Reading the Farmers’ Movement in India

Arup Kumar Sen

India is witnessing a peaceful farmers’ movement for the last three months against the three contentious farm laws enacted by the Indian State.

There are many readings of the farmers’ movement. Very recently, one scholar has argued: “…the current Indian Farmers’ Movement, instead of being critical of the Indian nation or nationhood, is actually critical of the Indian state and its majoritarian politics. The movement harnesses the energy of the anti-colonial struggle and postcolonial national self-representation to redefine and reclaim nationalism from the state”. (See B. Venkat Mani, Telos, February 26, 2021)

Another insightful reading of the movement observed: “The peasant movement in its wake has enacted Gandhi’s conception of non-violence, crafting an alternative conception of sovereignty, another polis grounded in shahadat or martyrdom…The two currents - Gandhian and Sikh - have come together in the contemporary Indian peasant movement as peasants and others have protested peacefully for more than 60 days. Their strength lies in that they created another polis to counter the masculinist, repressive and vengeful sovereignty currently being asserted by the Indian state”. (See Shail Mayaram, The Wire, February 7, 2021)

 The above two readings enrich our understanding of the political language of the farmers’ movement.

 The present farmers’ movement in India distinctly carries an “Anti-Capitalist Manifesto”. It may be argued that the movement represents ‘counter-operations’ against the neoliberal ‘operations of Capital’. Recently, the general secretary of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union (which joined the movement), Lachhman Sewewala, highlighted the attempts towards capitalist takeover of Indian agriculture, in his interview with Frontline (February 12, 2021): “There are three decisive aspects in agriculture – cultivation, storage and sale at the mandi (market). All these three operations have been handed over to private entities. If contract farming happens, the contractor will decide what will be sown…to make a profit. This will pose a direct threat to food security”. He also explained how the corporatization of agriculture will pose a direct threat to the survival of agricultural workers.

In fact, the current farmers’ movement in India represents protests by different agrarian classes and communities against the neoliberal path of agrarian capitalism being promoted by the India state.

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Mar 3, 2021

Arup Kumar Sen

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