A historic Rally signifying Worker-Peasant Unity and organised resistance to neo-liberal policies as well as to communal and casteist forces will be held on 5th September, 2018. In a never-before kind of show of solidarity lakhs of peasants, agricultural workers and workers will take part in the Kisan-Mazdoor Sangharsh Rally.
This rally is the expression of mounting protests by the distressed peasantry seeking land rights, pensions, food security, remunerative prices, loan waivers and other demands. What makes this rally unprecedented is that peasants and agricultural workers will be joined by industrial workers and employees who have been struggling against the Modi govt. for better wages, better social security, against privatisation and against dilution of labour laws, among other demands.
For the peasants and agricultural workers, the 5th September rally will mark a new stage in struggles that have been going on for the past several years. The wave of protests that began in Rajasthan against power price hike continued to hit Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and engulfed Haryana, Jharkhand, Gujarat and several other States. Struggles on other issues like land acquisition and infringement on land rights as well as forest rights, and restrictions on cattle trade are also building up. The betrayal by the Modi led BJP Government has led to a strong imprint in the minds of the peasantry that BJP/Modi-Kisan Virodhi.
Modi’s Broken Promises
The BJP Government had come to power riding a wave of popular discontent against the Congress-led UPA. Modi had promised that the BJP Government will usher in “achhe din” for farmers, declaring all kinds of policies to attract them in the 2014 elections. Four and a half years down the line, each of the promises made to the farmers and rural poor stand betrayed.
Farmers’ suicides have continued unabated. The farmers hope for better prices according to recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission i.e, at least 50 percent above the cost of production, has been turned into a cruel hoax. There was an undisguised attempt at facilitating corporate take-over of land through a draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance which saw the first signs of a united resistance forcing the Central Government to temporarily hold back and change strategy to push it through BJP ruled States. Two consecutive years of drought led to massive losses for farmers and the Government response was seen as insensitive. Allocations to MGNREGA were also drastically cut leading to mounting arrears of wages and the average days of work generated being as low as only 34 days. The government came out with the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana which has just filled the coffers of insurance companies with farmers getting nothing. Loan waivers have been partial and that too not implemented fully.
The first instance of such a broad issue-based unity was witnessed in the struggle against the Land Acquisition Ordinance when All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) played a role in bringing together over 300 organisations of the peasantry, agricultural labour, oppressed sections and civil society groups under a banner called Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan. Massive struggles erupted where thousands marched to Parliament more than twice, Ordinance copies were burnt in more than 300 Districts, and about a crore signatures were collected against it. This forced the BJP government to retract.
The violent retribution on the protesting peasantry and gunning down of six people in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh strengthened the perception that this regime is anti-farmer. These have acted as a unifying factor wherein farmers’ organisations along with other like-minded organisations are seeking to build broad issue-based unity. In States like Jharkhand AIKS could successfully unite farmers and adivasis against tampering of two tenancy legislations won after the uprisings of Birsa Munda and Sido Kanhu against British. Solidarity actions against attacks on workers’ rights, women, dalits and adivasis as well as the barbaric attacks by vigilante Gaurakshaks and restrictions on cattle trade are also increasing.
The AIKS successfully united the peasantry, had massive mobilisations against decision of the Vasundhare Raje led BJP Government in Rajasthan to hike electricity prices by 40 percent. The unprecedented nature of mobilisation forced the government to withdraw the decision. In Maharashtra preceding the recent wave of protests AIKS had massive mobilisations ever since Devendra Phadnavis took over and they helped in popularising the demands of the present struggle. The Maharashtra Kisan Sabha State Secretary was unanimously elected the Convenor of the Joint Struggle Committee and Kisan Sabha played a leading role in giving proper direction to the Joint Struggle Committee. Maharashtra peasants organised massive battle for loan waiver, pension and remunerative prices. The month-long struggle forced the BJP Government to accept some demands and struggle is still going on. Significantly loan waiver of over Rs.34,000 crores was announced. Prior to that protests over a lakh people in Nashik and Parbhani forced the Government to accept demands on land rights, anganwadis, forest rights etc. The BJP Government however, backtracked and not even 15 percent of the farmers benefited from the loan waiver scheme.
The movement for insurance and compensation for crop losses was organised in Rajasthan and Haryana, in which they achieved success. In Haryana alone, the BJP Government was forced to announce compensation of about Rs.1,000 crores for crop loss. The 13-day Rajasthan struggle spread to nearly 20 districts. It involved Kisan Curfew and mass action demanding loan waiver, remunerative prices, purchasing centres, pensions, removal of toll taxes etc. Lakhs, including women in big numbers, participated and from September 1 to 13, many districts came to a standstill forcing the BJP Government to come for talks and agree on many issues like loan waiver of more than Rs.20,000 crores, i.e loans up to Rs.50,000, pension for farmers and agricultural workers to be increased to Rs.2,000, opening of procurement centres, protection for cattle traders, work under MGNREGA, scholarship arrears of SC/ST students, etc. The BJP Government went back on the assurances given. A second round of struggle was called in which a Mahapadav at the Vidhan Sabha in Jaipur was planned. Many leaders were arrested and vehicles were stopped from entering Jaipur. The peasants continued the struggle by conducting indefinite sit-in wherever stopped. Later the leaders were let off unconditionally and the BJP Government expanded the scope of loan waiver and also removed toll taxes for private vehicles.
In Karnataka massive movement against eviction and for land rights of over 30 lakh Bagair Hukum cultivators cultivating Government land has been consistently waged and managed to successfully protect the farmers. The timely protest just before the last budget of the Congress Government in the State has led to the Government being forced to make amendments to ensure land rights to them. Lakhs of people will benefit from this decision. In Karnataka, against caste oppression successful temple entry movement in Hassan district, occupation of land by landless have taken place. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have had many struggles against indiscriminate land acquisition. Protests against Polavaram dam, Mallanna Sagar Project, Andhra Pradesh Capital Region and other projects in these two States involving acquisition of lakhs of acres is also going on. Himachal Pradesh has had massive mobilisation against evictions, wild animal menace and for land rights. Kisan Sabha struggles in Himachal Pradesh have helped to resist forcible eviction and cutting down of fruiting trees and a process for regularisation of such landholding benefiting lakhs of farmers. In Tamilnadu successful struggles against land acquisition, for arrears of Sugarcane farmers and drought relief were carried out. Nearly Rs.300 crores of arrears to sugarcane farmers was got after our intervention.
In Odisha in the Nabarangpur district in the Maoist area next to Dantewada under AIKS leadership Tribal people have been organised and more than 5,000 acres were occupied and is being cultivated. In Bihar fights against forcible evictions of Dalits and landless by feudal landlords is going on. In Jharkhand the BJP Government tried to amend two laws protecting land rights of tribal people which the British were forced to grant after the historic struggles by Birsa Munda, Sido and Kanhu etc. United struggles including AIKS and Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch along with other organisations part of Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan forced them to withdraw the move.
AIKS intervened on the killing of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan by Gaurakshaks and after a nation-wide campaign collected Rs.15 lakh which was handed over to his family and other victims of the attack. Legal help in this case is also planned and AIKS was a petitioner in the Supreme Court against the Restrictions on Cattle Trade.
Unity of different organisations and platforms is being explored; clearly it cannot and will not be a no-holds barred unity. Careful interlinking of strategies and coordinated action while keeping out casteist and communal forces is emerging as a formidable challenge to the anti-peasant, anti-people policies as well as against divisive forces. The Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan has emerged as a cohesive issue-based unity against neo-liberal policies, land grab, communal attacks and livelihood issues. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee involving more than 190 farmers’ organisations emerged after the Mandsaur firing as a unity on assured remunerative prices and liberation from indebtedness. The Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan is a united platform of Left class and mass organisations, social organisations as well as people’s movements representing the oppressed castes, Adivasis, fishing community, displaced people etc. Kisan Sabha is playing an active role in building struggles under these different banners.
The historic Kisan Long March from Nasik to Mumbai has had an inspiring and electrifying effect across the country. It was a march for survival and dignity. It was a march for land and forest rights, to protect lands from indiscriminate acquisition and submergence of lands due to river interlinking project. It was a march to ensure food security and put an end to the malnutrition deaths in the State. It called for right to livelihood and demanded a liveable pension for all aged peasants. Unconditional coverage of the government's loan waiver scheme by extending its scope till 2001 and for loans taken both by the husband and wife, better prices for farm produce were among the demands. Significantly, other than issues of loan waiver and remunerative prices this movement took up issues of land rights, forest rights, food security and was against land acquisition without people’s consent. The BJP Government which maintained an insensitive attitude at the end of the Long March was forced to give written assurances on all the demands.
Recent Protests Converge on Delhi
On the occasion of 4th anniversary of Narendra Modi Government in May 2018, the Jan Ekta Jan Adikar Andolan (JEJAA) called for ‘Pol Khol-Halla Bol’ (Expose-Protest) agitation on 23rd May with massive protest marches at State as well as National capital along with week-long campaign from 17th to 23rd May, 2018. Against the betrayal of promises of providing MSP for all crops at 50% above cost of production, comprehensive loan waiver scheme, monthly pension and against restrictions on cattle trade, as well as failure of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) 10 crore signatures were collected in the months of June-July, 2018.
The collected signatures were submitted to the Prime Minister through the District Magistrate/Collector on 9th August 2018 in a massive Jail Bharo [Fill the Jails] movement. According to preliminary reports received from the states, well over five lakh peasants and workers courted arrest at over 610 centres in 407 districts in 22 states across the country. The CITU had decided to extend support and actively participate in this programme in solidarity with the peasantry.
This continuing series of protests and agitations has now reached a stage where peasants and workers are demanding that the Modi govt. should be thrown out. This is the only way out. The 5 September Rally will be an expression of this resolve.