Friday, March 31, 2023
HomeOpinionFarmers' movement can’t and shouldn’t be apolitical. That’s not a democracy

Farmers’ movement can’t and shouldn’t be apolitical. That’s not a democracy

From Champaran to Tebhaga, farmers’ movements have been political. But that took a turn in the 1980s-90s, when the chorus for ‘apolitical movements’ grew.

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The Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s decision to intervene in the upcoming assembly elections is bound to re-ignite an old debate: Should the farmers’ movement keep away from politics? The demand for apolitical movements, in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s derision of andolanjivis, reflects a new low in our rapidly shrinking democracy.

Just for the record, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) is not going to campaign for any party or candidate. We have decided to appeal to the voters in Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to electorally punish the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for its anti-farmer laws, for its outrageous attacks on the movement, for its use of State machinery to suppress and criminalise the movement and, above all, for its imperious arrogance. It is for the voters to decide how they wish to mete out this punishment to the BJP.  It is not for SKM to suggest who they should vote for.

Also read: Farmers’ protests are the birth pangs of a more urbanised India

Politics of anti-politics

An anti-democratic demand keeps coming up now and then: the farmers’ movement should be apolitical. Funnily, those who are most vociferous in demanding this are themselves politicians, mostly from the ruling party! Or media persons whose political loyalties are no secret. Our democratic politics has sunk so low that politicians can hope to gain political mileage by proclaiming that politics is dirty.  We have all given up on the difficult demand that politics should be responsible, transparent, ethical and truthful. Instead, we all prefer the easy path. Politics is selfish, nasty, brutish and short-sighted. So, let us do away with politics. “No politics please” seems to be our national banner.

This demand keeps raising its head within the farmers’ movement as well. The first wave of peasant movements in India was deeply political. Historic protests like the Champaran and Bardoli satyagraha were integral to the political struggle for national freedom. The Tebhaga movement and various other struggles launched by the Kisan Sabha were part of anti-colonial, anti-feudal politics of the Left, as was the Naxalbari upsurge after Independence. The demand for “apolitical” farmers’ movements gained ground in the 1980s and 1990s, as all mainstream political parties – the Congress as well as opposition – turned their back to the farmers. A failure to shape politics led to a defeated and defensive mindset and a demand for apolitical movements. This did not last long. Iconic farmer leaders like Professor M.D. Nanjundaswamy and Sharad Joshi soon realised that they had no option except to form their own parties and contest elections.

Yet the anti-political language persists. You have Kisan unions that name themselves “Arajnaitik” (apolitical). When there were inevitable allegations about that organisation taking sides during elections, the break-away faction called itself “Asli-Arajnaitik” (truly apolitical)! Rhetoric about keeping politics out resonates in every meeting of the farmers. This rhetoric has little connect with reality. Most of the big farmers’ organisations are affiliated, formally or informally, to political parties. This is true of at least one dozen organisations within the SKM. There is no scandal here, for this is exactly what one should expect in any functioning democracy. The scandal is that some of the movement’s leaders who are most vocal in demanding dissociation from politics are also most busy striking deals with political parties during elections. The demand to keep away from political parties is often a desire to choose the most convenient party or candidate to align with in each election.

Also read: Rural India can’t be dustbin of history. Three farm laws have shown farmers need a New Deal

Movement party dynamics

Now, there is an element of truth to this suspicion of politics. Farmers’ movement, or any movement for that matter, should not be tied to the apron strings of a political party. A sectional movement of farmers, workers or youth must remain true to the needs and aspirations of that section rather than allow itself to be used as an instrument of the ‘party line’. All over the world, keeping the frontal organisations one step removed from the parent party ensures this. While these organisations share the overall ideology of the party, they do not follow the party’s commands or dictates on everything. Sometimes the mood from below forces such organisations to take a stand at variance from the parent political party. If they don’t, they risk losing their supporters.

Frontal organisations of the BJP-RSS are a good example. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour union of the Sangh parivar, has repeatedly opposed labour policies of the BJP government. Their farmer union, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), initially opposed the three farm laws passed by the Modi government. Even today it is lukewarm in its support. It is no secret that the BKS has consistently warned and alerted the BJP government against going ahead with the farm laws. It would not survive if it didn’t.

Also read: Everyone agrees farm reforms are needed. Here’s how Modi govt can break political deadlock

Shallow and deep politics

We can and must guard against instrumental use of a movement by a political ideology or party. Movements that remain limited to such shallow political effects are consigned to the dustbin of history. Any attempt to prolong the farmers’ movement for its own sake or merely to foment disaffection with the Modi government must be resisted. Similarly, the farmers’ movement must guard against elements that give it a religious colour or use it for separatist designs. We must also be careful about a few individuals using the movement to pursue their personal political ambitions at the cost of the movement.

At the same time, we must recognise that any mass movement cannot but be political in its impact. A movement that questions the rulers, as most protest movements do, cannot but dent the image of the ruling dispensation. A ruling party that does not accede to the demands of a popular movement must be prepared for political punishment in the electoral arena. Any mass movement must seek to influence electoral outcomes as a final way of ensuring democratic accountability. In fact, a movement must seek a deeper political impact. Instead of just ensuring the victory or defeat of a party or candidate, a mass movement like the farmers’ movement must seek to shape the agenda of electoral contest. The true ambition of the farmers’ movement must be to ensure that the next parliamentary elections are held on the demands put forward by the farmers’ movement. Every movement must aspire to this deep politics.

In a democracy it is naïve, if not wicked, to demand that a movement should have nothing to do with politics, political ideology or political party. If this were to happen, if a country were to witness mass movements that are completely delinked from politics, something is totally messed up about that democracy. I hope we have not already reached that point.

The author is a member of Jai Kisan Andolan and coordination committee of Samyukta Kisan Morcha. He is also the National President of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. In India most of the established leaders are andolanjeevi. Barring a few examples like Dr. Manmohan Singh. Even PM N. Modi it that to certain extent. The BJP allies that have deserted the NDA are undoubtedly andolanjeevies- be Beniwal or SAD. It is also true that every citizen (now victims of tribalism) has interest and participates in politics. So what Mr Yadav has narrated here is justifiable and bare fact.

  2. The article written by YY ji and there after comments & debate on the captioned issues is not logical under the interpretation of constitution of India .In my opinion BJP duly supported by RSS ideology is ruining the country in the name of Jhuta and unrealistic Rastryvad.

  3. The most OBVIOUS and COMMON SENSICAL question which arises is that ….who fed Ram , Christ,Krishna,Muhammad, Guru Gobind Singh and others …….A FARMER ?… if we disregard a FARMER…then who are we actually disregarding???


  5. When hundreds (or is it thousans) of Crores are available to keep lakhs fed and housed in comfort for months in an unending ahitation, please spare a thought for the poor fellows who committed suicide due to penury. Why cannot these leaders ensure that a lakh ot two given to poor indebted farmers would have (& still could) sabe so many lives ?
    Finally is it not the job of parliament to make laws ? And there is no law that gives the right to agitators, no matter what their grievance, usurp right to free movement and travel on roads.

  6. Read real meaning of all this B.S. He wants to say farmer agitation is a political movement and he is the great leader who had organized such a massive political show. All media, persons who follow media should show respect to him as a GREAT LEADER.

  7. This is what we call ‘Beheti ganga mae haat dho le’. this was YY’s plan all along. Another Kejri YY Bhusan fight to get these rich farmers and their money on their side.

  8. It’s fine if you want to make this movement political, whatever keeps you happy and relevant, the problem is would anyone listen to you when you go around telling people that don’t vote for BJP? When you couldn’t convince people to vote for you, what makes you think that you will convince them to vote for someone else.

  9. But sir according to you there is no democracy left in India after Modi has come to power? Now you are saying farmers protest is democratic ?? Can you enlighten me if there is any democracy in india ? Please confirm 😇

  10. I only read comments section when Yogendra Yadav writes as his articles are full of conflicting ideas akin to Mexican Standoff. It is quite fun to go through comments section. In fact couple of them are better than an average oped article. SG is quite smart to have Yogendra yadav as one of the columnist. I am sure he gets the most ‘clicks’.
    Looking forward to the next Mexican standoff

    • Ha ha ha… count me in, even I too go directly to the comment section. It’s more fun in the comment section than the non-stop and non-sensical rants of Yogendra Yadav.

  11. श्री श्री १००८ आन्दोलनजीवी योगेंद्र यादव जी कृपया एक प्रश्न का उत्तर देने की कृपा करे, यदि आपके इन सब प्रयासों के बाद भी बीजेपी चुनाव जीत जाती है तो फिर आप क्या करोगे? आंदोलन वापस ले लोगे या फिर से EVM के सर पर ठीकरा फोड़ दोगे ?

  12. No one objects if farmers have varied political affiliations. Mr Yadav cannot hope all farmers come under one political umbrella. What is more important is that farmers should see reason and meet the Govt halfway in negotiations. They could start witha clause by clause amendment to the current laws.

  13. This Aandolan-jeevi, sadak-chap, fake-khadi zhola-wallah should be in jail for his criminal incitement during the “farmers” agitation. He & his ilk have caused Rs 1000s crores of economic damage already. His links abroad & funding sources should be investigated.

  14. This guy is a non stop mental masturbation. He seems to take himself seriously too, Parjeevi at it again

  15. The true colours of these fake farmers are out. They were lying all the way through last 4 months that the protests are apolitical.

  16. This is quite funny. Is this not what the Govn has been saying all along? That the protest is political?

    Was it not Yogendra Yadav who denied it being a political movement? The Govn’s lack of enthusiasm for further discussions is likely that now it is politics that will resolve this issue. Come UP elections and who wins decides who is declared winner in this never ending saga and if it becomes a poll issue in 2024.

    So Mr Yadav now trying to justify his support makes him look two-faced at worst or naive at best.

  17. To all the people criticizing this guy… Have a heart! Put yourself in his shoes, you will realize how unfair life has been. For so many years he peddled lies & fake narrative as ‘election consultant’ in friendly NDTV studio. But that was not leading anywhere. Suddenly, finally, he saw a once in a lifetime opportunity in Anna Hazare movement & along with kejriwal latched on to it. At this moment he removed that mask of ‘election analyst’. Then history tells us what kejriwal did to his fellow ‘revolutionaries’. In my personal opinion what kejriwal did to jholachaap yogendra ji, prashant bhushan ji, crying ex journalist ashutosh ji and so many others was not humorous as many people feel, but actually no one even treats vagabonds on the streets like this! After all yogendra ji was a human being. No one deserves that kind of physical & emotional atyachaar that kejriwal imposed on him while kicking him out. If that was not enough, yogendra jholachaap ji contested lok sabha election in the interim & thankless people of Gurugram not only defeated him, but were so brutal against him that he lost his deposit! Now u tell me, is it fair? Has life been fair to yogendra ji? Now, once upon a time self annointed CM candidate of Haryana, is reduced to getting 5 minutes photo ops in other revolutionaries manufactured revolutions. This is what our very own che geuvera has been reduced to. Now, our very own Shekhar Gupta Ji of erstwhile NDTV, Indian Express fame (he claims to have left those days behind) is giving some work to yogendra ji in these difficult times,while he waits for the next deliverance opportunity & next anna Hazare. Lets not find faults with jholachaap yogendra ji. Lets not even try & read & analyze what he rants daily. Lets just empathize, lets reach into our hearts & say – we understand yogendra ji. We really do.

    • Had the heartiest laugh in a while. Thank you for this insightful commentary on the great muffler man jr.

    • Put your BS brain to analyse the real Fakeer jholachaap “jhola le k chal denge” as well. You won’t, do you know why?

      Because one can’t analyse who one romanticise with. If only you had said some thing reasonable about the real jholachap of the nation, I would’ve really gave it a try to your analysis of YY.

  18. They are political. The farm union leaders are going to campaign in poll bound states on the slogan no votes to bjp.
    In that case BJP has the right to treat them as any other political adversary.

  19. By analogy, all protests should be political. Right? With the opposition in India literally taking their moniker (opposition) to heart, we will always remain a laggard democracy with having to dole out concessions, subsidies, money and freebies in the name of alleviating poverty. ‘Activists” too contribute to this apathy. So does experts and the media.
    I get a feel that now, in the twenty first century, the people are seeing the hollowness of politics without ideas. It is time all elements of democracy become mature and play up. Else the Nation including the farmers will lose their plot (pun intended).
    Tail piece: India is being destroyed by excess politics. Spewing venom kills not resurrect.

  20. Salim Yadav and SKM can be political but then they should cry that the are just poor farmers protesting for their livelihood when somebody attacks them just like politicians are attacked.

  21. No matter how lengthy articles you write, it is crystal clear what your intentions are. Movement was never apolitical considering the presence of left party leaders like Hannah molla and Darshan pal Singh. So try something else instead of justifying your position/actions. By the way I really enjoyed your BBC interview.

  22. Never seen a hypocrite like you. The farm laws it’s much needed and you are gaming your politics in the same. I am ashamed having been following you articles for so long.

  23. So the Andolanjeevis are coming around slowly to admit that it is really the political goal that they are after. By the way, when did this leader of farmer, with no first hand experience of farming, move back to the comfort of his home after his photo ops of roughing out with the farmers,?

  24. Hypocrisy 1-o-1. Yadav jee was advocating collective leadership, non political leadership bla bla and now take 180 degree…same as in Anna movement where his friend became CM he is copying and following his foot steps..

  25. I suppose mindless opposition to whatever the BJP government says or does is the acidtest for democracy, according to these columnists!

  26. What a nonsense article, doesn’t make any sense , typical Leftists argument with out any truth , Yadav and other Islamo Leftistism is nothing but Anti India and Anti Hindu.

  27. Down with Farmer protests and Yogendra Yadav. Down with socialism and msp. Long live free market.

  28. Agree with Yogendra Yadav on this issue. Nothing is apolitical as we all have our objectives which end up being political one way or the other. But in the case of the farmer unions protesting against the farm laws, we don’t expect them to be apolitical, we just want them to openly confess to being political and convey to the larger public about the parties that they have aligned with so that the electorate can make informed choices accordingly. In this farm laws issue, if not for the presence of people like Yogendra Yadav or the RLD or Bhupinder Hooda, people like me in the South would have come around to support the farmers because farmers in the South are usually weak and hence unconditionally attract our sympathy. The Red Marxist flags and people like Yogendra have appraised us electorates in the South as to what these protests are inherently aimed at.

  29. YY ji is again confused. Most of his article says the movt cant be apolitical and also says SKM will campaign against bjp, then also says “Any attempt to prolong the farmers’ movement for its own sake or merely to foment disaffection with the Modi government must be resisted”. Firstly, the entire movt is based on extremely poor economics. Then the union leaders who said they had no control over the violence kept rejecting every offer. Clearly you are continuing the movt for the sake of it and also forment disaffection because ,like you said, it is political. Aakhir kehna kya chahte ho YY ji?

    Punish the govt electorally? Well ok. It is democracy. But then should the govt return to power, will you then accept that the voters by and large are with the govt on this and stop holding an entire city of millions to hostage? I guess not. People who usually side with bad economics are also bad at logic.

    Yy ji, I hope you people ask the govt for a robust social security net for all the poor including poor farmers and stop insisting on the repeal of laws. This farm reform is important. Let it pass through. But then andolanjeevis will not listen. Karo aandolan.

    • Beautifully explained.
      This YY is going around in circles with imaginary enemies and beholden to rich farmers.

    • We’ll knew it’s reality of this so called apolitical farmer’s protest from the beginning itself. It was all started with Shahin Bagh and now extended to this. Modi ji said it right there only “केवल संयोग है या प्रयोग है” and now we all are seeing their true colours. I bet even if BJP wins these elections they will not accept it and keep going on. They want to incite civil war and anarchy to rule. On a positive side you see how desperate they have become that they came out their camo themselves so it clearly shows how organic this protest is. Lets see how long this drama continues as Mr. Tikait is still not able to deliver what his political masters expects from him!!!

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