An unprecedented ‘occupy’ moment has developed in New Delhi, the capital of India. The authoritarian regime of Modi, for the first time, is caught on the back-foot. Some estimates are putting the number at hundreds of thousands, if not millions of farmers and the peasantry, who have occupied Delhi. They have a resolute demand to defeat the blatantly pro-corporate new Farm Laws that were surreptitiously pushed through the parliament in the most undemocratic manner.
The Farmers’ Act 2020 will force the farmers in India to be subjugated and suppressed by the corporations and capitalists through their control on the pricing of agricultural and farm produce. It is rightly feared that it will have a far-reaching and disastrous effect directly on India’s peasantry, as a whole. Though involved in farming activity round the year, the majority of the farmers in India do not own land or are marginal farmers with very small landholdings. The majority also do not benefit from existing price guarantees. It is the big landlord lobbies with political patronage who play the main role in fixing prices and who benefit the most.
Existing subsidies are entirely inadequate. Though only a small percentage of landowning farmers benefit from the inadequate ‘minimum support price’ (MSP), it is likely that it will also be eventually abandoned by the government. The majority of small and marginal farmers are not able to pay back the interest on small loans they managed to obtain mainly from the loan sharks who happen to be big landlords. Last year, alone, saw a record number of farmers – more than 100,000 – killing themselves. They were not able to pay back their debt and provide for their families.
The Covid-19 crisis has added additional suffering to the worsening conditions of these farmers and peasants. Modi’s new Farm Laws add to this. They further increase the insecurity of the small farmers and marginal farmers who lease land. Modi and his supporters and some capitalist media in India claim that these laws will be a solution, as farmers will be able to sell to the buyers directly – “cutting the middleman” or broker. This is a gross misinterpretation of what is to come, which small farmers instinctively understand due to their own experience. The involvement of big corporations in fixing the prices means it will eventually eliminate the small and marginal farmers. It will only help to strengthen the large landowners and help to cut the subsidies and rights of small farmers further. This will result in a further increase in poverty and hardship for the small farmers who may be forced to abandon farming.
As a domino effect, it will also indirectly affect all those who consume food. The new law will also destroy the much publicised “sovereign” tradition of governance in India, with the revenue from various states via indirect taxes being diverted to the centre. This would result in weakening the states economically, and forcing them to be subservient to the centralised power. This stinks of the nefarious invention of authoritarianism, which has been amply manifested already under Modi’s regime since 2014.
Further, the new Acts were not publicly discussed and debated before they became laws, and the farmers’ unions and the peasantry were not consulted in any democratic manner. This undemocratic act of surpassing and bulldozing people’s opinions is also very evident now in relation to the workers of India. Over decades of valiant struggles, they had achieved a certain modicum of protection from the capitalist plunder through some legislation favourable to labour. By completely negating the concept of the ‘welfare state’, the Modi regime has embarked on reducing the 44 labour laws to four dictatorial labour codes. These, in reality, constitute a step towards enslaving the working class, tying it to the whims and desires of the capitalist bosses to increase their profits.
Most agricultural activity is at the mercy of the vagaries of weather, where substantial parts of India can receive very sparse rains while the rest have to struggle with downpours and disastrous flooding. These so-called “reforms”, which are supposed to make their lives better, have come like a bolt from the blue. Indian farmers are on the verge of losing their livelihoods since the new Agricultural Acts. These ensure a clean passage for the interests of rich corporate houses and offer no remedy for the poor and marginal farmers.
Agriculture is the backbone of the majority of our population and the farmers of India have lives of unending ordeals, with very low returns for their toil. The establishment of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) markets was the only safeguard against exploitation by private traders. But these new bills have ensured that the APMC (Rural Markets) is rendered useless and the whole pie is given to the big corporations. These are investing heavily in setting up their own warehouses and silos to hoard stocks for the future.
The new laws brought in by the Modi administration, which the fighting farmers have rightly captioned as “Black Laws”, are draconian. The aggrieved small farmers cannot go to court for any legal redress. If any dispute arises they would be at the complete mercy of the corporations. But the BJP regime has chosen to demonise the farmers’ protests, by branding them as anti-national and against development. Now, for raising their voice and organising peaceful agitation, the protesting farmers are being harassed at every step. Barricades were put in front of the caravans, ditches were dug on roads to prevent them from joining the protest, and they were attacked with water cannon and tear gas shells by the police to try and stop them from protesting peacefully – a right enshrined in the Constitution of India. Not even older farmers have been spared from the brutality.
A new stage of struggle
Significant sections of India are entering into a new stage of struggle. They need maximum unity and a programme to not only challenge the regime of Modi & Co. but to go beyond it. Be it the BJP or any other organisation, it is corporate capitalism that is calling the shots. All opposition forces that are emerging should seek to form an alliance. Workers must unequivocally support and join the struggle of the farmers who are demanding the repeal of the detrimental Farm Laws that were introduced by the Modi regime. The 250 million workers who struck work on 26th November are provided with yet another opportunity to defeat the Modi government and win the demand of repealing the draconian Labour Codes. The working class and poor must stand shoulder to shoulder in a united front to achieve success in defeating both the farm laws and labour codes.
The workers’ unions should make a direct appeal to workers to support the farmers’ struggle. A powerful platform can be formed if such an alliance for struggle can be forged. This kind of mobilisation can unite the struggles of workers and poor people and prepare to put an end to the Modi regime. The aim needs to be inscribed on the banner of struggle to finish with capitalist domination and fight for public ownership with democratic planning of the use of land and all resources by establishing a genuinely democratic socialist government.
Our fighting programme:
The detrimental new agriculture laws should be repealed immediately.
The privatisation of agriculture and the public sector must be stopped immediately. We demand re-nationalisation of all industries, utilities and services
No to direct or indirect capitalist influence in agriculture! Genuine co-operatives of all farmers, with strict democratic procedures, should be established to decide on retail prices, support prices and subsidies.
Stop criminalising farmers’, workers’ and youth protests!
Restore all Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanisms immediately!
Make sure that all small farmers benefit from the MSP by working with elected committees of small farmers.
Fix the MSP in full consultation with and voting by the farmers’ unions and peasant organisations.
Increase farm subsidies now.
Stop dismantling the Public Distribution System (PDS).
Implement the APMC Mandi system throughout the country.
Cancel all debts of small, marginal farmers and of the landless peasants.
Vast swathes of land under government control must be made available to landless peasants.
Benami (in-absentia) land-owning must be stopped forthwith. Pattas (registration documents) should be transferred to the actual tillers of the land.