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Livelihood and food security of country at stake

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is evidently upset with the growing resonance in the country with the never-say-die movement of the Kisans. The vigorous united peaceful resistance is the rallying point of various sections of class differentiated peasantry in India. It is this remarkable unity that premises both the spread and depth of the resistance. Faced with this stonewall, the Prime Minister betrays his sense of frustration! Intervening in the debate on President’s address, he attributed the movement to FDI – Foreign Destructive Ideology.

His penchant for coinages blast ‘andolanjeevis’ who are polluting the purity of the farmers’ struggle! His attempt to demonise the peasants’ struggle is understandable; the umbrella platform of the farmers, Samyuktha Kisan Morcha (SKM), embracing over 500 Kisan organisations across the country coined the slogan in response to the government’s proposal, following the first round of negotiations – ‘Sarkar Ki Asli Majboori, Ambani, Adani aur Jamakhori’! This slogan captures the quintessence of the current struggle.

Obviously, this has rattled the PM, not to speak of his corporate cronies. Hence the unrelenting nature of the struggle has forced him to observe: “There should not be any criticism of the private sector”!

The obsession with an investment-led strategy for overall economic recovery has shown an abject failure under the present dispensation.

Constant fall in aggregate demand has resulted in unprecedented investment slowdown. The primary reason for this has been an unsustainable growth in inequality and accompanying crash in employment. This phenomenon is graphically illustrated in the latest Oxfam report aptly captioned ‘The Inequality Virus’ while describing the conditions of the economy which went into a severe lockdown with the outbreak of the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the post-pandemic picture of the Indian economy is particularly grim even when compared to other developed economies.

It is clear that private-corporate investment, which grew dramatically in the boom before the 2008 global crisis rising from 6.2% of GDP to 16.8% in the space of just five years, has come to a grinding halt. That boom-driven investment in manufacturing, infrastructure, and real estate collapsed after the crisis. With the slowing down of private corporate investment since 2015-16 from 11.6 to 10.3 in 2018-19 as a percentage of GDP at current prices even before Covid-19, implied opportunities for any revival are shrinking further. It appears that the Modi government’smagic wand’ of private corporate investment has simply disappeared. The refusal of the government to formulate an appropriate Covid relief package to save jobs and energising economic activity to shore up demand is consigning the economy to further depths of crisis. The huge tax break last year to the corporates has bombed in infusing life in the economy and expanding revenue collection. Therefore, in order to be on the right side of the corporates, Modi regime has decided to hand over public assets through big-time privatisation of all major national assets. This brazen-pro corporate drive of the government has led to using the pandemic condition; for launching severe attack on the rights of the people, not to tackle the health and the economic fallout of the lockdown.

A part of this effort is to hand over the entire sphere of peasant economy to the profiteering of corporates in agriculture. This is facilitating the otherwise narrowing avenues for private investment in an area of the food economy where the demand may be more inescapable.

The three farm laws and the refusal to concede a legal guarantee for MSP and expanded official procurement underlines the government’s class bias. Prognosis of the laws shows clearly that they will gradually phase out APMCs out of operation denying the farming community’s wherewithal for price discovery and bargaining power to deal with inevitable corporate monopsony. Similarly, contract farming will have unfettered freedom to corporates to determine quantity and quality of crops and the proprietary rights of land will become notional. The dilution of the Essential Commodity Act will also ensure removal of any obstacle to stockholding, speculation, and inevitable black-marketing with the government’s withdrawal from procurement – making food prey to profiteering. Therefore, the farmers’ struggle is right in proclaiming that this movement is not merely prompted by the impulses of saving peasant agriculture but also to safeguard the right to food security of the people.

This also brings out the class basis of the ongoing farmers’ struggle encompassing all sections of the peasantry including substantial sections of rich farmers. In order to deny this broad-based class alliance among the peasantry, the government and its votaries among the ‘official’ experts and media commentators portray the protests as “big-farmer-led”. This narrative simplistically interpreted the initial explosion coming from Punjab farmers. But closer scrutiny reveals that it is a desperate call for survival. A Punjab State Farmers Commission finding in 2008, which identified 89% of Punjab’s agriculture-dependent households as indebted, call this bluff.

The genesis of the current unprecedented unity across the class differentiated peasantry and agricultural workers have evolved over two decades affected by the aggravation of the agrarian crisis of falling incomes, indebtedness and dispossession initiative for land acquisition in 2016, drastic fall in prices following the abrupt demonetisation. In Punjab, a series of struggles have taken place individually and unitedly involving Kisan organisations ranging from the WTO induced hammering down of farm produce prices to the corporate raid of retail trade and shrinkage of MGNREGA. This has led to the coming together of all these 500 plus organisations. The democratic and consultative process in SKM have resulted in a broad confederation of organised entities, reflecting the regional, political, and ideological diversities defining the current conjuncture. This sustains the resilient struggle and exposes the corporate bias of the reforms. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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