March 19, 2023

Solidarity in Struggle: Farmers and Workers unite to Save India

B Venkat

LAKHS of workers, farmers, and agricultural workers are preparing to march to Delhi to join the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh rally organised by the CITU, AIKS and AIAWU. These three organisations have been conducting joint struggles at the state and national levels for the past few years, but the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh rally has an added importance because it is being organised at a crucial juncture. Big preparations are underway across the states, with numerous joint activities including foot marches, cycle jathas, corner meetings, public meetings, door-to-door campaigns, etc involving millions of people.

In the past, governments led by Congress have implemented anti-people policies that have created discontent among the masses. Corruption was rampant, which is a hallmark of the capitalist system. Taking advantage of these conditions and making tall promises, BJP captured power and Narendra Modi became prime minister. However, it is not surprising that the BJP-led central government not only continued the same neoliberal policies but accelerated their implementation. BJP is now trying to be more committed to the corporates and is imposing the next level of neoliberal policies, especially during the harsh times of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

During the freedom movement, various demands and issues of different sections of society were raised. In addition to attaining independence from British rule, the leaders of the freedom movement also discussed the issues of the people and their possible solutions in a free India. This discourse helped shape the Constitution of India, which inherited the values of the freedom movement and promised to build a nation based on the principles of equality. In this context, various laws, institutions, and schemes were developed after independence, though they were never implemented in true spirit. Nonetheless, all our rights are secured by the constitution in written form, which serves as the basis for struggle.

For the working class, peasantry, and rural toiling class, various laws were enacted to ensure their safety, and a structure of social welfare State was established. However, the BJP-led central government is working against the values of the freedom movement and dismantling the structure of the social welfare State while diluting the laws that protect working people. The BJP government is destroying the achievements of 70 years of independent India and selling off all public sector institutions built by the sweat and hard work of the people of India.

The BJP-led central government's pro-corporate policies are harming the toiling masses. While corporates are earning huge profits, common people are struggling to make ends meet. The government's policies have resulted in a persistent agrarian crisis and high levels of unemployment, forcing daily wagers, agricultural workers, and farmers to commit suicide. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2021, there were 10,881 suicides among people engaged in the farming sector, including 5,318 farmers/cultivators and 5,563 agricultural workers. Since 2014, there has been a steady increase in the number of daily wage earners committing suicide. The latest NCRB report reveals that one in four of the recorded 1,64,033 suicide victims in 2021 was a daily wage earner. Daily wage earners accounted for the largest profession-wise group among suicide victims in 2021, with 42,004 suicides (25.6 per cent).

The BJP-led central government is neglecting the plight of the people and handing over public sector companies, which are the assets of the people of India, to private entities. In contrast, social welfare schemes are being starved of funds. The sharpest cut in MNREGA is a live example of the government's priorities. The government has criminally ignored the demand for the allocation of Rs 2.72 lakh crore for MNREGA and has only allotted Rs 60,000 crore, which is significantly lower than the revised budget of Rs 98,000 crores for the year 2023.

The legal security for the working class is also a target of the Modi government, and various laws are being amended or new laws are being enacted to facilitate the corporate loot of the working class and peasantry. The four labour codes brought to dilute and divert the existing labour laws are nothing but complete freedom for corporates to exploit the working class without any legal hindrance from the State. Instead, these labour codes enable corporates to escape all the legal binding of the employers. The three farm laws came with the same target. This was an effort to facilitate corporate entry into agriculture to the next level. The target was also to destroy the public distribution system and open the food market for corporates. All the checks and balances on price rise and hoarding by private players were proposed to be taken off, giving full control of the food grain market to the corporates.

One example of how the toiling masses are losing the gains of the freedom movement is the reversal of land reforms during the last few decades. One of the main slogans of the freedom movement that attracted millions of rural proletariats to the independence struggle was "land to the tiller." However, after independence, the ruling class betrayed the people, and land reforms were never implemented, except in Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir. The alarming proportion of land loss can be gauged by comparing the percentage of landless households during the 43rd Round Survey of NSSO (1987-88) to the 68th Round (2011-12) NSSO Survey. The landless households in the countryside (possessing less than 0.01 hectares of land) increased from 35 per cent to 49 per cent during this period.

As a result of neoliberal economic policies, inequality in Indian society is growing. The period of neoliberalism has seen a rise in inequality due to iniquitous economic growth. The super-rich and corporations are becoming richer, while the poor struggle to earn subsistence wages and lack access to basic public services, education, and healthcare. According to Oxfam's report titled "Survival of the Richest: The India Supplement," over 40 per cent of India's wealth is owned by just 1 per cent of its population. The total wealth of the 10 richest Indians increased to Rs 27.52 lakh crores in 2022, representing a 32.8 per cent rise from the previous year. In contrast, the bottom 50 per cent of the population accounted for only 3 per cent of the total wealth. Additionally, the number of billionaires in India rose from 102 in 2021 to 166 in 2022. However, nearly 23 crore people, the highest number in the world, live in poverty.

The report also highlights the regressive taxation system in India, where the bottom 50 per cent of the population pays six times more in indirect taxes as a percentage of their income compared to the top 10 per cent. Of the total taxes collected from food and non-food essentials, the bottom 50 per cent contributed 64.3 per cent.

All sectors are under attack, and the BJP is creating disunity among the toiling masses based on identity politics of caste and religion. The central government is shamelessly implementing the agenda of Hindutva, which is against the Indian Constitution. All government offices are being used to impose the Hindutva project on Indian society. The people responsible for implementing and protecting the constitution are working against it. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the abrogation of Article 370, and the division of Jammu and Kashmir are all brazen violations of the fundamental principles of the constitution.

For any government with a fascist ideology, it becomes imperative to punish all forms of dissent and voices of disagreement. Unfortunately, we are witnessing this in Indian society, which claims to be the largest democracy in the world. Numerous civil rights activists, people's leaders, Left movement leaders, and opposition leaders are being targeted by central agencies. Many have been in jail for years without any charge sheet. Any opposition leader who speaks out against the prime minister and his associates is being victimised by central investigative agencies. India has been declared an elected autocracy by international agencies.

Minorities, dalits, and tribals are being targeted with regular violence, and there are organised hate campaigns by those in government positions. There is organised violence against dalits to establish the supremacy of Manusmriti, which is reflected in the increasing number of crimes against them. The reservation system is under attack, and the budget for deprived sections is being reduced. The individuals responsible for communal and caste violence are not only roaming free but are also being honoured on public platforms, which glorifies their acts. An environment of hatred has been created, making the deprived sections of society feel insecure.

The agricultural workers are the worst victims of the continuous agrarian crisis. The sustained agrarian crisis is forcing small and marginal farmers to leave farming. Although the number of agricultural workers has increased over the years, the number of working days in agriculture has decreased significantly, resulting in colossal unemployment and migration among agricultural workers and other rural poor. The economic crisis resulting in slow industrial growth has failed to provide alternate rural or urban employment opportunities to these masses. The real wages of agricultural workers are not increasing over time, and under the impact of neoliberal policies, as mentioned earlier, the number of landless and homeless individuals is growing. With the further withering of the social welfare State, the lives of agricultural workers are becoming more uncertain and insecure. This is a crucial time to demand legal security in the form of a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural workers that ensures decent work, working conditions, wages, and social security measures for them. The agricultural workers have no choice but to struggle for their survival.

Under these conditions, it is our duty not only to defend our livelihoods but also to protect India as a democratic, secular, and diverse country. These are new challenges facing the working class, farmers, and agricultural workers. The only answer is the united struggle of the workers, farmers, and agricultural workers, the producing classes of all wealth in society.