(The writer is the National President of All India Kisan Sabha.)
It was an epic first victory of the year-long historic struggle of the farmers of India. They managed to defeat the corporate communalism represented by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-led BJP-RSS government.
Prime Minister Modi’s nationally televised address to the country on 19 November about repealing the three farm laws was a stinging defeat for them.
The announcement by the PM was surprising but it was clear in the last three months that the Centre was being thrown increasingly on the defensive by the farmers’ struggle. Before we talk about the jubilation that this led to, we must understand the five major factors that led to this repeal.
5 Factors that Led to the Repeal of Farm Laws
The first was the massive Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat on 5 September, organised by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), in UP’s Muzaffarnagar. The farmers and workers came in huge numbers, not only from UP but also from Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. It succeeded in rebuilding secular unity.
The second was the success of the Bharat Bandh call given by SKM on 27 September. This was the third Bharat Bandh call in the last one year, and by far, the most successful too.
The third was the increasing tempo of the struggle in UP, Punjab, and Haryana. In Punjab, the farmers’ struggle has gone down to practically every home in the state.
The fourth was the dastardly Lakhimpur Kheri massacre of four farmers and a journalist, which as per the SIT report was pre-mediated. The main accused in this case is Union Minister of State Home Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish. The SIT probe has now stated that this was pre-mediated. This horrifying incident created revulsion among the people.
And the fifth factor was, of course, the impending state Assembly elections in UP, Uttarakhand, and Punjab. There was fear in ruling circles of the deepening alienation of the people in the sensitive border state of Punjab, which had a few decades ago been the victim of violent separatism.
The results of the recent by-elections saw a rout of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan, the frontline states of the farmers’ struggle. The PM and the RSS-BJP belatedly realised the grave danger that they faced in the impending elections.
The announcement of the repeal of the three farm laws was a cumulative result of these five immediate factors, apart from the year-long epic saga of the united farmers’ struggle itself.
The Fault in the Farm Laws
It’s crucial to assess what was wrong with the three farm laws. In their very essence, they were anti-farmer, anti-people, and pro-corporate. They were first brought in as ordinances in June 2020 under cover of the COVID pandemic and were rammed through the Parliament in September 2020 after trampling over democratic norms.
No Kisan organisation worth its name had demanded any of these laws, and no Kisan organisation was ever consulted about them. Although agriculture is a state subject under the Constitution, no state government was consulted either. These laws were unconstitutional.
The first Farm Act aimed to dismantle Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) and hand over the entire trade in agricultural produce to domestic and foreign corporates. This would have destroyed farmers and agriculture. It would have also compromised the food security of the country. As per the direction given by the Shanta Kumar Committee in 2015 under this government, this Act eventually aimed to do away with Minimum Support Price (MSP) and government procurement of food grains altogether and hand over the entire agricultural sector to the corporate lobby for its super profits.
If the government procurement of food grains ended, the food stocks in the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns would also end. With this, the entire public distribution system (PDS) would be dismantled. This would have a disastrous impact on 81 crore of the urban and rural poor in India, who avail the PDS.
The second Farm Act aimed to encourage and promote contract farming across the country. As the previous experience of contract farming in India and the world shows, unless there is very strict regulation over contract farming, it only helps the powerful corporate companies to loot the farmers, eventually leading them to lose their land.
In a travesty of justice, there was no provision for farmers for approaching courts in case of any dispute with the companies who make the contracts. In both the above Farm Acts, there was deliberately no provision made that companies must buy agricultural produce from farmers at MSP rates. One of the real alternatives to corporate farming is co-operative farming, which the government is not at all willing to consider.
The third Farm Act was a disastrous amendment to the Essential Commodities Act. The central government removed all restrictions on hoarding stocks of six most essential items — rice, wheat, pulses, cooking oil, onions, and potatoes. This would give corporates and big traders a free hand to hoard and black market with these essential items, by creating artificial scarcities, and then hiking their prices manifold. This would also endanger food security.
On Returning Home
The first meeting of the SKM after the PM’s announcement was held amid great enthusiasm on 21 November at the Singhu border protest site. There was jubilation that one part of the battle had been won but there was also determination to see that the other just demands of this struggle are also met.
Two major decisions taken were: First, sending an open letter to the PM listing out the major pending demands of the farmers and demanding a resolution of those issues through talks, and second, continuing all the pre-decided programmes of the struggle.
The other pending demands of this farmers’ struggle were: Central legislation to guarantee MSP and procurement across the country as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission; withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill; removal of the penal provisions on farmers in the ‘Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act 2021’; withdrawal of false police cases against farmers who took part in the struggle; adequate compensation to and rehabilitation of the families of 700-plus farmers who died during this struggle, and land at the Singhu Border to build a Martyrs’ Memorial for their memory.
On 4 December, SKM set up a five-member committee comprising Balbir Singh Rajewal, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, Shivkumar Sharma ‘Kakkaji,’ Yudhvir Singh, as well as me for negotiations with the government.
After five days of intensive negotiations, on the morning of 9 December, the Government of India sent an official letter to the SKM accepting most of these demands. A committee would be formed with the aim to ensure that all farmers get the benefit of MSP, and SKM representatives would be part of this committee; all police cases slapped over the last one year against farmers in this struggle would be withdrawn by the central and state governments with immediate effect; compensation would be given by the state governments to the families of the 700-plus martyrs; the Electricity Amendment Bill would be placed in the Parliament only after consultation with the SKM; and farmers to be exempted from criminal liability in the Air Quality Act.
The SKM decided to celebrate 11 December as Victory Day, and to suspend the current farm struggle and go back home from the Delhi borders after 380 uninterrupted days. There were massive victory celebrations at the Delhi borders and all over the country.
The SKM, however, is clear in its belief that another huge nationwide struggle on the issue of a legal guarantee for MSP will be necessary in the coming months.
The MSP Issue
It’s also imperative to understand the MSP issue. The second key demand of farmers is a central law to guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) and procurement at one and a half times the comprehensive cost of production (C2 + 50 percent).
This was a seminal recommendation of the National Commission on Farmers, headed by Dr M S Swaminathan, made in the year 2006, but not implemented since then.
It is now well known that over four lakh farmers in India have been forced to take their own lives due to indebtedness in the last 25 years of the neo-liberal policies from 1995 to 2020. Of these, around a lakh killed themselves in the last seven years alone. This is a major manifestation of the agrarian crisis that has been swamping India.
The Modi regime is telling a white lie when it claims that it has already implemented MSP at the above rate. It has applied the formula A2 + FL, which is much lower than C2 + 50 percent, and has thus tried to deceive farmers.
In most parts of our country, the MSP declared by the central government for 23 different kharif and rabi crops has no meaning, simply because there is no government procurement in most of the states. Hence, traders routinely buy agricultural produce from farmers at much less than the MSP. Even in Punjab and Haryana, government procurement is restricted mainly to only paddy and wheat.
Successive central governments implementing neo-liberal policies have increased the cost of production in agriculture manifold over the last three decades.
One, by slashing subsidies on agricultural inputs like fertilisers. Two, by encouraging rapacious corporates in the manufacture of seeds, fertilisers, and insecticides. Three, by greatly increasing the price of diesel, petrol, power, and irrigation.
The price that the farmer, however, gets for his crop has never increased in the same proportion. This is one of the roots of the agrarian crisis and peasant indebtedness, leading to farmer suicides on the one hand and distress sales of farmland on the other.
This is further aggravated by natural calamities such as severe droughts, floods, hailstorms and unseasonal rains, with no proper crop insurance cover. The PM Fasal Bima Yojana has proved to be a farce, enriching corporate insurance companies at the expense of farmers.
This farmers’ struggle under the leadership of the SKM braved every kind of repression and defamation from the current regime. It also surmounted the deadly COVID pandemic but despite all this, it remained united, peaceful, secular, and democratic.
Therefore, it could not be crushed. With the inspiring impetus gained by this victory, the people’s struggle will go forth with even greater strength, confidence, and determination in the days ahead.