• Farmers Among the Worst Affected Groups Under Modi Govt: Ashok Dhawale

    Newsclick Production

    April 22, 2019

    It is evident from the news of the farmers' suicides and the increasing number of protests by the farmers over the past few years that the government has yet again failed them. From measly loan waivers to the lack of assistance in terms of minimum support price, every policy of the govt is pushing India's farmers into complete distress. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of NewsClick, Ashok Dhawale, national president of the All India Kisan Sabha spoke about the rising agrarian crisis plaguing India.

    In the lead-up to the November 29–30 farmers’ protest, P. Sainath, founder-editor of People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), spoke to Pranjal of Newsclick about the signifcance of farmers coming together in Delhi, as well as the importance of building common ground between the working class and the middle class.

    Pranjal (P): Let’s start with the background to this march. I remember your article in People’s Archive of Rural India, where you called for a special parliamentary session to be held to discuss the agrarian crisis. So, where did this idea of a long march originate?

    P. Sainath (PS): All of us were incredibly inspired by the long march from Nashik to Mumbai organised by the All India Kisan Sabha in March 2018. Now, that was a really long march—182 kilometres—where 40,000 adivasi farmers, the poorest of farmers, really marginal, marched for a week with their demands. And one of the things we saw there, which was unusual compared to earlier marches, and I say this having lived thirty-six years in Mumbai, is that it was the frst time the middle classes came out in large numbers in support of the farmers. They came in their thousands, in sympathy or empathy with these very poor people who had touched the conscience of the city. The demands of the farmers were reasonable, and they also reached out to the middle classes by marching in the dead of night so as not to disrupt the board exams of the children of Mumbai. People really appreciated that and responded with warmth and generosity. They came out into the streets with water and food, and gave out free pairs of chappals because there were so many thousands that had no footwear. These middle-class people had not been mobilised by any organisation. When we saw that, we thought this should be happening in Delhi—that’s where the power lies.

    The call for a march on November 29 and 30 [2018] has been given by the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).

    P: It is a group of around 180 farmers’ organisations. PS: Almost 200 farmers’ organisations, big and small. Our role as middle-class professionals was to decide how to reconnect the middle classes with the primary classes and workers. In September you had a march of the All India Kisan Sabha where you had farmers and agricultural workers…

    P: And just one day before that [on September 4] was the women’s march in Delhi.*

    PS: So the idea was, why can’t we bring all these together and bring the middle classes in? I think there is some sensitivity growing around the country. A middle-class platform, Nation for Farmers, sprang up in solidarity. Within this there are doctors, teachers, students and techies for farmers—there have been groups forming in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai. They might wear their separate armbands or headbands or T-shirts, but they will come with “Nation for Farmers” as their main banner in front. That’s the idea. On my visits to college campuses and elsewhere there has been a very good response to it. Of course, there are problems…with elections [for fve state legislatures] coinciding with the dates for the march, especially in states close to Delhi—Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh—from where more people would ordinarily be expected to join us; and also exams beginning on November 28.

    P: Let me come back to the issues around which these mobilisations are happening. These still remain the minimum support price and loan waiver. What are the other things you are demanding apart from…

    PS: There is more to that. The minimum support price and the loan waiver are the core of two bills that are being crafed by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which must be passed. That is a demand.

    First published in Newsclick.

    This is an excerpt from P Sainath's conversation with Pranjal published in Battling For India: A Citizen's Reader edited by Githa Hariharan and Salim Yusufji and published by Speaking Tiger Books.

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