Being an agrarian society, Kisan andolans (movements by farmers) had a major role in keeping the farming community together which in turn, kept agriculture alive. The farmers may not have lived in luxury but most of them lived a reasonably comfortable life except for in times of calamities and when the farmers found themselves caught in debts.
In the recent past, andolans took a back seat and the political class was quick to ensure that the farming class was discouraged from collective agitations and the focus of the rural population shifted to caste politics. The Kisan sangathans of the 1980s and early 1990 disintegrated into splinter groups. The political parties created their own farming outfits based on caste lines, which towed the party line that was dictated by the Industry. The farmers were no longer able to fight for their rights and the traders exploited them and purchased the produce at prices lower than the production cost.
To protect the farmers, the Central Government introduced the Minimum Support Price(MSP) for major crops. Even though the MSP was fixed for 24 crops including wheat and paddy, the procurements made under MSP were extremely few and farmers were forced to sell below the MSP. The MSP was deliberately kept low to ensure that interest of the consumers was protected even though the input cost of the farmers kept increasing.
District level Kisan Sangathans mushroomed and despite their limitations, continued to fight for the rights of the farmers. The State crushed these agitations and at times filed criminal cases against many farmers. Some of the sangathans started towing the Government line leaving the farmers’ frustrated and dejected.
With farming becoming a losing proposition day by day, forcing more than 3.5 lakh farmers committed suicide in the past fifteen years, the newer generation has completely distanced itself from it.
Some unorganized farmers of Madhya Pradesh took to the streets for their demands of loan waiver and procurement at MSP. The agitation was brutally crushed by the police which killed 6 farmers in Mandsaur on June 6, 2017.
Recognizing the need of a united Kisan Andolan, on June 16 over a hundred farming organizations from across the country came together and formed the largest ever platform under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). As of date, 194 farming organisations have joined the AIKSCC to mitigate the hardships being faced by the farmers. After going through the length and breadth of the country, having covered over 10,000 km and having addressed and interacted in over 500 meetings, AIKSCC has narrowed down to two main demands to address the immediate crisis; Freedom from debt and guaranteed remunerative MSPs.
In no world, can these demands be treated independently. If the issue of remunerative prices alone is tackled without providing relief from indebtedness, the increased returns will only go to pay back increasing loans. On the other hand, if only loan waivers are provided without addressing the issue of remunerative prices, farmers will not be able to escape the debt trap. Therefore, AIKSCC decided to seek the fulfillment of both demands through the enactment of two Central legislations by submitting two private members bills in both the Houses of Parliament.
After three decades the Kisan Andolan was back in full glory in November 2017, thundering across the national capital. This was an organized and systematic part of the movement to save farming and farmers. Lakhs of farmers from across the country joined in as the initial drafts of the two aforementioned bills were tabled in the Kisan Mukti Sansad at Parliament Street, New Delhi. After widespread and detailed consultations at the state and district levels in all parts of country, AIKSCC sent the revised bills to various political parties to garner their support. Earlier this year, on March 28, not less than 21 political parties with elected members in the Parliament signed a resolution to support the two bills in the Parliament. The two bills, termed the ‘Kisan Mukti Bills’ have been submitted in both Houses of the Parliament by Members of Parliaments, Raju Shetti and KK Ragesh in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, respectively. This was followed by farmers from all districts of the country signing and sending a memorandum to the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha requesting these bills to be taken up and passed as ‘farmers Bills’.
AIKSCC members met the President of India on May 28 and sought his intervention to convene a special session of the Parliament to resolve the agrarian crisis wherein amongst other business, the two bills could be taken up. The President was apprised that there had been a precedence of a special session. In 2003, the then President Abdul Kalam had convened a special 2-day session immediately after three agitating sugarcane farmers were killed in Manderva of Basti district of Uttar Pradesh. The session mulled over the sugarcane crisis.
Now that 3.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 15 years and the suicide rate is increasing by the day, don’t the farmers of this country deserve a special session? When the introduction of Goods and Service Tax can demand the same, then why should the government shy away from convening a special session to resolve the ongoing agrarian crisis and give a breather to the several farmers who have been feeding the country against adverse conditions for several years. The President had however, assured the delegation of all possible help to resolve the agrarian crisis.
With the AIKSCC almost becoming the face of the disgruntled farmers of the country, it’s two immediate demands have been placed before the Parliament by means of private member bills. Political parties from both the ruling dispensation as well as the opposition have promised to support them. Various farmers organizations that are not aligned with the AIKSCC are also trying to garner public support for the cause, in their own way.
However, one must be wary. Advocating the cause of farmers has become fashionable. Politicians who had done nothing to mitigate the farmers’ hardships when they were in power, have now started raising their concerns over farmer’s issue. Only after having differences with their parties, some have even gone to the extent of sitting on dharnas.
Likewise a few organizations gave a call to come to Delhi in February,2018. With very few people finally by their side, they eventually had no choice but to become a part of the Anna Hazare agitation at Ramleela Maidan in March. With little support of farmers whatsoever, they gave a call for Gaon Bandh from June 1 to June 10.
While AIKSCC extends its good wishes to all the organizations that support the two demands, it has strategically maintained distance from Gaon Bandh AIKSCC believes that a call in the name of the farmers cannot be detrimental to the interest of the farmers.
While no major agricultural produce is harvested in this season, only vegetables and milk that are perishable in nature are sold by the farmers. Milk becomes the main source of livelihood of small and marginal farmers who constitute over 85 percent of the farming community. It is known fact that quantity of milk produced by the cattle reduces in summer putting the farmers at loss. To then ask the farmers to spill their milk or not sell the same is only detrimental to their interest. Also, it is not like vegetables and milk are not available in the market, they are still being sold in abundance but the middlemen have taken advantage of the Gaon Band and have increased the prices. Many organizations that supported the call earlier have woken up to the discomfort caused to the farmers and have withdrawn from the protest.
AIKSCC firmly believes that while its nationwide andolan has brought farmers’ distress to the forefront and pressed hard for solutions but all demands must be highlighted in a way that not only keeps the farmers’ interest in mind but also the welfare of the citizens. This path was shown by the Long March from Nasik to Mumbai, organized by All India Kisan Sabha, one of the constituents of AIKSCC. The permanent solution to get relief from cyclic indebtedness and the guarantee for remunerative prices has to be achieved through the legislative route. A strong political will is need and pressure has to be mounted by political parties on the Government to convene a Special Session of the Parliament to pass the Bills.
Since AIKSCC was part of the aftermath of the Mandsaur killings, it’s constituent organizations observed June 6 as ‘Mandsaur Kisan Shaheed Divas’ throughout the country. AIKSCC organized a day long fast in Mandsaur in front of the statue of one of the martyrs who were shot the police on the same day, a year earlier. To ensure that the martyrdom n of their fellow farmers does not go waste, the rest of farmers of Mandsaur who were earlier fighting an unorganized battle came together to form “Naujawan Kisan Sabha” and joined the AIKSCC as its 194th constituent. They want to take ahead the unfinished task of the martyrs by ensuring that agriculture becomes profitable so that the new generation can come back to agriculture.
The revival of the Kisan Andolan has ensured that the 2019 election will be fought on the two issues of relief from indebtedness and guarantee for procurements on MSP. Each one of the 21 mainstream parties which have signed the resolution to support the two bills will have to stand by their resolve and include these issues in their manifesto. AIKSCC only hopes that the Kisan Andolan will grow in strength and will force the political parties to actually work on the ground to make farming profitable.