Tremors are felt by the ruling quarters–tremors of the historic peasants’ movements that have been going on for 67 days in demand for repeal of the three black Farm Laws, withdrawal of the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill and legalizing Minimum Support Price for procurement of agricultural produce. The government initially thought that this was a sporadic movement and would soon fizzle out as the peasants would not be able to squat for long abandoning cultivation work back home and bearing the severe wintry cold. Moreover, it was nurturing another illusion that with the help of the pliant media, it would be able to convince the illiterate peasants that the new laws are meant for their benefit. But soon the government found, it was not that easy. With an undaunted spirit and courage, the peasants were determined to carry on their movement braving all odds till their legitimate demands of annulment of all pro-corporate laws and measures are achieved. The government tried to resist the peasants from entering Delhi and took all necessary prohibitive measures including digging the roads and blocking the entry points to the national capital with boulders, concrete slabs etc.. But thousands of peasants began sit-in demonstration at the four border points of Tikri, Singhu, Shahjahanpur and Gazipur. Everyday peasants from various states were joining the movement. Sensing problem, the government offered to sit with the agitating peasants and discuss the issues. But ten rounds of bilateral talks proved abortive as the government was not inclined to repeal the black laws and agree to other demands. Instead they spoke of bringing amendments to the laws. Repeatedly, the agriculture and food ministers who represented the government side tried to argue that the bills are in the interest of the peasants.
Ruinous consequences of the black Farm Laws
But the peasants told them to their face that howsoever the government might try to eulogize the laws, the fact is that these laws would only pave the way for eventual corporate invasion in the sphere of agriculture. First of all, the total overhauling of the Essential Commodities Act 1955 would enable the agri-corporates and MNCs to purchase rice, wheat, pulses, vegetables, milk, fish and all other food articles as much as they want and then hoard without limit. No punitive measure would be taken for unlimited stocking of such essential items. Then once an artificial scarcity is created by way of this hoarding, they would release the articles selectively and raise the prices. But the existing APMC (agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee) Act poses an obstacle before such unhindered privatization of procurement process. There are at present nearly 7,500 APMC Act-regulated mandis (markets) in the country where 30-32 % of the agricultural crops are sold to the government by the peasants at government approved MSP (Minimum Support price). If these markets continue to exist, it would hinder the intended privatization. So, in the second law, permission has been granted to the corporates to open private mandis side by side government mandis. Once these mandis are operative, the government would phase out the government mandis in a planned manner just like the way, mushrooming growth of private schools has virtually crippled the government schools. Once private houses take full control of the procurement system, they would purchase crops from the peasants at throwaway price and then sell those crops at exorbitant rate in the retail outlets. So, both the peasants and the common people would be severely hit while the coffers of the private operators would swell. Already, within days of enactment of the new laws, as many as 247 AMPC mandis have been closed down in Madhya Pradesh (MP) proving that the apprehension of the peasants are not unfounded. Moreover, if the APMC mandis are abolished, the government would have no crops at its disposal. So whatever little of the Public Distribution System (PDS) or ration system is still in existence, would cease to be there. Food Corporation of India (FCI) would also close down. In fact, already the Adani-group, known for their close proximity to the BJP Prime Minister and government is assigned the responsibility of storing the surplus crops that FCI godowns cannot accommodate. Moreover, there would be spurt in contract farming. Third, the law empowers the big corporates and agri-MNCs with enormous money power and having backing of the government as well as the ruling dispensation to enter into contract with the peasants most of whom are small or marginal peasants owning 2 to 4 acres of cultivable lands. All clauses of contract as per the new law are skewed in favour of the corporate giants. So it will be a contract between unequals. It is clearly stated in the new law that when the contracted crop would be ready for harvesting, the quality check would be undertaken by the buying corporates. What is the guarantee that the corporates would not manipulate to downgrade the ‘A’ category crops as “C’ grade and force the peasants to sell their contracted produce at a much lower price with tears. Even if the crops are bought, the peasants would have to run from pillar to post to get the sale proceeds. The peasants would be left in the lurch if the corporates refuse to buy the crops as per contract. These are no baseless apprehensions. In Uttar Pradesh (UP), the peasants sell sugarcane to the big sugar mills based on contract farming. But it takes at times 3 to 5 years to realize the price. Same is the experience of the flower-peasants of Karnataka to corporates. Moreover, the big corporates and MNCs whose objective is to go for large scale business in agriculture would give contract only for crops which have demand in both domestic and overseas markets. So, they cannot depend on the kind of crops the peasants would like to produce. So, they need to dictate terms in this regard. That is why, they prefer contract farming. There is no precedence in the world that the peasants have benefitted because of contract farming. Rather the opposite is true. Moreover, peasants as well as workers and other sections of the toiling people have already experienced what devastation the privatization spree can bring to their life. More and more peasants are losing land and turning into agricultural workers, and then migrant workers. Land is more and more concentrated in the hands of the big monopoly houses and rural bourgeoisie. Cultivable multi-crop land was sought to be forcibly grabbed and handed over to corporate tycoons in the name of industrialization. Against such forcible acquisition, historic peasants’ movements surged forth in Singur-Nandigram in West Bengal against the then CPI (M) government and the conspiracy was foiled. Likewise peasants of Odisha had to organize struggle to prevent land-grab by the Mittal group. Peasants of Maharashtra rose against establishment of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by Ambanis there.
Can the words of the Prime Minister be relied upon?
So, it is difficult to believe that the corporates would change colour overnight at the request of the Prime Minister or the government and do justice to the peasants. But the BJP Prime Minister continues to assure the peasants that the new laws would help doubling their income by 2022. We are only in 2021. Has the income of the peasants increased or has it been plummeting with every passing day. The government says widescale privatization is good for the peasants. Is it so? Ten years back, agricultural input sale (seed, fertilizer, pesticides etc.) was totally handed over to large MNCs by dismantling all government producers like the Fertilizer Corporation of India. What has been the outcome? Prices of those inputs have doubled, if not tripled making production cost extremely high. So, the peasants, most of whom have no access to bank or financial institutions borrow heavily at very high interest from private lenders. But they are denied remunerative price even in the existing condition and often forced into distress sale. Unable to pay back loans, many peasants commit suicides. In India, one peasant commits suicide in every twelve minute. It is on record that being denied prices as per contract, many cotton-growing peasants of Maharashtra and Karnataka have committed suicide. The BJP government spokespersons often claim that these new laws have been promulgated as per the agricultural reforms which are dream projects of the Prime Minister. So, the peasants should repose confidence in his words. Again an incredible paradox! The Prime Minister promised to provide two crore jobs every year, unearth black money and credit every citizen’s bank account with 15 lakh rupees, recover black money, contain terror-funding and intercept counterfeit notes by demonetization. The Prime Minister is even on record to have said that he should be “hanged in public” if proved wrong. Have these promises been kept or proved, as per the admission of the Union Home Minister, as hoaxes?
Peasants are undaunted in realizing their just demands
Such being the experience, the peasants have raised the just demand of repealing the black laws and measures, lock, stock and barrel. They are firm on their demands. It also became clear to the peasants that government by prolonging the fruitless discussions was actually buying time and adopting a dilatory tactics to tire them so that they were forced to agree to government’s proposal of some cosmetic changes and withdraw the movement. But seeing the peasants unwavering, the government moved the Supreme Court and in the seventh round of discussion asked the peasants to accept the verdict of the Court. The government also said that the implementation of the black laws would be postponed by one year and a half. Responding to the government’s petition, the Supreme Court said that it was constituting a committee to go through the entire issue and submit its report. But the peasants said that they were not fighting any legal battle. They are fighting for their cause. They also pointed out that the judiciary is supposed to examine the constitutional validity of any law which is made by the legislators in the parliament. But they had never asked for examining the constitutional validity of the laws. They have demanded repeal of the laws. So where does the question of accepting the verdict of Supreme Court or appearing before any committee come from? At this point, the talks failed and the peasants closed their ranks further to intensify the movement which has all through been peaceful despite all provocations from the ruling camp. They could make out that the government was weaving ploys to make them agree to suspending the movement on this or that pretext because if the peasants could be sent back home based on some spurious promises, such a gigantic movement would not get crystallized again. So, for stepping up the movement, they decided that a tractor rally would be organized on 26 January, the Republic Day, in Delhi, following the roadmap in consultation with the police. After initial dilly-dally, the police permitted to take out the tractor rally as per the approved route.
Earlier the BJP government and the ruling party leaders had tried to mislead the countrymen by saying that there were anti-national terrorist groups like the Khalistanis behind the movement. But that propaganda did not hold water. Rather, waves of public sympathy in favour of the farmers’ movement increased manifold. So, the ruling circle needed to resort to plan B- a plan that all despotic rulers adopt to break a legitimate movement. On 26 January, 99% of the peasants began the peaceful tractor rally on the designated route at 11.30 am and returned to the protest site at 4 pm without creating any trouble.
However, a peasant organization having no connection with the SKM, in connivance with RSS goons started a separate tractor rally in defiance of the SKM decision and rushed to the Red Fort for hoisting Sikh Religious flags there. Clearly, the intention was to defame the peasants’ movement and help the BJP government in spreading canard against the struggling peasants. Significantly, the mainstream media instead of depicting the peaceful tractor rally, zoomed in on the Red Fort incident and most television news anchors began painting the protesting farmers as “terrorists” and “Khalistanis”. It was soon revealed that the stray violent incident and induced clash with the police was instigated by a known RSS man. Within no time, the peasant organizations leading the movement condemned the incident and dissociated themselves from the trouble-making group and said that the godi media (i.e. the monopoly-controlled media) was trying to defame them and seeking to inflict a blow to the overflowing public support to and the solidarity with their just movement. That it was a planned move to show the movement in a bad light, and then capitalizing on that to take punitive measures to disrupt the movement became evidently clear when summons were issued in the names of several peasant leaders accusing them of attacking police and vandalizing government property. The BJP-led UP and MP governments also filed FIRs against some senior editors and journalists for honest reporting of the 26 January violence. The Editors’ Guild condemned this action and held that this was an attempt to “harass, browbeat and stifle” the media.
While the government was holding the farmers responsible for violating the agreed rules of the tractor rally, which they say led to clashes in parts of the city, the farmers had correctly refuted the accusation as false with the police themselves creating barricades on some stipulated routes. The farmers also said that it smacked of a conspiracy to sabotage and malign their peaceful protest. In fact, after this incident, the peasants’ unity has become more consolidated and their resolve to see it through to the end has been further steeled.
The BJP government bares its fascist autocratic face
Having failed in all attempts to sabotage the movement, the government opted to bare its tooth and claw and fielded armed storm-troopers to terrorize the peasants. On 30 January, around 400 to 500 armed persons masquerading as locals pounced upon the peasants at Singhu border, ransacked the tents the peasants were staying in and raised provocative anti-peasant slogans. The police at the outset remained mute spectators. While all vehicles and persons except the media-men and police personnel were prevented from entering the movement site from 2 km away, it was a mystery how the “locals’ could so easily sneak through the police cordon and that too with vehicles, reach the movement spot and attack the peasants. Even water tanks to the movement spot were held back. But the peasants did not run into the trap and exercised exemplary restraint. So, this attempt to create fissure in the movement also failed. On the other hand, at Ghazipur bordering Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, the BJP run state government mobilized huge contingent of armed police and para-military forces on the evening of 28 January. The local administration asked the farmers to end their protest and vacate the road by that night. But the farmers have refused to budge declaring that they were “ready to face bullets” if needed. “There has been no violence on the Ghazipur border. Despite this, the government is adopting a repressive policy. It is the face of the Uttar Pradesh government,” the peasants observed. Seeing the grit of the peasants, the police-administration beat a retreat at around midnight. Electricity supply at the protest site, which had been cut, was also restored. Earlier also, the UP government issued direct threat of dire consequences to the peasants on their way to the movement site if they proceeded further. But that was also of no avail. Rather, as it is reported, hundreds of peasants from various districts are marching towards the protest sites at Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders with renewed enthusiasm. Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), of which AIKKMS, the Peasant front of our Party is an important constituent, has vehemently condemned the Uttar Pradesh Police for trying to forcibly evict farmers protesting at the Ghazipur border between Delhi and UP and said that the police were not taking action against the “real culprits” of the Republic Day violence, but were instead arresting farmers who were protesting peacefully. The SKM has also demanded that all peaceful protesters should be released, immediately and unconditionally. But this is not the end. The government in future might take more coercive measures and weave more ploys to kill the movement.
But the peasants are on guard. They have instinctively realized that the black laws would lead them to the precipice of virtual ruination. So they have united and launched this historic movement. As usual, the government has been trying drive a wedge into their fighting unity by precipitating divisiveness. But the cultural milieu of a united legitimate democratic movement creates an atmosphere where fighting people rise above all divisiveness to uphold their cause. Exactly, that is being witnessed in this peasants’ movement. People of different states, different languages, different religious beliefs are staying together, eating together, observing religious rituals together and helping each other in overcoming the difficulties. Anyone who has come in contact with these struggling peasants would feel the fervour of the movement. This movement has proved to what high level of fighting consciousness the oppressed people can attain when they unitedly struggle against a common enemy for a right cause. It has also provided impetus to the suffering workers who are also pressed under the grinding wheel of ruthless capitalist exploitation and now facing further peril consequent on brazen pro-corporate labour reforms like wage code etc. brought in by the BJP government. This movement has also proved that such a united movement of people does not require MPs or MLAs to back it. It is the people’s zeal, determination and courage that act as the motive force.
Historic significance of the movement
There is another very important aspect of this movement. Hitherto the movements were directed against the anti-people policies of any government. But from this movement, slogans have been raised against the monopoly houses trying to seize the agricultural sector and the government has been branded as a ‘mask’ of these monopolists. In other words, the movement has been to some extent been able to detect that the monopolists are at the helm of power and Prime Minister Modi is just their political manager. This particular realization is of enormous significance. The toiling masses would gradually understand that it is a rule of capital. Ambani-Adani-Tata-Birla are in power. By casting vote in an election, the power of these ruling monopolists cannot be curbed. So, when one would try to seek answer in regard to abolishing this oppressive rule, it would be clear to one that by reforming capitalism, the desired emancipation would not come by. Capitalism has to be overthrown. When this consciousness would dawn upon the oppressed millions, they would search for the correct ideology, correct base political line and correct revolutionary leadership to build up a new struggle and set up a new society free from exploitation of man by man. The historic significance of this movement lies here.