‘Systemic political change needed for systemic agrarian change’

Interview with Ashok Dhawale, joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha.

Published : Jun 21, 2017 12:30 IST

Ashok Dhawale.

Ashok Dhawale.

THE Devendra Fadnavis government’s first reaction to the largely spontaneous farmers’ strike in Maharashtra was casual. But escalating events such as the rasta roko and the dumping of produce and milk on the roads, the June 5 Maharashtra bandh, the June 6 killing of farmers in police firing at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, and the June 8 Nashik convention where a decision to stage a rail roko agitation on June 13 was made, all played a part in forcing the government to view the matter seriously.

After an initial attempt, Fadnavis left the negotiations to a group of Ministers headed by Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil. The team negotiated with a 35-member core committee consisting of representatives from farmers’ organisations.

On June 11, Patil took aside six members of the core committee to have a heart-to-heart talk to resolve the crisis that began on June 1. Dr Ashok Dhawale, joint secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, was one of the six. In an interview to Frontline , he spoke about the inner workings that helped resolve the crisis and what the way forward should be. Excerpts:

This has been a successful strike. How seriously do you think the government will take farmers’ issues now?

Yes, it has been an unprecedented 11-day strike by the peasants of Maharashtra. And the outcome of it in the form of a farm loan waiver and an increase in milk price has been historic. All the credit must go to the united struggle of farmers of the State. As we can see, the struggle for a loan waiver and for remunerative prices is spreading to other States. The government will be forced to take farmers’ issues seriously as a result of this experience. However, it is not the State but the Central government that decides the minimum support price [MSP] for various crops. So the State body will have only a limited role.

What is the plan of action to have the Swaminathan Commission Report implemented? Should there not be a mandatory buying guarantee like the old cotton monopoly scheme?

You are absolutely right. The Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014 on the promise that it would implement the Swaminathan Report. It has not kept that promise.

Implementation of the report is the responsibility of the Central government. The AIKS has begun efforts to bring together all farmers’ organisations throughout the country to build a powerful movement for the implementation of the Swaminathan Report, which has other excellent recommendations besides the key issues of remunerative prices and a buying guarantee.

Some observers say loan waivers are not a long-term solution.

In the present situation of deep agrarian crisis, when nearly four lakh debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in the past 25 years since the advent of neoliberal policies, loan waivers will certainly provide the much-needed relief to the peasants.

How did the tide turn in favour of farmers at the meeting with Ministers?

The reasons for this were as follows. The June 3 announcements were rejected by the peasantry and the strike continued. The June 5 Maharashtra bandh, in support of the just demands of the farmers, was a smashing success and an eye-opener. The June 6 brutal police firing in Mandsaur was a grave warning of the shape of things to come. The farmers’ unity and their fighting spirit were on display at the joint State convention at Nashik on June 8, and the State-wide rail roko and rasta roko call for June 13 given at that convention unnerved the government.

Farmers have received support from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). What does it say about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, two of whose affiliates are against its policies?

The BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh combine is notorious for its forked tongue, with its different organisations speaking in different voices.

The so-called support to farmers by the SJM and the BKS falls in this category. We need not read too much into this. At crucial junctures, they always fall in line with the dictates of their parent body.

How easy will it be for farmers to get new credit since cooperative banks are in the doldrums?

The government should make determined efforts at all levels to revive the cooperative banks and get them out of the doldrums. The banks and the Central and State governments must enhance the quantum of rural credit substantially. The present scandalous situation, where a large part of rural credit is cornered by the corporates and the rich, must be reversed. Poor and medium farmers must be given priority in bank and institutional credit so that they are not pushed into the arms of rapacious moneylenders, as is the case now.

Should cooperative land mortgaging banks not be revived so that loans are given for agricultural infrastructure too?

Yes, their revival is necessary.

The agrarian crisis is a complex situation. The appearance of a solution can be quite different from the reality that farmers face. What are the fundamental and systemic changes that are required for a long-term revival of the agriculture sector?

That is a cardinal question. First, it is clear that the present agrarian crisis has been aggravated by the neoliberal policies. Peasants, agricultural workers, the working class, the middle class have all been adversely affected by these policies. These policies need to be dumped and an alternative trajectory of development needs to be put in place. Second, in all agrarian policymaking on vital issues such as inputs, prices, credit, employment, food security, irrigation, power, crop insurance, markets, cooperatives, infrastructure and social security, the best interests of the millions of toiling farmers and agricultural workers must be clearly made the focal point, not the best interests of corporates, landlords and the urban and rural rich. Third, the land issue must be squarely addressed.

Unjust and unnecessary land acquisition from farmers for the corporates must be stopped. The Forest Rights Act must be implemented stringently as has been done by the Left Front government of Tripura. The vital question of land reforms must be brought back on the agenda. But all this requires political will, which the ruling classes can never summon owing to their very class nature.

Hence, while united struggles for winning the demands of the peasantry must be intensified now and in the future, in the long run, it is only a systemic political change that can ensure a systemic agrarian change.

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