Farmers' fury recently spilled onto the streets of Mumbai and it has boosted the morale of CPI(M) after its humiliating defeat in Tripura elections. Over 50,000 distressed farmers led by the CPI(M)'s farmer front, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), marched 180 km, braving the heat, from Nashik (March 6) to Mumbai, in five days only. Angry farmers demanded answers from the government over several long pending demands. The unprecedented silent 'long march' of farmers in the pre-election year which incidentally got the support from several political parties, has brought the spotlight on the agrarian crisis in the country. The mega protest by farmers has certainly caught the people's imagination and many talked to farmers and clicked selfies with them.
The mega protest however ended in success after Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis accepted most of their demands. The ‘long march’ came as a morale booster for the rattled CPI(M) after Tripura defeat. The presence of party general secretary Sitaram Yechury in Mumbai added a political colour. For CPI(M), which is extremely worried because of the shrinking role in electoral politics, this has come as an eye opener.
CPI(M) insiders said that what AIKS, the country's largest organisation representing farmers and labourers, did was commendable and conceded that it is a lesson for the parent party to revise its electoral strategy for 2019 so that the BJP led government at Centre can be defeated.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to CPI(M) leader and veteran trade union leader Suneet Chopra to know what the successful farmers' march meant for CPI(M). Former Central Committee member conceded that the agrarian crisis will continue to be one of the major issues in 2019 elections. He blamed the Modi government for adopting anti-peasants policy which pushed the rate of farmers’ suicides in the country. He said that the BJP is a party prejudiced against farmers who belong to lower caste, untouchables and tribals.
IC: The farmers protest in March was an eye opener for political parties and the masses. Your reaction.
Suneet Chopra: This protest was a culmination of several things. The BJP promised ache din and instead terrorised Indian peasantry with demonetisation, petrol price hike, fake encounters, not fulfilling the promise of buying agriculture produce at Minimum Support Price from farmers which resulted in the rise of suicides by farmers in the last four years. Rajasthan (Ghadsana) witnessed farmers’ movement over canal water against the government and Madhya Pradesh witnessed the price of harvest issue. Maharashtra is the third event. Each time, peasant movement has become more disciplined and professional. The CPM had planned a quick march after Rajasthan experience for a greater impact because oral agreement from the Raje government failed to benefit the farmers.
The CPM got farmers from strongholds to Mumbai and managed to make the impact. It was a major achievement for the CPM after Tripura defeat. The CPM sought for written agreement from the Fadnavis government on farmers’ issue which the latter agreed. So if the government goes back on it, it will pay for not keeping its promise.
IC: What compelled the state government to concede the demands of Maharashtra farmers? Was it 2019 elections, according to you?
The BJP is now facing the negative fallout of its policies. Maharashtra did not have a choice but to agree to the demands of farmers. The government has learnt through bitter experience that violence and terror will be responded to by the people. After all, it was a question of citizens killing themselves which showed a remarkable depression among the farmers. Nearly two thousand farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra since June 2017. Gorakhpur by-election result, in which BJP lost, was nothing but an indication of the depression among the farmers. In Gorakhpur and Phulpur, BJP supporters did not come to vote.
IC: Farmers distress goes beyond borders... The BJP had promised in its election manifesto of implementing the recommendations of Swaminanthan report and MSP issue but did nothing to fulfil these promises... your views.
The matter was politicised by the BJP with a remarkable lack of acumen in the elections as they spoke of Swaminathan formula. Why did it do so? The BJP with its wrong political activity paid the price it deserved.
IC: Will farmers’ crisis be a major issue in 2019 elections?
Farmers issue will remain be the centre point of Indian politics for the next 20 years at least ...until control of the rich on the land in India is broken.
IC: Why, do you think, the BJP did not fulfil its promise made to farmers?
The BJP believes that it can tell lies to the people and frighten them if they oppose. The BJP has adopted the policy of divide and rule adopted by the British colonialists in India.
IC: The UPA II government too failed to handle the farmers’ crisis issue?
The UPA did not handle the issue properly. That's why the UPA faced the defeat. But the UPA did not lie and terrorise the people including farmers, as the BJP has done. The BJP is trying to avoid the defeat by peasants and created a worse situation for itself only.
IC: How should one deal with the agrarian crisis in the country now?
Spend public money on peasants. The BJP in fact took away the liquidity from the economy through demonetisation and gave it to people like Vijay Mallaya, Nirav Modi, Choksi and Lalit Modi etc. There is a belief in the BJP that India can only progress when assets of this country are in the hands of rich, which is totally a false conception. The fact is that rich will take over your assets illegally and take them out of the country. So how is it going to help improve the economic situation in the country?
Loans taken by a majority of poor farmers are from the money lenders and not the banks. So debt waiver will not help. Rather, the government should take steps to handle private money lenders. Forest land rights are meaningful only when the government gives a proper package to the tribal farmers.
IC: Will or won't CPI(M) use the farmers issue in 2019 to strengthen its mass base ?
I think, the CPI (M) needs a little more wisdom to be able to do that. It may hang around looking for allies. The problem is CPI(M) does not know how to make winning electoral alliances. We may waste the effort but others may not. So if you are content to remain on the sidelines, you will remain on the sidelines. Lack of courage does not allow you to make a better showing than the one you have made in Maharashtra, It was a very good move. But you need the courage to go from the street to the ballot box.
The Party Congress is scheduled for mid-April which will discuss lessons learnt from Maharashtra farmers protest and decide the future course of action to consolidate its mass base and decide electoral strategy. CPI (M) must learn to make electorally fruitful alliances with like-minded people.(Published on 19th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 12)