Unlike other typical lazy Sundays, November 28th 2021 was different for a hyper-active city like Mumbai. India’s financial capital saw its iconic Azad Maidan bustling with an ebullient crowd of 50,000 farmers and workers attending the “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” (peasant-worker grand assembly). The crowd was celebrating the first major victory of the year-long farmers’ protest at India’s capital New Delhi’s borders against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s neoliberal agriculture laws and policies.
On Friday, November 19th, Modi had announced, during his address to the nation, that the three contentious farm laws, enacted by his government in 2020 and protested by the farmers since then, shall be repealed in the Parliament during the winter session. The three laws were finally repealed, although without any debate, on Monday, November 29th, a day after the “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan took place.
Samyukta Shetkari Kamgar Morcha (SSKM)—a steering body of over 100 farmers’ and workers’ organisations in Maharashtra—organised the “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on Sunday. The “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” was attended by the disgruntled workers and farmers, coming from distant places of Maharashtra. Several youth and women also joined the rally.
Though Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its servile mainstream media outlets had anticipated that the farmers’ protest at Delhi’s borders will ebb away with the repealing of the three laws, the farmers have declared that they will continue their agitation until all their demands are met. The farmer leaders reiterated this standpoint at the “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” in Mumbai.
Leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM)—a steering body of over 40 farmers’ organisations leading the movement at Delhi’s borders—like Darshan Pal, Hannan Mollah and Rakesh Tikait addressed the “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” in Mumbai and gave a clarion call to defeat Modi’s BJP throughout the country. The SKM leaders also clubbed the demands of the working class and that of the common people with their own.
According to the SKM leader Tikait, who also heads the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), the farmers will intensify their struggle to ensure that the government accepts the rest of their demands. He warned that Republic Day, which is observed on January 26th, isn’t far away and 400,000 farmers are waiting with their tractors to raid the capital if their demand isn’t met.
The farmers had earlier organised a massive tractor rally on January 26th 2021, during which sporadic incidences of state violence were reported. Finally, the farmers were able to seize control of Red Fort, where they hoisted the Sikh banner Nishan Sahib to register their might. One farmer was killed and several injured in the macabre atrocities unleashed by Modi’s police force at that time.
The other demands of the farmers are the enactment of a new law guaranteeing government procurement at minimum support price (MSP) for all crops, termination of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay “Teni” Mishra for his alleged role in the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre, the cancellation of the Electricity Bill, 2020, justice to the victims of Lakhimpur Kheri massacre, justice and compensation to the families of over 700 farmers who lost their lives fighting against Modi’s farm laws and the repealing of the four anti-worker labour codes.
The repealing of the farm laws by Modi’s BJP-led government is a major victory for the year-long farmers’ protest at Delhi’s borders. However, at the same time, it’s not the end of the movement itself. Modi’s retreat is compelled by realpolitik as he is desperately seeking the re-election of Yogi Adityanath-led BJP in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and wants the BJP to retain its rule in Uttarakhand. He has been unapologetic about the laws and didn’t let any debate take place in the Parliament while repealing the laws to avoid embarrassment.
Apart from Haryana and Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh and the foothills of Uttarakhand have also turned into hotbeds of the farmers’ protest and the BJP needs to retain its hegemony in these states. Therefore, the retreat is temporary, and the BJP may launch another series of attacks on the farmers by pushing state-level pro-corporate farm reform measures. Such an act will help it split the united farmers’ movement into several state-level movements and weaken it gradually.
Moreover, rather than using the proposal on providing MSP on the comprehensive C2 model, which was sent to former prime minister Manmohan Singh by a chief ministers’ financial committee headed by Modi himself, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, the government is now trying to form a five-member panel to negotiate the MSP demand. The discussion on the MSP is farcical as the Modi regime simply wants to buy time till the crucial 2022 elections.
To avert such a scenario and to ensure that Modi’s retreat is permanent, like his retreat on the pro-corporate land acquisition legislation in 2015, the farmers are continuing their struggle relentlessly. They have understood the threat posed by the BJP to the agriculture and food security of India and, therefore, they have raised comprehensive demands to ensure no loopholes are left.
What Mumbai’s “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” especially underscored is the need for greater unity of the working class and the farmers. As the SKM leaders declared that they will also fight against Modi’s four anti-worker labour codes, the working class jeered. The farmers are also battling against the rising fuel prices due to the high taxes imposed by the Modi regime.
This way, by taking up the issues of the common people, the farmers’ movement is garnering a larger support base and spreading all over India. This development is fatal for the Modi regime. The “Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” in Mumbai saw how a stronger unity is forged among the workers and peasants. As this unity played an instrumental role in defeating the Modi regime on the farm laws, it will also help the farmers and workers win victories in the battle for other crucial demands.