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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 52, New Delhi, December 11, 2021

Farmers’ victory helps democracy and democratic institutions survive | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 11 December 2021

by Arun Srivastava

The battle between the farmers and the Modi government has entered into a very critical phase. On November 19, Narendra Modi told the nation that he was repealing the three farm laws against which farmers have been on satyagrah for over a year. He even apologised. Obviously he resorted to this strategy to gain back the sympathy of the people and particularly of the farmers. But he was mistaken this was his admission of guilt.

Though he and his protégés claim him to be a statesman, but his action was unlike of a statesman, a person having no iota of wisdom and vision. True enough he should have apologised to the farmers who were tortured and repressed by him and his government. Entire country knowns that the farmers were insulted, humiliated and reign of repression was let lose by his government, Delhi police and the BJP ruled states of Harayana and Uttar Pradesh at his instructions.

One must not nurse any illusion that he resorted to this generous action out of sympathy for the farmers. He made the retreat after listening to the fear nurtured by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and sign of caution from his capitalist friends that the satyagrah has shepherded an entirely new phase of political economic battle between the farmers and autocratic rightist forces. Further stretching of the satyagrah would simply impair their class interest. The compulsion to retreat and also the political importance of his move could be made out from his not disclosing his action either to the RSS leaders or senior BJP leaders or not seeking the consent of the Union Cabinet. The only person who was aware of the move was the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, but he too maintained assiduous silence.

On November 29 while he moved a bill in the Lok Sabha to repeal the three laws, intriguingly he preferred to abstain from the proceedings of the house to abjure the moral accountability to inform the nation through the house the reason which forced him to repeal farm bills. This move coming from a prime minister who maintained an indifferent attitude to the suicide and deaths of 800 farmers during the agitation and at whose prompts the BJP leaders and cadres used abusive and derogatory languages as Khalistani, Criminals, Pakistanis, Mawalis against the farmers is bizarre. Was it constitutional for the PM to ridicule the farmers by calling them “andolan jeevis,” when they were exercising their constitutional right to protest? The PM has even talked of a “foreign destructive ideology” and his colleagues have dubbed the farmers as Maoists and anti-nationals.

The remark of National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval that civil society is the “new frontier of war” says much about the perceptions of those occupying high posts sanctioned by the Constitution. There is no denying that his remark imbibes the mood and mind of Modi. His remark has been an attack on civil society, virtually a war on the people.

His maintaining utmost secrecy speaks loud of impending threat. Yet another significant development that has added to confusion is the assertion of some senior BJP leaders that Modi would re-enact the three laws once the farmers go back to their homes. They argue that move to rescind the laws in Parliament would not refrain him from enacting fresh bills in future. His repealing the acts lack moral conviction and commitment. The manner in which the bill to rescind the laws was introduced reminisced the way the laws were passed in 2020. At that time the members of parliament could not debate and today also they could discuss the process of repeal. On that day entire process hardly took a few minutes and today also the process was complete within a couple of minutes.

Modi was in the Lok Sabha for a while but left before the repeal bill’s passage. The farmers felt insulted at the way Modi rushed through the repeal bill denying Parliament the opportunity to discuss the flaws and the problems faced by the farming community. They also criticised the Statement of Objects and Reasons for the repeal bill. They alleged that it reflected the government’s “egoistic and adamant attitude” and was “meant to misguide gullible people”. The omission annoyed the farmers as they had made the Constitution and democratic principles central to their movement. The SKM rejected the claim of extensive consultations with farmers, saying that "opportunistic consultations with industry-sponsored farm unions" is not the way forward in a democracy.

It just took four minutes for the Lok Sabha on Monday to repeal the three controversial farm legislations which saw farmers resorting to satyagrah at the Delhi borders for a year. Shockingly Modi government refused to listen to the opposition’s demand for a discussion in the House. This is reminiscent of the manner in which the black laws were passed by the parliament in September 2020. Modi had refused to have a debate.

A TV address to the nation is not a substitute for discussion in the Parliament. This act of Modi simply denigrated and undermined the authority of parliament. While some intellectuals and academics condemn the farmers’ protest and label it as a move to clog agriculture reforms they in fact have been building a case to benefit the capitalists and corporate houses. It is a matter of shame these people have been misusing their academic intellect to promote the economic vested interest.

The social scientists and researchers ought to study the agitation. No doubt the farmers were the vanguards of the Chinese, Russian and other socialist struggles. But they had the basic element of ideology and violence. But the farmers Satyagrah was purely nonviolence and at non stage the farmers expressed their frustration or anger of course the movement did not follow any particular ideology. All the farmers’ unions nursed divergent policies and ideologies. What was also important that rich farmers of UP, Rajasthan , Harayana and Punjab not only stood firmly behind the peasants but even led the movement forgetting class differentiation. This was the major reason that the manoeuvrings of Modi and other BJP government failed to break the movement.

The retreat is also a setback for neo-liberalism. Corporate ascendancy over the agricultural sector, by making peasant subservient to the corporates, is a crucial part of the neoliberal agenda and the farm laws were seeking to promote. One aspect of farmers’ movement and retreat which is interpreted as kisan victory, which has not received much attention is a setback for imperialism.

The farmers’ movement emerged unitedly across the country with the support of trade unions, agricultural labourers, women, youth, students, civil society organisations and political parties. The country witnessed the unity of peasantry and working classes from both the formal and informal sectors. This prefigured a red-alert for the rightist forces and capitalists. This retreat also makes it clear that the secular and anti-rightist forces are quite strong and vibrant and all the rightist vigilante mischiefs and actions have miserably failed to finish them. RSS and BJP look at the electoral victory as the index of popularity and acceptability of the saffron politics and Hindutva. But two factors, electoral waterloo of BJP in Bengal and consistent decline of the saffron support base in Uttar Pradesh have turned sceptical and shaken the confidence of the saffron brigade. For them Bengal has been different game, but the saffron on decline has been major cause of concern. It implied that the people in UP could not be indoctrinated or accepted the political line of Hindutva. The impression that people have accepted the political line of Hindutva was created by the goons and criminals owing allegiance to front line organisations of RSS.

BJP and RSS were sure that they would succeed in creating a scenario of hatred that would witness communal clashes in Meerat, Moradabad and other places in UP. But in the face of incredible resoluteness shown by the agitating peasants they had to abandon their design though some saffron goons are still striving to push the state into the flames of clashes just ahead of the elections.

The protesting farmers represented not only their interests but also the larger cause of defending the Constitution, democracy and secularism. They have called the bluff of the Modi government’s polarised politics. Their victory is as much a victory of Ambedkar’s vision anchored in his slogan, “Educate, Agitate and Organise”.

The move of Modi has even angered a section of the capitalists. Their anger owes much to their greed for more benefit. They have been quite happy at the miseries the farmers had to suffer. They too like Modi did not console the death of 800 farmers’ during their one year of satyagrah. The corporate economy and the forces representing the capitalist culture have launched a fresh campaign to malign the farmers’ movement, prevent it from restructuring the basic character of the Indian polity and support the designs of the rightist forces to destroy the secular ethos of the country.

No country across the world has witnessed this nature of farmers’ movement. Gandhiji had shown the path of non violent peaceful Satyagrah, but this time there was no Gandhi to guide the farmers. Farmers accomplished the mission without any political leader. The farmer leaders evolved their own strategy and technique. What was the most exceptional achievement of the farmers was they did not get provoked by the revolting action of the Modi government and his home minister.

Usually the farmers the political institution, the politicians, the academics and intellectuals treat the farmers with disdain and look at them as a class of social pariah. But first time in the political economy history of India they have demonstrated their political maturity and wisdom. With an icy cool brain without showing any apparent revulsion to Modi government’s atrocities they eventually forced him to change his strategy.

It would be naïve to believe that the lingering threat perception of defeat at the UP elections scheduled in 2022 forced Modi to make a strategic retreat and announce the repeal of the three black laws. Instead it was the danger of demotion of the existing political structure and institution which feeds the rightist ideology and politics that prompted him to act. This ought to be not presumed as manifestation of change of heart or Modi getting emotional at the sight of the miseries of the farmers or threat of losing the UP election, instead it was the mechanism to salvage the crumbling political ground of the RSS. The proactive role of Mohan Bhagwat clearly manifests that RSS has already started losing the public support

The sudden and forceful emergence of Maharashtra-based farm union Shetkari Sanghatana chief Anil Ghanwat has not come as surprise. He has been articulating voice of the rich and working on the design to protect the rightist forces and capitalist economy. Soon after Modin announced his intention to repeal the laws he announced his intent to rally at least one lakh farmers in the national capital in support for the three black farm laws. Ghanwat, who was part of the three-member Supreme Court committee to study the three farm laws, said that reform in the agriculture sector will immensely suffer.

Ghanwat is right in his assertion, but ought to have told that he was championing the interest of the Junker and Kulak farmers. Medium, small and poor farmers are not in his mind. They are pariah and his class enemies. Historically too Shetkari from the days of Sharad Joshi has been the voice of the rich and wealthy farmers. Their antagonistic relations with other section of the farmers is well known.

While describing repealing of the laws as an unfortunate decision he conveniently forgot that medium, small and poor farmers cannot flock from one mandi to another in expectation of a good price. They work at subsistence level, they will prefer to reach the nearest buyer. Already these people are not getting a good price for their produce as was seen in the case of wheat and sugar cane. They have to sell their produce at throw away prices. In BJP ruled Bihar there are no mandis. Their produce is purchased by the rich Junkers. It was not at strange to listen him saying that law regarding contract farming was also good.

The intellectuals, academics and economist representing the rightist forces have been lamenting at the death of first step towards reforms. Strange. The fact is the three laws did not offer any blue print for the reforms. At no stage they bore the impression that they would bring about reforms. Shockingly these people have been treating the farmers as bunch of ignorant tillers who are not aware of their welfare, empowerment, development and economic progress. They ought to be spoon fed by the rightist forces and capitalist farmers.

If these people were really interested in development and growth of the farmers, why did not they force Modi to implement Swaminathan report and his own note on MSP which he had written to the former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh as the chief minister of Gujarat? For many years the issue of private investment in agriculture was being raised at various foras, but at at no stage Ambanis or other corporate houses did not take these seriously. Now almost all the corporate houses have become quite proactive. The reason is they now in the changed situation they have fixed their eyes of the land of the farmers. Already the farmers had rejected the three men panel as the members supported and shared the view of Narendra Modi. Their apprehensions have come true with one of them opposing the repeal.

Rich and capitalist farmers do not look beyond their benefits. No doubt the farmers have been committing suicide due to the wrong and faulty policies of the government. But an insight would make it clear that the policies were not changed to help the rich farmers. Let us take the case of Bihar. It is argued that open market would fetch good price for the produce. It is entirely wrong. Bihar opened the market and finished the mandis. Asa result the small and poor farmers have to sale their produce to the rich and capitalist farmers who also act as traders. The small, medium and poor farmers cannot dictate. They have to abide their dictates. Agriculture is extinguishing and quantum of migrant labourers is on rise. Water table is on decline not due to water-intensive paddy and wheat but owes to the lust of the rich and capitalist farmers to make money through construction business.

India has around 260 million people living in poverty and 80% of them fall in the category of small and marginal farmers (with less than 2 hectares of landholding size). The majority of Indian farmers, around 83% of them, are small and marginal farmers. The median annual income of these farmers is around $200 per month, much lower than India’s average per-capita income. The reality is that reform or for that matter repeal of the farm laws is unlikely to impact their livelihood. The segment that is likely to gain is the big farmers, traders, and middlemen (arhatiyas and village banias) associated with agriculture trading. Here is why.

Before the amendment of the law, if farmers are to sell their produce, they had two options. The first was to sell directly to the government. The Central government procures 23 essential food items from the farmers through its agencies such as the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) and Food Corporation of India (FCI). The second option was to take their produce to the nearby government-designated mandi, where in front of state officers they can auction the produce to middlemen.

Seldom farmers are able to sell their produce at the MSP. First of all, every village does not have NAFED or FCI outlets. FCI, currently procures a major portion of rice and wheat from a few selective states. As much as 70% of rice procurement is done from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh while 80% of wheat procurement is done from Punjab, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh. And, even if there is a NAFED or FCI outlet, the government may not procure if the farmers bring their produce before/after the dates of procurement. Many times, the government announces procurement dates a month or two after the harvest time, making it impossible for the small farmers to sell their produce at the MSP. To do that they need to store their perishable stocks in cold storage. And to do that a farmer needs to book a minimum quantity of 50,000 quintals for their produce, something not possible for a marginal farmer. Nearly 20% of India’s fresh produce is wasted because of storage problems.

Another option for the farmers is to directly take the produce to the local mandi. There are only 7700 mandis as against 6,60,000 villages, this means a farmer has to arrange for transport, which is not a feasible option given the distance, and cost of transportation. In most of the cases the small and marginal farmers are so debt-ridden they are obliged to sell their produce to the village money lenders. In India, only 15% of the marginal farmers get access to formal credit, and most of them depend upon informal sources for buying seeds, fertilizers, and other farming requirements. Farm loan waivers do little to help the small and medium farmers.

Modi possesses highest order of skill to mislead and mesmerise the people. His victims are not only the common people, the farmers but even his own colleagues. He has been consistently reiterating that the new farm laws would empower small farmers; this is simply not happening at the moment, he has been speaking lies. Through his hypnotising exercise he has been trying to help his capitalist friends. Recent datas from the National Sample Survey Office show that while farm income has increased a bit, 50.2 per cent of farm households are in debt. The average size of the household debt was Rs 74,121 at the end of the calendar year, 2019. The data have to be viewed in the larger context of the stress on the Indian rural sector in general and on agricultural households in particular. From January 2020 onwards, agricultural households have been under severe pressure given the reverse migration of temporary, informal, urban workers. The existing micro, small and medium enterprises in rural and semi-urban areas are in deep trouble, with some estimates showing anywhere between 60-67 per cent of these enterprises closing down. He has been preparing leeway for his corporate patrons and mentors to enter agricultural production and trade.

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