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‘Farmers’ unions should be neutral’

In an interview with Ranjeet Jamwal, Sukhdev said the farmers will soon relaunch the agitation against the Centre as the key promises made to the SKM remain unfulfilled. 

SNS | New Delhi |

Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, 72, is the general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) which has nearly five lakh activists in over 1,600 villages spanning more than 16 districts of Punjab. 

As part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farm unions which spearheaded a year-long agitation against the Centre’s three farm laws, he played a key role in garnering support for it in Punjab. 

In an interview with Ranjeet Jamwal, Sukhdev said the farmers will soon relaunch the agitation against the Centre as the key promises made to the SKM remain unfulfilled. 

Excerpts: 

Q. After the Union government’s decision to repeal the three farm laws, farmers’ unions are in protest mode again. What’s the reason for it? 

A: The Central government had made some promises to us when we postponed the agitation against the three farm laws on 9 December (2021). We had got five things in writing from the government. Of these, the main thing was a legal guarantee for MSP (minimum support price) for all crops as per the formula based on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and the Ramesh Chander Committee. It was promised that a committee will be formed within a month to take a decision on this. But they (the Union government) have not done this. We earlier registered a protest over it on 31 January at the district level reminding the government to fulfil the promise made to us. But now five months have passed. 

Q. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has recently said the government is awaiting names from the SKM for setting up a committee on MSP? 

A: It was when we announced the decision to observe a week-long protest against the Centre that the government demanded the names of the committee. But as decided earlier, we want to have the terms and conditions of the committee in advance so that we can send the names of our representatives for the committee. If the terms and conditions are not acceptable to us, why will we send our representatives to the committee, why will we put ourselves in their trap? Then they will say you were part of the committee and the committee has taken a decision. We still demand the terms and conditions in writing so that we send our representatives to the committee. 

Q. Are you suspecting the intentions of the Union government in the matter? 

A: The intention of the central government had become clear within 15 days after the agitation was postponed when Tomar said the government had just moved a step back and will move forward again as the farm laws are in favour of the farmers but they could understand the farm laws. Even when the Prime Minister announced the decision to repeal farm laws, he had used the same words. It makes their stand clear on farm laws. They want to bring these laws in one form or the other as per the WTO agreement for open markets and privatisation. So the government is just making excuses due to these reasons. 

Q. In that case, what will be your future strategy? 

A: The next strategy will be announced by the SKM. The harvest- ing season will be over soon, and after that, the agitation against the Central government will be launched at the national level.

Q. How do you see the decision of some farmers’ unions to contest Assembly elections? 

A: We at BKU (Ekta Urgahan) had this from the beginning in our constitution that we will not enter electoral politics. Farmers of various political ideologies are with us. Somebody can be a ‘Khalistani’, someone can be a Leftist, someone may be a supporter of the Congress or Shiromani Akali Dal. But we can fight an agitation unitedly only if we stay neutral politically as a farmers’ union and as guardians of the farmers’ interests. But some farmers’ unions joined electoral politics say- ing they will change the system. But this claim for changing the system can only be done by political parties, not by mass organisations which represent different sections (farmers, employees or labourers) of the society. As long as such mass organisations remain focused on getting issues of various sections resolved, they will achieve their aim only if they keep people of all ideologies together. Farmers’ issues can be resolved if all farmers irrespective of their ideology are kept together. 

Q. Punjab farmers’ unions which contested the Punjab Assembly polls failed miserably. What was the reason for this? 

A: Whosoever was associated with the farmers’ agitation against the three farm laws has this consciousness that they will not be able to get anything without agitation, unity, struggle and union because they neither got anything through votes for 75 years nor are they going to get anything in the times to come. People have learned this. One more thing that they have learnt and is evident in Punjab is that instead of traditional political parties, be it the Akali Dal, Congress or others, change is required by giving a chance to a new party. This consciousness has resulted in the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in Punjab. People wish for a fundamental change. This agitation has filled people with this consciousness. This consciousness will help in the time to come.