June 06, 2021

Six Months of Kisan Movement

Hannan Mollah

THE longest, largest, most united, and peaceful kisan struggle since independence has been continuously gaining in strength. The agitating farmers have shown unprecedented unity, determination and strength despite facing several odds – from winter chill to pouring rains and searing heat. As the anti-peasant Modi government did not allow them to come to the national capital, farmers in their thousands are seating peacefully at five border points of Delhi -- Singhu, Tikri, Gazipur, Palwal and Shahjahanpur. Punjab farmers played a historic role in this movement and they were joined by those from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Many farmers also joined from various other parts of the country despite limited availability of transport due to the Covid-19 restrictions. About 480 farmers have lost their lives so far, but the agitators have announced that, in spite of government apathy, repression, natural calamities and serious sufferings, they would not end the movement till their demands for repeal of three agri-marketing laws, amendments to the Electricity Act and the anti-farmer environment rules are met.

The government attacked the movement and tried to defame it in different ways. Severe oppression was unleashed through lathi charge, teargas, water cannon, digging national highways, etc., in the beginning. They created many difficulties for protestors at different dharna places by disconnecting electricity, water supply, not cleaning sanitation facilities and sending agents to create troubles. The government and the Sangh Parivar unleashed a malicious campaign against the movement by using the corporate “godi” media. It propagated falsehood blaming the kisans as Khalistanis, Maoists, Pakistani agents, Chinese agents, traitors obstructing army supply. There was a sinister conspiracy on Republic Day using their agent provocateurs and the unfortunate incidents at the Red Fort were used to blame the kisan leaders and implicate them in false cases. But all these efforts only exposed the anti-farmer policy and practices of the Modi-Shah regime.

The disciplined, peaceful and organised kisan movement got support and praise from different sections of the people in the country. We got support from Indians working in over a hundred countries across the world. Even well-meaning democratic world opinion and international media extended their sympathy and support to our struggle. The most important support comes from the Indian working class. From day one, the CITU and all Central Trade Unions (CTU) extended active solidarity to our struggle and workers marched shoulder to shoulder with the peasants. The central body of 10 national trade unions supported the kisan movement and extended all cooperation by joining directly in our struggles in rasta/rail roko, Bharat Bandh and rallies. Many of the unions/federations even extended financial assistance to the movement. The workers themselves are under severe attack by the Modi government. All the labour laws were repealed and four labour codes were passed to make the workers the slaves of the corporate/MNCs. Joint meetings of kisan and trade union leaders -- Samyukt Kisan Morcha and CTU -- were held and it was decided to fight against anti-peasant and anti-worker policies of the Modi government jointly. A new horizon of worker-peasant unity was opened which will definitely strengthen our democratic movement.

All sections of people stood by this historical struggle. All women organisations extended support and mobilised a large number of women for protest actions. The youth and students extended support and took part in this movement. They worked as volunteers to help the movement all through and also played a significant role in spreading the message of the struggle on social media and through different solidarity actions. The other sections of toiling masses, the oppressed Adivasis and Dalits and different organisations representing them stood by this movement. Intellectuals, writers, artists, lawyers, scientists, journalists, etc., also came out in support of the kisan movement. The support strengthened the morale of the kisans and the movement continued to grow. A section of the media, especially the print media, highlighted the struggle and criticised the stubborn, anti-farmer attitude of the BJP government.

The first hundred days was full of activities. Two Bharat Bandhs were organised during that period and about 30-35 crore people participated in each of these actions. Rail Roko was organised and in hundreds of places all over India, people in thousands at each spot stopped trains. Again, rasta roko was held and all the National Highways were blocked by kisans and people. Innumerable protest meetings at villages and block levels, rallies at district and state levels were organised during that period.

The government did not pay any attention to these protests. So SKM called to intensify the movement and organised Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) outer ring road blockade on the hundredth day. It was a great successful resistance and protest against the government apathy. During this phase, the government held meetings with kisan leaders, and 11 rounds of talks were held but the government tried to impose their decision to amend some sections of the Acts. The SKM totally rejected their farcical proposal. These Acts were entirely anti-farmer and merely cosmetic changes cannot improve them. The government stopped discussions and since January no meeting was held. The BJP government was only propagating falsehood. The PM claimed he was only a phone call away from the farmers. But the phone call never came. The real purpose of the government was to tire out the movement and frustrate farmers to force them to leave the struggle front. The SKM believes only sincere talks can resolve the problem and were always ready for discussion but the government was only cheating the people by their false propaganda.

As the movement prolonged due to the BJP government’s conspiracy, the SKM had to organise several programmes to keep the struggle alive. There is no earlier precedent of such a long and united massive movement. So we had to evolve tactics to continue it and carry on effectively. Agricultural season of harvesting and sowing would require that some of the farmers camping on Delhi borders would have to go back to their villages. This would affect the mobilisation at the borders and the corporate media was likely to take a high-pitched campaign claiming that the movement was losing steam. This was tackled by ensuring that during that period students, youth, workers, women and the elderly came in big numbers and after farming season, the peasants returned in larger numbers. Some variation in numbers was not a sign of weakness of the movement but a tactical approach to accommodate the cultivation needs of the peasantry, prepare and facilitate their participation for the long haul. This understanding has helped to keep the movement going on without any break and also in strengthening it.

The AIKS assessed the situation and decided to expose the Modi government’s pro-corporate, anti-people policies. It noted that the united kisan movement created a split in the NDA, some of their constituents such as the Akali Dal left and some others openly criticised the government policies. It also noted that the kisan movement created a lot of enthusiasm among all sections of democratic, secular people and inspired the democratic movements in the country. To strengthen that, the AIKS decided to intensify its work, strengthen unity of all class and mass organisations and also the unity of left and democratic kisan organisations and expand the movement as a Pan-Indian movement. A series of programmes were taken by SKM. On March 8th, Mahila Kisan Day was observed and thousands of women were mobilised in support of the movement. On March 15th, an anti-privatisation, anti-corporate day was observed jointly by SKM and CTU. To explain our issues to the people at large, a series of kisan mahapanchayats were organised in many states in which lakhs of people took part. Several meetings were organised online also. AIKS organised three padayatras from Mathura to Palwal, Hansi to Tikri and Katkar Kalan to Singhu in which hundreds of kisan participated. On March 24-25, Central Trade Unions called for a protest against four Labour Codes and three Agricultural Acts and kisan organisations participated in the campaign. On March 26th, again a Bharat Bandh call was jointly given by SKM and CTU. This was widely observed in the whole country except in election-bound states. On May 8th, an online public meeting was organised in which AIKS, CITU and AIAWU national leaders spoke. In spite of massive lockdown and unprecedented spread of COVID-19 in different parts of the country, we organised so many programmes, adhering to the Covid protocol.

In the meantime, the BJP government hatched a new conspiracy and some of BJP leaders went to courts for vacating the struggle sites. Violent goons of BJP/RSS tried to create trouble at the borders. A massive police operation was planned by the Yogi government of Uttar Pradesh at Gazipur border. Some RSS goons and BJP MLAs came to intimidate and forcibly evict the farmers. But the farmers were determined to face any attack. They resisted and angry farmers came in thousands to Gazipur, Singhu and other borders putting up a massive resistance that made the Sanghi goons and the police to retreat. This gave new strength to the movement.

The massive spread of Corona pandemic in the whole country created difficulties. The failure of the BJP government to make adequate preparations to deal with the second wave of Covid-19 created a new dangerous situation in the villages. Lakhs of people were victims but there were no mass-testing and shortage of hospital beds, ICU, oxygen led to a spike in the death rate. Vaccination was most important to contain the pandemic but due to the callous approach of the BJP government, adequate vaccines were not available. The rural masses in most states have been left to fend for themselves. The second wave has affected rural areas in a big way. Universal free vaccination is an urgent need. Medical facilities should urgently be developed. Due to pandemic and lockdown, people lost jobs and incomes. The SKM demanded that the government give Rs 7,500 per family per month to all non-tax paying people in addition to free ration so that they could survive.

The movement completed six months on May 26, 2021. So SKM gave a call for observing “black day” all over the country. Crores of Indians took part in this protest, called by the SKM and CTUs supported by women’s organisations, student-youth organisations, different class and mass organisations as well as 12 political parties. Black flags were raised atop houses, offices and vehicles in all villages, towns and cities to protest against the Modi government’s all-out failure in all spheres of life. Effigies of Narendra Modi were burnt and massive campaign was organised against policies of the BJP government which completed seven years around the time.

The united kisan movement has many lessons for us. This has been described globally as the longest and biggest movement of the peasantry in recent history. It is unparalleled in India ever since Independence. A large number of kisan organisations successfully built the broadest ever united front in the country involving more than 500 organisations to create an unprecedented issue-based unity. The AIKSCC and the SKM are leading this movement and there have been no differences among different organisations on the issues and movement.

The farmers have been betrayed by Narendra Modi and the BJP government. They took a series of anti-people, anti-worker, anti-peasant actions to facilitate corporate profiteering during their seven-year misrule. The only concern of the BJP and the prime minister was winning election by any means including by creating communal and casteist division. Kisans proved in the just concluded elections that they were not only “annadatas” but also “votedata” and expressed their anger through the ballot against these policies. The SKM appealed to the farmers to vote against BJP and punish them as they failed to solve the problem of the kisans. The election results show that a large number of peasants voted against BJP and ensured their defeat in three major states. This was also evident in the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh. The slogan of “Defeat Anti-Farmer BJP” and campaign for the same would continue in the forthcoming assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The peasantry in unity with the toiling masses will ensure that the BJP is defeated. That is important for ensuring that the demands of the struggle are met. The SKM is determined to continue its struggle until victory.