Lakhimpur Kheri

Lakhimpur Kheri once used to hit the headlines in the '70s for peasant militancy led by the Naxalites. Those were the days when the naxalites were trying to demolish the authority of higher caste landlords by organising and arming poor and landless peasants against the age-old feudal oppression. They succeeded to some extent. Lakhimpur Kheri is in the news again, this time in a different context, albeit the peasant question is very much there.The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) stated a car driven by a Union Minister’s son mowed down four protesting farmers on October 3 afternoon and a shot fired from the convoy he was leading killed a fifth farmer. The persons in power perhaps, wanted to teach the protesting farmers a lesson, in a brutal fashion. In other words the same old tradition of caste culture and domination continues, albeit the region has a substantial Sikh population now. For one thing it is still a Dickensian World where SUBs have replaced horse-driven cars-tangas.

After the Lakhimpur Kheri incident the security authorities in Uttar Pradesh, instead of arresting the culprits, have begun to terrorise farmers’ leaders as Gurnam Singh Chauduni, the head of the Haryana faction of Bharatiya Kisan Union, and a prominent face of SKM was arrested in Meerut for violating Section 144. They are trying to tarnish the peaceful image of India’s historic peasant movement. Something similar happened after the Republic Day incident in January this year. The Sikh farmers in the Lakhimpur Kheri belt have mostly migrated from the Doaba and Majha areas of Punjab and they are very much with the on-going agitation.

Today’s agrarian scenario differs sharply from that of ‘70s. Old slogans won’t work anymore. But new slogans to accommodate all sections of peasantry are not emerging. As for the small and marginal peasants of eastern India the main problem is how to thwart further pauperisation and dispossession. With every passing day agricultural practice for small and poor peasants is becoming uneconomic .More and more landless wage labourers are shifting to other non-agrarian occupations.

The 10-month-old farmers’ movement is being projected by the powers that be as a special phenomenon restricted to the ‘Green Revolution Belt’, albeit agitation’s spread is being noticed in other parts of the country, much to the dismay of the Modis. True, the support is not yet so strong but it is gaining momentum. Indications are that they are planning to use force to crush this historic movement. Strangely, Opposition is not yet united to oppose Modi’s tyranny. Congress is trying to cash in on farmer deaths in Lakhimpur Kheri by offering cash compensation. The BJP government of UP too is keen to make cash compensation though relatives of the dead demand justice. They demand justice against the powerful.

Congress has sent a high-profile delegation headed by Rahul Gandhi to Lakhimpur Kheri with an eye to next assembly elections in UP and Punjab. Meanwhile, the Congress leaders of Punjab and Chattisgarh declared their governments would provide compensation of Rs 50 lakh each to the families of the deceased. Incidentally the Congress announce-ment came at a time when the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government of UP where the incident took place is yet to give any compensation to the victims’ families. Politics of doles pays dividends in polls but Congress is not serious about strengthening the Farmers’ movement. Its lip service to the farmers’ cause is too clever by half.

The intricacies of three farm laws mostly remain unexplained and unconvincing to the poor and marginalised peasants. Even family labour can no longer sustain small peasant economy. Unless they are mobilised in their millions the Tikaits will soon face a very tough job to keep the movement united. The one-point demand of scrapping agricultural laws is not enough.

As things stand today, the government is unlikely to withdraw the farm laws. Nor will they shelve it for the time being. It remains to be seen whether Modi will go down in history as the architect of post-independence Jalliwanwalbagh.

And Bharat after the nationwide September 24 Bharat Bandh called by the Ssanjukta Kisan Morcha, is not what it ought to be. No doubt major opposition parties, left parties, regional parties supported the strike but barring left parties no political outfit made it a rallying point against Modi.


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Vol. 54, No. 19, Nov 7 - 13, 2021