Archive for March, 2021

18
Mar

Farmers Protest: Defence

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 18, 2021

Day 113

Toll 302

#FarmersProtest

Defence

A few weeks back, an old Sikh on the Singhu border said, ‘I am really thankful to Pakistan and China.’ When asked why, he said, ‘They have not started war with India. Else Panjab would have had to fight both countries.’

When you try mentioning this to ansoojeevi, bhakt, right-wing sitting in TV studios or cushy drawing rooms who label Panjab and Sikhs as anti-national, they do not get it. I hope they would get these figures by their own minister recently in the Parliament.

Here is the contribution of various states to the Army – rank and file. In the graphic, I single out states that contribute over and above their percentage of the nation’s population. Rest all states, contribute below their population. I hope that settles the debate on anti-nationals.

Not that, and I repeat, serving in the Army is the only criteria to determine nationalism. There are many professions one can take on to be good citizens and that to me is enough.
In fact, this government has drawn the biggest wedge between the Jawan and the Kisan, the soldier and the farmer. Now look at another statistic – of resignation from para-military forces.

In the last five years, over 40,000 central forces personnel sought voluntary retirement and 6,529 resigned.

Do these figures tell you something about how our para-military views our government? Does that tell you something about the farmer protests? I hope they do.

Meanwhile, last evening, Ranjit Singh, the young man who was brutally stomped on by police came out of prison on bail.

17
Mar

Farmers Protest: A Million Cuts

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 17, 2021

Day 112

Toll 302

#FarmersProtest

A Million Cuts

For the first time the toll has crossed 300. Yet, there is not a word from the government. In fact, a few weeks back a Haryana leader was crudely dismissive about the deaths. Now, the Haryana government has come out with a new law to suppress protests – Haryana Recovery of Damages to Property during Disturbance to Public Order Bill, 2021. Given this law, the government will find it easier to arrest protesters, impose punishment or dues and supress the voice of the people. Two important protest sites – Singhu and Tikri – are in Haryana.

On the other hand, the Food Corporation of India is coming up with new norms for quality standards and procurement of farm produce. As we know, and is now being repeatedly highlighted through the protests, farming is not the simple throw seeds on ground, wait for rain, harvest, dump in Mandi. Farming is infinitely more complex than us buying what we need off the shelf.

Here is what is already going on since protests began: extreme shortage of gunny sacks to rice shellers. Shellers are the folks who shell the rice from paddy to pack and send it to the FCI to store and distribute. Given the acute shortage of bags, the shellers are clogged with previous season paddy but unable to move it ahead. The pipeline is blocked.

The changed rules limits the acceptance of various categories of paddy/rice:

- Broken grain: 25% is accepted. Now reduced to 20% when on ground broken grain is about 35%.

- Discolouration: 5% was allowed, now reduced to 3%.

- Moisture: 17% was allowed, now reduced to 16%.

- Foreign matter: 2% was allowed, now reduced to 1%.

The changed rules limits the acceptance of various categories of wheat:

- Broken grain: 4% was allowed, now reduced to 2%

- Moisture: 14% was allowed, now reduced 12%; grain won’t be bought even with value cut which was the case earlier.

- Foreign matter: 0.75% was allowed, now reduced to 0.50%

While this will hurt the farmers and the arthiyas, I want to highlight how this is a provision built into the new Farm Laws. In ‘The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020′, see point 4, sub-point 4: ‘The parties entering into a farming agreement may require as a condition that such mutually acceptable quality, grade and standards shall be monitored and certified during the process of cultivation or rearing, or at the time of delivery, by third party qualified assayers to ensure impartiality and fairness’.

Now, no one wants to deliver poor quality of grain. Yet, it is the timing of such new rules – while Kharif season is underway – and their ad hoc nature on what is acceptable or not. It is clear that if the Farm Laws are implemented, there would be many such conditions to curtail acceptance of produce and their sale and these conditions will keep varying according to the needs of corporates.

At another level, recently, the Centre has issued instructions making it mandatory for all farmers to give details of land ownership to get MSP for wheat. We are aware that 82 per cent farmers are small and marginal. In order to be able to farm productively, they take land from other farmers on lease for the season or year. This creates ‘absentee landlordism’. In Panjab, almost 45 per cent of land holdings are leased out by farmers to other cultivators.

Absentee landlordism is definitely an issue but this is not how the government can solve it. What this will do is when I as a farmer have taken five acres to cultivate and deliver my produce in the market, the payment will go to the original owner. That would cause conflict between the original cultivator and me. These are the government’s tactics to dismantle the procurement regime and punish the farmers.

Now tell me, what can the farmers do but protest against these million cuts?

16
Mar

Farmers Protest: United Nations

   Posted by: aman    in Other

March 16, 2021

Day 111

Toll 296

#FarmersProtest

United Nations

Over the past few weeks, especially after the incidents of January 26th, the farmers protests have gone international. While lapdog media in India is largely blanking out the immense horizontal growth of the protests by ways of mahapanchayats and now election campaigns, on ground the protests are spreading like wildfire.

Of course, for vertical growth we need dialogue with the government which are being consistently denied for close to 50 days now. But then vertical growth can happen in other ways too – through spread and reach.

I was not aware that the United Nations actually has a ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas’, sponsored by Bolivia and adopted by the United Nations in 2018. It is very telling that when it was adopted 119 voted For, 7 voted Against, 49 Abstained. I just looked up the list of votes. Most Yes were from Asia and Africa – the developing nations, and most No and Abstain were from Europe and South America.

India has signed this Declaration.

Yesterday, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha spokesperson Dr Darshan Pal addressed the UN session. His statement is brief but on a loop. Do listen.

We know the United Nations has been rendered rather toothless now. Still, that there exists a ‘UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants …’ and the vote on it is itself an indication on how capital is controlled at the global level. When we look at any protest, any struggle, we need to know what is its highest level of conflict. We know in the case of farmers protests it is not just the current government but the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. Now, I learnt that a huge ally is the United Nations. How it will play out is yet to be seen.

The Declaration itself is elaborate. Notice how it raises every issue that the farmers are raising:

Article 3: Equality

Article 4: Women

Articles 5 and 18: Right to Nature

Articles 6, 7, 8 and 9: Liberties and civil and political rights

Article 10, 11 and 12: Justice, Right to Participation and Information

Article 13, 14 and 16: Labour Rights

Article 17: Right to Land

Article 19: Right to Seeds

Article 20: Right to Biodiversity

Article 21: Right to water and clean water systems

Articles 22 and 23: Right to health and social security

Article 24: Right to Housing

Article 25: Right to Education

Article 26: Cultural rights, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions

What I found most important and it has been missing in our discourse cantered around monies and requirements of a changed India society over half a century is:

Article 15: Food Sovereignty.

That, to me is core and exactly what WTO and IMF are against so the developed world keeps us the developing world as its slaves – not literally but in debt and hence servile.

On the other hand, at the high visibility Grammy awards, Canadian YouTuber Lilly Singh wore a mask supporting farmers.

That too has gone viral.

15
Mar

Farmers Protest: Campaign

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 15, 2021

Day 110

Toll 296

#FarmersProtest

Campaign

It all depends on what is our news feed, what are our channels of information. If you were me, you would be impressed by now with the effort the farmer leaders are putting in the elections and other states. That too without asking for votes themselves.

Tikait has been campaigning tirelessly in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Bengal. On March 20th he is coming to Karnataka for a Mahapanchayat. Yesterday, I saw Rajewal in a rally in Kolkata. He said they are going to fan out in all 294 Bengal constituencies to carry forward the message: a fistful of rice for every vote. Give us Minimum Support Price.

I keep getting links from friends and family showing me how clearly the world media is calling out the draconian government and its anti-people policies. The farmers protests, today railway employees will join protests, public sector bank employees are on protests, has disrupted and upturned carefully crafted narrative over last seven years. They pull off the veil and lay bare the government’s hypocrisy.

Police has been trying to disrupt the protests – cycle yatra in Tamil Nadu, Dhandi March commemorative in Gujarat. Yet, the tenacious protesters persist. The whole of Uttar Pradesh, much of Bihar and Jharkhand are now lit. As leaders come to south India, given how BJP has bungled with first list seat distribution in Bengal and will in other states, the momentum will continue to grow.

Seriously, what can be a bigger movement than this? What it will achieve, is yet to be seen. I only wish the elections are fair. Many of us suspect they are not. But full marks to farmers for effort and diligence.

 

13
Mar

Farmers Protest: No Vote To BJP

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

 

March 13, 2021

Day 108

Toll 288

#FarmersProtest

No Vote To BJP

Even since the Samyukt Kisan Morcha declared it will go to Bengal and other election bound states to campaign against BJP, there are questions on this stand. The speculation is at two levels:

a) When SKM says it is non-political, why is it entering election campaigns?

b) Especially in Bengal, is this anti-BJP stance a pro-Trinamool Congress or pro-CPIM-Congress stance?

I would like to share my own experience when covering assembly elections Panjab, 2017. At that time the Congress stood against the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal – Bhartiya Janata Party government and Aam Aadmi Party had joined the fray. While most gatherings by these parties during the campaigns were in hundreds or sometimes thousands, the largest gathering was by farmer and workers unions on January 31, 2017 at Power House Road, Bathinda. It had easily 8,000 to 10,000 people.

That rally was organised largely by Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta Ugrahan and Panjab Khet Mazdoor Union. Of course, Buta Singh Burj Gill, Dr Darshan Pal and other leaders from other unions attended and addressed the people. The theme of the rally was ‘Samaj Badlo – Raj Badlo’. That is the essential stance of farmer and worker unions – Change the Society, Change the Governance.

Question 1: Is SKM truly non-political?

As far as electoral politics goes, it is largely non-political as in most of its members do not contest elections. Though there are exceptions – Yogender Yadav has a political party Swaraj India; Hannan Mollah, from CPI-M has been an eight-term MP; Balbir Singh Rajewal has been part of government committees; Rakesh Tikait contested elections with Congress support, not ticket and from RLD in 2014.

To understand SKM’s non-political nature we need to understand why they project this image. They are non-political in terms of party politics but they are citizens and not apolitical. In fact, they have a deeper politics that the current electoral democratic system is not able to accommodate.

This understanding is from their long, decades long, experience of the hypocrisy of political parties, of their betrayal before and after elections when they come to power. SKM also understands that it is part of the nature of politics in a neo-liberal economy and society that pushes political parties to change stance before and after elections. Before elections they can talk about all that the economy is not delivering, after elections they face pressures by lobbies and forget people’s interests. Case in point, current Panjab. Congress has been in power for 4 years but nothing much seems to have changed from when SAD-BJP was in power earlier for 10 years.

That is why the stance – Change the Society, Change the Governance.

Question 2: Who will this No Vote For BJP stance help?

The answer lies with the people. Ours is still a democracy, though very fraught and now increasingly fragile. In a democracy, people decide who should form governments. Pressure groups work to influence people but SKM is an advocacy group. In Panjab, 2017 they did not support SAD-BJP, Congress or AAP. Instead, they said, ‘Whoever you vote, in a few months you will come back here to protests on some issue or the other. We will be in solidarity.’

They are doing the same in Bengal and other states but with one change: educate common people on the issues if BJP is voted to power. This is in keeping with their stance against the current BJP government in the centre against whose farm laws they have been protesting for over 100 days in Delhi and more than six months in Panjab.

It is wrong to assign the responsibility of election results to SKM or to speculate if they have a secret agenda to benefit any one party – TMC or Left-Congress. They don’t. They have a deeper sense of the flaws of the system and will not let their platform be compromised by any political party they support which will later betray.

They are doing exactly what they are saying – highlight the issues with this government. If another government had passed similar laws, they would have highlighted issues with that government. They know the issues with elections in neo-liberal systems and overall seek to change the system itself, not one party or another.

I talk about the Bathinda rally briefly on page 519, ‘Panjab – Journeys Through Fault Lines’:
On 31 January 2017, I reached the biggest rally of the elections at Bathinda. It was a rally of small farmers and landless labourers. The non-political people or non-party people, the farmer and labour unions, had called the rally and decided not to tell anyone to vote for any party. They left the decision to the people. Their slogan was: votan wele Bapu kehnde, mudke saadi saar na lende (you plead with us for votes, later you don’t even turn to look at us).

This was the response of the poorest and the weakest to the charade of electoral politics.

12
Mar

Farmers Protest: March Program

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 12, 2021

Day 107

Toll 288

#FarmersProtest

March Program

- Ongoing, Samyukt Kisan Morcha leaders are in Bengal to participate in ‘No Vote to BJP’ campaign. Kisan Yatras are being taken out in Bihar from March 11 to 15, to conclude on March 18 on the Kisan Kranti Diwas in the Vidhan Sabha March in Patna. Mahapanchayats have started in Eastern UP.

- March 12, SKM leaders to reach poll-bound states to campaign against BJP.

- March 15, Anti-Corporate Day and the Anti-Government Day. Protests will be held with trade unions at Railway stations against fuel hike and against privatisation.

- March 17, a joint convention will be organised with trade unions and other mass organisations for planning the Bharat Bandh on 26th March.

- March 19, the day of Muzara Lehar will be celebrated and protests will be held in mandis across the country under the FCI and Kheti Bachao program.

- March 23, martyrdom day of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, at farmers’ protests in Delhi borders.

- March 26, on completion of 4 months of this movement, a complete Bharat bandh will be observed.

- March 28, Anti-Farmer Laws will be burnt in Holi Dahan across the country.

The farmers movement has been strong in all seasons. The movement, which started the last summer in Punjab, has kept itself alive in severe winter. There was huge rain at the Tikri border March 9. Although the government has not provided facilities to the protesters, the farmers have made full arrangements to deal with this crisis as well.

- adapted from SKM press release March 10.

12
Mar

Farmers Protest: MSP and Fuel Price

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 11, 2021

Day 106

Toll 286

#FarmersProtest

MSP and Fuel Price

Realistically, what is the cost of guaranteeing Minimum Support Price and does the government have funds for it?

Indian Express reports, Jan 30, 2021 that all said and done, the cost of guaranteeing MSP to farmers, may not be more than Rs 1-1.5 lakh crore per year. The chart shows that the MSP value of the total production of the 23 crops worked out to around Rs 10.78 lakh crore in 2019-20.

Not all this produce, however, is marketed. Farmers retain part of it for self-consumption, seed for the next season’s sowing and also for feeding their animals.

Hindustan Times reports, March 8, 2021, citing Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s reply in Parliament, tax collected on the petrol and diesel was Rs 2.13 lakh crore in 2019-20 and swelled further to Rs 2.94 lakh crore in the first 11 months of current fiscal year. See story in comments.

There is your answer. The government already earns more than twice it will need to spend if MSP is legalised. Ask yourself, what is stopping the government from legalising MSP?

To me it is loot, greed, pure bias against agrarian India which until now was divided over caste and religion and is now coming together through the farmers protest.

7
Mar

Farmers Protest: Summer

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 07, 2021

Day 102

Toll 274

#FarmersProtest

Summer

In the last few days I have seen a sentiment on social media and by interviewers of farmer leaders: scorching summer is coming, will farmers stay or will they go back to their villages? Yesterday, some media was reporting numbers of farmers at protest sites have come down but qualified it by reporting that the KMP highway blockade was hugely successful, maintained all decorum.

What does media expect? That farmers keep up a full attendance when they themselves do nothing to push the government to even negotiate with famers – now off for more than 40 days. This entitlement of urban India! This belief the petitioner should be at their beck and call!

Notice, these are the same farmers who collected in thousands in the middle of a foggy winter night in January when Tikait called. If need be, they will collect again. They are anyway collecting in lakhs in the Mahapanchayats. They are fanning out to election-bound states.

This media never questioned why is the Election Commission conducting these farcical elections when the government itself does not conduct the Parliament – winter session was cancelled under the alibi of Coronavirus but we all know the government had its tail between its legs.

Anyway, going back to the question media poses farmer leaders. Tikait answered it the best: go away where? Are the villages with electricity cuts any cooler? Please know that we need the blazing sun to ripen the wheat, we need the temperature to rise so snow can melt and water can flow in our rivers. That is what gets you food and water. Farmers are re-modelling their dwellings on the roads – bringing in straw huts, making walls from nets, fans and water coolers are reaching. The media never asked why has the government not provided toilets.

The irony is that this media is from the same urban cohort that loves their early April rains. That puts up messages – relief from summer sun, so refreshing it rained. They do not realise, those rains severely damage the wheat ready to be harvested. The grains fall off, the bare stalks are no use.

Indeed this is a brutal summer. The effects are showing. A friend from Shimla, who manages apple orchards, tells me it has already gotten too hot in early March. The blooming is premature. It affects the fruit. Also, it’s not snowed enough, that will affect the moisture content through the season. A few hours later: it is thundering outside. We fear a hailstorm. The prematurely bloomed flowers will die.

Friends from Panjab say, we have watered the wheat fields but it has suddenly turned hot and windy. The stalks will be flattened, the grain will shrivel. Then there is the whole question of whether the government will procure the wheat at all this year? As is the character of the current government, it could be vengeful to farmers. In any case, Ragi is coming up for sale in Karnataka. The going rate is Rs 1000 per quintal less than MSP.

This is what the farmers are protesting against: the age old vulnerability of the farmers to natural and man made causes versus the relative stability of the bahi khatha, the corporates. They seek parity, they seek justice.

I add to Tikait’s retort: instead of verbal sympathy for farmers in the summer months, do whatever you can to push the government to re-open talks with farmers. Everything else, is just superficial. It burns worse than the sun.

Aslah Kayyalakkath was kind to use the post for his website Maktoob.

Please see here …

4
Mar

Farmer Protests: Urban India

   Posted by: aman    in Other

March 4, 2021

Tomorrow is Day 100 of the #FarmerProtests.

While on ground, the protests have many positives, they have rallied rural, agrarian India; they have been a bulwark to the Hindutva propaganda machinery; I continue to wonder about urban India’s engagement with them.

Please do not assume I am making silos or I am not aware of the role urban India has played in the last three plus months. Yet, I am deeply disappointed by how little that effort has been and I do not want to hide it.

Think about this: it took Europe 400 years to usher in the Industrial Revolution – from the Black Death (bubonic plague) 1347 to 1351 to say when East India Company arrived in India to steal our resources to feed its industry, Battle of Plassey, 23 June 1757.

In India, the Industrial Revolution lasted a mere 40 years from after Independence when Nehru set up big industry in the 1950s to Manmohan Singh opening up the Indian economy early 1990s. After that we moved to IT/ITES services.

Not that any such revolution ends before the next starts. The fact that more than 50 per cent India is still agrarian, is evidence that there are no fixed dates for revolutions to start and end. Yet, by and large this is the timeline.

That is why I wonder how distant we urban folks have grown from our rural roots in a merely two score years – one or two generations. Think about it. It is about each of us. Our roots – our responses.

3
Mar

Farmers Protest: Elections

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

March 3, 2021

Day 98

Toll 269

#FarmersProtest

Elections

For anyone who feels the coming elections distract from the protests, please know the farmers remain resolute, they are focused. It is us urban middle class and media that is feeling distracted.

In fact, on my recent brief visit to Panjab, I noticed how the participation in the protests has become more organized, process driven: rotation of participants from each village according to roster, supplies organised at local Gurdwara level.

The farmers know a scorching summer awaits them, they are preparing. I heard many Ardas that included prayers for farmers. Then there are the Mahapanchayats being held in all north Indian states vowing to boycott BJP until their demands are met.

See the news item shared below on how the UP government is terrified by the protests, is imposing stringent rules. Then declared plans.

1. March 6 – Samyukt Kisan Morcha to block Delhi’s peripheral KMP highway on March 6 for 5 hours, 11 am to 4 pm to mark 100 days of protests.

2. SKM to reach out to Gulbarga and Chitradurga in Karnataka to address Karnataka farmers on MSP.

3. March 8 – Women’s Day. Full charge of stages to organisation of programs to women on all protest sites.

4. March 12 – In keeping with their claim, SKM leaders to go to Bengal to address farmers on the pitfalls of electing BJP government.

5. March 15 – SKM and 10 Trade Unions to observe anti-privatisation day, pushing for 5 demands: repeal of the farm reform laws, withdrawal of Electricity Bill and legal guarantee for MSP; two demands from the workers to withdraw the labour codes and stop privatisation.

6. March 15 onward – SKM to go to all poll bound states to make people aware about BJP’s anti-people policies; urge people to not vote BJP in elections.