This is the second part of a two-part article by Prof. Amit Bhaduri.
Read the first part here: Indian Farmers’ Movement: A Beginning To Solve All Contradictions – Part 1
The brightness has faded. The next election in UP, the most populous state in the country with maximum representation is around the corner. The BJP has lost badly state elections in West Bengal in the east and, in Tamil Nadu in the south of India. Central and North Idia is now the battlefield, and the farmers’ movement has crystalized in many areas there. BJP intends to build a huge temple in the name of the Hindu-God Rama and hopes its religious strategy of building a Hindu Rashtra would work in this traditional Hindu heartland. Against this divisive religious ideology of the BJP can the farmers offer anything, because many of them are also traditionalist Hindus? Many confessed they had voted for BJP in the last election for that very reason, and there had been Hindu-Muslim riots. Daylight simply began to go out for BJP when the farmers too came forward with their political understanding of why these laws were so important for the government. Soon after the movement began, the farmers clearly identified big specific corporate interests that were driving the farm laws. They simply put the cat out of the bag among corporate fed pigeons – the politicians with Modi leading them, the media, the market liberalizers, and even the IMF- World bank type economists who adorn all governments. They named the two biggest industrialists from Gujrat, close friends and associates of the prime minister as the intended main beneficiaries of these laws. Some evidence was on the ground, the silos as potential grain warehouses of Adani, making inroads into the retail food market and preparation for on-line bulk trading by Ambani. The farmers’ minimalist ideology was potent and alive, derived from their life experience. They were not afraid to state it simply and openly. It was not a party-line dictated from the top.
Many tend to confuse the farmer’s peaceful movement of ideological originality with the Gandhian or Anna Hazare type anti-corruption movement. This is wrong. That the movement is peaceful does not make it Gandhian. Unlike Gandhi and his view of Trusteeship of the wealth of the country with industrialists as its in charge, the farmers took an open anti-big business stance in agriculture. That there is corruption in a prime minister selling out Indian agriculture for the profit of two corporations does not make it a part of any silly anti-corruption movement which looks only at individual money-making through illegal transactions as corruption. Mr. Modi was actually intending to change the laws to make everything legal!
This movement is unique in its tenacity, and staying power, in its ability to forge unity across class, caste, gender, and religion with a straightforward ideology that goes to the heart of the matter. This is why it could not be crushed. And it is now history, the government failed to crush it.
However, it opens up probably the most important question of our era. Can movements born out of the shared life experience of a vast number of people replace political parties and create potent, alive transformative, pro-people politics with ideologies relevant to the particular movement? Political parties have repeatedly shown they are not capable. They are in the game of competitive electoral politics where money is crucial; catering to public prejudice is essential; a spade cannot be called a spade because in representational politics image is more important than reality, the ability to create illusion and hypnotize the public, and make them oblivious of ugly reality is the aim of the game. Speaking well is more important than acting. Media and advertisement are crucial aids for replacing reality with image, and for that the support of big money from big industrialists is indispensable. The cohesion of the party requires organizational discipline imposed from the top; the central leadership sets the line, and the followers follow. Vote banks created by manipulation of religion and caste to create a majority are at the core of democratic elections as we know it now. The farmers’ movement showed that these distortions can be corrected to a large extent, that they can be overcome in course of a movement.
The farmers did not tell people to vote for this opposition party or that. They opposed BJP’s anti-farm policies, were disgusted by Modi’s imperial arrogance, repelled by his politics of creating religious division, and his lack of decency in dealing with them. He did not once regret the death of 670 farmers at the protest; he maintained silence over the suspected involvement of his minister’s son in the killing of four farmers by crushing them under a car, even when the minister himself had threatened them openly earlier in a public meeting.
People have been invited to vote on the basis of their shared experiences. They have been invited to judge policies that support only corporate interests. They have been made aware of the anti-democratic and anti-constitutional intentions of the government. Movements have also earlier put or removed political parties to power. The Aam Admi (AAP) party in Delhi rode to power entirely on the shoulder of an Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement that prided in not having an ideology! Since then, it has become a creature of retaining power by any means as its only ideology. The once-mighty CPM(Communist Party Marxist) which prided on its Marxist ideology in West Bengal was arrogant enough to ignore the life and death question of the peasants. Then the civil society stood up with the peasants, and the Trinamul Congress captured that popular mood to ride to power. It has nearly obliterated CPM from West Bengal politics, along with shattering the BJP recently in the last election. The Congress party had earned rich dividends, won popular support, and removed BJP from power in the general election of 2009 when it passed the Right to Information and nationwide rural employment guarantee act, but since then it has increasingly proved it believes in a secular liberal democracy only so long as the family dynasty is not disturbed. BJP is arrogant in its belief that clever exploitation of the Hindu-Muslim religious divide will deliver its victory in elections, and tries to be clever by half by hiding all the ugly, divisive issues of the Hindu caste society, its oppression of Dalits, scheduled caste, and suppression of tribal rights.
The farmer’s movement has so far acted as an antidote to many of these pathologies from which political parties in democratic India suffer.
Unemployment is an overwhelming issue but is made relevant only during elections. No political party has even tried to figure out seriously a plan to tackle it. Poverty, child malnourishment, destruction of livelihood, and nature in the name of economic growth and development become transient issues highlighted only at election times. All parties contribute to these ugly tendencies when in power, and they all oppose when in opposition.
The farmers’ movement spelled out the name of the game clearly. It is meant to hand over the economic control of the country to a few large corporations and keep the poor undemanding and submissive by throwing occasional charity at them. There are some differences, mostly of degree. Mr. Modi has surpassed all in practicing this ideology most ruthlessly with single-minded devotion. The farmers’ movement forced open to the public this scheme of things. Not all contradictions have been solved by this movement, but a beginning has been made thanks to the understanding by India’s farmers. What is more, they have made people, ordinary poor people gain confidence that things can be altered once they too understand, unite and persist. In a way, it is frightening for the entire political class because it will not be business as usual. The farmers’ movement has established this as our newly gained reality beyond the political rhetoric of a dysfunctional democracy.
Prof. Amit Bhaduri is an economist and a consistent critic of mainstream neoclassical economic theory, relentlessly exposing its logically flawed foundations. He is currently an internationally selected professor (of clear fame) at Pavia University, Italy, and visiting professor in the Council for Social Development, New Delhi.