Mahatma Gandhi

MK Gandhi was remembered across the board, on his death anniversary, January 30, but amid a flood of lies and half-truths in the Big Media, and clouding up truth about what happened in broad daylight on January 26, in capital Delhi. Gandhi is linked with Truth and non-violence, cited as basic tenets of his life and work. But the day began with falsehood and half truths about Jan 26 incidents around Red Fort etc in Delhi.

In fact falsehood is the hall mark in the official attitude towards the farm laws, as we shall see in Part-2 of this article. Part-1 was published on Jan 31.

The farmers’ agitation was perhaps avoidable, and it began due to false claims and half truths on the part of the Govt. that it had conducted extensive consultations. To obfuscate the issue, it said the debate has been going on for years, or even decades. In reply to an enquiry under RTI, the govt. however said it has “ no record of consultations” with farmers’ organizations before the laws were made.

Though subsequently BKS of the Sangh parivar fell in line under pressures from the ruling dispensation, a BKS spokesman had earlier said : “ even we were not consulted before the laws were framed. But if the Govt. wants to talk now, farmers should not be rigid in their stand.” (Economic Times, Dec 5, 2020).

Earlier those critics from within the Sangh parivar like those from BKS SJM and BMS were brushed aside, on farm laws, as earlier on Labor reforms too. BKS initially pressed for changing some provisions in the law and had supported the farmers’ agitation.

The SJM had issued a statement opposing the farm laws, which “though good in intent,” had serious problems. The govt. should bring in another Bill ( which implies scrapping the present laws) or amend the current one, the SJM Convener Prof. Ashwani Mahajan had said.

He opposed the very definition of “farmer” in the laws, and wanted exclusion of corporates from it, and restriction to farmers alone. He made specific points, for instance, on MSP and dispute  redressal mechanism. (The Hindu Sep 23). Thus the charge that the laws were made to benefit corporates is not imaginary.

The Punjab state General Secretary of BJP, Malwinder Singh Kang, resigned from BJP, like so many others in Punjab BJP, saying his voice was suppressed in party fora : “ I raised it in every meeting from its Ordinance phase, but I was snubbed. BJP national General Secretary Tarun Chugh termed me a Pakistani for raising the issue.” (The Indian Express, Oct 18, 2020). “ I was shouted down,” even in the presence of ministers, he said: “Punjab BJP leaders have no guts to voice the farmers’ views.”

The govt blamed it was a political agitation as if politics is a crime. Critics pointed out that Late Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, and Modi himself had opposed farm reforms mooted by UPA. Land acquisition Bills of UPA were opposed by BJP which later pushed the same and arguing they were Congress babies. With this kind of hypocrisy of ruling class parties, ruling in various states, farmers kept away all political parties from their platforms.

The very idea of the Centre making decisions on agri-related and farmers’ issues is basically flawed. One India-One market, which is at the heart of the farm laws imposed by the Modi regime, is basically autocratic given the vast divergences in farm practices and production costs, even within some states. One India-One market is the goal to placate Big Business and MNCs.

So much so the Modi-led BJP did not mind losing its decades-old NDA ally, Akalis of SAD from Punjab, to please the corporates.

The SAD has been a party standing for federalism, and BJP talked of co-operative federalism, now proved to be a false claim. The Akali representative in the Union cabinet, Mrs. Harsimrat Kaur had to resign as a result. Other allies like RLP also quit NDA.

Some states questioned the very constitutionality and legality of the farm laws, passed resolutions opposing them, and declared they would not implement them. The Supreme Court is sitting on many issues but not yet on this. The govt. is banking on such an attitude and sitting adamantly.

The Modi govt. belatedly is making untenable promises about MSP provisions. Critics recall that the Centre’s 2019 July decision on MSP was opposed by several state govts, like Maharashtra Chattisgarh UP Haryana Rajasthan Tamilnadu Karnataka Odisha, though some of them are ruled by BJP.

None other than UP Adityanath’s BJP govt wrote a 12-page confidential letter to the the Union Agri Ministry opposing the Union’s decisions on MSP for 2019-2020 season saying it did not suit UP’s conditions, according to

When Chattisgarh had proposed a bonus on MSP for paddy, the centre curtly said it would not buy it. Haryana had said in a letter to the Centre (2019 May 18) that the centre’s MSP was not even equal to cost of production.

The Centre had then warned that no state could offer bonus on MSP as it would lead to market distortion. ( Feb 8, 2020, which obtained a copy of the UP letter, published a report. It revealed opposition by other states also.)

Today, the falsity and fraud of parliamentary democracy was also in full sight: the farm Bills came in as ordinances, and later were rushed through parliament, with little discussion, on a subject that is in the states’ list and states needed to be consulted at least.

The Rajya sabha, the House of States, was taken for a ride, division pressed by the Opposition as also 12 amendments suggested (including one on MSP) were arbitrarily rejected (on Sep 20), on an issue the states had all the stakes and constitutional powers. The Chairman declared them passed amid lot of protests, with a dubious voice vote.

The Centre is now proposing some changes in the laws, but farmers are skeptic about it, and rejected the idea; nothing short of scrapping the laws would satisfy them.

The other falsehood was about alleged violence committed by farmers. Gandhi’s other theory of non-violence was among the issues discussed on this occasion. Is it a Chauri Chaura moment, it was asked by both sides. The farmers’ leaders lost their moral high ground, it is argued, and should emulate Gandhi, and end the agitation; that was the advice given by ruling circles. With that plea, a couple of farmers’ organizations withdrew from the movement, but others stated that they came under the influence of the ruling forces.

It is not Chauri Chaura, but Bardoli that comes to mind

We have seen how falsehood is spread about various aspects by the Big Media. It was not a case of Chauri Chaura as they painted. It was rather the Bardoli that comes to mind. There are some similarities, though Gujarati leaders’ roles then and now are contradictory. They built a big statue for Sardar Patel, but do not care to see his role.

Bardoli Satyagraha of June 1928, was launched by Gujarat’s farmers when the Bombay presidency government raised taxes which it refused to cancel even in the face of the calamities. The situation for the farmers was grave enough that they barely had enough property and crops to pay off the tax, let alone for feeding themselves afterwards. When farmers approached Vallabhai Patel, after initial hesitation, he relented and consulted Gandhi. After considering various aspects, they agreed. But Gandhi and Patel agreed that neither the Congress, nor Gandhi would directly involve themselves, and the struggle would be left entirely to the people of Bardoli taluka.

Patel then instructed all the farmers of Bardoli taluka to refuse payment of their taxes…but to remain completely non-violent, and not respond physically to any incitements or aggressive actions from officials.

He reassured them that the struggle would not end until not only the cancellation of all taxes for the year, but also when all the seized property and lands were returned to their rightful owners.

“I still ask you to think twice before you take the plunge. Do not derive comfort from the feeling that you have as your leader a fighter like myself. Forget me and forget my companions. Fight, if you feel that you must resist oppression and injustice. Do not take the plunge lightly. If you miserably fail, you will not rise again for several years. But if you succeed, you will have done much to lay the foundations of Swaraj.”

Similar sentiments are shared today by many.

Patel had also organised the satyagrahis on military lines and personally took on the role of a senapati (commander). So total was the satyagraha that the newspaper Times of India, then British-owned, ran a report proclaiming that Patel had instituted a Bolshevik regime in Bardoli and Patel was its Lenin.

The movement was focused on the conditions of the rich and middle-class farmers and largely neglected the poor farmers and agri labor.

The Bardoli struggle was well organized. One hundred political workers, drawn from all over the prov­ince, assisted by 1,500 volunteers, many of whom were students, formed the army of the movement. An extensive network of mobilising the peasants was made. Regular meetings, speeches, distribution of pamphlets, door-to-door persuasion and other things of propaganda were taken up by the vol­unteers. Gandhi saw it has a political content, bringing India’s freedom nearer.

Like Bardoli, now farmers, mostly from Punjab Haryana, west UP, are on struggle path, though roles are reversed : Gandhi and Patel, two Gujarati leaders, then supported the struggle. Now two Gujarati leaders, Modi and Amit shah, are pitted against the present struggle.

The Bardoli satyagraha was launched in mid-February 1928. By July all noon-agriculturists’ holdings were forfeited by the govern­ment. Out of the land taken over about one tenth was sold. As regards the cultivating landowners, 50,000 acres of land were forfeited though not sold. However, some rich people from Bombay came to buy some lands. There was also one village recorded that paid the tax. A complete social boycott was organized against them, wherein relatives broke their ties to families in the village…

Now the farmers fear the farm laws would ultimately alienate their lands. They see a threat from corporate wolves out to grab the lands in course of time. In the face of such a threat, farmers are pro-actively demanding the scrapping of the laws, not mere amends.

The Bardoli movement saw that Hindu-Muslim unity was displayed. Now Hindu-Sikh- Muslim unity is displayed by farmers, in the face of attempts to communalize the movement with Khalisthanis’ role  being blamed; farmers disowned them and said some of the culprits are Agent provocateurs. BJP leader and MP Subramanian swamy doubted if the Agent provocateurs were linked with PMO, wanted a clarification; apparently there was none.

The British Government declared that it would crush the revolt. Along with tax inspectors, bands of Pathans were gathered from northwest India to forcibly seize the property of the villagers and terrorize them. ..The government began to auction the houses and the lands. But not a single man from Gujarat or anywhere else in India came forward to buy them…

Today the entire administration and police are engaged in splitting, disrupting and suppressing the struggle. In the name of local people, BJP-backed elements are clashing with farmers.

Members of the legislative councils of Bombay and across India were angered by the terrible treatment of Bardoli’s farmers. Indian members resigned their offices, and expressed open support of the farmers.  The Government was heavily criticized, even by many in the Raj’s offices.

Several states and their legislatures are opposing the farm laws today, some openly and others tacitly.

In 1928, an agreement was finally brokered by a Parsi member of the Bombay government. The Government agreed to restore the confiscated lands and properties, as well as cancel revenue payment not only for the year, but cancel the 22% raise until after the succeeding year. The government had appointed Maxwell-Broomfield Commission to look in to the matter. After a rigorous survey, the raise in taxes was decided to be just 6.03%. But the basic problems of the peasants were left unsolved and bonded labour continued.

The Bardoli farmers celebrated their victory, but Patel continued to work to ensure that all lands and properties were returned to every farmer, and that no one was left out. When the Government refused to ask the people who had bought some of the lands to return them, wealthy sympathizers from Bombay bought them out, and returned the lands to the rightful owners. (Wikipedia).

The colonial govt. was forced to backtrack on Bardoli, but the present “nationalist” BJP govt. is unmoved. Now the Sardar Patel of Modi cabinet is emulating Machiavelli in addition to Kautilya on how to suppress the struggle.

RSS General secretary Suresh Joshi (Bhayyaji) called for a middle ground. It is “ not good for the health of the society for any agitation to run for too long..,’ he said.

What more from the official side? Even while tacitly supporting the govt., he said in an interview (Jan 20, Indian Express): “ It is for the govt. to think. We just want the agitation to end quickly now.. it should be resolved on the basis of sensitivity.”

Elections ahead in several states in coming months are constraining BJP regime.

Divide and rule. Calumny and false accusations. Using Agent provocateurs. Sedition cases even on reporters and editors. Internet shut down in areas of agitation. Blaming farmers of violence and extremism. What more is ahead?

PM Modi said the govt is ready for talks, only a phone call away. Any sensitivity left still? Is blaming violence a prelude to ominous developments?

(The writer was a media person.)    



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