In a Bind

After the sixth round of talks between the pro testing farmer unions and three Central Ministers, including Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, they somehow agreed not to disagree on the next round of talks scheduled to be held on January 4, 2021. While the deadlock over farm laws and Minimum Support Price (MSP), being the most contentious issue, continues, the Centre has decided to keep farmers out of purview of fines for stubble burning and reached consensus on Electricity Bill. At the time of writing the agitating peasants look determined not to budge an inch from their original stand of 'no' to agricultural laws. They still stick to their hard line position that they would like to discuss the modalities of repealing three laws that were enacted in September,2020, in contravention of all democratic and constitutional norms. In truth farmers want legal guarantee for MSP.

The Modi government is actually defending the indefensible. It is now as clear as anything else that three farm laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the mandi system, leaving farmers in general at the mercy of corporates, both domestic and foreign. Prolonged meetings may create a trap for wavering protesters.

The historic peasant movement is drawing support from all quarters of the country in various degrees, although West Bengal is rather somnolent because of the peculiarity of Bengal's political history. It is a blatant lie that to say that the agitation is essentially a Punjab-centric phenomenon. It speaks of a more nefarious design to label the protesting farmers as Khalistanis or Maoists. What is more prime minister Modi has once again begun to play his old communal card by referring to Sikh sacrifices as against Moghul tyranny? The Congress Party, in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, created a division between Sikhs and Hindus and by so doing, secured the support of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the parliamentary polls of 1984. Now Modi is trying to divide Sikhs and Muslims, because he has come to realise that the aggrieved farmers are not going to relent so easily. For Modi what matters most is how to enhance corporate interests .His policy is to weaken the movement by playing on Sikh religious sentiments. But so far all sorts of tricks and coercive measures have failed to douse the flame of peasant upsurge and new bands farmers from other states are joining it, defying bitter cold and death. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) loyalists, whose loyalty stems from BJP's money bag and politics of minority-bashing. won't listen. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in Hyderabad and Imphal cities took to the streets in support of Patna and Thanjavur protesters. Peasants across the have adopted a unique method to welcome the New Year with an oath to intensify anti-farm laws struggle.

For one thing Opposition Parties have virtually failed to give the mammoth mass movement a cohesive direction. One reason is that the legislators belonging to the opposition camp are prone to covet the bundles of cash that ruling party can offer in lieu of change of allegiance. The second is that they are unable to rise above their regional and sectional power politics. Third reason is their own softness towards Hindu revivalism and their failure to offer an alternative policy package. When Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi go to temples and seek blessings of priests, don't they pamper a softer variety of Hindutva? People view it as a duel between soft Hindutva and hard Hindutva.

For all practical purposes the Modis are a worthy successor of Narashima Rao-Manmohan Singh's neo liberalism, albeit a more aggressive successor. When Congress, the main opposition party goes to fight the BJP in electoral battles, it does so in such an imprudent fashion that allows the saffron brigade to reap huge dividends. It is afraid of raising any radical demand like taxing the super rich effectively and sending big bank defaulters to jail. Only the other day Union Agriculture Minister Mr Tomar said that 'even former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar—who served as Agriculture Minister during the UPA government—wanted to implement reforms in the farm sector'. And the Congress didn't contradict the allegation.

Agrarian crisis is now a social crisis. The issue of farm laws is slowly turning into a national issue. The results of the Jammu and Kashmir DDC polls in which the seats won by the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration has far outnumbered those of the BJP despite a hostile administration. But the Modis don't see writing on the wall.


Vol. 53, No. 28, Jan 10 - 16, 2021