Friday, November 24, 2006

Give Up Anti-Peasant Policies Or Face Peasants’ Wrath

People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Vol. XXX

No. 48

November 26, 2006


Give Up Anti-Peasant Policies Or Face Peasants’ Wrath

AIKS president S Ramachandran Pillai addressing the rally

Rajendra Sharma

FROM the massive kisan rally organised in the national capital on November 20, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has issued a stern warning to the UPA regime: Give up your anti-people policies or else face the growing struggle of the toiling people! This more than 50,000 strong rally told the government in unequivocal terms that the policies endangering the Indian agriculture, peasantry and the nation’s interests won’t be allowed any more.

This was the biggest rally of its kind in the last few years, where kisans, agricultural workers and other rural toilers had collected in a large number. They had come from all corners of the country to the capital.

The speakers at the rally impressed upon the audience that implementation of even the pro-peasant and pro-agriculture promises of the UPA government’s National Common Minimum Programme could not be expected to be fulfilled without an intensification of struggles.

The rally concluded the three-week long, nationwide jatha campaign of the AIKS on its 12-point charter of demands concerning the peasantry. To recall, this campaign witnessed the taking out of four jathas from four corners of the country, supplemented by several sub-jathas at the state and local level. These jathas traversed through 21 states of the country and held hundreds of meetings and other programmes en route to stress the fact of, and make the people aware about, the ongoing agrarian crisis in the country, its causes and its relationship with the current policy framework. The aim was to bring to the people the demands that are aimed at saving our agriculture, saving the peasantry and saving the country.

As a grim reminder of the ongoing agrarian crisis and its causes, the rally not only raised the issue of suicide by more than two lakh peasants in the last 12 years; it also underlined its determination to fight by raising the slogan “No to Suicide; Unite and Fight!”

Coming on the eve of the winter session of parliament, the rally with full force demanded that the promise to protect the two most vulnerable sections of the agrarian population must be fulfilled at the earliest and in earnest. Another demand was that the bill for protection of the tribal people’s rights must be passed in the winter session itself, and that a comprehensive bill for the agricultural workers must be immediately introduced in parliament. Apart from endorsement of these two demands by the rallyists, the latter also resolved to extend support to the proposed nationwide strike on December 14 and to the ongoing struggle of the peasants of western Rajasthan. It was decided that an AIKS delegation would take up the 12 demands with the concerned ministers of the central government, and that the struggle on these demands would be intensified in the coming days.


AIKS general secretary K Varadha Rajan addressing the rally

Thousands of peasants from several states took part in this colourful rally organised by the Kisan Sabha. They came from Tripura, Manipur, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar in the east; from Himachal, Punjab and Haryana in the north; from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west and from Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in the south. Particularly noteworthy was the large-scale participation of peasants from Vidarbha area in Maharashtra, Waynad district in Kerala and Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh; these are the areas that are more acutely facing the deadly effects of the ongoing agrarian crisis.

The biggest contingent in the rally was from Maharashtra. Here, on the one hand, the cotton growers of Vidarbha are facing ruination because of the declining cotton prices and, on the other, the tribal and poor peasants of Raigad are facing the threat of being deprived of their lands – the only source of their livelihood – posed by the special economic zones. They are thus made destitute. Large numbers of peasants and agricultural workers from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal, Haryana and Punjab also joined the rally.

On this occasion, the historic Ramlila Maidan and the adjoining areas in the national capital wore the red colour of the Kisan Sabha flags, apart from the banners highlighting the problems facing the peasantry and the AIKS demands. Evident on all sides was the central slogan of this nationwide peasant awareness campaign: “Save Peasantry! Save Agriculture! Save the Country!”


The proceedings of the mass meeting started after the jathas from four corners of the country converged on the rally venue. The audience greeted the southern jatha with loud applause and slogans, by greeting the AIKS general secretary, K Varadharajan, who had been leading the jatha. The latter had started from Kanyakumari on October 31 and moved through Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh before reaching Delhi. Here, Varadharajan was presented a memento on behalf of the peasants of Kayyur, the land of peasant martyrs in Kerala.

One section of the eastern jatha had started from Orissa on November 2 and another from Tripura on November 5; peasant activists from Manipur had joined the second stream in Assam. The combined Jatha covered West Bengal, Bihar and UP before reaching Delhi. The rallyists greeted Achintya Rai of this jatha. Ashok Dhawale leading the western jatha starting from Mumbai and Lehmbar Singh Taggad leading the northern jatha were also greeted in the like manner.

AIKS president S Ramachandran Pillai presided over the mass meeting. He started his introductory speech by underlining the importance of the AIKS’s nationwide jatha campaign. He explained how the four leading jathas and numerous sub-jathas had covered 21 major states of the country, contacted lakhs of peasants en route and conveyed to them the Kisan Sabha’s message concerning the problems and interests of the agrarian masses in India and the need of a united struggle to overcome these problems. In an emotion-choked tone, the AIKS president asked the peasantry not to commit suicide in desperation but to come together and fight.

Highlighting various aspects of the ongoing agrarian crisis, SRP pointed out that the agrarian crisis directly concerned 65 per cent of India’s population that is dependent on agriculture. Referring to peasant suicides in various states, he said the government statistics also say more than two lakh peasants have committed suicide since 1995. These are apart from the starvation deaths, SRP stressed. After a trend on coming down, poverty ratio is now again increasing, covering newer sections and newer areas. While more and more peasants are losing land and thus pushing the number of agricultural workers up, the days of work available to agricultural workers in a year are on the decline. The rate of growth in agricultural production is now lagging behind the rate of population growth. The per capita per day availability of foodgrains was 510 grams, at the beginning of the so-called economic reforms in 1991; it had come down to 436 grams in 2003.

The AIKS president also referred to the increasing ruination of the peasantry because of the declining prices of their produce. On the other hand, the costs of various agricultural inputs like water, power, diesel, seeds, pesticides and fertilisers have shot up in the last one decade, thus making cultivation a loss-making proposition. At the same time, only 27 per cent of the cultivators are able to avail of cheap institutional credit; the rest 73 per cent are still being fleeced by usurers and are in their vicious grip. And to cap it all, the public investment in agriculture and rural development has been constantly slashed in the last 15 years; various agricultural subsidies have met the same fate. On the one hand, as a part of its liberalisation drive at the instance of the World Bank-IMF-WTO trio, the government has withdrawn the quantitative restrictions on the imports of agricultural produce and slashed the customs duty and other taxes on these products. On the other hand, the government is also withdrawing itself from the support price mechanism that used to give a modicum of relief to the peasantry. All this has led to sharp declines in the prices of our cash crops and other agricultural produce, ruining the peasantry.

SRP said this deepening and all-round agrarian crisis was the result of wrong policies being pursued by the central government as well as most of the state governments barring the Left-led ones, and the policies of liberalisation have made this crisis all the more ruinous. Referring to the proposed Seeds Bill, the so-called Knowledge Initiative agreement with the US and some other steps, SRP said the UPA government is only following in the footsteps of the previous NDA government. The regime has not even taken care to implement the valuable suggestions made by the M S Swaminathan commission to stem the tide of the agrarian crisis, while the packages so far announced by the government have proved to be quite inadequate. He emphatically said the crisis would continue as long as the present ruinous policies are not given up.

Referring to the heroic peasant struggle in western Rajasthan and the repression it is facing, SRP said these fighting peasants could not be cowed down, and announced the AIKS’s full support for them. He appealed to the peasants to foil the communal and casteist designs to break the toiling people’s unity in order to forge a determined struggle all over the country.

AIKS general secretary K Varadharajan narrated his experience in the southern jatha. He said L K Advani had started his rathyatra from the same Kanyakumari but that was to divide the Indian masses, while the AIKS jatha was aimed at uniting the peasants and other toilers. He informed that everywhere en route, one question invariably came up during the press conferences: What would you do if the central government refuses to concede your demands and fulfil its promises regarding the peasantry and agriculture? Its reply was given in a Tamil proverb, meaning that a cow gives you milk if you dance and sing in front of her. So the jatha has sung and danced a lot in its long and arduous journey. What if the UPA government remain still adamant? Then the peasant ties the cow’s legs and shows her a lathi to take milk out. The same would be done to the UPA government if it does not concede to the peasants’ demands.

Referring to the suicide by over two lakh desperate farmers, Varadharajan said his jatha also covered Waynad district in Kerala and Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh where a large number of peasants have taken their own lives. He said the ongoing crisis has caused a deep imbalance in the whole development process. A cartoon in a leading daily shows a wrestler with strong chest (high GDP growth rate) and strong arms (industry and IT sectors) but having small and emaciated legs that symbolise our agriculture. The AIKS general secretary asked: Can a country with such disproportionate development stand on its feet? Can it move? The fight for saving the peasantry thus becomes a fight to save the very present and future of the country. Ashok Dhawale leading the western jatha, Lehmbar Singh Taggad leading the northern jatha and AIKS joint secretary Samar Baura who was in the eastern jatha also spoke on the occasion along with others.

Dhawale said the rally has issued a clear-cut warning to the UPA government and that it is up to the government to decide what fate it wants to meet. So far it has failed to properly recognise the fact of peasant suicides or the starvation deaths in tribal areas; what it sees is only that the Sensex has crossed the 13,000 mark or that the number of millionaires in the country is now above 83,000. In Maharashtra, the state government is out to hand over as much as 25,000 acres of peasant lands to Mukesh Ambani in the name of an SEZ. But, Dhawale said, the current crisis is not insurmountable; it can be overcome by adopting alternative policies like the ones the Left-led governments of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala are pursuing.

Taggad warned the government that the response that the AIKS’s jatha campaign has evoked in various parts of the country is indicative of the Indian peasants’ resolve to fight. The campaign has also demonstrated that the AIKS, with its over two crore membership and countrywide organisation, is eminently suited to lead the Indian peasantry in this struggle.

Baura recalled Gandhiji’s dictum that villages are India’s soul, adding that now the very soul is being forced to escape the body. He also criticised the faulty implementation of rural employment guarantee scheme in Bihar, Jharkhand and some other states; the fact also remains that the scheme is being implemented today in only one-third of the districts and the centre is yet to extend it to other parts of the country. He said the Left has extended support to the UPA government on the basis of its promises, and we will think what we have to do if the regime fails to honour its promises.

AIKS joint secretary N K Shukla put the 12-point charter of demands before the rally for its endorsement, and the rally endorsed it with loud applause and display of the determination to fight. AIKS finance secretary Noorul Huda moved a resolution about extending support to the December 14 strike, and this too was endorsed in the same manner. AIKS vice president Benoy Konar described this resolve of solidarity as a move in the direction of forging a fighting worker-peasant alliance.

Tribal peasant leader and member of parliament, Bajuban Riyan, moved another resolution demanding that the government must get the tribal rights bill passed in the winter session of parliament itself. He said the government is anxious about the forests, the environment and wild animals but not about nine crore tribal people of this country.

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat detailed the provisions of the proposed tribal rights bill, adding that the tribals are a people who are considered tribal in one state and dalit in another. She reminded how the government had itself submitted to the Supreme Court that 5.7 lakh acres of forestland were handed over to big companies. But our rulers begin to writhe in pain when it comes to giving the tribals their due rights.

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury, several prominent communist leaders, members of parliament were present on the dais as guests. CITU president M K Pandhe, AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra, AIDWA general secretary Sudha Sundararaman, DYFI leader Pushpendra Tyagi came to the mike to assure the peasant struggles the support of their respective organisations.

Through another resolution moved by Subodh Roy, the rally condemned the repression let loose by the BJP’s Rajasthan government against the peasants agitating for canal water. AIKS vice president and Rajasthan assembly member, Amra Ram, greeted the rally on behalf of the fighting Rajasthan peasants and expressed hope about the latter’s victory with the support of working people all over the country. Amid loud slogans, he informed the rally that the Rajasthan peasants are going to hold a big Warning Rally in Gharsana on December 2.

The historic November 20 rally in the capital ended with the resolve that peasants would no more commit suicide in desperation but would take to the path of struggle to bring the government to its senses.

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