Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan: Notes from the National Convention
August 12, 2016
©Mukul Dubey / Participants at BBA rally, February 2016 / via SACW
A three-day national convention of Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, held on July 16-17 in Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, was a historic event for the united peasant movement in India. Around 500 activists from 15 states, representing 65 organisations and action committees relentlessly fighting the onslaught on the rights of peasants, attended the meet. Though the BJP-led state government had denied permission to even hold a public meeting in Ahmedabad, the organisers and participants cherished the democratic and progressive ethos of the people of Gujarat, and made the meeting a grand success. The convention was held at Gujarat Vidyapith, which was set up to train and develop cadres to build a new India through the Great Sarvodaya Movement.
The convention adopted a resolution and a charter of demands and resolved that, as part of intensified struggles, state leaders of Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA) will participate in the march to Parliament on August 10, 2016 and meet the President requesting him to ensure withdrawal of the infamous Land Acquisition Bill from Parliament. The convention demanded that the Modi government withdraw its decision to allow 100 per cent FDI in agriculture and e-commerce platforms, which will facilitate corporate loot of peasants by integrating the agriculture market all over the country. The convention concluded that the last 25 years of implementing neo-liberal reforms have intensified the acute agrarian crisis and led to a rise in peasant suicides in the country. It demanded that the Parliament review the impact of reforms on various sections of the society.
The convention decided to support the all-India strike of workers, called by Central Trade Unions, on September 2, and called upon the peasantry to organise an agrarian strike in solidarity. It will lead to the emergence of a solid worker-peasant alliance all over the country as a credible alternative to neo-liberal forces.
The convention started on July 16 and the first session was on ‘People’s Struggles for Rights on Water, Forest and Land’. It was chaired by a presidium comprising Hannan Mollah, Medha Patkar, Ashok Chowdary, Anil Chowdahary and Kanu Bhai Kasariya.
Addressing the convention, Mollah, General Secretary of All India Kisan Sabha and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, said the peasantry cannot fight the menace of neo-liberalism and communalism alone. This convention was therefore important to project the unity and bring together all those classes suffering from the attack of neo-liberal forces that are hell bent on plundering natural resources in the name of privatisation and globalisation. He stressed the significance of reviewing the past 25 years’ experience of the implementation of neo-liberal policies and their impact on peasants, rural poor, working class, Adivasis, fisher-folk, women and children. He suggested that the unity of peasants and agriculture workers and social organisations, achieved to a certain extent at the national level in the context of anti-Land Acquisition Bill movement, should be extended to the state level.
Medha Patkar, one of the founder leaders of BAA, said that the rights of people to water, land, forest and minerals are consistently attacked by the Narendra Modi government, and globalisation and corporatisation need to be resisted at any cost. The Modi government is clearing the way for foreign market forces to control the domestic market by allowing 100 per cent FDI in all sectors, including agriculture. Private monopoly houses like Adani, Ambani, Tata have amassed millions of crores of rupees in profit within a few years. Hence, she said, we should demand for an ‘Ameeri Rekha’ (prosperity line) instead of ‘Gareebi Rekha’ (poverty line). Housewives complain that the Modi government has failed to control inflation and that the price of dal has crossed INR 200 and of tomatoes INR 100, but the government did not respond to that. She stressed that the local struggles of people for rights to water, forest and land need to be linked with the struggles against LPG policies of the central government. Patkar mocked reports in sections of the media, which said that the convention was organised by Naxalite forces. She further said that the Modi government fears everybody who opposes the anti-people policies of his government and is eager to label them as anti-national and jail them.
After discussions, the convention has decided to intensify resistance against forced acquisition of agricultural land by various state governments. States like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are coming up with draconian legislations subverting the 2013 Act. The convention decided to expand the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, the united platform of peasants, agriculture workers and social organisations, to the state level to fight forced land acquisition and displacement.
On July 17, a special session was organised to expose the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development. The speakers highlighted the dark side of the development policies implemented by the BJP government in the state for the past 17 years. They stressed that the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development is based on onslaught on the rights of peasants, workers, Adivasis and Dalits.
Noted economist Prof. Rohit Shukla said that the GDP growth rate in Gujarat is half of that in Bihar. In Gujarat 78% of SGDP is spent on industry and power, while the expenditure on education is 1.78%, on nutrition is 2.28% and on health is a mere 0.42%. The rate of school-going girls in the 15-17 age group in Gujarat is a mere 74%, while in majority of the nearby states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Punjab it is above 90%. Above all 47% of the children in the age group of 0-6 years suffer malnutrition. Though no safe drinking water is available for ordinary people, the industrial houses are gifted with 1,000 litres of water for a price of mere INR 10. The entire model of development is based on loot of natural resources and human labour.
Environmentalist Rohit Prajapathi said that under the BJP government in Gujarat, there is no place for democratic and civil rights. Everything is decided by the Chief Minister’s office and even ministers are unable to explain details of the decisions of their respective departments. Fear psychosis rules the public and a state of emergency prevails without any declaration. No protest action or meetings are permitted. The number of workers in large companies has been curtailed drastically. Majority of the workers are not entitled to minimum wage, ESI and PF. The curtailment of economic rights of the working class becomes part of the huge profit amassed by the corporate companies. Rivers and soil in the state are polluted and that affects the production of vegetables and milk.
Noted sociologist Prof. Ghanshyam Shah said no development model is state or region specific but influenced by political policies. He said that the attraction of ‘Gujarat Model’ of development is cheap labour and easy access to large tracts of land at a nominal price. He said the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development was framed on the basis of the policies of IMF and the World Bank. Specific rights of Adivasis on their land have been eroded under the neo-liberal era and now non-tribal individuals can purchase tribal land in Gujarat. He said education and health sectors in Gujarat are deteriorating and the rural economy is getting scattered under brutal exploitation and neglect.
Mines, Minerals and People forum activist Ashok Sreemali convened the session and Kisan Sangharsh Samiti leader Dr. Sunilam presided over the session. The convention adopted a resolution condemning the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development and demanded the BJP government stop attack on peasants and people, and loot of natural resources of Gujarat. Ordinary people of Gujarat, mockingly call the development model the ‘Modani Model’ since it has been promoted by a ‘partnership’ between Modi and Adani, and is based on exploitation of cheap labour and easy access to large tracts of land at cheap price. BAA and its constituent organisations will take up countrywide campaigns to expose the hollowness of the ‘Modani Model’. The convention decided to observe December 15 as Forest Rights Day that marks the 10th anniversary of implementation of the Forest Rights act. A rally will be organised on that day in Delhi.
The convention was attended by delegates from Gujarat, Odisha, Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal. Representing All India Kisan Sabha, 27 delegates, including Hannan Mollah, Vijoo Krishnan and P Krishnaprasad, attended the convention. All India Agriculture Workers Union President Thirunavukkarasu and CWC member K Veerayya also attended the meet.
BAA is a product of the united struggles that emerged in different intensity in various parts of the country against the infamous Land Acquisition Ordinance promulgated by the Modi government. One may recall the fact that through the consistent united actions, the peasant class had been instrumental in ensuring the first ever defeat suffered by the Modi government which was posing itself as omnipotent after the victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It was forced to retreat from re-promulgating the ordinance.
The 33rd All India Conference of Kisan Sabha had resolved to take efforts to achieve the broadest possible unity of the peasantry in order to launch struggles against anti-peasant and neo-liberal policies. In this direction, the AIKS centre has been undertaking serious efforts to develop a platform of all the Left and democratic peasants and agricultural workers’ organisations. The Modi government’s move to bring the Land Acquisition Ordinance had given an opportunity to speed up the process. Now all the Left and democratic peasant organisations have joined hands to form the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan. Many social organisations and local-level, issue-based action committees have also been included in it.
Last year, the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan had come forward to support the Trade Union strike on September 2 and they actively mobilised the peasantry and the rural working class into an agrarian strike in solidarity. The impact was very positive and it helped develop united action by the working class and the peasant masses. This year too, BAA has declared an agrarian strike in solidarity with the workers’ strike on September 2. The emergence of joint action by the two main classes will develop as a bulwark in the long-term struggle against neo-liberal forces. This will provide ample scope for the Left, democratic and progressive forces to develop political alternative at national level against all those ruling class political parties, including BJP and Congress, who are hell bent upon supporting neo-liberal reforms.
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