FROM July 22, 2021, the SKM-led parallel kisan sansad (farmers’ parliament) began amidst great determination at Jantar Mantar in the nation’s capital New Delhi. It will continue till August 13, on all working days of parliament. True to its anti-democratic ways, the Delhi police under union home minister Amit Shah tried to prevent the media and also all sections of the people from coming anywhere near the kisan sansad and barricaded them far away from the location where the farmers were holding their parliament.
The kisan sansad slammed the BJP-RSS central government led by Narendra Modi, on the shamelessly anti-people and pro-corporate farm laws. It will take up the issues of a central law to ensure a fair MSP and opposition to the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, which has been listed in this session, in the coming days. The participants in the kisan sansad raised several points with regard to the unconstitutional nature of the farm laws, the undemocratic processes by which the government of India brought them in, and the serious implications that the laws will have not only on farm livelihoods, but also on all sections of working people.
Every day, 200 farmers along with their leaders, from various farmers’ organisations, are coming in buses from the Singhu border to Jantar Mantar and are taking part in the kisan sansad in a disciplined manner. The AIKS is sending five of its representatives from different states to the kisan sansad every day. On July 26, when this historic farmers’ struggle completed eight months, it was women farmers who conducted that day’s session of the kisan sansad.
On the first day of the kisan sansad, AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah was elected the speaker and Manjeet Singh was elected the deputy speaker. Among the other leaders who were present on the first day were AIKM general secretary Rajaram Singh, BKU (Tikait) national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, Jai Kisan Andolan president Yogendra Yadav and others.
Among the leaders who have participated in the kisan sansad so far are AIKS vice president Amra Ram, finance secretary P Krishnaprasad, Punjab state secretary Major Singh Punnewal and Haryana state secretary Sumit. A contingent of the AIKS from West Bengal also participated on one of the days. Among the three speakers elected in the mahila kisan sansad on July 26 were AIDWA vice president Subhashini Ali, NFIW general secretary Annie Raja and NAPM leader Medha Patkar, and AIDWA vice president Jagmati Sangwan was one of the deputy speakers.
In parliament itself, several MPs from the CPI(M), CPI, DMK, RJD, LJD held a dharna before the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the parliament premises, to express solidarity with the farmers’ struggle and its demands. The following MPs also visited the kisan sansad to express their full support to the struggle – A M Arif and V Sivadasan of the CPI(M), Binoy Vishwam of the CPI, Anto Antony and Hybi Eden of the Congress, and E T Mohammad Basheer of the IUML.
Inside parliament, the issue of farm laws and farmers' indefinite protest were picked up by many MPs cutting across party lines. The union agriculture minister was greeted by placards that took messages from the farmers' movement straight to the parliament and government. Many MPs moved multiple adjournment motions in the parliament, in support of the farmers' movement, and several have been rejected. Feeling cornered from all sides, the minister for agriculture reportedly said that the government is 'willing to have talks with farmers, if they come with a proposal'. The proposal has already been put on the table by farmers months ago. It is time that the Modi government reconciled itself squarely with this simple reality – that farmers will not go back home without a full repeal of the three black laws, and without securing MSP as a legal guarantee for all farmers. The resolution to the current agitation is only through this, and the government not recognising this to this day, has been responsible for the lives of nearly 550 farmers being lost in the agitation.
BJP minister in the Modi government, Meenakshi Lekhi, made a condemnable slur in her media remarks by calling farmers ‘mawalis’. SKM strongly condemned the insult heaped on farmers – the annadaatas keeping the country alive and sovereign. Her token remarks withdrawing this slur are simply unacceptable. She reflected the derogatory and repressive attitude that the BJP government has been showing towards the farmers' movement from the beginning.
APMC BYPASS ACT
The kisan sansad passed a unanimous resolution on July 23 at the end of the two-day debate on the APMC Bypass Act. The resolution takes into account the adverse experience of the operation of the APMC Bypass Act from June 2020 to January 2021 before the Supreme Court suspended its implementation. This includes exploitation and cheating of farmers to the tune of crores of rupees, APMC transactions reducing significantly and large number of mandis suffering massive losses, pushing them to the verge of closing down. The resolution stated that "farmers need much higher number of operating mandis and not less mandis".
The resolution passed by the house in the kisan sansad stated as follows:
A. The APMC Bypass Act brought in September 2020 should be immediately repealed by the parliament; the farmers' parliament repeals this act, and orders the parliament to do the same.
B. The state governments, in consultation with farmer unions, should strengthen the marketing and storage facilities for farmers, bring improvements in mandi system to facilitate more transparency, easier participation of more small traders, women farmers and farmers without land pattas, and an end to unfair and anti-competitive practices, to establish more mandis so that every farmer has access to a mandi within 10 km; and the centre should help in financing such improvements rather than take away the power from the states.
On July 26, the farmers’ struggle completed eight months. These eight months witnessed lakhs of farmers from almost all states of India joining the protests. The protests have been peaceful and reflect the centuries-old ethos of our annadaatas. They reflect their persistence and perseverance in the face of hardships, and their determination and hope for the future. Farmers faced bravely and undeterred various kinds of inclement weather and the repression of, and defamation from, a callous government throughout this period of eight months.
An elected government which came to power mainly on farmers' votes betrayed them horribly, just to help its notorious crony corporates. Farmers were forced to assert their demands in a patient, honest and peaceful manner. These protests have strengthened farmers' unity, status and dignity in the country, and have deepened Indian democracy. It is no longer only a farmers' movement, but a people's movement that represents a struggle to save the country.
MAHILA KISAN SANSAD
On July 26, the kisan sansad was an exclusive all-women sansad. In the mahila kisan sansad, the debate was around the Essential Commodities Amendments Act (ECAA) 2020. Members who participated in the debate pointed out that these amendments have given legal sanction to hoarding and black marketing by big corporations and others in the food supply chain. They stated that the dark implications of this law are not just on farmers but on consumers everywhere. They pointed out that in the name of export orders, any amount of hoarding can be done by big capital, even in the case of extreme emergencies in the country! The government has given up its mandate, intent and power to protect the interest of ordinary citizens, through this 2020 law, it was pointed out. Given the gendered roles thrust on women to take care of food security of the household, this law undermines women's ability to provide for food security, the women argued. When food becomes unaffordable due to this law, we will be forced to eat less. Women will bear the brunt of this law.
Two important resolutions were passed by the mahila kisan sansad, as follows:
Resolution 1: Even though women contribute quite significantly to our farming, they do not receive the dignity, recognition and status that they ought to in the country. Their labour, hard work, skills and knowledge and their vitality should be taken on board by people's movements and by our society. There should be well-thought-out measures adopted to increase the role and space for women in the kisan andolan.
Resolution 2: It is unanimously resolved in this mahila kisan sansad that women be given 33 per cent representation in parliament and assemblies on the pattern of local bodies like panchayats and municipal committees. A constitutional amendment be made in this regard for giving due representation to women who constitute 50 per cent of the population.
The fourth day of the kisan sansad on July 27 debated the Essential Commodities Amendment Act 2020, continuing the discussion initiated by the mahila kisan sansad. The kisan sansad took note of the fact that india's position in the Global Hunger Index is 94 among 107 countries and is further deteriorating. It noted that the amendments brought into the 1955 Act last year have provided legal sanction to hoard and black-market food stuffs, and that this was designed to favour agribusiness companies and big traders at the expense of common consumers and farmers. The kisan sansad further noted that the deregulation of food supply chains will lead to domination by big corporate and global food processing and marketing companies. The sansad took serious cognisance of the need to ensure food security for everyone at affordable prices, whereas the amendments to the act allow the government to impose stock limits only in the case of "extraordinary price rise". Worse, many entities need not comply with stock limits even in the case of emergencies, due to the exceptions provided even in the severely limited powers of regulation with government.
On the ECA (Amendment) Act, the kisan sansad resolved that:
A. The Essential Commodities Amendment Act 2020 should be immediately repealed by the parliament; the farmers' parliament repeals this act, and asks the parliament to do the same.
B. The state governments, in consultation with farmer unions, should strengthen the marketing, transportation, storage facilities and food processing for crops; bring improvements in food delivery system to ensure basic food and nutrition security to all people; and
C. The GoI should frame a policy and ensure establishment of such basic facilities and infrastructure that will ensure that farmers and their families, not corporates and MNCs, earn from the food production, storage, processing and marketing.