The Pratirodh Diwas or Resistance Day against the three Anti-Farmer Bills on 25th September, 2020 has by far been the most widespread action and met with the biggest response from peasants in recent times. It saw massive participation across the length and breadth of the country. The Bandh called in Haryana and Punjab was total and widespread in Uttar Pradesh. The police repression unleashed in Haryana instead of deterring farmers only ensured even greater participation. In Punjab the blockade of rail lines is continuing. In Bengal the National Highway was blocked at 92 places and State Highways were blocked at 89 places. More than 2 lakh farmers and toiling masses participated in the State alone. In Kerala Dharna and protests were held in front of 250 Central Government offices and many places across the State in which thousands participated. In Tripura massive protests braving police repression and attacks was reported. In Tamilnadu picketing in more than 300 centres blocking roads saw the participation of more than a lakh people. Many Districts of Rajasthan also witnessed massive protests and Bandh like situation. Maharashtra witnessed massive protests across the State with thousands of people blocking the Highways in many places. Karnataka followed up the massive action on the day with a widespread Bandh on 28th September, 2020 with CITU, AIKS and AIAWU as well as other mass organisations playing a lead role. In Bihar and Jharkhand farmers and workers came out on the streets in big numbers, roads were blocked across all districts and Rail Roko was also done. In most States the National and State Highways were blocked and even trains were stopped. Odisha, Assam, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Manipur witnessed spontaneous response from farmers and workers. Effigies of Narendra Modi and the Bills were burnt in numerous places. The widespread nature of protests and massive response has exposed the concerted campaign of Narendra Modi, the BJP Government and corporate media that the protests were restricted only to few pockets in Punjab and Haryana only.
The call by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) saw the Trade Unions and different mass organisations as well as civil society groups extending active solidarity to the farmers. It has been a historic resistance with masses coming out in lakhs across India. Farmers were supported actively by the Central Trade Unions, organisations of Workers, Students, Women, Youth, Dalits and Adivasis across the country. This was a unique show of solidarity with the farmers that is not an everyday happening. Despite corona pandemic, restrictions, repression and rain in many States the participation in the protest action was overwhelming. This united action that is broadening could emerge as a defining moment in the history of the peasants’ movement as well as in charting a direction for building a struggle around a pro-people alternative that is resolutely against Neoliberal policies, communal, casteist forces and in defence of India’s secular democracy.
Issue-Based Unity and the Build Up to the Present Struggle
The massive show of anger and disapproval against the Narendra Modi led BJP Government is not a spontaneous outburst against a perceived injustice to farmers. It is rather a result of meticulous efforts to build broad issue-based unity of farmers over the last six years. During the last six years there have been different issue-based unities built. The first was when the BJP Government in 2014 December brought the Land Acquisition Ordinance. This was immediately opposed by burning the Ordinance in more than 400 districts and an issue-based unity called Bhumi Adhikar Andolan around the issues of land/forest rights and against indiscriminate land acquisition came into being. Organisations of the peasantry, agricultural labour, Adivasis, Dalits, fishing community and forest workers came together. The struggles built by the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan contributed in some measure to the government’s withdrawing the ordinance. Over the years of united struggle the issues on which the constituent organisations agreed upon increased and consensus on wider issues including against neoliberal economic policies, fascist forces, communal, casteist attacks, attacks on constitution and curbs on democratic rights.
In 2017 after the killing of 6 farmers in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh in police firing the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination was formed. It was initially a unity around two issues namely assured remunerative prices and freedom from indebtedness. Now having more than 200 farmers’ organisations from across the country under its umbrella, in the course of the last 3 years of struggles together there is a consensus on a wider range of issues. The organisations of the working class has had an earlier tradition of issue-based unity where different Unions have come together under the banner of Central Trade Unions and has had numerous Joint Actions including many nationwide strikes on the economic demands. The most significant aspect of these developments spread over the last 6 years has been that there are greater solidarities emerging between the organisations representing the peasantry and those representing the working class as well as the oppressed. Retired soldiers and victims of Chit Fund Scam have also come out in support of these struggles. Massive marches to the Parliament by the peasantry and in unison with the working class as well as oppressed sections were the hallmark of 2014-19. In the last days of 2017 the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan (JEJAA), an issue-based unity of mass and class organisations as well as civil society groups against the Neoliberal economic policies and fascist forces was also started around the core of worker-peasant unity. Many united protests against State repression, attacks on the Constitution and attacks on people’s livelihoods were held under its banner. This trend has far-reaching implications for the future of the country.
Second Coming of Modi, Intensifying Attacks and The Way Ahead
The second coming of Narendra Modi with a bigger margin in 2019 has seen an arrogant, aggressive pursuit of the communal, divisive agenda as well as the Neoliberal economic policies. The promise of Achhe Din, 2 crore jobs for youth every year and doubling of farmers’ incomes have all come a cropper. In a state of economic recession and acute agrarian crisis where millions of workers lost jobs, farmers in distress committed suicide, youth remained unemployed, poor were in hunger the Government relentlessly pursued policies that facilitate corporate profiteering. In such a situation the COVID-19 Pandemic struck. The entire peasantry and toiling masses have suffered huge losses of incomes due to the unplanned Lockdown. Unemployment touched a high of 27 per cent and over 12 crore are reported to have lost their jobs. Access to quality health or even food grains for the poor could not be ensured. Instead of providing relief to them with income support, loan waivers, providing foodgrains, generating employment and health facilities the BJP Government is only showering unending benefits as well as concessions to the corporate companies.
The ruling classes saw the Pandemic as an opportunity to give a free hand to its corporate cronies. As the masses have suffered huge losses in incomes and are in distress the corporate cronies have been amassing wealth with Mukesh Ambani leading the pack adding Rs.90 Crore every hour since lockdown. We have seen the manner in which rights of workers are being snatched and how three Bills have been pushed through without any consultation with State Governments or farmers’ organisations. Simultaneously the repression against dissenting voices and arrests of activists is going on unabated. On the issues of the peasantry and workers there have been massive protests. The three Ordinances and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were burnt in protest in more than 3000 centres across India within a week of its promulgation. United movement by workers, peasants and agricultural workers have been going on and a plan was worked out for taking up elaborate struggles. On August 9th, 2020, the anniversary of Quit India Movement and 5th September, 2020 massive united struggles with over 2 million participating across the country in each of these actions have taken place. The AIKSCC, Central Trade Unions and the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan extended solidarity and have been in the forefront of these struggles. The Pratirodh Diwas saw a beautiful resistance being built against the anti-farmer Bills. Even as real issues of farmers and toiling masses are lying unaddressed, the BJP has been trying to divert attention from them through its ultra-nationalistic and divisive communal campaign.
Clearly, a sizeable section of the farmers, workers and masses out on the streets protesting on economic issues have been voters of the BJP and have in all probability have not had much of a disagreement on the fascist agenda of the Sangh Parivar including the attacks on the constitution as well as democratic rights. The challenge before us is to expose this face of the BJP, Sangh Parivar and enlist the support of the masses on the streets for a pro-people alternative, a Common Minimum Programme around which all can unite. The LDF Government in Kerala has won acclaim in the times of the Pandemic for the universal access to quality health and education facilities, universal Public Distribution System inclusive of essential commodities other than food grains, universal housing and social welfare pensions which touch every family. Support for farmers through subsidies, procurement at remunerative prices and promotion of cooperatives as opposed to corporates has been given emphasis. It has to be noted that 88 lakh people are being given through the ration system a food kit including cooking oil, sugar, salt, pulses, spices, soaps and other essentials. About 26 lakh school children are also being given such kits. Social welfare pension of Rs.1400/- per month is being given to 55 lakh beneficiaries. Under the Life Mission quality housing for about 4 lakh people is also progressing at a swift pace. Government schools and hospitals in the State have been upgraded to guarantee the best facilities to the masses. Paddy procurement is being done at Rs.2,750/Qtl which is about Rs.900/Qtl more than the centrally fixed MSP. A royalty of Rs.2000/Hectare for paddy cultivators and fixing of Minimum Support Price for vegetables has also been done. These measures that provide relief to the masses and also ensure a dignified living for them by building a community support system is worthy of replication elsewhere.
An alternative involving these elements, land and forest rights as well as decentralised planning standing rock solid against Neoliberal economic policies, caste oppression, gender discrimination, communalism as well as religious discrimination and State repression; in defence of the secularism, democratic rights and the Constitution could be a starting point for bringing a political transformation in India. A struggle front of organisations of workers, peasants, all oppressed sections, women, students and youth around such an alternative as attempted by the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan needs to be envisaged. It requires patience and immense courage; it should go far beyond electoral arithmetic and alliances. Even in the event of a purportedly friendly Government this broad front should remain as an active check and balance with greatest vigilance to ensure that it moves on the right track. The challenge is surely not an easy one nor is it an impossible one. These united struggles also are harbingers of hope that an alternative is eminently possible.