“May All India Kisan Mahasabha emerge as a powerful platform of peasant unity and peasant struggle, linking backward regions with advanced areas, peasants with workers, and the peasant movement with the wider current of patriotic-democratic assertion of the Indian people”
Inaugural Address of
Comrade Dipankar at AIKM Founding Conference
Comrades and friends,
It gives me immense pleasure to inaugurate this important all-India assembly of revolutionary peasant activists. On behalf of the Central Committee of CPI(ML), I extend my warm revolutionary greetings to all of you assembled here, delegates from the four corners of the country and our esteemed guests from Maharashtra and our close eastern neighbour, Bangladesh. Special thanks are also due to our comrades outside of this hall, especially comrades of Bihar who have defied all odds to organize this conference.
Today is the 153rd anniversary of the great uprising of 1857, the first war of India’s independence which was a powerful peasant war in its essence. And this state of Bihar and its capital Patna were among the leading theatres of that glorious national awakening. We recall this legacy with great pride, and resolve to carry forward the great spirit of peasant revolts against imperialism and feudalism, for real freedom and democracy.
Indeed, 1857 signalled the beginning of a long history of militant peasant struggles in Bihar and several other parts of the country. Bihar also served as an early Gandhian laboratory where Gandhi got the impetus to impart a mass peasant dimension to an otherwise elitist Congress. The peasant masses in Bihar however soon began to get disillusioned with the compromising pro-feudal politics of the Congress. From passive supporters of Congress politics, peasants began to turn into active fighters for social transformation and national liberation.
Leading this transition in Bihar and UP were Swami Sahajanand and his comrades. Communist organizers were also engaged in a similar mission in different parts of the country. Against this backdrop, the foundation of the All India Kisan Sabha in 1936 laid a powerful basis for a broad-based anti-imperialist unity of Left forces and gave a fillip to organized and militant peasant struggles across the country. We salute and inherit this rich legacy of peasant mobilization and organization.
It was this legacy that lay behind the historic Telangana uprising in the 1940s and the great Naxalbari and Srikakulam uprising two decades later. Just when the Indian state thought it had snuffed out the fire of Naxalbari, Bhojpur and soon the whole of Bihar rose in revolt unfurling the banner of dignity and democracy. Defying any number of massacres perpetrated by the state or by private armies operating under state patronage, the fire of revolutionary peasant struggle has continued to spread in Bihar and today it simmers across the country from Punjab to Orissa, and Bengal to Andhra. As we assemble here to launch an all-India organization of the labouring and fighting peasantry, we pay our heartfelt tributes to all our great leaders and martyrs who blazed this great trail of radical peasant assertion in India.
If Indian agriculture has managed to overcome the worst shackles of landlordism, bondage and usury, the achievement must be attributed above all to this live legacy of peasant assertion. It was the great Telangana uprising and the host of struggles against landlordism during the first half of the previous century that forced the agenda of elimination of landlordism on the post-colonial Indian state. Likewise, it was the Naxalbari-inspired revolts of the rural poor which compelled the state to go for land ceiling legislation and legal protection of tenancy and share-cropping.
Yet, the state always limited and subverted the land reform agenda in the interest of the landed gentry. Land apart, the landed rich also derived maximum benefits from whatever agricultural and allied infrastructure was developed through public investment while the landless poor and the small peasantry were left to fend for themselves. The green revolution further intensified the socio-economic inequalities and regional disparities, and when under WTO Indian agriculture was subjected to unequal competition with the highly developed and heavily subsidised capitalist agriculture of the western world, the result was an unprecedented agrarian crisis.
Over the last two decades, the crisis has engulfed almost the entire agricultural economy in the country. Even as successive governments boast of 8% economic growth, during the last ten years agriculture has been stagnating at less than 2% annual growth. In the last two years, the rate has actually dropped to 1.6% and minus 0.2% respectively. Peasant suicides have been continuing unabated – whether there is a crop failure or there is a glut in the market, miseries continue to mount for peasants driving many to a suicidal end. And to top it all, now we have an unprecedented 20% food inflation, which hurts most peasants as much as it hurts the non-agricultural working people.
What has been the state’s response to this deepening agrarian crisis? Only a one-off loan waiver before the 2009 Lok Sabha election which certainly helped the Congress retain power but did little to arrest, let alone resolve, the crisis. The Congress had projected the loan waiver as a decisive boon for marginal and small farmers, but the fact remains that the waiver could hardly make any dent into the problem of indebtedness. According to a study done by Professor Harjinder Singh Shergill of Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh, the average indebtedness in Malwa region of Punjab actually grew from Rs. 52,000 in 1997 to Rs. 139,000 in 2008. He estimates Punjab’s total farm debt to have gone up from Rs. 5700 crore to Rs. 30,394 crore over this period.
Contrast the government’s indifference to the issues of agrarian crisis and food inflation to its concern for saving Indian big capital from any possible adverse impact of the global economic crisis. In three instalments of bailout package, the government pumped in no less than Rs. 3.5 lakh crore, and this when the number of Indians in the global list of billionaires doubled from 24 in 2008 to 49 in 2009! Add to the bailouts the direct tax exemptions the government hands out in a routine manner in every budget to corporate tax payers (Rs. 2,08,000 crore in last three budgets) and it could fund as many as eight loan waivers in last three years!
The government’s indifference to the agrarian crisis is actually driven by a cynical calculation. The crisis is being sought to be used as an instrument to compel more and more peasants to move out of agriculture, or in any case to give up independent agriculture, thereby facilitating increasing corporate appropriation of resources involved in the agricultural and rural economy. The enactment of the SEZ Act, the state-corporate combined drive for forcible land acquisition, the introduction of GM crops and MNC seeds, steps towards privatization of water resources are all happening against the backdrop of the raging agrarian crisis.
The new agricultural policy of the Indian government and every aspect of Indo-US cooperation in the agricultural field are aimed at intensifying this drive towards corporate restructuring of Indian agriculture. US penetration in Indian agriculture has not yet attracted the kind of public attention and debate that we saw in the case of the nuclear deal, but in terms of scale and implications, the growing US intervention in Indian agriculture is no less detrimental to the interests of India and Indian people.
Under the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture (KIA), signed during the Bush presidency, Indian agricultural knowledge and research has virtually been mortgaged to the US research establishment and it is well known that the interests of US MNCs are closely associated with this venture. Representatives of notorious US agribusiness MNCs Monsanto and Cargill are on the board of directors of KIA. And now the UPA government has initiated a new Agriculture Dialogue with the Obama regime aimed at a comprehensive deal on “Agricultural Cooperation and Food Security” which talks of ‘robust cooperation between the governments’ in a whole range of areas from ‘crop forecasting, management and market information’ to ‘expanding private sector investment in agriculture’.
In the 1960s when India was faced with a major food crisis, the Indian state had peddled the US-sponsored Green Revolution as the answer to that crisis. Today when the green revolution model has collapsed, and India’s food security and food sovereignty are at stake, the Indian state has ironically once again turned to the same American establishment for so-called second generation green revolution and food security! This is the sure recipe for subjugation and destruction of Indian agriculture.
For capital, agriculture is just another source of profit, and appropriation of natural resources is a proven way to gain greater economic control and rapid accumulation of wealth. At the other end of the spectrum, for the vast majority of agricultural population, agriculture is the only or primary source of livelihood. And in spite of the declining share of agriculture in the country’s GDP, a vibrant agricultural economy can be the only reliable foundation for food security and food sovereignty of a populous country like India. The peasant movement today is essentially a battle between these two contending visions of Indian agriculture – it is a broad-based patriotic-democratic answer to the narrow corporate-imperialist blueprint of corporatized agriculture.
Immediate completion of the unfinished agenda of land reforms, comprehensive and timely assistance for people who are directly involved in agriculture, increased public investment in agriculture and adequate indigenous research and extension service to suit the diverse needs of peasants in different fields – these are the four key components of a pro-peasant alternative direction of agricultural development in today’s India. In fighting for this alternative direction, fighting peasants – call them poor and middle peasants or marginal and small farmers – must make common cause with both agricultural labourers and tenant-farmers or share-croppers.
Agricultural economy in India is marked by uneven development of capitalism, and agriculture being most closely linked to the rural society, the peasant masses also have to contend with well entrenched feudal forces on different levels. The fighting peasants and their allies thus invariably find themselves pitted against the combined might of the old feudal forces as well as the emerging kulak-corporate nexus. In spite of uneven economic development and socio-cultural diversities, the agrarian crisis today looms large over the entire country, providing a new sense of urgency and unity among the fighting peasant forces across the country.
In the heydays of green revolution, the rich peasants in relatively advanced areas were quite vocal in advocating liberalization of Indian agriculture. Today the ideologues of rich peasants have either become outright advocates of corporatization or have lost all initiative in the face of acute agrarian crisis. Maharashtra, which had emerged as the cradle of the rich peasant movement led by Sharad Joshi, has today turned into the number one graveyard of Indian farmers even as another leader of Maharashtra kulaks and sugar lobby officiates as the country’s agriculture minister. The crisis has broken down the wall between the so-called advanced capitalist areas and backward feudal regions and the ground is now ready for revolutionary peasant activists from all over the country to take the lead in forging a nationwide peasant resistance.
I wish the conference every success in this direction. May your proposed All India Kisan Mahasabha emerge as a powerful platform of peasant unity and peasant struggle, linking backward regions with advanced areas, peasants with workers, and the peasant movement with the wider current of patriotic-democratic assertion of the Indian people. Since its inception, the CPI(ML) has drawn its greatest sustenance from the revolutionary peasant movement in the country and may I conclude by reiterating the Party’s resolve to march ahead along this path of protracted people’s struggle through every future twist and turn.
Red salute to the fighting legacy and spirit of the Indian peasantry!