by Raghbir Singh
This article, written by the author from the frontlines of the farmer’s protest, has been specially translated from Punjabi for Ghadar. Reading it, we felt the spirit and energy of this compelling movement and wanted to share some of the same with our readers.
The current widespread and popular peasant struggle—of which Punjab has emerged as the leader—is moving forward with full vigor. Its demands and organizational form are patriotic and have been embraced by the farmers of the entire 4country. Farmers from Kanyakumari to Kashmir are participating in it according to their organizational capacity. This struggle is being led at the national level by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
The immediate cause behind this struggle’s sharp and public nature are the three agriculture ordinances passed in June. However, the state of unrest is fueled by a long history of anti-farmer and pro-corporate policies adopted by various governments of the country. These policies have adversely affected the agriculture sector. It has decimated the economy of the farmers and laborers, which is considered the lifeline of about 65 to 70% of the population of the country. Further, demonetization has had a devastating effect on the sector, just as it has on other small businesses. The debt burden on the farmers has continued to rise and the suicides of farmers and rural laborers have continued unabated. The government did not provide any immediate relief to the sector, nor accept the demand for waiver of its debt and realistic prices (C2 formula) recommended by the Swaminathan Commission. On the issue of debt waiver, the Union government flatly refused. The debt waivers announced by the state governments were also negligible. On the other hand, the Modi government at the center has written off billions of rupees owed to corporate houses during the same period. The country’s peasantry was beginning to realize that the central government was discriminating against them and the announcements about doubling their income were merely deceptive and adding salt to their wounds.
The Pervasive Effect of the Farming Crisis
Due to the government’s anti-agriculture policies, the share of the agricultural sector in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, which was 51% at the time of independence, has come down to 14–15%. Even today, however, it remains the basis for the development of all other sectors. The crumbling agricultural economy has also badly affected the country’s small businesses, small industries, shopkeepers, etc. With the contraction of agriculture, which was the main source of employment, unemployment has skyrocketed. In this way, the non-agricultural population has fully realized that the destruction of the agriculture sector is bound to lead to their own destruction and ruin, in addition to the destruction of the village farmers and laborers. That is why they have strongly supported the present peasant struggle. The success of the Punjab Bandh on September 25 is a living example of this active support. Thus this struggle has become the struggle of all Punjabis. Apart from Punjab, awareness about the importance of protecting the agriculture sector is growing among workers and small traders across the country.
Leading Role of Punjab
Punjab, as per its old tradition, is playing a leading role in this struggle. Behind this is a range of economic and political conditions in the region. Punjabis feel that the central government has discriminated against them on various issues: discriminating against Punjabi-speaking areas is deeply ingrained in their psyche, as is their discriminating against Punjabis when it comes to water use. The Punjabi feels that the state’s current situation is due to the central government’s discriminatory policies and neoliberal policies implemented since 1991 at the national level. This has further aggravated the economic misery of the farmers of Punjab and has led to a huge increase in the number of suicides among farmers and laborers. According to an expert in agricultural economics, Dr. Gian Singh, former Professor, Punjab University, Patiala, “85.9% farmers and 80.07% agricultural laborers in Punjab are indebted.”
The average annual income of a marginal farmer family is Rs 1.39 lakh per annum, Rs 2.22 lakh per annum for a small farmer, and Rs 3.69 lakh per annum for families with a medium-sized farm. According to Dr. Gian Singh, the income of farmers is meager. He has also made several other remarks on the present struggle, which sheds light on the state of the peasant struggle and the bright prospects for the future.
According to him, these three agricultural laws are also against farmers, consumers, food security, and the country’s federal structure. “I feel the government should have control over food stocks,” he said.
Replying to a question, he said, “The farmers’ protest in Punjab is unprecedented and the farmers’ movement has spread to 20 states.” The farmers themselves are fighting against the central and state governments.
So, behind the current nationwide struggle is the economic ruin arising from the anti-farmer economic policies adopted by the central and state governments and the apathy and frustration created by the false promises made to them by the governments of various political parties. This has not happened suddenly. Farmers gradually began to mobilize themselves at the national level over the years. As a result, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee was formed. Under this committee’s leadership, large-scale nationwide struggles have taken place in the year 2017–18. In July 2018, the farmers staged a massive protest in Delhi. All the political parties except the BJP agreed to support their demands. Apart from this, two private bills (a) the legal right to get favorable prices, and (b) the legal right to waive all the debts of the farmers were introduced in Parliament.
Farmers are fighting to achieve these two basic demands to solve the farmers’ crisis.
BJP Raid Attack
The pro-corporate government of the BJP was in such a hurry to fulfill the promises made to the corporate houses that, instead of fulfilling its responsibilities toward our countrymen suffering from corona, it has betrayed them and passed several undemocratic and oppressive laws to deprive the victims of government propaganda and police repression of all means of subsistence; to hand the people over to corporate houses; and to repeal laws protecting workers’ rights. The three black ordinances issued on June 5 are anti-people, anti-farmer, and anti-national acts of the central government. Their dictatorial bullying has inflamed a large section of the country’s peasantry.
Huge Future Prospects
Based on the above facts, it is safe to say that the basis and background of the fervent mass struggle is the crisis-ridden economic and political landscape created by the genocidal policies of the ruling parties of the country. The roots of mass movements arising from such a background tend to be very strong. It is based on a solid and real understanding rather than mere public sentiment. If the leadership understands such a situation, then such struggles are eventually won. Struggling people keep moving forward, coping with all the ups and downs during the struggle. The people involved in these struggles do not get tired, and they keep marching on until they reach their destination.
A movement such as this also needs strong leadership. At the central level, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee and the joint leadership of 31 farmers’ organizations in Punjab have wisely led the way. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee comprises more than 250 Kisan Jathabandis, and their working method is entirely democratic. Their call for a Punjab Bandh by the farmers’ organizations of Punjab resulted in massive demonstrations in 20 states of the country. Farmers across the country unanimously demanded the repeal of the three black agricultural laws. A large gathering of farmers has now decided to embark on a Dilli chalo march on November 26–27.
The leadership in Punjab is an experienced one. There are many different farmers’ organizations working here. 10 Kisan Jathabandis belong to the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. Some other big-name agitating organizations, which are not affiliated to any of the organizations at the center, struggle separately. All these organizations have been struggling in their own way since June 5, the day the ordinance came into force. During this struggle, the farmers’ tractor marches and roadblocks were enthusiastically implemented. The participation of farmers in the action has been very encouraging.
During these struggles, a strong desire arose in all the organizations to come together on one platform. This wish was fulfilled at a joint meeting of all the organizations on September 19 in Moga. It was unanimously decided to implement the call for a Punjab Bandh on September 25, and further the basic policy of working as a common platform for 31 organizations was agreed upon. This unity is succeeding despite minor shortcomings. The joint forum of farmers’ organizations condemned all the undemocratic and foot-dragging maneuvers of the central government by the ruling political parties from October 1 to October 21, and declared support for the anti-railway agitation against the BJP. Dharnas/demonstrations in front of the houses of BJP leaders, toll plazas, and dharnas at Adani-Ambani petrol pumps have been successfully carried out. All the decisions to continue the dharna on the railway platforms by clearing the railway tracks for freight trains from October 22 to November 5 have been taken unanimously. This is the result of the wisdom and perseverance of the joint leadership of the farmers’ organizations of Punjab.
This leadership and intense pressure from the farmers forced the Punjab government to convene an assembly session on October 19 and pass three agriculture bills on October 20. These Punjab bills have some shortcomings, but they protect the interests of the farmers by voiding the very sharp section of the three central government laws in many respects. On the bills, Dr. Gian Singh said, “These bills seem to be in the interest of the farmers. Now the entry of private traders will be under the supervision of the government.”
Highlights of These Bills:
- Provision of three years penalty and penalty for non-purchase of wheat/paddy crop at government price (MSP)
- Farmers have the right to go to court in case of dispute in contract farming.
- The right of taxation by the government in commercial/contract farming
- Right to limit storage to prevent hoarding to curb grain hoarding and black market
- A complete ban on attachment of farmer owning 2.5 acres under Code of Civil Procedure (Punjab Amendment) 2020
- However, there are some shortcomings in these bills, particularly for maize and cotton farmers, as MSP for only two crops disincentivize farmers from diversifying their farms.
But the joint leadership of the farmers has declared it a significant victory in the present moment. Meanwhile, the struggle in Punjab is in full swing. Farmers are sitting on railway platforms. Dharnas continue at BJP-linked venues, and now the focus will be on the central government. All eyes are on a meeting of 250 farmers’ organizations in Delhi to prepare for the farmers’ gathering.