Morchas Withdrawn, Movement on Till Farmers Get All Their Dues: Yogendra Yadav

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Yogendra Yadav

For the thousands agitating farmers camping at the borders of Delhi, it was a hard-fought victory when the government decided to repeal the three farm Bills hanging on their heads like a Damocles’ sword. With this, the protesters could take a sigh of relief and head for the cozy comfort of their homes after calling off their year-long arduous agitation. The victory, though came at heavy price of distress, unease and anxiety with hundreds of fellow protestors dying from scorching summer heat, bone-chilling winter cold and surging covid pandemic, it still is worth cherishing for all the good things brought to them in its wake.  

However, this belated decision to revoke the black laws can prove costly for Prime Minister Modi in the wake of the upcoming UP elections, according to Yogendra Yadav, who has been associated with the farmers’ moment from the word go as national convener of the Jai Kisan Andolan. As a dedicated social activist and an upright politician that he is, Yadav minces no words while putting his heart out on the farmers’ cause which is close to his heart. In a candid interview with Umar Ahmed, Yadav laid bare the state of farmers’ mind at this crucial juncture when he said, “When you get something that belong to you in such a cavalier manner, you can’t help being bitter about it. They were called anti-nationals, dalas, Khalistanis and in the end you can’t expect them to be happy.”

IN: First of all, about the most discussed topic in India – revocation of the three new farm laws. How would you see this sudden development?  Do you think the decision was taken under pressure at a time when support for farmers from the Opposition in poll-bound states was gaining momentum or a calculated move to boost the electoral prospects of the ruling BJP?

YY: There’s nothing wrong for any party to work on their electoral enhancement in a democracy. But clearly the government feared about the reverses it could face in Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sensed the prospects of decline in his popularity and acceptance amongst farmers. He knows the long-term implication of his government’s obduracy. Moreover, one can’t rule the country with an anti-farmer image. Nevertheless, I believe he stretched it too far and as I used to say, the more he delays, the expensive it would turn out for him and so, it did become very expensive.

IN: So, what you meant is this move came about because no government in a democracy can go against the farmers especially in an agriculture-bound country like India especially if it is at the expense of election?

YY: Yes, in view of the electoral considerations. If not for this, the laws would not have been brought in the first place. And if they cared for farmers’ welfare, the laws would have been repealed in last November itself when the farmers hit the streets. The revocation of the laws is not on humanitarian grounds either. If this was the case, it would have happened by January when the farmers were dying on the streets. What mattered for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is votes is his seat and the prospects of losing power.

IN: Statements were being made by the leaders of the farmers’ unions about campaigning against the BJP and ensuring its defeat at the hustings. How was that possible?

YY: This was not our motive initially. We had been simply demanding withdrawal of the three farm laws. If the PM had heard us when we came to Delhi and not taken a 13 long months to arrive at the decision to repeal the laws, rather than opposing the party in power the farmers would have been thankful to them. We had to take cudgels against the party and the government only because of the inordinate delay in accepting our genuine demands, spreading canards against us and taking to repressive and highhanded methods to crush our movement through violent means and by foisting illegal cases against us. The deeply annoyed farmers had no option but to run a campaign against the party.

IN: Now that the Center has repealed the farms laws, assuming the other demands put forth by the farmers are not met to the satisfaction of the farmers, what will be your next move?

YY: We all know the reality. The government has yet to accept at least half of our demands. The three laws have been repealed, but what about the minimum support price (MSP)? There’s no question of everything being alright. Apart from withdrawal of the Bills, we wanted the government to give us what we wanted. Our outstanding demands, including a legal guarantee of MSP, still stand. Hence, the movement continues while the morchas (rallies) have been withdrawn.

IN: Isn’t that after the center’s acceptance of demands that farmers started to vacate the borders? Be it:
 a) withdrawal of criminal cases against farmers who burn the stubble
b) constitute a committee to discuss MSP
c) amendment to Electricity Bill.

Isn’t it true that the government conceded on all the three clauses? I think these demands are widely discussed along with the MSP topping the list.

YY: It is a simple balance.
a) Withdrawal of the three laws was our primary demand. When it was met, we said if some of the remaining demands are immediately met, we would consider on calling off the agitation. Since the government has not taken a decision on these, we will continue to struggle. As for the withdrawal of cases against the farmers, it was our immediate demand. Since the Center has promised to address them, we called off our morchas trusting them.
b) However, about the other half of our substantial demands like the MSP, the government has already constituted a committee and nothing came of it. I personally have little hope from that committee. If the government had assured a legal guarantee on MSP and the committee had drafted a law on it, I would have accepted it wholeheartedly. But that is not the case. The committee’s agenda was to discuss the very idea of MSP.

c) They promised to table the Electricity Bill in Parliament after a consultation with the farmers. Though there is nothing wrong in the consultation that was not our demand.

IN: Could you please brief us about the Electricity Bill? Too much stress on the MSP seems to have overshadowed other demands.
YY: Sure, it’s a Bill which was proposed by the union two years ago. But it is not placed in Parliament as yet. It basically limits what a state’s electricity board (EB) can do. One of the key provisions is that the state EB can’t subsidise the electricity, as it restricts the usage of cross subsidy. Cross subsidy is a practice adopted by the state EBs as they charge industries and rich people at a higher rate and instead subsidise the electricity to the poor and agriculture which the new proposed bill will stop. It marks the beginning of privatisation of electricity distribution and we fear it may mean an end to distribution of the free electricity as is in practice now among many states. We’ll have to talk about it.

IN: Is electricity a state or concurrent subject?
YY: I think it’s a concurrent subject, let me check on that. But since the states make laws on electricity which is supplied and subsidised by the Center, it is trying to take advantage and coming up with this Bill.

IN: Since the Center has a fair share in the electricity, you mean it is trying to gain control over it to directly keep the farmers in its sway?

YY: Yes, that’s correct. electricity production is already privatised, but the distribution has not yet been privatised. Why? It is because of the existing subsidies. Once the Bill is passed, the subsidy becomes redundant and thereby open doors for private players.

IN: Talking about MSP, isn’t it in practice? I believe it is. But there are certain crops for which MSP doesn’t apply. Why then is MSP being discussed when it is already in place?

YY: It is a misconception that it is already in practice. MSP is assured to the farmers on crops procurement if they don’t fetch the desired price in the market. The MSP has been declared for 23 crops and in reality it supports only for two crops – Wheat and Paddy – while for the 20+ crops it’s on paper. Farmers were paid only Rs 950/- for maize last year while it was supposed to be purchased at 1,850/-. Underpayment has become a routine with the government.

Whenever denied their due and their produce are procured at a very low price, farmers can’t approach courts as the promise is on official, not legal paper. So, we request them to make it a legal promise to ensure its fulfillment. This doesn’t mean we are forcing them to procure all 23 crops which is practically impossible, but our demand stands to ensure that farmers receive the amount they deserve.

There are cost effective but efficient ways for the government to procure crops, like a) If the government makes deficit payment i.e. when there is a price difference between the set price and price farmers got, the government can make up the price difference. b) Select Market Intervention – Government shall purchase 10% of the crop and the price will automatically rise and the purpose will be served. They may also change the import and export policies. So, there are many ways which we want them to explore.

IN: Have you proposed the aforementioned procurement methods to the government?
YY: We have repeatedly said that the government hasn’t asked us for a proposal and when asked, we definitely will. These are standard practices globally. The price figure of INR 17L crores, which the government is quoting for procurement is very high and absolutely ridiculous. We have had calculations done and shown to be only around INR 50,000 Crores and is affordable.

IN: What would be the plan of action for the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) if their demands are not met despite assurances? Stage a protest again or agree on an amicable discussion with the government?

YY: Absolutely! We would be willing to take the path of struggle, but initially we won’t tread the most extreme path. It begins with dialogue and discussions, goes further with symbolic protests, and if it still doesn’t pay enough attention, we would go for bigger protests. But of course, we would first like to have a dialogue about how the government is going to proceed.

IN: Do you think this process will pay off eventually? Have a dialogue, if again there’s no consensus, all the unions come together to stage a protest all over again?
YY: Of course, that’s what farmers always do. The only way farmers always get anything is by struggle and that’s how it would be going forward as well. However, struggle doesn’t always mean sitting on the borders.

IN: On the flip side, the protest resulted in numerous deaths and lot of inconvenience to regular commuters in taking unplanned ad-hoc roads to cross the borders. I personally experienced it when the movement was on. We all realise it is the way to draw prompt attention. But, don’t you think it entails loss of lives and trouble to common man?

YY: Exactly! This is not the only form of protest. This is the last resort for us and not something we prefer. How often have you seen us doing this in the past? We don’t do it all the time. We do it only after we feel all other options are exhausted and when the government is not willing to listen at all. We deeply regret for all the inconveniences caused due to the agitation and apologise to the commuters and all those who suffered on account of the protest. That’s why it’s not the first option for us and I believe, the government will not leave us with this last option.

IN:  The protests at Delhi borders are called off. I come from a state (AP) where such protests are still on. This is because the Delhi protest kept all other protests under shadow all this while, albeit unwittingly. To brief about what the issue is, previous the TDP government in the state acquired a lot of fertile land under the Land Acquisition Act for building a new capital city, Amaravati. With the deals being invalidated by the incumbent YSR Congress government the local farmers are in a precarious situation. Unfortunately, the issue hasn’t received the coverage due to it. Would you like to extend your support and that of your union to their cause?  You know issues are issues anywhere.

YY: Yes I’m aware of the issue in AP. Likewise there are struggles in various parts of India including Karnataka. The farmers there are also protesting as their government had bought in some additional laws which weren’t taken back yet. So, a) we would give principled support to the farmers at any cost b) We really hope the farmers’ win at the Center will give boost to all such struggles. This should serve an eye-opener to governments all across the country in a sense that playing with farmers is like playing with fire.

IN: Since the purpose of the interview is primarily to discuss the protest and protest means expressing dissent, let’s also talk about the anti-CAA protest that was to be suspended in the wake of the pandemic. While supporters of the government hailed the decision as a move for betterment of the farmers, everybody called it a victory of the protesters, which indeed is and should be rightly attributed to the farmers. Would you extend support to the movement against the CAA along with the farmers at Shaheen Bagh or anywhere as we hear about its resumption?

YY: My reaction and that of the farmers can be different in the case of anti CAA protest. I am just a person from SKM, and do not represent the SKM as whole. I believe CAA is anti-constitutional as it clearly foist unequal citizenship on the country which is completely unacceptable. It goes against constitutional values and idea of India. All Indians who believe in the constitution should protest against it, but the form of protest has to be decided carefully. I would like to have a discussion with my colleagues on the forms and stage of protests and bring in a view as these are strategic decisions. But principally, I am opposed to the CAA and of course I am in favour of all anti-CAA protests.

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