The power struggle between the movement of Indian farmers and the elites in power in India continues. The farmers have the support of the working people of all India as well as abroad. They are demanding the repeal of three neo-liberal farm laws which will dispossess them due to their aim of serving narrow private interests. The Indian ruling elites are now adopting dirty tricks of all kinds to defeat the farmers. These go from misuse of laws which target individual farmers to break their ranks, and the dirty tactics of political police to threaten and discourage the farmers.
Fires were set at three places in farmers encampments. The farmers are vigilant. As a result the fires were not able to cause much damage. Young artists and singers are also being threatened by the minions of the government with phone calls designed to make them capitulate. Some of these young singers spoke about this and expressed their resolve and determination to carry on. Recently they celebrated their solidarity and cooperation with 40 villages surrounding the encampments. All day people from these villages came and spoke about their unity with the farmers and the attempts of politicians, government and police agents to incite them against the farmers.
The farmers in India also enjoy the support of farmers all over the world who have their own experience with governments that pass laws which favour the narrow interests of those who dominate agribusiness. Through these laws farmers are driven into bankruptcy by being forced to use seeds, fertilizers and herbicides which destroy native plant stock and the land, and pollute the water. They are made to take loans they cannot repay and submit to using methods of transportation they cannot afford and settle for prices below the cost of production.
On April 14, farmers and Dalits organized joint rallies all across the country to mark the anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar by affirming the rights of all by virtue of being human. At the Delhi encampments farmers and Dalits spoke about the anti-farmer laws and their impact on all sections of society, especially the Dalits.
State-sanctioned violence against Dalits by the upper castes is a human rights abuse about which the U.S. imperialists remain silent, while they scream that they are entitled to be human rights enforcers all over the world.
Farmers’ encampments have become universities for farmers, workers, Dalits, toilers and other people who are discontent with the present state of affairs and the looting of all of India’s resources by a handful of families. They are discussing all matters of concern, including the connections between global capital, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the climate crisis, and the electoral processes and the role being played by parties that call themselves political but are used to divide the people, deprive them of political power and enrich themselves through the corruption which is inherent in the system of government inherited from the British. Drawing conclusions from their own experience of the last 74 years of independence, their consciousness has surpassed that imposed by the party system of government. Defying attempts by the parties to split their ranks and control their movement, they are united on one thing: these laws have to be repealed. Marna Manzur Hai Murdna Nahin, they say. Death is acceptable, there is no going back.
One of the Indian government’s dirty tricks is to present direct payments to farmers as a great step to help them. It is nothing but a way of handing public money to the banks. Banks are a cartel. When money goes into a farmer’s account, the bank deducts the loan amount from the farmer’s account, no matter from which bank the farmer gets the loan. It has become another mechanism for stealing the farmers’ produce. Secondly the banks can lend 10 times or more to Tata, Ambani, Adani, Birla and others based on this money. For example, the government transfers $5 billion to the banks to be put into farmers’ accounts all across India. These banks can then lend $50 billion to Ambani, Adani and others. These narrow private interests then invest globally and later declare their debts to be non-performing assets and the cycle of siphoning off public resources continues when the government bails them out in the name of national security and the national interest.
Another example of the tricks the government is playing to subvert the farmers’ struggle is the order issued by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) seeking farmers’ land records for online payments of the minimum support price (MSP) directly into their bank accounts.
In its letter, the FCI told farmers that land records are required for wheat procurement in the rabi (wheat) marketing season (RMS) 2021-22. It also asked the FCI’s regional office, Punjab to ensure that farmers’ land records were updated in the “Anaaj Kharid portal” before RMS 2021-22 begins to avoid any future complications.
The regional office was also asked to share land record data so that FCI can verify the land records of farmers during the harvest season.
A major cause of concern for many farmers is the fact that a majority of them do contract farming on land owned by either their non-resident Indian (NRI) relatives or friends who have settled abroad and asked them to look after their land. This includes a sizeable number of people employed in the armed forces or the central paramilitary forces posted across the country.
The Wire provided news reports ahead of April 5 protests against the FCI’s actions:
“Gurpreet Atwal, a farmer from the NRI belt of Jalandhar, said that he was farming 20 acres of land out of which eight acres belong to his two brothers based in California.
“‘Can anyone explain, how I am supposed to get the land records of my brothers? Even if I get the land record, the payment of the yield would go into my brother’s account. The government is harassing us because we led the farmers’ protest and today it has spread across the country. Now, farmers will have to stage another protest against the Narendra Modi government to ensure that our lands are not snatched away from us.’
“Gurpyar Singh, a farmer from Bathinda, has also been doing contract farming on 20 acres of land belonging to two Canada-based families. He said that he pays Rs 62,000 per acre as the contract amount annually.
“‘Asi ta pehla hi pareshan a, sarkar sanu hor tang kar rahi a‘ (We are already troubled by this system and the government is further creating issues for us). This is the time of year when we look forward to reaping the benefit of our crop, but the government has made up its mind to ruin us for once and for all,’ he said.
“The arthiyas (commission agents) are also concerned because they will not be able to receive their 2.5 per cent commission on crop sales. Arthiyas deal with unloading the crop at the grain market, cleaning, weighing, sack filling, stitching and loading as per government rates, besides hiring the labour.
“As a mark of protest against this move, arthiyas, farmers and munims (accountants) organized a mahapanchayat at Moga district on April 5.
“Talking to The Wire, Vijay Kalra, president of the Federation of Punjab Arthiya Association, said that this edict of the Modi government was yet another death knell and a conspiracy against farmers, arthiyas and Punjab. ‘Let them try all means but the Modi government will never succeed in its attempts. We are organizing a huge rally at Moga on April 5, which will be attended by senior farmer leaders — Balbir Singh Rajewal, Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Dr Darshan Pal. Farmers and arthiyas share a time-tested bond of trust and brotherhood, and we will not let the government ruin it. It may take some time, but we will succeed,’ he said.
“Kalra also said that a meeting with Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) leaders in March decided that no farmer would show his land record to the FCI. ‘[…] Farmers-arthiyas–munim and farm labourers are together in this fight,’ he added.
“Another arthiya interviewed by The Wire, Pawan Bansal from Patiala, also said that it is practically impossible for farmers to provide land records because nearly 50 per cent of them do contract farming on land owned by NRIs settled in the U.S., Canada, the UK or Europe.
“Bansal said, ‘This is nothing but a way to further harass the farmers and that too ahead of the wheat harvesting season. It is not easy to get land records and even if they get it, the major problem is that the online payment will go in the account of the original land holder and not the farmer. Modi government’s sole agenda is to destroy Punjab. Ek bori bhi kanak di nahi bhari jayugi (Not a single sack of wheat will be filled),’ he said.
“Furthermore, Ravinder Singh Cheema, president of the Arthiya Association Punjab, told The Wire that the Punjab government failed to inform the FCI that a transparent direct payment system in the accounts of farmers was already in place in Punjab.
“Surinder Pal Singh, said he owns 20 acres of land and has another four acres on contract. ‘Through this draconian measure, not just the farmers, but even the arthiyas, labourers, masons, truck drivers, helpers, the procurement agencies, tractor and combine machine owners, all will be affected beyond imagination. The entire chain of agriculture will be affected,’ he said.
“But Surinder Pal emphasized, ‘If the Modi government thinks that by taking such initiatives, they will force the farmers to toe their line, then mark my words, these black laws will be repealed 100 per cent.’
“Major Singh, another farmer from Wazidpur Bhoma village of Fazilka district, who is tilling 28 acres of land of which 10 acres are on contract, said, ‘Zamindar ta pehla hi mareya paya. Sarkar sanu jaan ke dukhi kar rahi a (Farmers are already in crisis and the Modi government is deliberately making more trouble). In fact, the reality is that the government is alarmed that the farmers’ protest has spread across the country, hence they are harassing us.’
“An ex-serviceman and presently the sarpanch of Singhpur Jattan village in Hoshiarpur district, Harwinder Singh questioned the Modi government’s decision of online payment in the farmers’ accounts and said, ‘Which online payment is the government talking about? We have already been getting the payment directly in our accounts for more than two years in Punjab. Rather, it is because of Punjab’s agriculture model that the country could become self-reliant in the last 70 years.’”
(Photos: V.D. Majri, KEM, G. Lankesh, A. Saha, S. Abhiyan, V. Kumar)