Continuing Conflict

Two country-wide shutdowns within a span of 13 days seem to have shaken the myth that the authoritarian Modi dispensation cannot be challenged. The November 26 general strike was sponsored by central trade unions and opposition parties while the December 8 Bharat Bandh (nation-wide shutting down) was called by agitating farmers. As of December14, the on-going movement by hundreds of thousands of farmers shows no sign of cracks, albeit the Modi-Shah combine is trying their best to divide the ranks of the protesters without any success so far. After the failure of 5th round of talks between the representatives of 20 agitating farmers' unions and Amit Shah, the situation is now back to square one. More than 200,000 farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh—India's much publicised green revolution belt—marched to Delhi with tractors to press their demands. The talk collapsed because the government refused to concede a single demand of farmers. The unions have placed a 12-point charter of demands of which repealing of the three new farm laws is number one. Ironically, amidst protests prime minister Narendra Modi laid foundation stone of new parliament building on December 10. Let the country burn!

The farmer's journey to the national capital by defying the unabashed repressive measures of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- ruled Haryana government which was meant to prevent marching farmers from entering Delhi and make the Modi government listen to their demands, has illustrated among other things that Modi's policy of wooing corporates who have set their greedy eyes on agriculture has been meekly accepted by the farmers, who are ready to make sacrifices for the realisation of their demands. For one thing, Amit Shah went all the way to Hyderabad to campaign for Greater Hyderabad municipal Polls. Farmers strictly believe that new farm laws are completely against their interests—it is their life and death question. So they are on the streets in chilly winter and blocking the highways to paralyse the autocratic government.

Modi's inflexible attitude makes it clear that he is unwilling to budge an inch but protests are no longer confined to Punjab and Haryana as the government backed media persons want to portray it, it is now drawing people from other states. What is more, protests are now raging from the members of Indian Diaspora in America, Canada and Britain.

The possible harmful impact of new farm acts has been discussed threadbare across the country, by a number of distinguished agro-economists but the Modi government's skin is too thick to make it reconsider its position.

The laws regarding the hoarding of essential commodities are too harsh. The government is likely to allow a price rise of 50 percent of non-perishable food crops like rice, wheat etc before intervention. It is well-known that the majority of farm labourers and other toilers in rural India have to purchase these commodities for consumption, because they are paid their wages in cash, not in kind. If prices of food grains are allowed to rise by 50 percent what will happen to these vulnerable sections of society is anybody's guess. Traders will reap extra bonanza. The case of onion and potato is an eye-opener! They are no longer considered essential commodities. Their prices rose overnight but the government didn't intervene.

The biggest fear which is haunting the farmers, irrespective of their status—big or small—is losing the Minimum Support Price (MSP).They say agricultural activities are no more a profitable avocation and if MSP is withdrawn they will die. It is quite likely, as farmers say, the private players will exploit the farmers by indulging in large-scale hoarding and unfair trade practices.

It is now almost certain that big players and companies, by taking advantage of farming agreements, will capture the entire farming process which will finally wipe out millions of small and marginal farmers. Also, once the private grain markets are established the age-old traditional markets will become history. Peasants will have to depend on corporations and private trading firms. For all practical purposes these acts will bring in radical changes in agrarian scenario, causing irreparable damage to the farming community.

The dismantling of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC)-regulated markets will simply encourage the abolishment of their crop at the minimum support price. So they are vociferously demanding MSP to be guaranteed by the government. It's a just and legitimate demand.

No doubt protests mostly took place in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, but demonstrations and anti-Centre rallies were also reported in rest of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Kerala and other states. Farmers also rightly criticised the big media houses, owned by known corporate tycoons, for misrepresenting the on-going peasant movement. The Editors Guild, however, asked the media, not to label protesting farmers as "Khalistanis" or "anti-nationals".

If anything the Modi government was caught unawares by the scale of protests and tenacity shown by the peasant organisations. The struggle by farmers is a just struggle for democracy and has certainly stormed the government by dealing a blow to its notorious pro-corporate designs.

Tragically enough, neither the parliamentary left nor the far left, despite their moral support by press statements, has proved to have played any significant role in the movement so far.

Whenever corporate presence rises in agricultural sector, small and marginal farmers who actually provide national food security, face a difficult time coping with the onslaught. All the farm laws enacted by the Modi government in September 2020, are bad to the core, they are against the interests of even big and middle farmers, not to speak of small peasants, cultivating small parcels of land, mostly with family labour.

Meanwhile, All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the umbrella organisation of 20 peasant associations spearheading the movement, has announced their programme of massive all-India protest campaigns throughout the country, against new farm laws in the coming days.

The Indian peasant movement is increasingly taking international dimensions as the UN General Secretary, Antonio Gutierrez, the other day called on the Modi government to allow the protests, stating "people have a right to demonstrate peacefully and authorities need to let them do so".

So, the present condition is a stalemate which won't change unless the political cost of the infamous laws increases for the Modi-Shah dictatorial regime or if the farmers' resolve breaks. In addition to farm laws the government is hell bent on changing labour laws as well to suit corporate lobby's labour-bashing agenda and the November 26 general strike was mainly against new labour codes.

Whether the Modis like it or not, the on-going farmers' agitation became the largest peasant mobilisation ever recorded in Indian history. In some ways this peasant upsurge may be a short trailer of what could lie ahead if the government doesn't climb down. At the time of writing protesting farmers are on hunger strike while the aggrieved are increasing in number with every passing hour.


Vol. 53, No. 27, Jan 3 - 9 2021