November 28, 2021

A Victory of Wider Consequences

THE capitulation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in announcing the repeal of the three farm laws, is a historic victory for the united farmers’ struggle led by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM).  It is a victory which has far wider consequences than just the nullification of a set of pro-corporate farm measures. 

First and foremost, the successful defence of the farmers’ right to livelihood through peasant-based agriculture is a setback to the neo-liberal agenda, which has been assiduously pursued by the Modi government.

Secondly, the success of the farmers’ struggle is a blow against authoritarianism and the trampling of democracy. The mass movement of the farmers, backed by the working class, has made a dent in the authoritarian system in which parliament itself is denigrated and parliamentary procedures curtailed and bypassed. 

The three farm laws were first promulgated as ordinances in June 2020 without any consultations and rammed through parliament without sending the legislations to standing committee and passed in the Rajya Sabha without due process of voting and by muzzling the voices of opposition members. The mass movement of farmers has short-circuited this authoritarian set-up.

Earlier too, the government had promulgated an ordinance in 2015 to amend the Land Acquisition Act.  The struggle against this ordinance led by a united platform – Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan – forced the government to abandon the ordinance after passing it through the Lok Sabha.  But with the victory in 2019 Lok Sabha election, this lesson was forgotten and a flurry of ordinances and anti-democratic legislations were pushed through parliament, including the abrogation of Article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act.  Now the Modi government will have to think twice before rail-roading such measures in future.

Thirdly, the year-long farmers’ struggle has shown the way to fight the policies of the Hindutva-neo-liberal regime. Particularly, in a situation where the parliamentary opposition is weak and ineffectual, the path of mass struggles through united platforms is the way to mobilise people and build resistance.

Why did the Modi government retreat at this stage?  The epicentre of the movement has been Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.  The way in which the Modi government and the ruling party sought to suppress the struggle by unleashing repression and branding the Sikh farmer leaders as Khalistanis and anti-nationals had united the entire Punjabi people against the BJP and the central government.  The situation developed where no BJP leader could enter any village in Punjab. With the Punjab election just weeks away, a beleaguered BJP had to adopt desperate measures to try and break out of the isolation.

Even if the BJP thought it could sacrifice its electoral prospects in Punjab, the threat looming in UP is something that it could not ignore at any cost. 

The situation in western UP in the past year had developed in such a manner that the entire peasantry has got united and mobilised in support of the struggle.  Substantial sections of this peasantry had voted with the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2019 assembly elections.  The kisan struggle healed, to a large extent, the Jat-Muslim division after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that had helped the BJP to polarise the situation.  The massive September rally at Muzaffarnagar sent out a powerful message to this effect.

After the Lakhimpur Kheri atrocity, in which four farmers were brutally mowed down by the car driven by the son of a union minister of state, the sympathy and support for the kisan movement spread further across the state. 

For the BJP, Uttar Pradesh is the crown jewel to be protected, as Amit Shah has repeatedly said, winning the 2022 assembly election will pave the way for the 2024 Lok Sabha election victory. The threat posed by the kisan movement and the erosion of support due to the tyrannical rule of the Adityanath government raised the stakes and the risk was too much.  Modi chose to back down in order to cut the losses in UP. Behind this move, there was also another factor – as long as the kisan movement and the issues it had raised dominated the scene, the BJP was finding it difficult to focus people’s attention on its divisive communal agenda. 

The BJP is hoping that with the farmers’ issue out of the way, the climate will become conducive for raising its provocative Hindutva agenda.  But, the farmers’ issues are not going to disappear. The SKM has made it clear that apart from the repeal of the three farm laws, the issue of legal guarantee of minimum support price is the second vital demand; there is also the demand for scrapping the Electricity Amendment Bill designed to privatise the distribution of electricity which will affect farmers adversely. How the struggle for these demands should be conducted will be decided by the SKM.

However, one thing is clear – a new stage has been reached in the struggle against the Hindutva-neo-liberal authoritarian regime. Class politics has emerged in the form of the unprecedented unity achieved by the kisan movement and its growing convergence with the working class movement. It should be recalled that the mass struggle began with the November 26, 2020 general strike call of the Central Trade Unions which was coordinated with the ‘Delhi chalo’ slogan of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. Since then, there have been a series of joint calls and intertwined struggles of the peasantry and workers. 

The Left-led mass organisations of the kisans and trade unions have played a key role in building wider unity in their respective sectors and in promoting joint worker-peasant actions. It is this synergy in action which will help the forthcoming struggles including the two day strike call given by the Central Trade Unions during the budget session of parliament. 

From the viewpoint of the CPI(M) and the Left, these developments are an important step in the direction of mobilising all the Left and democratic forces, so that an effective alternative can be built to the Hindutva authoritarian regime.

(November 24, 2021)