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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 6, New Delhi, January 23, 2021

The Wonder That’s The Indian Farmer | TJS George

Friday 22 January 2021, by T J S George

IMPRESSIONS

The farmers’ agitation has become something of an Indian phenomenon. There is no dominant leader or party at the helm. Yet they carry on with sustained fervour, clear about who they are and what they deserve. They are true sons of toil working on tons of soil.

(A New York newspaper reported a mining disaster in 1941 with the heading “Sons of toil under tons of soil.” Around the same time Bombay’s Free Press Journal used the same headline, written by journalist Stalin Srinivasan. His real first name was Kuppuswamy, but the moustache he nurtured with great care and greater pride was a photocopy of Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s thick mop. So he became known as Stalin. Not even friends knew that his real name was Kuppuswamy.)

The sons of toil gathering at the gates of Delhi were confronting a government that was too adamant to listen to them. The government decisions against which the farmers were fighting had been taken consciously by the Prime Minister and colleagues. They were aware that the decisions would help big-time corporates and not the farmers. That was indeed the government’ game plan because the corporates were not the old-style “Tata-Birlas” as in the days of Nehru but the new-style “Adani-Ambanis.” Tata-Birlas were influential with the government but they tried not to show it. The government also tried to pretend that they didn’t care for the big corporates. That has changed. The new corporate bosses are adept at using their influence decisively and openly.

That farmers are taken for a ride in India is an old story. Like factory workers being taken for a ride. But the trade union movement that developed with considerable muscle power took care of the factories despite their using tactics that were harmful to economic growth in general. Farmers never attracted the attention that factory workers did, primarily because they were not city-centred and therefore not easy to be gathered under a trade union.

That is the situation that now seems to have changed. Farmers have been sensitised about their rights and made aware of the importance of fighting. Since they are not city-centred their action has taken on a different character. That difference is being held up as their strength. The farmers’ rising has certainly attracted public sympathy, one reason being their peaceful approach in contrast to the militancy of the old trade-union movements.

Workers were exploited in the old days by factory owners who had their way in everything from working conditions to wages. The exploitation of farmers has not been different. Rules and institutions existed suggesting arrangements to ensure fairness to all. Minimum Support Price sounded like a noble policy while Agricultural Produce Market Committees sounded like a sensible way to prevent large mandis from becoming grounds of exploitation by big corporate operators.

But the ground situation was nowhere as good as the policy platforms suggested. Farmers had no alternative but to sell their produce at prices lower than what was mandated by the Government: Why? No one answered that question openly because no one wanted to confront the big power-wielder in the sector, Shri Middleman who invariably ended up as the winner, often the sole winner.

Shri Middleman is so influential that he gets the Government to work for him instead of for the farmer or the ordinary citizen. How does he manage that? To get the answer to that question, we will have to know the more common name by which Shri Middleman is known. That name is Dada. In most Indian languages that word is known and dreaded. The wise keep away from Dada. When Dada is looking after the produce of farmers, the wise look elsewhere.

The reality citizens must accept is that Big Corporates are something like Big Dada. Where they operate, they operate according to their own rules. In America the corporatisation of agriculture led to massive profits for companies. It is a well-established fact that what is good for America is good for India. What big corporates in America welcome as wise policies, big corporates in India also welcome. Bigness has the same logic everywhere.

Some tell-tale things have been happening already. A Congress MP charged that Adani-Ambani groups have registered 53 agro-based companies in the last few months. Farmers have issued a boycott call against Reliance and Adani products and services. This is the first time such open protests have been staged against the two richest Indians. Where are we headed?

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