Joy of victory aside, farmers movements wait for official proceedings, recognition of martyr farmers
14 months of relentless protests saw farmers on roads, 40 arrests and 700 deaths.
14 months of relentless protests, lakhs of farmers on roads, over 40 arrests and around 700 deaths. This is what it took India’s Government to take back the three controversial farm laws passed by the Centre last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on Friday morning, announced that the three farm laws will be repealed. While the parliamentary procedures for the same will be held in the upcoming sessions, the farmers’ organisations and leaders have welcomed the decision.
आज मैं आपको, पूरे देश को, ये बताने आया हूं कि हमने तीनों कृषि कानूनों को वापस लेने का निर्णय लिया है।— PMO India (@PMOIndia) November 19, 2021
इस महीने के अंत में शुरू होने जा रहे संसद सत्र में, हम इन तीनों कृषि कानूनों को Repeal करने की संवैधानिक प्रक्रिया को पूरा कर देंगे: PM @narendramodi
“This is a historic victory of the protest by lakhs of farmers over the last whole year. The Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) welcomes the decision, however, the protest will continue till the laws are actually repealed by the parliamentary procedures. We will also continue pressing our demand for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) will also continue,” Ashok Dhawale, National President of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said.
In September 2020, the Centre passed three new farm laws: Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020. While the farmers had begun opposing the laws since the ordinance for the same had been passed by the Centre three months earlier, the laws were still passed much to the dismay of farmers, experts and activists. Moreover, the bills were passed with a mere voice vote amid chaos in the Parliament. Farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, began protests against the laws in the month of September itself, with support from their counterparts and organisations from all over the country. The big day in the movement was November 26th 2020, when farmers marched to the borders of Delhi and began what would go on to be one of the longest sit-in protests against the government.
“It is a huge step, given the strong-armed Hindutva politics of the country for the last seven years, never having relented on anything. I think the farmers’ protests have given an example to all civil rights organisations in the country. I hope labour unions too mount a similar protest,” Punjab-based author Amandeep Sandhu said.
However, while the decision is certainly a victory, the human cost of the protests due to the delay in the decision is too big to ignore. “If this decision was made last year itself when the protests began, the lives of the 700 farmers who lost their lives during the protests could have been saved. The Central Government is responsible for those deaths,” Dhawale expressed.
While the fundamental demand of the farmers’ protest was the repeal of the farm laws, the other important demand of the farmers is the demand for a statutory guarantee of remunerative prices for all agricultural produce and for all farmers. “We demand that the MSP given to the farmers should be one and a half times the production cost. There should be a Central law to assure this MSP to the farmers. Lack of an assured price against the sale of their produce has been one of the main reasons behind around 4 lakh farmers’ suicides in the last 25 years. This MSP recommendation was made by the National Commission on Farmers under MS Swaminathan. The PM has not given any concrete assurance over the MSP demand in today’s address,” Dhawale added.
Talking about the need of MSP for the improvement in the agrarian system, Sandhu said, “There isn’t much talk about MSP which, to me, is another very critical demand if we have to save the agrarian system. To improve the agrarian system, we need a law like MSP. It can’t be done in a hurry. But they should constitute a committee with farmers and academicians and others who have no commercial interests. They need to participate in the committee deliberations, and they need to create a framework for MSP law.”
However, while the farmers wait for the repeal to be made official by the government in parliament, there have been reactions that the decision has been made by the government to save their skin ahead of the assembly polls in five states next year. “The government's decision does not seem very honest. Several organisations backing the government as well as the media tried to vilify the protests by calling the farmers Khalistani, Pakistani, Separatists, Naxalites. Over 700 farmers died. The Uttar Pradesh Minister whose son openly ran over protesting farmers still holds his position. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) thinks the decision can help them save the assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh next year. But the way the government has handled the protest has led to too much collateral damage. They are only trying to save their face here,” Badal Saroj, Joint Secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Madhya Pradesh said.
“But what’s wrong if the government has made the decision for the elections? It shows that the protests have popular support on the ground,” Sandhu said. He added, “They know they have no scope left in Punjab-Haryana. All they can do is rely on Captain Amarinder Singh if they want to come to power. Even in Uttar Pradesh, the impact of their work on the ground has been blurred. They won’t win with a massive landmark majority like last time. So they are bowing down to the popular opinion of the people. That is how a democracy should be.”
Historic victory for united Kisan Movement. Arrogant Narendra Modi led BJP Govt forced to announce repeal of Anti-Farmer Pro-Corporate Farm Acts. BJP Govt culpable for death of nearly 700 farmers during the struggle. Struggle will continue till MSP Act & other demands are met. pic.twitter.com/HfQ0vaoPWx— AIKS (@KisanSabha) November 19, 2021
The further course of the protest will be determined by the SKM in a meeting that will be held by the umbrella body tomorrow. The farmers have also been pushing for the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill passed by the Central Government last year. “The bill will allow complete privatisation of electricity. This will affect not only the farmers but everyone. The household electricity bills will also increase because of this amendment. The PM did not mention this in today’s address. There are several other demands like the protests against the labour laws, the movement against privatisation still continue. We believe that the success of farmers’ protests will help the other protests too,” Dhawale said.
“It’s a great example for civil rights movements. Don’t keep looking at political parties as your representation. All political parties are corrupt. People’s movement zindabad!” Sandhu concluded.
Partial inputs from Shubham Karnick.