Tens of thousands farmers from across the country, some carrying skulls of those who committed suicide, others bare bodied braving the winter sun in the heart of the Union capital, marched towards parliament on 30 November to demand a special session of Parliament along with loan waivers and better remunerative prices for farm products.
Called ‘Kisan Mukti March and led by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKCC)- an umbrella organization of about 200 farmer outfits from 24 states and some Union Territories, farmers have been agitating for months in different places across the country.
Farmers marched to Ramlila Maidan on September 29 from four corners of the national capital-the Anand Vihar, Nizamuddin, Brijwasan railway stations and Sabzi Mandi ceating a spectacle. Nation’s agriculture, that was and continues to remain the backbone of the country’s economic contributing almost 17 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in n 2014, has been facing severe crisis so much so that farmers have been committing suicides for years now.
Giving reasons for the two-day long Kisan March founder Editor of People’s Archive of Rural India and noted agriculture expert P Sainath said it aimed at bringing the farmers’ distress into the national discourse. Farmers are demanding passage to two private member bill that concern loan waiver and ensuring remunerative prices for produce but they are only initial steps. What urgently required is a comprehensive plan to tackle the agrarian crisis comprehensively, Sainath said adding that plan need to take women and Dalit Kisan who contribute almost 60 percent labour into account. For example, the plan would have to consider land rights of Dalits, forest rights of tribal and tenant farmers, he said.
Though the Delhi Police, taking command from Union Home Ministry, headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, stopped the march at Janatar Mantar where the leaders of the opposition parties address the congregation expressing solidarity with the popular cause. The Delhi Police had to deploy over 3700 personnel to control the crowd that came to the national capital.
The protest provided yet another opportunity to many opposition parties that included the Congress, the JD (S), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Left and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) to come together on a common platform. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, addressing the assembled farmers, said the nation is currently facing two challenges-the dark future of farmers and the unemployed youth. He informed that if Prime Minister Narendra Modi could waive off the debt of 15 industrialists, then he is duty bound to do the same for farmers whose loans are much smaller in volume. “The farmers only seek what they owed, but all they get are empty promised and hollow speeches”, he pointed out adding that farmers are not seeking free gifts but are merely asking for their rightful due.
Sharing the stage with the Congress president for the first time, AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the Centre’s flagship insurance scheme yet another fraud to fleece the farmers. CPM general secretary Sitram Yechuiy said the agricultural growth rate has come down since the BJP-led NDA government came to power dubbing the Prime Minister a “pocket mar who taken all your money and gives them back little sop”. “Like the Kauravas, there are just two memorable names in the arrogant BJP-Narendra Modi and Amit Shah”, Yechury said adding that the ruling party leaders come with the demand of Ram Mandir every five years so that people could be divided on communal and religious lines.
Representatives of 21 political parties including Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, Sharad Yadav, and Yogendra Yadav who led a 26 km long march from Brijvasan to Ramlila grounds yesterday were present at Jantar Mantar to express solidarity with the farmers’ cause.
One of the highlight of the protest march was the presence of group of women from Telangana, whose famer husbands had committed suicides, who were hanging photos of their deceased life partners around their neck. Civil and human rights groups along with students and social activists had joined the protest helping farmers, who had arrived in the capital from different corners of the country, to facilitate their overnight stay at the Ramlila grounds.
Pictures of the protest and video images from Ramlila grounds were reminiscent of 2012-13 protests, agitation and hunger strike of social activist Anna Hazare who had brought the union capital to standstill. Those protests under the banner of India against Corruption were demanding a Lokpal Bill and the parliament had passed the Lokpal Bill that became an Act. These protests had catapulted leaders like Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Manish Sisodia and many others. At the same time, the movement had paved the way for the rise of the BJP to power in 2014 general elections.
Farmer protests have been taking place for last one year in different parts of the country including in the states where assembly elections are being currently held. Results of the assembly election from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana to large extent and from Mizoram to a lesser extent on 11 December would give a clear indication whether deep and structural agrarian crisis determine the course of electoral politics or not. The BJP is the ruling party and it would be the target of farmers.
Demand for a special session of parliament to discuss and deliberate upon the agrarian challenge to help farmers who feed the country is legitimate and failure of the government to rise above the partisan considerations would only add to prevailing frustration and helplessness among almost 60 percent of the population.
The BJP spokesperson have tried to deride and belittle farmer’s protests. Would the ruling party leadership pay necessary attention to address the genuine grievances and complaints? Modi’s response to the crucial issueis going to determine the course of the national politics!>
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.