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The Indian farmers’ victory: lessons in mass struggle

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s BRINDA KARAT looks at how the farmers won and what this victory can teach us about how to win

THE historic victory of the kisan struggle in forcing the government to roll back the anti-farmer, pro-corporate three farm laws underlines the importance of the politics of mass struggle. 

The strength of the farmers’ united movements under the leadership of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM – “United Farmers’ Front”) put the government on the defensive with the struggle organically transforming into a mass struggle against the ruling BJP and its governments at the centre and in several states. 

This transformation with direct and spontaneous kisan mobilisations against BJP leaders’ visits to villages in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh was linked to the real-life experiences of the kisans themselves of the arrogant and aggressive promotion of corporate interests when kisans were suffering due to a variety of reasons created by government policies. The Lakhimpur Kheri atrocity (a vehicle-ramming attack on a protest that led to eight deaths in ensuing violence) symbolised both realities — that of kisan mobilisation and the other of the brutal nature of the BJP response.

This potential of the politics of mass struggle as a transformatory trigger to disrupt and change the status quo has all the more importance given the present correlation of political and class forces which favour the interests of the corporates and push neoliberal policy frameworks.

The left forces and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in particular have been consistent in their advocacy and commitment through mass actions of its units with an alternative vision for addressing issues connected with — in this case — agrarian distress. 

Opposition political parties regardless of their earlier positions were compelled to backtrack and come out in support of the farmers’ struggle and demands. This also shows the potential of mass struggle politics to push pro-people agendas.

It is also true that the kisans are not undifferentiated in their class moorings. 

The conscious involvement of the poorer sections of kisans by organisations like the All-India Kisan Sabha (the communist farmers’ front) as well as the solidarity of the workers’ trade unions and agricultural worker unions prevented the movement from developing as one only of the richer sections of peasantry, which is how it was branded by the Modi government. 

It is of course known that the vast sections of the poor peasantry who do not have a large marketable surplus are totally left out of the Minimum Support Price benefits and the procurement system. The Modi government tried to sell the absurd idea that corporates would provide better prices for the poorer kisans but this attempt to divide kisans was a spectacular failure. 

No doubt the concerns of this vast section will be addressed in a comprehensive way by the new phase of struggle announced by the SKM which includes a universal right to the Minimum Support Price for farmers and a wider range of crops among other issues.

The social aspect is also important particularly for rural women. Women’s struggles for recognition of women as farmers has received a big boost in this struggle. 

These are green shoots which grew in the soil of mass struggle politics even finding a space in areas and regions hitherto out of bounds for women such as the khap panchayats (assemblies of community elders common in parts of northern India). But they are still just green shoots. They will need the provisioning of a conducive environment to really take root. This too can come only with a strengthening of the politics of mass struggle.

The prime minister resorted to bluster in defeat.

There was not a word of regret for the 700 farmers martyred in the struggle. There was no assurance that all false cases against the farmers would be withdrawn. There was no apology for the harsh words used against farmers in the course of this one year. 

They were abused as terrorists, traitors, goondas, disruptors, liars and cheats by leaders of his party. One of them who is still in the central cabinet was complicit in the horrific happenings in Lakhimpur Kheri. Modi maintained a deafening silence.

The prime minister also scored an own-goal when he defended the laws, saying that he was sorry he had failed to convince “some” of the farmers. The question arises: If the laws are good, if only “some” of the farmers have opposed them, then why withdraw the laws? 

It doesn’t need a political scientist to fathom the reason — the huge political fallout of the continuing kisan struggle on the forthcoming elections, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the epicentres of the struggle. The message in the PM’s defence of the laws, even while withdrawing them, was heard loud and clear by the farmers: given an opportunity, the government will push for the laws again, more so if they win the state elections. 

Already the main contender against the BJP for power in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, has coined the slogan: “Their intentions are not honourable, they will reinstate the law after the elections.”

The statement from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha indicates that they are not withdrawing their struggle until the most important issue they have been raising, which is a legal guarantee for minimum support prices, is addressed by the government. Other issues have also been flagged by the leaders of the kisans, many of whom have expressed skepticism about the announcement. The distrust of the government runs quite high. So if the BJP thought it could remove the kisan agenda from the electoral battle by this move, it may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

There is another more cynical reason for the BJP move. In Uttar Pradesh, particularly Western Uttar Pradesh, communal riots just before the last assembly elections paid the BJP rich electoral dividends. 

Since the countdown began to the elections this time, the BJP is in mission mode to create communal disharmony using an arsenal containing communally toxic slogans, campaigns targeting minorities on so-called “love jihad” (allegations that Muslims are waging a campaign to marry and convert Hindu women),  violent anti-cow slaughter campaigns, and giving licence to the police to arrest young Muslims at will. 

The response to the communal campaign has been tepid. The unity of the kisans across religious communities and castes has acted as a barrier to the default electoral strategy of the BJP. The BJP hopes that by accepting the kisan demands for now, they can get the issue out of the way and have a better chance at pushing their own divisive agenda.

It would be good for India if the government learnt the lessons the kisans have taught it.

One: Bulldozing parliamentary procedures using the strength of a brute majority can be costly. If the government had sent the Bills to the standing committee, if it had given farmers the opportunity to be heard, if it had allowed fair voting procedures, this situation would not have arisen. The Bills in their present form would not have become laws.

Two: Disregard and contempt for dissenting voices is counterproductive. From the very beginning, this government used all its power to defame farmers. Just as advocates of justice for adivasis and dalits and minorities have been branded “urban Naxalites” (Maoist insurgents) and imprisoned, farmers’ leaders were branded as anti-nationals.

And three, which needs no explanation: India’s labouring classes, the kisans and workers have shown by their courage that dictatorship does not work, dictatorship can be defeated.

The victory of the kisan movement has wider implications and will bring confidence to all those on the side of justice and the values of democracy and secularism enshrined in our constitution.

This article is adapted from People’s Democracy.

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