Time and again, the ruling class has been repeating the lie that it is the rich kisans from Punjab, Haryana and Western UP who are out on dharna at the borders of Delhi, to safeguard their affluent lifestyles. The recent manifestations of struggles across the country belies this propaganda of the government and many sections of the media. Kisans’ protests have intensified in recent years as the crisis in agriculture has intensified.
The Punjab peasantry began the struggle soon after the Ordinances were tabled in the Union Cabinet meeting on 6th June. They have been out on the roads and rail tracks since July 2020. On November 5, a nationwide ‘Chakka jaam’ was organised and on November 25, the ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement began with the call given by the kisan unions.
Thereafter, and till mid-February, the numbers have swelled at the borders with Delhi, as waves of kisans on foot and in their tractor-trolleys have joined from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. At the same time, kisans have come out on the highways and before the District Magistrate’s office in several states from Kerala and Tamilnadu in the south to Assam and West Bengal in the east, across Telengana, AP, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Several mahapanchayats have been held in the three weeks since 26th January. Thousands of kisans have gathered in these mahapanchayats to reiterate the demands for the repeal of the anti-peasant laws and for guaranteed MSP for all crops.
Kisans are protesting in Punjab, Haryana, UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal. Just like the wheat and rice growing kisans from Punjab, Haryana and UP, the kisans from several states have come out in large numbers protesting in defence of the right to their livelihood.
Western Uttar Pradesh witnessed several major meetings in the last week of January 2021, as kisans gathered in Muzaffarnagar on 29th January, in Mathura on 30th January and in Baghpat on 31st January.
This was followed by a mahapanchayat on 5th February at Shamli. Sugar cane producers demanded payment of their long-pending dues from the mills against the sale of their cane. They are also protesting the high power tariff and are demanding Fair and Remunerative Price, at which price the sugar mills purchase the cane from the peasants. This is not the first time the issue has been raised by the UP kisans. Shamli witnessed protests in 2019 in front of the sugar mills. The cane producers have repeatedly raised this issue as the arrears due to them keep mounting.
Mahapanchayats in Eastern UP are planned for 16th February. The lack of procurement of crops at MSP has always been a major issue for kisans in Purvanchal (East UP).
In Haryana, a mahapanchayat was held on 3rd February in Kandela, a village in Jind district; another was held at Khatkar toll plaza on the Jind-Patiala highway as well on the same day. Likewise, on 7th February, kisans gathered for a massive meeting at Kitlana toll plaza on Charkhi Dadri-Bhiwani national highway near Bhiwani and at Sunheda in the Mewat area of Haryana.
A mahapanchayat was organised in Kurukshetra district on 9th February, while another was held on 12th February in Bahadurgarh, not far away from the Tikri border.
In Tamilnadu, peasants came out in large numbers across the state on 6th February demanding fair compensation for the crops damaged during the January rains. The cane sugar growers of Tamilnadu are demanding MSP of Rs. 5000 per tonne and payment of their arrears from private, cooperative and public sector mills.
The protest of the TN kisans at Jantar Mantar in March-April 2017 that went on for 40 days was a stark reflection of the acute crisis of agriculture that the state has been experiencing in drought years. The kisans had come all the way from TN to the capital to demand immediate relief in the face of one of the worst drought years in the state.
Several thousands of kisans in Maharashtra marched to Mumbai on 6th February in support of the peasants of Punjab, Haryana and UP and to demand that their issues be addressed. These peasants who created history with their “long march” from Nashik to Mumbai on 12th March 2018, had been demanding loan waivers, remunerative prices for crops, stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA); more pension schemes for poor peasants and agricultural workers and compensation to farmers for losses due to pest attacks. They were on the long march because none of these issues had been addressed despite promises by successive state governments.
In Madhya Pradesh, thousands of kisans came out on the highways on 6th February in support of the demands to repeal the agri-laws and for MSP. Procurement at guaranteed prices has been their demand since many years.
In December 2017, hundreds of milk producers and vegetable growers of Madhya Pradesh demonstratively protested on the streets in Mandsaur demanding remunerative prices for their products.
There are several examples from various states that reflect the deep crisis of agriculture across the country. Kisans have been and continue to face an acute livelihood crisis because of several neglected issues since decades. Whether it is drought, untimely rains or floods, the kisan has no wherewithal to face such calamities. The prices at which more than 90 percent of the producers of grains, pulses, vegetables, oilseeds, sugar cane and cotton sell their produce barely covers their cost of production, and are far below 1.5 times the cost of production of their crop. In the case of crops like sugar cane, the producers do not receive the proceeds of their sale for over two years at times.
This is the present situation in agriculture. So to say that it is only the “rich” peasants of Punjab and Haryana who are protesting is to belie the fact that the issue of livelihood of the peasantry across all land-sizes and across the country remains unresolved and is demanding an answer.