THE All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) is gearing up for its 34th Conference, after a long, eventful four years of struggle and advances. It will be held in Hisar, Haryana, from October 3-6. A public meeting on the first day at Old College Ground will be addressed by Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. A total of 758 delegates from 25 states will attend the conference. Two delegates from UIS, the international farmers’ organisation, will also be present.
The 27th conference of the AIKS was held in September 1992 at the same venue. Since then, many changes in the international and national situation having taken place. Two-and-a-half decades earlier, the Soviet Union collapsed and the rule of international finance capital began. AIKS made no mistake in identifying the new danger in the offing. The conference correctly identified the real character of the neoliberal economic policies just accepted by the government of India then. We looked at these new and unknown policies as a disastrous onslaught on all aspects of life, especially the agricultural and rural economy.
It is an important task of the 34th conference to analyse the impacts of neoliberal policy on our agriculture and peasantry during the two-and-a-half decades, and find ways to fight against the menace in the coming days. In general terms, we call it an unprecedented agricultural crisis. This became manifest through different events and expressions, such as agriculture becoming a loss-making venture, large numbers of peasantry wanting to give up agriculture, 3,50,000 farmers committing suicide during this period as they were in a grave debt trap and not getting remunerative prices for their crops. Though majority of our population still depends on agriculture and allied activities, its relevance to our GDP came down by 75 per cent since independence. And this happened solely due to the policies pursued by different governments. Those were seen in the withdrawal of government from agriculture, declining investment in agriculture in the budget, eliminating subsidies, curbing institutional loans to majority of peasants, removal of quantitative restrictions on agricultural imports and integrating our agriculture with the world market, privatisation and FDI in agriculture, signing many FTAs, and finally the attempt to replace peasant agriculture by corporate agriculture. The total surrender by our government and policy makers to the World Bank and the WTO destroyed our independent agricultural policy. Rural employment reached its lowest level, intensifying rural poverty and pauperisation. The peasantry lost land very fast and majority of them were reduced to agricultural labourers or rural manual workers. During this neoliberal period, landlessness increased from 25 per cent to 35 per cent and the top 10 per cent of landholders’ land occupation increased from 56 per cent to 73 per cent. This is the most disastrous impact of the neoliberal policies.
The All India Kisan Sabha continuously analysed these changes critically and exposed the danger before our agriculture. We also countered this policy with alternative agrarian policies which could save Indian agriculture from such deep crises.
Just after the 33rd conference, the biggest attack on the peasantry came from the Narendra Modi government – the Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014. The AIKS took up the issue, contacted other kisan organisations, and gave a call for burning of the copies of the ordinance which was done in the entire country. It created an atmosphere against the ordinance and many more organisations, NGOs and political forces came out against it. This battle was victorious as Modi shelved it for the time being after his three attempts failed to pass it and the anger of the farmers was widely expressed in the country. This was the first defeat of a central government before the kisan movement. But Modi instructed his BJP state governments to make state laws in this regard. We too shifted our struggle to the state level and it is going on.
The second attack against farmers came in the form of banning cattle trade recently. Thirty per cent income of farmers comes from their cattle and animal husbandry. They sell their old cattle every year and use the money to purchase new young cattle for milk or ploughing. This was an age-old practice. But the BJP government stopped it absolutely as part of their communal agenda. Their Sangh Parivar criminals under the garb of ‘gau rakshaks’ attacking cattle trade was a glaring example. The AIKS took up the issue on the day Pehlu Khan was killed in Alwar, organised protest meetings before Parliament, collected funds and gave Rs 15 lakh to Khan’s family, while both the state governments of Rajasthan and Haryana failed to help the family. The government’s notification for banning cattle trade was also challenged by Kisan Sabha in the Supreme Court and it ordered a stay on the notification in the whole country.
Through these two battles, AIKS succeeded in building a united kisan movement in the country and a new Kisan Morcha emerged as the “Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan” (BAA), a new type of united platform. It is working at the national level very successfully and we have held three national conferences of BAA during the last three years and have formed state chapters in Odisha, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand, MP and Maharashtra. This is a new experiment in the united struggle.
The AIKS took up the issue of remunerative price as per the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation – i.e., cost + 50% – and complete one-time institutional and private loan waiver for all poor, landless, tenant, marginal, middle peasants and agricultural workers. Along with this, a 15-point charter of demands was taken up to the entire peasantry of the country. To propagate these issues, AIKS took out an 18,000 km “Kisan Sangharsh Jatha” all over the country for 21 culminating in a huge successful rally before Parliament. This was the biggest programme of the AIKS since the last conference to highlight kisan issues before the entire agricultural community and the country. Along with that, AIKS, during this period, took up the kisan suicide issue in a big way; visited the houses of suicide-victims in most of the affected states, and brought their family members before Parliament for a two-day dharna. These activities of AIKS helped to highlight the issue before the nation in a big way for the first time.
During the last few months, due to growing kisan unrest and some successful kisan struggles, many kisan organisations, big or small, came out to raise kisan issues and join the struggles. In these efforts, two broad kisan united platforms have emerged. They came together, met and formed two new morchas called Rashtriya Kisan Maha Sangh and All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. The former claimed 60 organisations as their constituents and the latter claimed 170 organisations as their members. Both the Morchas were formed on two agreed demands, a) remunerative price for agricultural products as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, and b) complete loan waiver – government and private – for all farmers. We discussed this idea in “Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan” and decided to join this movement unitedly. The 34th conference will discuss these new developments and give the proper guidelines.
The AIKS initiated many crop-wise mobilisations during this period and organised conventions and built new struggles. The Jute Convention, Rubber Convention, the Sugarcane Convention, the Vegetable Growers Convention were held and sub-committees formed to build crop-wise broader movements. The conference has to plan to expand this movement for other crops and products. Besides the national and regional or state level struggle, the importance of struggle on local issues are most important for intensive movements which involve more kisans at the grassroots level. So, movements on “local realisable” demands also should be planned properly.
The conference will self-critically discuss the issue of worker-peasant unity which remained a weak area of our activities. Some token attempt was made but many more things are to be done. The Kisan Sabha, Agricultural Union and Trade Unions should join hands on more concrete issues, plan joint movements and build unity among these sections of the people. Besides them, our united action with women, youth and student organisations did not take any shape so far. How to remove this weakness in our activities should also be discussed and proper short- and long-term plans are to be formulated by the conference.
Many more issues, subjects and matters will be taken up by the 34th conference. The policy issues will be analysed in depth, so that political, ideological clarity emerges as a guiding force. The other important task before the conference will be to discuss organisational issues. The fate of all decisions will depend on their implementation and the organisation is the only instrument for that job. Since the last conference, the organisational activities increased manifold. All those experiences would be discussed in order to strengthen the organisation further.