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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 51, New Delhi, December 5, 2020

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Dec 5, 2020

Saturday 5 December 2020

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Dec 5

As we write these lines there is a continuing standoff between a movement of protesting peasants from Punjab and Haryana (with growing support from Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other States) on one side and the Central Government on the other. Over the past ten days tens of thousands of peasants are parked on a highway leading to Delhi, they are demanding a rollback of three Farm bills that were rushed through Parliament with little debate. The government is trying to defuse the crisis and talks are on about three Farm bills. We don’t know what will be outcome. The peasants from Punjab and Haryana who produce large volumes of wheat and rice sell their produce at a Minimum Support price at government organized markets. These farm bills were introduced by the government for pushing ‘ease of doing trade’ — seemingly for Agri-business corporate interests rather than for peasants.

Some big corporate firms have been expanding over the past years into retailing of agricultural produce. The peasants in Punjab Haryana zone fear that they will be in dire straits if the state managed grain procurement system ends. The peasantry in Punjab is politically important and its mobilization over the past months has been very impressive (they had been protesting in front of the homes of leaders of India’s ruling party, the BJP, toll plazas on highways, petrol pumps owned by Reliance and shopping malls and occupied railway lines). The protest movement has grown big quickly and has the support from opposition parties and national trade unions. They are calling for ‘Bharat bandh’ strike call on December 8 supported by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of some 400 farmers’ organisations across the country. It is quite creditable that All India Kisan Sabha the Peasant platform of the left has played an important role in rallying support from wide sections of society towards the current protest movement.

This agitation is bigger than JNU protests, Shaheen Bagh and other agitations of the recent years. It is important to note that the peasant movement in Delhi is not getting fair coverage by the Indian TV news networks. Some of the major TV networks have been spreading the word about this agitation being ‘anti-national’ or being financed by some opposition parties. The overconfident and unstoppable Modi government is faced with a major challenge to it and its backers — the big business oligarchs. The Government may do a partial roll back and make peace with the peasants for now.

But let us remember the agrarian crisis is not going to go away.

We do know that over the past decades the rural economy and agriculture have continually been in crisis. There are demands every year to waive off the debts of the peasantry. In Punjab, the water table has been sinking. The choice of crops and the cropping pattern continues without much reflection on the ecological considerations and viability of procurement of huge stocks that begin to rot in the godowns. There is a need to re-imagine a more socially and ecologically sensitive agriculture. There should be a move away from water-guzzling crops etc. All this will require a brainstorming, debate and fresh thinking with peasant organisations and wider society.

Progressive political parties must show courage to reflect on and promote social and economic reforms – for a new economy that is socially and environmentally sustainable. New Cooperatives could be re-imagined to promote a more just alternative to corporate farming.

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Reflections on some past dark days of December

Thirtysix years ago on the night of December 2 and 3, 1984, the world’s worst industrial disaster took place in Bhopal, when the Union Carbide chemical plant leaked poisonous gases killing, blinding and disabling tens of thousands. The Union Carbide Factory had very little to pass off as health and safety measures. Those exposed continue to die prematurely today, and children continue to be born with disproportionately high incidences of birth defects, cancers . But, we have learnt little, safety is still not a priority for us. Our lawmakers have chosen to dilute environmental oversight and there continue to be regular smaller-scale industrial accidents. Twenty Frist century India’s aspirations to industrialise should be founded on safety.

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On December 6 1992, a mob of Hindutva militants destroyed a 16th Century Mosque in Ayodhya. This had sparked communal violence leaving some 2000 dead. A long legal trial followed to bring to book the people who had conspired in the demolition of the mosque … decades on the trial court finally gave a judgment in September of this year and much to the shock of all secularists it acquitted everyone who had been involved. It is such a shame that decades on the CBI and the special court in Lucknow failed to punish people who had betrayed our constitutional ideals of secularism.

Tributes:

V N Datta, the prominent historian, passed away on November 30, 2020. He wrote on a wide range of subjects but Punjab had been the focus of his work. His writings included: Jallianwala Bagh; New Light on Punjab Disturbances; Amritsar: Past and Present; Sati. His detailed work on the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh was widely acclaimed.

Lalit Surjan, the chief editor of Deshbandhu Patra Media Group, passed away on Dec 2, 2020 in New Delhi. Lalit Surjan as a journalist had social concerns close to his heart. He was also associated with the Progressive Writers Association and the All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation.

We pay our tributes to the above figures.

December 5, 2020 – The Editor

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