12
Dec

Farmers Protest: Flank Attack

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day -

Toll 720

Flank Attack

Yesterday we saw the farmers return home triumphant after quelling the front attack on them through the three Farm Laws. The farmers return to the comfort and familiarity of their home and hearth, their families, their familiar beds and bathrooms. Another winter has set in, it is high time the Bebe and Bapus, the grandparents, feel secure and safe.

Yet, what do the farmers return to?

The Farm Laws were a spin on the already depressed conditions of agriculture in the country. Especially ?in the erstwhile food bowl of India – the north India states: Panjab, Haryana, West Uttar Pradesh, to some extent Uttrakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The depression in this region is a result of government ignoring the agrarian sector for the last 50 years in its policies. The depression in rest of the country if from governments never really focussing on the agrarian systems, in spite of the demands rising, votes being manipulated.

Urban middle-class consumers are so cut off from the modes of production of all that is essential that they keep paying through their nose yet do not raise their head in dissent. The farmers protest pushed the government to withdraw laws but did not pull the urban middle-class to the protest sites.

When the laws were repealed, I wondered about the heavy investments the Adani and Ambani groups had already made in storage and retail. Farmers knew the fancy term ‘free market’ basically means a duopoly. I wondered what did the government do to appease these corporates?
As with everything, one needs to pull back and see the pattern. It is clear:

- Ambani is now attacking the local kirana – grocery – stores and salesmen, ejecting them out of the $700 billion retail sector business. In the June quarter of this year, JioMart signed up 56,000 kirana stores across 30 cities to pilot this direct-sale system. I hope this move galvanises the middle-class to oppose it. At least 4 lakh salesmen are already up in arms.

- We know how the government has been centralising the State Bank of India over the last few years. While banks routinely enter agreements with Non Banking Finance Companies, now SBI has entered an agreement with the Adani Group to issue farm-related loans. The Adani Group will be the disburser of the loans and a brutal recovery agent.

The reason the agrarian sector needs loans is because there isn’t enough money to go around in it. But what will the Adani group do? Fix the terms and conditions of the loans, push the farmers and labour to default. Adani recovery agents will auction off the lands of the defaulters to Adani and other corporate owners. The point is: corporates continue to eye that famers saved from them in this protest. The battle has now moved from the front to the flanks and the rear.

The message is clear: unless we infuse funds in rural economy, the majority of this country will keep plunging into poverty. Food, as a commodity, is vital to the nation, but corporates have ways of importing what is needed, giving kickbacks to the government, while farmers languish. Farmers and labour commit suicide – 4 lakh in the last two decades.

That is why, even more so now, though farmers are taking a much deserved hiatus, it is their compulsion to push for Minimum Support Price on 23 crops across the nation as a mechanism to bring money into the agrarian sector.

Let us see what the committee on MSP decides and how Samyukt Kisan Morcha responds on January 15th. Be ready, as long as there is corporate greed and a pliant government, the battles do not cease.

Signing off /-

10
Dec

Farmers Protest: Mubarak

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 380

Toll 715

Mubarak

The victorious farmers protest wishes mubarak to all of us.

It does not matter whether you were part of the protest, whether you spent time on the protest, whether you contributed to the protest, whether you supported the protest, whether you were sympathetic to protest, or whether you were unmoved by it, whether you did not understand the reasons for the protest, whether you opposed the protest, whether you indulged in state created and corporate media disseminated lies about the protest, whether when farmers and labour were asking to be seen as united over kirrt – work/labour, you wanted to look at the protesters through the prism of religion, caste and class, whether you have reservations about the timing of the ending of the protest, the congratulations are for all of us.

The reasons the farmers protest is congratulating everyone is because though for the past many decades there is a narrative that modernity – cities, urban spaces, bookish intelligentsia – seems to understand the world, can negotiate with ‘powers that be’ to create a better world, the farmers protest, rooted in villages, aware of both tradition and modernity, inspired by sewa and langar, adept at the digital world, knows that everyone of us who lives in cities came from villages – one or two or three generations back. They know that English alone is not the language of change, betterment, their own languages can do the job as well.

Unlike how the urban has turned its eyes away from the rural, associates values with itself, in the creation of middle class, in the support to governments who draw policies to suit their funders and electoral banks, preys upon the rural to sustain itself, screams outrage on social media but does not step on the streets, the rural which has been neglected in the past decades knows that beyond a point, outrage alone does not help – they need to step out, resist on ground zero.

Unlike the city, the village is wise to know that we all come from the same source and our markers of birth, our religious identity, our locations, our professions, our prejudices need not define our intentions and praxis. If we are resolved, organised, our resource lines remain intact, we are willing to sacrifice, the harshest of regimes will have to agree to our demands. The village knows its roots, it has the ability to float.

This is not to paper over the gross inequalities of the village but to learn that just because power dictates some narratives, they need not be sound. The solutions to our woes are not outside but inside us.

Please accept the congratulations but when you do so, own it. Know that wishes are also responsibilities. Ask yourself what does that mubarak say to you when it takes its place in your heart. Does it sit fleetingly or tentatively or does it sit easily and fill your heart with joy? If the mubarak opens a door to courage in your heart to stand against tyranny, indeed the farmers protest has succeeded for you. The next time, you will rise. Like the farmers did this time.

Indeed, the road is long. There are many challenges in front of us. Let us make a better world, together.

9
Dec

Farmers Protest: Hostage

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 379

Toll 715

Hostage

Ever since Modi announced repeal of farm laws on November 19 and farmers won the round, a bit of hostage situation developed on the borders. Through their ideology and solidarity the farmers remain committed to fight for other points in their agenda, but the power to decide on the retreat lay with the government.

As we know we have not only an apathetic but also an extremely myopic government. Tt dilly-dallied. It can’t part with control easily. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha even presented a 5-member committee but the government did not budge. Finally two days back parleys started through letters. The government did not invite the committee for discussion.

The committee now finds itself in the position of a negotiator in a hostage situation. If you are aware of how negotiations in such situations go, you know the negotiator is not at liberty to disclose everything to everyone, especially to media and public. Too many questions will be asked, there might not be enough answers.

That is why for last too days we see a lack of transparency on the part of the 5-member committee and SKM in general. Ambiguity is okay but the core question remains: would the committee compromise with the government on key issues?

The key issues were:

1. Cases on farmers: most of us might not be aware what a pain pending cases can be when the main issue is solved. That the government has agreed to withdraw all law and order cases in all states is a big victory for farmers.

2. Stubble burning: that the government has decriminalised stubble burning is another huge victory for farmers and prevents future cases on them. Especially now because Centre has confessed in Court that paddy stubble burning does not cause Delhi air pollution.

3. Electricity Bill: the government has agreed to discuss provisions with farmers, especially on why corporates will be given subsidy and farmers will be denied subsidy. This to me is a fairly decent victory for now.

4. Minimum Support Price: This is a demand for the whole country. This demand has the potential to infuse funds in the rural economy, kickstart the economy. In my opinion, within SKM the focus on this demand shifted from pushing the government to include the term ‘legally guaranteed MSP’ in the Terms of Reference of the committee to how many members will be part of committee, who else will be part of it. We must recognise, under pressure from WTO and IMF, with a pro-corporate government intending to benefit its own crony capitalists, it is very difficult to include the terms ‘legally guaranteed’ in the charter and make the committee time bound.

Yet, there is also a big question to us middle-class and to rest of the nation’s farmers: the protesting farmers have won so much, why have us and farmers from other states not even budged to their state capitals? If it is a nation-wide demand, should the whole nation not stand up for it? We will see what the committee will do, SKM leaders will be part of it, but to me MSP now seems like an election plank for 2024.

5. Martyr’s compensation and memorial: the intent of this demand was that government recognise the martyrs but we know how small-hearted is the government. For now Centre has agreed to instruct state governments to pay compensation, like Panjab has promised. On such a demand, with such a government, we can only hope it abides by its promise.

On Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra Teni, the farmers have done well to raise the issue to the skies. But who listens? Once any government is elected, people can only do that much to raise a voice against it. If the government is rigid, people have no mechanism to change its organisation.

Look at the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. How much the Sikh community and civil society demanded that Congress get rid of some leaders. Has Congress budged? Over 43 per cent of elected MPs in Lok Sabha have serious cases against them. This is the politician-criminal nexus in the country.

BJP is of course even more arrogant than the Congress plus it has a reason to keep Teni – to retain Brahmin vote in Uttar Pradesh now that Jats and Muslims may likely not vote for BJP. This must now be an election plank for Uttar Pradesh elections 2022.

The farmers have won well and fair. A year and a half back, the atmosphere in which we were living, with the pandemic upon us, we never imagined anyone could take on Hindutva fascism in such a sustained manner. It was a moral fight. No government anywhere should be allowed to throw 53 per cent of the population to corporate sharks because for half a century the government itself did not frame policies to suit the work those people did. That too, unconstitutionally. After all, they produce food – the most essential and basic requirement for the country.

The farmers have shown if they can feed the country, they can also resist the forces that seek to erase them. The farmers have opened a door, now it is up to rest of civil society to take up the many battles.

The farmers have asked the government to now commit its promises in writing on the official letter head and start quashing the cases. Once that happens, SKM will likely announce withdrawal of the protest. SKM meets at 12 noon today.

 

8
Dec

Farmers Protest: Trust Deficit

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 378

Toll 713

Trust Deficit

Yesterday, for the first time since I have been seeing the Samyukt Kisan Morcha press conferences, I saw one leader postpone answering a question, they all leave the conference while a question was being asked. The question being asked was: why is SKM not meeting the government openly, like they did when 11 rounds of talks were held last winter?

Before that, after the previous day’s press note that said the government had not responded to SKM’s gesture of creating a 5-member committee or initiated any talks with them, the written response from government came at exactly 11 am when the SKM was planning to start its meeting.

Ever since the PM announced repeal of laws on November 19, all talks from the government side have been monologues while the farmers are expecting bi-lateral talks. Why is this happening? Why is government being sneaky? If the government wants protests to end, why can’t it meet farmers, negotiate and assure them on pending demands so they can leave the protest sites gracefully?

Two reasons come to my mind:

a) Talking, sorting issues, keeping good relations does not suit the government’s smoke and mirrors (perception) game. Somehow or other the government wants to look powerful. ‘Dosti bani rahe’ is not what the Sangh understands.

b) In spite of 56-inches or whatever, the entire Sangh eco-system and those who stand on top of it are small-hearted people. They neither have grace nor understand in democracy people seek transparency.

Now that SKM is dependent on the government to arrive at solutions so it can announce end of protests, the government is projecting its insecurities on SKM leadership and wants to discredit them. The government is creating conditions where SKM feels uncomfortable facing media, feels cagey and not transparent, thus spread the sense that SKM leadership is hiding something, and is untrustworthy.

While there are reasons SKM has reverted to the government, sought clarifications on each point, the main reason the matter is stuck is because government says it will do its part – quash cases, compensation to martyrs, MSP committee, and so on – after farmers end protest. Farmers are saying, at least decide timelines and display real intention before we lift our protest.

All this leads to trust deficit. Neither is government willing to trust farmers, nor are farmers willing to trust government. This deficit is most unfortunate and this time I can largely say the trust deficit is being perpetuated by the government. If you know my writings, you know how I hold trust as cardinal for any society to function, democracy to function. Various governments in the past have betrayed people, violated the trust between a state and a citizen, but what is on display is a ruinous mix of cowardice and arrogance.

It is the job of the media to point out this great lacunae in the government’s approach, make them accountable, but sadly our corporate media is hell bent on wanting to announce the end of protests and is playing up the next game: elections in five states. Thus it too is covering up for the government.

There is great churning inside the SKM as well. Different unions, different leaders, the cadre, all have their views on what next. The negotiations are now down to the wire. We can hope SKM will stay united, tide over this phase, and then we shall all see where we stand next.

7
Dec

Farmers Protest: Blood

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 377

Toll 713

Toll after Modi announcement 24

Blood

One of the most blatant misuse of a law took place in Nagaland where 15 people were gunned down by armed forces. The Home Minister spoke in Parliament, expressed some regret, but there is no talk of repealing the draconian, anti-people Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in spite of Nagaland and Meghalaya CMs asking for it for years.

In the same way, one of the most apathetic stances by the government is unfolding on Delhi’s borders right now. Whatever we might be – cynical, hopeless, tired, bored – we cannot unsee the way the government is treating farmers.

It has been 18 days since the government agreed that Farm Laws were wrong, the PM announced repeal of laws. That simply means the law and order cases – rioting, disruption, stopping public officials from carrying out their responsibilities – are all false because farmers were conveying to the government the laws are wrong. No farmer indulged in violence, in damage to life or property. Why can’t the government then quash the cases? Why can’t Centre instruct states to quash the cases?

A few days back the government indicated it is willing to quash cases – 48,000 in Haryana, hundreds in Delhi, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Karnataka. Government asked Samyukt Kisan Morcha to give representatives it could talk with. SKM gave representatives. It has been 48 hours since SKM formed the committee but there has been no show by the government. No indication of talks.

These cases are important because farmers know in their many struggles against government, while both parties come to agreements on issues, the cases keep dragging farmers in courts for years. These cases wear the farmers out, send a message that it is tiresome to take on governments.

It is the same with other demands on Electricity Bill, recognition of martyrs, space for memorial, resignation of minister of state, justice for Lakhimpur Kheri and guaranteed Minimum Support Price. Repeatedly the farmers have stated solve this issues and they will go home. Yet, the government does not budge.

The government does not budge because it wants the farmers to tire out and leave. Also because, now slowly, with Captain joining hands with BJP, the political talk in Panjab is changing. Congress, Akalis, AAP are anyway making statements, stirring up waters. Since the government’s loss of face on the laws, now the changing atmosphere suits the government’s perception game: farmers’ victory has started seeming remote.

You see, the farmers are tired but they are resolute. They have shown they can win. They will win this round too. While the government has proven to be apathetic, I wonder how long we the middle-class will just sit around as spectators? How long will mainstream media continue supporting the apathetic government?

The blood of the farmers slain in the protests is not only on the hands of the government but our hands too.

5
Dec

SANSAD, Canada Talk on Farmers Protest

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Dear friends,

this morning SANSAD – South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy based in Canada invited me to speak on the farmers protest. Now in our talks we do not say farmers are resisting, farmers are struggling. Instead, we say, farmers have won one part, they have succeeded in what they set out to do. A few more issues remain.

Here is my talk 1.32 hours. English.

5
Dec

Farmers Protest: Haryana

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 375

Toll 711

Haryana

I have no idea why mainstream media that I have followed in the past is so hellbent on discrediting itself. They unnecessarily give dates on which farmers protest will end and farmers will go home. Every time their news proves useless, they flop. It is as if they want people to stop reading them, listening to them.

After the farmers’ huge win on farm laws, the protest has entered a critical stage. Both decisions have merit: to continue the protest for an assurance on Minimum Support Price and for quashing of police cases is necessary at this stage of the struggle. At the same time, there is no doubt that farmers are exhausted, some want to go home, and so the nature of protest has to change. Please remember, farmers are free to come and go to the protest. They are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, let us not decide for them.

Ever since the farmers protest began, there have been many moments, even extended periods, of tension. All of them have to do with the nefarious games the government plays. Yesterday, I must confess, I was tense about what Samyukt Kisan Morcha will decide. Remember most cases, over 48,000, are against Haryana farmers. Go back to the time when farmers protest proceeded from Panjab to Delhi more than a year ago. How brilliantly Haryana stood with Panjab, later Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Rajasthan joined. At this point the farmers cannot abandon Haryana.

I am glad wisdom prevailed and SKM decided to constitute a 5-member group to discuss the issues with the government. On ground, there are indications that the government wants to solve issues and is urging farmers to go back home. It is willing to take back all cases of protest in Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh. Panjab has already cancelled the cases.

Hence the farmers are standing in solidarity with Haryana. The farmers’ decision flies in the face of how we know protests end when each small party tries to run with meagre benefits. That is why it is another model for civil society: come together, struggle together, retreat together.

The panel selected is on the basis of one member per state: Balbir Rajewal from Panjab, Gurnam Charuni from Haryana, Shivkumar Kakka from Madhya Pradesh, Yudhvir Singh from Uttar Pradesh, and Ashok Dhawle from Maharashtra will meet the government soon and negotiate on quashing of cases, recognition of martyrs, and how to proceed over Minimum Support Price.

For MSP, eventually there will be a committee. At least that is what the group will propose to the government. The government has to come out with the Terms of Reference for the committee. When formed, the committee will have a a larger, a 9- or 11-member representation from SKM.

That time will come and we shall have news. As of now, the decision is for the 5-member group to meet the government and the decision will be relayed to all of us on December 7th.

4
Dec

Farmers Protest: Centre

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 374

Toll 710
- Punjab 609; Haryana 75; Uttar Pradesh 6

Centre

We still do not know what all led to the prime minister unilaterally, without discussion even with his cabinet, announcing the repeal of laws. It could be BJP’s reading that the farm laws lacked popular support, the laws will impact Uttar Pradesh elections, its image because protest sustained despite all efforts by the government to break them, international pressure and so on. Subsequent to PM Modi’s announcement, the cabinet passed the decision, the Parliament repealed the laws, now the President has given his consent. This is indeed a huge win for the farmers, labourers, all parties sympathetic with the protest.

Yet, how the last two weeks have gone by, it is clear that the government still does not intend to listen to the farmers. While the Samyukt Kisan Morcha has unambiguously stated its position on six other matters, the government has displayed a piecemeal approach and not engaged with the farmers.

On the issues, while the government has decriminalised paddy straw burning, it has listed the Electricity Bill in the Parliament. While state governments have stated they will listen to Centre on the cases filed on many score thousand people, the Centre is silent on the issue – even about Delhi and Chandigarh which it governs. Ajay Mishra Teni continues as central minister and the government does not even recognise the 710 martyrs of the protests.

The Centre has made noises on Minimum Support Price, tried to deflect the issue to states, is ambiguous on Terms of Reference, farmers participation, and timeline to implement MSP. While other issues are Yes/No, we all understand that, given India’s immense diversity and cropping patterns, implementing MSP is a complex process. Making a law on guaranteed MSP is even more complex, though in my opinion necessary.

As of now, the government’s message is clear: while it has had to bow down on the farm laws, it wants to keep waters muddy and is resorting to its usual tactic – apathy and disengagement. Right from bottom to top, this is a government that shirks accountability. It will go to any extent to not deal with a situation and create distraction.

Inside the protest sites it is natural that the cadre and the many unions have different opinions. While some want to continue protesting, many who have lived on the roads for a year are also exhausted and want to return home. The message of the protest, the need for MSP has reached far and wide and there are clear indications that country-wide the farmers will continue questioning the government. The question being: does the government of India, the keeper of our tax payers money, want to stay a broker and write off huge loans by industry or does it also want to invest in rural India and rejuvenate the economy?

Given this background, SKM meets today. It is a critical meeting because SKM will decide its future course of action. We need to wait for the decision but do know: even from before Day 1, this is a protest led by the cadre, not the leaders. Ultimately, the will of the people will prevail. I hope SKM reads the ground well.

2
Dec

Farmers Protest: Toll

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 372

Toll 690

Toll

Yesterday, in the august Parliament, the nation’s agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said, his ministry has no record of those who have died at the farmers protest in the last one plus year. The question is: does the home ministry also not have any record? Does the government also have no record?

This is just like an RTI a few weeks back revealed the government has no record of the 11 rounds of discussion between farmers and government. Or the government said earlier there have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen in the pandemic second wave.

In fact, in these protests, one of the greatest documentation has been of the deaths at the protest. I say this because when we look at history, often numbers of dead in major events remain ambiguous. Many a times the state version differs massively from the people’s number. This time anyway the state number is 0 so in history the people’s number will prevail.

According to record keeping, through various sources – information in newspapers, through farmers unions, through individual reporting – checked and verified against each version, as on now the toll stands at 690.

In the last winters, the average was 2.3. In summers, in spite of pandemic which saw no special spike in toll, the average was 2.1. In the lean months of the protests, the numbers fell and now the average is 1.8.

All this documentation has been possible because of the efforts of primarily Anu Sandhu, supported by Amar Mander, Jai Singh Sandhu, Harender Happy, and Sajneet Mangat. Anuroop updates the blog mentioned below roughly once a week. Each entry in the blog mentions Name, Domicile, Occupation, Date of Death, Age, Cause of death, Place of death, and if possible name of Union.

This data is painstakingly vetted, duly noted and sacrosanct. It can be verified. It isn’t easy to have your mobile phone gallery full of pictures of the dead, it is very difficult to revisit deaths each day. Yet, the team persisted. I salute the diligence and meticulousness of the team that has created this record.

I know there have been numbers like 750 and 700 going around. If anyone has details of numbers over 690, please share them with Anuroop or Amar. But do check your information and make certain it is not already entered in the blog.

If the government is interested, it can cross-check this data and provide compensation to those we have lost in the protest.

Question is: is the government is interested at all? If the government is not interested, are the people of this country interested in paying homage to those who died breaching the wall of Hindutva, forcing the government to retract?

Blog link here …

1
Dec

Farmers Protest: Terms of Reference

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 371

Toll 690

Terms of Reference

After the formal but undemocratic repeal of farm laws and some other demands being met, the issue of Minimum Support Price stands. The government has announced a committee to look into MSP and invited five Samyukt Kisan Morcha leaders to be part of it.

However, SKM says they are not clear on what would be the mandate and Terms of Reference of such a committee. Text book stuff: when any panel or committee is set up, the Terms of Reference need to be defined. The dictionary describes Terms of Reference as ‘the instructions given to someone when they are asked to consider or investigate a particular subject, telling them what they must deal with and what they can ignore’.

The reason I called the repeal undemocratic is because they were repealed as swiftly as they were implemented. In 8 minutes, without any discussion. In fact, if you notice PM Modi’s announcement to repeal on November 19th, it was done without the union cabinet clearance. The cabinet clearance came later. Through all these events – announcement, clearance, formal repeal – one aspect is clear: the government does not care and does not want to follow due democratic protests.

But then there are people, the protesting farmers, who are keen that a duly elected government follow democratic process. Hence the insistence on Terms of Reference of the committee of MSP. Let the government lay down the mandate in unmistakeable terms.

I sense that would be an uphill task for the government because no Sangh shakha has trained them for rigour, for due diligence, and to abide by the Constitution. In fact, the very raison d’etre of this government and its actions show they do not care for rules and believe a brute majority is reason enough to indulge in their fancies.

But the farmers are infinitely wise. They know how to de-weed their fields. They are now demonstrating their skills by asking the government to demonstrate its intention – a case where the people are teaching the government how to govern.

Herein is another lesson for democracy.