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How Modi's agricultural laws ‘denigrate’ Bardoli satyagraha led by Sardar Patel

By Shamsul Islam*

The Indian farm reforms laws of 2020 were rushed through Parliament on September 27, 2020. The BJP-led NDA government was in a hurry to impose these laws – these were promulgated by the President of India as ordinances on June 5, 2020 as part Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (self-reliant India campaign), a favourite aphorism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for imposing a series of measures during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Modi and his allies in and outside the government claim that the three agriculture laws were brought in with the exclusive vision of benefiting the farmers. Meanwhile, farmers in large numbers began protesting against the three laws across the country. Currently, thousands of them are sitting on the borders of Delhi with their families to protest against the three laws. They are unequivocally declaring that these laws are a death-knell for Indian agriculture.
Protesting farmers have presented irrefutable evidence to prove that the Modi government has brought these laws to facilitate entry of the Prime Minister’s corporate friends like Ambani and Adani into agriculture. They feel, the Modi government, through these laws, plan to use the might of the Indian state to rob their land and hearth, destroying food security of the people.
The Modi government's commitment to the cause of the corporates seems to be so solid that retention of these laws appears to have become an issue of personal honour for Modi.
All this is particularly sounds strange for a leader who adores Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Modi has been seeking to present himself as another 'iron man' in the shadow of India’s Iron Man – Sardar Patel. His love for the Sardar is to be seen to be believed. He takes pride in having installed the Sardar’s statue in Gujarat, which is the tallest in the world. It was almost a personal project of Modi executed with the help of Chinese companies.
It is ironical that Modi, despite being a worshiper of the Sardar, knows so little about the Iron Man. He remains oblivious of a fundamental fact – that Sardar Patel was a Congress leader who, inspired by Gandhi’s principle of non-violence, led a great and very powerful movement of farmers in the Bardoli taluka of Gujarat in 1928. It is has gone down in history of India’s freedom movement as Bardoli satyagraha. The then pro-British English press described it as “Bolshevism in Bardoli” and Patel as its “Lenin.”
In fact, Patel was awarded the title 'Sardar' after this heroic struggle. This peasants’ movement started against the extortionate lagan (22%) imposed by the British rulers and landlords. The aim of the Britishers was very clear: Farming for common peasants should become so very un-remunerative that they would be forced to sell land to the “seths” (moneybags) from Bombay which, in fact, was happening on a large scale. Large tracts of agricultural land was being bought over by Bombay land mafia with open collusion with the colonial government.
It was such a miserable situation for Bardoli farmers that, faced with a pauperized future, they invited Vallabhbhai Patel to lead them. He had already acquired fame for his Kheda satyagraha of 1918, following which Bombay capitalists – who had bought over large agricultural tracts – were forced to return these to farmers.
The then pro-British English press described the powerful satyagraha as Bolshevism in Bardoli and Sardar Patel as its India's Lenin
Sardar Patel agreed on the condition that farmers would never submit to the governmental diktats. The situation for the farmers was grave; they barely had enough property and crops to pay off the taxes. They readily agreed and took oath that they would fight till the end.
The Sardar camped in Bardoli taluka and organized a team of devoted Congressmen/women workers, both Hindu and Muslim, including Imam Saheb Abdul Kadir, Uttamchand Deepchand Shah, Mohanlal Kameshwar Pandya, Bhaktiba Desai, Darbar Gopaldas Desai, Meethubehn Petit, Jugatrambhai Dave, Surajbehn Mehta, Umar Sobani and Phoolchand Kavi.
Led by the Sardar, they challenged the colonial masters and their henchmen. During the whole satyagraha, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, which existed during the period, kept aloof from this historical struggle.
A contemporary report shows that the Bardoli peasant movement soon turned into a national movement:
"Workers in Bombay textile mills went on strike and there was a threat to bring about a railway strike that would make movement of troops and supplies to Bardoli impossible. Even the flames of Bardoli had reached to Punjab and many jathas (groups) of peasants were despatched to Bardoli. Yet another strength of the movement came from Gandhiji who shifted to Bardoli on 2nd Au­gust, 1928."
The present nation-wide peaceful farmers' movement against the Modi government's agricultural laws is a clear re-ignition of the Bardoli spirit. The farmers fighting to save the soul of India have taken the vow like Bardoli farmers that they would never surrender to the RSS-BJP rulers who want o destroy livelihood of 70 percent of rural households which depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal.
The agonizing reality is that a worshiper of Sardar Patel, a Gujarati by birth, is leaving no stone unturned in crushing a movement which is only replicating the Bardoli struggle led by Sardar Patel.
---
*Formerly with Delhi University, click here for Prof Islam's writings and video interviews/debates. Facebook: https://facebook.com/shamsul.islam.332, twitter: @shamsforjustice; blog: http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

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