March 07, 2021

Agrarian Question and National Political Situation

P Krishnaprasad

THE ongoing farmers struggle at the borders of Delhi, under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha(SKM) is not a spontaneous protest. This struggle, the largest in mass participation and striking power since independence, is the continuation of the agitations by the peasantry and the working class during the last three decades against the State policies, especially the neo-liberal policies being imposed on the people by successive union governments.

The big capitalist class in India faces a decisive crisis. They are under the illusion that they can overcome the crisis by collaborating with international finance capital as well as by intensifying the exploitation of the two producing classes, the peasantry and the working class. The enactment of the four Labour Codes and the three Farm Acts that negate the minimum price to agricultural produce is precisely in this direction. On the other hand, the peasantry and the working class are forced to confront corporate dominance that causes severe pauperisation and decline of their purchasing power- that induces capitalism to plunge into a deeper crisis.   

Prices of agro produce have been the main income and the only source of existence of the peasant households. Naturally, the minimum support price becomes the main demand of struggle along with protection of ownership of farmland and cattle wealth. As far as agricultural labourers are concerned, their main demands are minimum wage for dignified life and protection of employment. In this context, the agrarian question becomes the major issue in the national political situation, though there are differences in the degree of intensity of the agrarian crisis from region to region. 

The key aspect of the programme of the CPI(M) is the resolution of the agrarian question. The big capitalist class that led the Indian State since independence, instead of implementing comprehensive land reforms, forged an alliance with the landlord class. Instead of unleashing productive forces through agrarian reforms aimed at development based on domestic industrialisation- with thrust on agro-based industries, they have been surrendering to the neo-liberal model of development by collaborating with international finance capital. Even after 73 years, 60 per cent of landholders have only five per cent of the agricultural land while 10 per cent of landholders possess 55 per cent. Land centralisation has been further intensified due to the pauperisation of a large number of small and middle peasant households who are forced to join the class of migrant workers.

The BJP led union government is putting forward the proposal of the corporatisation of agriculture as the solution for the agrarian crisis since comprehensive land reforms and agro-based industrial development, in order to protect the interests of the vast peasantry, is not acceptable to the ruling classes.

Globally, the food processing sector based on the value addition of agricultural produce shows high growth. Studies conducted worldwide depict that only a share of 10 per cent or below of the value of the value-added consumer products are paid back to the peasantry as crop price. In Punjab, farmers used to get only Rs 18 to Rs 30 per kilogram through intermediaries for basmati paddy. The Adani Group sells its Fortune brand of special basmati rice at Rs 208 per kilogram. There are branded basmati products sold in the range of Rs 700 to Rs 2,200 per kilogram in the global market. The coffee growers of Karnataka and Kerala are getting Rs 120 to Rs 130 per kilogram for coffee beans while the Nestle group sells their brand instant coffee products – 2.5 kilogram coffee beans are required for producing one-kilogram instant coffee powder - at an average rate of Rs 3,000 per kilogram. There are brand instant coffee products that sell in the range of Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000 per kilogram. In fact, the monopoly ownership on large scale agro-industries enables the corporate forces to accumulate huge profit.

The three Farm Acts represent the interests of the corporate forces. The need is to bring laws to protect the interests of the peasantry. The policy towards contract farming depends on which class interest it represents. Alienating the poor and middle peasant households and agricultural workers from the agricultural sector will lead to severe socio-political impact and the ongoing farmers struggle actually resists this danger.  The big capitalist class, working in collaboration with international finance capital, have developed a class conflict with the peasantry at large, including sections of the rich peasants and capitalist landlords. This conflict amongst the ruling class partners creates possibilities for the working class, poor peasantry and agricultural labour to intensify the class struggle against the corporate-landlord dominance.  The forceful pursuit of neo-liberal economic reforms combined with the loot of our national assets through disinvestment and rampant privatisation is giving rise to new conflicts emerging between the big capitalists and the non-big capitalists. These conflicts create possibilities and potential for building wider unity against the BJP.

Agriculture is a state subject. BJP’s drive to establish its total hegemony and replace the federal structure of our constitution with that of a unitary State has resulted in serious attacks on the rights of the elected state governments.  The regional parties, who head governments in many states, are coming under sharp attack. The communal polarisation accompanied by this hegemonic drive is forcing many regional parties, who head governments, to come out and oppose the BJP in a forthright manner. The oldest allies of BJP in NDA, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Akali Dal in Punjab have left the NDA and come out openly against the BJP. The growing contradiction between the BJP and the regional parties also has the potential for building wider unity against the BJP. 

While the differences among the peasant classes do exist, the growing unity among the peasant masses including different sections of the peasants against the corporate forces will further widen the political unity of the people against the ruling classes. This unity between the peasantry and the working class opens the possibility of intensifying political polarisation. This struggle will intensify in the near future and influence the national political situation decisively. In states like Kerala, the peasants and workers are demanding the post-land reform stage of agrarian reform – developing crop-based agro-processing industries and IT-based modern market network and ensure employment possibilities, minimum wage and minimum support price.

There are two ways in order to ensure minimum support price at C2+50 per cent and minimum wage to workers. Firstly, legislation to enforce the corporate sector to share the surplus they build up through value addition and marketing of agro produce with the respective farmers. Secondly, legislation to establish ‘social cooperatives’ – institutions free from bureaucratic control and under the leadership of peasants and workers with financial and administrative autonomy - to develop crop-based agro-processing industries and market network with modern infrastructure. These should have the benefit of financial support and government guarantee, with the responsibility to ensure surplus sharing as additional income for primary producers.

The market intervention model developed in Kerala, based on the cooperative sector, needs to be debated across the country. When the union government declares MSP at Rs 1,868 per quintal for paddy without ensuring procurement, the state government in Kerala has been successful in providing MSP at Rs 2,850 per quintal with a procurement system to cover the entire produce with the support of cooperatives. A cooperative market has been developed for crops including rubber and coconut.

In the current budget, 2021-22 the LDF government has declared MSP for coffee cherry - for the first time in India - at Rs 90 per kilogram against the existing market rate of Rs 65 per kilogram. The plan is to process the coffee and market coffee powder in the brand name “Wayanad Coffee” and then share the surplus as an additional price to coffee growers. Similarly, the surplus can be developed through value addition of all crops -including rubber and coconut - and shared with peasants. Instead, the Modi government is imposing the corporatisation of agriculture.

Peasant agriculture in India cannot be protected without a Peasant Cooperative Plan (PCP) to modernise agriculture based on comprehensive land reform, agro-based industrialisation and IT-based modern market network with surplus sharing.  Nearly 86 per cent of peasant households in India have less than two hectares of land. By transferring the land to the next generation, farm size reduces further, thus unable to earn income sufficient to sustain the peasant family. What is the solution? Convert petty farm production through PCP to large scale production by bringing together the poor and middle farmers and agricultural workers through social cooperatives. And develop agro-processing industries and modern market network under their social ownership and share the surplus thus created with the peasants and workers to ensure new employment opportunities stage by stage and protect the livelihood of all who are solely dependent on the agricultural sector at present. The ‘Subhiksha Keralam’ and such cooperative interventions in agriculture by the LDF government in Kerala represent the Left and Democratic Alternative against the neo-liberal model of the Modi-led BJP regime. The Peasant Cooperative Plan is highly significant in addressing the agrarian question in India.

The demands of the farmers’ struggle can be realised only by further intensifying worker-peasant unity and wider unity of the Left, democratic and secular forces. The agrarian question will be decisive in national politics and will be reflected in the five states that are going to face state assembly elections too. The re-election of LDF government in Kerala and victory of the Left, democratic and secular forces and their allies in other states is important to advance the struggle against corporate exploitation.