Farmers Turn the Spotlights on Big Business
Big takeaway from the farmers protests
The Bharat Bandh and the build up to it has clearly focused the spotlights not just on the government, but more so on the corporates for being completely out of line with the people's aspirations. Farmers came in droves to lay siege to Delhi from all neighbouring states --Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh--- while others held massive protests in their own states. Everywhere placards and slogans identified big business seeking to take over farmland and produce under the guise of the three controversial farm bills, with the common farmer carrying the names of industrialists on his or her lips.
This was a bandh involving lakhs of Indian citizens across the length and breadth of the country, of a kind not seen before. The last time the farmers hit out at the corporates was in the 1990’s when the term Dunkel draft was freely used by the farmers, even in the villages of Uttar Pradesh. The ordinary peasant recognised the term as part of the ongoing agitation against corporate and global control over India’s agriculture.
Arthur Dunkel, was a Swiss administrator who compiled the Dunkel Draft in December 1991 as a solution to the unsuccessful round of Uruguay negotiations. This, despite India’s protestations at the time, was accepted and became the foundation of the World Trade Organisation. The farmers of India were amongst the first to recognise this as a step forward to facilitate corporate control of their land and their produce.
Since then there have been protests against Mosanto seeds, BT Cotton --sporadic and limited to regions with echoes in Delhi. Farmers suicides linked to the failure of entire crops because of genetically modified seeds created a stir, intensifying over the past year in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana. Governments committed to corporate concerns and monopolies did not respond warmly to these agitations, but the awareness generated did allow the farmers to re-think the agriculture strategy being passed on to them by international corporations.
This protest has been unprecedented as it has evoked sharp reactions across the country. The three controversial bills have been dissected into simple language for the farmers to understand, with the thrust clearly being against the corporates that are seen as the direct beneficiaries of these farm laws. In speeches, banners and slogans the farmers raised the concerns of corporate exploitation with workers --- almost all trade unions---taking up the call. Big industrial houses seen as close to the present government ---and indeed governments in the past too---were targeted by name as the farmers converged to express their anger and outrage.
The government seems adamant till date not to retract, but the corporations that have to function in India and survive beyond governments should be concerned. And worried. As the people are pitting themselves against big business, with a professed lack of confidence and trust. A soft drink manufacturer faced similar resistance in Kerala, dipping sales and causing it international embarrassment. These are large industrial monopolies with international presence, and constitutes a first time when Indian business has been targeted and named in this magnitude by Indian farmers and workers.
Interestingly, the campaign has penetrated Indian households, even those who are not necessarily concerned about the farmers plight. The names of just two big industrial houses has become synonymous with a denunciation of corporate culture and corporate expansionism. What was not being said before has been spoken off on the streets of India, with almost every other banner and slogan speaking of the nexus of crony capitalism. And emphasising the huge divide between these business houses and the sons of the soil whose protests have evoked considerable sympathy and support in the country, despite media efforts to the contrary.
The Opposition parties ---at least many of them--- have also been intertwined with corporate monopolies but currently the campaign of at least 24 political parties has given further publicity to this aspect of the farmers agitation. Although some of the political leaders are close to the big industrial houses, they are being forced to take a position by the sheer pressure of the mass movement be it in Maharashtra, or at a more national level. The insidious nexus between the politician and the corporates has been exposed to a great extent by the farmers of India, with the workers adding to the argument and the attack.
The matter might rest if the farm laws are withdrawn by the government. But if not, the divide between the peoples and the corporations will grow with the young farmer linking the neglect and the indifference to his aspirations to corporate-political exploitation more firmly than ever before.
Cover photograph Danish Pandit