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Indian Farmers March On Delhi To Protest Unfulfilled Demands

Above photo: Farmers’ march to Delhi. Screenshot.

Thousands of farmers mobilized on Tuesday to raise longstanding demands including a Minimum Support Price for produce, loan waivers, and the scrapping of the Electricity Amendment Bill.

As farmers approached the barricaded border between Punjab and Haryana, they were met with tear gas and water cannons.

Indian farmers from the State of Punjab began a protest march towards the national capital, New Delhi on February 13, Tuesday, to raise longstanding demands that have gone unfulfilled by the Union government.

Cement blocks, metal barricades, barbed wire, and iron nails were erected on the borders of Delhi and in the State of Haryana on Tuesday to stop the farmers, similar to the blockades that had been set up over two years ago, when farmers had first marched on Delhi to demand their rights.

The “Delhi Chalo” protest on Tuesday was organized by over 250 farmers’ unions under the umbrella of the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM– Peasant-Worker Front) and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (non political), comprised of over 150 farmers unions and a breakaway platform from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a group of over 500 unions, which had organized the historic protests of 2020-21.

According to a leader of the Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, 10,000 people had gathered at the Shambhu border between Punjab and Haryana on Tuesday. Tear gas, water cannons, and baton charges were deployed as farmers tried to push past the security barricades to continue their march to Delhi.

Several farmers were also detained and their vehicles were seized by Haryana police, while mobile internet was suspended in parts of the state. Meanwhile, within the national capital, a blanket order of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has been enforced until March, prohibiting public gatherings, the blocking of roads, any processions or rallies, and the entry of tractors and trolleys.

Tuesday’s protest began after a second round of talks between farmer leaders and the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Piyush Goyal, and Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Arjun Munda, failed to reach a resolution on Monday.

Farmers’ Demands

Farmers have presented a 12-point charter of demands, which included a full waiver of debts for farmers and laborers, a severe crisis that has contributed to over 100,000 suicides in India’s agricultural sector since 2014.

Farmers have also demanded a law guaranteeing Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement for 23 crops, in accordance with the M S Swaminathan Commission, which had recommended that MSP be fixed at 50 percent above the cost of production. This guarantee was among the central concerns raised during the 2020-2021 protests.

While the farmers were ultimately victorious in forcing the government to repeal the three agricultural laws which they had argued would open the sector up to corporate control and deregulation, the MSP question has remained unresolved since, despite government promises, and has been brought up in successive protests.

While the government announces procurement for 23 types of produce ahead of the agricultural seasons, actual procurement or “dedicated buying” has reportedly been limited to just paddy and wheat in the northern agricultural belt– the states of Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh.

Speaking ahead of the joint Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh rally that was held on April 5, 2023, Professor Prabhat Patnaik, an eminent academic and economist, had explained that the MSP would protect farmers from price crashes, who had “borne the brunt of the neoliberal regime”, incentivize them to produce other crops, and have broader implications for food self-sufficiency and public distribution in India.

Meanwhile, farmers have demanded the implementation of the 2013 Land Acquisition Act, which mandates that written consent must be obtained before land is acquired, and that the compensation must be four times the collector rate.

Other demands include pensions for farmers and laborers, the scrapping of the Electricity Amendment Bill, which has faced stiff opposition over concerns of rampant privatization and a potential denial of electricity services due to a “payment security mechanism”.

Farmers have called for penalties and fines on companies that produce fake seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, the establishment of a national commission for spices, and upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples over natural resources.

The protest also reiterated the demand for an expansion of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a crucial source of livelihood in the countryside which has faced drastic budget cuts in recent years. The KMM and SKM (non political) demanded that the 100-days of guaranteed employment per year provisioned under the scheme be extended to 200 days, and that the daily wage be set at Rs. 700 (USD 8.43).

Importantly, the protest raised the call for justice for the victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. On October 3, 2021, farmers peacefully protesting on the road in the Uttar Pradesh district were run over and killed by an SUV allegedly belonging to a convoy of Ashish Mishra, the son of Ajay Mishra, a union minister from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Following his arrest on October 9, Ashish Mishra was granted bail, which was later set aside and then denied by the Supreme Court. However, Mishra was granted interim bail by the apex court in January 2023. His bail was extended in a hearing held on February 12.

The farmers killed in Lakhimpur Kheri were among the over 700 people who died during the 2020-2021 struggle. Tuesday’s protest also called for a withdrawal of the criminal cases registered against farmers during that period.

Agreement On The Horizon?

By Tuesday evening, Indian media reported that the farmer leaders had announced a temporary “ceasefire” for the day, adding that discussions would continue on Wednesday morning.

“These are not new demands. These are all commitments that were made to us by the government. And to bring the government’s attention to these commitments we have repeatedly, through different mediums, tried to reach them, but the government has not shown any seriousness,” said Jagjit Singh Dhalewal from SKM (non political).

“These commitments are political decisions,” he said, adding that in the two rounds of talks preceding the protest, there had been no agreement on the side of the government on key demands including loan waivers and the Swaminathan commission.

“When no one listened to us, then moving forward [with the protest] became a matter of compulsion. There is a list of over 100 people who have been injured,” Sarwan Singh Pandher, the general secretary of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee told reporters.

“The whole country is watching. If this is the way that this government wants to treat the country’s farmers and farm laborers, then the 140 crore people of India should consider again, that we do not want this kind of government,” he added.

Farmer leaders had also stated that “the government is provoking us by attacking us with tear gas shells and rubber bullets”. Meanwhile, the SKM had also condemned the government’s move to fortify the state borders and to treat the protesting farmers as “enemies of the country”.

This was after police in the state of Madhya Pradesh arrested and jailed farmer leaders including Ram Narayan Kuraria from the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and his wife, Anjana Kuraira, a leader of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).

The detentions came just days ahead of the Grameen Bharat Bandh jointly organized by the SKM and a joint platform of Central Trade Unions and independent sectoral federations.

The nationwide protest action will be held between 6am to 4pm on Friday, including a ‘chakka jam’ or blockade on major roads for four hours. The SKM has announced that all agricultural activities and MGNREGA work will remain suspended as “no farmer, agricultural or rural worker will work that day”.

The supply and purchase of crops, including vegetables, will also be halted and vegetable and grain markets, shops, both government and non-government offices, private enterprises and other institutions have been requested to be closed for the bandh.

While several demands are the same as what were raised during Tuesday’s protest, other issues being raised by workers include a withdrawal of the Operational Performance-linked Salary (OPS) system, a repeal of the four labor codes that were passed in 2020 that would trample on hard-won rights including those related to unionization and strikes.

Other demands include the implementation of a Rs. 26,000 (USD 312.9) monthly minimum wage, an end to contractualization of work, ensuring access to pensions and social security for workers across the formal and informal sectors, employment guarantee as a fundamental right, and no privatization of public-sector undertakings (PSUs) and the power sector.

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