“Farmer movements haven’t seen this kind of hope in decades,” says Kavitha Kuruganti, founder of advocacy-platform ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture). She is referring to Dilli Chalo, a solidarity march for farmers on November 29 and 30, organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).
The AIKSCC was formed in June 2017, and represents 208 farmers associations together from different parts of the country. In the past 18 months, the movement has gathered momentum in the shape of
Kisan Mukti marches in various states, leading up to the march to Parliament in Delhi on November 30.
The trigger was a June 2017 farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. Six people died in the midst of violence and police shootings. This was followed by spontaneous farmer agitations in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. “It made senior farmer leaders take note and say, we cannot let this upsurge wither away without any positive outcome. They felt a need for a united platform at least on the points we agree on,” Kuruganti says.
It is a movement that has grown nationally in no small measure because of social media, Kuruganti says. “Farmer movements had weakened after the 1980s,” she explains. “They had become localised with numerous factions emerging even in large farmer organisations.”
The AIKSCC’s working group comprises the likes of her, P Ayyakkanu of the National-South India River Interlinking Agriculturists Association, and Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan. Its primary call to the central government is for a special Parliamentary session with agriculture on the agenda.
Raju Shetti, a Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Hatkanangle in Maharashtra, introduced two Bills (both private member’s bill) in July. The first pertains to farmers’ right to a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural produce, while the second Bill is towards a debt waiver for farmers. Private member bills rarely see the light of day. But this is agriculture—India’s primary sector—in an election year.
Implementing Crop Price
“If agriculture commodity prices are low, governments tell consumers prices have come down,” says VM Singh, convenor of AIKSCC. “Fact is it’s expensive for farmers when input prices increase. Prices of pesticide, seed and diesel have gone up in the past year. That’s why the farmers have come together.”
Effectively, in 12 months, the AIKSCC has managed to drive the convergence of farmer groups, including those representing marginalised farmers (women, adivasis and Dalits), apart from the introduction of two Bills.
Last month, the government announced an increase in the MSP for Rabi crops of 2018-19. The formula of calculating minimum support price has been a subject of much debate among agricultural scientists, economists, and farmers. The latest MSP announcement by the National Democratic Alliance government applied the same method as the previous regime, United Progressive Alliance.
The government says MSP is 50 percent return over cost of production, which is input costs plus the economic value of an agrarian family members working on the farm. This is called ‘A2 + FL’. But, the AIKSCC and the affiliated farmer associations want the value of capital assets, including rent and interest on land, to be factored into the cost of production. “When we rejected Manmohan Singh’s formula for A2 + FL, why will we accept Modi’s?” asks Singh of AIKSCC.
The larger push is for MSP implementation. “If the government can monitor the price fixed for diesel, it should strictly implement the minimum support price.”
Palagummi Sainath, journalist and author of
Everybody Loves a Good Drought, says the agrarian crisis in India is now two decades old. The special session in Parliament is needed to simply enact on the policy recommendations made between 2004 and 2006 by the National Commission on Farmers under M.S. Swaminathan. “In 14 years since the first volume, the Parliament could not find time to implement the report,” Sainath told a gathering in Bengaluru recently. Social (Media) Movement
“Further, we cannot solve the agrarian crisis if we do not discuss the rights and entitlements of women farmers, ignoring the work of women who contribute to more than 60% of agricultural works,” Sainath says, adding that property rights for women has to be discussed. The gender aspect of agriculture came up at a farmers’ march last year. Since then, Kuruganti says more than 60 consultations have taken place in different parts of the country, with inputs from farmers, and experts in agricultural science and law for detail related to the Constitution.
Platforms like Facebook have been used to promote campaigns like ‘Kisan ki Loot’ (which compares yields under the prevailing MSP regime), and ‘Indebted to Farmers’ (a citizen connect campaign to highlight farmers’ contributions). “This has been pretty unique, in terms of how farmer movements are realigning our ways of working to influence each other’s thinking,” Kuruganti says. “Earlier, the work was happening in silos, picking up smaller causes within the larger issues of farming. This time, we have been emphatic about the most marginalised farmers, whose voices don’t get heard—adivasis and special women farmers.
The movement in Delhi on Thursday will begin with marches from four parts, after trains bring farmers from different parts of the country. The rallies that begin from 9 AM will see farmers converge at Ram Lila Maidan by 5 PM, before the march to the Parliament on Friday. The Delhi government has made arrangements for ambulances and doctors.
Even with the political shadow in an election year, AIKSCC has managed collective representation in the social media age.
Kunal Talgeri is a journalist in Bengaluru, and tweets @KunalTalgeri.