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Narendra Modi Leading The Most Anti-Farmer & Pro Crony Government In India- Ashok Dhawale, President, All India Kisan Sabha

NC24x7 interviews Ashok Dhawale.

India Asks:

  • Land acquired forcibly from farmers for the bullet train project.
  • Farmer’s march received support from all shades of political opinion except the BJP.
  • PM’s Claims On Fasal Bima Yojana & MSP patently false.
  • Private insurance companies were pocketing nearly 97 percent of the premium as profits.
  • Impact of farmer distress will be seen in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
  • The current BJP government led by Narendra Modi has been by far the most anti-farmer and pro-crony corporate government that India has had so far.

NC24x7: What are the reasons for the agrarian crisis across the country?

Ashok Dhawale: The fundamental root of the agrarian crisis is the failure of successive governments since independence to carry out radical land reforms. The pre-independence pledge of giving ‘Land to the Tiller’ was violated with impunity, except in the Left-led states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. The Green Revolution, while it gave food self-sufficiency to the country, was limited to certain irrigated areas and increased both regional and class disparities. 

Ever since the Congress government began the neo-liberal policies 27 years ago in 1991, every single central government, be it of the Congress or the BJP, has been following the same policies in agriculture, industry, finance and all other sectors. This has greatly aggravated the agrarian crisis and has led to the unprecedentedly tragic phenomenon of farmer suicides. According to incomplete and fudged data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), over three lakh farmers have committed suicide in India in the last 25 years. Most of them have been forced to do so due to indebtedness.

In the liberalisation phase, the primitive accumulation of capital is ruining Indian agriculture and is assaulting the Indian peasantry. Land reforms have acquired a reverse meaning. It is no longer land to the tiller, but land to the corporates. This is glaringly seen in the policy of the Special Economic Zones, the various proposed Industrial Corridors and in the attempt by the Modi-led BJP government at the very beginning of its tenure to ram through the hated Land Acquisition Ordinance. This attempt was foiled through a combination of united peasant struggles on the ground and concerted opposition in the upper house in Parliament.

Profit maximisation is being sought by squeezing the peasantry through neo-liberal agricultural policies. It is precisely these policies that are fuelling the catastrophic phenomenon of lakhs of suicides of debt-ridden peasants in the last two and a half decades. Slashing of subsidies and an open door to rapacious MNCs and corporates in the production of agricultural inputs leading to massive increase in the cost of production; consistent refusal to give remunerative prices for agricultural produce under pressure of foreign finance capital; a glut in agricultural imports that further ruin the peasantry; a slew of free trade agreements; crunch in formal agricultural credit and siphoning it away to the corporates, this leading to increased dependence of farmers on usurious private moneylenders; a series of natural calamities like drought, floods, hailstorms as well as attacks by pests and by wild animals; a bogus crop insurance scheme designed to benefit not farmers but insurance companies; savage cuts in public investment on irrigation and power – these are some of the main aspects of the neo-liberal attacks on agriculture that are responsible for rising peasant indebtedness and alarming peasant suicides.   

NC24x7: The farmer’s march in Mumbai was a highly successful one. Are there any more marches planned? 

Ashok Dhawale: The Nashik to Mumbai Kisan Long March from March 6 to 12, led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), was indeed an unprecedented success.  Over 25,000 farmers – men and women – marched 180 Km over seven days, the number growing every day till it reached 50,000 in Mumbai. The Kisan Long March received the unstinted support of the people of Mumbai and Thane cities and all of Maharashtra. It got solidarity from farmers all over India since its demands were basically the demands of farmers all over the country. It received backing from all shades of political opinion except the BJP. As a result of all this pressure, the BJP state government was forced to concede in writing almost all the demands of the Kisan Sabha. It had to place this agreement on the table of the state assembly. 

However, in the light of past experience with this government, we had decided to be vigilant about the implementation of the agreed demands. As a follow-up of this Long March, and to keep up the pressure on the government, the Kisan Sabha held two massive district-wide rallies of 30,000 to 35,000 Adivasi farmers each – one at Kalwan in Nashik district on April 2 and the other at Dahanu in Palghar district on May 3. Both of them pressed for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and other demands that had been conceded. The Dahanu rally also vowed to oppose the forced land acquisition from thousands of farmers for the BJP regime’s pet elitist projects like the Bullet Train and the Expressway.   

In several other districts of Maharashtra, the Kisan Sabha led a joint struggle this month for implementing remunerative price for milk. Now on June 1, 2018, which marks one year of the historic farmers’ strike in Maharashtra that forced the state government to declare a loan waiver, the Kisan Sabha has given a call for a statewide gherao of government offices.       

NC24x7: The PM has spoken about the Fasal Bima Yojana and also claimed that he has given 150% of production cost as MSP. Your take on this?

Ashok Dhawale: Both the PM’s claims are patently false. But we have seen so many ‘chunavi jumlas’ of this PM during the last four years that we are not at all surprised by his claims.

As regards the Fasal Bima Yojana, the AIKS and other institutions have made in-depth studies. See these figures for the year 2016-17.

According to the Union Agriculture Ministry, Rs 21,500 crore had been collected as premium income under the scheme, and claims had been made for Rs 4,270.55 crore, which is less than 20 percent. But the actual claims paid out to farmers were only Rs 714.14 crore — which is about 3.31 percent of the premium income. Effectively, thus, private insurance companies were pocketing nearly 97 percent of the premium as profits.

Currently, about eight companies, including ICICI-Lombard General Insurance, HDFC-ERGO General Insurance, IFFCO-Tokio General Insurance, Reliance General Insurance, provide insurance under the scheme.

Private insurance companies are very happy with this scheme as it brings them high returns. Even if the full claim amount had been disbursed to farmers, these companies would have appropriated more than 80 percent of the premium income.

Under this scheme, the farmers have to pay only a portion of the premium — 2 percent for Kharif crops, 1.5 percent for rabi crops and 5 percent for annual commercial and horticulture crops; the rest of the premium is paid by the Central government and State governments.

In his Budget speech in 2017, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley increased the allocation for the scheme by 140 per cent to Rs 13,240 crore from Rs 5,500 crore in the last fiscal. This only means even more largesse to the corporate insurance companies.

The other claim made by the PM that he has given 150 percent of the cost of production of crops as MSP is even more false and misleading. This was actually one of the key recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) headed by Dr M S Swaminathan, aimed at reducing the deepening agrarian distress and rising farmer suicides. In all his pre-election campaign speeches in 2014, the PM had given this assurance. So had the BJP in its election manifesto. Such an announcement was indeed made in the Finance Minister’s budget speech this year. But it has no relation to reality at all. A reel of statistics for various crops can easily be given to prove this point. It is nothing but just another ‘chunavi jumla’.   

NC24x7: Do you see an impact of the farmer distress on the various forthcoming assembly elections and the 2019 LS Elections?

Ashok Dhawale: Yes, farmer distress will certainly have an impact on the forthcoming elections. It was already one of the factors in the big BJP defeats in the recent Lok Sabha by-elections in Rajasthan, UP and Bihar. In the recent elections to the Karnataka assembly, other factors worked to offset this factor, like anti-incumbency, communal polarisation, tremendous use of money power by the BJP and so on. Even then, the vote share of the BJP in Karnataka is nothing to write home about. The peasant movement and the democratic movement as a whole will have to be very vigilant against the latter two factors. 

I think the impact of farmer distress will be seen particularly in the coming Rajasthan assembly elections, where there has been a constant state-wide struggle led by the Kisan Sabha. It will also be surely seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.    

NC24x7: How different is the approach of the current central government towards farmers as compared to the previous ones?

Ashok Dhawale: While the policies of all earlier central governments led by the Congress and the BJP or others have basically never been in favour of the overwhelming majority of poor and middle farmers and agricultural workers, there is not an iota of doubt that the current BJP government led by Narendra Modi has been by far the most anti-farmer and pro-crony corporate government that India has had so far. It began its innings by bringing in the rabidly anti-farmer Land Acquisition Ordinance which was opposed tooth and nail by farmers across the country with the initiative taken by the AIKS. This opposition on the ground and the combined opposition in the Rajya Sabha, forced the Modi Government to withdraw the hated Ordinance, although the Bill has still not been withdrawn.

The present BJP central government led by Narendra Modi has been the worst culprit in intensifying neo-liberal policies in agriculture, industry and all other sectors under imperialist dictates. BJP-led state governments have naturally followed suit. This has led to a disastrous agrarian scenario in the country. The Modi regime has betrayed every single promise of ‘Achhe Din’ made to farmers by the BJP election manifesto of 2014. It has made ridiculously false promises of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. In actual fact, suicides by debt-ridden farmers have risen by over 40 percent in its rule. We shall here just enumerate some of the major aspects and results of BJP rule over the last four years. These are:

  • Intensified agrarian crisis and unabated peasant suicides; 
  • Rapid increase in landlessness and land inequality; 
  • Unprecedented land grab and dispossession of the peasantry; 
  • Attack on forest rights and loot of tribal resources; 
  • Financial liberalisation; e. g. zero percent import duty on wheat; 
  • Enamour for free trade and economic liberalism; 
  • Demonetisation and GST attack on the peasantry; 
  • Corporatisation of agriculture; 
  • Opening up the agricultural sector to FDI;
  • Doubling farmers’ woes instead of incomes; 
  • Incessant fall in agricultural prices; 
  • Acute human tragedy amidst drought, floods and government apathy;
  • Bogus crop insurance scheme to help not farmers but insurance companies;  
  • Attack on MNREGA and rural employment; 
  • Increased vulnerability of women in agriculture; 
  • Notification restricting cattle trade; 
  • Menace of wild animals and stray cattle; 
  • Climate change and compromise at Paris summit; 
  • Grave authoritarian and communal attacks on democracy and secularism.

NC24x7: What are the future plans of the Kisan Sabha? How will you ensure that the grievances of the farmers find an expression at the polling booth?

Ashok Dhawale: Peasant resistance to the agrarian policies of the BJP government has naturally broadened and intensified in recent years. This peasant resistance today is centred around two main areas: the struggles on land and land-related issues; the struggles against agrarian distress, which have naturally revolved around liberation from debt and remunerative prices.

In the struggle against the Land Acquisition Ordinance, the AIKS took the initiative to bring several peasant and social organisations together to form a broad platform called the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA). This has taken up several land-related issues, and also those related to the killing of farmers by cow vigilantes. It is now taking up issues like opposition to land acquisition for the fancy and elitist bullet train project of the Modi regime.

Another broad platform which now comprises over 190 farmers’ organisations called the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) was set up after the Mandsaur police firing in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh in June 2017. It took up the two key issues of the vast mass of the peasantry of India today, viz. loan waiver and remunerative prices as per the C2 + 50 formula of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) headed by Dr M S Swaminathan. After a countrywide campaign, a massive two day Kisan Sansad of tens of thousands of farmers from across the country, and also a novel Mahila Kisan Sansad, was held on Parliament Street in New Delhi on November 20-21, 2017. Two bills on the above two issues have been painstakingly prepared, consultation meetings have been held in most of the states and they will be tabled before Parliament.

The AIKS itself has taken up several independent struggles in many states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. The Rajasthan and Maharashtra struggles have been the most widespread, consistent and successful in terms of wresting the demands of farmers from the BJP state governments. 

Now the AIKS has embarked on a massive ten crore countrywide signature campaign on burning peasant issues like loan waiver, remunerative prices, land rights, increased pension and a comprehensive crop insurance scheme. On August 9, 2018, lakhs of farmers will rally at hundreds of district collectorates all over the country and will submit these signatures to be sent to the Prime Minister. They will then carry out a massive Jail Bharo (Court Arrest) agitation the same day. The slogan of the farmers will be: Just as Mahatma Gandhi gave a call to the British to ‘Quit India’ 76 years ago in 1942, so also lakhs of farmers in India will now give a call to the BJP-RSS Modi Government to ‘Quit India’.           

We are confident that all these constant struggles, combined with an intense political campaign, will find their reflection in the polling booths in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. 

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