Vol. XLIII No. 11 March 17, 2019

National Conference on Agrarian Crisis

Dinesh Abrol

OVER 300 participants including intellectuals, university professors, college students, scientists, bankers, lawyers, labour unions, women’s organizations, social activists, media-persons and others, deliberated on the continuing agrarian crisis over three days on March 01–03 at the national conference of the ‘Nation for Farmers Forum’ in the India International Centre, New Delhi. Very significantly, the audience in the India International Centre included large numbers of young people, several in their early twenties.

Participants came from 19 states, 25 cities and towns and from 121 institutions (including 16 universities). The agenda of this conference focused on the demand for a ‘three week long special session of parliament’ on agrarian crisis in Delhi.

The Nation for Farmers(NFF) is a forum of mainly non-farmers, mostly urban, seeking to connect the middle classes and urban workers to the issues of farmers, agricultural labourers, and other marginalised sections of rural India. The NFF came into existence in August 2018 inspired by the historic march of more than 40,000 poor adivasi farmers from Nashik to Mumbai in March 2018.

The NFF played an active role in mobilizing support for the kisan march organized by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee(AIKSCC)on November 29-30 in Delhi. The NFF had brought volunteers from all over the country to support the farmers’ movement in the rally.

The vital issues of farmers’ movements namely the bills proposed for the state guaranteeing MSP based on the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission and debt relief commissions for loan waivers were discussed and incisively analysed.

The water crisis, land ownership and use pattern, the politics over seeds including adverse impact of BT & GM crops, consequences of excess use of fertilizers and pesticides, pathetic state of the agricultural extension system, including krishi vigyan kendras, the abysmal state of the rural credit system and such other issues were discussed. An astonishing amount of knowledge and expertise was freely shared on subjects not normally on the agenda of many meetings on the agrarian crisis.

Deliberations included consultation with the academics and farmers movements on the impact of climate change, of the precarious situation of India’s livestock, the condition of agricultural labourers, the appalling state of fisher folk, women and adivasi farmers, and the millions who are not cultivators whose vanishing livelihoods are closely allied to agriculture and the scope and relevance of income transfer schemes under implementation by the state governments in Odisha, Telangana and of the Modi Government.

At one level then, the conference was like a self-education camp on the complexity of agrarian and rural distress, with chapters of the NFF from different parts of India laying out strategies for building sensitivity, knowledge and education on the crisis gripping the countryside. But it was recognized that the NFF needs to follow up on the efforts made from August 2018 onward, till date, locally, to consolidate the NFF at the state level. Local chapters of the NFF need to be formed. The NFF local chapters need to consolidate and follow up on their existing level of mobilization to strengthen the demand for a special three-week session of parliament dedicated to the agrarian crisis and related issues.

It was agreed that the NFF will attempt to open more chapters of the movement in other institutions and towns across India in the near future. The local chapters should continue with the signature campaign and could hold public hearings and state level conferences to explore the issues confronting the farmers in their own states.

As an example of future plan of a local chapter, the local NFF in Rajasthan is starting a state level campaign with the call for a special session of the state assembly on the agrarian crisis. This can be the demand of the NFF chapters in Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab where the opposition has formed governments on the strength of the farmers’ votes.

Given that the audience included significantly large numbers of young people, several in their early twenties a special effort was earmarked for their mobilisation on the theme of agrarian crisis through the NFF forum. Over 30 students of Delhi University came forward to continue with the campaign through a week-long study tour to the four states namely Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. It was agreed that the local NFF chapters will have to try out with the students of state universities, the idea of study tours in their own states.

The national conference concluded with satisfaction that it was a highly productive self-education camp on the complexity of agrarian and rural distress. The NFF chapters from different parts of India would try to help lay out strategies for building sensitivity, knowledge and education on the crisis gripping the countryside through study tours and public hearings in their own respective states.

The coordination team committed to prepare a paper entitled “NFF agenda for discussion on agrarian crisis”. The team will bring out a report of the conference for wider dissemination.