Fifty-eight days is a long time – nearly two months. Any government would have by now made a clear- headed and sober assessment of what it faces and adjusted to the fact that it has bitten off more than it can chew. There are over a hundred thousand farmers blocking entry points to the country’s seat of power. They are being supplied food and essentials by farmers and others from surrounding villages. And the numbers are expected to double by Republic Day on January 26.
Across the country, farmers have been protesting continuously in support of the Delhi siege, and demanding the scrapping of the hated new agri laws that open the way to corporate takeover of cultivation, stockholding, trade and prices of essential agri-produce. These protests in other states are not small token affairs – in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Bihar lakhs of peasants and agricultural labourers have taken to the streets in the past two months. Hundreds have travelled to Delhi just to express their solidarity with the farmers sitting on highways.
In other states, periodic protests have continued. And everywhere, the numbers are rising by the day, as the government behaves like a rabbit frozen in the glare of headlights.
Failed Attempts to Foil the Struggle
The whole power of ruling machinery and its bag of tricks have been exercised, except for the use of violence. This was tried two months ago when the farmers from Punjab and Haryana started marching toward the Capital. But the numbers are so huge, the determination so intense that the barricades and pits were brushed aside. Now, it will be impossible to dislodge the farmers from their stakeouts at the five entry points. Unless they opt for a bloodbath.
Attempts to vilify and discredit the peaceful protesters have been tried to no avail. They have been called Khalistanis, ‘tukde tukde gang’ etc., standard lexicon of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its associates for anybody who opposes them. It was also alleged that Opposition parties are ‘misleading’ the farmers. But the scale and sweep of the protests go far beyond what any Opposition party can muster. They are undoubtedly extending support to the struggle – but that’s their right.
The Supreme Court, rather strangely, decided to intervene in what is clearly a matter of policy, which it usually distances itself from. But its attempts turned out to be damp squibs because it set up a panel of ‘experts’ to build a bridge with members who are known supporters of the three laws. Naturally, these experts were laughed out of the room by farmers.
Finally, in the 10th round of talks between the government and the farmers’ leaders, the government proposed what looked like a concession. It said it would keep the laws on hold for 18 months, during which some via media would be found. The only purpose this belated admission of its follies was to somehow get rid of the farmers camping at the borders of the Capital and prevent them from taking out a ‘tractor parade’ on Republic Day. The farmers unions rightly rejected this gambit – and the government’s true colours were revealed in the 11th round of talks when it declared, with its usual arrogance, that this is all they could offer, take it or leave it.
In the meantime, the government started harassing the farmers’ leaders by putting the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on the job, supposedly to ferret out some dirt on them.
All this goes to show only one thing: the government has yet to reconcile itself to the inescapable fact that the farmers’ movement has the upper hand. It has massive, unprecedented support across the country and it is drawing sympathy and solidarity from other sections of society too – and that there is something wrong about the three laws.
Why is the government unwilling to back down? Some of it comes from hubris, the illusion of its own invincibility and righteousness. They have not experienced such strong resistance before, or if they did, they were able to ‘manage’ it somehow, either by diversionary tactics or by divisive ones. This has created a sense of omnipotence – perhaps megalomania – that ill suits a ruler anywhere, especially not in India. But this is not the only thing. There is more to it.
Where Does Modi Govt’s Loyalty Lie?
The Narendra Modi government has committed itself to serving and protecting the interests of the super elite corporate class of the country, and to international finance capital.
If you take a look at all that this government has done in the past six and half years, it is clear that it treats people as recipients of dole and assistance, while it pushes the country’s economic system increasingly toward one that helps and satisfies the greed of big monopolies, whether domestic or foreign.
Before passing these three farming-related laws, here are some of the other policies the Modi government put in place:
·It completely changed industrial relations, destroying the meagre protection offered by labour laws and substituting them with four Labour Codes. These would give hire and fire rights to employers, rejig the wage fixation system, institutionalise contractual work and limit social security. This was something the ruling classes of India had long desired – Modi delivered it.
·It has set new records in selling off public sector enterprises to private entities, often at highly undervalued terms. This has proved to be a windfall for many big corporates.
·It has loosened up restrictions to foreign investment in slew of sectors ranging from coal, energy, banking, insurance, media, atomic power and space, defence production, etc.
·It instituted a uniform Goods & Services Tax (GST) that destroyed the small and medium sector units and came as a boon for bigger ones.
·It opened the doors to private healthcare by introducing the insurance-based system, giving up its responsibility of ensuring ‘health for all’.
·It has been starving the public education system and encouraged privatisation, which is now enshrined in the New Education Policy.
In the management of its own finances, the Modi government has displayed the same strategy – it doesn’t want to spend any money on welfare of the people, but it is enthusiastic about cutting corporate taxes and giving other concessions. It has aligned itself with US-led interests in defence and in various economic matters.
In fact, even on the issue of public distribution of foodgrains, and the related issue of subsidising farmers by giving a minimum support price (MSP) it is truly aligned with Western powers who have been objecting to this food subsidy, claiming that it prevents them from opportunities of exporting grain to India! That is why this government is so strongly committed to these new farm laws. These laws will benefit not only domestic agri-business giants but also foreign food monopolies.
The Modi government is sunk deep into this swamp of corporate interests. It is at home in it, it is loyal to it and it is willing to sacrifice the country’s people for it. The farmers struggle is thus a fight to save the country from this predatory regime.