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Farmer leaders call for vigilance even as they 'withdraw' from Tekri, Singhu borders

By Harsh Thakor* 

The farmers’ organisations forming the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) have been vacating themselves from the Tikri and the Singhu borders after temporarily withdrawing the agitation on receiving a letter of assurances from the ruling government at the Centre. They have decided to meet again on January 15 to assess the developing situation. They were seen exchanging sweets.
Calling it a “historic victory of farmers struggle”, the SKM, an umbrella of over 40 farm unions, announced to suspend its ongoing agitation on December 11, which, they said, marked as the nationwide victory day. In a press statement, the five member committee of the SKM said, the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare had sent a letter to the organisation on December 9 morning, as per the draft approved by the SKM meeting on the previous day. “The letter was placed and approved in the SKM meeting today,” the statement said.
Maintaining that the SKM had already won its first historic victory when the Prime Minister announced the repeal of the three controversial farm laws on November 19, the statement said, “It has been decided to suspend the farmers struggle at the Delhi borders and the toll plazas from December 11… On January 15, the SKM will meet in Delhi to review the progress of the government's assurances and take further decisions as may be necessary.”
One of the top organisers of the agitation, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)-Ugrahan coordinator and “Surkh Leeh” editor, Pavel Kussa, mentioned how the rulers responded to farmers’ genuine demands like loan waivers and compensation, the minimum support price (MSP) and the electricity amendment Bill after a considerable delay.
Ultimately they responded in a new draft, after their first draft was rejected by the farmers. On December 7, it delivered a new letter. Previously it gave a letter on November 19, which the SKM rejected.
Pavel pointed to how the government in the new draft heeded to the demand of unconditionally withdrawing all the cases, even those in the Union territory of Delhi, which it denied previously. While the SKM gladly accepted the government view, Pavel felt the farmers should still be critical. Earlier the government made it unconditional, but now reversed that declaration.It also agreed to form a committee, which includes SKM leaders, to deal with all aspect of MSP.
However, felt Pavel, it does not give a legal guarantee. Another important aspect is the electricity amendment Bill, which the rulers pledged to withdraw. Pavel spoke about how it did not only concern the farmers, but broad sections of people as the whole. The government has agreed to discuss it with all the stakeholders.
The government has lifted penalties on the farmers unconditionally and offered compensation to farmers. However, Pavel said, there were sections which were still trapped with penalties. He stressed on how the farmers must be vigilant of all government promises and morally sustain the struggle and unity. Not even for a day should the people dilute the pressure.
He reflected on why new forms should be devised to undertake the struggle. In his view, priority must be given for compensation to the Lakhimpur Kheri victims and punishment to the culprits, asserting, while all the aspects were addressed, these were done keeping in view convenience of the rulers, and not with the perspective of the progress of the farmers. Pavel also spoke about how the rulers still danced in tune with the corporates, and by no means should the people place blind faith in them.
Earlier, speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, Pavel classified three categories into which the farmers’ frustrations was being channelized. The first one belonged to the group of Hindutva criminalization and pro-Modi, the second resorted to suicides, and the third relentlessly waged battle to confront the "neo-fascist" BJP.
Pavel said how mercilessly land was seized by the corporate, landlords and jagirdars with the collaboration of moneylenders, revealing, 32 percent of Punjab’s population constituted landless Dalits and 70 percent of the landed peasantry in the last three decades had turned landless.
In his view the first achievement of the one year long struggle was the scrapping of the three farm laws. It was significant that it united the democratic forces of the whole nation, involving all the basic classes, projecting secular politics. Maintaining a secular colour refuting all communal trends, was most commendable.
The second achievement was, polarization was created at an unprecedented level between the corporates and the farmers. Farmers’ resistance reached a new height during the recent agitation, embarrassing the corporates and the ruling classes in their very backyard.
The seeds of such resistance, according to him, were sown in the struggles waged by the farmers of Punjab over the last three decades. The issues of usury, scrapping of debts and confronting land capture were initiated in a most sustained manner.
A major achievement of the agitation was polarization was created at an unprecedented level between the corporates and the farmers
Pavel stated that it was vital that ruling class politicians must be cut at their very base. In his view no politician or political party must be allowed to seize the stage to rob or divert movements. He recounted how in many an instance an ongoing movement was derailed as a consequence of political parties capturing it.
He pointed out how the farmers of Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh faced similar problems and it was not a problem of Punjab alone. However, he added, it was the Punjab farmers who formed the fulcrum of the movement.
In an interview, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, leader of BKU (Ugrahan) noted how the rulers were embarrassed in their very backyard and were compelled to withdraw the three farm laws. He said that the withdrawal of the laws was only the first part of a long fight for democracy in the country. In spite of a constant ebb and flow in fortunes the Modi government was even today determined to destroy this farmers’ movement.
Ugrahan recalled the government tried to hatch a a conspiracy on January 26, by branding farmers as separatist Sikhs. However, they they remained unflinched and united in spite of the loss of over 700 lives. The Lakhimpur Kheri killings and then the killing of a poor man at the hands of a Nihang leader was also part of a broader BJP conspiracy to derail the movement, but the spirited resistance from people all over India thwarted it.
Ugrahan highlighted how it was not just the BJP that had to be confronted, but the ideology of Hindutva nationalism as a whole. Whether in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand, or anywhere else in India, the withdrawal of these laws should not mean ascendancy for the BJP.
In this context, he mentioned “anti-people decisions” by the BJP since it came to power in 2014, like demonetisation, the annulment of Article 370, the land acquisition law, the NRC and CAA. These need to be discussed and opposed, he said.
Ugrahan reflected on how the level of debate recently escalated by volumes. Parties who earlier used to announce sops and lure the masses with their appeal for votes now faced tough questions from the people, like what plan or model the parties have to adopt for employment generation and the fate of key sectors like education and healthcare. Targeting the corporate lobbies in these debates is another achievement of the farmers’ movement.
Ugrahan said it was necessary to confront the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that governed state policies by favouring monopoly of the corporates. He added, however, there was limited scope of opposition parties to challenge WTO mandates about the corporatising of agriculture -- which was a virtual manifestation of the three farm laws.
According to him, no single political party ruling in any State at present has projected any alternative with which it could confront the Centre’s policies. Thus there was no point talking about more powers to States until we have a model at hand for such a demand. He reminded those who raised the Anandpur Sahib resolution that they should not talk about it.
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*Freelance journalist who has toured India, particularly Punjab, has written on mass movements

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