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Agricultural labour, farmer unions in search of alternative as poll fever grips Punjab

By Harsh Thakor* 

With election fervour at full pitch, some organisations are making effort to plant the seeds of democratic alternative in Punjab. They have reposed no faith in established political parties’ agenda. Refraining from giving tacit support to their candidates, including those put up by some constituents of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the main thrust of their programme is to expose the nature of the present social order, with the main accent on basic farmers’ issues such as scrapping debts, loan waivers, remunerative prices, land rights and communalism.
These organisations are seeking to enable the masses to link their day to day issues with election programme. They are neither boycotting the elections nor are participating in the electoral, and yet they have initiated active political campaign.
Experience from the 2012 and 2017 elections suggest that these organisations effectively raised democratic political consciousness of the peasants and agricultural labourers of Punjab and consolidated their integration. The recent successful farmers' victory in deposing farm laws has sharpened their cutting sword.
“All our members are free to vote for any political party. The sole purpose of the awareness campaign is to make the farmers aware of the divisive policies of politicians and to motivate them to further strengthen our unity to launch agitation against the government for the fulfilment of our long pending demands,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ugrahan general secretary.
“The repeal of Central farm laws has proved that united farmers could get all their demands fulfilled. Majority of farmers along with their families are attending our meetings to listen to our leaders and pledging that they will stage protests and not attend any political gathering,” added Gurwinder Singh, a Sunam farmer.
The campaign of the BKU Ugrahan is focused on sensitising farmers, who have started coming in large numbers to listen to their leaders against the policies of various governments. Special BKU Ugrahan teams have started organising meetings and circulating pamphlets containing detailed information about their pending demands, and how politicians have caused losses to farmers.
The BKU Dakonda faction mobilised farmers in Mansa and Bathinda at its ‘Jujhar rally’, a state-level protest in Barnala, on January 21. Union leaders said the aim was to target the State and Central governments and all political parties that were resorting to ‘vote bank politics’ without giving due consideration to farmers’ demands or bringing reforms to the farm sector.
Makhan Singh Bhaini Bagha, a senior leader of the union in Mansa, said, “Massive preparations were made for the 'Jujhar rally.' We have been also holding regular meetings and door-to-door activities to mobilise not just farmers, but also people from all walks of life.”
BKU Ekta Ugrahan has launched mass awareness campaign. It has printed one lakh copies of its pamphlet to educate farmers on various issues nagging them. Its State committee meeting presided over by Joginder Singh Ugrahan has decided to launch mass awareness campaign focusing on that “black laws of agriculture.”
Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, its general secretary, said that the policy of the union towards elections is not that of boycott, though adding, none of its leaders holding union office will either contest elections, nor support or canvass for any other candidate in any manner at all. Each member of the union has a democratic right to decide whether to vote for any candidate or not to vote at all.
According to him, in order to free the farmers and farm labourers from debt trap and suicides, the major issues that need to be addressed are the end to the discriminatory land holding by way of effective land reforms, end to money lending, and in addition to the issues that ruin the life and liberty of all the toiling masses. The issues of vast unemployment, price rise, increasing costs of services, the drug menace etc. as a result of the policies of privatization, commercialization, globalization, also need to be addressed.
The Lok Morcha Punjab, formed in 1996, plans to hold regular meetings in towns to explain to people the need to build “revolutionary alternative to replace the repressive so-called democracy.” It plans to mobilise farmers, agricultural workers, government employees and teachers. It has the backing of Left-wing intellectual like Narinder Kumar Jeet, Amolak Singh and Yashpal and mass leaders like Lacchman Singh Sewewala.
A major challenge of the election campaign of these organisations is to bridge the gap between the landed Jat farmers and Dalit agricultural labourers. They would also need to mobilise industrial workers and take the support of Left intellectuals, even as opposing the BJP’s divisive politics, challenging economism and linking economic demands with political ones.
Meanwhile, some organisations like the the Lok Sangram Morcha, the Bharatiya Kisan Union(Krantikari) and the Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union are calling for election boycott, something people are not politically prepared to accept.
---
*Freelance journalist based in Mumbai

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