By Dr Anushka A. Kulkarni
After an 11-day protest, the farmers have won. It was one of the first times when farmers all across Maharashtra joined hands to demonstrate. The more important fact is that their demands were actually fulfilled.
How the protest unfolded
This indefinite strike began on June 1st by about half a million farmers in Maharashtra in support of various demands like a complete loan waiver, free electricity, appropriate Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce, grants for irrigation, a higher price for milk and the implementation of M.S Swaminathan Committees’ recommendations.
Farmers informed the government that if their demands were not fulfilled by 31st May, no agricultural produce would be brought to market, and then the farmers would also refuse to indulge in activities like sowing new crops.
Incomplete land reforms, inappropriate water and irrigation facilities, lack of institutional credit and technological backwardness are some of the reasons which cause distress amongst farmers in India. What angered people more was that while the government claims that India is an agrarian economy, most schemes are aimed at helping the big industrialists and the capitalists of the country. Schemes such as the Make in India campaign, the building-up of textile parks and the proposed Mumbai Nagpur Super Expressway highlight this bias. Above all, the Narendra Modi government committed to double the farmers’ income by 2022 but the Indian government failed to make plans regarding the same.
A history of agricultural unrest
Yet, this is not the first time that the farmers have protested. A century ago, there was the Indigo cultivators’ protest in Champaran, Bihar. Then, fifty years ago, the violent Naxalbari peasants protests in West Bengal. A protest took place in Champaran after a massive deflation in the price of agricultural commodities during World War One and the Great Depression. However, the major peasant protests since the 1980s have focused on getting more benefits from the government instead of working on fundamental changes in the way agriculture is organised. Be it a protest by Charan Singh or by Mahendra Singh Tikait; their political protests were always focused on lowering input costs or increasing support.
In spite of continued evidence of farmer unrest, there still has not been a lot of protests in the country. There are two possible intertwining explanations for it. The first reason is that Indian agriculture has evolved from feudalism. The dominance of the landlords over the peasants has subsided to a certain extent, leading to the rise of capitalism and lobbying. This has been explained by the rural population moving towards non-farm sources of income or migrating to cities for work. This could possess a threat to the agriculture sector in future. Secondly, the fact that the Indian state has, since the Green Revolution, taken at least some of the risk out of agriculture by putting farm inputs at subsidised costs as well as providing guaranteed prices for certain types of farm produce.
Farmer’s protests and Marx’s Alienation theory
When we consider the entire situation from a theoretical perspective, it resembles the situation portrayed by Karl Marx in his book “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844”, which prominently mentions the ‘Alienation theory’. Alienation theory explains how people in a capitalist society are bound to become alienated from themselves and their work. Marx mentions that the workers in such a society are nothing more than a ‘replaceable cog in a gigantic impersonal production’.
A similar situation is faced by the farmers in India. They have been alienated from their produce and resources. The farmers today don’t just produce for themselves but their produce is governed by authorities. The government tells the farmers what to produce and what price to sell it for. The most basic form of alienation, as mentioned by Marx, is the separation from the process of their work. According to the theory, the workers do not own the process of their work because they do not own the means of production like factories, offices, land, raw material fuel etc. In Marx’s capitalist society there is a clear distinction between workers and owners. In today’s scenario, this distinction is seen between the farmer and the government. There arises a class struggle or a class war which leads to protests and unrest.
Marx clearly states that in such situations the working class suffers and then forms unions. These unions then protest against the capitalists to bring about a revolution. A Prominent evidence of such a revolution is the industrial revolution. Thus, according to the Alienation theory, when the workers in the capitalist society face distress, they protest to get their rights. The major problems faced by these people then are similar to the situation faced by the farmers today: alienation, suppression and low wages. The farmers, thus, have come together to form groups and then revolt against the government to get their rights and a due share of their produce.
A shallow solution
While reacting to the farmers’ protest, the government has made a smart move by declaring a loan waiver. However, this seems to be just a coy trick to end the unrest. Declaring a loan waiver will delay the process and, ultimately, will not help the common man. One also questions how a bankrupt state will be able to generate funds for this loan waiver scheme.
Considering the Indian agricultural situation today and comparing it with the circumstances faced by the capitalists then, the implementation of the policies recommended by the Swaminathan Committee seems an appropriate way out. Remunerative prices for agricultural produce, improvement in the implementation of MSP, land reforms and timely and adequate supply of credit to small farm families should all be considered a priority to improve our agrarian economy.
Featured image source: Pixabay
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