Farmers Move Into Pan India Mode Ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha Polls
Pressure political parties to factor in their demands for the vote
The farmers are fast emerging as a pole in Indian polity ahead of the state Assembly polls scheduled to be held this year, and the Lok Sabha polls IN 2024. They recognise the fact that they cannot be a direct political force but are confident of diverting the flow in electoral politics.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation of farmer groups across the country, has announced its road map for the next few months.
Most interesting is the strategy being adopted to make the farmers’ movement a pan India affair. For this the emphasis is on connecting the larger concerns of the farmers with local issues and then dove tail the movement around them back into a main narrative at the national level.
The farmers are drawing some important inferences from the victory they achieved in Sangamner in Maharashtra last week. The state government was compelled to agree to a host of their demands for which they were holding a three day long march from Akole to Loni in Ahmednagar district.
They are convinced that when issues are raised around a concrete history, narrative and intervention, the people give a positive response. The all India slogans need to be given a local form since the problems are localised as well and require a state specific approach.
Then there is an important move to look beyond the issues that are purely agricultural, but are connected with the peasantry at one level or the other. This according to them helps connect with a wider mass base in a fast changing scenario.
The signals coming from various states are diverse but are converging on the point of deep discontent on the state of affairs when it comes to the farming community.
As farmer leader from Haryana Inderjit Singh told this reporter, “The anger that prevails in the peasantry always has the potential to influence politics. This was evident in the outcome of the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra last time.
“It is another matter that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to form the government later. The farmers were able to make an impact in the West Bengal polls as well but in Uttar Pradesh communal polarisation overshadowed every other attempt to convert the factors into political radicalization against the BJP.”
Spelling out its roadmap, the SKM held its national meeting at Delhi on Sunday. It was attended by more than 200 farmer leaders of different constituent organisations. There were detailed discussions and deliberations that led to a nine point agenda that was spelt out.
It was decided that there would be protests and demonstrations between May 26 and 31 in various states, on the core issues. These include the demand for legal guarantee of minimum support price for entire agricultural produce, debt waiver, pension for farmers and farm workers, comprehensive crop insurance scheme, arrest of union minister of state for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra for the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre, withdrawal of false cases registered against the farmers, compensation to the families of those farmers who were martyred etc.
The farmers plan to hold protest marches to meet all the Members of Parliament and key political leaders of various parties in their home constituencies. They would be handed over a memorandum of demands warning them to immediately resolve all the farmers’ demands, failing which they would face further protests.
The SKM has stated, “In the months of May, June and July, state and district level conventions of the SKM shall be held in every state to galvanise and organise farmers and farm workers. Between August 1 to 15 there would be mass protests in coordination with workers’ unions and organisations to put an end to the sale of interest of farmers and workers to corporations by the union government.”
Thereafter between September and mid-November, the SKM plans to hold massive all-India Yatras all over the country which shall be led by national leaders of the organisation. These Yatras will focus on states that will have Assembly elections towards the end of the year. These include Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana etc.
The farmers plan to observe the anniversary of Lakhimpur Kheri massacre on October 3 as Shaheedi Diwas across the country.
Similarly, on November 26, the day on which the farmers had started moving towards the national capital for the historic siege that eventually led to the central government repealing the three controversial farm laws, the SKM plans to celebrate Vijay Diwas at national level wherein the farmers will gold day-night dharnas for at least three days in all the state capitals.
As Angrez Bhadaur of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Dakaunda) disclosed, “The effort is to spread to the entire country. The programmes have been spaced keeping in mind the farming schedules so that farm operations do not suffer.”
Meanwhile, the SKM adopted three important resolutions at the meeting on Sunday. The first resolution reads, “The SKM firmly and unequivocally supports the protest of women wrestlers of India who have been sitting on dharna at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar demanding the arrest of BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
“The SKM expresses solidarity with the sportspersons and demands immediate arrest of the BJP MP. A full delegation of the SKM leaders visited the protest site, met the sportspersons and conveyed the support of SKM to them.”
The second resolution condemned the ‘unleashing of central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the BJP government against former Governor Satya Pal Malik who has been a steadfast supporter of the farmers’ movement and the SKM.
“Malik has been exposing the misdeeds of the BJP government with regard to the unnecessary loss of lives of our soldiers at Pulwama, corruption of the BJP leadership at the highest level etc. The SKM lauds the bravery of Malik. The SKM shall support all efforts to resist the attempts of the BJP government to muzzle Malik,” the resolution stated.
The third resolution said, “ The SKM condemns the de-recognition of the oldest unions of postal workers of India, National Federation of Postal Employees and All India Postal Employees’ Union, by the union government, allegedly because these unions supported the historic Delhi farmers’ struggle and donated some funds to the farmer organisations.
“The SKM expresses solidarity with the unions, demands that the de-recognition be withdrawn and looks forward to increased worker peasant unity against the anti-farmer, anti-worker BJP government.”
The stand adopted by the SKM immediately leads to the most pertinent question whether the farmers actually are in a position to dictate politics at this point of time. There seems to be a lot of confidence among the leadership across the states which they substantiate with arguments.
“The farmers have succeeded in setting the agenda that no political party can afford to ignore this constituency. Today the position is such that no political party can afford to side step the issues concerning the peasantry. That is why there are more and more attempts being made at polarisation,” said Badal Saroj from Madhya Pradesh.
Rajinder Singh Deep Singh Wala of Kirti Kisan Union in Punjab pointed out the cascading impact of the farmers’ movement that led to the withdrawal of the three controversial farm laws.
“The results of the movement are still coming. If you keep aside the first seven years of the ruling dispensation, there has been a big change in the public perception. The whole narrative of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi being invincible and the one who never retreats stands blown to smithereens.
“The people have understood that he does retreat when they unite. Even in Punjab nobody would have ever thought that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government with a brute majority could be forced to shut down the liquor factory in Zira for polluting ground water.
“Or for that matter when the government was compelled to scrap a proposed industrial park in the vicinity of the Sutlej, its floodplains and Mattewara protected forest. The movement generated hope.
“If the farmers can mobilise the masses on issues like the MSP and debt waiver at state levels they can surely have an impact. Today the issue of the MSP is echoing politically with the Congress promising it and the Akalis supporting the farmers on it. The state politics is rife with farmers’ issues. They cannot ignore the farmers,” he said.
The Kirti Kisan Union has scheduled a state level conclave in Moga on May 26 outside the ambit of the SKM where apart from the common demands like debt waiver and guaranteed MSP on all agriculture produce it will be seeking canal water for every field and drinking water for every household.
“We will be demanding a solution to the water sharing dispute with neighbouring states and seek that Punjab be given water rights as per riparian principles. We are also demanding an end to the prevailing agriculture model that pollutes the environment and land rights for the tillers. In addition we will also be raising the federal rights of Punjab,” Rajinder added.
Recently the cabinet led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann gave the green signal for roping in experts and consultants for the improvement of the environment, checking the depleting groundwater table, bringing farmers out of the rut of the wheat and paddy cycle and improving the financial situation of the farmers.
An important and interesting demand that will be echoed at the event at Moga pertains to opening the Hussainiwala and Wagah borders with Pakistan for cross border trade. This is a long pending demand of the peasantry in Punjab.
Rajinder said, “This will revive the transport industry of Punjab as more than 1000 trucks can be put to use immediately. The economy of spares, grocery shops and eating joints will get revived besides employment to the labour force in these areas.
“We used to get gypsum from Pakistan that is four times better than the one we get from Rajasthan. It is needed for reviving the soil health. There is a huge demand for our agricultural machinery like straw reapers, direct seeders and mud loaders across the border.
“The vegetables like capsicum that are being dumped by the farmers in Punjab in the absence of remunerative prices can be easily exported to Pakistan where there is a shortage of edibles. This will help ease the tension on the border and benefit Punjabis on both sides.”
He further said in a lighter vein, “Our farmers can transport vegetables even on bicycles and tractors. The whole approach on trade with Pakistan is the fall out of the anti Muslim narrative. Going by their logic, even China is our enemy but tell me one village where Chinese goods are not being sold.”
Meanwhile, the disclosures by Satya Pal Malik on Pulwama and corruption along with the ongoing protest by wrestlers at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi is gathering steam in the rural hinterland in various states. Sources point out that these two issues are hot topics of discussion at public places.
In the case of Malik, there is a view that what he stated recently was not something that was ‘hidden’ as it is common knowledge that votes were sought in the name of Pulwama killings in the last parliamentary poll. But at this point he has pushed the BJP on the defensive as the people see him as the party’s own appointee speaking his mind on the issue.
The farmers have also not taken kindly to the CBI approaching him. They are presently adopting a wait and watch approach on him. They believe that Malik, having risen as a farmers’ leader in the past, will bank on them to defend him against any attempts to corner him.
There is a perception that Malik will be more vocal when he is invited to speak at public events in the days to come. The response that he gets will determine whether people can be galvanised around him and his disclosures.
Meanwhile, the people in Haryana’s rural landscape feel that the wrestlers should have taken their campaign to the logical conclusion three months back only. There is a lot of anger on the government’s response to their concerns.
Observers say that there has been an attempt to give a caste colour to the whole issue of protests by the wrestlers. “It is like they pitted Jats against the other 35 communities during the reservation agitation of 2016. But the attempts have fallen flat because of sportspersons of international repute, some of them at the prime of their career, speaking out for their fellow brethren.
“The people in Haryana are drawing parallels with the case registered in January this year against the state’s former sports minister Sandeep Singh on the basis of a complaint lodged by a junior coach who had accused him of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation. Though there were protests in Chandigarh that led to the case being registered but they were comparatively less intense and did not draw that much attention as Chandigarh is on one corner of the state.
“But here, the wrestlers are protesting in the heart of the national capital right under the nose of the government drawing international attention and dealing a big blow to the Vishwaguru narrative of the ruling dispensation,” said an observer.
“The issue needs to be understood holistically. There is a lot of anger among the people in the villages who have been sending their children to pursue sporting activities spending money at coaching centres and other requirements.
“They also look towards employment through sports. When the BJP has called out political parties for supporting the protestors, the question being asked by the people is what are these parties made for if they cannot take up such sensitive issues?
“That is why people from all walks including women, farmers and political workers from different states are turning up at the protest sites. The SKM leaders have offered their support to the sporting fraternity that is speaking out,” Inderjit said.
Meanwhile, there is a lot of resentment against the ‘tardy’ procurement of wheat in the state. The farmers are contesting the claims of deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala that not a single farmer has faced any inconvenience in selling crops in the procuring centres. Chautala recently said that the farmers' crops are being procured as soon as they arrive.
The farmers are peeved at the ‘improper’ preparations made for procurement and say that they are at a loss when their produce is not procured in time and has to be kept along the roads under open skies threatening rains. They further claim that they are not getting the promised payment in 72 hours as the produce does not reach the godowns in time.
The observers point out recent news reports about wheat being offloaded at cremation grounds in Medina village of Rohtak in the event of the grain markets running out of space and tardy lifting by procurement agencies. Dushyant Chautala had ordered a probe into the matter.
The ongoing developments are a pointer towards an emerging scenario where the political parties will have to build a narrative around agrarian issues if they want to come into power in both the states as well as the centre. The going will obviously be tough for those in the ruling dispensations.