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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 8, New Delhi, February 6, 2021

The unraveling of a script in two parts and writing a new script by farmers | Amit Bhaduri and Chaman Lal

Saturday 6 February 2021

by Amit Bhaduri and Chaman Lal*

The script of collaboration is in two parts. The first part was written long ago when the once revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was released after long years from prison in the Andamans. He collaborated with the British as he had promised in several petitions for mercy he had written to the British authorities from jail. In what psychologists describe as ‘transferred anxiety’ he seemed to have transferred his hatred of the colonial British power to a hatred of fellow Indian Muslims. Since then, Guru Golwalkar and others in the RSS took this agenda forward. They all stayed away from the then anti-colonial struggle, and joined neither its non-violent stream led by Gandhi nor its violent stream led by martyrs like Bhagat Singh or Subhas Bose.

In a curious similarity the one-time revolutionary Savarkar became a collaborationist of the British, while Jinnah, a one-time resolute secular nationalist Congress leader who had stood firm even against the Khilafat movement because of its religious overtones, came to depend increasingly on the British for helping the Muslim minority against a majoritarian Hindu nationalism. Both Savarkar and Jinnah who had started as secular political leaders ended their careers as leaders whose politics were defined by the religion they championed.

The second part of the script begins with another kind of collaboration of more recent origin. The ‘Gujarat economic model’ stripped of rhetoric was always one that depended on big business. Gandhi talked of large business as ’trustees’ of national wealth, and tried to create an idealized picture of the self sufficient village economy without class, caste and religious conflict which would coexist in harmony with big capitalist as trustees. That ambiguity was questioned by the Congress socialists like Bose and Nehru and Lohia. Nevertheless, it persisted even through the ‘socialist pattern’ days of post-independence Congress, just like its attitude towards religion remained ambivalent.

However, the economic ambiguity began to disappear as economic liberalization began to gather momentum from about 1991. The softness of attitude to religion or socialism of the Congress, was originally due to its national umbrella like character. It intended to accommodate different streams within the anti-colonial struggle, and was occasionally visible even after it embraced neo-liberalism in early 1990s. For instance, it tried to provide some protection to the poor through schemes such as MNAREGA. RSS-driven BJP on the other hand had the dubious advantage of never being a part of the anti-colonial movement. Its agenda was far less ambiguous. Socially it was for ‘cultural nationalism’ and its culture meant Hinduism interpreted as opposing Islam, usually of the Bramhinical variety which promoted Manuvad (laws according to Manu) marinated in caste and gender discrimination. Economically it promoted big business in its actions, but understandably not in its election promises. From the time it came to power in 2014 with a clear electoral mandate for the first time at the Centre, it went about it methodically on both economic and social fronts. The electoral bonds were early signs of its insidious intents which intended to develop underhand collaboration between the party and big business. It tolerated no dissent from central bankers, as big business virtually looted the nationalised banks. Loans were advanced on the implicit understanding that they need not be paid back. Unpaid loans were allowed to pile up as ‘non-performing assets, the government requested the highest court to keep the names of the biggest defaulter a secret. The lack of transparency must make one wonder whether there is a link between the biggest defaulters and the biggest electoral bond purchasers. In the meantime, demonetization which destroyed the livelihood of so many poor was passed off as a fight against black money.

Collaboration between government and big business to various degrees is the name of the game in capitalist democracies. What then is the distinguishing mark of BJP’s collaboration with big business? BJP which earned about 37% of votes at its peak has been awfully innovative in largely neutralizing the voice of the remaining more than 60% of the voters from being heard. Its main technique has been of fooling that 60% with its anti-Muslim rhetoric. Citizenship amendment act (CAA) was presented as a census for ‘real’ citizenship which openly targeted the Muslim citizens of India. Abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir was presented as mere consolidation of the Indian state, but affected mostly the Muslims again. Treating the cow as holy affects among other things not merely eating habits but also the livelihoods of many Muslims and Dalits in hide and leather business. Anti conversion laws directed against inter-faith marriage has the primitive intent of maintaining the ‘purity’ of blood. Many tribes as well as the Nazi state practiced precisely this to keep the mythical blood boundaries of the tribe clearly demarcated. And now, we have BJP governments in modern India openly promoting that Nazi ideology.

Facts are made to stand on their head as big media is paid big money contributed by big business. It is often claimed that the Hindu majority is under threat from the Muslim minority, and majority vote bank is persuaded to see it as ‘appeasement’ of the minority. A tragedy happens in Indian democracy when parties like the Congress do not counter it frontally in vote bank politics. Other parties inspired by Lohia or by Ambedkar fail to point out, that if appeasement is the issue then the upper caste is being appeased much more at the cost of the Dalits and Muslims. BJP’s success results largely from managing to hide this deep fault line within Hindu society itself.

Boosted by collaboration with big money power and a subservient mainstream media, BJP government got increasingly over-confident under the cover of the pandemic. It got increasingly emboldened in this game of deceit notwithstanding massive failures all round. Despite rising unemployment, a shaky banking system, negative growth, it assumed a virtually defunct parliament, a paralyzed opposition and soon had all major public institutions under its tight control so that it now faced no serious resistance. And it was right in its assessment when it saw that it was time to corporatize agriculture, and set free for corporate loot the market for agricultural produce. Even the legal rights of farmers were eliminated under the new laws in case of disputes over purchases with corporations. Indeed, with help of the government, the corporations would become free to mould and manipulate the market of agriculture produce.

The government had underestimated the farmers who saw through the game with far greater clarity than most experts, and rose in resistance. Farmers have repeatedly risen in resistance against injustice throughout history, and the present one, although unique in many respects follows that glorious tradition. Punjab has its proud share in that all India tradition of resistance. The 1906-7 Pagri Sambhal Jatta movement led by Bharat Mata Society and Mohabbane Watan formed by Ajit Singh, Kishan Singh (uncle and father of Bhagat Singh) Ghasita Ram, Lal Chand Falak challenged the colonial rulers when they burdened the farmers with heavy taxes. After the farmers had developed farmlands with their hard labour the land were threatened to be snatched from them. Banke Dayal wrote his famous song-Pagdi Sambhal Jatta, which became the nomenclature of the movement as well. Farmers in the present movement are holding Pagdi Sambhal Jatta flags and reminding us of their history of resistance. The Awadh farmers’ movement of 1920 is yet another landmark in north Indian history. And just prior to independence the Tebhaga movement in Bengal and Telangana was another armed peasant resistance, and immediately after independence in 1948, the Mujara movement took place in PEPSU area led by Red Party (Lal Party) which shook a feudal agrarian system that had been put in place by the British.

The present farmers’ movement has its root in that history of unbending courage inherited from Bhagat Singh, but it is far wider in open popular participation than what Bhagat Singh had dreamt of in his writings in jail.

The present gathering is massive with more than two lakh farmers on Delhi borders exceeding perhaps the numbers of JP or Anna movements. And, unlike those movements which had RSS as their background force resulting in right-wing gaining strength later in those movements, the present one is a spontaneous rise of the farmers on their demand. This can take forward the unrealized progressive agenda of revolutionary and social leaders like Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhas Bose Ambedkar and Periyar because their demand is linked with curbing corporate interests in agriculture and creating an alliance between different sections of the peasantry helped by the notion of equality taught by the Sikh gurus. Unity has gradually developed between so-called high caste farmers and low caste farmworkers at Delhi borders. All castes/religions people are cooking and eating together, there is no gender-based division of labour. Every day at the border they are challenging the nefarious designs of Brahmanical Manuvadi social divisions. The RSS/BJP and their crony corporate collaborationists identified by the farmers as direct beneficiaries of these black farm laws have every reason to be worried. The farmers have worried them as never before in independent India.

(Authors: *Amit Bhaduri is a senior economist; he resigned his Professor Emeritus position at JNU in protest.
*Chaman Lal is retired Professor from JNU and Dean, Language Faculty, Panjab University Chandigarh. )

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