Manifesto of the All India Kisan Mahasabha
India is still a predominantly rural and agrarian society. Apart from feeding the entire country, agriculture also remains the main source of livelihood for the majority of Indian population. Yet agriculture continues to suffer the most from all that is backward and unjust in our country, be it the prevalence of ugly remnants of feudalism or lack of access to modern means of production or the shallowness of democracy and justice in our political system. Every government in India is elected primarily on the basis of rural votes, especially votes cast by poor and middle peasants, yet agriculture remains the most neglected sector of the national economy, and the poor and middle peasants remain effectively excluded from all official policies and priorities.
Thanks to systematic neglect and adverse policies, today Indian agriculture is trapped in a deep and protracted crisis. For the overwhelming majority of poor and small peasants, it is a question of survival, and for imperialist global capital and big corporations, it is an opportunity to appropriate and exploit India’s rich natural and human resources – fertile land, abundant water, resource-rich forests, productive yet cheap labour and a potentially huge rural market. Saving Indian agriculture and the laboring peasantry from this crisis and imperialist offensive is the need of the hour.
The key to any real democratization and modernization of India lies in a thoroughgoing democratization and modernization of all that is associated with Indian agriculture. This calls for a veritable agrarian revolution, which alone can lead us to a prosperous and progressive people’s India. The All India Kisan Mahasabha, being formed through a national peasant conference in Patna on May 10, 2010, will contribute all it can in every possible way to reach this goal for which thousands of peasant fighters have laid down their lives in the course of a whole series of glorious peasant revolts and militant peasant movements since colonial times.
May 10, 1857 marked the beginning of India’s first great war of independence, in which millions of small peasants and artisans had joined hands with Indian soldiers of predominantly peasant origin. To cherish this great heritage, the AIKM resolves to observe May 10 every year as the Indian Peasants’ Day.
Cardinal Principles of the AIKM
The AIKM will fight relentlessly for complete elimination of every aspect of landlordism and freeing Indian agriculture from all kinds of feudal vestiges. Simultaneously, the AIKM will also resist every form of corporate invasion of agriculture and every government policy subjecting agriculture and the peasantry to corporate loot and plunder. The Mahasabha will fight tooth and nail against imperialist intervention in every sphere of India’s agricultural economy or the larger domain of national life and for equitable restructuring of all our external relations of trade and exchange or scientific and technological cooperation and development.
Relying on the might of the poor and marginal peasantry, the AIKM will stand for firm unity with middle peasants on every issue of common interest. While on most issues of peasant interest, poor and middle peasants have to fight against the rich peasant lobby, the AIKM will not hesitate to explore possibilities of unity-in-action with forces of rich peasantry in struggles against feudal remnants, corporate domination or imperialist intervention. The AIKM is determined to defend the rights of the tribal and indigenous people who constitute a huge contingent of laboring peasantry and yet have been systematically evicted from their habitat and robbed of their land and traditional rights over natural resources. In pursuing its objectives and demands, the AIKM will always seek close and comprehensive alliance with agricultural labourers and other rural labourers and small artisans, fisherfolks as well as the broader class of industrial and other workers.
The AIKM will fight against all kinds of obscurantist, patriarchal and communal or parochial ideas and practices and uphold secular, modern, progressive, pro-people values in every sphere of life. While uniting and mobilizing peasants in their own struggles, the AIKM will also serve as a bridge in developing the peasant movement in close unity and coordination with other wings of the larger revolutionary and democratic movement of the Indian people. The Mahasabha will also work for international solidarity of the world people in the battle against imperialism and for the promotion of liberty, justice and people’s welfare in every part of the world.
Basic Charter of the AIKM
1) Of late, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 are being used indiscriminately by the state to grab vast stretches of agricultural land from peasants, often against their will and in lieu of meagre compensation, in the name of ‘industrialization’ and vaguely defined ‘public purpose’ which often turns out to be a veil for private profits. Coupled with systematic neglect of agriculture, this state-sponsored corporate landgrab and the resultant diversion and conversion of agricultural land has once again pushed large sections of the poor to the brink of acute malnutrition and near starvation. The spectre of food insecurity is looming large on a country that claims to be racing ahead to the status of an IT superpower!
The AIKM firmly believes that cultivable land must primarily be reserved for agriculture and the latter must be so organized as to guarantee food security in the first place. To this end, the AIKS demands immediate repeal of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and SEZ Act, 2005 and all such measures that threaten farmland and food security.
2) Most states in India have had a chronically poor record of implementation of land reform legislations. The situation has further worsened since the adoption of the neo-liberal policy package in 1991, with the limited reforms that had once been carried out being now systematically undone and reversed in many states. In spite of formal abolition of zamindari or landlordism, benami or illegal concentration of landholding continues unabated; land ceiling laws are flouted at will; and tenants and sharecroppers are routinely deprived of their basic rights and security of tenure.
The AIKM resolutely opposes every violation or reversal of land reforms and calls for rapid completion of the entire unfinished agenda of land reforms in accordance with the cardinal land reform principle “land to the tiller.” Pending actualization of the “land to the tiller” principle, the AIKM insists on legal recognition of tenants and share-croppers and mandatory provision of necessary facilities to ensure security of their tenure and profitable engagement in agriculture. Along with cultivable land, the state must also guarantee the basic right of the landless to residential plots. While fighting for tenancy rights, the AIKM is also aware of the phenomenon of reverse tenancy in areas of developed agriculture where rich peasants lease in land from poor peasants at cheap rates. In situations of reverse tenancy, the AIKM will fight for the protection of the interests and rights of small landowners. Land ceiling should apply not just on owned land but on operational holding which includes leased-in land in addition to owned land.
3) In the name of ensuring rapid technological modernization and increased productivity, the Indian state had initiated the strategy of green revolution. The strategy had initially yielded impressive results in terms of output growth and productivity increase even as it led to increasing intensification of inequality, but over the years, the strategy has run out of steam and now the green evolution areas are at the centre of an acute and persistent agrarian crisis. It must also be remembered that even in its heyday, green revolution relied on a very narrow base – it was launched in relatively advanced areas, taking the rich peasantry as the launching pad. Following the crisis of green revolution, the state is talking of second green revolution or extension of green revolution while actually following an even narrower strategy of corporatization basing on the corporate-rich farmer nexus.
The AIKM rejects such narrow bourgeois vision of agricultural development and fights for a broad-based strategy relying on the productive involvement and initiative of the broad masses of poor and middle peasants. The AIKM firmly believes that with adequate state support, the small farmer can serve as the most productive and effective base for comprehensive agricultural development. While fighting for agricultural development, the AIKM pays particular attention to the question of environmental protection and sustainability as well as the special agricultural conditions obtaining in hilly areas.
4) Even as agriculture becomes increasingly expensive and capital-intensive, public investment in agriculture is steadily declining and the reins of profitable agriculture are being systematically handed over to the corporate sector leading to gross neglect of the overall agricultural economy, indigenous agricultural research and urgent disaster-management measures. The share of investment, public as well as private, in agriculture in the total investment in the economy, which stood at around 15 per cent in 1960-61, now stands at around 5 per cent. As a share of the GDP, public expenditure on agriculture accounts for no more than a paltry 1.56 per cent. Agriculture accounts for around 60 per cent of the population, 16 per cent of the GDP but public investment in agriculture is down to 1.5 per cent of the GDP!
The AIKM is firmly opposed to this trend of dwindling public investment in agriculture and the concomitantly growing corporate invasion of agriculture. It must be the state’s job to guarantee assured supply of water, electricity, seeds, fertilisers and other key inputs and infrastructural facilities at affordable rates to the entire farming community. Public investment must be significantly stepped up to meet the whole gamut of agricultural needs from assured irrigation to cold storage, marketing and universal crop insurance. While insisting on greater public investment and promotion of cooperative and collective farming to check the growing corporate or state-corporate offensive, the AIKM also stands for ensuring greater public accountability through effective peasant participation and control.
5) Small and middle peasant agriculture in India has never really enjoyed effective state support in matters of pricing, procurement and marketing. With limited marketable surplus, the small farmer has usually been outside the pale of the Minimum Support Price mechanism of the state, left at the mercy of distress sale in the absence of any price support or procurement guarantee. Yet, there is now a growing clamour for dismantling even this limited system of price support or procurement and hand over the entire volume of agricultural produce to the ‘free play of market forces’. With increasing internationalization of trade, the so-called ‘free play of market forces’ refers, more often than not, to huge price manipulations by global players. At a time when farmers in developed countries enjoy high levels of subsidies, leaving the small agricultural producer in India to the mercy of distress sale is a sure invitation to unmitigated misery and continuing spates of suicidal deaths.
The AIKM strongly opposes this killer ‘free trade’ policy and calls for universal procurement of the marketable agricultural surplus at assured support price. Timely announcement of support price must be backed by an effective system of direct procurement from producers so as to save them from the eventuality of distress sale and reduce, if not eliminate, the profit margin accruing to middlemen.
6) Large sections of small peasants, tenants and share-croppers in particular, have no access to institutional credit and have to rely on usurers for all their credit needs. The structure of agricultural credit advanced by scheduled commercial banks is also heavily skewed in favour of agribusinesses and big ‘corporate farmers’. Between 1990 and 2006, the share of loans worth less than Rs. 25,000 fell from 58.7 to 13.3 as percentage of total outstanding advances while that of loans worth Rs. 1 crore or more rose from 5.5 to 29.5 per cent. The growing debt burden has been the number one reason driving distressed farmers to suicides – the debt-trap is turning out to be a veritable death-trap for the deprived peasantry.
The AIKM calls upon the state to extend cheap crop loans and other agricultural advances and mandatory crop insurance coverage to all poor and middle peasants including tenants and share-croppers under a differential interest regime with interest rate being directly proportional to the loan size. In times of natural disasters and crop losses, peasants and share-croppers must have a guaranteed right to full compensation for losses suffered.
7) Genetically modified crops have emerged as a major instrument for big corporations to tighten their grip on the global agricultural economy. In the name of rapid increase in output and productivity, the government of India is indiscriminately allowing the introduction of GM seeds in a whole range of crops, from a cash crop like cotton to a directly consumable vegetable like brinjal. In the process, peasants are losing all control while being forced to incur massive expenses on seeds and suffer frequent crop failure on account of allegedly spurious seeds. The seeds laws are being rewritten to free multinational seeds companies from any kind of public scrutiny and liability.
The AIKM strongly opposes the policy of indiscriminate introduction of GM crops and insists on saving India’s rich biodiversity and guaranteeing farmers’ full rights in relation to seeds. Public sector research laboratories must play the key role in developing seeds and bringing about other technological improvement s in partnership with the peasantry. While having a positive attitude to the introduction of new and safe advanced technology and the latest in modern science, the AIKM is opposed to any kind of ‘scientific adventurism’ with potentially disastrous consequences for human health and bio-diversity and driven purely by commercial considerations of multinational seed companies.
8) Ever since the inception of the WTO, Indian agriculture has been subjected to heightened imperialist offensive through a whole series of unequal multilateral as well as bilateral agreements. In the name of value chain improvement and skill development, all sections of rural India are being subordinated to the interests of the global capital. The US in particular is trying to tighten its stranglehold through controversial bilateral deals like the Knowledge Initiative Agreement signed during the Bush regime to the deal on “Agricultural Cooperation and Food Security” now being pushed through in a hurried and secretive manner. All these deals are aimed at making it easier for MNCs to enter and dominate the agricultural arena via wholesale and retail trade, contract farming and food processing industry on the one hand, and through greater imperialist penetration in the functioning of grassroot agencies like panchayati raj institutions, self help groups, micro credit agencies etc. on the other.
The AIKM is determined to thwart this imperialist game plan and save Indian agriculture and the peasantry from the clutches of imperialism and predatory global capital. Resisting the WTO-dictated anti-peasant measures and various imperialist agreements and deals will always figure high on the AIKM’s agenda. While motivating and mobilizing the broad masses of the peasantry in this direction, the AIKM will also seek to enlist the cooperation of all sections of patriotic and pro-peasant opinion in the country.
9) Nearly two decades since the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act, the panchayati raj institutions are yet to acquire real teeth in many respects, with no real devolution of powers to panchayats. For most of its role and powers, panchayats are at the mercy of discretionary powers of concerned state governments. The state governments apart, the Centre too is highly reluctant to delegate real decision-making powers to panchayats. The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 which theoretically empowers tribal panchayats with the authority to deny land for mega projects, mining and industries is routinely bypassed by the Centre, with the Ministry of Environment and Forests approving one landgrab project after another right in the forest areas.
While panchayats remain starved of effective powers, it is also true that most rural development and employment schemes and the public distribution system administered through panchayats remain mired in systematic corruption. This is because, as a rule panchayats remain in the clutches of the nexus of dominant feudal and kulak forces, corrupt officials and criminals. The AIKM will therefore have to fight a two-pronged battle for securing more powers to panchayats as well as subjecting the panchayats and all panchayat-administered rural schemes to effective popular participation and democratic accountability.
10) In spite of decades of formal democratic governance, rural life in India continues to suffer from deep-seated caste and gender oppression and systematic violation of the basic dignity and rights of the rural poor. Protests against such oppression are often sought to be silenced by systematic unleashing of feudal-kulak violence or state repression. Time and again Bihar has witnessed massacres of the rural poor perpetrated by feudal private armies with active connivance of the state. The colonial legacy of state-sponsored killings of peasants is also very much alive in the country – Topkara (Jharkhand), Kalinganagar (Orissa), Nandigram (West Bengal), Dadri (Uttar Pradesh), Mudigunda (Andhra Pradesh) are just a few recent additions to this infamous bloody history. Implicating peasant leaders and movement activists in false cases and subjecting them to life sentences or years of imprisonment remains a common state response to radical peasant movement in almost all states.
The AIKM holds high the banner of militant, determined and organized peasant resistance against this pattern of oppression and anti-people violence. Wherever necessary and possible, AIKM will encourage the formation of self-defence and volunteer forces from among peasants, including peasant women, to resist feudal oppression, communal violence or state terror. In the event of disasters, the AIKM will work in every possible way for rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the disaster-affected people.
Free Indian agriculture from all the vestiges of landlordism and feudalism!
Resist imperialist globalization, strengthen worker-peasant alliance!
Down with corporate domination and bureaucratic control, all power to the laboring peasantry!
Forward to comprehensive land reforms and rapid agricultural and rural development!
Forward to a truly democratic, free and prosperous India!