate media but the Ambanis and Adanis don't think Rahul Gandhi is the man who could deliver. So Modi's chariot is moving with flying colours despite massive mass discontent across the country. People no longer think Congress can resist Modi's economic terrorism as it was evident during the demonetisation phase. And even now they are mute spectators before Modi's digitisation bull-dodger.

Not that BJP has raised any new slogan other than 'nationalism' which is synonym for hindu aggression. And yet it is gaining at the expense of Congress and left parties because of communal polarisation. In truth, people are tired of secular rhetoric of registered secularists. Despite so much noise about secularism, communal riots are on the rise. The Saffron camp is distorting history and attacking composite culture to further their hidden hindutva agenda. The Congress brand of secularism is no answer to majoritarian communal offensive. As for Left's anti-communal campaign it is too incident-specific to produce any effective resistance to communal onslaught. These days many ordinary people otherwise swayed by BJP propaganda of minority appeasement seriously believe that secularism as practised by Congress and left is essentially a ploy to woo minority voters. So they find nothing wrong in BJP's majoritarian assertion. There are reasons to believe that the secular stance of Congress and Left is too clever by half. Communal politics is not without economic base but they never attack this base while expecting some magic wand will defeat communalism. Whether they like it or not the victims of communal riots have lost faith in the so-called secular parties.

In the yester years even before partition, communalism didn't affect the communities in areas of mass struggles, mainly in areas of peasant struggles. But peasant struggle is now a thing of academic interest. The Left has stopped to address the peasant question in its entirety. All their activities revolve around electoral politics. As a result they are continually losing mass support and getting isolated from people, mainly from peasants and workers, with every passing day.

Agrarian scenario has changed drastically over the years but they continue to dish out old statistics without analysing the concrete conditions. Left parties no longer find any justification in raising slogans for 'land reforms' in a market driven agrarian economy. Strangely, even left intellectuals have lost interest in land reforms. But the situation is desperate and India is heading for an agrarian crisis, not in the distant future. Farmers' suicides apart why the young generation is leaving agriculture deserves serious attention. In case of small peasant economy, labour shortage poses a serious problem. Also small and middle peasants who mainly depend on family labour can hardly afford minimum wages.

As demand-supply mechanism rules the market, the issue of remunerative prices continues to haunt all sections of the peasantry. Left parties never fought for remunerative prices though there is a possibility of developing movement on this issue. When Sharad Joshi and others launched movement for remunerative prices of agricultural produce decades ago they dismissed it as a Kulak conspiracy. Their strategy of inaction alienated them further from a vast section of masses. In reality they withdrew from agrarian field only to show their political short-sightedness. They are not addressing land reforms. Nor do they think remunerative price is a leftist issue at all.

Why the slogan of 'land reforms' that once galvanized the peasantry in general three decades ago has become obsolete is not explained by the political left. Basically the age-old land tenure system has not changed much since the 1950s despite massive introduction of mechanised farming, fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides. What is more agri-multinationals have been allowed to control seed market and force peasants to depend on costly chemicals for major crops. The official response to farmers' agony is loan-waiver, though this cosmetic surgery has failed to arrest farmers' suicides.

This Modi Government is very much against agricultural research though in the past research institutes did a lot to improve agriculture. Almost all agricultural research institutes in the country have little or no fund to carry out research work.

In the name of modernisation Modi resorted to some gimmicks to help farmers by introducing soil health cards etc. But this soil health card drive didn't translate into action in the field. Farmers continue to depend on their conventional wisdom for cultivation.

Disparity in price of agricultural produce is so glaring that neither consumers nor producers gain from erratic market behavior manipulated by middlemen. So vegetables are sold at Rs 2 at one place and Rs 50 at another. All political parties, including left parties, take this phenomenon as normal as anything else.

The government policy to make agriculture un-economic is deliberate. They have devised a simple thumb rule: 'More production means more loss, less production means less loss, no production means no loss'. Agriculture in most states has become a loss making activity, sometimes peasants are not even able to get return for their investment, forget their own labour.

Making agriculture a losing proposition is devised to invite big companies to invest in farming and introduce contract system. In other words it is now time for large scale acquisition of farmland for companies to start industrial farming. Contract farming means farmers will lose whatever independence they still have over decision-making. From owners they will become tenants of a new kind. These are the issues that demand innovating new slogans to re-address the peasant question against the changing pattern of agrarian scenario. Congress cannot raise new slogans in relation to agrarian sector. Tragically, Left too is no better than Congress when the issue is peasant. As for farm sector it is not only failure of political, bureaucratic and administrative system, but also failure to analyse concrete conditions peasants are being forced to live in.

To re-address the peasant question means return to traditional and sustainable farming while putting road-blocks for agri-multinationals and their official backers. But the Left, not to speak of Congress, is unlikely to take up this 'hazardous job' of mass mobilisation because of their priority for electoral politics, albeit their very survival is at stake even in the electoral gambling.

Vol. 50, No.8, Aug 27 - Sep 2, 2017