Kisan Long March to Mumbai

Kisan Long March – A Critical Review of the Farmers’ Rally to Mumbai

Opinion
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There was a time when the mills of Bombay were the citadel of the militant working class movement led by the communist-influenced trade unions. More than Calcutta, the militant movement of the Bombay mill workers would panic the big comprador capitalists and their foreign investors, as at the end of the day, Bombay housed all capitalists of the country. However, ever since that bastion was seized by the Hindutva-fascist Shiv Sena in the 1970s, with the support of the Congress and the RSS, Maharashtra succumbed to the reactionary Hindutva politics and its rural hinterland became the breeding ground for Brahminical terror forces. The recently organised Long March of Farmers under the leadership of the All India Kisan Sabha, the peasants’ front of the CPI(M), created a new stir in Maharashtra as well as in the whole country. It somehow, even within the periphery of the state-drawn limitations, created a new momentum for the struggle of the farmers and workers. When the massive forces of the farmers, carrying red flags of the AIKS, arrived at the outskirts of Mumbai and marched to the Azad Maidan of South Mumbai at the midnight, the financial capital of India saw the reincarnation of the yesteryear labour movement, which used to be the heartbeat of Indian labour struggle.

A rally that started from Nasik, with 20,000 farmers, swelled to 35,000 when it reached Thane. The Kisan Long March started with a long list of demands that the farmers wanted to place before the government by laying siege of the state legislative assembly when it meets for the Budget Session. Most of the demands placed by the agitating farmers are outstanding since a long time, however, no one ever paid any heed to them. The farmers participating in the Kisan Long March have the following list of demands:

  1. The implementation of the Swaminathan Commission Report, with a promise of 1.5 times MSP over the total cost of production
  2. An effective debt waiver programme for all farmers of the state
  3. Implementation of an effective compensation policy to recover the losses that the farmers suffered due to hailstorm and pest attacks
  4. Restoring the rights of the tribal people over the forest lands according to the FRA 2006, allowing the landless farmers the right to till the land they have been tilling so long
  5. End of all corporate annexation of farmers’ land in the countryside, especially for Modi’s Bullet Train plan and for the construction of the super highways hyped by Nitin Gadkari’s ministry
  6. End of linking the rivers in Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts so as to ensure that the tribal areas are not submerged
  7. Demand for water to those parched lands where the farmers suffer due to drought year-after-year

Much to the surprise of the national mainstream media and political spectators, at a time when the ardent RSS lackeys like film director Vivek Agnihotri or an MP like Poonam Mahajan, the daughter of BJP’s former match-fixer and deal broker Pramod Mahajan, were creating a ruckus over “Urban Maoists”, who, they allege, were “misguiding” gullible farmers and tribals, the majority of the rightwing, anti-worker and anti-peasant political forces, like the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena, one of the terminators of the mainstream left from the Bombay mills, came out openly to support the farmers rallying to Mumbai and some of them even organised food and basic amenities for them. A visibly troubled BJP leadership ordered that the members of the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet talk to the Kisan Long March leaders to ensure that the siege of the Legislative Assembly can be averted. The government and the opposition jointly appeasing the rally of an opposition force, led by a party that’s non-existent in entire Maharashtra, is a new political optics for the nation, with several sub-layered messages concealed in it.

The Devendra Fadnavis government didn’t take much time to accept, what it calls, “most of the demands” of the agitating farmers after talking to a 12-member delegation that met the government. The government didn’t provide a deadline or any official acknowledgement that it has accepted the demands, though it mentioned “six months” as a period after which the farmers of Maharashtra may see the implementation of some of their demands made during the Kisan Long March to Mumbai. Soon after the meeting, in which the opposition parties and even most of the BJP and partner Shiv Sena men weren’t allowed, the AIKS withdrew the movement by claiming victory and the government promised to arrange for a train to ferry the farmers to their homes. This was supposed to be the end of the movement for which the farmers bore the blisters on their soles, by walking 180 km non-stop, without adequate rest or without adequate food (farmers are always short of food anyway).

Such a quick victory of the farmers who participated in the Long March from Nashik to Mumbai seems quite surrealistic, as the BJP government and all right-wing forces, except for few bullheads, showed extreme warmness to the farmers and attempted to appease them with sugar-coated bullets. The government visibly baulked to bring any real changes in the lives of the farmers for so long and suddenly it did a volte-face to sing Hallelujah to the farmers! This indeed incites several doubts to every critical mind.

It looks like that the Devendra Fadnavis government was under compulsion, as per the directives of the RSS, to dispel the agitating farmers as soon as possible, without allowing them a longer stay to carry out their agitation in the heart of Mumbai and thereby, attract public support, especially from the slum-dwellers, factory workers, BEST, auto and taxi workers, and other sections of the urban toiled people. The RSS didn’t want to show the BJP government as an anti-farmer government, which it actually is, to the broad masses of farmers, a big vote-bank for any party in Maharashtra. The RSS attempted to ensure that the Fadnavis government rein-in the agitating farmers within the fold of the legal and non-lethal struggles waged by the likes of AIKS, than to be wooed by the Maoists and other radical left-wing outfits that are trying to tap on the discontent of the farmers and tribal people to expand their base in Maharashtra, as that would seriously challenge the existence of the RSS and its terrorist camps in the hinterland of the state.

The dire need to keep away the radical left, who offered external support to the farmers’ struggle, was seen within the official left itself, which cared more to cosy-up with the official fascist organisations and religious fundamentalist organisations than to use the occasion of the massive agitation and mobilisation of the farmers to impart the political lessons that would empower the farmers to understand the dynamic praxis of politics in a better way and play a strong role in building up an anti-fascist, anti-corporate and anti-imperialist struggle in the countryside of Maharashtra.

Tailing the spontaneity with which the farmers’ movement progressed, mostly on economic demands, and by not politically uplifting it or educating the farmers for a stronger and protracted struggle, the AIKS acted as a safety valve of the ruling comprador capitalists, feudal landlords and their representative, the RSS-led Hindutva camp. It’s one of the reasons that the CPI(M) and its progeny remained aloof from raising the demand of quashing the beef ban order of the BJP government, which is wreaking havoc on the farmers, as they can’t sell their old cattle anymore, while the stray cattle cause immense damage to crop and die due to dehydration during the parched summers.

There was also no demand to end the oppression laden by the private money-lenders or to ban them altogether, because they have been instrumental in exploiting the farmers, sucking out the last penny from them and then fill the coffers of the Hindutva fascist organisations with a small portion of their ill-gotten wealth. The AIKS didn’t raise the demand of scrapping all land mortgaged to the feudal landlords, who are exploiting farmers by charging exorbitant interest rates on those land and then evicting them from their land arbitrarily, whenever the farmers fail to pay back the instalments. The demand could have led to the opposition of the Congress, NCP and the Shiv Sena, who, apart from the RSS-led Hindutva camp, thrives on the feudal support in Maharashtra

The CPI(M) and its affiliates cannot live without the support of the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra and thus feudalism was shielded by the party, which has a dirty history of flirting with the landlords against the poor tillers of the soil.

Farmers of India have waged heroic struggles throughout the course of history and hence, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the history of the country is the history of the class struggle between the farmers and the colonial and feudal powers. Today, when the farmers are facing the joint assault from the feudal and imperialist powers, then it becomes imperative for them to strengthen their struggle against these two foes by politically uniting with all anti-feudal and anti-imperialist forces, who are sincerely anti-fascist as well. Be it in Maharashtra or in Rajasthan, despite commanding the allegiance of a lot of militant and politically charged farmers and tribal people, the AIKS or the CPI(M) will be reluctant to build up a strong class struggle of these basic masses against the oppressors and plunderers. The official and parliamentary left, immersed in the mire of opportunism, will only use the support of the broad masses to carry out pacifist movements that aim at token bargaining and then duping the farmers with a hope of a non-existent bright future.

One must not forget that the AIKS and the CPI(M) compromised a lot to win support of the establishment and of the big comprador capitalists like Anand Mahindra and others, who praised the “peaceful” struggle of the farmers for showing that without causing “disturbance to the city”, the “village crowd” can come and use the city to place their demands. Most of the people are cheering this as a victory of Indian democracy, forgetting that it’s actually the failure of that very democracy that the farmers had to march for 180 km to place their demands before a deaf government. It’s also an irony that the farmers’ rally or the Kisan Long March was organised by the CPI(M), which has a record of killing and maiming farmers who dared to rally against its misrule in those states that the party and its affiliate ruled in the past. On 14 March the country will commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Nandigram massacre, in which scores of farmers agitating over land acquisition by the CPI(M)-led government were gunned down by its police force.

 

There are many reasons why a section of the capitalists, the Shiv Sena, few media houses and a lot of intellectuals as well as upper-middle-class people, who would support apartheid in housing societies of Mumbai and are apologists of Muslim and Dalit lynching, extended their support to a rally led by a CPI(M) affiliated organisation. The main reasons among them are, firstly, the CPI(M) managed to pacify the farmers and keep them at bay from the militant struggle for their just demands, which was necessary to strike panic in the heart of the Hindutva fascist regime. The AIKS-led Kisan Long March also tried to look merely a rally organised for farmers’ demands and not as a rally against the Hindutva fascist regime’s anti-farmer policies and attitude. Moreover, the Kisan Long March was organised in a way to portray that it cared for the urban elites and upper-middle class, who suck the blood of the farmers in some way or other. The farmers especially dragged on their tired bodies on the night of 11 March to ensure no inconvenience is to the city’s life-cycle on Monday, especially to the students appearing for SSC exams. The rally won applause, but not support of those who were praising them on the TV and in the air-conditioned drawing rooms.

It’s imperative today that the gains of the Kisan Long March, the struggle waged by the farmers against the Fadnavis government and the Modi government are consolidated and the farmers are motivated and charged with political education to be a formidable force against fascism to reckon with. There is an ardent need to infuse the spirit of anti-fascism within the broader struggle of the farmers for their existence as the fact must be uncovered before them that as long as the Hindutva fascist empire, which aims at dividing the poor and push them into fratricidal riots and wants to spend billions of rupees on construction of statues than on the welfare of the poor, survives in India, the farmers will be pushed to the corner, left to exasperate and suffocate. All demands of the Kisan Long March that the Fadnavis government has accepted, will be thrown to the backburner as soon as the farmers return home and the agitation dies down. It’s for the sake of their own survival and a dignified life, the farmers must carry on their struggle for liberty, justice, democracy and equality, under the leadership of the working class, against the fascist menace propelled by the Hindutva fascist pantheon. The anti-fascist progressive and democratic forces that despise opportunism, must try to utilise the moment and reach out to the farmers, in Maharashtra and elsewhere, to politically arouse them against the Hindutva fascist empire, which is buttressed by their common enemies – the feudal landlords, the money-lender sharks, the corporate houses and the foreign capital. Unless fascism and its ally feudalism are defeated, the farmers will have to carry out their Long March incessantly.

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