India’s farmers lead the fight-back

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Massive struggles over the last year have seen hundreds of thousands of cultivators wrest concessions from governments across the country

By Prasanth R. / The Dawn News / May 19, 2018

The year 2018 has been marked by massive agitations by farmers, students, Dalits, Adivasis, women and workers against the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s regime and its policies. Resistance has been building up due to religion-based and caste violence orchestrated by the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that has demonized minorities and persons from backward castes. At the same time, the neoliberal policies implemented by the BJP-led government have led to the immiseration of large sections of the population, leading to the toiling masses of the country rising up in anger.

Farmers’ movements have been in the forefront of many of these agitations. These movements come at a time when only one percent of the country’s population controls 53% of the country’s assets and the government’s policies have been seen as benefiting these very sections. The rise in the prices of agricultural inputs and essential commodities is one of the factors that led to an increase in farmer suicides by 42% in the year the BJP government took charge in 2014-2015, a trend which has continued in many States in since.

A loan waiver scheme announced in June 2017 after massive protests by farmers turned out to be yet another false promise by the government with almost 4 million farmers being completely written off the list. Kishor Dhamale of the Satyashodhak Shetkari Sabha, one of the organisations leading the agitations in the State of Maharashtra, said that the milk farmers in the State have borne losses accruing to around 7,000 crores (1.036 billion USD) from June last year, due to not receiving the Minimum Support Prices (MSP), which is the cost price plus 50%. Massive privatization of the agricultural sector by allowing 100% Foreign Direct Investment into it and the retail sector, and the promotion of contract farming threatens the existence of millions of farmers by making them mere contract cultivators. In the last one year alone, the loss to Indian farmers adds up to a staggering total of 2.6 lakh crores (3.88 trillion USD).

This horrendous loot of the farmers has led to protests in at least 13 States across the country. In November 2017, in Delhi a massive Kisan Sansad (farmers’ meet) saw thousands participating from across the country. The peasant wing of the Communist Party of India(Marxist), the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), successfully managed to organize more than 300 peasant and agricultural labour organisations under the banner of Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (Land Rights Movement) and march towards the Parliament twice. It also collected close to 10 million signatures against the Land Acquisition Ordinance bought in by the BJP and played a key part in getting it retracted.

Farmers’ anger across the country mounted when the government did not bat an eyelid as farmers from the State of Tamil Nadu protested for weeks in the capital city of New Delhi; or when 6 protesting farmers in Mandsaur in the State of Madhya Pradesh were gunned down. Meanwhile, across the country, right-wing vigilante groups, under the pretext of protecting cows (which are seen as holy by a section of Hindus), lynched or murdered cattle traders, especially from the Muslim and Dalit communities. The fact that many of these murderers seemed to have state support aggravated the anger of farmers further.

Early in 2017,  massive protests led by the AIKS broke out in the State of Rajasthan against the BJP government’s hiking the electricity prices by 40% and the sheer number of the farmers participating led the government to reverse the decision. In September 2017 and earlier this year, two more rounds of protests were staged in the same State with demands including loan waiver and the implementation of a key report on land reform, food security and prevention of farmer suicides. Hundreds of leaders and activists were arrested arbitrarily by the government, when they were trying to reach Jaipur from across the state to protest unfulfillment of the government’s promises and a large-scale uprising against the arrests forced the government to release them unconditionally

In March, nearly 50,000 farmers marched a distance of 180 km to the capital of the State of Maharashtra, Mumbai. Organized by the AIKS, the march saw farmers demanding the implementation of a complete loan waiver which had been promised by the government, as well as the granting of land and forest rights, and a resolution to the issue of submergence of land due to a river interlinking project. The march captured the imagination of the entire country and as the resolute farmers marched into Mumbai, the capital of the State of Maharashtra, they were welcomed by residents cutting across classes. Faced with the prospect of the Legislative Assembly being surrounded by indignant farmers, the government caved in and promised to meet the demands of farmers.

Other protests in the State of Karnataka, which was till recently ruled by the opposition Indian National Congress (I), have resulted in cultivators being granted land rights. Similar protests in Tamil Nadu against land acquisition, arrears of sugarcane farmers and for drought relief were conducted resulting in benefits worth Rs 300 crores (44 million USD) going to the sugarcane farmers. The All India Kisan Sangharsh (Farmers’ Struggle) Coordination Committee, involving more than 190 farmers’ organisations, emerged after the Mandsaur firing as a united force on demands to assure remunerative prices and liberation from indebtedness. Recently, the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan (Peoples Unity, Peoples Rights Movement) a platform of Left class and mass organizations, social organizations as well as people’s movements representing the oppressed castes, tribal communities, fishing communities, displaced people etc. has emerged and seeks to present a consistent challenge to neoliberal and communal forces.

A series of struggles will be organized independently by AIKS and by the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan, beginning with the Pol Khol-Halla Bol (Expose the government and Protest). This campaign will involve massive rallies in all States and a national campaign on May 23rd, the 4th anniversary of the Narendra Modi government, to expose its betrayal of promises to the farmers. A campaign to collect 100 million signatures listing out the failures of the BJP government will be initiated in the months of June-July. Another 200,000 volunteers will participate in the Jail Bharo (fill the jails) movement in all State and district headquarters. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) will also join these protests. “A historic rally signifying worker-peasant unity and organised resistance to neoliberal economic policies and communal as well as casteist forces will be held on September 5”, said the Joint Secretary of AIKS, Vijoo Krishnan.

The strengthening of an alliance between the worker and peasant movements is likely to be a milestone in dislodging the current regime that not only aggressively promotes neoliberal policies but also encourages fundamentalist forces to divide society on the basis of religion and caste.

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