“Mr Modi, you apologised when you withdrew the farm laws – when will you apologise for killing 700 farmers?
“… The farm law is a glimpse, now for the CAA and labour code”
(From a graphic circulating among Indian activists. The CAA is the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act)
A year-long mass movement of India’s farmers, with strong working-class support, has defeated Narendra Modi’s far-right government.
On the morning of 19 November Modi announced that the three farm laws passed in September 2020 would be repealed soon.
The government’s retreat comes a week before the first anniversary, on 26 November, of the general strike of farmers’ organisations and trade unions which launched this movement nationally. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (Farmers' United Front) coalition had announced a new national mobilisation on that day, to be followed by mounting protests in Delhi.
Since Modi’s far-right, Hindu-nationalist BJP-led government came to power in 2014, its right-wing religious politics and neoliberal policies have progressively deepened. It has also encouraged and empowered a fascistic mass movement on the streets. There has been no shortage of resistance and challenges to the regime, many of them powerful and inspiring, but this is the first one to thoroughly humble Modi.
The three “black laws”, as opponents have called them, were designed to further open up multiple aspects of agriculture — including sale of seeds, storage and sales prices — to takeover by large corporations (some run by Indian capitalists with strong links to the regime). They aimed to further undermine the system of guaranteed prices for farmers introduced in the 1960s, as well as subjecting them to more unaccountable control by corporations and state bureaucrats.
This was a huge issue for India’s millions of mostly poor farmers, for farm labourers and more widely too. Large-scale employment, predominantly for poor and lower-caste people, in the system of state-controlled market yards was also threatened, as were systems providing subsidised food gain and essential commodities to the poor more widely.
The movement that blossomed from November 2020 and surged in January-February this year was preceded by several years of farmers’ protests about the increasing corporate domination of agriculture in various parts of India. Falling back when the country was hit by a vast Covid surge in the spring, it revived in the summer and did not let up the pressure on Modi and co.
There are elections coming up in a number of India's states, including Uttar Pradesh, the largest state, with over 200 million people. Undoubtedly the BJP has retreated partly out of electoral calculation.
700 farmers and supporters have died during the struggle, mostly as a result of camping out in harsh conditions, but some as a result of state and Hindu-nationalist violence. There is an ongoing struggle for justice for those killed and injured. Farmers have been denounced as “professional protesters”, “terrorists” and “Khalistanis” (supporters of a Sikh-separatist state in Punjab – Punjabi Sikhs played a leading role in the struggle).
Faced by waves of state repression and nationalist intimidation, the farmers’ movement seems to have developed in the opposite direction, breaking down barriers of religion and caste and linking its interests and struggles to those of other victims of the regime with increasing boldness. It has built up a remarkable mass infrastructure of organisation, mobilisation and protest and a remarkable culture of solidarity.
The “Communist” (in practice social democratic) chief minister of Kerala state, Pinarayi Vijayan, congratulated the farmers by rightly calling their battle and victory “one of the brightest chapters in the history of class struggles”.
Farmers' leaders say they will continue their protests until the laws are actually repealed – and they also demand legal guarantees on minimum prices for their products and withdrawal of neoliberal reforms in the electricity industry which energy workers are protesting against.
Beyond that, the farm laws are part of a capitalist offensive against India’s working people which has accelerated under Modi, but dates back decades. The BJP will plan to continue its pro-capitalist, neoliberal policies, including in agriculture. India's main national opposition party, Congress, though it signalled support for the farmers, is thoroughly neoliberal and in many ways opened the door for the politics of Hindu nationalism.
Even so, Indian activists are talking about building on momentum from the farmers’ victory to reverse the BJP’s assault on workers’ rights, its anti-Muslim changes to citizenship laws, its scrapping of Kashmiri autonomy and crushing of the population of Kashmir...
Workers’ Liberty has done its best to cover the Indian farmers’ movement and its working-class allies and to raise solidarity in the UK. In general, the British left and labour movement have paid remarkably little attention (while some supposedly part of the labour movement have supported Modi). We must do more to support our comrades in India in the months and years ahead.
From our coverage over the last year
• 26 November mobilisation in India (November 2021)
• Indian farmers remobilise (October 2021)
• Indian farmers killed on protests (October 2021)
• Free Indian trade unionist Shiv Kumar! (March 2021)
• India: building new solidarities (February 2021)
• Release Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar (February 2021)
• Indian farmers' movement grows (February 2021)
• General strike in India (December 2020)
See also this much more indepth background article published by New Socialist: Understanding Kisaan Andolan