Kisan andolan – Present situation and the way forward

Fifth meeting organised by the Mazdoor Ekta Committee

The Mazdoor Ekta Committee organised the fifth meeting on ‘Kisan andolan – Present situation and the way forward’ on 11th January 2022.

The main speaker of the meeting was Dr. Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union (KKU), Punjab. KKU is a founding constituent of the Punjab Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). This morcha has more than 500 kisan organisation and it leading the kisans throughout India. One month ago, on 11th December 2021, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha announced the suspension of the year-long agitation at the borders of Delhi. SKM took this decision after the three anti-kisan acts, which had been passed in the parliament in 2020, were withdrawn and the Central government gave written assurance on the other demands of the peasants.

Birju Nayak of MEC presided over the meeting. He briefly introduced the work of Krantikari Kisan Union, Punjab. He then called upon Dr Dashan Pal to address the gathering. After Dr Dashan Pal’s speech, Santosh Kumar spoke on behalf of the MEC. There was a spirited discussion in which participants from Britain, Canada and Australia as well as many activists of the kisan andolan expressed their views about the way forward.

We are publishing the speech given by Dr. Darshan Pal in the meeting organised by MEC.

Presentation of Dr. Darshan Pal, Krantikari Kisan Union, Punjab

Comrades

The agenda for today’s meeting is – the present situation of the kisan andolan and what is its future?

What is the situation today? The kind of atmosphere that was created by this long andolan from 2020 to 2021, seemed to indicate that the andolan would lead to some political change in the country. This is because it was not only the kisans, but people from other strata who had become part of the andolan. The feeling was that a big movement was on the horizon.

What actually happened is that all of a sudden Modi ji withdrew the three Acts and we were left with no choice but to suspend the protest. BJP/NDA government also made promises on our other demands, and on 11th December we suspended the protest.

Before I go into the situation that developed after this, I want to start by giving some facts about the struggle. The agitation had to raise such issues that the kisans could not have imagined, like they will directly oppose the corporates or they will directly clash with the Central Government, which is what actually happened.

I have expressed my views in the past and in many places. I will once again try to put forward my views here. What are the salient features of this andolan, from its beginning to 11th December (2021-Editor)? What were the special things in this andolan, which shaped it this way? It is necessary to address these because whatever andolans take place in the future will have to keep the experience of this andolan in mind and take lessons from this andolan.

For analysing the kisan andolan we cannot forget that it began with six kisans being martyred in Mandsaur. After their martyrdom, kisan organisations began coming together. On 6th June (2017 – Editor) the Mandsaur incident took place. I think there was a big meeting in Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi on 13th or 14th June. I have been attending many meetings of kisan organisations. However, it was for the first time that I saw that kisan organisations of different ideologies, political orientations and beliefs had come together on one platform. There was a discussion on a lot of issues in that meeting. There was agreement on two issues. It was decided to work for building kisan unity on the issues of making kisans debt-free and to have guaranteed procurement of produce at MSP. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti (AIKSSS) was constitutes in this meeting. Following this, marches and rallies were held all over India under the banner of AIKSSS, and a kisan sansad took place in Delhi. There were also huge rallies in Delhi. After that we see that on 20th March the lockdown process is initiated. In spite of the lockdown, some activity or the other continued under the banner of AIKSSS.

The three ordinances were brought on 4th June (2020 – Editor). The kisan organisations in Punjab did not take up the issue of these ordinances seriously. This issue was taken up by the kisan organisations in Punjab under the leadership of AIKSSS.

I want to say even at that time there was a collective understanding and a collective leadership. I remember that I had sent the text of these ordinances to a working committee member of AIKSSS in Bengaluru. We immediately discussed it among ourselves and started the exposure of the ordinances in Punjab. In Punjab this process was done more actively, rapidly and intensely. This – was the salient feature of the movement in Punjab. The All India Coordination Committee (AICC) had jointly decided for the whole country and given a call for two or three types of actions. Firstly, to write letters to the PM. Secondly, in Punjab and through-out the country to hold protest actions in front of the homes or offices of the NDA partners. We had repeatedly given the call for these actions. In practice people were mobilized. However, you would have seen in the media that in Punjab, maximum mobilisation was taking place practically while in other states due to lockdown measures, mobilisation was a much lower level. There was only token participation in other states due to Corona lockdown.  In Punjab the mobilization was at a large scale. I want to relate one incident. The 10 constituents of the Punjab Chapter of AIKSSS also issued independent calls for action. We gave one call in Punjab that kisan sangathans will go to the homes and offices of the NDA partners with a demand charter. This charter was drafted by us. The guidelines for this had come from the AIKSSS and it was fully implemented in Punjab. Punjab Tractor March must have been the organised perhaps in the last week of July or the first week of August.

For the first time we felt that a lot of youth were coming forward. 65 to 75% of participants in the Tractor March in Punjab were youth. While in the earlier times, it used to be the older people, 50-55 years old. Youth played loud music and drove tractors at a fast speed towards the houses of BJP and other Akali representatives. These actions were repeated and once again the youth came forward in large numbers. The pressure built up by the youth in Punjab was so intense that NDA partner, Akali Dal had to break its alliance with NDA. The lone Akali Central Minister, Harsimarat Kaur had to submit her resignation as Minister under the pressure of the movement. I want to say that society as a whole in Punjab including youth, religious organisations, political parties was joining the movement that was opposing the three Acts and raising other issues. This was the situation till the end of August. Let us see what happened next.

There were organisations other than the 10 kisan organisations in Punjab. All these organisations held meetings and decided to work together. This led to the formation of the morcha of 28 organisations

A call was given from this morcha for a Punjab Bandh on 25th September (2020 – Editor). This bandh was very successful. You can say that not even an animal was on the roads of Punjab. Throughout Punjab, youth in their cars, motorcycles and jeeps joined the bandh. They went around with great spirit to make the bandh a grand success.

On the day of the tractor march and Punjab bandh, it appeared that Punjab was going for a big battle with Delhi. In this situation other organisations in Punjab joined the movement. Then it was felt that the target of the movement should be the Central government. BKU Ekta Ugrahan and Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti also said that they are with the morcha (six such organisations had not joined the morcha but were supporting it from outside). Many smaller organisations also joined. Then declared that they will join in all the decisions of the morcha. This was the beginning of the direct battle with Delhi.

Then there was a no holds barred protest. All the railway tracks in Punjab were jammed. Secondly, all toll plazas in Punjab were made free. It was decided to boycott all products and services of Adani/Ambani – seize all petrol pumps or sit on dharnas outside their malls. By that time, Akalis had separated from the BJP. We had already declared that if anybody from BJP and Akali Dal tried to come, we will prevent them from entering any village. It was this fear which had forced the Akali Dal to exit from the NDA. After this dharnas were organised in front of all BJP representatives’ offices and homes. I will call this a four-point package. Opposition of BJP, making toll plazas free, shutting down the railway tracks and boycott of malls and petrol pumps. Even newspapers reported on this. Later it became established and we dubbed it as the Punjab model of struggle. This model was very successful. Both the Central and State government were shaken. Punjab government called a special session of the Assembly. Perhaps on 19th October (2020 – Editor) when barring two BJP MLAs, the MLAs of all the parties joined a procession to give a resolution to the Governor. This meant that  all the political parties except the BJP were forced to take a stand in favour of the kisans; this included the Punjab government.

Coming under pressure, the Central government invited us for a meeting on 8th October with the Central Ministers. We were told by the Agricultural Secretary, S Agarwal that they will attempt to explain to us the agricultural Acts and if we want they will let us meet the Agriculture Minister. Then the Punjab organisations decided that they will not take part in this meeting and boycotted the meeting. We continued to block railway tracks. The struggle was in full swing in Punjab. BJP members were not allowed to move around freely. Then we got another invitation from the Centre promising that we will also be given time with the Agriculture Minister on 14th October in Delhi. We went from here. Arrangements for the meeting had been made. When we went into the office, Secretary, S S Agarwal started to introduce those present. We asked where the Minister was? He tried to evade the question. Then we told him that one of the Ministers was in Punjab and that we are being told that the other one is in some meeting and is addressing a press conference. So, we told him what was in our minds, boycotted the meeting and returned. The press reported that Punjab kisans had boycotted the meeting and had gone back. This was in October. The movement that had started in Punjab in August moved ahead. The second meeting with three Ministers also failed.

I want to remind you that the AIKSSS had given a call for Dilli Chalo on 26-27th November. Punjab organisations were already in struggle. As a member of the coordination committee, I informed the Punjab organisations about this call and invited them for a meeting in Delhi on 26th October in which kisan organisations were coming from all parts of India. In this meeting and in the second day of this meeting on 27th October, there were kisan organisations from different parts of India, all organisations from Punjab, organisations from South India. Rakesh Tikait of BKU was not present in this meeting.

We moved the idea that the action of 26-27th November will not be limited to only the constituents of AIKSSS but that all kisan organisations will come together in the struggle. A committee of five was constituted. Recall that till that time, several of the organisations had not joined the morcha. Till that time BKU, Ekta Ugrahan had not joined the AIKSSS and was participating as an observer. Struggle was going on in Punjab. On 7th Nov, there was another meeting of the big kisan organisations in Gurudwara Rakaab Ganj. We decided that the action of the 26th and 27th November will be an action of country-wide organisations and not just the Punjab organisations. A committee of seven was constituted and it is given the name Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). Rakesh Tikait remained outside. Some kisan organisations from UP had also not joined. Two of the Punjab organisations, BKU Ekta Ugrahan and Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti also remain outside. However, the remaining kisan organisations of the country had joined the SKM.

Then the preparations began for the next phase specially in Punjab. To some extent it started from Haryana. The meeting on 14th November 2020 between the Agriculture Minister, the Rail Minister and one minister from Punjab failed. I would like to share some details about that day. If the Central government was even a little bit flexible, then we would have reached an agreement. Punjab kisans were ready but the talks broke down because of the obstinacy of the Rail Minister. We had proposed that we would allow goods trains to pass but not the passenger trains. Our agitation in Punjab had stopped all goods as well as passenger trains. It was the time for sowing the wheat crop and fertilizers were urgently needed. Coal was needed for the electricity generation. Diesel was also needed. Government was also screaming that military supplies were prevented from reaching Jammu. We were willing to lift the ban on goods trains. But we remained resolute on the rail roko for passenger trains. The Railway Minister was obstinate and the talks broke down.

Then began the preparations for the Delhi March. I will reiterate that all the kisan organisations and all religious organisations and personalities were all in favour of the kisans. Like I said earlier, after the first tractor march, all youth of Punjab, political parties and youth associated with them were supporting the kisan struggle. The flames of the movement in Punjab were propelling the kisans to march to Delhi. Kisans had already started to decorate their tractors; they had equipped their trolleys with all necessities and converted them into homes. They even installed music systems in their trolleys. Elaborate preparations were done by the kisans with the main participation coming from the youth. The great unity of the people of Punjab was inspiring the youth. I would specially say that the role played by Sikhs, who have fought for the whole society and have religious history of sacrifices. They had rebelled against the Mughals and colonialism. The contribution of Punjabis and specially the Sikhs had become a source of inspiration. The fight of Punjab was with Delhi. They felt Delhi was Aurangzeb or British rule, which appeared as the enemy of Punjab. They felt physically, politically, organisationally and spiritually energised. All these energies had combined together.

We held a meeting of Punjab kisan organisations before the 26th Nov program on the day that SKM was founded (7th November 2020 – Editor) in which we alerted everyone that we want to go to Delhi but we will not be allowed to enter Delhi. In that case, we will camp wherever they stop us outside Delhi and hold our dharna. After 2 or 3 days of blocking the traffic, it will be the committee of seven which will consult with all organisations and discuss to decide what has to be done after that. But fate had something else in store for us. In four or five places at the Punjab-Haryana border barricades were put. It was our plan that we will stop there and camp there, hold rallies and stop the roadways. But on 26th November, especially the way the youth were energised, they believed that Delhi was their historical enemy and that they wanted to reach Delhi at all cost.

I want to tell you my personal feeling that the mood was such that if at that time any of the kisan leaders had opposed the youth even a little bit, then surely the youth would have opposed the leaders also. Kisan leaders understood the sentiment and showed their far sightedness. It was not just Punjab but the whole world that witnessed a rehearsal becoming reality. The march was approaching Delhi. From New York, from London, Australia, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata, from everywhere people were glued to their TV and mobile screens. They were not just watching them, they were concerned. And, not just concerned but were one in feeling with the youth. They were virtually traveling to Delhi borders with the tractors of the youth. After two nights and one day of travel, at the same time that the people and kisans of Punjab reached Tikri and Singhu borders, other institutions, religious personalities, those who were supporting us with water and food, those that ran the langars, those who were providing medicines and other support, had also reached there. It felt that it was not only kisans but the whole of Punjabi society which had arrived there. It felt as if it was a cosmopolitan society that had camped outside Delhi. On the other side, the Haryana police and Delhi police tried their best to stop the procession. They used tear gas. They used water cannons. They made huge 10-15 feet and 15-25 ft deep trenches on the highway. They laid huge stones on the roads. Yet the marchers filled these trenches and overcame all obstacles, getting all tractors through. Even when the marchers camped outside Delhi, there were a lot of conspiracies hatched against them by the government in Delhi. Choicest adjectives were used against the leaders — they were labelled as Khalistanis, separatist, Maoists, and so on. Govt even tried to open the blocks to guide the march into a big ground in one corner of Delhi. They offered a package that roads will be opened for the marchers to drive to an open ground in Burari. But most of the kisan organisations rejected such proposals and decided to camp at the borders only. The two big centres of kisans got established at Singhu and Tikri borders where majority of people were from Punjab. At the Ghazipur, Shahjahanpur, Palwal borders also the contribution was maximum by Punjabis. For example, at the Ghazipur border, where Tikait had come there with some 100 supporters under the highway. While what actually blocked the traffic to Delhi was Punjabi migrants who had come from UP and Uttarakhand Terai region. Even in Shahjahanpur border people who had assembled there first were mostly Punjabi migrants from Hanumangarh and Ganganagar, Rajasthan.

I want to say the kisans of Punjab and India were at the centre of the agitation throughout the world. Punjabis and Sikhs were its axis. The energy and force of the agitation, conscious and subconscious, were that it is a fight with Delhi. That is why it became a common saying at the borders – “either we will win and go or our corpse will go”. “Kanoon wapasi ya ghar wapasi”. Kisans were committed to the goal that they will not let the corporates enter agricultural sector, will not let the government in Delhi, meaning the Central government, to implement their agenda. That they will ensure that kisans get MSP. The strength of commitment of the kisan leadership came from the commitment of the people, from their coming in such large numbers to join the kisan organisations.

In the one year of Kisan andolan at the border, Singhu border became a centre from where one voice was heard throughout India. SKM, from its embryonic form went into adolescence and adulthood. Decisions were taken, discussions with the government took place and failed. No meetings with the Central government took place after 22nd  January. The symbol of the andolan became Singhu border and SKM. From many places people adopted the SKM banner and joined the struggle. They came to Singhu border or Tikri borders not just in solidarity but as part of the movement.

I want to once again say that workers, women, dalits, youth, students, employees and all other strata of Punjab contributed to the struggle. All religious institutions, specially the Gurudwaras, whether with the SGPC or not, contributed to the struggle. The struggle spread everywhere on the issues raised by kisans and under their leadership. This andolan for the first time convinced the people by boycotting the corporates, how corporates were against their interest and were the enemy of the people. The andolan challenged the fascism of Modiji. All attempts of the Modi government to incite communalism on the basis of religion, whether through CAA/NRC, or what they did in Kashmir, and the attempt to pass of the Central Acts were defeated by the andolan. If they wanted, the Central government could have disrupted the andolan but they did not dare. There are many reasons for this but I would not go into details here.

One thing is clear that the struggle has united the kisans. Focus has been brought on the issues of the kisans. The hatred of the people against the BJP has been increasing from Punjab to Haryana, from Haryana to UP, and from UP it is spreading to the rest of the country. This is what we are witnessing in this pre-election phase in UP. It can be seen how PM’s motorcade was stopped in Punjab. I feel that the wave against BJP is continuing in one form or another. Its source was in the kisan andolan. BJP government’s attempt in the Kisan andolan was to split the Muslim, Jaats, Gurjars and Meenas and the kisan andolan gave a fitting reply. After we went to Delhi, people requested us not to use any anti-Modi slogans. But the andolan has smashed this pressure. Earlier people believed that Modi and Shah will, perhaps, somehow be able to crush the kisan andolan. But this was not possible because the andolan in Punjab was strong on the ground. Further, Punjab is a border state where the majority of the people are Sikhsth. Punjab also has a border with Kashmir. The Modi government had to stop. If they had dared to repress Punjabi’s then Modi government would have to pay for it dearly in other ways. So, they could neither repress and nor could they take the three laws back because the corporates wanted it. Ultimately in November, they had to take the three laws back by pretending that they could not explain it to the farmers.

I feel that the kisan andolan has opened some roads and pathways for Indians. If kisans can unite like other classes like workers in central trade unions and other smaller unions and can fight together, then kisans can also create a big movement. It appears to me that there is a favourable situation for strengthening the unity and identity of kisans. This can be done and will be done if the different forces that work among the kisans take up the work in a serious manner. Secondly, if the TUs of working class in the organised sector of our country unite like the kisans, then we can create an even bigger united front of struggles. Like I said, when the number of organisations in Punjab went from 10 organisations to 28, the struggle reached a high peak in the form of the bandh of 25th September. The Delhi chalo call could succeed because other organisations in the country also supported this call. The unity of the Punjabis was already established. These facts prove that If we have to fight against the dictatorship or the centralised rule then big stratum of people, kisans and mazdoor, big and small organisation, rising above differences in ideology, politics or affiliation will have to come together for a joint minimum common program. I feel this is the lesson we must learn from the kisan struggle that in the coming days we have to create a big anti-fascism and anti-corporate mass movement.

After 11th December, some of kisan organisations are thinking of trying their luck in the coming Assembly elections in Punjab. They feel that they can come to power. In my view this is not the right direction. Our task is to take up the remaining issues and strengthen the struggle for these and not get caught in small issues like winning an Assembly seat or seats. We have to address the big issues in front of the kisan organisations. We will make a plan in the meeting of 15th January. SKM has already been consolidated in 13 to 14 states. In the coming days it will expand to other areas also. There are even more important issues of kisans than what were raised in the kisan andolan. We have some experience of workers and peasants working together. Apart from expanding SKM, the Kisan andolan has to find ways to strengthen this unity. Kisan leaders must come forward to address these issues and not try to go after the Punjab Assembly seats. That would not be the right direction.

I should stop here. In spite of so many positive things of the kisan andolan, government has tried to create confusion about the 26th January incidents. Then a Nihang had murdered a worker. These were attempts to split us. Then came the Lakhimpur-Kheri incident where the son of Ashish Mishra Teni’s son ran over four peasants and tried to suppress the kisan andolan. However, our kisan comrades handled multiple issues with great wisdom and unity. The agencies of the Central government tried to split us and to malign us. We fought with the government facing these attacks. Even local villages were incited against us at this border. But the andolan was such that most of the people said that they will not do anything against the agitators. Certainly, we are facing difficulties. We will deal with them. From day one, people in Haryana came forward in our support. They made arrangements for drinking water, provided us washrooms and help with the living arrangements. The government agencies have failed to deter us. They had tried to organise RSS activists to attack the stage on 27-28th January (2021 – Editor). They forcibly removed the dharna at the Palwal border. The same was to be attempted at the Ghazipur border. Then Sikh youth gave strength to Tikait ji. They declared that they will sacrifice themselves, even die but will not move. That was the time that Tikait ji became sentimental and issued his appeal. So, facing all these circumstances the struggle has reached a certain stage and the three laws were withdrawn. There are some issues remaining and we will review those in the meeting of the 15th January. We will see what has to be done with the remaining issues.

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