However much the killing of six farmers in police firing at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh may have shocked and enraged the entire country, the BJP could not be any less bothered. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government first tried to dispute if the bullets were fired by the police. Then we were told that the people killed were ‘anti-social elements’ and not genuine farmers. Now when the two facts have been unquestionably settled for the public and the media at large, the BJP blames it on the opposition’s ‘conspiracy to defame and destabilise’ the state government.
Prime Minister Modi who tweets on every loss of life in foreign lands has predictably had no time to talk about the Mandsaur police firing and the farmers killed. The Union Agriculture Minister too was busy celebrating yoga in his constituency with Baba Ramdev -whether farmers are killed in Mandsaur or in his own town Motihari, such killings could hardly distract his yogic concentration. And now even as Shivraj Singh has undertaken a fast, ostensibly to ‘pray for peace’, his colleague Kailash Vijayvargeeya has put things in perspective for all of us. Mandsaur is just a single district in a big state like Madhya Pradesh and the loss of five or six lives in such a big state is no big deal!
The ongoing farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring Maharashtra reflects a massive pent-up anger of rural agrarian India. The official propaganda about Madhya Pradesh has been celebrating a record double digit growth in agricultural production in the state. But this very bumper harvest coupled with growing imports of pulses has rendered agriculture more unprofitable for the common farmer. The cash crunch caused by demonetization and the crisis of agricultural credit has only worsened their plight. With sale proceeds hardly matching the ever increasing input cost, farmers are being forced to go on strike or even contemplate a cut in production, giving up production for the market to return to subsistence farming.
The ongoing agitation naturally revolves around two common key demands – loan waiver for farmers and fixation of support price on levels that guarantee at least 50% margin over and above input costs. Ever since Modi promised a loan waiver for UP peasants in the UP elections, the demand for loan waiver for farmers has gained ground in several states from Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Madhya Pradesh almost all peasant organisations have been fighting on this issue, and when the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government worked out a separate deal with the RSS-affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh leaving aside the key demands, the common farmers understandably exploded in anger. The police firing has only helped spread the agitation and steel the resolve of the agitating farmers within and beyond Madhya Pradesh.
The deep rooted structural nature of the agrarian crisis and its social ramifications including the most disturbing phenomenon of farmer suicides have received almost no attention from successive governments in recent years. The UPA-I had set up a national commission on farmers under the chairmanship of eminent agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan and to its credit the Swaminathan Commission submitted a comprehensive five volume report between December 2004 and October 2006. But let alone implementation, the report has never been properly taken up for even a serious discussion in Parliament.
The key recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission – land reforms, irrigation reforms, credit expansion and restructuring and remunerative support price ensuring 50% margin over cost of production – remain the key agenda of the peasant movement, but the BJP government keeps negating them in every possible way. Even as the country was demanding justice for the fallen farmers of Mandsaur we heard a Niti Aayog expert, Professor Ramesh Chand, blame the peasants for their ‘unreasonable expectations’ and politicians for ‘spoiling’ the peasantry with ‘populism’. Professor Chand’s prescription is liberalisation of the agricultural economy, introduction of extensive contract farming laws and moving more and more peasants away from agriculture: in other words, handing over the entire agriculture sector to corporate control.
To carry out this agenda of corporate restructuring of Indian agriculture, the Sangh-BJP establishment has unleashed its two-pronged strategy of violent suppression of peasant protests on one hand and sharpening communal polarisation on the other. We saw sugarcane growers pitted against each other in Muzaffarnagar, and now we see dairy farmers and cattle grazers being divided on communal basis. But the current phase of peasant protests displays the potential of united resistance in the face of all these odds. And the Maharashtra government’s belated announcement of a complete loan waiver shows the strength of peasant power which had earlier forced Modi to go back on his aggressive land acquisition mission.
Historically peasant resistance has played a great role in powering the democratic advance of the Indian people and energising the revolutionary communist movement. From the peasant-adivasi revolts of the 19th Century to the Gandhian satyagraha of the early 20th Century to the communist-led peasant revolutionary wars of subsequent years from Punnapra Vayalar, Tebhaga and Telangana to Naxalbari, Srikakulam and Bhojpur – peasant mobilisation has been central to every major democratic awakening and assertion of the Indian people. The growing peasant unrest in the country has similar potential for the present phase of anti-fascist resistance. From land reforms and loan waiver to irrigation/infrastructure and remunerative pricing – the entire agenda of the peasant movement must be taken up for powerful peasant mobilisation. Mounting a powerful counter offensive against the Modi government is the need of the hour and every victory won on the peasant front will prove decisive in defeating the Sangh-BJP fascist onslaught.