Interview: Sitaram Yechury

‘A victory for democracy’: Sitaram Yechury on repeal of farm laws

Print edition : December 17, 2021

Sitaram Yechury Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Interview with Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The Left parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have consistently and vociferously criticised the three controversial farm laws. Members of Parliament from the Left moved amendments during the discussion on the laws in Parliament. Similarly, it was owing to their insistence that the pro-people clauses in the 2013 Land Acquisition Act were inserted. The Left parties have also been drawing attention to the impact of neoliberal reforms, including those pertaining to agriculture.

In an interview to Frontline, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury described the government’s U-turn on the farm laws as insincere and as an act of political opportunism. He also debunked the notion that the repeal of the farm laws or a legally guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) would negatively impact economic growth. Excerpts from the interview.

How do you view the announcement by the Prime Minister regarding the repeal of the farm laws? Do you think the government succumbed to electoral compulsions or the sheer pressure of the farmers’ movement?

This is a big victory for our farmers who have been in a historic peaceful struggle continuously for a whole year. The obdurate Modi government was forced to relent. This struggle overcame all sorts of repression and obstacles unleashed by the BJP governments at the Centre and in the States. Water cannons were mercilessly used against the agitating farmers in the harsh winter; military trenches were dug up on national highways to prevent them from reaching Delhi; lathi charges were ordered and arrests made to stop them from marching to Delhi demanding the repeal of these retrograde agri-laws. The kisans were called all sorts of names—Khalistanis; anti-national terrorists; tukde tukde gang, etc. Modi himself coined the term “Andolan Jeevis” [those who make a living out of protests]. Despite all this, the crowds on Delhi’s borders kept swelling, with support pouring in from all sections of people. This found an echo all over India with growing State-level and local protests.

Also read: How the battle was won

Of course, electoral compulsions were also a factor. In fact, the government’s decision is being seen as insincere and as an act of pure electoral opportunism. But, this U-turn by Modi is unlikely to benefit the ruling party. It is the intensity of the peaceful protest and the determination of the farmers that forced the government to relent and concede. This is a victory for democracy, for democratic rights and civil liberties. It is of utmost significance that this has happened when the authoritarian onslaughts and fascist attacks on peaceful protests and constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights are rising exponentially.

The farm laws, it is believed, were driven by corporate interests and corporate monopolies. The Left parties led several struggles against the privatisation of resources and private monopolies. Seldom has any government backtracked on Parliament-enacted laws. Do you see the farmers’ prolonged struggle as signalling an era of hope for democratic movements?

Of course. The fact that the Modi government was forced to beat a retreat is a signal that is bound to strengthen democratic movements. This will have an impact on other democratic struggles.

Yes, these farm laws are driven by corporate interests, both domestic and global agri-business. This is part of Modi’s aggressive pursuit of neoliberal reforms surrendering India’s economic sovereignty. The thrust of these laws is marketisation and corporatisation of agriculture. The abolishing of the Essential Commodities Act will create artificial shortages of agricultural products through hoarding. The predatory urge to maximise profits by inducing inflation may well lead to situations of man-made famines. India’s food security, and the protection of the people from acute hunger, would be in jeopardy. Already, India is continuously slipping on the global hunger index. The situation would surely worsen.

The CPI(M) and the Left parties continue to lead several struggles against the privatisation of the public sector, mineral resources, public utilities and national wealth. Big strike actions are taking place sectorally. The confederation of Central trade unions has given calls for intensifying these actions. The CPI(M) and the other Left parties have always extended their full support to and expressed their solidarity with these actions. These struggles are bound to gain momentum and get further strengthened now.

The singular feature of this kisan struggle has been the strong bonds of unity forged with the struggles of the working class and agricultural labourers. This unity in struggles of farmers, trade unions, and agricultural labourers will act as the fulcrum to strengthen struggles in defence of secular democracy and people’s rights.

There is a section in this country that believes that the decision to repeal the laws means subsidising rich farmers of two States, Punjab and Haryana. What is your understanding on this?

This is a fictitious belief, in fact, deliberate propaganda. Marketisation and corporatisation adversely affect the entire peasantry. Eighty-five per cent of our farmers own less than two hectares of land. These are the small and marginal farmers. These laws would have permitted the takeover of these lands by the corporates, resulting in the small and marginal farmer losing their land and being forced to work as labour in those very lands.

Also read: ‘Historic first victory in unprecedented struggle’

Today, the minimum support price effectively operates only in a few States and for a few crops. The demand of this struggle for the legal right to sell at MSP, for all farmers and all agricultural products, benefits all farmers. It is precisely because of this that we see that the rich and the small and marginal farmers; the Dalits; the OBCs; the upper-caste farmers; and the Hindu and Muslim farmers were all united in this mighty historic struggle.

It is this convergence of the interests between different sections of the farmers that has brought them together to stand up and resist the corporate takeover of Indian agriculture and its produce.

It is also believed that the repeal of the farm laws is a setback to economic growth. Do you think there is any merit in this argument?

There is absolutely no merit in this argument.

Economic growth in India suffers mainly due to the sharply declining purchasing power in the hands of the vast majority of our people. This depresses domestic demand in the economy, forcing many a factory and production unit to shut down as there are no buyers for the products.

During the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, this problem, which was already aggravated, worsened further. The pro-rich policies of the Central government gave tax concessions to the corporates while imposing higher prices, particularly on petroleum products, triggering an overall inflationary spiral. This further reduced the purchasing power in the hands of the people, squeezing their capacity to buy anything other than essentials to survive.

These farm laws would have further worsened the prospects of economic growth. This is because, as we discussed earlier, the farmers’ earnings would have been ruined, reducing their capacity to consume. The largest market is in rural India. If people living there are impoverished, from the rich farmer to the small and marginal farmer, then the aggregate demand in our economy would have plummeted further. This would only deepen the current economic recession.

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If anything, the repeal of the farm laws will help to arrest the decline in people’s purchasing power and the declining domestic demand to an extent.

The farmers’ movement saw a coming together of various farmer unions. Do you think this solidarity will last? What kind of a role do you see the Left playing here?

The unity and solidarity of the various farmer unions is forged in the struggles on their common genuine issues and demands apart from the repeal of these farm laws. If the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Lucknow on November 22 is an indication, then this unity is getting further strengthened.

As I said earlier, the strengthening of the unity in struggles between the farmers’ unions, the trade unions and the agricultural workers’ unions has led to a common struggle that includes issues of the working class like the repeal of the labour codes and opposition to the loot of national assets through privatisation being raised jointly. The very fact that more than 700 farmers have been martyred in this struggle highlights the strength of the unity in this movement. That Modi as expressed no remorse at these tragic deaths, leave alone announcing any compensation, speaks volumes. The character of anti-people policies of this government will strengthen the unity and solidarity among the struggling people further in the coming period.

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