The fighting peasantry of Rajasthan under the banner of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) last week emerged victorious after yet another battle, this time against the dastardly repression of the BJP state government. The Rajasthan Kisan Sabha had given a clarion call for a massive March to Jaipur (Jaipur Kooch) on February 22, 2018, to protest against the betrayal of the assurances of loan waiver, remunerative prices and pension made to the peasantry after the historic 13-day state-wide struggle from September 1-13, 2017.
To propagate the Jaipur March, four main jathas on foot began from February 12 onwards from Nagaur, Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Kota. All of them began from places which had seen the martyrdom of peasants, workers and students. They were led by AIKS vice president Amra Ram, state president Pema Ram, state general secretary Chhaganlal Choudhary, state vice president Duli Chand Borda and others. Several other sub jathas covered over 5000 villages of Rajasthan on foot. All these jathas received encouraging response from the peasantry since discontent was already brewing among them against the betrayal by the BJP regime.
Alarmed at the response of the peasantry, and rattled by the recent huge BJP defeats in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha by-elections in Alwar, Ajmer and Mandalgarh, the BJP state government headed by Vasundhara Raje Scindia launched a cowardly campaign of repression. Two days before the Jaipur March, on February 20, it arrested AIKS leaders Amra Ram, Pema Ram, Hetram Beniwal, Sheopat Meghwal, Pawan Duggal and 165 others and remanded them to judicial custody. Apart from them, over 2000 peasant activists were detained in police stations across the state.
The AIKS leadership immediately responded by calling for burning the effigies of the authoritarian BJP chief minister in all districts, tehsils and villages in the state on February 21. This action met with tremendous response all over. A complete Bandh was held in Sikar that day, fully supported by shopkeepers and all other sections.
From February 21, the government sealed the capital Jaipur and prevented peasants from entering it with the help of a massive police force. It also prevented farmers from moving out of their villages and tehsils by threatening the bus drivers with dire consequences. Not to be outdone, the farmers responded by blocking highways wherever they were stopped.
The CPI(M) and the AIKS at the national level strongly condemned the repression let loose by the BJP state government and called for the immediate release of all AIKS leaders and for the implementation of the September assurances given to the peasantry.
The CPI(M) statement said, “Bulldozing even the minimum democratic right to protest, the Raje Government has once again revealed its authoritarian character by using the police against the Kisan movement and arresting the leaders. This shows the desperation of a Government that is increasingly getting isolated from the people.”
The AIKS statement said, “The discredited BJP Government is only exposing its fear of the Kisan mobilisation by this act. Democratic protests cannot be stifled by repressive measures. We warn the BJP Government in Rajasthan that this move will be countered by massive mobilisation and the movement will go on until the anti-peasant, anti-worker and anti-poor Vasundhara Raje regime is defeated.”
On February 22, AIKS President Dr Ashok Dhawale and AIKS Joint Secretary Dr Vijoo Krishnan rushed to Jaipur. In spite of the repression unleashed by the government, hundreds of farmers had gathered at the Kisan Mazdoor Bhavan there. They were addressed by leaders of the AIKS, CITU, AIAWU, AIDWA, SFI, DYFI and other organisations.
After this, AIKS central leaders Ashok Dhawale and Vijoo Krishnan, along with AIKS Rajasthan Treasurer Gurcharan Singh Mour and others went along the national highway to Sikar and addressed two large meetings of thousands of farmers who had been stopped by the police and had promptly blocked the highway at Tantiawas Toll Naka and at Reengus. In the evening they reached the historic spot of Ramu ka Baas junction near Sikar that had been the epicentre of the September Kisan struggle.
At Sikar the scene was just amazing! From 11 am in the morning, over 20,000 farmers from Sikar district, who had been stopped by the police from proceeding to Jaipur, had militantly but peacefully blocked both sides of the national highway. They included hundreds of women farmers in their traditional red chunaris. There were also thousands of angry peasant youth and students. The entire area had turned into a massive public meeting that had continued the whole day, interspersed with peasant songs and dances.
AIKS leaders denounced the BJP regime for its repression and also for its betrayal of its own assurances on loan waiver and pension. They also castigated the BJP-led Modi regime at the centre whose neo-liberal policies left the peasantry and all other sections of working people in the lurch, while shamelessly protecting the corruption of, and showering limitless benefits on its crony capitalists like Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya, Gautam Adani, Anil Ambani and Mukesh Ambani.
They also gave a call to direct this peasant struggle towards a political transformation by defeating both the BJP and the Congress in the coming state assembly elections in Rajasthan and ensuring the victory of the left and democratic forces, of which the AIKS was an integral part. That was the only way in which the peasants and workers could truly wrest their rights.
At Sikar the AIKS central and state leadership reviewed the situation and decided that unless the government unconditionally releases all the arrested leaders and activists: 1. The huge Mahapadav at Sikar would continue indefinitely; 2. The next day, February 23, there would be state-wide demonstrations outside all the district and tehsil headquarters; 3. On February 24, there would be a state-wide Chakka Jaam, i. e. road blockade.
Accordingly, the February 23 demonstrations were widely held by thousands of farmers all across the state. The state government had already come under intense fire from the media and from all democratic sections for its ham-handed repressive tactics. Under all this public pressure, on the night of February 23 it was forced to release all the AIKS leaders and activists. It was only after Amra Ram reached the Mahapadav at Sikar after midnight and addressed the huge gathering that the state-wide agitation was called off. Thousands of peasants had camped there from 11 am on February 22 up to 3 am on February 24!
Among the leaders of the Rajasthan AIKS who led this struggle from outside jail were Chhaganlal Choudhary, Sagar Khachariya, Balwan Puniya, Gurcharan Singh Mour, Sanjay Madhav and many others, while CPI(M) leaders Vasudev Sharma, Fulchand Barbar and many others rendered valuable fraternal support.
FLASHBACK ON THE SEPTEMBER STRUGGLE
The peasantry in Rajasthan under the Kisan Sabha banner won a significant victory after their resolute struggle lasting 13 days. Since September 1, 2017, lakhs of farmers gheraoed the different district headquarters on the call of Rajasthan Kisan Sabha for a Mahapadav (sit-in). For three days there was also rasta roko (road blockade) across the state bringing about 20 districts to a standstill. Only ambulances and essential services functioned. The peasant movement received unprecedented support from all sections of society making it a truly people's movement. The insensitive BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje Scindia was forced to bow down and accept many of the demands of the peasantry after 13 days of struggle and talks with the Kisan Sabha leadership. The talks went on in four phases from 1:00 pm on September 12 and ended on September 14 at 1:00 am.
The BJP government was forced to agree to loan waiver of up to Rs 50,000 which was expected to benefit eight lakh farmers; assurance that state government will write to the centre seeking implementation of Swaminathan Commission Recommendations on MSP in a time-bound manner by working out modalities; purchase of groundnut, green gram (moong) and urad at MSP at all district headquarters within seven days; withdraw hike in electricity rates for drip irrigation; payment of SC/ST/OBC fellowship with arrears immediately; relaxation in restrictions in sale of cattle, protection of crops from stray cattle and wild animals; increase of pension to Rs 2,000 per month agreed in principle; insurance claim for failure of canal irrigation and stopping harassment of traders and farmers by the police.
BETRAYAL OF ASSURANCES
Under the intense public pressure of the September struggle led by the AIKS, the state government was forced to take some steps in the next few months. However, it backtracked on its main promise of a loan waiver. The Rajasthan government in its recent Budget announced a one-time loan waiver up to Rs 50,000 for small and marginal farmers who had defaulted on short-term loans from cooperative banks. It announced a loan waiver amount of Rs 8,000 crore. The budget announcement covers waivers of only short-term loans from cooperatives and does not include long-term loans provided by cooperative banks for irrigation and other purposes. Aimed at overdue loans of small and marginal farmers at the cooperatives, the waiver isn’t meant for those farmers who are repaying the amount on time. Further, chief minister Vasundhara Raje immediately after the Budget also stated that there was no guarantee for the fulfilment of the Budget proposals!
Interestingly, short-term crop-based loans have a 90% recovery rate. According to data from the Rajasthan State Co-operative Bank Limited, the recovery percentage of the short-term loans in the past five financial years was 93.18%, 90.33%, 90.25%, 83.12% and 82.31% respectively. By this calculation, few farmers will be able to avail the loan waiver benefit.
If all the restrictions are imposed, then very few farmers will get the benefit of the loan waiver. The announcement has also restricted the agricultural land size to less than eight bighas (Bigha is measured differently in different states; in Rajasthan eight bighas is only around 3.2 acres, that is, a little over one hectare). This will leave out thousands of poor, marginal and middle farmers who are reeling under debt. The loan given by the cooperative banks to farmers with less than eight bighas of land is already very little. Thus, farmers feel that the budget loan waiver is yet another jumla of the BJP government.
As regards increased pension of Rs 2,000 to poor peasants and agricultural workers, nothing at all has been done by the government. Many other assurances remain unimplemented.
FUTURE PLAN OF STRUGGLE
On February 27, 2018, the AIKS Rajasthan state council met, briefly reviewed the February struggle and decided on the future plan of action. This was announced in a press conference at Jaipur the same evening by Amra Ram, Pema Ram and Chhaganlal Choudhary.
After denouncing the repression let loose by the BJP state government and describing it as a feudal and authoritarian assault on democracy itself, the AIKS leaders warmly congratulated the peasants, workers, agricultural labourers, women, youth, students, traders and all other sections that had courageously participated in the struggle and had supported it.
Announcing the future plan of struggle, they declared that just as the state government had prevented farmers from entering their capital Jaipur, so also would farmers now prevent Ministers from entering their towns and villages. On March 8, when prime minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Jhunjhunu, an AIKS delegation of farmers from the Shekhawati region – Sikar, Churu and Jhunjhunu districts – would submit a memorandum to him outlining the betrayal of assurances by the state government led by his own party. The same day, similar memoranda addressed to the prime minister would be submitted by the AIKS in all district and tehsil headquarters.
On International Workers’ Day, May 1, peasants in Rajasthan would gather in thousands and close down all the district collectorates. They would also hold state-wide demonstrations in the mandis (agricultural markets) to demand remunerative prices for their produce.
Finally, a widespread and concerted state-wide campaign would be launched in every village to force the government to implement the September 13 agreement and to expose the callous anti-peasant BJP regime and turn public opinion irrevocably against it, so as to ensure its defeat in the coming assembly elections and bring forth a left democratic alternative in Rajasthan.