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Punjab farmers' rally asks people not to harbour illusions from political parties

By Harsh Thakor* 
On May 26th, tens of thousands people of Punjab converged at the Barnala grain market for what was called Lok Sangram rally. Around 24 organisations participated, encompassing peasants, agricultural labourers, industrial workers, students, government employees, unemployed teachers and women. People flooded in large numbers from across the state, with most of them coming from Barnala Sangrur, Patiala, Mansa, Bathinda and Ludhiana, which are nearby.
The principal organiser of the rally was the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ugrahan, claiming to be the state’s largest farmer union, while other organisations included the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, Democratic Teachers Front, Punjab Students Union (Randhawa), Powercom and Transco Contract Employees Union, Water and Sanitation Contract Employees' Union, Forest Mazdoor Union and the Bhakra Beas Management Board Workers Union, Nangal.
The rally called on the people not to harbour any aspirations from political parties and relentlessly tread the path of struggle to achieve their goals. The conference affirmed that all major political parties be it the BJP, Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal, or the Aam Aadmi Party, had  stooped to any depths to win power, and their agenda was akin and danced to the very tune of the ruling classes. The organisers did not propose anyone to vote for any political party.
The organisers published and projected a 30-point agenda, the main points of which are to abolish outsourcing in government offices, employment for all, revival of old pension scheme in place of the new one, scrapping the 2020 electricity amendment Bill, legal guarantees for minimum support prices, m withdrawal from the World Trade Organisation, scrapping of the 2020 national education policy, work throughout the year for agricultural labourers as well as construction workers and sweepers, eight hour work day for all categories of workers, abolition of contract labour system, and release of all political prisoners framed under false charges.
What demarcated the rally from others  was, it refrained from call for boycott or support any candidates. It resurrected the trend of similar conferences of the same organisations during the elections of 2012, 2017, 2019 and 2022.
The rally was in sharp contrast to Maoist organisations like Lok Sangram Manch which sought active boycott of elections  in regions like Sangrur, where it carried propaganda to this effect, or the Inquilabi Kendra, which called on people to press None of the Above (NOTA) button, or  CPI(ML) New Democracy and Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee, which also pursued a similar line.
The Punjab state committee of the Communist party Re-Organisation Centre of India (Marxist-Leninist) published a 16 page pamphlet, distributed at the rally, where it summarised how fascism was a phenomenon of the ruling class politics, and it was eclectic to call for principally defeating BJP. It explained why today both tactics of participation and boycott were ineffective, and called for mass political campaign, which would enable people to rise up and organise.
A major theme of the conference was that it is not just the BJP but the very repressive or autocratic nature of the ruling class parliamentary machinery or politics that bred fascism. Speakers summarised that fascism was an overall attack of the ruling classes.
Speakers did not give a call for defeating BJP-RSS, or support INDIA, yet condemned the agenda and policies of the BJP, touching on its  diversionary issues like Ram Mandir. This was also in sharp  contrast with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha directly calling for the defeat of BJP.
BKU (Ugrahan) leader Jhanda Singh Jethuke in detail projected the nefarious games played by ruling class parties to divert people from their burning issues and the basic futility of the parliamentary democratic system. In his speech he illustrated how parliamentary institutions were organs of the ruling classes and not true democratic institutions and how the parliament serves democracy of the oppressor classes.
He called on the people to build parallel democratic institutions. He advocated abolition of corporate,foreign capital and equitable land distribution. In his view only through struggles could any progressive development road occur.
He revealed how fundamentally the electoral system only protected the exploiter classes and why it was imperative for the people to build their own struggles and organisations.
The rally was in sharp contrast to Maoist organisations like Lok Sangram Manch which sought active boycott of elections
BKU president Joginder Singh Ugrahan narrated how the ruling class parties negated the 30 point farmers' agenda and tricked the people that they were implementing that agenda. He told people not to repose any faith on any of the political parties.
Ugrahan summarised why parliamentary elections led people to diversionary path and parliamentary path crushed mass struggles. He explained how real issues had to be raised of the people.
In the view of Ugrahan, the BKU(Ugrahan) had become powerful and played a positive role only because it rejected parliamentary politics. This saved the organisation.  He said, parties like Congress and Aam Admi Party were in essence no different from BJP, and varied only in form. He gave concrete examples of national chauvinism of AAP and Congress.
A significant trend of the conference was the participation of trade union leaders representing the urban factory workers. They struck the point of the dictonomy with what the rulers promised and how in practice it varied by 360 degrees. Union leaders projected how workers were alienated as never before by the economic policies, which virtually shattered the backbone of any real rights. Aspect of worker-peasant unity was highlighted, which is vital to construct a mass revolutionary movement.
BKU (Ugrahan) women’s wing leader Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan explained how women were targeted by social fascism and how the social system subjected them to social bondage. 
“After every five years, people elect governments at the Centre and in states. But do these governments fulfil the demands of the masses? For that one has to struggle. So we always struggle,” she said. 
Teachers' leader Digvijay Pal Sharma said, “I got recruited in the education department in 2005 under the new pension scheme, and for years we have been struggling to get the old pension scheme reinstated. Four Lok Sabha and Assembly polls have taken place since then but our demand hasn’t been fulfilled. So what are we expecting from these leaders and the governments? Once in power, they are pro-corporate and never take decisions for a welfare state. The entire democratic set-up raises a question mark. For example, Arun Jaitley lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Amritsar but he was made a Union minister. Similar was the case with Smriti Irani. So what is the role of an election in this country?”
Lachhman Singh Sewewala, general secretary of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, said, “If we look at the present elections, in Punjab alone nine MLAs are contesting the polls. Five of them are AAP ministers, and the rest are also AAP MLAs. Three are Congress MLAs. If any of these win, there will be bypolls in Punjab. So who will bear the cost of this poll? Politicians organise elections as per their convenience and not after thinking about the budget involved in bypolls. In that scenario, struggles are the only way to get our demands fulfilled.”
An apparent weakness of the rally was sparse presence of the youth, with no representation by the youth organisation Naujwan Bharat Sabha. Also, there was  minimal participation from regions like Amritsar, Jalandhar and Gurdaspur. Then there was insufficient presence of Dalit agricultural labourers, so vital in building a mass movement.
---
*Freelance journalist

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