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New farm laws and Solidarity movement: Unfolding New politics for New Economics | Sunil Ray

Saturday 27 February 2021


by Sunil Ray *

 Farmers’ upheaval, a unique resistance movement against the new farm laws epitomizing neo-liberalism is making a case for an epochal transformation that the nation has ever witnessed after Independence. It is capturing the imagination of structural change not of agriculture alone, but of the entire rural economy of the country. Besides, it resonates cries of all resistance movements, small or big, that seem to have been pressing their natural inclination to be retrieved for joining this movement. In its totality, it is another freedom struggle for decoloniality from ‘development of underdevelopment’, which has witnessed its sharpest aggravation under neoliberal regime. The proclivity of the movement to culminate to new height is becoming higher with its fierce velocity gaining increasingly through its spread effect. A protracted two -pronged movement seems to have been gaining ground, if one wishes to say so, against, on the one hand, the semi-feudal forces that never allowed the farmers to prosper. And, the capital system, on the other, that mediates its interest through the state and seeks to replace the semi-feudal forces by means of projecting itself as the vehicle of change, as it has been doing so ever since its birth. Its only purpose is to expropriate the farmers under the veil of the so-called “free market “mechanism of neo-liberalism. To express it in slightly different way, small farmers that hold the key to economic transformation of the country is now sought to be subsumed to the capital system through corporatization of agriculture based on new farm laws. They are left to be expropriated by the same after having freed from the clutches of the semi-feudal forces. In other words, it is freedom to “unfree”.

 Free market is nothing but a ‘mythological beast’ that has no empirical evidence for its existence as McCauley, an econophysicst explains. It is a fiction wrapped up with elegant mathematical tools of how the unregulated market with perfectly flexible prices and perfectly informed individuals gives optimal outcome. And, the historical truth is that this fiction was created when the British Enlightenment philosophy was consolidated during the 18th century along with the concept of private property, individual right and free market economy. We must not forget that the free market as a fiction was created only to serve the interest of the early capitalist under the rubric of ‘scientific neutrality ‘which is eternalized and got entry as founding principle of economics. Notwithstanding the false construction of the latter with its false epistemological base, it is treated as an axiomatic truth by the protagonists of mainstream development economics. It reifies as a result and never stops creating development illusion over the centuries. The only purpose is to rob off the right of the majority to lead a dignified life by way of pushing the benefits of market transaction to a few hands under the veil of the so -called ‘free market’ economy.

 The tide of the resistance movements against the so-called ‘free market’ doctrine of neo-liberalism that has changed the development discourse of the world particularly Latin America has now reached the Indian shore in its breadth and length. No doubt, the previous central government did uncage the mythological beast to roam freely around the country at the dictate of global capital. Sung everywhere religiously that economic resurgence of the nation was an infallible truth of the free-market operation with higher and still higher economic growth. We spent twenty-five years or so with it and we know how we are left only to lose. The major causality is rural economy, particularly agriculture that forced millions of farmers to commit suicide, never witnessed before planting the neo-liberal model of economic development in Indian soil. Not to talk about unemployment which is growing at a frightening scale on the top of it.

 The much -awaited agricultural market reforms in India, the celebrated World Bank prescription to rejuvenate Indian ‘sick’ agriculture, was kept postponed. But now it has found its way to reign the roost. The loss of sovereignty of the farmers over food production to the complete control of the corporate capital may be an obvious outcome. Corporate capital means large capital, hence large command and control over resources and the market and of course large share in the value addition of the produces. And, as the logic of capital under capital system is its proliferation through surplus value generation, large capital will create large surplus value as has been doing elsewhere in the world. Under the veil of ‘scientific neutrality’ the so-called ‘free market’ may continue to provide social legitimacy to the process of expropriation of surplus value from agricultural produces. It is not true that everyone will be loser in the game. Some will benefit only to glorify the operation of the ‘free’ market operation in the place of Mahajan-commission agent -middleman dominated market, that emblematizes how the semi-feudal forces are at work. Hence, the new farm laws accompanied by no MSP are to be seen as per the government of India as the messiah to liberate the farmers from the clutches of the exploitative semi-feudal forces. In other words, it is an attempt to replace control of the semi-feudal forces on more than 80 % of the farmers who are small by large corporate /global capital. It is an attempt to make us believe that that such a replacement, is the only source through which farmers of the nation will be able to cross the dark tunnel they are passing through for generations and see the light of their sustainable prosperity.

  Whether this will happen or not is left to the future to decide especially when the structure of the market is left to be designed by large corporate capital to the detriment of farmers’ loss of share in value addition of their produces. The worst that one apprehends, is that corporatization will reduce agriculture to appendage to the capital-intensive industrial growth. This is nothing new in the history of growth of the capital system. As a consequence, farmers especially those who are small will be reduced to wage labor and the growth potential of agriculture as a sector will be completely bulldozed. In other words, robustness of this sector to trigger off local forces of change that transform the rural economy, and, hence national economy will be brushed aside.
One has more in store to talk about. If we briefly reflect on why and how the terms of trade has been constantly kept against agriculture vis-vis industry and how largest percentage of value addition is being sucked from the former, it may not be difficult for one to discern the magnitude of distress it might have to undergo further if it is reformed on the basis of these laws. One may claim that implementation of the new farm laws will stop this process. For, farmers will then have choice to sell their produce at a competitive price. But, how does one expect competition in the first place under the quasi-monopsonist market controlled by the corporate capital and then higher prices?

 It is not that the present marketing system is free from such quasi-monopsonist control that works through cartelization particularly. In fact, my own study on wool market in Rajasthan shows how market imperfections with such a repressive structure never allowed the sheep rearers to share in the final value addition of their produce not more than their subsistence living. And this leads one to suggest total reforms of the market structure and institutional practices from production to marketing. But does it necessarily imply that the country needs to follow the rules of reforms as prescribed by the world Bank as a part of its neo-liberal agenda that aims to expand private capital circuit, intensify its share in total value addition and finally leave little of it to be shared by many to showcase as development impact? One wonders if any scientific evidence validates the logic of economic transformation as an impact of it in terms of long-term economic prosperity of the small farmers anywhere in the world under corporate capital in so-called free market. Contrarily, it yielded worst scenario that no development economist is prepared to accept, except, of course, those who are protagonists of neo-liberal development agenda. No doubt agriculture market needs restructuring with new institutional practices. But it must be done in a way that it will never allow corporate capital or merchant-middleman-money lender nexus to exercise their control over it. In other words, such practices must not be allowed to work to push largest share of value created through transaction to the hands of a few.

 While doing my research on sheep rearers and wool market some years ago as mentioned earlier, I developed a model for wool processing and marketing through formation of what is called ‘Common Facility Centre’(CFC) a form of cooperative, an independent creation of the sheep rearers not as a protégés either of the government or large capital. It was self-organization to be managed, controlled and run by the sheep rearers alone. The primary objective was to bypass middlemen chain, commission agent etc. and directly sell raw wool to the raw wool processing industries after completing preliminary processing of raw wool. This was supposed to be accomplished in conformity with the mandi rules as prescribed by the state government. The then government of Rajasthan accepted it and started implementing on pilot basis through RUDA, a state government organization, in collaboration with some local NGOs. However, due to the reasons best known to them the model failed to pick up.
 Taking a que from here, I argue that it may be worthwhile to make such an attempt to eliminate structural bias of the market against the farmers. With this, new institutional practices that can come in to being to promote fair market exchange of agricultural produce, their pricing and fair distribution of value addition in favor of the producers may work against monopsonist market structure. However, such operational space of marketing must have to be found obviously above minimum support price of all agricultural produces. The logic of creation of self-organization or collective enterprises as the buyers of agricultural produces (new co-operatives jointly run by a few) to come up at small scale with small storage capacity in conformity with the mandi rules as prescribed by the local government may sound convincing. Just imagine if such collective self-sufficient enterprises run by the unemployed educated youths grow in number in rural areas throughout the country what will be their impact on employment, income and overall economic status of the rural economy. This may in turns trigger off growth of a chain of activities at small scale in related fields as well.

 My argument, therefore, is that institutional practices of market that allow a few to exercise their control over it whether it is corporate or merchant capital, disable the growth trajectory of small farming dominated agriculture. It is here that investment of small capital in forward linkages of agriculture assumes strategic importance. Once volume of transaction of goods and services rises, innumerable capital circuit that will be set in motion may not allow value addition to concentrate in the hands of a few. If growth potential of agriculture in India is to be understood in its depth, one needs to map out multiplicity of production and processing activities at the local level and further outside of it but with due regard to local ecology. If profitability is treated as the only incentive for investment in agriculture which is largely subsistent, forward activities based on it will never multiply that may lead to cease its growth potential. Its cumulative impact may damage the prospect of not only food sufficiency and its availability to all, but also further constrict the size of the home market. Employability both wage and self, may decline further as a result. Hence, the economic stability of country like India outside the so-called “free” market operation and corporatization may have to depend on other sources to incentivize agriculture. Legalizing MSP may be cited as an example to this effect. Many more ways one can quote only to show how it could succeed to produce the development narratives which may prove appropriate for India’s agriculture to sustain its incremental change.

 The regressive logic of agricultural development as advanced by the ruling party through corporatization of agriculture based on new farm laws, compels me to amplify the theoretical veracity towards emergence of dystopian colonial make -up against which another freedom struggle the post-Independent India is now waging. It is not the peasant uprising alone that sufficiently explains what I mean by ‘freedom struggle’. And also, peasant uprising of today must not be read as a toxic response of the Indian peasantry to the impending disaster that they apprehend to come -by in the wake of implementation of the new farm laws. No doubt its electrifying impact is immense. But it must be read as the culmination of the accumulated pain that ravaged the lives of the farmers, the poor farmers, the majority of the farming community in India manifesting either through killing themselves, or through perineal indebtedness, or through becoming instant victim of monopsonist tyranny of the market. They have dreamt for 75 years after Independence to free themselves one day from all these pains. Today’s peasant uprising is a cumulative response to all these accumulated pains to tear down the development illusion that each successive government created. It is an emancipatory struggle set in motion by them who only provide the survival conditions of the nation.

The struggle is protracted, unfettered to any political party, as it appears, to be hijacked and non-endemic with a higher degree of propensity of being reinforced by other ongoing resistance movements launched by the powerless subordinate groups against democratic despotism. It is needless to mention that powerlessness is not confined to the economic deprivation alone. It is spread across social, political, cultural, environmental etc. that reduce the largest majority to subordinate group. It is quite likely that all subordinate groups together may join the farmers’ democratic movement based on the principles of solidarity to resist cultural hegemony of the dominant groups and ensure all social groups have a voice through democratic means such as participation, dialogue etc. as ruling by obeying comes in to play.

 The immediate next is the frightening unemployment problem that may trigger off a massive resistance movement to unmask the real face of neoliberalism. It is absolutely logically to believe that it has been gaining momentum. It may ally with the farmers’ ongoing resistance movements. Again, the ongoing resistance movements against environmental degeneration, ceaseless displacement of the poor from their habitation such as land, forest etc. to feed the profit-hungry corporate/global capital as an offshoot of neo-liberal development agenda may find their ways to firm up their movements by way of joining the farmers’ movement as a part of displaying their solidarity. The fragile social movements against institutionalized social discrimination that has barbaric manifestation in the form of its oppression against Dalits, aboriginals, women and minority may find their reasons to express their solidarity to the emancipatory movements against neoliberal development agenda as explained. The resistance movements around the world especially in the Latin American countries in the recent past reveal how powerlessness due to social deprivation can reinforce economically and environmentally deprived people to democratically resist the process of dehumanization by way of creating a common platform. They, in chorus, reclaim their right to lead a dignified life. It is not too far for India to foresee a growing trend of crystallization of the inner forces to come about to set off new organizing principles of the economy and society.

What strikes one about these resistance movements however powerful they are, barring a few, none has grown under the shadow of any political party with representative democracy as mandated by the constitution. They are primarily led by the civil society that believes in lasting solution of dehumanization perpetrated by the socio-economic and political structure. It is true that the capital system under neo-liberalism subsumes the structure to expropriate humans and nature. But it is also true that, by doing so, it creates a favorable condition for all unifying forces to foster the process of their constellation and lead them to discover a common forum to reinforce the resistance movements. Since individuals identify themselves with the problems which are dehumanizing, rather than any political party, it is the scale and magnitude of the problem that helps the individual to form her/his opinion. The collective opinion may transform itself in to an ideology over time independent of any extant ideology of any political party. The political party or the individual member of any political party may fall in line with the movements but not otherwise.

If it is held true, one may have reasons to argue that the ongoing farmers’ movement will have distinctly different political ramifications in India sooner or later. For, the shadow of the movement is falling on the deprived and disempowered from all wakes of life no matter which political party one belongs to, which region one comes from, which language one speaks, which religious faith one practices and which social group one is attached with. Solidarism between them is an historical inevitability and, hence, it may set off new politics for new organizing principles of the economy. It is but stepping in to an alternative development paradigm which I have called elsewhere ‘cohesive development’. The small farmers and other deprived people may discover the seed of India’s resurgence in it.

* (Author: Sunil Ray is Former Director, A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna)

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