In the first historic, nationwide, united worker-peasant convention in Independent India held at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium in Delhi on August 24, 2023, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and the Central Trade Unions (CTU) gave a clarion call to organise Mahapadavs or Sit-in Satyagrahas at the Raj Bhawans (Governors’ Mansions) in the capitals of all states in the country for three days and nights, from November 26 to 28, 2023.
The day of the Delhi Convention, August 24, coincidentally was also the birth anniversary of martyr Shivram Hari Rajguru, who hailed from Pune district in Maharashtra, and who courageously faced the British gallows along with two more immortal martyrs, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar on March 23, 1931.
This nationwide worker-peasant struggle will target the corporate-communal central government of the BJP-RSS led by Narendra Modi, and the whole gamut of its disastrous policies. The first day of this countrywide struggle, Sunday, November 26, will mark three historic events. The first is the beginning of the unprecedented SKM-led farmers’ struggle on the Delhi borders from November 26, 2020 against the three anti-farmer, anti-people and pro-corporate Farm Laws that were foisted in a most authoritarian manner by the Modi-led BJP central government.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers took part in this massive struggle which spread all over the country, and continued unabated for one year and fifteen days, i.e. 380 days till it was suspended on December 11, 2021. It resulted in a magnificent victory.
The Modi regime had to surrender and the three hated Farm Laws were repealed. However, nearly 750 farmers were martyred in this year-long struggle. The second is the All India Strike called by the CTU on the same day as the farmers’ struggle began, on November 26, 2020.
Over 20 crore workers and employees, both organised and unorganised, took part in this huge strike action. This day thus truly marked worker-peasant unity in action.
The third is that it is Constitution Day. It was on November 26, 1949 that the Constituent Assembly, after intensive deliberations, adopted the Constitution of India, all the basic principles of which are today under grave threat. November 28, the last day of this struggle, is the death anniversary of one of the foremost champions of the peasantry and of social justice in India, Mahatma Jotirao Phule. It was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who claimed that Mahatma Phule was one of his gurus.
Concerted preparations have been in progress for months to make these Mahapadav actions from 26 to 28 November a great success in all states. Joint worker-peasant conventions and meetings have been held in all states, and even in many districts. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets have been distributed in innumerable public meetings, big and small. The SKM-CTU have prepared, and the Delhi Convention has adopted, a comprehensive 21-point Charter of Demands which has been popularised all over India. A massive social media campaign has also been conducted nationwide. As a result of all this, lakhs of peasants and workers will be mobilised in these actions all over the country. They will be joined by thousands of women, youth, and students. People of all religions, castes, languages and regions will take part in this massive united struggle.
Combating the Agrarian Crisis
For rural India, the SKM has concentrated on those demands which are the burning issues of the peasantry and which will directly help to ameliorate the deep and chronic agrarian crisis. This crisis has further intensified in the last three decades because of the neo-liberal policies followed by successive central governments.
The present Modi government is by far the worst in this regard. There are two glaring symptoms of the agrarian crisis in India today. The first is the shocking suicides of over 4 lakh farmers in the country in the last 30 years, mainly due to indebtedness. Of these over 1 lakh farmers were forced to commit suicide in the last 10 years of the Modi regime alone. Farming has become un-remunerative and hazardous. Hundreds of thousands of farmers have been forced to sell off their land to reduce their debt, and have thus joined the ranks of the landless.
The second symptom is the rapidly growing hunger in the country. The Global Hunger Index is an accurate pointer to this. In 2014, when the Modi regime came to power, India ranked 55 out of 120 countries in this index. Today in 2023, India has sharply slid down to 111 out of 125 countries. Which means that only 14 countries in the world, which are quite small in population, are hungrier than India.
The deaths of thousands of Adivasi and Dalit children per year in some states due to starvation and malnutrition continue unabated. The big increase in anaemia, especially among women and children, is also a pointer to this malnutrition.
MY Tarigami leads protest in Srinagar as farmers start 3-day protest over Minimum Support Price and other issues. Says we urge the government, especially in the case of Jammu and Kashmir to revise its policy and impose 100 percent tax on import of foreign apples… pic.twitter.com/kY2f3nRFE8
— KNS (@KNSKashmir) November 26, 2023
Burning Demands of the Peasantry
It is in this background that the SKM has highlighted certain burning demands of the peasantry in this struggle. The first demand, which was also forcefully raised in the 2020-21 Delhi blockade, is for a legal guarantee of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) at one and a half times the comprehensive cost of production (C2 + 50%). This was one of the fundamental recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) that was chaired by the renowned agro-scientist Dr M S Swaminathan. Without this principle being accepted and implemented, there can be no relief in the agrarian crisis.
Allied to this is the crucial issue of sharply bringing down the cost of production by reduction in the astronomical price of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, diesel, power, and water. This can be done only by strict regulation and control over the domestic and foreign corporate lobby, increase in input subsidy, cutting the abominable central government excise duty on diesel, petrol, and gas, and other measures.
The BJP election manifesto in 2014 had promised MSP as above, but like all its other promises, this too turned out to be a ‘jumla’. On the contrary, the very next year, in February 2015, the BJP government shamelessly submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court, in which it said that implementing its own MSP promise was not possible because “it would distort the market.”
The second key demand of the struggle is the complete liberation from debt of the peasantry and agricultural workers. This can only be done through a comprehensive loan waiver scheme by the central government. Two central governments had earlier granted a partial loan waiver to the peasantry – the V P Singh-led National Front government in 1990, and the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-1 government in 2008.
The Modi government has point-blank refused to give a peasant loan waiver in the last 10 years. On the contrary, it has written off loans worth over Rs 15 lakh crore to its handful of crony corporates in this period.
The third major demand is for a comprehensive crop insurance scheme to fully protect the peasantry against natural calamities like drought, floods, hailstorms, unseasonal rains, and so on. These calamities are greatly intensifying due to climate change and global warming.
But the present Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) is worse than useless, because all available data proves that it helps the corporate insurance companies to amass massive profits, and harms the farmers in distress by denying them compensation for crop damages.
The fourth important issue that has been highlighted is that of a substantial monthly pension to both farmers and agricultural workers. Other vital rural issues that are being raised in this struggle are the expansion of MGNREGA so as to double the days of work and triple the wages paid to agricultural workers; stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to vest forest land in the names of the Adivasis who have been cultivating it for generations; other issues concerning land rights and land acquisition; withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill and the cancellation of the anti-farmer pre-paid smart meters scheme which will sharply raise electricity bills; key issues concerning expansion of irrigation; strengthening the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure food security to all; and so on.
Working class and peoples’ issues
Apart from peasant issues, this struggle will of course take up the burning issues of the working class like a National Minimum Wage of Rs 26,000 per month, abolition of the contract and casual system, repeal of the four Labour Codes, reversion to the old pension scheme, government employee status and resultant benefits to scheme workers, filling up of all government vacant posts, an end to privatisation and to the National Monetisation Pipeline, and so on. This struggle will also take up issues of the common people, prominent among which are the back-breaking price rise and the escalating unemployment, along with important demands concerning education, health, housing and so on.
Vital Issues to be Flagged
One vital issue that will be flagged is the glaring disparities in the country. The alarming inequality in India is captured by the Oxfam 2023 Report, which says that 1 per cent of the richest Indians own 40 per cent of the wealth of the country, 10 per cent of the richest own 72 per cent of its wealth, and the poorest 50 per cent of the population (meaning 70 crore people) owns just 3 per cent of the wealth of the country.
It is this entire trajectory that has to be thrown out lock, stock and barrel, by effecting both a regime change and also a policy change.
Above all, the November 26-28, 2023 nationwide united struggle of lakhs of workers and peasants will fight tooth and nail to defeat the Modi-led BJP-RSS government which is out to:
- Sell the country at a pittance to domestic and foreign corporates like Adani, Ambani and others through its privatisation drive;
- Break the country and the unity of its people using the divisive elements of religion, caste, region, and language;
- Subvert the Constitution and dynamite its basic features of sovereignty, democracy, secularism, and federalism.
There is no doubt that the November 26-28, 2023 struggle by the workers and peasants of India will play a major role in saving India and then in changing India for the better. Let us bend all our energies to make it a resounding success!
(The author is National President,All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS))