At a time when the farmers’ movement is in the middle of a courageous and much needed struggle for preventing the farming and food movement from falling further into the stranglehold of big business interests, it is of great importance that many leading social activists and public-spirited intellectuals got together to organize a kisan sansad ( farmers’ parliament ) with the participation of farmers and farmer leaders and at the same time also received support from important political leaders in the country.
What is no less significant and encouraging is that a decision has been taken to take more such initiatives. This will help to create better understanding and help also to counter the disinformation campaign of powerful vested interests including media outlets with a wide reach. Such initiatives need wider encouragement.
The Kisan Sansad, which was held on 23rd and 24th of January, 2021 at the Guru Teg Bahadur Memorial at Singhu, Delhi, had a wide variety of participants from different stakeholders in the agri-policy space. Numerous political representatives from across the spectrum, including very senior people such as H. D. Deve Gowda (former Prime Minister of India), Sonia Gandhi (President, Indian National Congress) and Bhupesh Baghel (current Chief Minister, Chattisgarh) sent their messages. Some of these more specific messages have great importance.
The Kisan Sansad was addressed by senior political leaders of national parties and included Brinda Karat (Politburo Member, CPI-M), Annie Raja (Member, National Executive and National Council, CPI), Jitender Chaudhury (former Minister and MP from Tripura, Joint Secretary, AIKS and national convener of Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch) and two time Rajya Sabha MP Nadim Ul Haq of TMC, former MP Meenakshi Natrajan of Congress from Mandsaur (where police violence had led to deaths of farmers in 2017), Udit Raj (Ex MP representing Congress Party), Sukhpal Singh Khaira (Former Leader of the Opposition of Punjab Assembly and current MLA, Punjab), Kanwar Sandhu (MLA, Punjab), K J George (Sitting MLA and former Home Minister, Government of Karnataka).
Farmer leaders such as Joginder Singh Ugrahan and Yogendra Yadav also addressed the gathering. Several experts, including academicians and researchers like Reetika Khera (IIT Delhi), Sukhpal Singh (IIM Ahmedabad) and M. S. Sriram (IIM Bangalore) among others, thought leaders such as Jean Dreze and Devinder Sharma as well as former civil servants like M. G. Devasahayam (former Chief Secretary, Government of Haryana and Member of the High-Powered Committee on Agricultural Policies and Programmes, 1990), Satya Narayan Sahu (former Officer on Special Duty to President Late K R Narayanan) and S. P. Shukla (former Ambassador to GATT, former Commerce Secretary and Finance Secretary, Government of India and former Member, Planning Commission) participated in the proceedings apart from many activists and farmers.
The Kisan Sansad was a civil society effort and the organising committee comprised of eminent citizens as following: Justice Gopal Gowda, Justice Kolse Patil, Admiral Ramdas, Aruna Roy, P Sainath, Yashwant Sinha, Medha Patkar, Sant Gopaldas, Sompal Shastri, Mohammad Adeeb and Prashant Bhushan. The presidium included Justice Kolse Patil, Prof. Jagmohan Singh, Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar, Dinesh Abrol and Nikhil Dey.
While explaining the context for taking this initiatives, the organizers have stated that as the momentous farmer movement for the repeal of the three farm acts and for MSP continues across the country the government chose to do away with the Winter Session of Parliament. Hence, the organizers pointed out, the Kisan Sansad was organised so that agricultural experts, farmers’ leaders and political representatives could discuss the issues around the farmer movement.
The Kisan Sansad concluded by passing resolutions demanding the repeal of the three central farm laws, legalisation of MSP and condemning the government’s repression of the farmer protests. The passing of such resolutions in the presence of many prominent experts of farm policy and leading activists from diverse areas has its own importance.
In what may prove to be one of the most important outcome of this initial effort, it was also resolved to continue to hold such gatherings and take these discussions across India and to form ‘Save Farmer, Save Nation’ committees in various districts.
The co-organisers of the Kisan Sansad are Kisan, Majdur, Berojgar, Karjdar Samarthak Janpartinidhi Sanghrash Morcha (KMBKSJSM) and Nation for Farmers, People First and Jan Sarokar.
The Kisan Sansad began on 23rd January, 2021 by paying tributes to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Prof. Jagmohan Singh (former Professor, Punjab Agriculture University, nephew of Shahid Bhagat, Chairperson of Shahid Bhagat Singh Research Committee) was the Chair of the first session and gave the opening remarks. His association with the sansad and its follow-up efforts in a leading capacity has additional relevance as he is close also to dalit struggles and movements for justice to weakest sections, apart from being a key organizer in the democratic rights and educational rights movements. His leading presence, as also the presence of senior activists like Aruna Roy, Madha Patkar and Annie Raja symbolizes te growing unity of farmers and workers.
Joginder Singh Ugrahan also spoke in this session and talked about the threat that the three controversial farm laws pose to farmers and food security. He also emphasised the need for the farmer movement to stay non-violent. Dr. Reetika Khera highlighted how the laws are in a direction to dismantle the public distribution system currently in place to be replaced by cash transfers. Prof. Himanshu of the Jawaharlal Nehru University also spoke in this session.
The next session was chaired by Justice Kolse Patil, who said that he stands with the farmers and the government is trying to divide farmers, the army and police who are all members of the same fraternity. In this session some prominent politicians such as Brinda Karat (former MP Rajya Sabha and Politburo Member of CPI-M), Sukhpal Singh Khaira (Former Leader of the Opposition of Punjab Assembly), Sudama Prasad (MLA, Bihar from CPI-ML), Dharamvir Gandhi (from MP, Punjab), Iliyas Azmi (former MP, Uttar Prasad), Ashok Tanwar (from MP, Haryana and former President of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee), Udit Raj (former MP, Delhi) and K. J. George (Karnataka MLA from Congress and former Home Minister, Karnataka) spoke apart from several others. Prof. Dr Rajinder Chaudhary (former Professor of Economics at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak) explained how the contract farming laws are a threat to all farmers and not just those whose produce is currently procured at MSP.
On day two, P. Sainath via his video message said that the first demand should obviously be on repeal of the laws and the second demand should be for the special session of Indian Parliament specifically on the agrarian crisis and issues of women and dalit farmers.
Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel participated via video. His message has a special relevance. He said that those states which don’t have an efficient mandi system are facing losses for years. He added that the rights of elected state governments have also been snatched by the central government through the passage of these laws. He explained that common consumers will also face the heat of this bill gradually and that this was the reason that the Chhattisgarh Government passed laws to prevent this threat from the central law to farmers as well as consumers.
Prof. Atul Sood drew attention to the lessons to be learnt from the farmers’ resistance to three laws and the response of the Central government to the political opposition.
Devinder Sharma is a leading expert of agriculture and farm policy. He highlighted how the government could ensure guaranteed remunerative prices if it was ready to invest around Rs four lakh crores. Such discussion is likely to become more important in these budget times.
Yogendra Yadav was known earlier for his academic work and he has now emerged as an important leader of the farmers’ movement, apart from coordinating the Swaraj Party. He said that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) has been converted into a maximum securable price by the government. He said that the legal guarantee of remunerative prices is possible if there is a political will.
Annie Raja has emerged as an important and courageous representative of the women’s movement with close trade union links as well. She highlighted the issues of women farmers and how the farm laws affect the food security of all sections of society, especially women and children.
Thol Thirumavalan (MP from Tamil Nadu and President, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi party), Vaiko (Rajya Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu and founder and General Secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and Tarun Mandal (from MP from West Bengal belonging to the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist)) also sent in video messages to the Kisan Sansad.
Former Prime Minister Devegowda had written a letter to the organizing committee thanking him for the invitation and extended his support for farmer’s agitation.
In her strongly worded letter to the Kisan Sansad, Sonia Gandhi stated that the Central Government has shown shocking insensitivity in its desire to please a few private companies. More important, she added that the farmers’ movement will be the first issue that the Congress will raise in the forthcoming session of the Parliament.
Participants of Kisan Sansad passed a resolution against these three acts as they give unregulated freedom to corporates at the expense of crores of marginal farmers of India. It was stated that the acts are also flawed as there was no pre-legislative consultation before they were passed.
In solidarity with the farmers of India, the Kisan Sansad resolved that farmers must be guaranteed MSP in law and a guaranteed procurement of the notified crops at this MSP should be ensured. The Kisan Sansad demanded that the Central government should immediately accept these demands of farmers in principle and form a suitable committee to recommend how this policy can be enacted in law and draft a bill which may then be placed before Parliament.
The Kisan Sansad and its organisers deeply regretted the attack on the Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu by some anti-social elements who thereby tried to disrupt the proceedings of the Sansad. He had come as an invited representative of the Congress Party to the Kisan Sansad. The Sansad expressed its satisfaction that the government has finally realized the folly of not allowing the farmers to take out a tractor parade on Republic Day in Delhi.
The Sansad also condemned the repression, disinformation and false accusations hurled upon protesting farmers by the government and some media houses.
The writer is a journalist and author who has been involved with several social movements.