Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Farmers' Movement and LJA

One of the most important movements of the lokavidyadhar samaaj that LJA seeks continuity with is the farmers' movement. Not only is it the largest non-violent non-political movement in the most recent past, its genesis was in forging of a unity not imaginable within then existing modes of thought. The lasting nature of this unity is evident, if not in continuation of joint struggles on those scales, then in the continuing perception of identity of interests of all the farmers. Moreover, this perception is today shared by others both within and outside the lokavidyadhar samaaj. However, this unity can once again blossom only as part of a larger unity of lokavidyadhar samaaj.

The last quarter of the twentieth century was when the farmers' movement in the country arose, spread, peaked and then scattered into segments. Large states spanning the entire length and breadth of the country were engulfed by the movement. The country witnessed huge, determined gatherings of farmers in far-flung areas and state and the national capitals alike, putting forth clear demands. Issues raised ranged over agricultural prices, movement of agricultural produce, farm loans, farm subsidies, policies of import and export of farm produce, and land acquisition from farmers. While the movement started in the so-called green revolution areas, in its later stages it was actually the so-called backward regions which kept it alive. Organizations of farmers in different states differed in their emphases on issues raised and the debate on these never stopped. Yet a national coordination committee of these organizations functioned as a strong and effective body for a fairly long time and directed organization of major agitations.

The most important contribution of farmers' movement was its assertion that the reasons for rural poverty are external to the rural society. The exploitative mechanisms do not lie within villages but spring from official state policy. This policy sustained and deepened the Bharat-India divide. This understanding of genesis of poverty stood in direct opposition to the received wisdom of the time, which saw poverty as the result of anything from disparate land holdings to laziness and ignorance of the farmer. It is common wisdom today largely due to the farmers' movement. Moreover, it was clarity on this that made it possible for separate movements led by leaders with widely different personalities and outlooks to forge loose but strong alliance in the form of a national coordination committee.

The ideological expression of this understanding was the declaration that poverty is artificial, and the active principle, that the farmer is capable of taking care of himself once freed from the clutches of the demon of state policy. By this the movement rejected lock, stock and barrel all theories which put the blame for poverty on forces within rural society. It also declared the farmer as knowledgeable, the community of farmers as capable of organizing their life and society without any external aid. The practical expression of the understanding was the declaration of non-political creed. By this the movement resisted all tactics and machinations springing forth from these theories of poverty, recognising them for what they were - attempts at division of rural society and disruption of its unity in struggle.

Globalization proved to be the nemesis of the large unity forged by farmers movement. It created pathways of greater opportunities for those in more commercialised forms of agriculture, for those relatively nearer loan, finance and political structures. It also allowed the state leading the globalizing economy to pretend that it is the saviour of the farmer. The more backward regions knew better and farmers movement remained strong in these areas for relatively longer time. The unity forged by farmers movement came under fire. Today, after a period of sporadic and separate struggles the movement is again picking up. Two of the important issues are the question of dry-land agriculture and forced land acquisitions.

Even during the peak of farmers' movement there was no doubt that both in terms of ideological position and intensity of mobilization the question of dry-land agriculture was central to the movement. The dry-land farmer is the farthest removed from benefits of government programmes and subsidies. Most subsidies relate to fertilizers, seeds, insecticides and electricity. These are designed to increase marketable surpluses of food grain and industrial raw material and make no sense for non-irrigated agriculture. With the march of globalization and liberalization and the flight of popular politics from the concerns of responsibility toward rural poverty, it is now impossible to find even isolated measures, which can be claimed to have provided crucial timely helping hand to the dry-land farmer. That is to say that in a system, which is exploitative for all farmers, the dry-land farmer bears the greatest burden. On the other hand, it is precisely this farmer, who has sustained agriculture in face of all odds. It is he who devises novel strategies each season, each month and each day in order to face a new calamity and to continue to feed others. It is his lokavidya that makes this possible. A gyan panchayat held in Nagpur last year formulated this position by resolving to demand that the government must take steps to recognise the dry-land farmer the first researcher and to re-establish him as the engine of agricultural research. Recently the Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, one of the two leading agricultural universities in Maharashtra was put under the public scanner for having failed to come up with agricultural strategies, which could have prevented the spate of suicides by Vidarbha farmers. Under pressure, the PKV took a small step in the direction of conceding primacy of research by the farmer. It has announced that it will take steps to recognise 'need-based innovations' by farmers on their fields and that it will organize conferences of such researcher farmers. No doubt that is but a small dent in the arrogance of an official entrenched research establishment. No doubt also that there are any number of ways in which this start can, and probably will, be brought to an end. But it is a vindication of the lokavidya of the farmer in the public domain.

The question of land acquisitions has acquired huge dimensions. Restricted earlier to vicinity of large cities, today the epidemic has spread to widely scattered areas. Witness the displacement of farmers for bout a hundred thermal power plants planned for Vidarbha. Here the farmers losing their land are engaged in struggle for better compensation and other farmers of the region fear loss of water meant for irrigation. Land acquisition is disruptive of all that belongs to the affected, those who are displaced from their land as well as those others in the region who escape this fate. It affects farmers in ways essentially the same as those experienced by other lokavidyadhar communities. Even the most lucrative of compensations must make the farmer feel like the master stage actor who is asked to leave his stage and audiences and go and perform on the Moon because it is so beautiful. In one of the many novel protests that acts of acquisition of land of farmers for power projects has generated, the independent MLA from Amravati District of Vidarbha, Bacchu Kadu threatened jala samaadhi with his supporters.

The demands of dry-land farmers do not amount to segregation within community of farmers. Far from it. Their struggles must be seen from the point of view of forging, and must be taken forward with the aim of consolidating a much larger unity, where all farmers stand together as a large part of the lokavidyadhar samaaj. Nor can protests against land acquisition be seen as attempts to foist unprofitable backward agriculture on farmers. We must remember that no organization of farmers, engaged as it was against state policies which made agriculture non-remunerative, ever consented to large scale land acquisitions even if the price is good enough. Surely, this was because these organizations held that consent to sale of land was at best a distress measure on the part of the farmer. Who can be insensitive enough to think that those who hold in their hearts the courage to perform jala samaadhi do not know life as they can make it and that they can be led astray either by vain ideals of the glorious past or the virtual reality of the present?

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