From scientists, artists and doctors to lawyers, retired jawans and students, thousands came together to support a march by farmers in Delhi last month. The November 29-30 Kisan Mukti March to Parliament, organised by The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an alliance of over 200 farmers’ organisations, demanded that a special Parliament session be convened to discuss agrarian issues. “We also have a slogan — ‘No to suicides, unite and fight’,” Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the main organisers of the rally, told BL ink . Excerpts from an interview:
What did the Kisan Mukti March achieve?
This march saw an unprecedented historic solidarity among over 200 farmers’ bodies. Different sections of society participated in the march, just like they did in the Nashik-Mumbai march (held in March). The marches have succeeded in bringing the agrarian crisis to the forefront of the national agenda. A number of political parties also came forward to call for a special session of Parliament, demanding bills for freedom from debt and guaranteed remunerative prices for farmers’ produce. The agrarian crisis has come about mainly because of the neo-liberal policies post 1991, and things have worsened since then. This government made tall promises, benefiting electorally, but has not been able to deliver. The new scheme announced on MSP [assuring farmers of at least a 50 per cent return on the cost of production] seems farcical. This clearly gives us the indication that the solidarity that we have been able to build is here to stay.
What went into organising a march of this scale?
A lot of effort! The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has 16 million members and the AIKSCC is a network of over 200 farmers’ organisations across the country. A set of organisations came to a consensus around the issues of MSP and debt. There was massive mobilisation even before the Nashik march. In Nashik itself, over a lakh farmers were on the streets for two days, and we gheraoed the tribal affairs minister. The Nashik-Mumbai farmers’ march stretched over six days. That caught the imagination of the country. The march was inspired by a farmers’ agitation in Rajasthan. We have a slogan, ‘No to suicides, unite and fight.’ Contributions such as funds and grains were collected over two months. We have noticed a greater openness in contributions as there is an atmosphere of urgency concerning farmers. The Rajasthan struggle was joined by DJs, auto drivers, milk van drivers, small shopkeepers; in Mumbai there were the dabbawallahs , the Sikh community, Dalits and slum dwellers. In Delhi, teachers, lawyers, scientists, artists, students, retired jawans and doctors were out on the streets.
Did the participating farmers have specific demands?
Certain demands were similar. Prices of all crops have crashed. Demonetisation has been a major blow, after which the PM’s speeches were deemed a mockery by the farming community, resulting in anger. For instance, the Mandsaur agitation (in Madhya Pradesh) was by farmers who had supported the BJP in 2014. Violence in the name of gauraksha has hurt the cattle economy.
What are the different actions taken by the CPI(M)-led AIKS?
We have submitted memorandums on some issues, had hunger strikes and padyatras in the past. We held street-corner meetings and conventions and our own conferences in state, district and village units.
Issues such as evictions from land, not getting land rights have been resolved by gheraos in the past. We have also addressed district-specific issues. Before Nashik, seven marches were held in different areas. From 2014 to 2016 we had a Kisan Sangharsh Yatra, from four points across India, which covered over 20,000 km.
What is AIKS’s position on land acquisition?
AIKS is against forcible acquisition of farm land. Acquisition of multi-crop land has to be the last resort. According to a Comptroller and Auditor General of India report, more than 90 per cent of land acquired lies unutilised in some states. Andhra Pradesh’s new capital Amravati is spread over 53,000 acres, including multi-crop land on the banks of the Krishna.
How political was the farmers' march?
It doesn’t have people from just one political line. However, the AIKSCC is against communal and casteist forces. As an organisation, it represents the interests of the landless, tenant farmers, agricultural workers, small, marginal and middle peasantry.
Did you get any reactions from the government after the march?
The government has not spoken to any of us, but we’re used to that. What this mobilisation has helped in is building pressure on the government to take up issues related to the agrarian crisis. We had collected 200,000 signatures and sent them to the government on August 9 with our two demands (MSP and debt relief), and others such as pension for farmers and crop insurance. It was sent to all district collectorates, with no response. On August 9, around 500,000 farmers took part in a jail bharo movement. These movements are responsible for creating the current atmosphere.
Women featured prominently in the marches.
Women face the brunt of the agricultural crisis. They aren’t treated as farmers in land records. Women farmers have been committing suicide. Even when a male member of the farmer family commits suicide, it affects the woman. They struggle to pay back loans, or to educate the children. Women are often forced into the sex trade or bonded labour. Even women who never ventured out of their villages have participated in the marches.