Mazdoor Ekta Lehar interviewed Hanumaan Prasad Sharma, Vice President, Lok Raj Sangathan, on the ongoing struggle of the peasants in Rajasthan. We are publishing the excerpts of the interview.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL): What is the background of the current struggle?
Hanuman Prasad Sharma (HPS): People had lots of expectations from the BJP government in Rajasthan which was elected to power with a huge majority two and half year back.
In spite of the fact that the BJP, is ruling in all the three states – Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab, the people of Rajasthan are not getting their due share of water. Everywhere farmers are rising in struggle and their struggle is sought to be crushed with lathi and bullets. The farmers located around the first phase of Indira Gandhi canal are being devastated. Due to the problem of leakage and breakages, as a result of poor constructionquality in this and the other linking canals, the peasants have been ruined. The peasants have been waging a struggle against this problem year after year, but the government is sleeping like the giant “kumbakarna”. The farmers have been demanding Eta-Singersaar minor canal for past more than 35 years. Government after government, have been reneging on their promises they make during the elections.
Victory to the struggle of farmers of Eta-Singarasar
While we go to the press we have received reports that the struggle being waged by the farmers in Eta-Singarasar has forced the government to agree to some of the demands. The government was forced to give written commitment that within eight months it will ensure water supply from Indira Gandhi canal for irrigation and find a long term solution.
The BJP had promised in the manifesto that they would provide jobs to 15 Lakh unemployed youth, and will provide Rajasthan’s due share of water for irrigation from Punjab and Haryana. Similarly they had promised to provide dwelling to lakhs of homeless people and extend the road connectivity. Two and half years have passed after making these deceptive promises, and the government is working against its own manifesto and promises!The government has discontinued the scheme of providing loan of Rs. 1.5 Lakh to every farmer. When the people came out against this step, the government had to backtrack, but they are extracting the premium from the farmers by increasing the share amount in the cooperative banks to 15 percent. Likewise, the Food Security scheme has been discontinued. In the past two and half years,no new appointments have been made in any government department. No house has been built under Indira AawasYojana. Everyday one or other case of corruption comes to light.
MEL: Has there been any change in past 65 years by change of government?
HPS: Whatever the farmers have gained in past 68 years is not because of the government favoring us, but through our own united struggle. For example, in 1970,the peasant struggle in Ganganagar was the largest such struggle since independence. More than 20,000 people went to jail, and the government was forced to hire space to set up a new jail. In this struggle, over 10 farmers and youth were martyred in police firing. This was the first such struggle in my life too. I was lodged in Bikaner jail until the final verdict came.
This struggle was set against the backdrop of the construction of the Indira Gandhi Canal, which was earlier known as Rajasthan Canal. At that time, from the point where the canal entered Rajasthan to Hanumangarh, Ganganagar, Bikaner and till the Pakistan border, the land was completely barren. The government wanted to sell this land through auction. The people of this area united going beyond the party affiliations and set up joint committee to fight for their land. The farmers challenged the government declaring that the land is like their mother and they will not let anybody sell their mother. They demanded that this land should be distributed to the sons-of-the-soil who can till the land and earn their living.
After that in 2004-05 a struggle was waged in Raval-Gharsanaarea demanding water, where many farmers were martyred. At the end the government had to bow to the demands of the farmers.
I can say with full conviction that by changing party in power the conditions of people is not going to change. It is only when people rise up in struggle unitedly that they have won any success.
MEL: Today, what is the political alternative in front of the people?
HPS: The alternative is in front of us. What we see today is that people don’t trust the bourgeoisie parties. Across India if you see you will notice that wherever people are waging struggle on the ground and getting success, that is because that they are rising above narrow party politics, uniting with each other and fighting for their rights. People have lost faith in present day political parties.
The struggle for empowerment is advancing. It is becoming clearer by the day that whichever party comes to power, it does nothing for the people, but defend the interest of the capitalist class and the looters. To maximize the profits of these thieves, the government loots people through numerous taxes, price rise, corruptionand pushes people into one crisis after another. People are drawing their own lessons from all this.
MEL: What is the role of Lok Raj Sanghathan in the ongoing struggle for water?
HPS: Various political parties are concerned about their shrinking base. They are realizing that nobody believes them. So these parties are coming into joint fronts and trying to protect their existence. But as a result of their political education and training, when they open their mouth they speak of the same capitalist path. They don’t speak of class struggle, or how people can be brought to power. That is not their aim, in any case!
In such a situation, Lok Raj Sangathan is playing the role of guiding people on the path of empowerment, through correct political education. People have begun to understand the current political system and they are very angry. They are uniting despite many differences, and waging struggles. Uniting the people irrespective of political differences, that is the task that Lok Raj Sangthan is performing across India.
But this struggle is not easy, and faces many constraints. Of course one of which is human resources. But many new people are getting attracted towards Lok Raj Sanghathan and forming their unity. They are eager to change the system.
MEL: What has been your experience in waging the struggle in this region?
HPS: We have this Indira Gandhi canal which runs through our region. It irrigates 16.17 lakh acre of land. Additionally 1.85 Lakh acre land is also been irrigated.
For past 35 years farmers from 55 villages spread over 25-30 thousand acre have been demanding Eta-Singarsar minor canal. The Indira Gandhi canal passes through this villages to reach Jaisalmer. Water is being lifted at six points to be supplied to Jaisalmer. But this village through which this canal passes, does not get a drop of this water. Fed up with demanding it for last 35 years, the farmers in this area have started an agitation from 3 March 2016. They are holding demonstrations and calling on farmers through mahapanchayat (grand assembly) to join this struggle.
But the irrigation minister in the present government, who claims to be the son of a farmer, and is also from this area, has not taken notice of our demands.
When their demands were not heard, the Tibba Committee of Eta-Singrasar Minor, declared their intention to occupy the railway track of Thermal Power Plant, and the line supplying the water to the thermal plant on 12th June 2016. Frightened of the consequences, the government held session of discussions with the joint struggle committee. Simultaneously the government is trying to break the unity of farmers, intimidate and tire them out by refusing bails on old cases to the leaders of the agitation.
In the meeting held on 8 June the government has asked for 8 months for the committee to undertake investigation on the water availability and submit report. The government agreed to written assurance from the irrigation minister and secretary. But on 9th June, the government backtracked on giving written assurance.
To deal with the 12th June agitation, the government has deployed 1500 strong force of police, para-military forces, and 15 district administrations appointed 14 executive magistratesfrom the government. On the other had the farmers struggle is being waged by the women, who are ready to“do or die” in battle.
A similar situation is faced by the farmers of Amar Singh branch of Bhakra and Nohar feederSidhmukh canal. The government is determined to crush their agitation.
The Kisan Mazdoor Vyapaari Joint Action Committee is mobilizing people at village and hamlet level. Farmers from 5-10 village come together and organiseMahapanchayat for preparing for the struggle. Mahapanchayats have been held in Ransara, Ratanpura, and Ramgarh villages. The RamgarhMahapanchayat have resolved to form village level committees. On 15 June the farmers from Bhukaraka villages have resolved to fight for their demands and spread out to villages to awaken the people to take up the struggle.