As farmer leaders suspend their protest against Central Agriculture Laws that were rolled back by the Narendra Modi government, LokMarg team speaks to the protesters who had been camping at various border points of Delhi for over a year.
Most of the farmers say while the rollback has not come in a day too late, they are happy to bring an arrogant NDA government to its knees by their persistence and support from India and across the world.
Kavitha Kuruganti, a Bengaluru-based member of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, says repeal of farm laws is just the beginning; a lot more is needed to protect small farmers and Advasis
I handle the media relations and public statement of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha and was actively involved in drafting the resolution adopted by Kisan Sansad held at Jantar Mantar in August this year.
We wanted something positive in terms of entitlement to farmers with regards to the crop prices. And our demand is in sync with the promises made by NDA government which had committed itself of doubling the farmers income during their tenure. It is unfortunate that even to this date they haven’t made any progress on this front.
While the government has rolled back the farm laws what farmers need beyond the repeal is guaranteed price for their produce. Towards this end, we asked for four things under the title Kisan Swaraj Neeti. These four steps are the essential elements of changing the paradigm in favour of the country’s farmers.
First is income security to be guaranteed to all framers. It’s not correct that we talk in bits and pieces in terms of insurance, better technology. At the end of the day, whatever the government does in the name of farmers or rural development and agricultural reforms, it has to manifest itself in terms of a dignified living income. The government has to make itself accountable to deliver the income and not schemes, as they do not add up to better income. If you make the overall goal of raising their income, all other things will be better aligned and there will be a self-correcting mechanism of them becoming falling in place.
The second is environmental sustainability in agriculture. There is no point in degrading our resources or overexploiting our resources. A short term prosperity, if at all there is any such thing, at the expense of those very resources which are required to sustain livelihood for the future is unacceptable. If our soil degrades, out water tables dry up, our diversity erodes, how can farming sustain in future? So making environmental sustainability a key focus and commitment in everything we do. Sarkar, Bazar and Samaj all three have equal responsibility towards this end.
The third is the control of resources must remain in the hands of farmers. You can’t take away their land, forest seeds and expect them to still survive in this enterprise. The government cannot lay claims to agricultural resource; that will be resource-grabbing.
The fourth and final one is to save diverse and nutritious food for all citizens. We want consumers to be connected to food, farming and farmers. The struggle for farmers cannot just be their struggle alone; it is the food system struggle and consumers have a large stake in it. This is how we in ASHA Kisan Swaraj articulate the Kisan Swaraj Neeti and while by doing so we visualize the invisible actors in farming like women farmers, tenant farmers, and Adivasi farmers. Without that social responsibility building, the structure will not sustain.
The long term collateral impact of the biggest sustained protest in contemporary history is yet too early to be assessed. Prime Minister Modi, whose public persona was crafted as a tough leader who never does a U-turn, has been forced to do just that by the relentless farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They had more to lose from these laws than Modi did with a U-turn. He has repealed the laws to every one’s relief, except the arm-chair warriors around him who wanted him to stand firm against his own citizens.
What was also remarkable was the unity of the farmers’ leadership. Sikh leadership rarely remains united beyond a few months. The Punjab-Haryana leadership in association with the inspiring and formidable Rakesh Tikait of UP also managed to de-communalise the struggle despite several attempts by the Government to make it appear a Sikh separatist campaign. Astute and intelligent leadership has emerged from this movement. The one to watch.
It will remain to be seen what happens next in the talks. Will the leadership remain focussed and united? Will it successfully continue to be a one purpose campaign, keeping away opportunist politicians eying the potential vote bank?
While the immediate win is obvious, it’s the collateral impact of the protest that could be even more powerful. Struggles in the Punjab have often shaped the course of events in South Asia, sometimes the world. The cracks in the Mughal Empire were first split open in Punjab in 1710. Within 20 years the Mughal Empire began to unravel. It was the fall of the Punjab in 1847 that led to consolidation and expansion of the British Empire. It was the five year sustained protest movement in Punjab in 1920s for regaining control of Gurdwaras that started the collapse of the British Empire. The British invited the Congress in 1932 to talk about possible transfer of power. Why Congress and Gandhi dillydallied for another 15 years has not been looked at by historians. Once India became free, the rest of the British Empire fell apart like dominoes.
It was the communal violence in Punjab in 1947 that continues to dominate geo political issues in South Asia. And it was the Punjab Sikh agitation against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975 that weakened her and the Congress. It started the rise of the alternatives. It was the Sikh uprising after 1984 invasion of Golden Temple that led to final disintegration of Congress, rise of BJP and Hindutva.
The Punjab rarely gains much politically from its struggles but creates waves that quantumly precipitate other upheavals in South Asia and the world.
What will this movement precipitate? It is possible that a coherent federal Indian movement might arise as a collateral from the weakening of BJP. It is possible that the ‘small farms’ issue could become internationalised and small farmers around the world might rise against the encroaching corporate agri business. It could be the beginning of dismantling of stranglehold that global corporate sector has on power. Struggles from Punjab influence events in many ways and the consequences of this struggle remain uncharted yet.
Equal winners in the struggle were the women of India. The women of Punjab, Haryana and UP have shown a strength, resilience and daring that is an inspiration to the world. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the men and many times endured far more. They refused to go back to the villages and instead brought their children and grandchildren with them. They dared the Government and refused to bow.
It is difficult yet to predict the personal and political impact on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People who have met him personally often say that he is a pleasant, charming and a warm person who empathises with the concerns of others. But the BJP electoral machine had built him as an Indian Thatcher, decisive and never taking a U-turn.
Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to say he lost. He bowed to democracy. He is a leader of a democracy. When he sensed that that the protestors were gaining increasing support from Indians from all corners of the country, he did the decent thing. He ignored his image makers and took a personal decision. He decided to repeal the laws. He may initially have stood his ground against the farmers, but ultimately he defied those who ‘made’ his public persona.
The greatest losers in this have been Canada and Australia and their big Agri businesses assisted by WTO rules set by western powers. It was Canada and latterly Australia that have relentlessly been gunning at the MSP (minimum support price) for farm produce in India. Australia brought a formal complaint against India in 2019 with Canada joining the ‘arbitration board’ to decide whether India has broken World Trade Organisation rules by given 150% MSP (or MPS in WTO language) for wheat and 185% for Sugar Cane.
The Indian Government was under immense pressure to scale down MSP to a mere 110% or bring in the private sector. Both Canada and Australia were drooling when farm laws were introduced and Modi stood firm. They are of the opinion that due to miniscule profit margin under WTO rules and free market, small farmers will stop growing wheat and other food grains thus pushing India to buy these products from Canada and Australia instead. They had the GDP obsessed IMF on board too. India is a huge potential market for the mega farms of both countries. It was no surprise that Sikh MPs in Canada maintained a studious silence on the Punjab Farm Laws.
If Modi decides to stand by Indian farmers and accepts their demand for MSP to be legislated at 150% or more, this will be a great blow for the 30-year campaign by Canada and recently by Australia to break into the Indian grain market.
With growing dissent within the WTO for its pro-western and pro-corporate orientation, this protest may spur India to lead the developing countries and force change in WTO.
Perhaps the greatest winner of the protest and the Modi U-turn is India’s otherwise dysfunctional democracy. Often appearing to be faltering and surviving in Intensive Care, India’s democracy has in fact shown itself to be adaptable and a great survivor. Despite many hiccups, election violence, wannabe dictators, it has shown its resilience time and time again. It broke Indira’s Emergency and it has forced BJP to repeal the laws.
Whatever happens next, whether the BJP starts to lose grip of near total power or federalism emerges as the way forward, democracy will survive in India for long time to come. It will make and break leaders. It is the wider collateral impact on the world that is to be watched from this protests.
Sukhbir Singh, 55, a son of soil from Sangrur, Punjab says abolishment of Central Farm Laws is nonetheless a tribute to the indomitable spirit of Punjab farmers
Words cannot describe my happiness about the repealing of the Farm Laws. Our mehnat, our struggle and our belief has borne fruit and on what a beautiful day: Guru Nanak Jayanti. Maybe the day was symbolically chosen by the BJP government to call truce, but victory nevertheless tasted sweeter on Gurpurab day. I was literally jumping with joy when the news was flashed on TV screens that the Farm Laws bad been rolled back by Prime Minister Modi.
I wouldn’t say it is a change of heart that brought about the roll back, but rather out of political compulsion: as a step to save the vote banks or not antagonise other voters during the forthcoming Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections. Yet, no matter what the reason, finally seems like the government has come to its senses.
Born into a family of farmers, and having literally grown up on farms, I know how we deal with challenges year after year. It has been an uphill task to manage the different hardships from reducing ground water table, struggling to get right prices for non-staple crops in the absence of minimum support price, rising unpaid loans during a bad season to many other things. The repealing of Farm Laws is therefore just the first step; the government needs to walk a long road with the farmers if it truly wants to support them. Authentic and honest dialogue is important between the government and the farmers.
Hamari ekta, hamara sangharsh karne ka jazba, hamari sach ka sath dene ki takat, in sab cheezon ne hi humein aaj jeet dilayi hai aur aage bhi dilayegi (Our unity, our indomitable spirit, and our courage to always stand by the truth has got us this victory today and will yield greater results in the future too).
I am proud of all my farmer brothers and sisters from other parts of the country, but I am especially proud of us Sikhs. We give everything we had to the purpose at hand fearlessly. Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the successive Gurus have taught us to believe in both ourselves and a cause that moves us. Many people think that farmers have been unreasonable in not budging an inch, but the entry of corporates into farming would have meant an increase in price of almost all eatables. Perhaps then those people would have understood. We are people of the soil and we know what we are doing.
The government should understand that the voter in a democracy has a lot of power and Indian democracy is a robust one. We took everything in our stride during the year-long protests and finally the government had to bend. The government needs to understand that it is serving the people and needs to understand their fears and concerns and maybe suggestions too before bringing in new laws that affect huge sections of people.
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