The farmers’ protest started a year ago. How did it last so long?
A year after its start, the farmers’ protest in Punjab has now gained more space. Interestingly, this may be the first time the state government has supported the farmers’ movement against the central government. In addition, the movement is supported by all political parties in the state, except the BJP – Congress, Akalis, AAP. He enjoys tremendous support among retired and even active civil servants, teachers, students, civil society activists, artists and professionals. In other words, the class that has ruled this state since the mid-1960s in the post-Green Revolution phase has joined this protest.
It is a well-established class, with an abundance of human and material resources and thus able to ensure the sustainability of this movement. Even the songs urged people to join the protest using the nostalgic theme – once a farmer, still a farmer – addressing those who have left farming and are now engaged in non-farm activities. And the slogan: no farmer, no food.
The three laws passed by Parliament reinforce the fears of this class as to the weakening of their control over the agricultural economy even though they could not access industry, commerce or the service sector. For the hegemonic agrarian ruling class in Punjab, land is not only an economic asset, but has social and cultural value. The current protest movement is different from previous agrarian protests in terms of economic demands, politico-cultural issues and identity connotations. Much of the protests in the 1980s revolved largely around improving support prices, the institutionalized credit system, regular supply of inputs at subsidized rates, etc. These protests threatened to cut off the supply of food grains to other states. While now the crisis is the privatization of farms and food grains that cannot find a market. This protest is for survival.
Another reason for its longevity is the upcoming election in early 2022 in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. This explains the desperation of political parties, other than the BJP, to support this agitation. In the Punjab, this enabled the ruling Congress to overcome opposition to power. Knowing well that the state assembly does not have the power to overturn central laws and introduce its own laws to regulate agricultural trade, the Amarinder Singh government has done just that.
Likewise, the AAP government in Delhi notified the central legislation, even as its Punjab unit supported the farmers’ agitation. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a former ally of the BJP, after the first setbacks, also came to support this agitation. And the BJP, harboring an ambition to repeat Haryana in Punjab, has found itself on the sidelines – as a pilot of laws that not only have negative implications for farmers, but have also touched its base of support among the small traders, arhtiyas and small traders.
The lesson for political parties is that general support for the economic reform program shaped by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and implemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fraught with dangers – it directly affects the survival of people living on the sidelines. .
The first round of talks with farmers took place on December 3, 2020. In the sixth round, the Center agreed to exempt farmers from the penalty for stubble burning and abandoned the changes notified in the bill. amending the Electricity Bill, 2020. As a follow-up, the government proposed to change the provisions relating to the structure of the charges notified in the Agricultural Commodity Market Committees (APMC), and promised provisions. stricter to protect farmers’ land rights, strengthening of notified markets and a guarantee on minimum support prices (MSP). These proposals were voted down by majority vote by 35 farm organizations. On January 12, the Supreme Court suspended the application of agricultural laws for two years, in addition to setting up a committee to reach fair and equitable solutions.
The leaders of the movement took note that it was politics that prevailed, not legal remedies. The Supreme Court has a role to play, but it cannot reverse the anti-popular implications of liberalization, privatization and globalization processes.
The turning point of the movement came when the Republic Day protest march turned violent. Some protesters hoisted the Nishan Sahib to the Red Fort. The emotional appeal launched on January 28 by Union Bharatiya Kisan (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait breathed new life into the movement. Farmers condemned the violence, disowned the perpetrators and called the Red Fort incident shameful.
Prior to the January 26 incident, songs, slogans and speeches mainly covered how farmers from different parts of Punjab, Haryana, UP and MP held hands. However, after the incident, the songs began to resonate with political events such as Mamata Banerjee’s victory in West Bengal, making them their own. “Ho wich Bengal te jadta koka / Fer dubare Mamta ne dhonn cho killa kadh ke rakhta / Kadh ke rakhta janata ne / Ho Didi di iss jeet ch hissa / Thodda vi taan paya ae (Mamata embellished the Bengal cap with another jewel / The people conquered and humiliated the arrogant / We all contributed to Didi’s victory) ”.
An important dimension was added to the protests when they carried out care and relief activities against Covid, refuting the Center’s attempt to label them as terrorist sympathizers or anti-nationals. “Ho nawa banaya pind aa authe / Saddi vi hunn Hind ae authe / Junga na itihaas hai sadda / Guru Gobind de Singh hai othe atankwadiya ne hi langar Oxygen da laya ae (We created a new village, a replica of Hind / Those who rewrite history are the descendants of the tenth guru / And these same terrorists make free sewa of oxygen for the needy) ”.
So far, the farmers’ movement has not been able to launch a leader, nor to overcome the dividing lines between kisan and khet mazdoor. But they successfully challenged the lack of a national agricultural policy. States with high food grain productivity like Punjab and Haryana are forced to diversify, while states like Madhya Pradesh and western UP are encouraged to produce grains. There is an urgent need to overcome the public policy flip-flop and revisit the market-centric growth model to ensure food security for the poor, the country’s food sovereignty and income redistribution policies for marginalized populations, including Farmers.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 23, 2021 under the title “Farmers up to now”. Writer is Director, Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh