Thousands of farmers from different states of India are getting ready to take part in two important events of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) – the national convention of SKM on August 26-27, 2021 at the Singhu Border and the massive Muzaffarnagar rally to inaugurate Mission Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand on September 5. Over 1500 delegates from all over India will attend the national convention, which is being held to coincide with the completion of nine months of the historic farmers’ struggle.
The delegates will include not only farmers in large numbers, but also leaders of organisations of the working class, agricultural workers, women, youth, students, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised sections. The national convention will approve a plan of action as per the suggestions which come from participants for intensification and expansion of the movement all over India. This shall be announced on the concluding day.
Punjab farmers win demands
The big victory of the sugarcane farmers of Punjab this week has set the tone for the SKM’s national convention. In the third round of talks held on August 24 between farmer union leaders and the Punjab government, the Punjab Chief Minister announced that the government will increase the sugarcane price upwards to Rs 360 per quintal. This significant increase of Rs 50 per quintal is a major achievement of the farmers’ collective struggle. Sugarcane farmers of Punjab fought a collective battle over five days in Jalandhar, blocking rail and road traffic from August 20. Farmer leaders thanked all the protestors including the ones running the langars. They also thanked the people who cooperated, despite some inconvenience caused to them. They announced that the protests will end in Jalandhar, and have urged all protesting farmers to get back to the Delhi morchas (marches) and strengthen them.
Haryana BJP-JJJ regime wages war on its own people
Haryana’s BJP-JJP government was anti-farmer right from the beginning of this historic farmers’ movement. It was the Haryana government which placed numerous obstacles in the path of convoys of protesting farmers who were headed to the national capital in November 2020, to present their woes and demands to the Union Government. Many illegal detentions and arrests were undertaken in Haryana by the government, along with violence through tear gas shells and water cannons unleashed on farmers headed to Delhi.
Subsequently, over the past nine months, the state government has filed cases against approximately 40,000 farmers. It is as if it is waging a war against its own people. The administration has filed 136 different cases, in addition to two cases of sedition, against protesting farmers. In these cases, the government has named 687 protestors by name, and has also filed cases against 38,000 unknown persons as accused. The Haryana government, in its latest move, has even attacked farmers protesting against the Annapurna Utsav promotion gimmicks by slapping more cases on them. And these cases are being slapped for burning empty grain bags on which anti-farmer faces of BJP and JJP leaders Modi, Khattar and Chautala have been printed! The nervousness of the Khattar government is apparent even as the farmers’ movement is gaining greater momentum. It is clear that BJP and JJP leaders in the state are fearful of facing the public and being held accountable for their anti-farmer actions.
Uttar Pradesh’s BJP government is no less guilty of an anti-people stance. As the farmers’ movement is getting stronger all over the northern Indian state, the Yogi Adityanath government is getting more nervous. Cases have been filed against protesting farmers in UP in the recent past. In Pilibhit, FIRs have been registered against 58 farmers by name, who participated in a peaceful black flag protest against a state minister. Farmer unions in the state are demanding the withdrawal of these cases. This is a violation of the citizens’ basic right to peaceful protest.
Innumerable peaceful black flag demonstrations by farmers against the ruling BJP’s union(central) and state Ministers, MPs, MLAs and others are continuing unabated in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. They are almost too numerous to recount here.
Supreme Court recognizes the famer’s right to protest
At recent hearings before the Supreme Court, comments during the proceedings before a two-judge bench, the Court recognised once again the farmers’ right to protest peacefully. SKM pointed out that the blockades were not created by the farmers, but by the police and administration of multiple state governments and the Delhi Police under the control of Government of India. Farmers are not living on the streets for nearly nine months out of their wish and desire, but because blockades were put up by governments, when actually, farmers wished to go to enter Delhi to get their grievances heard. It is the government which is both unwilling to resolve the stalemate and trying to curtail the fundamental rights of the farmers to protest! The Supreme Court recently stated that the Union Government should take early steps to resolve the matter. Such a resolution will come from resuming dialogue with the SKM and fulfilling the farmers’ legitimate demands. Nearly 600 farmers have been martyred in this agitation so far, and the BJP government remains unmoved about the hardships of the protestors and is not even willing to acknowledge the deaths so far.
PM’s ‘lies’ exposed
The SKM last week exposed the Prime Minister’s lies made during his Independence Day address from the Red Fort. Farmers of the country have realised fully that they can never depend on the Prime Minister’s hyped-up claims, false promises, spin-narratives, or his jumlas. The hollow claims around remunerative Minimum Support Prices (MSP) stand exposed fully, in addition to the jumla on ‘doubling farmers’ incomes’. The PM however continued to make a reference to “the important decision of increasing the MSP by 1.5 times” in his Independence Day Speech. MSPs have not at all been increased by 1.5 times. Besides MSPs announced for some crops are not being realised by lakhs of farmers, despite a commitment on the floor of Parliament by the Modi government.
PM Modi chose to draw the attention of the nation to the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) during his speech. He claimed that small farmers of the country are the treasured constituency for this government and are the nation’s pride. In that context, he sought to showcase PMFBY as an effort to increase the power of the small farmer in the country. The reality of PMFBY is totally different. This reality exposes the hype and false claims being made about this crop insurance scheme, right from the beginning of its launch. The story is as false and cruel as the MSP story, where again the PM made untrue claims standing right under our national flag.
As far as PMFBY is concerned, latest figures show that private insurance companies collected in 2018-19 and 2019-20 Rs 31905.51 crore as gross premium from farmers, state governments and the Union Government while the claims paid amounted to only Rs 21937.95 crore, with a margin of around 10000 crore rupees left for the private insurance corporations to operate and profiteer, over in just two years. The insurance claims of lakhs of farmers are never settled. States like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Telangana and West Bengal have opted out of PMFBY.
The number of farmers covered under this scheme has been falling significantly year after year. For instance, during the Kharif season, the number of farmers covered stood at 21.66 lakh in 2018, 20.05 lakh in 2019, 16.79 lakh in 2020 and only 12.31 lakh in 2021 (down by 57% over four years). The story of decline in coverage exists in the Rabi season too, year after year. The number of agricultural crops covered in 2018 Kharif was 38, which decreased to 28 crops by 2021 Kharif. In the case of horticultural crops, it fell from 57 crops in 2018 to 45 in 2021. The area insured during Kharif 2018 was 2.78 crore hectares, which saw a significant decline to 1.71 crore hectares in Kharif 2021. These numbers reveal the real story with regard to the failed PMFBY and it is shocking to see the Prime Minister make a mention of this scheme as one that has the potential to increase the power of the small farmer!
For three years in a row, the Prime Minister has talked about ‘infrastructure’ investments to the tune of 100 lakh crore rupees, in his Independence Day speeches. In 2019, it was about ‘Modern Infrastructure’ and a decision to invest 100 lakh crore rupees on the same. In 2020, it was about ‘National Infrastructure Pipeline Project’, and Modi announced that 110 lakh crore would be spent on this project. In this speech, there was also a reference to the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF) announced during the first Covid pandemic lockdown, and he had claimed that the Indian Government had ‘sanctioned’ one lakh crore rupees for this. “This infrastructure will be for the welfare of the farmers and they will be able to get better prices for their produce, and will be able to sell their produce in foreign markets”, Modi had claimed. Now, this year, it is the ‘Gati Shakti’ National Infrastructure Master Plan as a ‘scheme of more than 100 lakh crore rupees.’
The statements of the Prime Minister stand exposed when we look at the reality of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, more than a year after the pompous announcement. AIF is a 13-year scheme incidentally with disbursements till 2023-24. As on August 6, 2021, only 4503 crore have been sanctioned under AIF for 6524 projects including ‘in-principle’ sanctions (4.5% of the so-called ‘sanction’ announced last year itself). As per a Rajya Sabha response on July 23, 2021, only 746 crore rupees have been disbursed (0.75% of the grand announcement)!
19 Opposition parties back farmers’ struggle
On August 20, 19 opposition parties in India jointly put out a statement announcing nationwide protests from September 20 to 30, on 11 burning demands of the country. One of the demands is to “repeal the three anti-agriculture laws and compulsorily guarantee MSP to farmers”. The statement says, “The historic struggle by our farmers continues into the ninth month now, with the government being obdurate in not repealing the three anti-farmer Laws and compulsorily guaranteeing and giving MSP to the farmers. We, the undersigned, reiterate our support to the struggle launched by the farmers under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha.”
The Opposition parties’ statement further says, “The destruction of the Indian economy, with deepening recession, is pushing crores of our people into joblessness, escalating the levels of poverty and hunger. The run-away inflation and price rise is adding to people’s woes and destroying livelihoods…..The destruction of the economy is accompanied by a mega loot of our national assets; large-scale privatization of the public sector, including banks and financial services; the privatization of our mineral resources and public utilities to benefit the cronies of Prime Minister. This will be strongly resisted.”
The statement also demands, “Stop and reverse the unbridled privatisation of the public sector; repeal the labour codes which dilute the rights of the labour and the working class. Restore the rights of the working people to protest and for wage bargaining….. Withdraw unprecedented hikes in central excise duties on petroleum and diesel, reduce prices of cooking gas and essential commodities, particularly cooking oil and control galloping inflation…..Vastly enlarge MGNREGA with increasing guarantee for 200 days with at least doubling of wages. Legislate an urban employment guarantee programme on similar lines.”
After giving the nationwide call for protests from September 20 to 30, the statement ends by saying, “We, the leaders of nineteen Opposition Parties, call upon the people of India to rise to the occasion to defend our secular, democratic Republican order with all our might. Save India today, so that we can change it for the better tomorrow.”
*The writer is all India president of the All India Kisan Sabha.