January 19, 2020

Go Back Bolsonaro

THE Narendra Modi led BJP government which is facing mounting united protests by the workers, peasants, students, youth and the oppressed against the pro-corporate neoliberal economic policies and repressive measures against democratic protests has chosen to invite the Brazilian president Jair Messias Bolsonaro as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. The All India Sugarcane Farmers’ Federation (affiliated to All India Kisan Sabha), in a statement issued on January 14, has condemned this decision and demanded that the invitation be withdrawn.

The All India Sugarcane Farmers’ Federation has called for a week long campaign from January 18 culminating with protest actions on January 25, 2020 with the call Go Back Bolsonaro. The Federation has called upon all its units to protest with black flags and #GoBackBolsonaro banners in the sugarcane growing areas. The protest will also be a solidarity action in support of the Brazilian people protesting against his corrupt, repressive regime.

Notably, Bolsonaro who adheres to a far right-wing ideology is besieged by protests by workers and the peasantry, students, youth, women and indigenous people in his own country. Increasingly authoritarian and as aggressively pro-corporate as Narendra Modi we have witnessed his destructive and exploitative policies in Brazil, including opening the gates for the corporate loot of the Amazon forests. Indian farmers are being directly threatened and especially the livelihoods of the sugarcane farmers in India will be adversely affected by Brazilian moves against India in the World Trade Organisation.

Brazil has challenged the “support” that Indian government gives our sugarcane farmers alleging that it violates the rules of the WTO. Claiming that domestic support is beyond the permissible limit, Brazil, Australia and Guatemala have challenged it. India’s “Fair and Remunerative Price” (FRP) and the State Advised Price (SAP) are currently facing challenge, in addition to export subsidy measures. It claims India’s product specific domestic support for sugarcane is in excess of its de minimis entitlement of 10 per cent of value of production under WTO provisions and India has no scheduled entitlements for giving export subsidies. Brazil has claimed that India has increased its FRP from Rs 1,391.20 per tonne in 2010-11 to Rs 2,750 per tonne in 2018-19 and the SAP was also questioned. While calculating Market Price Support (MPS) in the WTO regime, the External Reference Price (ERP) is still that of (export or import prices of) years 1986-88. Such an ERP was fixed at Rs 156.16 per tonne at that time, and this is being compared with the current FRPs (Rs 2,750 per tonne) on sugarcane without accounting for inflation, whereas the deflated SMP/FRP is only around Rs 290.88 per tonne. India’s assistance of Rs 55 billion to support the sugar industry in 2018-19 was also a bone of contention.

The ground reality, however, contrasts this narrative. The sugarcane farmers in India are not even getting the meager prices which ironically are termed fair and remunerative prices. Cane arrears are rising and is reported to be more than Rs 24,000 crores. In the context of the prevailing farm distress, the sugarcane farmers face an uphill battle on domestic and international fronts. The skewed provisions of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and the commitments under them have added to the grievance of farmers. If the WTO rules against India, the Indian government will be unable to announce FRP or steps to protect exploitation of farmers by sugar lobby. Local production will fall and we will be pushed into import of sugar. Brazil sees India as an attractive market for sugar industry and access to this market would open up a potentially large export sector for it. If India loses the dispute, it would have to modify all measures that have been found inconsistent with the AoA. In the absence of the present support policies, the sugarcane sector that employs over 50 million farmers and over 5,00,000 sugar mill workers (DFPD 2017a), may face an imminent collapse. The Narendra Modi led BJP government instead of protecting the interests of Indian farmers is rolling the red carpet for the Brazilian president whose government is seeking to destroy the livelihoods of sugarcane farmers.