With summer setting in, the scorching heat is hardly bearable in the tarpaulin tents of the farmers stationed at the National Highway 48. The passing traffic and the dust storm it creates covers everything with its brown particles. The camp of farmers agitating against recently enacted farm laws have now relatively less participants.
However, a quick conversation with the farmers from Rajasthan clear the air around participation and future strategy for 80-day long movement continuously spreading across the country.
Arun Bishnoi from Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan maintained that the strategy for furthering the struggle is now aimed at intensification of the movement in villages. Talking to NewsClick, he said, “There are two basic reasons why farmers have returned to the villages. The immediate reason being that the crop of mustard is ready to be cut in a month. But the larger point is about spreading the movement in rural areas where farmers are still unaware about dreadful impact of the laws.”
He added, “Please remember that we are fighting a mighty government which holds complete control over news channels. This is why, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha called for organising Mahapanchayats wherever possible to awaken the people. We can show our strength here at borders but there is no point sitting here. Not all people can come here but they will certainly come to tehsil and street meetings. At present, we are planning to organise mahapanchayats in Bikaner, Churu, Sri Ganganagar, Sikar and Hanumangarh. We are expecting the mahapanchayat in Sikar will see at least one lakh people’s participation.”
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha- a collective of farmers’ unions - has called for mahapanchayats in Hanumangarh and Sikar on February 18 and 23, respectively. Bishnoi, a long time Bharatiya Janata Party supporter, is also enraged at the silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the reported death of 233 farmers in the movement. He said, “He (Modi) is pained that a few people dismantled the mobile towers of Jio but does not shed a tear for died farmers. This is sheer hypocrisy!”
R S Punia, another farmer sitting beside Bishnoi, cracks jokes at intervals. Talking about the concertina wire, cement blocks and containers which have put up as hurdles on the highway, Punia said, “In ancient times, the kings used to dig up trenches around the fort to save it from the enemies. Today, he (Modi) has put up similar barricades as if we are coming to invade his fort.”
Also read: Purvanchal Farmers to Hold Mahapanchayat in Barabanki Following Successful Mobilisation in West UP
He added that contract farming, as facilitated by one of the laws, is not new to the farmers in the region. “We have been growing barley for several companies which specialises in beer making. The companies have ditched the farmers even when they promised a certain rate under the bond. A similar scenario exists in government mandis where the mandi board would not accept more than 25 quintals per acre for moong, gram and mustard.”
Bishnoi intervened to say, “Rajasthan does not have any tradition of Mahapanchayat. But we are also organising them because we need to expose several lies related with farmers. One of the lies is that we do not pay any tax. The fact is at one time we were charged 28% on agricultural implements. But now it is 18% only for pesticides. The subsidy is being reduced continuously and the diesel prices are too up. We need diesel for seven months in a year, either for tractor or tubewell. Does he (PM Modi) not understand our plight?”
Away from the tent, Mohan Singh carefully looks after distribution of medicines at one of the medical camps. Singh, a retired army man hailing from Sikar, said that farmers have already freed and are now camping at 12 toll points located in the district, which include two national highways and 10 state highways.
“We are conducting small panchayats in villages, too, to inform the people about the laws. The ultimate aim is to bring people who are still out of struggle’s ambit,” he said. When asked if there was any specific reason other than spreading awareness about the laws, Singh replied, “We are nowadays calling it mahapanchayat but we did block the roads for 13 days and compelled the government to waive off Rs 8,000 crore loan of farmers in Sikar earlier.”
He went on to add, “Similarly, Churu is the only district in India where insurance coverage for damaged crops is 60%. Rest of the districts have 40% limit. So, the historical experience of such struggles is that farmers have always won. The farmers get confidence from the struggles of Sir Chhotu Ram and Devi Lal too. In essence, these meetings are preparing farmers for the long haul.”
Talking about the panchayat meetings called by the Congress party, he said, “We are bearing the brunt of its inaction. Had they implemented the Swaminathan Commission report’s suggestions, we would have been sitting peacefully in our homes. Now, it is wandering to save its face.”
Sitting by the fire in the evening, B S Meel from All India Kisan Sabha argued that the troubles would only mount for BJP if it does not find an amicable solution.
Also see: Govt Misleading Public, Farmers Allege at Bahadurgarh Mahapanchayat
On being asked if he thinks that the saffron party is getting restless, he said, “Obviously there is restlessness not only in BJP but in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh too. It was also visible when second-in-command of RSS, Bhaiyaji Joshi, said that the government should soon find a solution. Now, the Budget session is over and everyone is waiting for resumption of talks.”
“The more it delays the talks, the more problems it will have to face. Secondly, Patels are one of the largest agrarian communities in Gujarat and there is already discontent in them. So, we are expecting to see unprecedented unity of communities in the coming days. Moreover, the struggle is not limited to farmers. It a movement of common people who have waged the struggle to reclaim democracy,” he added.