November 29, 2015

Massive Rally of Peasants to be Held in New Delhi on Feb 24

P Krishnaprasad

WHEN BJP won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with an absolute majority, the corporate media illustrated it as a personal victory of Narendra Modi as the emerging national leader who will remain as the unquestionable centre of power for decades to come.  But now after merely one-and-a-half years under his governance, the people across the country conceive the truth that only because of the absolute majority in Lok Sabha, the BJP-led NDA may remain in power up to its five year term, otherwise Modi as the prime minister has proved to be a liability than an asset for the BJP in national politics.

How such a dramatic change has been achieved within this short span of time is interesting to assess and in this article the attempt is to evaluate that from the viewpoint of the peasant movement. One may agree that the first and foremost punch received by the NDA government during this period was from the joint peasants movement, Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), which succeeded in preventing the prime minister from walking over with the infamous land acquisition ordinance.

The political context in which the land acquisition ordinance had been promulgated on 31st December 2014 is crucial. The 16th parliamentary election in April-May 2014 has brought a rightward shift in the political scenario of the country with the BJP acquiring absolute majority and the NDA assuming power. The opposition parties have become feeble and scattered and the Congress, the main opposition party, got only 44 seats and the Left parties’ presence also became weak. The Modi government represents the interests of the monopoly capital and the landlord classes, makes compromises with the interests of the international finance capital, and stands against the interests of the peasantry and the working class. In comparison with the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government, it is inclined to intensify implementation of the neo-liberal reforms. Hence the government with an absolute majority and overwhelming political dominance was appearing to be very mighty and aggressive when the land acquisition ordinance was brought and there was panic among the peasantry and the democratic forces how to prevent this authoritarian move.

But the aggressive move by the NDA government had paved the way for unity among various mass and class organisations of peasants, rural workers, dalits, adivasis, fishermen and all those dependent on land for their livelihood. Unlike in the past, more than a hundred mass organisations and social groups are involved in the joint resistance. The massive struggle on Parliament Street on February  24, 2015 under the leadership of the collective of mass and class organisations had succeeded to garner the national attention. The united peasant movement through protracted campaigns and struggles was able to bring the widest impact over the peasantry and the people. The emergence of unity of Left and democratic peasant and social movements to unleash a widespread resistance movement is a significant achievement.

The fundamental character of the joint peasant movement -- which needs to be preserved at any cost -- is that it has been an issue-based movement beyond any political affiliations. Hence all those who are genuinely concerned about the consequence of the land ordinance came together and got involved in this resistance movement. There was consensus that though the movement is political in nature, the direct involvement of political parties shall be avoided in the joint movement, while facilitating involvement of the people’s representatives. Another characteristic is that the united movement stands for maximum unity of non-communal, non- divisive democratic forces genuinely committed to the peasantry. During the movement’s course, another resolution achieved was that no truce with elements of opportunism and vested interest in order to safeguard the morality and the genuine unity of the peasantry and marginalised social sections.

The chronological evolution of the movement is important for making a meaningful review. As soon as the land acquisition ordinance was promulgated, there were protest statements and independent course of actions by various peasant organisations. A call was given to burn the copies of the land ordinance at district centres on January 30, the martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi, and as per reports the action took place in around 300 districts. The call to observe March 23, the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, and also April 14, the birthday of Dr B R Ambedkar, as Land Rights Day were carried out. A call was given to collect five crore signatures and convene joint meetings at state and district levels, and organise village level padayatras. Many rallies were organised at different parts of the country with massive participation.

On April 2, a seminar was organised in New Delhi in which Members of Parliament from 11 parties including Congress, JDU and all Left parties. The meeting of joint resistance movement on April 2 discussed in detail the importance of developing proper guidelines to keep the unity of the joint movement and resolved to accept the name ‘Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan’ (Movement for Land Rights) so that to represent the interests of all genuine social sections among the peasantry that depends on agriculture as their livelihood and to integrate with all genuine mass movements related to land and agrarian question. A Parliament March was organised on May 5 which also was successful with mass participation.

Parallel to the united peasant movement, there were many other streams of movements under the leadership of different farmers’ organisations and also by political parties. The Members of Parliament, in opposition, together organised a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan and submitted a memorandum to the President. Various political parties organised protest rallies and in one of such rally Gajendra Singh, a farmer from Dausa in Rajasthan, hanged himself at Jantar Mantar which shocked the entire country and shook the NDA government.

In the wake of all these developments, the government had to backtrack and give up the move to call a joint session of Parliament to pass the bill and instead it was sent to a Joint Committee of Parliament. That was the first victory for joint resistance.  All the member organisations of BAA have given memorandum to the JPC. A Jansunwai (public hearing) was organised in July in New Delhi in which farmers from different parts of the country presented their grievances before a group of Members of Parliament.  

In between, a joint platform of six Left peasant organisations and two Left agriculture workers’ union was formed. This platform along with the BAA on the basis of a charter of demands gave a call to undertake a two-week long all India campaign from August 16-30, observe September 1 as Demands Day of the peasantry, and organise massive demonstrations and ‘rasta roko’ and ‘rail roko’ struggles on September 2 in solidarity with the all India workers strike by the united trade union platform. The strike was historic in which around 15 crore workers participated, the ever biggest participation in history. The united platform of peasant and social organisations joined hands with the working class thus consolidating worker. This is a vital development that the organised working class movement and the united peasant movement coming together to influence the political process at the all India level.

It was in the context of the united peasant movement declaring solidarity with the all India workers strike over the issues of both working class and the peasantry and in view of the Bihar assembly election, the prime minister was compelled to declare that his government would not re-promulgate the land acquisition ordinance. It was a resounding success as far as the peasantry and working class are concerned and BAA has given call to observe ‘Victory Day’ all over the country.

In the meantime, a conclave of RSS was held in New Delhi to take stock of the political development in which the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues also attended. However after that event there was a sprout of violence based on communal hatred and religious intolerance. A series of incidents like the Dadri lynching and killings of rationalists and scholars, and the silence of the prime minister over such heinous acts were a clear indication of the efforts of the RSS to break the unity of the class struggle -- both the peasantry and the workers. The president of India came forward to resolutely rebuff such acts that destruct the culture and tradition of the nation. In this background, individual writers, cultural activists and intellectuals started strongly protesting against the religious intolerance and murder of progressive thinkers and eminent scholars by surrendering awards to the government.

It was in this background the Bihar election was held and the result has been an emphatic blow to the NDA government and BJP. It was also a resounding reply of the people against the land acquisition ordinance. The Bihar verdict has filled confidence among the peasantry that through unity and issue-based struggles it is possible to challenge the anti-peasant policies of the government and shape the destiny of the people.

To take stock of all these developments, a two-day national meeting of BAA was convened in New Delhi on November 19-20. The meeting was successful and leaders of around 100 mass and social organisations from 22 states attended it. The meeting reviewed the experience of the BAA and its success and the challenges ahead, and decided to streamline the struggles and campaigns on different issues confronting the peasantry.

The meeting observed that the NDA government is not willing to learn lessons from its failures and change its pro-corporate policy is evident from the recent announcement of relaxation of FDI norms on 15 sectors including agriculture, animal husbandry and plantation that too without consulting the Parliament and even the cabinet. The state governments, led by BJP, are taking steps to bring similar enactment to make land acquisition to benefit corporate forces. The growing agrarian distress, highly volatile prices of agro produces, sky-rocketing prices of consumer products, migration, farm suicides, indebtedness, landlessness, other land related issues like FRA, displacement for mining, mega projects for various purposes, tenancy related issues, curtailment of MNREGA, minimum wage and social welfare measures for agriculture labour etc. are remaining as the burning issues of the peasantry. The national meeting decided to address all such issues and made the target of taking all efforts for extending the movement to states and districts and up to village level within the next two months.

In this context a ‘Chethavani Rally’ in New Delhi will be organised on December 15, the opening day of WTO Summit at Nairobi, Kenya on behalf of BAA. This rally is meant to highlight the rights of Adivasi people and also to challenge the authoritarian manner of the Modi government facilitating Free Trade Agreements and bringing pro-corporate amendments to various acts.  

The meeting observed that the peasantry shall join hands with all other social sections including workers, students, youth, women, intellectuals, writers and cultural activists so that the widest unity of the people could be achieved to foil the nefarious acts of communal extremist forces to divide the society. On this direction, mass public meeting, human chains, cultural events or massive demonstrations will be organised at district, block or village levels on 26th January, the Republic Day. A resolution will be passed in support of secularism and democracy and submitted to the President of India through the local revenue officers.

The agrarian reforms covering comprehensive land reform at one hand and the social reforms against remnants of feudal social and cultural practices that breeds communal hatred on the other are two important tasks ahead of the peasantry and the working class today in order to ensure emergence of a modern industrial society upholding secular and democratic values. By taking lessons from the successful experience of BAA, we shall achieve the widest unity of the peasantry and forge deep alliance with the working class. In this context, the national meeting gave a call for a massive rally on February 24, 2016 in front of parliament to commemorate the success of the first march to parliament in resistance to the infamous land acquisition ordinance, on the same day previous year.

The timely and appropriate initiatives by the all India leadership of class and mass organisations against the land acquisition ordinance have proved beyond doubt that building the unity of the Left and democratic forces at all India level is achievable and inevitable to defeat both the corporate and communal forces.