Atul Kumar Anjaan, 63, has been general secretary of the CPI-affiliate All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the country’s oldest farmers’ organization, for the last 15 years. Fighting for farmers’ rights since 1936, AIKS supports the Samyukta Kisan Morcha in its current battle against the three contentious farm laws. Anjaan has been member of the M S Swaminathan National Commission on Farmers and takes credit for being its only member representing the farmers and articulating the comprehensive C2+50 per cent remuneration formula for farm produce. Starting his career as a fiery Lucknow student leader, he was elected president of the All India Students Federation (AISF) six times. In an interview, Anjaan tells Deepak Razdan why farmers are not willing to suspend their agitation against the farm laws, and why political parties are supporting the farmers. Excerpts:
Q: The Government’s view is that the farmers’ agitation is engineered by political parties?
A: Crisis in Indian agriculture has a long origin. Mr Narendra Modi committed in the 2014 election that when he becomes the Prime Minister, he will address all the issues marked in the Swaminathan Commission Report. Unfortunately, nothing has been done. Instead of that, he brought three Ordinances to change the Land Acquisition Act. There was pressure in Parliament, and after a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry, the issue was shelved. In his second government in 2019, the Prime Minister brought the three farm laws, without discussing with farmers or political parties or States in whose jurisdiction agriculture falls. In the Lok Sabha, they were passed with crude majority, and only six hours’ discussion was allowed. In the Rajya Sabha, the laws were passed by voice vote without any discussion, as the Government was not sure of its majority in the House.
The three Acts have paved the way for the farmers’ anger, as they fear the corporates would take over lands of poor and small farmers. It was also an issue of the federal structure, and many State governments thought the laws were brought without their consent. When the farmers were on the streets, the political parties supported them and their just demands. When the BJP supported agitations when it was in the Opposition, did it make the agitations politically motivated? No, in a democracy, when people raise an issue, the political parties take a view, and the Opposition parties have a special role in Parliamentary democracy to put forth opposition to policies which are detrimental to the common man. That is why political parties have supported the farmers who constitute more than 80 crore people. Why just political parties, the trade unions, youth and students organizations, women’s organisations, writers and agricultural workers have extended their support. There is no point in saying that this movement is politically oriented. This statement of the Government is very narrow, sectarian and politically motivated.
Q: The operation of the laws has been suspended, why can’t the agitation be given a break?
A: When the Government makes a policy, and the Supreme Court or the High Courts take up an issue, they only see whether it is within the parameter of the Constitution, or whether it follows the Constitutional order or not. This is not a simple matter that a break has been taken. After break, what? There is no direction that the laws will not be implemented till 2024, till the next Parliamentary election. Until there is an assurance that the laws will not be enforced, we cannot consider whether to continue the movement or not. We want a guarantee. We are not asking for the Moon. We are only asking for the repeal of the three laws, and minimum support price for all crops, a legal framework for that, and withdrawal of the Electricity Bill 2020 as it can have a cascading effect on Indian agriculture.
Q: Farmers are objecting to the abolition of the mandis, but the parties are angry over the rushing of the laws in Parliament?
A: Every crop season, the input cost for farmers goes up by 20 to 25 per cent, whether it is fertilisers, seeds, pesticides or electricity. The electricity charges are the highest in Uttar Pradesh. In some States, electricity for agriculture is free. For the common man, it is unaffordable. The farm laws are tailored in such a way the public distribution system will be destroyed. The moment you stop the MSP purchase, it means you are trying to disturb the public distribution system. You claim that you gave five kg of rice or wheat to 80 crore during the current pandemic. When Mr Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had opposed the right to food, when we were fighting the Manmohan Singh Government for it. Now you want to take credit for food being given to 80 crore people.
When the Government follows the Shanta Kumar report that there is no need to buy from farmers at MSP, Indian agriculture will be in the hands of the vulture culture, the big money-lenders, and they will compel the farmers to do distress sales. Then they will hoard the stocks. FCI will be dismantled. You have kept limits on the stocks to be kept by traders. But there are no stock limits for corporate buyers under the new laws so that they can sell according to their own terms and price. These proposals are not acceptable to us.
Q: Changes in systems do take place, agriculture may regret its status-quoist stand later, if it does not accept change now?
A: In agriculture, there is no generation fight. The father and son are both working in the field. Their joint understanding is that in the present regime, the present method of deciding the input costs has made agriculture a liability. But there is no employment guarantee in other fields, so they stick to agriculture. The Prime Minister had said that by March 2022, the farmers’ income will be doubled. How will this happen when only 40 per cent farm lands are irrigated or semi-irrigated, and 60 per cent farming depends on the monsoon, rain-god Indra, and if it does not rain, they cannot have any produce. In that situation, the Government is telling small farmers to leave farming. In the name of contract farming, you want to bring corporate farming. We are opposing it because the people employed as agricultural workers will have nowhere to go. You are inviting chaos, disorder and social distress. India is not a banana republic. India cannot be like America or Germany with just two per cent of population in agriculture. How many industries will you open? Agriculture is way of life for people. Right now 40 crore people are employed in agriculture. If agriculture is safe, the village is safe; if agriculture, village and farmer are safe, the nation is safe.
Q: Government has taken many steps to help farmers like Rs 6,000 per year to small farmers, neem coated fertilizer, food processing links, etc.
A The Prime Minister’s policies are high-sounding. Sixty per cent of farmers are using electric and hand-pumps. Diesel is Rs 110 per litre. It was Rs 65 a litre when Modi came. How can farmers feel assured when the input costs are going up? Neem coated fertilisers make no difference. Lot of people are using manure but all this is not increasing the incomes. On the other hand education is privatised, medicines and hospitals are privatised. Eighty per cent people live in rural India. For them there is no government hospital. Nursing home culture is being propagated. In the PM’s own Gujarat State, 58 per cent primary schools are privatised. This is commercialization. The rural people have to pay for everything. What is Rs 6000? The input cost of agriculture per acre of land has gone up to Rs 7,000. With peanuts you want to satisfy the hunger of an elephant.
Q: People are getting fed up with blockades. If it was a “people’s movement” wouldn’t Government have accepted the demands?
A: The BJP Government believes in gimmicks. What is Parliamentary democracy today? Parliament does not function even 100 days in a year. You are not allowed to ask questions. There are issues. We want to know why Javadekar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Gangwar and Harsh Vardhan were removed. Seeds are imported from international giants. These are seeds which cannot be used again. There is an order from Supreme Court that 15 per cent interest will be paid on sugarcane dues. It is not given. There are dues of more than Rs 20,000 crore to be paid to sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Agriculture Extension officers are removed, Krishi vigyan kendras are not getting money. This is not helping the farmers.
Q: What about the blockades?
A: We will remain on the street. Throughout the country, we are protesting. After last January, after 11 rounds of talks, the Government has no proposals. Right now we are sititng on the borders. Now we have planned to sit on dharnas. In a democracy, we cannot take up arms in hand. Only Gandhian way of protest is possible. In the 75th anniversary of Independence, we are using the Gandhian tools.
Q: Shouldn’t parties fight the Government in Parliament or Assemblies?
A: I am happy with the manner political parties have come forward on the Lakhimpur Kheri issue. Earlier, my understanding was that political parties were not extending their full support to the farmers’ movement. I want the parties to raise the issues in Parliament and Assemblies. Unfortunately, the BJP Government does not care for these forums. UP had just a three-day Assembly session, only 38 days in a year. By this, you are reducing the role of the Assemblies. They can’t face the Assemblies, they want just their budgets passed.