Farmers across India are set to go on a 10-day strike again, a year after a first wave of farmer protests roiled the country. But while last year’s farmer strike, which spread from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh and then to the rest of the country, united farmers at large, fractures are now becoming evident.
“There are two streams in the farmer movement today,” said Shiv Kumar “Kakkaji” Sharma, a convenor of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, said. “One is nationalist and working only for the farmers. The other stream are political organisations that are looking to use farmers as a votebank.”
Sharma was evidently referring to the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, a federation of around 130 farmer organisations as the apolitical one. Another major federation has decided to stay away from the 10-day strike. This is the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, a federation of 193 organisations that includes Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj Abhiyan, the All India Kisan Mahasabha of the Communist Party of India and Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna.
“We have learnt about this bandh from the media and we had no other intimation of any kind,” said Yogendra Yadav, founder of Swaraj Abhiyan. “This is not our call to strike, but we extend our best wishes to any organisation working for farmers.”
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti met the President this week to request him to ensure that a week of the upcoming Parliament session be dedicated to farmer issues.
Farmers will not take to the roads this time in the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh’s 10-day strike, Sharma stressed. Instead, they will simply not supply milk and vegetables to markets. City-dwellers can buy directly from the villages if they so choose. Their demands are for a one-time loan waiver, higher minimum support prices and higher prices for their produce.
On June 6, the federation will hold commemoration event at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, where six farmers were killed in police firing during protests last year. There will also be a symbolic hunger strike on June 8 and on the last day a Bharat Bandh.
The strike is likely to impact only cities in north India, where multiple farmer groups have agreed to the call for a strike. In Mandsaur, the police were reported to have made farmers sign bonds of Rs 24,000 that they would not join the strike.
There has been some confusion about whether the All India Kisan Sabha, which is affiliated with the Communist Party of India, was going to join the strike. In Maharashtra, the organisation has planned a one-day strike outside the offices of Collectors across the state on June 1. In Rajasthan, the organisation plans to hold a memorial function for the farmers killed in Mandsaur on June 6.
Lessons from last year
Given the disorganised nature of the protests last years, there was some confusion about which groups had the right to negotiate with state governments for their demands. In both Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, different groups called for the strikes and protests to end before all other groups were on board. In Madhya Pradesh, the state government negotiated with the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an organisation that is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Taking cues from last year, the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh is wary this time.
“We heard the RSS is trying to shut us down,” said Sharma, who was expelled from the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh in 2010. “This time if the government calls anyone for a talk, do not believe them.”
The only negotiation that will happen, he said, will be with the committee of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, though they will welcome the support of people of all parties, including even the Bharatiya Janata Party as long as they do not carry their own symbols.