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#FarmersProtest: Need to broadbase support, oppose corporate-priestly class alliance

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

The #FarmersProtest has surely brought into limelight the dangers of corporatisation of agriculture, something that farmers’ organisations have been quite quick to understand and grasp. Yet, a section of economists, sponsored and funded by big companies, continue to provide us data of the efficacy of the corporate sector entering the farm sector.
The three bills that the farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are protesting against are likely to bring death knell to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime, leaving the farmers at the mercy of the market. Even the western world provides farmers with a large number of incentives and support. But in India, except for occasional loan waivers, there is little support. The current dispensation is more interested in waiving huge debt of the corporate houses, who have looted our banks and resources.
There are people who suggest that government intervention in providing MSP has not been successful. Hence, if farm prices are left to the 'private sector', there will be a 'win win' situation for all. The claim is that, with the new bills, the farmers will be able to sell their produce to anywhere in India. These arguments look good, but it is difficult to agree with them.
If Gujarat-based corporates offer better prices, will Punjab and Haryana farmers transport their produce to Gujarat? How feasible is that? Secondly, except for Punjab and Haryana, there is not much of MSP regime is not as successful in India. The government procures grains and sells these to the Central pool. But in case farmers look for a market for themselves, things are likely to get worse. It will only push farmers to middlemen who will exploit them even more.
Except for Punjab, no other state has an efficient system for procuring grain on MSP. In fact, MSP has helped Punjab farmers much more than in any other states. This is the main reason why farmers are so passionate about it in Punjab. They fear that they would be pushed towards disaster in the privatisation regime envisaged by the government is in place.
Right now, MSP is decided for rice, wheat, sugarcane and a few other crops but it does not include vegetables. This one reason we saw how onion farmers in Nashik or potato growers elsewhere suffered heavily. At many places they were compelled to sell their produce at Re 1 per kg, even though in open market the price is around Rs 60. The same happened with tomato and okra.
Farmers toil hard for months, and yet when they go to the market to sell vegetables. They are told there is no demand because of 'overproduction'. Hence, they are compelled to sell their vegetables on the price offered by middlemen. This suggests that the corporate sector entering the farm sector will not solve any of the farmers’ problems. In fact, there is a need for better implementation of the MSP regime for all crops, including vegetables.
Phule’s suggested who are the enemies of farmers – capitalism and priesthood. He identified the twin enemies of farmers as sethji-bhatji kee jodi
Meanwhile, the farmers’ organizations would do well to identify the farmers’ plight in the context of well-known social reformer Jyotiba Phule. Phule in his masterpieces “Ghulamgiri” and “Kisan Ka Koda” narrates the misery of farmers. He points towards how nobody cares for Shudras. Calling them “abhang”, he says, “His clothes are dirty and soiled, he is semi-naked, wearing rags for a headgear, he has to eat porridge of jawar, our farmers get no happiness.”
Phule’s views suggest who are the enemies of the farmers – capitalism, one hand, and the priesthood, on the other. He identified the twin enemies of farmers as “Sethji-Bhatji kee jodi”. According to him, most of the farming communities were from the Bahujan communities, but they were divided into various castes and influenced by superstitions spread by the Brahmanical order.
Phule, Ambedkar
Like Phule, the founder of Sikh Panth, Guru Nanak Dev, too, wanted to establish an egalitarian and enlightened social order, which led to the birth of Sikhism. Sikhism was a revolt against Brahmanical values. All the Gurus preached equality and spoke against superstition and birth-based discriminatory system. Punjab is prosperous and egalitarian, as against Gujarat, proclaimed as a model state, but fares poorly in social indices, ranging from gender relations to communal harmony.
Indeed, the farmers’ movement will never succeed unless it tries to understand that those who are pushing for corporatisation of agriculture are the same forces that have gained from caste-based superstructure, one reason why Ambedkar, Phule and Periyar are important reads for those wanting the farmers' movement to succeed. A farmers’ movement that includes Dalits and Adivasis in its fold, speaks for their rights, takes a position for the annihilation castes in India, as defined by Ambedkar, alone will revolutionise India.
Interestingly, many caste supremacists too speak of dangers of corporatisation. But that alone will not resolve the current crisis. In the longer term, the farmers’ movement must understand what Phule said about powerful priestly class, which divides the Bahujan communities and exploits their differences for its hegemony.
Several TV channels are found to be abusing farmers and calling them anti-national. They owe allegiance to the corporate houses who want to control agriculture. They only prove how correct was Phule, who had warned of exploitation of farmers by the “Sethji-Bhatji ki jodi”.
Farmers’ organizations would need to understand that a movement becomes becomes big only when diverse sections of society become part of it. They may agree of disagree on various issues, yet they must unite under one umbrella.
 One can take the cue from Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet, which had Dr BR Ambedkar as well as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in it. In the context of farmers’ protest, diverse sections should unite for farmers’ rights, and their aim should be fight the corporatised regime of “seth ji” and the priestly order of “bhat ji”.

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