BA and Venkatesh Sundaram

If we in India look back on 2021, a few things stand out. Among the sad things – the second wave of Covid that swept our country between April and June, with many people not able to get medical help, patients in hospitals not getting oxygen, and thousands of people, young and old dying – in many cases leaving grieving families behind forced to fend for themselves. Among the happy things – the epic struggle of the farmers that went on for over a year, undaunted, unfazed by the myriad cunning, overt and covert attacks, and vilifications, braving the rains, the biting cold of outer Delhi and the unrelenting summer sun in their makeshift homes. Happy, because it resulted in the Government agreeing to one of their main demands – repeal of the three detested and unjust laws related to agriculture that were first brought in as Ordinances and then passed as Acts of Parliament with hardly any debate and no consultation with the section most affected by them – the farmers themselves.

Let’s briefly recapitulate what happened. The Government of India promulgated three Ordinances related to agriculture on 5th June 2020 – The Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020. Together, these laws were to pave the way for the complete corporatisation of agriculture in due course, ending the meagre and limited support from the government to the sector and turning it into a completely private sector one, where “market forces” could hold sway unimpeded, and jeopardising the livelihoods and even very existence of hundreds of millions of people all over the country.

In mid-September 2020, the Government brought these to Parliament and got them passed with hardly any discussion, using the brute majority it enjoys. Soon after the passing of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, some farmers’ unions of Punjab announced a three day ‘rail roko’ agitation.  Farmers across India took to the streets in response to a call by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). Soon, more and more farmers unions, not only in Punjab and Haryana, but across the country, joined in. On November 26th, farmers’ unions in Punjab and Haryana gave the call for a ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement. The Delhi Police, however, rejected their request to march to the capital. Farmers marching towards Delhi faced water cannons and tear gas as the police tried to disperse them at Haryana’s Ambala district. Near the borders of Delhi, farmers were subjected to more water cannon assaults in the biting cold. The roads round Delhi were barricaded with huge concrete blocks. In some cases, the police destroyed the roads leading to Delhi by digging huge ditches. But the determination and grit of the farmers was such, that these proved to be mere pinpricks to their onward march towards the capital. Soon they reached the borders of Delhi and set up camps around the city at a few places on the borders – Singhu border, Ghazipur border, and a few others. They were prepared for the “long haul”

On 28th November 2020, the home minister invited them for talks and asked them to confine their protests to the Ram Lila ground in north Delhi – which the farmers refused outright. More and more farmers, not only from Punjab and Haryana, but also from UP, MP, Rajasthan and even the faraway western, southern, and eastern states joined the protest camps. The farmers struggle began receiving support not only from people engaged in agriculture across the country, but also from workers, students, intellectuals, and patriotic people of Indian origin abroad. The camps at the protest sites not only had rudimentary shelters for the farmers – usually trailers, makeshift tents, buses etc – but also very well-organised arrangements for providing food, sanitation, and medical support to the participants. Throughout the day, farmers – men and many women too – thronged the areas around the stages set up at the sites. Thousands of women and men took to stage to give inspiring speeches, relate their experiences, sing rousing songs, and raise slogans, and above all, keep up their spirits of fighting till the end. Eleven rounds of talks took place between the central government and farmers represented by the farm unions between 14 October 2020 and 22 January 2021; all were inconclusive with agreement on only two relatively minor points.

The farmers have been totally and unitedly insistent on repeal of the Farm Laws. Even after the government offered to stay the farm laws for 18 months on 21 January 2021, the farmers refused and pushed for repeal. On 26 January 2021, India’s Republic Day, tens of thousands of the farmers held a farmer’s parade with a large convoy of tractors and drove into Delhi. The enthusiasm and determination of not only those who had been working as farmers for decades, but also the youth – was on full display. The government tried to use the events of the day to discredit the farmers protests as having been infiltrated and controlled by extremists, separatists such as ‘Khalistanis’ and worse. Several cases were foisted upon those who showed their militancy in the event, but the farmers were unfazed.

After this, a period of unrelenting struggle by the farmers continued. It is reported that as many as 700 farmers died during the protests that lasted almost a year and a quarter. The Supreme Court set up a committee to examine the farm laws – but the farmers made it clear that whatever be their recommendation, they would not accept anything less than their complete repeal. The Central Government and its agencies, as well as the IT cells of the ruling party, kept on churning out stories to discredit the farmers’ struggle. On the other hand, the unity of the farmers and their hundreds of unions and associations kept getting stronger. The most striking aspect of the farmers’ struggle is the solid unity of over 500 unions and associations of farmers around one set of demands.

Finally, 14 months after the farmers began their struggle and almost a year after they had surrounded the borders of Delhi, on 19th November 2021, the Prime Minister made an announcement that the three detested Farm Laws would be repealed. Later, committees were set up in respect of other important demands of the farmers, notable Minimum Support Prices that actually give the farmers a chance to earn something, for all crops and so on. Other demands of the farmers, such as repealing the Electricity Act 2020, withdrawal of criminal cases against farmers and their leaders, are reportedly being ‘favourably considered’. On 9th December 2021, the umbrella organisation of farmer unions, decided to call off its year-long protest at Delhi’s borders.

A Committee is to be set up by the government to recommend how MSP can be guaranteed for all crops in all states, including representatives selected by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. Since British colonial times, all kinds of committees have been set up in the wake of many struggles to “look into” demands etc. Quite often, these committees have included members of the dissatisfied communities. Thus, setting up a committee to deal with a popular demand is an old trick of the ruling circles. By this, the ruling circles attempt to tire out the protestors, as “committees” notoriously take months and years to discuss and deliberate. They co-opt some of their leaders and try to break the fighting unity of the people. In the end, it’s not essential that the government actually accepts the recommendations!  Thus, we should be clear that Inclusion of some farmers union leaders in such a committee need not mean that justice will be done and that the interests of the farmers will be upheld.

Moreover, having lost the battle, the Central Government and the super-rich of India which control it, are trying to win the war, after all. The ruling circles of India have a long history of promoting ‘alternatives’ to the existing system which deprives people of political power. For instance. when the state of Emergency was lifted in 1977 and a new Janata Party government was formed to replace the Congress Party government, it was claimed that ‘democracy had been restored’. A farmer leader, Chaudhary Charan Singh, was even made the Prime Minister of India for some time! However, the central government continued to implement the agenda set by the super-rich of India, and the economy continued to be geared to enrich big capitalists at the expense of workers and peasants.

At the present time, the ruling circles are trying to use the state assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and other states to give credibility to various ‘alternatives to the BJP’. Like in previous times, they want to use the elections to destroy the unity of the people by making them chase this or that political party as an ‘alternative’. In the course of this, the precious fighting unity of the farmers and the people is in grave danger of being lost as people go behind various political parties as ‘alternatives’ or decide to stay away too.

The whole saga of the fight against the unjust Farm Laws shows that the ruling circles pass laws that favour the interests of the big monopoly capitalists of India and abroad, the super-rich. They do this despite knowing full well that they are NOT in the interests of the people at large. The present system of ‘multi-party parliamentary democracy’ allows the ruling circles to replace one discredited political party smoothly and easily with another, while giving people the illusion that people hold power, when in fact they are totally powerless in the system.

If there’s one thing that the epic farmers’ struggle has taught us, it is that the prevailing system of democracy is a total sham, and it is ONLY the fighting unity of the people around a common set of demands which can lead them to victory. It is for all justice-loving people to make this widely known and understood, so that the people can really win in the medium and long term. The farmers’ struggle is only of a large number of problems facing the people of India. The events surrounding the struggle of the farmers shows that the existing system is not equipped to solve any of the problems of the people.  This is because the system in place is one of unbearable exploitation.  In the case of the farmers’ struggle, a temporary victory does not mean in the long run there will be a solution to the problems facing the people of India.  What is needed is a true democracy where it will truly be a rule of the majority, by the majority and for the majority of the people of the country, which to wit are the working people and the peasantry.  A new dispensation that vests sovereignty in the people rather than one of conflict between the rulers and the ruled is the order of the day. That is the challenge of the times.

By admin