“If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right.” – M S Swaminathan
THE 10 lakh-strong historic SKM-led Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on September 5, 2021, forced even the most pro-establishment newspaper in the country like The Times of India to print the above seminal quote by Dr M S Swaminathan, former chairperson of the National Commission on Farmers, in A Thought for Today on its editorial page on September 7, followed by its lead editorial on the mammoth rally itself. The Hindustan Times and several other national dailies also ran editorials on the rally. On September 5 and 6, of course, almost all sections of the electronic and print media in India fell over one another to cover this unprecedented congregation of farmers in their lead headlines and on their front pages. It was indeed a massive jan sailab, a huge people’s flood. It was arguably the largest ever farmers’ rally in India, and also perhaps in the world.
The entire city of Muzaffarnagar had literally turned into a rally ground. Farmers in massive numbers started coming from the previous evening itself. The huge GIC ground, with a capacity of around one lakh, started overflowing with enthusiastic and determined farmers from early morning itself. The ground could accommodate only one-tenth of the farmers, and nine-tenths of them overfilled all the main roads of the city. Lakhs of farmers listened to the speeches on the roads, where a public address system had been set up for several kilometres around the ground. Hundreds of langars and medical camps had been set up to help the farmers who had come.
There was an unending flow of people, tractors, buses and cars still coming into Muzaffarnagar till afternoon. An ocean of people cutting across states, religions, castes, regions and languages came together united to send a loud and clear message to the RSS-BJP governments at the centre and state led by Modi, Shah and Yogi, and to their crony corporates like the Ambanis and the Adanis. The Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat got unprecedented support from all sections of society – workers, agricultural labourers, employees, small traders, women, youth and students. Resounding slogans of kisan-mazdoor unity and calling for the defeat of the anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-national RSS-BJP government were raised constantly during the rally.
Lakhs of farmers had come from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and several other states from all over the country. They included West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and other states. Women and youth farmers had come in massive numbers. The farmers were carrying thousands of national flags, and also flags of their own farmers' organisations. It was a very colourful spectacle of green, red, yellow, white and blue flags – all colours except saffron!
This mega rally has the potential of becoming a turning point in the Indian political landscape. It showed that the battle for the country has moved from Punjab and Haryana straight to the Hindi heartland. It was politically significant for five main reasons.
First, it reiterated the call given by the SKM’s national convention for a Bharat Bandh on September 27 – a slight change of date due to unavoidable circumstances. Overall, the rally was a huge demonstration of people's discontent with the incumbent government. Hectic preparations will now be launched all over the country to reach out to all progressive, democratic and secular forces to ensure that the Bharat Bandh against the RSS-BJP regime becomes a massive success. Every speaker in the rally stressed the vital significance of making the Bharat Bandh successful.
Second, the rally inaugurated Mission Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand, which called not only for strengthening the farmers’ struggle for the repeal of the three farm laws and for a central legislation guaranteeing MSP @ C2 + 50 per cent, but also resolved to leave no stone unturned to ensure the resounding defeat of the BJP in the coming state assembly elections. The details of this mission will be worked out in an SKM meeting in Lucknow on September 9-10. The plan envisages huge rallies in the divisional centres, followed by rallies in each district of both states.
Third, this united rally powerfully countered the divisive memories of the ghastly Muzaffarnagar communal riots engineered by the RSS-BJP in 2013. The communal polarisation resulting from this all over North India was one of the major factors that swept the BJP to power at the centre in 2014 and in UP in 2017. The most effective symbol of unity manifested at the rally was the scene of Naresh Tikait and Ghulam Mohammad Jaula sitting together on the stage. All speakers at the rally charged that the BJP government of Uttar Pradesh is using the notorious British policy of 'divide and rule' on the basis of divisions around religion and caste. They declared that the kisan-mazdoor unity agenda will triumph over the communal and casteist politics of the RSS-BJP, and the farmers will never allow communal riots to happen in the future.
Thousands of Muslims from UP not only took part in the rally, but many Muslims also organised a lot of langars and other forms of seva for the farmers going to Muzaffarnagar. Even mosques made arrangements for people's accommodation, where Hindu and Sikh farmers stayed at night. This has further cemented ties between the two communities. Many farmers in the region were talking about the hospitality extended by Muslims. They were clearly touched.
Fourth, almost all major speakers directly accused the Modi government of selling off the entire country to the domestic and foreign corporate lobby through its shameless National Monetisation Pipeline and other disastrous measures towards privatisation of innumerable public sector concerns. They also supported the working class issue of repeal of the four labour codes. They denounced the Modi regime for the massive price hike of diesel, petrol, gas and other essential commodities, burgeoning unemployment and the collapse of the public distribution system. Thus, the SKM’s Mahapanchayat raised issues of sectors beyond agriculture, just as its national convention had done ten days ago on August 26-27. The farmers’ struggle is proving to be much more than just the demand to revoke the three farm laws and for MSP guarantee. It has become the biggest movement to not just save, but also deepen our democracy and secularism, and to defend our constitution. This point was stressed by several of the main speakers.
Fifth, the speakers charged that the promises made by the Yogi government to the farmers have not been fulfilled. Even 20 per cent of the promised procurement has not been done. The UP government had promised loan waiver for 86 lakh farmers, while only 45 lakh farmers have received only a very partial loan waiver. The union Government agency CACP has found that in the year 2017, the cost of sugarcane was Rs 383 per quintal, but farmers were paid only Rs 325 per quintal, and sugar mills owe farmers over Rs 12,000 crore. In Uttar Pradesh, crop insurance was paid to 72 lakh farmers in the year 2016-17, while in 2019-20, only 47 lakh farmers were paid, but crop insurance companies earned a profit of Rs 2,508 crore. The rally decided to announce an agitation in the coming meeting of the SKM demanding a rate of Rs 450 per quintal for sugarcane as promised by the Uttar Pradesh government.
Some of the slogans given in this rally indicated its fiery fighting spirit. Daam nahin tho vote nahin – no fair price, no vote; vote pe chot – hit the vote; woh todenge, hum jodenge – they will try to break us, we will stand united. The double slogan from Baba Mahendra Singh Tikait's time came into play: Allah Hu Akbar and Har Har Mahadev. At the same time, Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal and Wahe Guru Ji Da Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji Di Fateh resounded on the stage. The speakers from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala who spoke in their mother tongues were wildly cheered by the crowd, although it could not understand a word of what they said. Several references by speakers to Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati and other icons drew loud applause. It all was a magnificent manifestation of the unity and the determination of the peasantry of India.
The public meeting was addressed by all the main SKM leaders, and by leaders from all the states present. They also included several women and youth speakers. Prominent among them were Rakesh Tikait, Naresh Tikait, Dharmendra Malik, Rajesh Singh Chauhan, Rajveer Singh Jadaun, Amrita Kundu, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Hannan Mollah, Jagjit Singh Dallewal, Darshan Pal, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, Shivkumar Sharma ‘Kakkaji’, Yogendra Yadav, Yudhveer Singh, Gurnam Singh Charuni, Medha Patkar, D P Singh, Baldev Singh Nihalgarh, Ruldu Singh Mansa, Kulwant Singh Sandhu, Manjit Singh Dhaner, Harmeet Singh Kadian, Manjit Rai, Suresh Koth, Ranjeet Raju, Tejinder Singh Virk, Satyavan, Sunilam, Ashish Mittal, Satnam Singh Ajnala, Jagmati Sangwan, Sonia Maan, Jasbir Kaur and several other leaders.
The AIKS mobilisation in this rally was very impressive. Red flags of the AIKS could be seen everywhere. Thousands of farmers were mobilised by the AIKS from its state units in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, along with a spirited contingent from far-off Assam. A large contingent of the AIKS from Bihar came at the same time to Delhi and stayed for a week at the Ghazipur border. Thousands of activists of the AIKS, CITU, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI from all the above states worked hard for this success.
The SKM congratulated and thanked the lakhs of farmers who braved all the obstructions placed by the BJP's Yogi government, and called upon them to take the torch of the farmers' movement to every nook and corner of India until victory is achieved.
Just when filing this report, news has come of another massive two lakh strong SKM rally of farmers at Karnal in Haryana on September 7. This was held to denounce the BJP-JJP state government in Haryana, and to demand the dismissal of, and filing of murder charges against SDM Ayush Sinha who had given instructions to the police to 'break people's heads'. Far from dismissing him, he was transferred and promoted, with the blessings of the BJP chief minister and the JJP deputy chief minister! As outlined in this column last week, this inhuman lathi charge on August 28 led to scores of farmers being severely injured, and one of them, Sushil Kajal, succumbed to his injuries and was martyred. This huge struggle in Karnal against the state government is still on. We shall take stock of it in this column next week.