For the fourth time this year, lakhs of farmers marched to the capital. This time they demanded a special Parliament session to discuss agrarian crisis and the passage of Kisan Mukti bills
In October, protesting farmers were not allowed to enter Delhi and were dispelled using tear gas and water cannons. But it was different this time. The recent farmers’ march was not only welcomed by students and lawyers, but it also saw students of Delhi University coming out in their support.
Agrarian distress has been building up and is increasingly becoming evident. Over the last couple of years, thousands of farmers have repeatedly taken to the streets to register their unhappiness through marches and rallies such as the #KisanLongMarch in Maharashtra, the protest in Mandsaur, the Kisan Mukti Yatra that kickstarted in Telangana, among others.
In another attempt to make the government take cognisance, over one lakh farmers from across India arrived in the capital on November 29. The farmers are demanding a special session of Parliament to discuss their issues.
Farmers, agricultural labourers and representatives from more than 200 farmers’ collectives came together at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). This included groups travelling from across states such as Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Telangana. Two special trains, one from Maharashtra’s Miraj and the other from Bengaluru, were arranged for the same.
Coming in from different states, the groups began their marches from four assembly points. For those coming from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, the march began from Gurudwara Shri Bala Sahebji near Nizamuddin railway station. For participants travelling from Rajasthan and southern Haryana, the assembly point was near Bijwasan Railway Station. Anand Vihar railway station was the meeting point for those travelling from eastern states, including West Bengal, Bihar and even Uttar Pradesh. The last point was Kishanganj, for participants from Punjab, Uttarakhand and Haryana.
These groups are demanding a special session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis and related issues as well as passage of two private members’ bills, otherwise being referred to as Kisan Mukti Bills. The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018 and the Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices For Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018, were introduced by Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Raju Shetti, who is also a part of AIKSCC’s working committee. The bills seek unconditional, single-instalment loan waivers for every farmer as well as guaranteed remunerative prices for all agricultural commodities, among other things.
A website, Dillichalo.in, has been set up to seek people’s support for the two bills as well as a special 21-day joint parliamentary session. A prospective agenda suggested on the website includes a three-day discussion of the Swaminathan Commission report, three days each to discuss the credit crisis, water crisis, rights of women and landless farmers, apart from people’s testimonies, among other issues.
A group of farmers from Tamil Nadu carried skulls of fellow farmers who had committed suicide and had threatened to march naked if not allowed to go to Parliament. This is the fourth time that farmers came to Delhi under the banner of AIKSCC. On July 17, days after six protesting farmers were killed in a police firing in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, over 1,500 farmers from at least 15 states reached Jantar Mantar demanding the waiver of farm loans and remunerative prices.
In November last year, a two-day Kisan Sansad was organised where more than 180 farmers’ organisations had come together and proposed two bills, one each on debt waiver and fair prices for crops. On July 20 again, several thousand farmers came together again when a no-confidence motion was being passed.
The march in Delhi “is a culmination of our efforts over the last one-and-a-half years,” said Yogendra Yadav, Swaraj India leader and member of AIKSCC’s working committee. Pointing out the significance of the march, Yadav added that this would be the first time that farmers’ organisations, including those from different ideologies, are coming together. He also emphasised that the uniqueness of the march also stems from the diversity in support that the umbrella organisation, AIKSCC, is receiving. Beyond the farming community, women, students, lawyers, artists and several other groups have come forward in solidarity with farmers. “We are getting support from different groups, including the youth and women,” Ashok Dhawale, president of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said. AIKS is also a part of the umbrella organisation, AIKSCC.
Speaking about the uniqueness of the rally, Avik Saha, member secretary, AIKSCC, said, “The most important thing about this rally is that it is a part of a larger well-organised, pre-planned series. Referring to the two-pronged demand for a special session and passage of two private members’ bills, Saha said, “Unlike other farmers’ rallies that are born of anger and have higher chances of being misguided, the objective of this rally is pretty clear.”
On the morning of November 29, the rally began from Ramlila ground towards Sansad Marg. During the first leg of the rally, farmers voiced their concerns, while for the second leg political parties were invited to show their support to farmers, especially to express their support of the two bills.
“Earlier, 21 parties had expressed their support of these two bills. In addition, now Nitish Kumar’s has also expressed his support for two [Kisan Mukti] bills,” VM Singh, convener, AIKSCC, told reporters on November 27. He added, “We want the government to pass these Bills for the benefit to farmers.”
AIKSCC also explained their reasoning behind the demand for a special session of Parliament. Given that a private members’ bill is taken up only on alternate Fridays, and this being the last session of Parliament, the chances of these bills being taken up are slim, two AIKSCC leaders said. “We don’t want to take any chances,” Singh added. Meanwhile, Yadav said that the demand for a special session also has a symbolic meaning—it is about prioritising the concerns of farmers above everything else.
Activist Medha Patkar, journalist P Sainath and Major General (retired) Satbir Singh have also expressed their support for the two-day protest. Between 1995 and 2015, over three lakh farmers committed suicide.
Referring to the special parliamentary session on GST, Sainath said that a special session of Parliament was convened on short notice for the GST but the Swaminathan Commission’s report had been lying in Parliament without any discussion since 2006. In November 2004, under the chairmanship of professor MS Swaminathan, the government constituted the National Commission on Farmers to examine the causes of farmers’ distress. The commission was also mandated to make suggestions on ways to resolve the same. Between December 2004 and October 2006, the commission submitted five reports, none of which have been implemented.
Sainath also pointed out that the government has stopped giving farm suicide-related data. “It is not just farm woes, there is a national crisis now,” he said, calling for solidarity. Dhawale also gave a call for, “Ayodhya nai, Dilli chalo”.