India’s Farmers: Where To Now?
It seems that the ongoing Indian farmers’ agitation has reached a stalemate.
Talks between the two sides have broken down and the Indian Government has refused to concede to the farmers’ demands of a statutory Minimum Support Price for farm products and repeal of the three farm laws to which the farmers are objecting. Apparently, the government thinks that sooner or later, the agitating farmers will get exhausted and the movement will die down, with the farmers going home instead of sitting on the Delhi border forever. So it seems to have decided on a ‘sitzkrieg’ or a policy of ‘masterly inactivity’, i.e. doing nothing, except maintain a strong vigil by the security forces at the Delhi borders to prevent the agitating farmers from entering the capital.
The farmers’ agitation has these achievements:
1. It has united a section of Indian society – particularly in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP – which was hitherto divided on caste and religious grounds
2. It has brought into focus the plight of farmers who are 60-65% of India’s population of 1.35 billion, and were not getting proper prices for their produce, on a national (and even international) level.
3. It has aroused a section of the Indian women, who were otherwise confined to their homes
4. It has seen through the invidious objective of the Indian Government of handing over the country’s agricultural sector to the big national and international corporates.
But what now ?
The leaders of the agitating farmers do not seem to have any clear roadmap for the future of the agitation, and they appear to have run out of ideas. So some of them are resorting to fantasies. For instance, one of them, Rakesh Tikait, announced (in a video interview to a journalist) that the farmers will set up a mandi (marketplace) next to the Indian Parliament. This is a bizarre and weird idea. How can the farmers reach Parliament when they are not even allowed to cross the Delhi borders by the security forces?
Some others declared that unless the Government concedes to the farmers’ demands, they will call upon people to oppose the BJP in elections, and for this even go to states like West Bengal where elections are scheduled for April. But what will this achieve? It can only result in replacing one set of power- and pelf-seekers by another, without any basic change in the system.
I submit that the farmers’ agitation will henceforth proceed nowhere unless it is realised that nothing short of a total transformation of the present political and social system in India and its replacement by an alternative system is needed. Only an alternative system where India rapidly develops can relieve the Indian farmers – as well as the rest of the Indian masses – from their distress. Unless such a radical historical transformation takes place, there will be no solution to the basic problems of the farmers and other sections of Indian society.
But how is such a historical transformation to take place? In my opinion this requires creativity by leaders with scientific thinking, and this is precisely what the present leaders of the farmers’ agitation seem to be lacking. They, without doubt, deserve credit for building up the agitation from scratch to the present level, but their mindsets are unscientific, and hence they can no longer give the correct lead.
In some earlier articles, I had describe the Indian farmers’ agitation as a historical one, and I maintain my view.
But this agitation is only the beginning of a long process, a mighty historical people’s struggle for setting up an alternative political system for India’s transformation from an underdeveloped country to a highly developed one. It is a struggle which may take 10-15 years or more, and will be arduous, witness many twists and turns, and require tremendous sacrifices.
For this historical people’s struggle to succeed, new leaders with scientific ideas and modern mindsets are required. The present farmers’ leaders are clearly unequal to the task.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.