Punjab Farmers have won a historic battle in overpowering the farm laws but must guard against complacency by continuing struggle and be vigilant of the further actions of government-
By Harsh Thakor
I wholeheartedly salute the victory of the farmers in the last year in resisting the iron feet of oppression confronting the 3 Agricultural bills enforced by the neo-fascist Bharatiya Janata party .To me it will win a permanent place in the annals of Indian history amongst the struggles withstanding tyranny, resurrecting the spirit of the anti-colonial Struggle.
The farmers took grit and courage to virtually unprecedented regions in recent times. I praise the consistency and unity of the farmers organisations of Punjab in confronting the ruling classes at their strongest point and doing just what the doctor ordered, even after facing the most striking blows. The peasantry won the support of the working class, students, youth, and intellectuals. What was also noticeable was the non –sectarian approach of the participating organisations, confronting Hindutva neo-fascism, Sikh Separatist politics and corporate monopoly, leaving no stone unturned. Above all the movement taught invaluable lessons to the cadres of the democratic movement, particularly the rural community. It has projected a clear cut illustration of the nefarious operation of neo-fascism as well as semi-feudalism and how people could develop their striking capacity to combat it.
It is simply unforgettable how the BKU (Ugrahan) virtually created the intensity of a hurricane on the Tikri border, with their youth playing a principal role. I would also congratulate the complementary work of the Kirti Kisan Union, and The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) amongst the organisations of the landed peasantry , the agricultural workers groups like Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union and Pendu Mazdoor Union and supporting student and youth groups like Punjab Students Union(Shaheed Randhawa), Punjab Students Union (New Democracy Group)and Naujwan Bharat Sabha.
However we must guard against complacency by remaining vigilant and maintain the tempo of the agitation. The moral struggle is far from over with the ruling BJP still fluttering the flag of pro-imperialist policies and patronising the corporates.It is also likely that prime minister Narendra Modi withdrew the agricultural bills ,with the perspective of the coming elections. The roots of socio-economic oppression and pro-corporate economic policies are part and parcel of the government’s policy, which has still not awarded the minimum support price. We must also not be deceived from opposition parties like Congress or Akali Dal,who in essence patronised pro-imperialist agricultural policies. Overall they must sustain the struggle against the autocratic social or socio-economic order.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), though not affiliated to any political party, was the most consistently vocal against the “corporate” monopoly over agriculture policies. The group represents the landed peasantry. The farmers defied the assessment of the PMO was that the farmer’s agitations will not prolong beyond November, 2020. They thought it would retreat when the paddy harvest begins. The mass organisations ensured that the movement would proceed on a secular road and no political party will be allowed to utilise their platforms. The secular thrust of the movement propelled the victory. Even during the peak of the paddy harvest, the movement was not withdrawn.
Still the government has not yielded to awarding the Minumum Support Price. The demands for legalised MSP and scrapping of draft Electricity Act amendments are the demands of working class also. MSP is directly linked to the Public Distribution System. The demand for strong APMC markets, procurement and PDS is very old and and farmers must fight till the last tooth to win them.
A very important factor is the continued penetration of semi-feudalism. Poor and marginal peasants do not have access to institutional credit as rich farmers have and are dependent on private money lenders. The solution is possible only through land reforms, waiving off loans and making institutional credit available to them. A definite economic programme is needed to address these issues. Such an economic programme is an essential part of the agenda during the Assembly elections in Punjab. The Agrarian crisis has to be seriously resolved.
Individually, some farmers’ organisations are demanding cooperative and collective production of agriculture. However without collective land reforms, such initiatives will be unsuccessful. Only then voluntarily, cooperatives and collectives can be formed. Without completing land reforms, cooperatives will not be successful.
It is the duty of farmer’s organisations to bring the real issues of producing classes before political parties. The funds to help farmers can be arranged by taxing rich farmers such as (former Punjab Chief Ministers) Prakash Singh Badal and Amarinder Singh who have hundreds of acres of land. Scrapping of WTO agreements is an essential demand, and the government should be pressurised to the last straw.
The pro-multinational, pro big corporate policies have to be reversed in the interest of farmers, addressing the burning issues f the people.
The Prime Minister is deceiving the people by claiming that it is a movement only of the rich peasants. . It is a fact that a small layer of rich farmers are involved in these protests. Recently, a Punjab University academic did a survey and found that all the farmers who died during the protests had a land holding of 2.5 to three acres or below. None of the group of 750 martyrs constituted a rich farmer.
A significant aspect however is that Rich peasants are now disillusioned with the WTO policies. The representatives of rich farmers have also started voicing their concerns about policies driven by WTO and multinationals. Even if the rich peasantry is challenging the Centre, it will hardly join a protest in such extreme climatic conditions.
Whatever weaknesses overall I felt the formation of Maha Panchayats was most progressive in the context of the movement.
This unity today in the struggle has maintained its consistent flow, confronting all odds.. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha should consider the differences in farming and marketing patterns across the country. I was overjoyed to hear the appreciation C.P.I. (M.L) New Democracy secretary of Punjab Darshan Singh Khatkar,expressed for both the Ugrahan group and that of Kirti Kisan Union.
An important factor not to be ignored is that of caste. Marginalising the rural dalit labour community would be fatal error. The gap must be bridged between the demands of the landed jat peasantry and the dalit agricultural labour. Today still a weakness exists of the integration of the upper caste landed peasantry with the dalit agricultural worker.
In light of the coming elections in Punjab a sustained mass political campaign must be launched exposing the essence of the anti-people social order and not soft –pedalling with ruling class politics by projecting a democratic revolutionary alyernative.
The author referred to the interview of BKU (Ugrahan) coordinator and Surkh Leeh editor Pavel Kussa.It would be most enlightening if the Punjabi journal Surkh Leeh published a compiled collection of articles, translated into English, on the agitation. I recommend readers to read the interview of Pavel Kussa.
Pavel Kussa on Agrarian Crisis, Victory and Challenges ahead
Recently on November 18th a most inspiring talk was delivered at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus by Surkh Leeh editor and BKU(Ugrahan) coordinator Pavel Kussa.In recent months he has written many an article in punjabi newspapers exposing the neo fascist agenda and economic policies of the ruling party in most analytical fashion. I recommend every democrat to listen to his JNU speech on youtube.No Punjabi paper has sharpened the cutting edge of revolutionary democratic struggle of farmers as the Surkh Leeh.In this speech Pavel touches all the important aspects of the movement ,in a most methodical and illustrative fashion. Most coherently he formulates the factors of the success and further challenges. I recommend readers to read all the interviews and articles of Pavel, which are most lucid and informative.
Pavel Kussa in his introduction narrated how the agitation was not only about the aspects of, Minimum support price, land reforms, electricity etc but also about labour courts dalit questions, women’s aspect etc.
Pavel classified three categories into which the farmer’s frustrations were channelized. The first one belonged to the group of Hindutva criminalization and pro-Modi,the 2nd resorted to suicides, the 3d relentlessly waged the battle to confront the neo-fascist BJP.He expressed how the phenomena of Saffron fascism was confronted at the very grassroots.
Pavel related how mercilessly land was seized by the corporate, landlords and jagirdars with the collaboration of moneylenders .He revealed that 32 percent of Punjab’s population constituted landless dalits and how 70 percent of the landed peasantry in the last 3 decades have turned landless.
In his view the first achievement of the one year struggle was the scrapping of the farmer bills. It was significant that it united the democratic forces of the whole nation, involving all the basic classes, projecting secular politics. Maintaining a secular colour refuting all communal trends, was most commendable. Leaving no stones unturned he glorified the manner the farmers thwarted the poisonous fangs of Hindutva criminalisation, from dividing it and the scale to which they gave a moral blow.
The 2nd achievement was polarization was created at an unprecedented level between the corporates and the farmers. Farmer’s resistance reached a new height in the current agitation. embarrassing the corporate and ruling classs in their very backyard. .He narrated how the seeds of such resistance were sown in the struggles waged by the farmers of Punjab in the last 3 decades, and also in the pre-1946 period. The issues of usury, scrapping of debts and confronting land capture were initiated in a most sustained manner.Pavel touched upon the instances when farmers overpowered the mighty corporates like in Gobindpura
Pavel stated that it was vital that Ruling class politicians must be cut at the very base, which diffused mass movements. In his view no politician or political party must be allowed to seize the stage to rob or divert movements .Almost every politician today was not genuine according to him. Pavel recounted how in many an instance an ongoing movement was derailed as a consequence of political parties capturing it and diverting them to parliamentary path. In depth he elaborated how parliament was an obstacle or illusion for genuine resistance movements and how the present movement taught invaluable lessons in this light. He suggested that till the last tooth the people should confront such trends.
He pointed out how the farmers of Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh faced similar problems and it was not a problem of Punjab alone. Still Pavel expressed that it was the Punjab farmers who formed the fulcrum of the movement.
Pavel commented on how an analysis must be made of the co-relation of the new economic policies and reforms with the agrarian crisis. After this analysis a total plan of resistance must be chalked out. He recommended that a strategy in the form of a united programme or platform be devised to intervene in all the basic economic issues of the workers, peasant agricultural labourers, youth.
Pavel recounted the glorious eras of the youth and student movement in Punjab in the 1970’sand 80’s and expressed that it should be resurrected in accordance with the situation prevailing today. Very firmly he asserted that the students should repeat history and play a vanguard role in leading the farmers and workers.
I complement the most positive and analytical reflection of Pavel.However I feel he could have explained in further detail the manner landlordism or semi-feudalism operated in Punjab, with such deep penetration of capitalism and imperialism. I also wish he dealt with how this movement confronted the ascendancy of Hindutva Neo-fascism and centre -state relations, or contradiction within the ruling class camp. Arguably he could also have probed deeper into the factor of caste polarization and the weakness of sufficient integration of dalit agricultural labour.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has frequently toured around India, particularly Punjab.
Pavel Kussa,leader of BKU(Ugrahan)