Farmers across the country are up in arms. The media is mouthing all sorts of things about them. Prakash Ambedkar, former MP and leader of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, tells Nawal Kishore Kumar what the role of Dalitbahujans in the farmers’ movement should be and how the movement is important from their perspective. Edited excerpts of the telephonic conversation:
How do you view the farmers’ movement?
The politics of RSS-BJP is against humanity. They are not propagators of Hinduism but of the Vedic religion. They want to re-establish the socio-economic order that prevailed in the Vedic times. This is clear from the way they have been harassing the common man. They first tormented the Muslims by promulgating the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and by talking about the National Register of Citizens (NRC). And now, they are making life difficult for the farmers. The three farm laws are, basically, the legacy of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP and the Congress are birds of a feather. They are trying to end the purchase of farm produce on MSP, close down mandis and repeal laws related to food grains. It is clear that they want to give the traders a free rein so that they can purchase crops from the farmers at prices of their choice. Now, a mouse can do little if faced with an elephant.
How will the new laws affect Dalitbahujans?
It is our misfortune that none of the leaders of the Dalits and Adivasis is educated. They don’t want to acquire an education either. They don’t want to keep themselves informed. The Dalit-Adivasi IAS officers are mum. They just want to keep their jobs. It is clear that once mandis disappear, the private sector will have a complete monopoly. The government wants to privatize the entire public sector. If the Dalits and Adivasis have progressed, it is due to the public sector. They did not rise because their ancestors had left property for them. They could rise only when they got concessions – in education, through scholarships; in recruitments. I wonder why they are unable to understand this fact. The educated class is acting dumb. They are happy that they are getting their salary at the end of the month and also some additional income under the table. They feel that they will be able to lead a comfortable life. But they have no concern for their children. That is why they are oblivious to this movement. “What have I to do with it? It is a movement of the farmers and they will handle it.” This is their attitude.
They are not aware of what has brought some degree of security in the lives of those who don’t have government jobs, those who are toiling in the fields. It is because they are getting food grains at subsidized rates. The subsidy is not being paid by any trader. It is the government which is paying the subsidy. The government is able to supply food grains at subsidized rates because it is buying the produce of the farmers. After purchasing the food grains, the government supplies it to them through ration cards, obligated under Article 14 of the Constitution [Right to Life]. Those with daily income of Rs 17 or less per day get food grains at concessional rates under the Antyodaya and other schemes. That is why they are able to survive.
The farmers must get MSP. What are the farmers demanding from the government? Only that if the traders are not purchasing their produce at the minimum price then the government should. They are trying to force the government to do it. They feel that if the government purchases their produce, the poor won’t starve. They will be able to lead their lives with dignity. Hence, the farmers and those who are dependent on ration cards should fight this battle jointly.
So, you are in support of this movement?
I have been supporting it from the beginning. In fact, we have mobilized farmers in Maharashtra to support the movement. Newspapers do not give much importance to such developments. In his address to the Parliament, the President said that the Tricolour [Indian National Flag] was insulted. I want to request them to please read the agreement between Sardar Patel and Golwalkar, who had to be virtually forced to agree that they [RSS] will honour the tricolour. And now the President, who comes from the same party, is talking of insult to the Tricolour. I want to ask him what he is doing to stop the party to which he belongs [from insulting the Tricolour). He has nothing to say about his party or about the RSS. This is a written document of the Government of India. What you are doing is hearsay.
Just see what the farmers are being charged with. It is not that the protestors removed the Tricolour and planted their flag instead. The charge is that they unfurled a Sikh religious flag 20 feet below the national flag. I want to ask the President how that is an insult to the national flag. Indira Gandhi had managed to persuade the Khalistanis with great effort. What kind of message are you sending to the Sikhs now? The country is gripped by madness and the President has joined it.
Dalits have their own problems. Most of them are landless. They don’t have roofs over their heads. A majority of the farm labourers are Dalitbahujans.
The point is that land does not provide livelihood to anyone. It is the work you do on that land that provides you with your livelihood. Just as the farmers are saying that this should be the price of what they grow, the labourers should say that they will work only if they are paid the wages they demand. The day they begin saying this, their condition will start improving.
Attempts are being made to end this movement. Your take?
I don’t think it will end. The agitators know that everything hinges on the farmers getting a fair price for their produce. They know that the end of the MSP regime will sound the death knell for their hopes. So, this movement will not end. I would also like them to declare that they are against privatization. Then, we will see the unfolding of a spectacle.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)