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Is the Sangh Parivar trying to dismantle and delegitimise farmer protests in the country?

Spilling milk over streets and blockade of farm produces helping Sangh to create rural versus urban divide in country [Photo Courtesy: NDTV]

By Siddhant Mohan, TwoCircles.net

The first four years of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government have already seen four big farmers’ protest in the country, and the response of the government offers precious little to support the claim that they have done much to resolve these issues. The recent protest — which concluded on Sunday, June 10 — held under the banner of Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh along with other 130 organisations is being seen as another failure episode for the Central government.

The 10-day protest by the farmers, which was termed as ‘Gaanv Band’, however, did not attract the attention it was hoping to get. And when compared with the Kisan Long March organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti earlier this year and protests of the farmers last year in May and June, it also received little media attention.

What were the demands of the latest protesters?

While a lot of media attention has focussed on the demands of farmers to get their loans waived off if one looks closely it is clear that the farmers have two main demands, according to Anupam, the national spokesperson of Swaraj India, a political party focussing on students’ and farmers’ issues. “One, the government needs to fix minimum support price, MSP, for the produce, and second, offer a one-time farm loan waiver to the farmers.”

One-time farm loan waiver translates to the loan which accounts for all the investments made by farmers to generate their crops. It is not a crop loan waiver which the farmer demands a certain crop even though he is likely to face similar issues in the next crop cycle. This demand has both Central and state government on the backfoot. Many states have decided to waive off farmers’ loans but despite this, only a small amount has been waived off and benefited just a few farmers, leaving a large number of farmers still in debt.

“Implementing recommendations from the MS Swaminathan Committee”— a part of Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto in last general election 2014 —“could resolve the issues at large extent, but the government does not seem to be looking that way,” added Anupam.

Swaminathan committee pointed out that farming has been a loss-making occupation in India. It also recommended for setting up MSP for the food crops at one and a half times the cost of production. But both the BJP as well as the Congress did not implement it.

Raju Gond, a 29-year-old tribal farmer from Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, commented, “We are working day and night to get our produce sold out completely at a fair price. But we had to sell it at a much lower price than the production cost. This created a huge debt for farmers like me.”

Although the government has set the MSP on more than two dozen food crops, it buys a comparatively smaller portion during the month of heavy productions, leaving harvested unsold crops with the farmers. As a result, they are forced to sell the produce at a much lower rate, often 95% lower than the cost of production.

“If the government would have implemented the MSP for our food crops and bought the produced stock, we would not have been in trouble. But what choice do we have now?” asked Gond.

He further said, “They are waiving loans of big corporates who don’t even deserve it. And they are giving us cheques of Rs 1-10 to make a gesture of loan waiver,” pointing at the act of Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh where it “waived” loans by giving cheques of the aforesaid amount to the farmers of the state.

The politics of the protest

In the past two years, the Indian government has faced quite a hard time from the farmers and many believe the government has been completely ignoring the issues. The rift between various farmers’ organisations and the politics behind them does, however, offers some clarity towards the direction in which the government has been actually ‘working’.

The protest ending on June 10 was organised by Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, an outfit led by Shiv Kumar Sharma aka ‘Kakkaji’.

Kakkaji is a well-known figure in politics of Madhya Pradesh as he is in the farmers’ community across many states of India. Kakkaji’s origins lie in the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmer outfit formed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, from which he was expelled following a tussle with Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Now despite his new outfit, Kakkaji has been unable to lose his “nationalist” and the RSS-affiliated tone. While announcing the ‘Gaanv Band’ protest, Kakkaji told media in May, “There are two streams of farmers movements today. One is nationalist and dedicated towards the farmers’ causes. The other one is political and meant to use farmers for political gain.” Kakkaji has proudly boosted this tone several times on news channels.

Kakkaji’s version of the farmers’ movement clearly implies towards the kind of protest Kakkaji was leading keeping farmers upfront. He, as the convener of Mahasangh, announced that farmers would not supply milk and other products to the cities. If the urban people wanted, they had to go to the villages to buy it, he said.

The same announcement was made in the 10-day-long protest. News channels were busy in documenting the problems which urban population was facing. The rise in prices, due to no supply from the markets was kept as the key to the news shows. And images and footages of farmers pouring the milk on the streets added extra points to the coverage.

“All of the produces were out of the farms to the market and storages. Nothing was left to protest with, so protesters resorted to milk, which is apparently easily available. And they poured them on the streets,” says Dr Sunilam, a farmer rights activist affiliated to Kisan Sangharsh Morcha — an outfit which stayed away from Gaanv Band protest — and two times MLA from Multai assembly seat of Madhya Pradesh.

Sunilam further told TwoCircles.net, “See, we welcome any person or organisation working for the farmers of this country. But we decided to stay away from this protest, even they were raising the same demands, but their modus operandi was different and was not acceptable to us.”

In the Kisan Long March organized by AIKSS couple of months back, around 50.000 farmers from Maharashtra decided to march on foot from Nashik to Mumbai and ended their march after a sit-in protest outside Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. The structure of the march — whose organizing outfits were affiliated with Community Party of India (Marxist) — was peaceful. Farmers decided to walk during the night and rest in the morning so that the daily lives of urban population could not be disturbed. Moreover, protesting farmers did not threaten to stop the supply of any kind when the march occurred. This resulted in urban solidarity to the farmers and at many places, local Mumbai people opened their houses and kitchens for the farmers marching to Mumbai.

In the light of the same long march, the recent Gaanv Band protest created a rift between the urban and rural population of the country, and the anti-farmers remarks made by BJP lawmakers also added fuel to the propaganda.
Avik Saha, ​​national convener at Jai Kisan Andolan and presidium member in Yogendra Yadav’s found Swaraj India, talked with TwoCircles.net over these differences. Saha said, “With the Kisan Long March, we could see no gap between rural as well as urban India. But ‘Gaanv Band’ protest has come out as a major setback in reference to all the farmers’ protest in India. We never wanted anyone to suffer because of our demands, we never agreed on any violence and spoilage of any kind of farm or dairy produce.”

Farmer groups which did not participate in recent protest have said that RSS-backed Kakkaji’s call did not ask for their inputs. “They just wanted us to support whatever the way they are planning the protest with, so we could not go,” added Saha. “But we extend our wishes to everyone who wishes to work for India’s farmers.”

On June 6 last year, six farmers were killed in Madhya Pradesh Mandsaur district in police firing. As per the reports, the farmers killed were not part of any particular organisation, but Kakkaji did not delay in claiming that the farmers belonged to his organisation. While the Gaanv Band protest was still on, Rahul Gandhi did not waste a second and visited Mandsaur this year on June 6 on the first anniversary of the police killing of farmers. This was, of course, because Madhya Pradesh is all set to go to assembly elections later this year.

There are obvious reasons behind Rahul Gandhi visiting Mandsaur in an election year. But why is Kakkaji, an RSS-backed leader creating a ruckus in the state in the name of farmers which has a BJP government?

The answer lies in the tussle within the BJP where one section of the party does not want Shivraj Singh Chouhan to come back. If party sources to be believed, one such big camp is being led by senior BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya, who is not on good terms with Chouhan and thus he is taking help from Shivraj’s rival Kakkaji to create an environment against the incumbent Chief Minister. However, party leaders and RSS functionaries did not comment on the issue when reached.

Farmer leaders like Dr Sunilam, Avik Saha and several others did not comment on the political tussle involved in the large body of farmer movement, but they indeed agreed to the fact that the recent Gaanv Band led by old Sanghi Kakkaji’s outfit has a clear connection to the RSS, and thus the motives are unclear to them as well.

The farming sector contributes more than 17% to India’s economy, but the farming sector is still riddled with debts and rotting extra produces, which has led to over 3 lakh farmers committing suicide since 1995. Of these, 18,000 are from Madhya Pradesh, reports the National Crime Records Bureau.

Narendra Modi’s promise of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022 was meant to offer hope to farmers but their issues continue to remain as tools to gain political mileage.

The rift between urban and rural population over farmers issue could change things, explains Saha. He said, “The BJP Government is favoured much in urban belts, but this belt also has sympathy with the farmers and their causes. But with such protests where you spill milk on the streets, the sympathy starts to disappear and people think that farmers are using threatening or extortion method to demand their issues.”

The same Gaanv Band protest with “genuine demands but wrong approach”, lost the support from the farmers’ organisations from Punjab who ended their protest on June 6. They refused to follow Kakkaji’s call to end it on June 10, after its methods put it on a collision course with milk vendors. Other organisations made it very clear that they did not want “any anti-social to break the unity people had for the cause.”