farmer

The entire farm sector, comprising at least a quarter of the total population of the country, is up in arms.  The structural crisis engulfing this sector was growing over a long time and periodic outbursts about the distorted state of affairs were happening over the past several decades. These outbursts had  forms both violent and non-violent. The violent manifestations were put down ruthlessly using overwhelming state powers of highly arbitrary character drowning the movements in blood and misery. This part of the agrarian movement in India is fairly well recorded and even studied but the second part, which is the product of a new process of production and market forces, is what is raging now. The first was marked by direct political slogans epitomised by Naxalbari, which is still a living tradition. It was an uncompromising struggle aiming at overthrowing the existing state power and the classes propping it up to pave the way for establishing what they call a new democratic state and its social order. This is an ongoing affair and has created its own political vocabulary too. Actually it is a continuing low intensity war.

In this analysis we are not taking up this sort of agrarian unrest but talking about the agrarian sector comprising of small peasants, rich peasants and landless agricultural proletariat outside the circuit of armed agrarian struggles, who have undergone transformation in the process, forces and relations of production over the last more than seven decades. This comprises the largest chunk of the sector and largest population in the country. The historical background is important to comprehend the totality of the situation.

Background                     

The process of structural transformation of Indian agriculture started in earnest as a planned economic engineering during the early 1960s. Two significant factors propelled this transformation internally. One was the political question of class contradiction and power manifested in movements like Telangana armed agrarian struggle which could be suppressed only militarily. In fact, the specific episode of Telangana took several years to be suppressed, while other similar episodes in different parts of the country could be suppressed in relatively less time though with no less ferocity. These movements did act as a lesson for the Nehru government convincing them of the need for structural transformation of the sector as a whole. However, overthrow of the feudal elements through radical land reforms could not be on the agenda because they were very much a part of the ruling dispensation. At the same time, a certain level of land reforms could not be avoided. The effort was one of what can be called a middle path of reforming agrarian relations without overthrowing the system as such. And this was in sync with the socialist rhetoric of developing heavy industry in the state sector which was equated with socialism, and welfare measures to alleviate poverty and generation of employment. All this together went under the brand of “Nehruvian socialism.” Macroeconomic planning in the form of Five-Year Plans and the constitution of a high power Planning Commission with advisory and executive powers at the central level and State level Planning Boards became new institutions handling and dispensing massive amounts of resources.

Prior to this, planned macroeconomic schemes had been put into practice on the ground level with the help of Russian style planners and American technology and capital, and there were active internal debates on the agrarian situation. The colonialists left behind a totally shattered agrarian situation marked by horrendous famines created by colonial war economy and profiteering. Gandhi paid much attention to this most serious situation and he with his disciples studied ways and means to get out of the chronic viciousness into which the economy was sunk. After rigorous investigations and study they had come out with the conclusion that the only way to come out of the pit was to consciously work towards building up a self-reliant and self-sufficient rural economy. This possibility was the concrete alternative before the new rulers and the model of this system was enunciated by political economists like JC Kumarappa who had worked very closely with MK Gandhi. This realistic model drew heavily on the rich history and practices of agriculture in India (the subcontinent is fabled as the motherland of agriculture). Judicious use of natural resources like water and energy sources was emphasised as the running thread of this transformative economic model for the shattered economy.

But what actually happened was exactly the opposite of this. The political leadership, epitomised in the personality of Nehru, made the choice of what can be termed as the American model. By the early 1960s the neutralisation of the Gandhian stream of economic thinking was almost complete. The assassination of Gandhi was followed by the eclipsing of serious Gandhians. They were confined to inconsequential nooks and Gandhi himself was fossilised into an idol which was the best way to assassinate his ideas. What is called the Left, singing the glory of the ‘motherland of socialism,’ was quite content, after the abject surrender of Telangana, to leave the task of socialist transformation to Nehru and his advisers. America was feeding the starving people with cattle feed under Public Law 480 and their ‘experts’ were perpetually dancing around the seats of power in Delhi.

Ford Foundation opened its first overseas office in New Delhi in 1961 which was a turning point, particularly for Indian agriculture. ‘Green revolution’ was ushered in with much fanfare. Mega dams, chemicals-based agriculture and integration of the farming community into the markets all together formed a package for Indian agriculture. The present agricultural crisis can be directly traced to this American-inspired Nehruvian grand strategy for agrarian transformation. This crisis had a near linear growth from the early 1960s. For the US imperialists it was a necessary outlet for their technology and capital, especially for their inhuman chemicals industry which was facing an acute all-round crisis. This was how factories like Union Carbide and their technologies came to India. By that time such industries had already become anathema to the people in capitalist-imperialist countries because they had become more educated about the utter inhumanity of such monsters through practical experience. But they could be profitably dumped on poor ex colonial countries, and India being a very large market was obviously not to be missed at any cost. It is interesting to note another modern parallel to this duplicity. Resurgent Japan banned all nuclear energy production but export of nuclear technology and its infrastructure was promoted! After all it is a matter of high profits to Japanese capital.

The choice was made clear by the Nehru government which was nothing but the burial of the Gandhian perspective of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. The Leftists in any case were always staunch believers in the theory of productive forces, their only method of understanding historical processes. The Right all through their history had taken a pro-imperialist stance amply proved by their approach to the anti-colonial independence movement. There was an amazing consensus among the various political streams in the country about the economic model accepted by the Nehru government. It was on this basis that the neo-colonial economic edifice has been built up in the country over the past several decades. The Congress party which had the history of leading the anti-colonial freedom struggle had become the executors of the neo-colonial model of economic management which obviously took time to mature. In fact neo-colonial methods of plunder and surplus extraction grow and strengthen with the development of productive forces and the market forces. Economic liberalization was enforced as demanded by this maturing of neo-colonial relations of production during the early 1990s under the expert leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh, a world-renowned bourgeois economist trained in the World Bank and Harvard. First as finance minister and then as prime minister he effectively executed his assigned role of opening up the economy’s surplus generating sectors to deep penetration by imperialist capital. This process cannot by its basic character be a static one and the latest set of farm laws enacted by the central government and its parliament is an advanced instance of this strengthening process of neo-colonial relations of production getting further institutionalised.

The current three contentious laws concerning agriculture have a history. It was on 18 July 2005 that the then Prime Minister Dr Singh signed in Washington the treaty known as US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Teaching, Research, Services and Commercial Linkages known as AKI for short. This is the exact blueprint of the current legal framework for agricultural transition against which the farming community has risen up in an unprecedented manner. Thus it is grossly anti-historical to credit the BJP and Narendra Modi as being the originators of the farm laws. It is the world-renowned economist and former prime minister who made the blueprint of the present laws and made it into an international contract with imperialist capital. AKI was a comprehensive agreement making the formulation of the present laws a technically easy job for the present government. Let us not forget that Dr Singh is an erudite economist who certainly did not leave anything to chance. In a situation of unprecedented rising up of basic classes it is possible to get euphoric and forget the actual history. Whatever the new generation leaders of the Congress party may shout, Dr Singh is maintaining a studied silence on this raging issue. He is a believer in intellectual copyrights. Apart from the AKI a number of other agreements were also signed, which made it all very comprehensive and foolproof for global capital. This was all a significant part of what is trumpeted as economic liberalisation and globalisation of the economy, for which Dr Singh can legitimately take credit of being the executor.

However, on the ground level the new agriculture initiative very soon ran into difficulties. A new genre of popular movements known as “farmers’ movements” had come up in many parts of the country, and were particularly active in the showpieces of green ‘revolution’. Shetkari Sangathan of Maharashtra and Bharatiya Kisan Union in Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh became the prominent organisational entities of this movement centred on rectifying the disequilibrium of the agriculture market structure. Mobilization of farmers on an unprecedented scale on economic demands occurred in vast areas of the country making Tikait (senior), Sharad Joshi and Rajendra Singh household names among the farmers of the country. More than once, Tikait senior, with his mass following, literally flooded Delhi to highlight the farmers’ issues. A high point during this phase of the movement was the camping of tens of thousands of Punjab farmers in Chandigarh for more than a month during the period of internal emergency. In fact, many of the agitational methods of farmers seen now on the borders of Delhi were first put to the test during this phase itself. Economically the farmers’ agitations during the 1970s and 1980s could achieve transitory partial successes. In an indirect manner it also contributed to the serious political fallout of the Khalistan movement, a militant movement for secession in Punjab. For a considerable time this movement established a dual system of power in Punjab and could be suppressed only through military action over the whole of Punjab resulting in the assassination of the responsible then prime minister and widespread genocidal attacks on the Sikh people in many parts of the country, particularly in Delhi and North India.

What is significant is that market dependent, surplus generating farmers emerged as an important variable in the political dynamics of the country and the class involved is a new one created by the structural changes engineered by the dominant interests controlling the state under the directives of globally dominant economic forces in the post-Second World War world. In other words, the dynamics was a manifestation of the global neo-colonial relations of production. The new agrarian class giving voice to the contradictions of the market structure is the product of the neo-colonial economic strategy of developing the market and controlling it, which is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the feudal, semi-feudal extractive strategy based on economic as well as extra economic factors, and hence transparently crude and stagnant.

Subsequent developments after the first phase of farmers’ movement showed clearly that whatever gains this movement made were ephemeral. A new phenomenon called ‘farmers suicide’ emerged glaringly on the Indian political sky. Non remunerative prices of agricultural products, imbalance between the input and output prices, highly exploitative credit market conditions, cost escalation due to changes in the process of production – all together created what is called the rural debt trap which was inevitably leading to the alienation of land from the farmers. Suicides of farmers became common news from among the farmers producing for the market in the food and non food crops segments of agriculture. Demands for moratorium/cancellation of outstanding debts became a new cry from the farmers of the country. Alleviatory measures were promised and partially given too in many States because the issue had fast become an electoral issue also. But the actual conditions remained unchanged because the whole issue is the product of structural dynamics of the economic system itself. The logic of accumulation by the dominant classes crucially depends on extracting the maximum surplus from the agricultural sector and when the state is overwhelmingly controlled by them policies will be certainly designed to facilitate and maximise this extraction process. This is the objective background of the three agricultural laws against which the farmers are on the war path since quite some time.

The ‘Siege’ of Delhi, a Historical Strategy Adapted to Gandhian Methods

The term ‘siege’ is coined by some sections of the media with the aim of exaggerating the ‘threat’ of the farmers’ mobilization on the borders of the national capital. Actually, the farmers had no idea of camping where they are now. It was the central government that blocked them on the borders though the farmers wanted to go into Delhi on their tractors to highlight the demand of repeal of the newly enacted three laws concerning them. They had declared time and again the non-violent character of their protest but the government was not prepared to believe them. The government right from the beginning of the present agitation adopted an intimidatory strategy to counter and defeat the farmers, and this blocking of their way was part of that. In Haryana, where a BJP government is ruling they used the police to attack the farmers on their way to join the protests. The so-called siege was forced upon the protesters, it was not their choice. Their aim was to conduct their rally in Delhi, not on its borders. They were prevented from doing it and they decided to stay put where they were blocked leading to the ‘siege’-like conditions.

It was after the farmers were attacked en route to Delhi that really large numbers of them started for the national capital. Moreover, the farmers from Punjab were joined in large numbers by their counterparts in Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. It was at that point that the agitation assumed the character of a mass movement which it continues to have. Interestingly, the farmers were going back to their farming activities in batches and returning in the same manner. Also, more and more women started joining the struggle fronts. In the meantime the farmers also started schools, hospitals, and even their own newspaper from the borders to reach correct news and views concerning the struggle. This last is especially interesting because they had identified what they call Modi/Godi (lapdog) media, which was consistently distorting their struggle, before launching their own news outlet. It was indeed a rude shock to those paid agents of the status quo who always slander the farmers to be illiterate and uncivilized. As the farmers’ mobilization gained momentum with the inclusion of those from other States like Rajasthan and solidarity groups from more distant States the government was compelled to negotiate with the united platform of farmers’ organisations. The positions were intransigent right from the beginning; hence the negotiations had the sole objective of being a sort of delaying tactics feeding the fond hopes of the government that the farmers will get tired of the struggle, though they had often made it clear that they are prepared for a long haul.

The position of the government is that the laws enacted are not negotiable as such and only the details can be negotiated and amended, if found necessary. The farmers, on the other side, are adamant about the unconditional repeal of these laws. Clearly, these two opposing positions are not amenable to settlement of the issue. The government, from the outset tried its level best to propagate slanders about the struggle, while consistently maintaining that only a very negligible number of farmers who do not know what is good for the farmers as a whole are agitating. Moreover, the government spokesmen proclaimed, the agitation is under the influence of anti-national elements like the separatist Khalistanis or the Maoists, both outlawed political trends. The corporate-owned media took up these canards with gusto, but the farmers contemptuously laughed them away. In fact, the media went to a ridiculous extent to suggest that the farmers who were subjected to extremely unfavourable conditions of living are having a holiday on the borders of Delhi. The government side consistently repeats that the farm laws are for the good of the farmers and that they are being misled because of their ignorance. (They also mobilized some turncoats to demonstrate for implementing the laws). This approach is essentially based on the age-old conception about them as fools and idiots. Unfortunately for them, the farmers see through such shamelessly hypocritical self-glorifications at their expense.

In the meanwhile, another development also occurred. The leading corporates were all through proclaiming that they are not involved in the agricultural market and they have no intention to intervene. This was to counter the position of the farmers that the farm laws are meant for big corporate capital to intensify the exploitation of the producers through the products market. But these statements were exposed as outright lies when the struggle was extended to the sites of big new storage and collection facilities already built in States like Punjab. When the farmers blockaded such big facilities in Khanna, the biggest grains market town in Asia, the benami owners of the facility went to the courts exposing the truth that the facility’s real owners are the Ambani group who had established infrastructure on gigantic scale even before the laws were passed, but clearly anticipating them. This one instance is enough to tear apart the layers of lies and bring the truth into the open. The farm laws were enacted for the ‘welfare’ of corporates. The ‘simple’ and ‘ignorant’ farmers were well aware of this conspiracy all through. They had made it clear that they are not going to allow the functioning of such facilities, whether directly and openly owned by the corporates or by proxy.

While the negotiations were going on all possible efforts to split the farmers’ unity were in full steam. It was initially thought by the government that splitting the movement will not be very difficult. But soon it became evident that it is not only difficult but impossible. The united forum of the farmers is composed of dozens of organisations united on the basis of minimum demands. The minimum was quite simple – the repeal of the anti-farmer laws. Space for compromise simply did not exist. The united forum made it a matter of basic, non negotiable principle that no political parties are to be part of it. Naturally, individuals in the morcha may or may not be members of political parties, but no specific party identities are to figure in the morcha. This position was inflexible. Several political parties, starting with the Aam Aadmi Party and leftist parties tried to bring in their flags but all such attempts were strongly discouraged. Most probably, this was one of the key factors which made the movement split-proof. This position continues without any dilution. Political parties are welcome to support the movement, but they cannot take control of it. The government propaganda that the movement is sponsored by the opposition parties fell flat in the face of such a principled position uncompromisingly held by the farmers.

Another argument of the government to justify the new laws is the claim that by eliminating the present system of middlemen in the agricultural market the farmers stand to gain. But the farmers counter this by asserting that the elimination of the present middle men is only meant to hand them over to the incomparably more powerful corporate interests and this is bound to not only intensify the surplus extraction process but also for them to lose control over their productive assets, i.e., land and related other means of production. Moreover, the farmers maintain, the new system envisaged is certain to produce higher levels of food insecurity for the non farming people which can have disastrous consequences for the people as a whole and hence they are fighting for the whole people and it is in the interests of all people that the new laws are repealed lock stock and barrel. Under the existing overwhelming conditions of extreme distributive inequalities and injustice the farmers certainly make sense, at least, they are forcefully posing vital questions which can be ignored only at our peril.

The repeated assertions of the government that the agitators are being misled by anti-farmer vested interests hell bent on ruining the welfare of the farmers is ridiculous to the extreme and   contemptuously ignored by the farmers. Luckily, they have stopped repeating it probably because the transparency of such idiocies became all too apparent even for the progenitors. Meanwhile, the farmers are determined to continue with their struggle until the laws are repealed, even if it takes years. To date, the agricultural operations are not seriously affected, but it is difficult to predict the future. There is a distinct possibility that the productive activities may suffer in future. This is a frightening possibility in a country where starvation, semi-starvation is endemic and where one of the most horrendous famines in the modern history of mankind killing millions occurred in the colonial period during the Second World War. The twenty-first century is certainly not immune from famines as is shown by several countries in Africa and the institutionalisation of near permanent semi-famine conditions in vast areas of the world including India. A number of studies and reports from international agencies including FAO conclusively establish this fact. Of course, these dismal conditions exist not necessarily because of absolute shortage in food production, but because of gross distributive inequalities as proved by the pioneering study by Amartya Sen on famine.

If and when such an eventuality emerges the responsibility rests not on the farmers, but on the conditions which made farming a non viable economic activity. Today the farmers’ movement has thrown up the future possibilities for those who can read the writing on the wall. If these laws are not repealed and serious attempts made to make farming a viable economic activity such horrors remain in the realm of the actively possible.

Farmers’ Movement is Explaining the Character of the State

It was the Naxalbari peasant rebellion that triggered debates on the character of the Indian state during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Also, the setback suffered by this movement questioned the validity of the formulations arrived at and resulted in the splintering of the movement and cocooning of that which continued the legacy. The formulations mainly concerned the character of the state, which meant the class analysis of the society at large. Developments on the ground level like the farmers’ struggles against market inequalities in concrete terms repudiated the communist formulations as grossly insufficient and hence incorrect. The large majority of the people and land area still dependent on agriculture, which directly connotes that the relations of production and problems of production and reproduction of capital in the sector play a pivotal role in the economic and social stability in the total economy and society. When we talk of these problems it is impossible to look at them in isolation because they are crucially dependent on the economic relations with the dominant classes in the society, which in turn means on the character of the state. The new agricultural laws against which the farmers are agitating now are state formulated laws, and the important thing is that the farmers do recognise clearly why and for whom the state is formulating laws that mainly concern them.

Farmers on the struggle front are convinced that the new farm laws are meant to legalise and further the extraction from them by corporate capital. This, according to them, is bound to impoverish them and result in alienating them from their main means of production. In other words, these laws will result in their utter destruction. The forces of the market are already fleecing them and driving agriculture on an un-economic trajectory and the result of the new laws will be to accelerate this process of decimation. Moreover, corporatisation of agriculture as a whole will be the medium- and long-term consequence, which would very seriously impact food security for the whole people. Interestingly, when farmers in many parts of the world including the United States declare support for the struggling Indian farmers they point at precisely this consequence. Also, the large-scale eruption of famines in many parts of Africa can be directly linked to corporatisation of agriculture in those countries under the dictates of global capital and their super banks.

Shortage of food is a highly relative affair with diametrically contrary pulls. On the one hand, there is tremendous surplus of human and cattle food and resultant glut in the markets while on the other there is widespread under nutrition and malnutrition in vast parts of the world. Distributive injustices are galore catering to super profit making by the agro corporations dominant on a global scale. India being a highly significant source of profits by its sheer size and population was always on the agenda of agro corporations ever since they emerged on a global scale. Changes in production processes, crop mix and character of crops are a necessary part of the inexorable drive for profits and ever more profits. Human and environmental health goes for a toss in this inhuman drive for ever more profits and our own history provides striking illustrations. What readily comes to mind is the forcible promotion of indigo and opium cultivation in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency resulting in great rebellions and horrendous famines. Opium was needed by the British colonialists to enable them to subjugate China, while indigo was necessary for their textile industry. To serve these twin objectives the Bengal farmers were compelled to destroy their fertile fields and by their own hands convert the motherland of agriculture into the land of chronic famines.

More recently, what is happening in Africa and the Amazon region in South America are eye openers. In the case of Africa, Indian corporates are directly playing the procurers’ role by being middlemen for giant global corporates. Agricultural production for bio-fuels on contract farming basis is what is being promoted in both the regions and there is every reason to think that the Ambanis and such like would very much like such a conversion in agricultural production, and import the vast surplus of food produced by the United States and others, which promises a highly lucrative two-way profits channelisation into their coffers. Such an eventuality can by no means be ruled out taking into account the track record of imperialist globalisation in the country. When the farmers say that they are fighting for all the people it is nothing but the truth. That is why when Noam Chomsky writes that the Indian farmers are blazing a forward path for the whole world it makes sense for us.

To Conclude

The outcome of the ongoing struggle of farmers cannot be reduced to economic terms. The demand of the farmers rests on two points – repeal of the anti-farmers central laws, and legal guarantee of minimum support price. Both are unlikely to be conceded because the political executive simply cannot sabotage its own class bosses, the corporate bourgeoisie. But the success or setback of the ongoing struggle does not really hinge on the immediate conceding to these demands. The measure of its success is political in nature, which will remain valid irrespective of the immediate outcome. This is the explicit recognition of the class nature of the Indian state, which has proved out and out anti- people. The farmers have brought this forth in sharp focus, which means that the battle lines drawn are indelible and unalterable under the objective conditions existing. That masses of people are becoming aware of the structural character of their life-and-death problems is no mean thing. Such a development is loaded with serious long-term consequences. The exposure of the system as rooted in fragile, shaky foundations is not the least among them.

Another consequence, which may look secondary but is actually not secondary, is the growing understanding that the primary producers ought to be aware and capable of organising alternative value-adding and marketing mechanisms. Right now the farmers in Punjab have blocked the activities of Reliance which is dreaming big on bleeding the farmers. Such a blockade is certainly the first step in eradicating them, but this will certainly involve designing and implementing alternative value- adding and distributive chains. And it is not such an insurmountable job and does not really need speculative, stock market capital. Understanding of the systemic dynamics is of primary importance and the farmers have proved to the people of the world that they have enough of that to change the ground situation. This is a foundation that is sound and sustaining unlike the speculative, parasitic, stock market based economic power. Short-term uncertainty is only a small price to pay for such long-term sustaining gain for the whole people.

T G Jacob is a freelance Journalist and a social activist


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