The Ganesh festival is celebrated country-wide with prayers and rituals, greetings are exchanged, and various food delicacies are prepared. When we relish the delicacies, it is appropriate to remember that every one of those preparations is based upon farm produce, be it grains, vegetables, fruits, or the banana leaves on which the feast is served. This farm produce is the result of many people – the farmer community – working the earth round the year, not only during festivals, to grow these basic ingredients.
The reason for bringing farmers into discussion during the Ganesh festival, is a WhatsApp forward of a picture, purportedly of farmers’ movement leaders Rakesh Tikait and Darshan Pal, sitting at a table in what appears to be an expensive hotel, having tea. It carries the caption: “Poor kisaan Rakesh Tikait with another poor kisaan Darshan Pal in a 5-star resort ….”.
The obvious intention of the forward is to denigrate the farmers movement as being instigated by wealthy farmers, who are misleading poor farmers to assemble in their lakhs, demanding repeal of the three new Farm laws, and legal assurance of MSP of CC-plus-50%. The target is the farmers movement – now joined by workers – whose all-India character, integration across caste-religion-region-language, and growing numbers and steadiness of purpose, causes embarassment to State and Central governments.
Farmers have understood the implications of the new Farm laws by reading translations into regional languages. They believe and fear that they will lose their lands and livelihoods to big corporates through contract farming, if the new Farm laws are implemented. This apprehension is not restricted to small farmers. Even wealthy farmers, understanding the wider dangers to themselves due to corporatised agriculture, have joined with small farmers.
The Essential Commodities Amendment Act 2020, removes farm-produce stocking limitations, which were applicable under the original Act, to prevent profiteering of farm produce. The ECA Act now enables large stockists (big-corporates) to control and increase at will, the wholesale and retail prices of farm produce – the same farm produce which we all consume every day, and especially enjoy on festive occasions like Ganesh festival.
It does not need exceptional intelligence to understand that India’s huge majority poor, which includes small farmers, landless labour, agriculture-sector workers, industrial workers, business employees, unorganised workers, etc., will be seriously affected by food price rise. It is difficult to understand how the better-educated, better-heeled among us cannot see that even they will have to bear ever-increasing food costs due to the ECA Act. This is apart from food costs rising due to increasing fuel costs and other reasons.
Reverting to the forwarded picture, it may well be morphed in these times of fake news, but even if it is true, some points or questions arise:
# Rakesh Tikait and Darshan Pal are both associated with farming, and they are certainly not poor. If they choose to spend their own time and money to relax over tea in an expensive hotel, does it lessen the validity of the farmers’ demands? When already 600 farmers have died during the 10-months long stand-off, why would farmers conrinue to be away from their families, homes and fields and assemble in their lakhs, braving winter cold, summer heat and monsoon rain, and additionally face police violence, at the call of these leaders?
# Among persons of the better-off socio-economic classes who attend events and functions in 5-star hotels, those who create/forward social media posts such as the one above, appear to grudge use of 5-star facilities by persons who support causes. Could it be that the forwarders of social media posts directed at deprecating people’s movements and protests, do so because the farmers’ movement opposes government’s policies/programs/legislations, and causes embarassment to government?
# India’s elected representatives in States and Centre are self-declared crorepatis, who live in opulence, frequent 5-star resorts, and readily accept blandishments, amenities and facilities from big corporates. It is strange that forwarders of social media posts which target the farmers, do not question crorepati-Legislators who claim to represent poor people. Instead, they appear to act on behalf of some legislators to discredit the farmers and their leaders.
A government which is of the people and for the people, would use the democratic political tools of dialogue, discussion and negotiation to deal with people’s movements, and elected representatives would debate the issues within state and central legislatures.
However, especially starting with the 1991 New Economic Policy, successive elected governments at centre and states have been treating people’s movements and agitations as law and order situations. They usually fail to recognize public expression of discontent or dissent with governments’ executive or legislative actions, and resort to force instead of democratic methods for resolution if not solution, of people’s problems.
Governments are enacting or proposing legislation to enable police to use spyware tools, supposedly for public safety. However, the propensity of politicians or police officials to (mis)use such powers for targeted and untargeted mass surveillance for political or partisan purposes, to identify and crush dissent and people’s movements, is well known.
Governments increasingly use police action, arrests, and charges of sedition or charges under laws like UAPA, to intimidate people, and target movement/agitation leaders and activists for “punishment by process” using rule-by-law. At the present juncture, taking the example of the forwarded post above, government appears to have no hesitation in employing social media teams to discredit people’s movements and their leaders, and take advantage of the political innocence of common people who forward such social media posts.
The forwarders of such social media posts are unknowing, innocent captives of the anti-democratic machinations of powerful political lobbies colluding with big-money corporates. They may not understand that they too will eventually be sucked into the maw of authoritarian rule.
At least on the joyous occasion of Ganesh chaturthi, when one enjoys the products of the hard work of farmers, let us not denigrate the farmers movement, but try to understand the farmers demands and the reasons for their opposing the new Farm laws.
References hyperlinked in the text:
- “The New Farm Laws: A Critique and a way forward”; <https://countercurrents.org/2020/12/the-new-farm-laws-a-critique-and-a-way-forward/>; Countercurrents.org; December 9, 2020.
- “Essential commodities and People”; <https://countercurrents.org/2021/06/essential-commodities-and-people/>; Countercurrents.org; June 17, 2021.
- “Kerala draft bill seeks to permit police snooping even without prior approval”; <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/kerala-draft-bill-seeks-to-permit-police-snooping-even-without-prior-approval/article36376147.ece>; The Hindu; September 9, 2021.
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere is focussed on development and strategic issues, using cross-discipline study and systems thinking.