India: farmers and workers for an indefinite general strike!

We have covered recent India's farmers' movement in previous articles ( [1] [2] [3] [4] ) alongside interviewing a farmer leader. In the current article, we give an account of the latest developments and briefly discuss the Indian capitalist apparatus, the role of 'opposition', the bankruptcy of the intelligentsia and the revolutionary way forward.

The latest farmer sit-ins on Delhi's borders entered their 50th day after 11 rounds of failed talks with the government, resulting in a complete deadlock. The Modi government is not ready to take back its anti-farmer laws, instead trying to negotiate the terms and details of the laws and put them on hold for about 18 months. Alongside this, Modi and his clique are using all the instruments at their disposal to put down the farmers’ movement. They fear that, once the movement spreads and reaches out to working-class neighbourhoods it could develop into a more generalised struggle, which would not only threaten the regime, but Indian capitalism itself.

First, Modi's regime used administrative structures, including the police, to try to end the farmers' protests. Then they dragged farmers and their leaders into a countless series of 'talks' with ministers. They used the electronic and print media under their sway, and mobilised social media trolls to spread hatred against the farmers. Despite all the state’s tactics, the support for the farmers is continually increasing among the people. In the latest episode, the Modi regime brought in the supreme court to curtail the farmers' struggle.

Meanwhile, farmers’ organisations announced a tractor march, starting on 21 January, with a plan to disrupt the Republic Day Parade in Delhi on 26 January. “This will be an embarrassment for India", said Modi, and immediately asked the supreme court to stop the march. The court, which already has egg on its face from a previous attempt to intervene in the farmers’ protests, decided that the tractor march is a matter between the government and farmers, and thereby rescued itself from further embarrassment. Farmers are still staging sit-ins in various bordering areas of Delhi in the frigid winter. About 60 farmers are reported to have died due to the cold, with four suicides linked to the farmers' protests.

The politics of ‘talks’

The Modi regime follows the tactic of draining the farmers' movement through countless talks. The 11 rounds of talks between farmers’ leaders and the government ministers were all useless. There is no information on the next round of talks as the government is accessing the situation and will come back with another date. Since day one, farmers have been demanding the repeal of the anti-farmer laws, an end to the corporatisation of agriculture, and assurances of their economic security. None of these questions have been resolved in the talks so far.

Modi is adamant about gifting his capitalist masters and their multinational partners the whole of Indian agriculture at the expense of the farmers' lives and the starvation of masses. With the global economic crisis, these corporations have become more ruthless in achieving their aims, and in doing so, feel no qualms about destroying farmers' livelihoods.

The reality is that Modi has nothing to offer the farmers. Every reform needs a massive injection of finance, and other resources that the state does not have. In essence, the question posed is: who will pay for the crisis in India? The government has no interest in raising taxes on the capitalists, expropriating their wealth or in any other way sacrificing their profits. In fact, its role is precisely to defend them. Therefore, to fund reforms, the state will either have to print money or take massive loans from external sources. However, the effects of such measures are limited as they would lead either to an increase in inflation or force the imposition of more austerity on the public sector. Thus, none of the fundamental problems can be solved. Meanwhile, Modi is presenting an á la carte privatisation menu of India's public sector for domestic and international capital. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman initiated what the media calls the “world’s largest privatisation” programme, selling hundreds of public sector units to corporations.

This will only add to the anger of the farmers, who are under the merciless pressure of these corporations. It will add to their mounting debts, and deny them a decent standard of living. Under these circumstances, the tactic of 'talks' is useless for the farmers. The decisive battle lies outside of the negotiation room, not inside it.

Ironically, all opposition parties, including liberal and Stalinist parties, buy into the politics of 'talks'. These opposition parties have their hands soaked in blood when it comes to farmers’ issues. The same demands are pouring in from hypocritical international leaders. Like other world leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cynically sympathised with Indian farmers and suggested the government “talk” to them. However, the media reported that Trudeau's government voted against the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and favoured liberalisation of Indian agriculture at the World Trade Organisation meeting. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ignorant of the Indian farmers' protest, termed it an India-Pakistan brawl, and again suggested “talks”. Talks are ineffective in the current scenario and, most importantly, dangerous to the movement because they meaninglessly sow confusion, cause unnecessary delays, and distract the movement from winning its aim.

Supreme court 'rescuing' farmers

The Modi government unleashed supreme court judges upon the farmers’ movement. The supreme court formed a bench comprising three of their judges. These judges further decided to form a committee, consisting of a group of ‘experts’ for the purpose of listening to the grievances of the farmers and the views of the government, and make recommendations.

Supreme Court of India Image Subhashish PanigrahiIndia’s Supreme Court Justices bench forming a committee on farmers laws / Image: Subhashish Panigrahi

The Indian judiciary is filled with money-hungry and scamming lawyers, middlemen touts and corrupt judges. The system is set up to defend the interests of the rich. An ordinary farmer or worker cannot even think of seeking help by going through the courts: anyone who dares would be indebted for generations without receiving any justice.

Despite the judiciary's highly corrupt nature, mainstream politics and the media portray the institution as an 'independent and neutral' authority. Clearly, this is not the case – the judiciary always serves the interests of the ruling class and the state in defence of private property. Still, many middle-class people buy into the narrative of the 'independence and neutrality' of the judiciary.

All these honourable committee members have an adverse record when it comes to supporting farmers' cause. They have made numerous media representations favouring anti-farmer laws. A committee member, Anil Ghanawat, identifying himself as a farmer leader, is a lickspittle of Modi, and a strong supporter of anti-farmer laws. Bhupinder Singh Mann, another member of the committee, is an ex-Rajya Sabha (State Council) MP from Punjab and national president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU, the Indian Farmers' Union). The BKU started as a radical consortium of farmers’ groups in the early ‘80s, where they were involved in staging the famous Meerut siege and Delhi Boat Club farmers’ rally. However, Mann is in favour of Modi’s reforms, and supports marketisation of India's agriculture. The most recent news is that Mann recused himself from the committee to avoid embarrassment by other farmers’ organisations.

Panel Image fair useCommitteemen: (L-R) agricultural economists Dr P.K. Joshi and Ashok Gulati, Shetkari Sanghatana president Anil Ghanwat, and BKU (Mann) chief Bhupinder Singh Mann / Image: fair use

The other members include Dr Ashok Gulati, an agronomist; and Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi, an agri-scientist. Both are strong supporters of Modi's agricultural bills and justify the corporatisation of India's agriculture through spraying the intellectual garbage that they have accumulated over many years of working in academia and research. This is not a new phenomenon. India's agricultural commissions and research institutes are subservient to international corporations and imperialists. The supreme court has no qualms in selecting these 'intellectuals' for the committee. Gulati is a proud 'Infosys chair professor' for agriculture at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). His work title is sufficient evidence of his subservience to the corporations, and demonstrates capitalist infiltration into India's 'non-for-profit' policy research institutes. A former executive of GE capital currently heads ICRIER. The organisation is funded by imperialists, international banks, and global capitalist conglomerates – this is the reality of ‘independent’ advisory bodies and ‘non-for-profit’ organisations under capitalism. ICRIER’s primary purpose is to equip right-wing governments and political leaders to wage an unabated attack on Indian farmers and workers through producing research reports and policy papers.

Modi wants to diffuse the farmers' movement using mechanisms like the supreme court. At the same time, mainstream media channels are singing lullabies about the sanctity of the Indian judiciary and asking farmers and their leadership to listen to the supreme court. Judges want the farmers to end their protest and go home, basically saying that “farmers should lay their trust in the judiciary because the judges are competent enough to look into these laws, politicians are not. Until we (the supreme court) resolve the matter, farmers should end their sit-ins and go home”. This is precisely what Modi and his BJP MPs want. They want farmers to end their protests, their impending tractor march and disruption of the National Republic Day on 26 March. The tractor march is being mobilised by the grassroots farmers’ organisations and unions in Punjab, Haryana and other states. They are holding tractor rallies in different towns and villages and gathering support for marching towards Delhi. Meanwhile, the media is continuously spreading hatred and branding marchers as Pakistani and Chinese agents, anti-India thugs and Khalistan miscreants. The reality is that the Pakistani and Chinese governments are sitting on dynamite of mass anger and discontent due to the worsening economic conditions of their own people. These states fear that the farmers’ movement will spread across their borders, and will ignite their masses into uncontrollable revolutionary movements: threatening their regime and system. Therefore, portraying India’s farmers' movement in narrow nationalist and sectarian terms, and branding it as rouge, favours both the Pakistani and Chinese ruling classes.

For capitalists, food is for profit

Multinational corporations are trying to consolidate their grip on global food supplies amid rising prices and the coronavirus threatening food security. During the pandemic, food inflation worldwide increased sharply, in developing countries, from 10 percent to 40 percent. Looking at the 2020 year data, food inflation peaked in Nigeria at 20 percent, Pakistan 23 percent, Mexico 8 percent, South Africa 6 percent and Brazil at 16 percent. The Indian food inflation rate peaked at 14 percent in 2020. Under the crisis, large food conglomerates are eyeing huge profits.

Furthermore, finance capitalists have been ravaging farmers for many years. The corporatisation and marketisation of Indian agriculture during the Manmohan Singh government brought in immense finance capital and increased farmers’ reliance on loans. All agricultural modernisation was done at the expense of indebting farmers through a massive network of loan sharks. Apart from various public and private banks, agricultural middlemen traders (Aarthis) often broker farm loans with high interest rates. Farmers use these loans to buy essential agricultural resources, whose costs are skyrocketing. Seed companies have increased their prices by 100 percent or more in recent years. The cost of pesticides also saw a huge increase.

Immediately after the implementation of the anti-farmer laws, traders slashed purchase prices from farmers by up to 50 percent: taking them far below MSP. However, retail food prices increased. This shows that the middlemen and big companies are making a killing out of these laws. Meanwhile, the farmers get nothing and will continue to get nothing in future.

Furthermore, farmers are increasingly faced with fraudsters, who are operating with impunity, again thanks to the anti-farmer laws. Baldev Singh Sirsa, a farmer leader from Punjab stated: “Ever since the new agrarian reform laws have been enacted, the incidence of cheating farmers has increased. Merchants (Aarthis) have opened offices in villages, bought crops from farmers and then run away... They have not paid the farmers for their crops”.

A farmer leader from Maharashtra told the media that, when a business corporation paid a cheque of ₹ 2 crores (US$ 280,000) to 22 farmers in Harda district, Madhya Pradesh, it bounced. Farmers went to the local police station to file a fraud report. Police refused to register a case and directed them to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate's office to raise their grievance. “Nothing is happening, and no one is listening”, said a scammed farmer. It is reported that around 200 such fraud cases have taken place to date, involving billions of rupees in different cities across India, after the implementation of the new farm laws. Farmers have nowhere to go to seek justice in the corrupt state institutions. Businesses and corporations are assured that the Indian judiciary will not readily take up farmers' cases and grievances, as farmers will be directed to complicated and exhausting bureaucratic channels if they decide to act against the corporations. In the event of fraud, cheating or losses, Modi's Bharat Mata leaves farmers with two choices: suicide or destitution.

The menace of intellectual bankruptcy

The outcomes of research and development – which is normally carried out using public money, infrastructure, and resources – are often gifted to multinational companies and then protected by the state through a complex web of patents and copyright laws. A similar situation exists in the agricultural sector, where large companies amass countless patents and copyrights on seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and farming machine technologies. They get hold of profitable research outputs by partnering with and infiltrating public institutes, research centres and universities, with professors acting as their stooges.

Agricultural research is nowadays vastly underfunded by the state institutes, and research centres rely on private companies for money, who demand exclusivity on resulting patents. Corporations seldom involve themselves in the core scientific research of producing new seed varieties or in chemical and biological processes for plant germinations, or developing machinery. They involve themselves in the later stages, when they are sure that the new technology is matured and can reap significant profits. Companies in the most-powerful capitalist states then introduce their products in poor countries through a web of research organisations, universities, and front companies. In India's case, they partner with government departments and private companies to sell their products to farmers.

Leading agriculture scientists and professors act as salespersons for these multinational companies. They have no qualms about churning out countless journal papers, reports and policy papers, and preparing selling cases for the agricultural multinationals. All their reports, analysis, and theories favour corporatisation of the Indian agricultural sector. These 'worthy' professors are often invited to the capitalist media to spew their intellectual sludge, defending corporatisation and profits. It is no surprise that the supreme court pulled out two individuals from such organisations and included them in the committee to decide on farmers’ affairs. Farmers should be clear about the motives of such venomous snakes, representing corporates in the guise of professors and scientists.

The reality of the mighty Indian capitalists

Indian capitalists are incapable of advancing in technology or research because of their late entrance into the capitalist mode of production. They could not maintain their national independence from the global multinationals, nor compete with their products and technology. The only way to ensure their survival is to involve themselves in “usual business activities”, such as bribing the taxman to secure tax evasions, stealing electricity through bribing local linemen, getting illegal state subsidies using fake accounts, committing wage thefts and maintaining slavery-like working conditions, causing deforestations, massively polluting air and water and so on. More than ₹ 70,000 Crores (US$ 10 billion) are evaded in corporate taxes each year in India, the highest level in Asia. India has the world's highest electricity theft, equivalent to about US$16.2 billion, according to the Emerging Markets Smart Grid: Outlook 2015 study. The highest contributor to this theft is the corporate sector, which not only steals electricity directly from electric poles, but never pays their energy bills, only to be defaulted at a later time with the help of the government. The WTO estimated that, in 2019, the Indian states paid US$7 billion in illegal subsidies to producers of steel products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, IT products and textiles.India ranks fifth in the world for industrial pollution, with most of its cities occupying positions in the top 10 globally, a state of affairs that is responsible for 2 million premature deaths annually.

It is only via such parasitic measures, and by vast state support that Indian businesses can present any significant competition to foreign businesses and their products in India. Previously, the state provided a relatively high level of protection for domestic capital, by restricting the manoeuvrability of foreign capital inside India. However, this became more complicated when governments ended all foreign investment restrictions by joining the WTO and becoming signatories to various international treaties for free market adoption in the ‘80s and ‘90s. This was accomplished thanks to the hard work of India's previous and current ruling regimes and all mainstream political parties, including the Stalinist parties.

The only way for Indian capitalists to survive in the wake of these free-market policies was to partner with global multinationals, and in the process work towards consolidating themselves through forcing out all small local competitors, which they did successfully and ruthlessly in the last decade. Furthermore, they also pushed the state to legalise their ‘usual business activities’, including getting official tax breaks, electricity subsidies, export rebates, interest rate reductions on loans, capital subsidies and loan write-offs; legal permits for deforestation and pollution, etc. In the last two decades, a few large Indian businesses such as Tata, Birla, Ambani and Adani came onto the scene and consolidated themselves. With the huge amount of capital in their hands, these big Indian capitalists are generously able to 'bless' (Aashirwad) the top Indian bureaucracy and political leaders by keeping their pockets full. The principal aims and character of mainstream politics and the Indian bureaucracy are geared towards getting these 'blessings'. The Indian parliament is a house to manage large Indian capitalists' affairs, nothing else can be expected from it. The situation is the same in all institutions working under the state, including the judiciary and administrative bureaucracy. It is no surprise that Indian billionaires are far richer now than before the pandemic.

Under these circumstances, the Indian farmers’ struggle is not just a struggle against the government but against the big businessmen, multinational corporations and the capitalist system itself. It's no surprise that Ambani and Adani (India’s largest capitalists) are the most-hated persons in the farmers' movement. People are attacking their business premises. The fight against the anti-farmer laws is a step in the right direction to pose significant opposition to the whims of Indian and global capitalist conglomerates.

Parliamentary opposition: Gabbars, Mogambos and crime-master Gogos

The opposition parties – including Congress, NCP, SP, TMC, and communist parties – are portraying themselves as if they are the real heroes in the whole farmers’ movement. Their leaders are dancing left, right and centre in chorus to appease the farmers and their leadership. However, the reality is precisely the opposite. The opposition is filled with Gabbars, Mogambos and Crime master Gogos – famous Bollywood villains. They have their hands tainted with blood. During their times in power under various alliances, current opposition parties rolled out a massive privatisation and corporatisation programme through various 'agricultural reforms', both in the centre and in states. In the process, they heavily indebted farmers, resulting in destitution and suicides throughout their communities. Stalinist parties, such the CPIM, went further in unleashing the state police and their goons to attack and murder farmers in the regions where they had power, merely to appease the capitalists and multinational companies. This resulted in the complete wipe-out of Stalinists parties from the political landscape.

Other than the politics of 'talks', the opposition parties stress upholding the principle of 'democracy' and 'sanctity of the parliament', under this ruthless capitalist system. These beautifully crafted words are the only basis on which the opposition parties ally themselves against the ‘fascist’ Modi. The purpose of this alliance is to make a 'moral appeal' to Modi and his ministers to rethink their attitude to democracy and the farmers. The opposition parties are holding several rallies and sending letters and petitions to the government, including India's president Ram Nath Kovind. Sharad Pawar, a right-wing stalwart who remains India's longest-reigning agriculture minister and brought in corporatisation, is heading a joint opposition alliance including Congress and the Stalinists. He immediately lent his support to the supreme court's decision to involve itself in the anti-farmer-laws question, and limited his criticism to the way the court has formed its committee.

Farmers and workers: unite and fight!

The capitalists, against whom the farmers are up in arms, are not only relying on agriculture for their profits. They have a portfolio of companies in many sectors for this purpose. No doubt, this is a matter of life and death for farmers, but these capitalists have banks, software companies, mining, manufacturing, services, etc. to rely upon. They can bear to prolong and exhaust the farmers’ struggle, even if it means taking the hit of delayed profits. Although the farmers are willing to stay in the fight for as long as it requires on Delhi's outskirts until their demands are not met, the movement has to move forward towards challenging the big capitalists and their system.

Already, we see scores of people showing their anger through destroying Ambani's Reliance company’s telecommunication towers. The mainstream media reported that, in Mansa district, a pole connected to a tower was thrown away, while a cable was burnt. Protestors in Jalandhar burned Jio's fibre cable (a company owned by Ambani). So far, 1,500 mobile towers have been damaged in the country, leading Punjab’s Chief Minister Amrinder Singh (Congress) to threaten farmers with dire consequences. However, more towers were destroyed after the CM's threats.

Petrol stations and shopping malls owned by Ambani were also ransacked. Several farmers staged sit-ins in front of Ambani's warehouses, which he built to hoard food items. So far, farmer leaders deny the involvement of their members in destroying Ambani's business infrastructure.

The angry mood is undeniable, but the farmers’ leadership needs to devise a strategic action plan to confront both the gangsters in India and their foreign counterparts behind the anti-farmer laws. This is only possible through linking with workers from other sectors in which these large capitalists are operating, including automotives, aviation, electricity, railway, steel, construction, healthcare, financial services, etc. If the peasant movement could link up with the workers in these sectors with a national call for an indefinite general strike, it could spell the end of Modi’s rule within days and pose a challenge to capitalism itself in India.

The anti-farmer laws are bad for farmers, but they are equally bad for workers. We saw a sudden increase in commodities prices after the implementation of farm laws. Prices of onions and potatoes have registered historic highs, similarly for wheat and rice. Indian workers, who usually spend more than 50 percent of their disposable income on food, are being badly hit. A slight increase in prices pushes workers and their families into hunger and destitution, consequently increasing deaths, disease, and illnesses linked to malnutrition.

Already, India's workers face the worst days of their lives, with constant attacks by the Modi government in enacting anti-trade union laws; laws related to the casualisation of labour etc. Furthermore, the pandemic and closure of workplaces triggered a migrant labour crisis, in which millions of workers and their families travelled to their villages amid lockdown conditions. Now, they have no jobs, and the corruption-ravaged MGNREGA system has totally failed to facilitate the entrance of unemployed youth into unskilled manual work in villages. The MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) system was designed to accommodate rural people into annually 100 days of unskilled labour by the local politicians by the UPA coalition government in 2005. However, the system is ridden with corruption, bribery and nepotism, with underutilisation of days of labour and over 78 percent of payments coming late.

India's workers are crushed between the millstones of the pandemic and the economic crisis. Unfortunately, their trade union leadership is not taking radical measures to address these challenges. Committed fully to reformism, they are deliberately holding the movement back. Under the crisis and Modi's anti-worker legislation, they organised a one-day strike in November 2020 in which 250 million workers participated. This was a good step, but not decisive to quell Modi's anti-worker attacks.

Tractor march cartoonWorkers and farmers must strike together to bring down Modi!

The majority of the large trade unions are linked to political parties, either in power or opposition, including the Stalinist parties such as CPI, CPIML, CPIM and others. The leaders of all of these political parties hold the workers’ movement back, and struggle to keep its battles within the confines of parliament. The same parliament, representing Indian capitalism, that is filled with corruption, thugs, murderers, black-marketeers and rapists. The only thing Indian parliament does for workers is to sow illusions of progress, devastate their lives and ensure all of their genuine movements are derailed and diffused so that the rule of capital prevails.

Despite the right-wing and reformist leadership of central trade unions, millions of genuine workers and activists within these trade unions are looking for ways and means to take up their anger and grievances against capitalists, the state, and the system. In such a situation, should the farmers' movement make a bold appeal to the workers to join the struggle against the government, it would get a massive echo from within the unions. Despite the adversity of industrial relations and conditions in India, we see a decline in trade union membership. This does not reflect a lack of class consciousness, but a demoralisation with the timid line of the trade union leaders. In fact, increasingly, spontaneous protests and movements are erupting in one sector after with workers circumventing the official structures in order to take their struggles forward.

The farmers’ movement must appeal to these young and disgruntled layers to join the protests. In every city, town and village, farmers should reach out to workers and local trade union units and invite them to participate in their movement. There will be hurdles in this process, but to win a decisive battle against Modi and his capitalist allies, a strong farmer-worker link is crucial.

Several right-wing forces and fascist demagogues are taking advantage of the situation and cynically siding with farmers. This includes Congress, SAD, SP, TMC and Shiv Sena, who are offering hollow words of support. Shiv Sena's history is tinted with fascism and anti-worker pogroms in Maharashtra State. The situation is similar for other political parties.

In the last two years, the country experienced one of the world's largest movements of workers, farmers, students and youth in recent times. From student struggles, the movement against the citizen amendment bill, the movement against revoking the status of Jammu and Kashmir, women’s struggles, the battle against police brutality, and confronting the fascist RSS onslaught, activists have shown heroic resolve in challenging Modi's regime. To their disappointment, mainstream political parties have nothing to offer either inside or outside the rotten parliament. However, farmers received support from students, Shaheen Bagh protestors and other movements. All sections of society are facing oppression from Modi's capitalist regime. They want to put an end to this menace. A joint struggle of farmers and workers towards an indefinite general strike can bring down Modi's government, along with his capitalist masters, and open a new, revolutionary period in the history of India.

  • No to the anti-farmer and anti-worker bills!
  • End farmers' loans!
  • Provide land, housing and social security!
  • Expropriate the monopolies!
  • For an indefinite general strike!
  • Overthrow the Modi regime!
  • Long live worker and farmer unity!
  • For a socialist revolution!

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