Barely a few days are left to go now and all eyes, certainly of the farmers and their supporters, are on 15 January – the day Sunyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) is to reassemble in Delhi. There, SKM will seek to evaluate the progress made on the promises made by the government following the repeal of the three agri-laws in November end, and accordingly decide on further action. At the time, SKM had categorically stated that the Movement was not being called off, but merely suspended.
The year-long farmers’ protest movement had been without a parallel for a long, long time. Though apparently against the three Agri Laws (which these actually weren’t), the Movement was actually built on the long-standing agrarian crises and increasing farmers’ protests in Delhi and across the country over the last several years. The Movement seemed to have everything in place – from its politics (nonalignment with political parties and other state actors), administration (collective leadership and steadfast adherence to its decisions), strategy (non-violence), communication (extremely creative advocacy and outreach events) and willingness and ability to go for the long haul. True, the Movement was more than helped by an obdurate leader (as more than revealed and described recently by the Meghalay Governor Satyapal Malik) of a clueless government, followed and egged on by its legion of cohorts and troll armies.
But since the repeal of the laws, much water has already flowed under the bridge. And the current narrative is dominated by the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections in five states, in particular Punjab and in Uttar Pradesh where Modi and Yogi re-enacting “Spy vs Spy” of the good old MAD comic days! And with 22 farmers’ unions in Punjab getting together and deciding to throw their hat in the electoral ring, it may be necessary for the larger farming community to become slightly more wary. Let me, as a cautionary note, state that irrespective of the outcome of the furious election campaigns, it is quite begining to look like advantage the Government!
I will go to the extent of saying that actally when the Parliament revoked the laws and the Movement was suspended, and the government seemed to have lost face, even then it was advantage the Government.
Consider, even as Mr Modi took the decision to withdraw the three laws and the Parliament approved the withdrawal, the government very calculatedly held back on most of the other critical demands of the farmers. The government promised setting up a committee to look into the MSP issue. Why a new committee should have been promised though the issue of MSP itself had been doing the round for quite a few years and from the farmers’ point of view the Swaminathan formula had become largely acceptable. The government, in the course of the Movement, had set up a committee on the three agri-laws, which first P Sainath refused to join as member and then one of the four members of the constituted committee resigned.
The SKM was always sceptical of any committee set up by the government and had in fact voiced its disapproval more than once. Then, should the SKM have agreed to accept the proposal of setting up another new committee, whose formation hadn’t been decided as yet? And now, six weeks later, no committee has been set up as yet – expectedly too.
The other demand, and possibly the most critical and ethical, seeking the removal of Ajay Mishra Teni from his central ministerial post and legal action, was also not acceded to and so far remains quietly sidelined. Two of the demands that were accepted, that of Electricity and Land concerns are state subjects, so it was no problem for the government to wash its hands off those. The third demand accepted, for the withdrawal of cases against the farmers in the course of the Movement, would sooner or later have been done.
The Movement did catch the country’s – and even the world’s – imagination. Over 365 plus days, out on the road, exposed to the elements and against an authority that has no qualms on using its power with the most vile and sinister intent, was no mean act of courage and perseverance. And emanating from that, one of the major achievements of the Movement was/is that it lifted somewhat the fog of “fear” that had engulfed the country. The Movement underlined deep faith in democracy and the Constitution and will inspire a thousand springs. Already, the bankers are beginning to protest on a large scale, the MSME sector is voicing its discontent and the youth are gathering on the roads again. The other sectors too will likely find their voice.
But we must also realize that no community or people, other than the farmers, could have sustained such a protest and movement that it was. The farmers have deep roots in the ground and, in a primeval sense, are their own masters and not answerable to anyone, as the other sectors are. In fact, on the contrary, it is all the rest of the people who are – or should be – obliged to them. The only other social group which can come somewhat close to the farmers on this is the youth or the students, but one cannot be sure if the youth could have or can carry out such a movement with an unwavering adherence to non-violence as the farmers did. Indeed, non-violence has been among the foremost learnings from the Movement. This is a separate issue but needs to be looked into and better appreciated.
However, the biggest take-away for the government, by repealing the three laws and having the farmers return, has been that it has put brakes on a Movement that was beginning to underline that the essential questions were much larger and deeper than the agrarian crisis itself. The Movement was beginning to strongly draw in its fold the other issues and sectors, and threatening to unveil the overwhelming domination of the rich and the corporations in deciding and directing the course of our lives, development and the future. It was a Movement poised to challenge and stall the sinister marginalization of the Constitution, the hectic throwaway sale of government properties, the melting down of institutions, the sharply escalating communal divisions and deeply etching hatred in the society.
One is not denying the farmers their need to return home after a year on the roads, but what can we expect from the SKM on 15 January? Certainly, and with the SKM denuded by the desertion (and co-option) of 22 farmers’ group into politics, it is not going to be easy. One is not denying the resurgence of the Movement, because ultimately it is the question of the farmers’ survival, but any protest Movement, once taken off the heat, is never easy to rekindle and reach its earlier fire. The test for the SKM would be that much more challenging.
With the suspension of the Movement, the struggles on the other fronts might be that less united. This will be a loss.
Biju Negi, Beej Bachao Andolan & Hind Swaraj Manch firstname.lastname@example.org