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32nd Conference of the AIKS

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Build United Struggles against

UPA Govt’s Anti-Peasant Policies

 

TERMING the present UPA government at the centre as 'the worst anti-peasant and anti-agriculture government that India has ever seen', the 32nd all India conference of the All India Kisan Sabha called upon the peasantry to build powerful, united struggles in resistance to the most anti-peasant and anti-agriculture policies of this government. It also highlighted the unprecedented distress among the peasantry in the country as a result of skewed policies pursued by the ruling classes since independence and suggested concrete alternatives to overcome this situation.

 

S Ramachandran Pillai, president of AIKS, gave this call in his presidential address to the conference, which began in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, on January 7, 2010. The proceedings of the conference started with the hoisting of Red flag by veteran AIKS leader, Benoy Konar at the venue, renamed as 'Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet Nagar'. A total of 726 delegates and 7 observers from all parts of the country paid homage at the martyrs column. Artistes of by Praja Natya Mandali rendered revolutionary songs during this ceremony. The portrait of Comrade Surjeet was garlanded by the president and general secretary of AIKS.

 

In his presidential address Pillai at the outset expressed happiness at the conference being held in Andhra Pradesh that has a long history of Kisan Sabha playing an important role in the freedom struggle, struggles against landlordism, for formation of state of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic basis etc. He recalled the history of peasant movement in the state which began as early as in 1923 and included such glorious chapters as the march from Itchapuram to Madras in 1937, the heroic Telangana armed struggle during which more than three thousand villages were liberated and over ten lakh acres of lands belonging to landlords were distributed among the people. The continuation of that legacy in the form of militant struggles by the Kisan Sabha in the state against debt burden, for remunerative prices, against high power tariffs imposed at the behest of World Bank etc were pointed out.

 

The AIKS president underlined the grim situation facing the peasantry not only in India but across the world. He said that the peasants who produce food that feeds the people of the world cannot themselves eat what they produce. As per estimates, 842 million people in the world live in conditions of chronic persistent hunger. Millions of people, including six million children below the age of five, die each year due to hunger. The important point to note is that 50 per cent of the hungry and malnourished worldwide are small land holders while another 22 per cent are landless and rural agricultural workers. Pillai underlined that the main reason for such a state of affairs is that land, water and seeds are increasingly being taken over and controlled by landlords and MNCs. Hence the issue of land has become the most fundamental issue confronting the peasantry worldwide. In this context only there are growing struggles across continents for genuine land reforms, even braving the brutal forms of repression being unleashed against the peasants by both the landlords and the State apparatus.

 

In India, distress among the peasantry is growing by the day. Poverty and hunger is spreading widely. The peasant suicides are continuing as agriculture is increasingly becoming an unviable venture for the large majority of the peasantry. Even as the prices of agricultural inputs and necessities are rising sharply, the prices of agricultural commodities are unremunerative and fluctuating. Landlessness is growing at a faster pace than at any time during the post-independence period. Today, about half of the peasants are indebted, with most of them taking loans from private money lenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest. Added to this are the regular occurrence of natural calamities that affect large parts of the country. The farmers are devastated with their crops ruined by droughts and flood every year and lack of governmental efforts in either providing relief or preventing.

 

Pillai traced the present agrarian crisis to the skewed nature of capitalist path of development pursued by the ruling classes since independence. The State-sponsored phase of capitalist development till 1991 and the State-withdrawal or the neo-liberal phase since 1991 have totally failed to solve the problems of the peasantry and agriculture in India. In this context, he singled out the present UPA regime as the worst anti-peasant and anti-agriculture government that India has ever seen. He charged that instead of protecting the interests of peasantry and agriculture, this government is protecting only the interests of the traders, big corporates and MNCs.

 

Pillai went on to list some of the recent measures taken by the government in agricultural sector to prove this point. The Seed Bill, introduced in parliament, seeks to take away the birth right of the peasantry to produce, preserve and transfer seeds among themselves. The government now wants to hand it over this right to corporates and MNCs. The proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and the provisions contained in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill contain many loopholes and do not adequately protect the interests of the peasantry. The AIKS, among other things, sought a provision enabling the affected persons to get a share in the increased income arising from the change in land use. The government has not accepted this demand. He also cited the recent ordinance brought by the UPA government amending the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act in order to reduce the remunerative prices for sugarcane farmers. It sought to protect the interests of traders, exporters and mill owners, he charged. Similarly the case of approving the environmental release of Bt Brinjal without conducting appropriate and adequate experiments. The gameplan is to handover the production of seeds to Indian corporates and MNCs.

 

AIKS president has also warned the UPA government against rushing into any new agreement related to WTO and criticised its over-enthusiasm in trying to remove the so-called road block in the Doha round of WTO negotiations. He demanded that the government must publish a white paper reviewing the experience of the performance of the 1994 WTO Agreement and hold a national debate. As the WTO talks are stalled, the UPA government is entering into free trade agreements with many countries and as per commerce minister's own reply in parliament, it is discussing 56 FTAs with various countries. Pillai cited the agreement made with ASEAN which will create disastrous consequences to the lives of peasants, fishermen, workers in light and textile industries. Kerala is going to be the worst affected by this agreement. He asked the government not to surrender the interests of the peasantry and agriculture for serving the interests of the corporate houses. Pillai also attacked the strategic alliance being forged by the UPA government with the USA and said this will have serious implications for the agricultural economy and the well-being of the peasantry. He cited the US-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative in this regard and felt it would only tighten the stranglehold of MNCs over Indian agriculture.

 

Strongly opposing the ongoing land grab in the name of Special Economic Zones, he said “It is a fact that industrialisation and modernisation of infrastructure is as essential for economic development as is the development of agriculture. A planned, balanced and harmonious development of industry and agriculture, not one at the cost of another, is necessary in the present situation”. Further elaborating on the alternative approach being advocated by the AIKS, Pillai said the government must concentrate upon the production conditions from the point of view of the agrarian classes rather than the quantity of commodities produced by them. He sought greater State intervention in promoting peasant agriculture. It should make greater investments in irrigation, electricity, rural development etc. It should provide debt relief and remunerative prices for crops. It must also take measures for value addition and diversification in agriculture. The government must increase direct and indirect subsidies to agriculture in tune with what most developing and developed countries are doing. All these, Pillai underscored, would help in coming out of the present agrarian crisis and to achieve this there must be a radical change in the approach  of the UPA government.

 

Earlier, N K Shukla, joint secretary of AIKS, placed the condolence resolution. The conference paid rich tributes to Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet, veteran kisan leader, freedom fighter and former general secretary of CPI(M). He led the anti-betterment levy struggle of farmers in Punjab in 1959 and has been part of AIKS leadership continuously. He served both as general secretary and president of AIKS and was vice president of the organisation when he breathed his last. Tributes were also paid to Comrades E Balanandan, Chittabrata Mazumdar, Anil Biswas, P Ramachandran, Sheopath Singh, Mehboob Zahedi, T K Ramakrishnan, Koratala Satyanarayana, Ahilya Rangnekar and Prabhakar Sanzgiri. The 32nd conference of AIKS also passed a resolution paying homage to martyrs since the last conference in 2006.                                                                          

--S Arjun

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