HISTORY was made in India on November 29, 2021, when the BJP-RSS central government was forced to repeal the hated farm laws in parliament. However, this was done in typical Modi style, without an iota of grace, truth or democratic procedure. There was no debate allowed at all on the bill tabled to repeal the three laws. Consequently, the repeal took only four minutes.
Even as this historical development of repeal of three black laws took place, more than 686 farmers have sacrificed their lives in a peaceful and persistent year long protest. The responsibility for this massive human cost lies squarely with the Modi government.
These farm laws were brought in first as ordinances in June 2020 and later as bills in September 2020. Ironically, no debate was allowed at that time too. There was no referral of the bills to a standing committee, and the demand of several MPs for a division (voting) on the bills in the Rajya Sabha was dismissed with contempt. When several MPs tried to raise a debate on the bills and related matters including MSP legal guarantee, they were suspended for the whole winter session of the parliament. This stifling of detailed debates in parliament is outright unhealthy and undemocratic. The continuing lack of democratic functioning within parliament, in addition to false statements and immoral behaviour of the government are deeply objectionable and unacceptable, said Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM).
PERFIDIOUS STATEMENT OF OBJECTS & REASONS
SKM also condemned the fact that the government of India sought to mislead the nation yet again in the way the objects and reasons for the Farm Laws Repeal Bill were articulated. The statement of objects and reasons accompanying the repeal bill cannot be farther from the truth. In most state APMC Acts, farmers already have the freedom to sell their produce to any buyer at any place of their choice and such a freedom was not given for the first time by the Modi government as is being claimed. Further, any so-called freedom without protection from exploitation is meaningless. The eco-system that was sought to be created in deregulated spaces is meant for corporates and traders, and not for farmers. The fact that these laws were enacted in an unconstitutional manner has not been admitted to, even now. The claim on extensive consultations with farmers has been belied by the fact that a very large section of farmers who have been protesting, have clearly told the government that they have never been consulted. In a democracy, opportunistic consultations with industry-sponsored farm unions is not the way forward, and there have to be serious deliberative democratic processes adopted. The statement of objects and reasons reflects the egoistic and adamant attitude of the central government, and it is only meant to misguide gullible people, if any. By now, the farm laws and their adverse impacts on a large section of citizens, as well as the government of India's anti-farmer and anti-people policies stand clearly exposed, said SKM.
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), in a statement, made a detailed critique of the statement of objects and reasons of the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021, under the title “Won the Battle, War will Continue”. In this, the AIKS tore apart every single false claim made by the government.
Besides, the Electricity Amendment Bill 2021 being listed for business in the ongoing parliament session is an outright reneging on the commitment made by the government of India to the delegation of farm unions that was in formal talks with it in December 2020. Similar is the case of penalising of farmers for biomass burning in relation to Delhi's air pollution.
Nearly all opposition political parties of India have put their weight behind the SKM’s demands including MSP legal guarantee. The CPI(M) has actively backed all the farmers’ demands from day one, and has also tried to get several opposition parties on board on numerous occasions. Several economists are stepping forward to support this demand, and are pointing out that this is much needed, and will have many positive outcomes for the overall economy in India. While some experts are choosing to misinterpret farmers' demand for MSP and are presenting data of exaggerated public financing burdens, the farmers' movement asserts that such misleading data will not stand the test of scrutiny. The investments for an MSP guarantee law are very much within the practical power of the union government, and will come back as revenues as soon as rural economy receives a boost from such a law.
A market survey taken up by a media house showed that a majority of NDA supporters also want MSP to be legally guaranteed. On the other hand, official data from the recent 77th Round of NSO's Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households show that a vast majority of farmers in India have not got the benefit of MSP. This reinforces the demand for legally-guaranteed MSP that has been made by this farmers' movement.
On the demand related to withdrawal of cases filed against over 48,000 protesting farmers in Haryana, CM Manohar Lal Khattar indicated that he will do as per the centre's instructions. With regard to cases in locations like Delhi and Chandigarh, the centre has a direct say, while in the BJP ruled states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, where hundreds of false police cases have been filed, the union government's decision is awaited. The Modi government cannot escape its responsibility with regard to this demand, or all other pending demands including on withdrawal of Electricity Amendment Bill, compensation to the kin of martyrs, land for a martyrs’ memorial, and arrest and sacking of Ajay Mishra Teni.
The SKM held its meeting at the Singhu border on November 27. It took cognizance of the lack of response from the prime minister with reference to its letter dated November 21 and called upon the government to restart the dialogue process, and discuss the pending issues. The SKM condemned the government’s attempts to bypass bilateral discussions, and sidestep crucial issues. In a democracy, it is the duty of the elected government to consult the protesting farmers and resolve the disputes amicably, said SKM. All constituent organisations of SKM will take stock of the situation and take decisions about the next steps in the farmers' struggle on December 4 at the Singhu border.
On November 26, 2021, the farm movement completed one year of its historic and victorious struggle with lakhs of farmers, joined by workers, agricultural labourers, women, youth, students and common citizens, in nationwide actions. It was also the first anniversary of the All India Strike of the working class. November 26 is also observed as the Constitution Day of India.
The day will forever be remembered as one of the greatest moments of a people’s struggle in history. This day marked twelve long months of the farmers struggle, with numerous victories which seemed unlikely, and even impossible, and with a will and determination to continue to fight for the unfulfilled demands of the farmers. The farm movement stands as a testimony to the will of the common people to fight against an unrelenting government, and for a long time, will be remembered as an example of peaceful satyagraha inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian freedom movement.
The farmers' movement began a year ago with the call of ‘Dilli Chalo’ on November 26-27, 2020. The fact that such a long struggle had to continue is a clear reflection on the insensitivity and arrogance of India's BJP-RSS government towards its toiling citizens. Over the course of twelve months of one of the largest and longest protest movements across the world and in history, millions of people took part in the movement which spread to every state, every district and every tehsil of India. Apart from the repeal of the three hated farm laws, the movement achieved several victories for farmers, common citizens and the nation at large. The movement created a sense of unified identity for the farmers, cutting across regional, religious or caste divisions. Farmers discovered a newfound sense of dignity and pride in their identity as farmers, and their assertion as citizens. This struggle deepened the roots of democracy and secularism in India.
The movement has been able to sustain and strengthen itself due to the peaceful determination of each individual protestor who participated. The struggle also drew strength from its alliance with trade unions, and other progressive and democratic mass organisations including women’s, students’ and youth organisations. Nearly all opposition political parties of India stood in support of the farmers in the year-long struggle. Numerous sections of society including artists, academics, writers, doctors, lawyers etc contributed their part to this people's movement. SKM expressed its deep appreciation to all the participants and supporters of this movement, and reiterated once again that the repeal of the three anti-farmer, anti-people and pro-corporate laws is only the first major victory of the movement.
The SKM and the Central Trade Unions (CTUs) had given a joint call for nationwide actions. The day was marked by huge programmes at the Delhi borders, state capitals and district headquarters. Various trade unions, agricultural workers unions, student, youth and women’s organisations, civil society organisations, and other unions came together to celebrate the victory of the nation’s farmers, and also to express their determination to fight for the remaining demands of the farmers, workers and the people. Large assemblies were held at Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Shahjahanpur morchas, which were attended by SKM leaders.
From the AIKS, Hannan Mollah, Ashok Dhawale, D P Singh, Mukut Singh and Chandrapal Singh addressed the gathering at Ghazipur, P Krishnaprasad and Major Singh Punnewal addressed at Singhu, Inderjit Singh and Sumit addressed at Tikri, and Amra Ram, N K Shukla, Pema Ram, Chhagan Lal Choudhary and Pawan Duggal addressed at Shahajahanpur.
Lakhs of peasants and workers came together in support of the farm movement at the programmes held in various states. In Karnataka, farmers and workers organised chakka jams, and blockaded state highways in Bangalore, Srirangapatna, Chickballapur, Belgaum, Vijaypura, Bhagewadi. A vehicle rally was also held in Chickballapur. Protests were also held in Mysuru, Kolar, Devangere in Karnataka. In Kerala, a massive rally was held at Thiruvananthapuram, and tens of thousands of farmers took part in each of the 14 districts. In West Bengal, a massive public rally was held at Y Channel, Dharamtalla, Kolkata which was followed by a huge procession from Dharmatalla to Sealdah station. This was apart from hundreds of rallies in the districts. In Patna, a joint procession of farmers and workers was organised from Buddha Smriti Park to the Collectorate. Protest programmes were also held in Sitamadhi, Rohtas, Bhojpur, Khagaria, Begusarai, Samastipur, Buxar, Darbhanga, Gaya, Arwal, Nalanda, Shekhpura, and other districts of Bihar. A massive tractor rally was held in Raipur. In Bijapur district of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, tribal peasants observed the anniversary of the farm movement with dharnas at Silger and Gangalore. At both the places, tribals are protesting against Adani and other corporates, and the death of four tribals in police firing on May 16, 2021. Farm protests were held in Gunturu, Vijayangaram, and other places in Andhra Pradesh. Protest events were also held in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Telangana, Odisha among other states.
We have already referred to the massive SKM Lucknow Mahapanchayat of November 22 in our report last week. On November 25, a maha dharna was held at Hyderabad, in which thousands of farmers and workers from Telangana joined. On November 28, there was another massive Maharashtrawide Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat in Mumbai. Both the Hyderabad and Mumbai rallies were addressed by several SKM leaders.
Reports of large demonstrations of victory, solidarity and support to the farmers’ movement in India came from the Indian diaspora, supported by hundreds of other foreign citizens from abroad. Impressive rallies were held on November 26 at several places in the USA, UK, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and other countries in Europe.
Numerous international organisations lent their support and solidarity to the movement. A letter of support was issued by the international farmers’ organisation La Via Campesina. The letter said, “India’s farmers have inspired the world with their resilience. They have shown us what a united struggle of the working class and the peasantry can achieve even in the face of all adversities. Over the last year, this protest has stitched alliances with workers unions and other social movements and issued inspiring messages of solidarity, communal harmony and unity among rural societies.”