Updated: September 26, 2021 8:06:36 am
About 100 years ago, the Champaran farmers’ agitation ignited the fighting spirit of the Indian freedom movement. Though it took place in a remote village in Bihar, its vibrancy reached every nook and corner of the country. Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Champaran and his words to the peasants there travelled swiftly and penetrated the heart of every freedom-loving Indian. Thus, Champaran became a milestone in the saga of the freedom struggle.
The indigo cultivators, ignorant and ignored, were suddenly elevated as the makers of a new history. Their struggle was a natural outburst of anger against the foreign rulers who imposed unjust conditions on them. It marked an awakening among Indian peasants, who constitute a major chunk of society. Now, 100 years later independent India is witnessing a new awakening of farmers as the 75th anniversary of our freedom draws closer. To give an impetus to the ongoing farmers’ agitation, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha is preparing for a Bharat Bandh on September 27. The call was supported by the joint platform of trade unions. Various political parties have also supported the call.
About a year ago, when the farmers announced a march to the national capital, no one expected the movement to become so massive. At the borders of the national capital, the farmers were hindered by the government. The “annadatas” of the country were denied entry into its capital. They were forced to sit at the places where they were stopped. That is how Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Shahjahanpur became the symbols of peasant resistance. The RSS-BJP government converted these places into battlefields. Thousands of security personnel were deployed. Concrete barricades, thorny iron fences, water cannons, and all other arms and ammunition were set ready for action. Along with these, the government and its propaganda army unleashed a vicious campaign depicting the farmers and their supporters as “Khalistanis” and “urban Naxals”. Braving all these oppressive measures, the farmers continued their peaceful agitation. The severity of the changing weather did not affect their determination. The historic farmers’ struggle is undoubtedly the longest and largest in India since Independence.
The class content of the farmers’ struggle also makes it different. It is a resistance raised by those farmers who contributed significantly to the economic growth of the country. The peasants and workers in the agrarian sector constitute the biggest segment of the working masses of the country. Hypocritically, the government often calls them “annadatas”. But when talking about the wealth creators, they are always neglected. Middle and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers are not even allowed to raise their concerns. India’s rural economy is built upon their sweat and labour. But they never get remunerative prices for their produce and labour. Even the Swaminathan Commission Report was adopted partially and halfheartedly by the government. For the meaningful growth of the rural economy, the productive forces in agriculture should be liberated from the clutches of corporate looters. The politics and economics of agrarian relations were never taken seriously by the policymakers of free India. The peasantry, due to several reasons, were scattered and remained helpless before this discrimination. The ongoing farmers’ strike marks a distinctive shift in these conditions. Farmers have begun to react and resist.
The three farm laws enacted by the government were not for the betterment of agriculture. None of the concerns of the farming community was addressed in those dark laws. The government of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” has betrayed self-reliance and national interest. The laws were aimed at the corporatisation of Indian farming. They throw the farmers, 86 per cent of whom hold less than two hectares of land, to the mercy of contract farming and FDI. The government’s rhetoric on MSP is also a lie. The recent proclamation of support price for Rabi crops proved this. When compared to the inflationary trends in the economy, the new support prices are unsupportive — they are 4 per cent less than before in real terms.
Peasants understood the hidden danger in the laws and came forward to oppose the government’s onslaught. The slogan to repeal the dark laws acted as a clarion call for rural India. The lessons from this struggle have to be analysed by Left and democratic forces to understand the emerging dynamics in rural India.
The farmers’ agitation, together with the workers’ support, has great political significance. It challenges the anti-people, anti-national policies of the government. The Bharat Bandh call will have resonance with the political churn underway in India. The emerging worker-peasant unity would give a new direction to protest movements. Agitating farmers have concluded that the Modi government is not for the peasants and workers. During elections, they raised a one-point agenda — “defeat BJP”. If this slogan starts reverberating among all the working masses, such a change is possible. The question, however, is whether the forces that oppose the government on policy matters will rise to the occasion.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 25, 2021 under the title ‘The new united front’. The writer is secretary of the Communist Party of India, National Council and leader of the CPI in Parliament
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