This is the first part of a two-part article by Prof. Amit Bhaduri. The articles were originally published at gaurilankeshnews.com
A monster of not an entirely known shape has recently been injured, but how badly is not fully known. That only the future will tell. The monster, they say is a creation of Indian majoritarian democracy gone rogue. That monster, some say was born out of repeated attempts at perverting the Constitution by means fair and foul, constitutional and unconstitutional. The monster also kept changing its shape. It appears in empty legal forms hollowed out of truth and were presented as laws needed for defending the land against unlawful activities by internal and external terrorists. The monster propagated a version of pathological nationalism meant to silence all opposition, all dissent, and smooth out all differences of opinion by force where necessary. In the meantime, its presence was felt in every corner of the country as it kept destroying poor people’s livelihoods in the name of economic growth and development, in the name of abolishing black money and corruption. That monster operates in a land of multi-party democracy where electronic images have replaced the real, where the advertisement is the news and real news is subversive.
The serious blow that was dealt with this multi-headed monster was not sudden. Strength to deliver this blow was gathered with extraordinary stoic courage and tenacity by a very large number of Indian farmers who had originally gathered and settled in temporary tents, tractors, and trollies on the border of the capital city of Delhi through winter, summer, and rain. They had not been allowed to enter the city. And yet, they acted peacefully with remarkable patience and just waited to be heard. They had found unacceptable the three farm laws the government had recently passed in the parliament and had dubiously hurried through in the upper house with voice votes because they might not have had a majority needed there. The government first tried to disperse them, treating them as rioting mobs with water cannons, tear gas, and so on. And when this did not work they barricaded the farmers on the roads leading to the main entrances in Delhi. The government tried to make a show of talks with the farmers. With altogether 11 rounds of meetings spread over several months, it avoided altogether any discussion of why the farmers wanted the three laws repealed. The deadlock continued, but the farmers had worked out a new strategy by then. The government had encircled them with barricades and police; now it was the farmers’ turn to encircle the whole area at different points with more and more farmers peacefully joining the farmers’ movement from surrounding villages. The government kept on accusing the farmers of being Sikh separatists, anti-nationals and left-wing extremists, Naxalites, and Maoists. A friend joked: Mao had told, ‘encircle cities with villages’. The farmers are doing precisely that without ever having heard of Mao. This is metaphysical justice for our Prime Minister Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah who had absurdly accused them of being Maoists. Farmers organized all this, but without a trace of violence.
Typically, the entire family of mostly self-employed peasants participated in the movement from nearby villages. They did work on the farm by rotation. Women came every evening after the day’s work, and their number swelled along with their determination, often beyond everybody’s imagination. They had far greater staying power than daily wage earners in farms and factories. Their stoic, tenacity of daily routine now directed at furthering the movement became formidable, unimaginable for the government which was ready only for a violent showdown. It was gradually losing nerve.
In many of these areas, especially in Haryana adjacent to Punjab, patriarchy is very strong in the villages; the upper castes dominate the village councils, ‘Khap Panchyats’, and dreadful caste domination prevails. Agricultural laborers mostly Dalits supported the farmers’ movement because they realized that these laws were soon going to replace with private trade and profiteering the public system of distribution of grains which was their sustenance. Media persons visiting these areas reported in amazement that traditional divisions are breaking down not only on the Delhi border but elsewhere; class, caste, gender, and religion are all getting fused into a grand movement with a single objective: repeal the farm laws and ensure minimum support price for trade-in several agricultural produce. The isolation of the government and BJP was almost complete by now as farmers simply began to boycott BJP workers in villages, surrounded public places when BJP politicians were scheduled to speak. The ruling party members were immobilized and needed police protection to move around.
An unintended consequence of the Modi-Shah regime just some months before the farmers’ movement had been the spontaneous mobilization of Muslim women in thousands against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was openly aimed against the Muslim minorities. Such unintended consequences that drew women into the movement turned out to be a most potent medicine working against Modi-style surprise announcements by surprising him instead, although it usually caught the political opposition unprepared. Such a surprise announcement had earlier been very successful when Modi had declared Demonetisation and sudden severe lockdown without preparation and warning.
Even just before the farm laws, the Modi government rushed through the parliament anti-labor laws and faced relatively little resistance, as most party-based large trade unions proved incapable of putting up effective and sustained resistance. In this background, the emboldened government passed the three farm laws basically preparing to hand over the official procurement and the food distribution system of the country to two of its closest corporate allies from Gujrat, the two biggest private industrial houses in India.
The farmers had started putting up almost temporary townships on some entry points to the capital of Delhi, quietly prepared for a long struggle. Now they were spreading out to several areas with new local leadership and initiatives emerging. Their leadership was their very own without accepting advice or guidance from any political party. Instead, opposition political parties felt compelled to support this massive movement. It was a collection of thirty-six farmers’ unions that came together with different perspectives and membership, continuously engaged in debates and discussions among themselves, and united like a rock once a decision was taken. Quite unknowingly they showed to the world what democratic centralism can actually mean and achieve in practice. The movement remained open and transparent, peaceful against all provocations, and invincible because it had total support from all who were in the movement. It transformed the notion of party discipline imposed from the top into voluntary participation with self-imposed, coordinated discipline for a cause.
This historic farmers’ movement started about a year ago on 26th November 2020 and had its first strategic victory on 19 November 2021 when the Prime Minister of India suddenly appeared on the TV to announce his retreat, his intention to withdraw the three farm laws.
His sudden announcement earlier on Demonetization in 2016 was officially meant to eradicate black money. This was a few months before the U.P state elections. It gave his party, the BJP a tremendous comparative edge in terms of monetary resources because it had inside information, whereas, opposition parties were caught unaware and became immobilized. The PM was then at the peak of his popularity, and able to sell himself as the White Knight, fierce fighter against black money, even if his earlier promise before the election of depositing rupees fifteen lakh in every citizen’s account by bringing back black money from abroad had vanished in thin air. And yet, the poor people suffered gladly the hardship because they still believed in their prime minister, and BJP won the U.P election with a massive majority. That was 2017.
Prof. Amit Bhaduri is an economist and a consistent critic of mainstream neoclassical economic theory, relentlessly exposing its logically flawed foundations. He is currently an internationally selected professor (of clear fame) at Pavia University, Italy, and visiting professor in the Council for Social Development, New Delhi.
Read the Second Part here: Indian Farmers’ Movement: A Beginning To Solve All Contradictions – Part 2