With every passing hour, the farmer agitation is becoming increasingly organised and intense. Several farmer leaders who have been closely associated with such movements for the past many years have described the present agitation as ‘historic’ and ‘unprecedented’.
Among them is Sunilam, a two-time MLA from Madhya Pradesh, a working group member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and founder of Madhya Pradesh-based farmer rights organisation called Kisan Sangharsh Samiti.
Many people are claiming that the present farmer agitation is confined to just two states, Punjab and Haryana. Do you agree?
For the past several months we have been agitating in Madhya Pradesh. On August 9, we observed ‘Corporate bhagao, kisani bachao’ in which farmers from across the state participated in agitation against the farm bills. On September 25 and October 14, we held two more pan-state agitations.
In the present agitation also, our colleagues marched all the way from places like Multai (in MP), Barwani, Gwalior and Morena, till they were stopped at the Uttar Pradesh border, where they stayed on the roads for two days, and then walked all the way to Delhi. I was just on phone with former MP and farmer leader Raju Shetti who said that they are agitating across 30 districts of Maharashtra tomorrow. Similar demonstrations are happening in Telangana and Karnataka as well. We are in touch with 64 farmer unions from Tamil Nadu alone.
This movement is being led by people from across the country, from the farmers of Mizoram to the apple growers of Kashmir. In fact, post-independent India has never seen such a powerful pan-India movement ever. I have been a part of farmers’ rights movements for 35 years now and have 140 cases against me. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.
(Activist-politician Sunilam addresses a gathering.)
What are your impressions of the current agitation, given that you are witnessing first-hand from Delhi?
There are several firsts about this movement. To begin with, it is for the first time that you are seeing such a solid support for farmers in Punjab. The opposition and the ruling parties are with them. All 30 farmer organisations are united for the first time.
Secondly, the kind of support that this movement is getting, from central trade unions to farmer leaders from organisations that are officially not with us. Bhartiya Kisan Union’s Rakesh Tikait has, for instance, said that he and his supporters will not budge till the farmers of Punjab are satisfied. When Jats and Sikhs are united on this issue, it will send an ominous signal to Raisina Hills.
Thirdly, the political upheaval that this movement is resulting in, will be felt for a long time to come. Remember the governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were changed on the basis of farm issues. The Congress promised farm loan waiver and Rs 2,400 per quintal rates for paddy and they won in both states. The Akali Dal quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) because of pressure from farmers. Six states passed resolutions rejecting the Centre’s farm bills.
Right now, farmers are filling in the vacuum created by the opposition. In time, the issue of MSP and Mandis will grow to become the fight to save India’s federal structure, its basic constitutional spirit.
I was part of the Anna movement. I watched it unfold before the national media at the Ramlila ground. This is several times bigger than that. The Anna movement had little traction in south India. This movement is being supported in huge numbers by our colleagues from the south.
How do you see the movement developing over the next few days?
See the farmers who have come here, have brought along provisions to last them at least six months. So they are in no mood to return without reaching a respectable solution to the MSP and Mandi issues. But how the situation develops from here on also depends on how the government reacts to the presence of the protestors. This time, unlike what happened in the past, youth are leading this movement. If the government at any point, as they have with several other agitations, decide to use force against farmers, it could lead to a situation that the government may not be able to control. So, the government will have to tread carefully in days to come.