By Raza Hasnain Naqvi
Indian farmers of 40 organisations under Samyukta Kisan Morcha are now organising big gatherings of farmers to mobilise support for their demands and be an influence in the coming Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Assembly elections. Will these Kisan Mahapanchayats help them achieve what they want?
President of the United States John F Kennedy once remarked about farmers: “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”
The Indian farmer too seems to be paying a lot financially and emotionally due to gross negligence of many of his primary issues over the past few decades.
Since November 2020 however, things have come to such a pass that farmers of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states have been protesting against the farm laws passed by the Union Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The farmers have even been occupying Delhi borders in Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur in support of their demand for repeal of the farm laws. They are confident that the laws are against them and have been passed in Parliament only to favour big corporates who can then take away their farming land by some deceptive means.
Over the past nine months, farmers and central government representatives including ministers and security forces have met with each other many times. Ministers have met farmers to convince them that the farm laws are beneficial for the farmers and will increase their income. Security forces have met the farmers in a stricter manner to convey with their actions that the government means business and they should not confront and protest against the laws.
The agitating farmers and the Central government both are firm on farm laws. Farmers want only one thing that the three farms laws be repealed and then discussions are held for new farm laws with proper consultation. The government on the other hand says only one thing that discussions should be held with farmers provided the point on the repeal of the three farm laws remains off the discussion table.
For the past nine months, this has been the cause of the breakdown of talks between the farmers and the government. Both are sticking to their stand. The government wants farmers to keep an open mind on agriculture reform that the government promises will be there as a result of these farm laws. Farmers have closed their minds to anything the government says in support of farm laws. Talks stopped between both parties due to the ‘dispute’ on farm laws and everything went quiet.
As a result, farmers felt their interests were being ignored by the government and it was not listening to them. They took matters into their own hands and decided to go beyond Delhi borders and get more farmers involved in aggressively promoting the message: Repeal farm laws and give legal assurance on MSPs or Minimum Support Price on their crop sales. Thus began the string of Kisan Panchayats organised under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM).
Interestingly, Kisan Panchayats have also been conducted by political parties like Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. All such farmer gatherings have been conducted in cities including Meerut and Saharanpur and more such panchayats are proposed in Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Allahabad and Mirzapur.
Many political parties have come together and joined hands in support of the demands raised by farmers. This seems to have given more strength to farmer organisations to push for what they feel is right.
Now that a Kisan Mahapanchayat has been organised by SKM in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, September 5, 2021, there are talks that more such big gatherings of farmers will be organised in the near future. There are claims that the gathering in Muzaffarnagar had farmers from 16 states. In fact, SKM has already stated that September 27 this month will be a ‘Bharat Bandh’. So, what do Kisan Mahapanchayats hope to achieve with such large-scale mobilisation of farmers? Let’s consider some objectives.
Farmer organisations want the Indian government to know that they too are ‘influencers’. This term is better known in social media circles as a person of influence with many followers. But this is what agitating farmers are trying to become with Kisan Mahapanchayats. The farmers want to influence the opinion of their followers and thereby raise the decibel level in the hope that the government would then listen to them in a more receptive manner. Being called ‘andolanjeevi’ and ‘parjeevi’ by the government seems to have rattled farmers, who are now bent on replying to these comments with their own ‘corporatejeevi’ comment on the government. Organising Mahapanchayats will be their way to show numbers to the government, or in other words, show the number of farmer followers to the government. Maybe the underlying message is: Mess with an influencer like me, then you mess with my number of followers and the result could be bitter.
2. Getting Deeper Support of Opposition Parties
Many political parties have come together in open support of farmers and they too are demanding repeal of farm laws. Farmers hope to gain wider encouragement and adoption of their way of thinking by many more political parties, small and big by organising Kisan Mahapanchayat. Their thinking could be that since regional parties are being courted by national parties during elections so influencing state-level smaller parties would be a positive way forward. And if such regional parties are against the BJP and its policies then the platform of Kisan Mahapanchayat that highlights the issues of farmers clearly according to them will sway the opinion of such smaller regional parties also to their side.
3. Getting Pan-India Support of Farmers in All States
The current perception is that only some farmers are protesting against the farm laws and they are only from Punjab, Haryana and maybe Western UP. Farmers hope to alter this perception with their Kisan Mahapanchayat by telling the world, more specifically farmers in other Indian states that ‘Look we farmers are not just from two states who feel wronged by these laws. We belong to many more Indian states and we are serious in telling everyone that we farmers are one and the same, facing the same challenges together.’
SKM and its 40 farmer organisations are looking to garner the support of other farmers at the pan-India level so that their messaging can be more aggressive and result-oriented. This is where a Kisan Mahapanchayat can get people talking after seeing numbers.
4. Sending a Message to Major Corporates
Protesting farmers have already started boycotting products of two major corporate entities led by Ambani and Adani. They fear that implementation of the farm laws will get these two groups to take over the majority of their farming produce and land. They would then be left to be mere labourers instead of land-owning farmers. This has resulted in aggressive farmer protests on farming-related infrastructure developed by these two corporates in Punjab and Haryana. With Kisan Mahapanchayat, there is an important message they hope to convey to other corporates looking to step into agriculture. They seem to want corporate bodies to understand one thing: ‘Farmer interests come first, corporate profit comes next. Failure to understand this would mean financial loss for corporates.’
5. Motivating Farmers to Keep Agitation Going
The agitation has been going on for nine months now. In order to keep the energy flowing with the same vigour as was shown at the beginning of the agitation, Kisan Mahapanchayat hopes to keep the fire of anger and resolve burning in the hearts of farmers. The stark agricultural fact remains that 68% of Indian farmers own not even one hectare of land and only 6% of farmers receive MSP on their produce. The rest of the farmers take whatever they can get for their crops. If they can’t get anything close to even MSP and find that they have to sell at a loss, then many just throw away their produce on the road. It is this disappointment and anger that a Kisan Mahapanchayat wants to harness and keep the agitation and motivation flowing smoothly in the veins of farmers.
6. Be the Tipping Point in Poll Results
Elections are driven by numbers. Election results have figures written all over them. The attendance numbers being conveyed by different entities in the just concluded Muzaffarnagar Kisan Mahapanchayat range from a modest 50,000 to the eye-opening 10 lakh. Farmers are obviously claiming the higher number. Be that as it may, but as in elections, the destiny of winning politicians decides a government. In the same manner, Kisan Mahapanchayat seems to be showing a mirror to prospective election-oriented politicians of the BJP who are looking towards polls in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. SKM organising these gatherings understands that photos and videos of waves of farmers in a Kisan Mahapanchayat would force the government and the ruling BJP-led Union and State governments to know that farmers too have the numbers to influence elections. The message being: We can be the tipping point in elections, so beware.
7. Convey to Media to Take Their Agitation Seriously
The media too takes numbers seriously. After all, it is not possible to ignore a huge gathering completely from a news bulletin, as it could create a backlash and negative vibe for the media organisation. So a Kisan Mahapanchayat will be there with the impossible-to-ignore numbers and the media outlets would be forced to cover the gathering in their news bulletins. This would be another important objective that SKM-led farmer gatherings will hope to achieve. Enhanced media chatter and publicity of their demands could get the government to listen seriously to their demands and accede to them.
Read also: Priyanka slams Yogi over farmers’ issues
As to the impact of Kisan agitation, world-famous celebrities like Rihanna and others have commented on the farmer dharnas and sit-ins on Delhi borders. The most recent comment has come from an MP of the ruling BJP itself, Varun Gandhi who has stated on farmers: “…they are our own flesh and blood and we need to start re-engaging with them in a respectful manner…”
The three controversial laws whose implementation is on hold for some time now are:
- Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020;
- Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020;
- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
These three laws have led farmers to become aggressive in their new objective now. SKM has claimed the death of more than 500 farmers due to ongoing agitation. With Kisan Mahapanchayat they plan to continue to talk about the repeal of these three laws and legal guarantee on MSP. But now they have sent a new and unambiguous message to the government by planning to organise many such Muzaffarnagar-type Kisan Mahapanchayats. Their stated message is: ‘We have started Mission UP and Uttarakhand and we will ensure the defeat of BJP in both states.’