Vinod Mubayi

The Mahapanchayat on Sept 5 in Muzaffarnagar, UP, and the Bharat Bandh of September 27 have given decisive proof of the strength, cohesion and staying power of the farmers movement and their determination to overturn the black laws passed in stealthy and undemocratic fashion by the Modi regime a year ago. The farmers’ movement is already the longest and largest non-violent protest movement in history; over 700 farmers have perished in the last 10 months fighting for their rights while the Modi regime, in thrall to the corporate lobby, refuses to even talk to the farmers let alone meet their just demands.

Meanwhile, the unconditional support extended to the farmers by the trade unions, as well as other sections of the working class and students shows that working people whether on the farm or in a factory are sick of the callous and pro-corporate policies of the Modi government. BJP governments in the states they rule such as UP have passed a slew of laws against the working class negating the rights of workers won over many decades of determined struggle. The Modi regime, the most pro-corporate in independent India’s history, is determined to sell the country, including especially the crown jewel public sector enterprises created with painstaking effort by public money over several decades, to its favored cronies such as the billionaires Adani and Ambani. The pro-corporate farm laws that threaten the lands of the farmers and aim to turn them into vassals of the corporate lobby are part and parcel of the same strategy.

The Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat was held in the same area where the BJP had successfully managed to implement its rabidly communal strategy in 2013 of creating polarization between the Muslim and Hindu Jat farming communities of western UP. The violence that erupted not only led to scores of deaths and injuries it led to displacement of many minority Muslims from their ancestral homes and farms as they sought shelter away from the goons of Hindutva front organizations such as the Bajrang Dal. The riots perpetrated by BJP in 2013 in western UP were an important factor in the national elections of 2014 that brought Modi to power where he has remained as the prime minister ever since, fostering majoritarianism, economic decline for the vast majority of the country and dictatorial actions against dissenters and opponents.

What a difference the farmers’ movement has made. In the same locale rent by communal violence eight years ago, Rakesh Tikait, the Bharatiya Kisan (Indian Farmers) Union leader, made it a point to note that the religious chants of Muslims and Hindus, “Allahu Akbar and Har Har Mahadev”, were recited together thus stressing the unity of farmers across religious identity. A press release issued by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (United Farmers Movement) SKM stated:

“A historic Kisan Mazdoor [Farmer-Worker] Mahapanchayat of over 10 lakh [1 million] farmers from all over the country was held by the SKM in Muzaffarnagar today on September 5. A sea of people cutting across States, religions, castes, regions and languages came together united to send a loud and clear message to the BJP governments at the Centre and State. Lakhs of farmers had come from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and several other states from all over the country. Women and youth farmers had come in massive numbers. It was perhaps the largest farmers’ rally in India so far. Resounding slogans of Kisan-Mazdoor Unity and calling for the defeat of the anti-farmer BJP government were raised numerous times during the rally.”

Rakesh Tikait, leader of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, was enthusiastically cheered when he criticized Amit Shah, Modi, and Yogi Adityanath for dividing the people and instigating communal riots. A report in the

Indian Express newspaper of September 6 quoted Tikait  as accusing the Centre of having “cheated the people…They are selling our farmlands, highways, power, LIC, banks, and corporate houses like Adani and Ambani are the buyers. Even the FCI godowns and ports are being sold. Under this government, the entire country is up for sale.”

Another significant feature of the Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat was that the 2013 riots (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/up-withdrew-77-muzaffarnagar-riots-cases-without-giving-reason-sc-told-7469295/) were referenced in almost every speech as leaders appealed to farmers to condemn communal politics. “This is the same Muzaffarnagar where rivers of blood were drawn between Hindus and Muslims. They [BJP] played politics with burning houses.,” Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said.

Three weeks later on Sept 27, the Bharat Bandh called by the BKU was a big success that managed to bring life to a complete standstill for 10 hours in many states. In keeping with its non-violent tradition, the General Strike was peaceful as the SKM had instructed that all emergency services would be given right of way on the roads, and that the event would be conducted peacefully.

What was notable in the Bharat Bandh was the unprecedented support to the SKM’s call offered by a broad coalition of industrial workers, women’s organizations, students, and employee federations. In particular, more than 12 major all-India trade unions issued an appeal to all citizens, including small shopkeepers, traders, and taxi drivers, to observe the 10-hour strike called by the SKM. The Bharat Bandh also marked the 10th month of peaceful protests being carried out by farmers on the Delhi border.

Sabrang News wrote “According to the SKM Punjab alone, peaceful gatherings in support of the Bandh were held in “more than 500 locations”. The Bandh also had the support of major Opposition political parties, leaders of which extended support on social media as well. Trade unions were one of the largest groups to stand in solidarity with the farmers, as seen in the images, and other associations and organizations, representing women, students, Dalits, minorities, workers, came out onto the streets too. 

“It is patently clear that Indians have tired of the Modi government’s adamant stand on protesting farmers’ legitimate demands, and anti-people policies in numerous sectors,” said SKM in a press release.

The farmers’ confidence that their movement will be successful and that the government will be forced to repeal the black farm laws is increasing. The Indian Express newspaper quoted a farmers’ representative as saying: “Other sections of the society, especially laborers, workers and employees have also started joining our agitation as they feel that they would also be targeted later or sooner. Now, our agitation has become a mass movement.”

The farmers’ courageous and determined struggle now supported by the broadest sections of workers, trade unions and other progressive organizations in the country is now also receiving support from most of the opposition political parties. This struggle now offers the best opportunity for reversing the “kale qanoon” (black laws) in the farm sector and implementing the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of MSP + 50% for farm products to ensure economic survival of farm communities. The new coalitions supporting the farmers that are emerging in various parts of the country also offer possibilities of political change.

Both domestically and internationally, the Modi regime has led the country into a dead end. On the international front, Modi’s trip to the US was a complete bust. His relative neglect by President Biden plus his shrill speech to a largely empty hall at the UN General Assembly prompted the BJP IT cell to create a fake front page of the New York Times newspaper with Modi’s picture that just prompted further ridicule. All India has to show under Modi is that unlike the lofty days of non-alignment under Nehru,

India has become a junior appendage of US imperialism a position Pakistan used to hold a half-century ago. Domestically, while Modi may proclaim India to be the “mother of democracy”, the country has been judged to occupy the 142nd place out of 180 countries on the democracy index by Freedom House. The terrorizing of minorities and Dalits by Hindutva mobs, the passage of repressive laws restricting food choice and banning inter-religious marriages, the jailing of opposition figures by the use of draconian laws, and the rise in majoritarian intolerance characteristic of European fascist regimes of the 1930s are well-known and well publicized abroad. It is the godi (lapdog) media in India, the financial clout of the BJP made possible by the uber-wealthy such as Adani and Ambani who own more wealth than half of India’s population of 1.4 billion, and the weak and intimidated judiciary that has allowed Modi to flourish while the country sinks.

In this gloomy and fetid atmosphere, the farmers’ movement with its progressive and democratic allies appears as a breath of fresh air and a ray of light piercing the gloom. That this movement can also make a political difference was shown in the recent state elections in Bengal in April and May this year where processions of farmers campaigned vigorously against the BJP and helped to defeat it thoroughly. One hopes for a similar result in UP, in the state elections due to take place in 2022.

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