Farmers' Protests

Hannan Mollah: ‘The poor farmers know they have no other option but to peacefully protest as long as they can’

Print edition : January 15, 2021

Hannan Mollah, working group member, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee: “In this protest, the kisan movement has succeeded in defeating all the communal designs of the government.” Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Interview with Hannan Mollah, working group member, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.

THE All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) is the nodal organisation representing the farmers’ organisations. It was formed in 2017 in the aftermath of a police firing on farmers in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. Since then the AIKSCC has grown in strength by consistently raising farmer and peasant issues. Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, is a working group member of the AIKSCC. He is part of the 40-strong delegation of farmer leaders representing the protesters in talks with the government. He spoke to Frontline on why farmers have been persisting with the protests and on the stance of the government. Excerpts.

The objections to the farm laws are being portrayed as having come up abruptly.

Farmers took up these issues right from the beginning. This is the seventh month since they first raised it in June. First the ordinances came. There were protests, and copies [of the ordinances] were burnt. We hoped the government would listen. But it didn’t. We also want reform in agriculture, like the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on MSP, loan waivers, and so on. Our idea of reform is different from that of the government, which is aimed at snatching away the rights of farmers. You know how it violated all parliamentary norms in the Rajya Sabha without giving the MPs voting rights and passed those Bills.

On September 14, the day the Bills were passed, we had a big protest. It was then that we decided that the resistance should be intensified and gave a “Resistance Day” call for September 25, which was a virtual bandh. As the government did not listen to us, the AIKSCC gave a call for a jail bharo programme on November 5. When repeated efforts using democratic means to draw the attention of the government failed, we decided that we needed to come out on the streets and protest. This is the background of the current protests.

The government has claimed that it does not know what are the farmers’ demands.

That is a blatant lie. The government refused to listen to the voice of the farmers. A democratic government knows what the people want. We knew that trains were not running owing to the pandemic, and therefore it was decided that the Dilli chalo programme would be led by farmers in States in the vicinity of Delhi such as Punjab, Haryana, U.P., M.P. and Rajasthan. They would march to Delhi while in the other 17 States or so, regional programmes of protest would be held. You saw how borders were sealed in Haryana and farmers prevented from coming to Delhi. They were lathi-charged, water-cannoned and beaten. Even the national highway was dug up to prevent tractors from moving forward. Then, the government hit upon another conspiracy: to put us in an open ground on the outskirts of Delhi at Burari. They knew that they could keep farmers there for up to one year, and no one would get to know. It was a plan to jail us, and they could set the police on us if we decided to move out from there, like Jallianwala Bagh. We didn’t allow their conspiracy to succeed.

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There are many things unique about this protest. First, it is the largest protest to be held since Independence. Second, there are 500 farmer organisations that are part of this joint struggle. Third, this movement has been totally peaceful. The government should have acknowledged it. It is an all-India movement. When it started, Punjab was definitely in the forefront. It has been the history of the kisan movement in India that one State starts a movement and then it assumes an all-India character. The government aided by the media has been trying to project it as a Punjab movement in order to deny its all-India character. Some 25 crore people participated in the Bharat Bandh of December 8. Was it only Punjab and Haryana?

The government claims it is open to talks, and there have been a few rounds of discussions as well.

The discussions are a big farce. On September 30, five of us on behalf of the AIKSCC leadership met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. We told them that farmers have been protesting for the last six months and requested them to bring a new law. We gave them a copy of the farmers’ Bills that we had formulated. The farmer, we said, was more than aware of the agriculture sector, its problems and the solutions. The two draft Bills were prepared on that basis. Twenty-one political parties supported the two private members’ Bills that were drafted from the perspective of the Indian farmer. We gave copies to the Speaker and the President of India. The Ministers said they would revert but they didn’t.

On the second occasion, on October 14, the government met only farmers from Punjab. This was the second ministerial meeting with farmers from Punjab. They too requested the government to repeal the farm laws and said that they were open to discussing everything, including stubble-burning issues.

On December 1, the government called a bigger delegation for talks: 31 organisations from Punjab and five national federations, including the AIKSCC and the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh. Gurnam Singh Chaduni from the BKU [Bharatiya Kisan Union] (Haryana) and a big combination of BKU (Rajewal) also attended it. We said there should be an agenda for discussion. How could there be a meeting without one, we argued. We once again demanded the repeal of the Acts. The Minister went on to give a long lecture on why the Acts were good. On December 3, the talks continued, and he repeated the same things. That day at least they agreed that there were some weaknesses. They proposed four or five amendments. We said these cosmetic changes would not make an anti-farmer Act pro-farmer.

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They repeated this in the next meeting as well on December 5. They insisted on the amendments. We said that a repeal was possible, especially when in one single hour 44 labour Acts were repealed to favour industry. Scores of farmers were unhappy. Surely, the laws could be repealed, we said. The next meeting was scheduled for December 9. A day before, they called for a meeting and a 13-member delegation met the Union Home Minister [Amit Shah].

The meeting was a big tamasha. The venue was not clear. For one hour, we waited at Amit Shah’s residence. The official who was sent to take us for the meeting did not know the venue. We had a tour of Delhi. Finally, a guest house near the Indian Agricultural Research Institute was decided on as the venue. For two and a half hours, we were on the road not knowing where to go. I have heard that the Home Minister is known for his organisational skills; couldn’t the venue of the meeting have been fixed efficiently?

That meeting began with the Agriculture Minister listing out a litany of praise for the Home Minister. But then the same amendments were reiterated. We were surprised. We felt that if a senior Minister was holding the meeting there should have been some progress in the talks. I must say the Home Minister was polite and said that a set of written proposals would be sent. We got them, in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, with the list of the same amendments we had rejected earlier. It was ridiculous. Is this how a government presents a proposal?

The government has been saying that the protest is politically motivated.

No political party was invited ever to the protest meetings. Neither are the political parties in the forefront of the agitation. It is a kisan movement. For seven months, farmers protested, not a single political party supported us. Yes, they have their opinions on the movement. Just like the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] has an opinion on the protests, the other political parties also have an opinion.

It was on October 27 that the AIKSCC invited other farmer organisations, and it was felt we should have a broad front. That was the origin of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. Then, the government started saying the Left is behind the protest. Of all the 500 organisations, only seven or eight can be called somewhat Left. How can seven or eight organisations lead 500 organisations?

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Then one kisan front, the BKU (Ugrahan), celebrated Human Rights Day and invited lawyers and others to their podium. The Punjab organisations requested them not to combine those events with farmers’ issues. They agreed. The BKU (Ugrahan) was not initially part of the 31 farmer fronts from Punjab. But the government and its friendly media latched onto this in order to project that this was proof that the protest was politically motivated. When this did not work, the government said they had met farmer organisations who supported the Acts. These were all paper organisations with no support behind them.

Despite the government’s propaganda, the protests have only intensified all over India. The government seems to be in a state of panic and, therefore, has been conducting counter campaigns in the form of holding chaupals, etc. In this protest, the kisan movement has succeeded in defeating all the communal designs of the government. There is only one identity of the protesters, that of being a kisan. Thirty-two farmers have died in the course of this agitation, but the government remains unconcerned. The poor farmers know they have no other option but to peacefully protest as long as they can.