By MENCHANI TILENDO
The aggravating authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Nahendra Modi has led to the unprecedented historic march in November 2020 of over 300,000 farmer-led protesters in Delhi. This uprising has continued to grow in numbers as Indian workers have also simultaneously conducted their series of strikes, reportedly participated by over 250 million people. With the continued massive protests and blockades across the country, the Indian peoples are demonstrating to the world the power of a peasant-led resistance movement.
In this light, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) has dedicated this month of February as the Global Month of Solidarity with the Indian Peoples, with the theme “Support the Fight of the Indian Peoples for Democracy and Liberation.” As the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the crisis of the world capitalist system and triggered the rise of fascist regimes, there is a necessity to build a stronger solidarity among the common victims who bear the common brunt.
Historical paradigm of India’s semi-feudalism
Malem Ningthouja, chairperson of Campaign for Peace and Democracy Manipur, said during the IPLS webinar launch that civil, political, and economic rights have become a serious concern in India. National security laws have been threats to the Indian peoples’ democratic freedoms. Much like in the Philippines, India is placed under an “anti-terror” scheme of the government, which, in essence, targets the activists, human rights advocates, peasant and worker organizers.
“These threats to our democratic aspirations do not exist in a vacuum, they have a historical paradigm. Since 1947, the historical trajectory of India has been interpreted multiple times but the concrete conditions faced by the people prove that India progresses through a capitalist path. Today, India is a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, with remnants of strong colonialism,” Ningthouja discussed.
According to Ningthouja, foreign capital has expanded in the country while fundamental land reforms have not been carried out. Through the policies of neoliberalism, imperialism is expanding in the industrial sector, while at the same time, de-industrializing the economy.
“In the agrarian sector, big landlordism continues to exist in the countrysides. Public assets have been privatized, and the social sector such as health and education has been eroded, leading to the worsening conditions of the working class and the peasants,” Ningthouja added.
The farmers’ agitation in Delhi has drawn the attention of the whole country. Even outside India, their calls have gained support from groups, celebrities, and even other prominent individuals. This has triggered a response from the Indian government, saying that people outside of their country should not meddle with their internal affairs.
“The whole farmers’ agitation that the world has seen is actually a reassertion of democracy, of taking back our spaces to protest and stand up against the repressive policies of the state,” Kiran Kumar Vissa, State Convenor of India-based farmer organization Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) said in the webinar.
“These organized and growing protests have emerged because of the specific measures that the Indian government is taking regarding our agricultural and farming concerns. The three farm laws were brought as ordinances in June 2020, and from July onwards, the demonstrations from the farmers’ movement began across the country, starting August 9 to be exact,” Vissa added.
International network People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) reported that the passage of the three farm bills into law was not thoroughly discussed, debated, and sent to the parliamentary committee for further analysis. This crucial stage should have assessed whether the said bills serve the security of the farmers.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act is claimed by India’s central government as “favorable” for farmers as they will now be able to sell their produce wherever they want. But the question is how many farmers sell their products in distant markets and have enough resources to do so. According to PCFS, this act will certainly benefit the private companies and traders as they do not need a license to buy and they can even evade tax payments to the states. On top of this, the act will also provide them with the potential of regulating the prices of the agricultural goods.
On the other hand, the second act called Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act permits contract farming, and private companies will be able to make direct contacts with the farmers. Still, there are no price regulations for directly buying from farmers. PCFS pointed out that this might benefit the farmers in the beginning but with time, companies will be setting up the rates as per their will and can also influence the farmers for growing particular crops, posing a serious threat for the indigenous crops.
The third act, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020, removes the cereals, pulses, oil seeds, edible oil, onion, and potato from the list of essential commodities. PCFS stated that this act will promote hoarding of goods as it says that stock limits can only be imposed if the retail price of non-perishable goods (cereals, pulses, oil-seeds, etc) increases above the average by 50 percent and the retail price of perishable goods (fruits, vegetables, etc) increase above the average by one hundred percent.
“The economic model of India is characterized by a huge marginalization of the agricultural sector, and this is because of the deliberate undervaluing of the primary produce of farmers. The people who are dependent on primary production have incomes that keep on shrinking. They cannot produce much, not because they are inefficient but because what they are producing are actually of low value to the nation. The agricultural sector has collapsed really hard especially this pandemic,” Vissa added.
Attacks on national identity and democratic rights
India’s expansionism and centralization policies involve the ruling class controlling and subjugating the interests of the Indian nationalities. Malem Ningthouja pointed out that the weaker states and regions in India are deprived of bargaining powers vis-a-vis the central government who always had the upper hand.
“Though it appears to be a completely federal structure, it often leads to the violations of the aspirations of the national minorities. The struggle for national identity is considered by the government as one of the country’s ‘internal threats’. The tribal peoples are under great pressure as their natural resources are being plundered by foreign elements, and this has led to their displacement and destitution,” Ningthouja said.
The Indian peoples also protested the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) adopted in 2019, as it has been exposed as a mere ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of the central government. It was against the very principles of equality and secularism, bordering to vilification of the Muslims. This act has also labeled migrants as “illegal citizens” because the state believes that they are threats that could trigger demographic invasion in India. Dissent and forms of critical responses to the state’s repressive policies are met with violent anti-people policies such as extra-judicial killings and terror-tagging of critics and activists.
“Since 1914, we have always had some form of anti-terrorism law in the country. There was no time that the state has been able to lead India without an anti-terrorism law. In 2018, about 4000 people were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Accusations by the police are enough to get you arrested, and there is no need for prima facie evidence,” Radha D’Souza, Law Professor of the University of Westminster discussed in the webinar.
“This act can ban any organization that it decides is “engaging in unlawful activities”, so the power of proscription is quite entirely in executive hands. This is a very serious limitation on the people’s democratic rights,” D’Souza added.
SilencING global dissent
Globally, there is a designed mechanism by the Modi regime to silence supporters of the Indian peoples’ movement. Modi is propagating a conspiracy narrative that the massive protests and strikes being organized by the peasants and the workers are meant to overthrow the government and sow terror across India. This is why even with the demonstrations gaining traction in national and international media, stronger global solidarity from people’s movements is needed.
“The draconian, repressive policies being imposed here in India should be understood in the context of the larger neoliberal framework, a design used by like-minded fascist rulers in various parts of the world”, Ningthouja ended.