On Punjab elections and farmers participation
I have not been very active on Facebook or other social media since few weeks, except sharing links of some good articles/news or sharing some old memories or wishing some friends on their birthday.
As I am tied up in submitting a manuscript, whose schedule time has long crossed, so trying to discipline myself. But with all the constraints of time, I do wish to share my views with large number of friends and likeminded people on an issue, which is very crucial in coming days and times. This issue concerns farmers participation in coming Punjab Assembly elections, may be in other states -UP and Uttarakhand too, but primarily in context of Punjab. This is a very sensitive issue and lot many people are concerned about it, who have been supporting farmers struggle for their rightful and just demands and have stood in solidarity with them! These views are subject to open discussion, may be critical too, but not for abusive or irresponsible commentary.
The issue is whether farmers should directly contest these assembly elections? As 22 out of 32+2 organizations as part of Sanyukat Kisan Morcha have formed a new platform namely Sanyukat Samaj Morcha (SSM) and decided to contest elections on all 117 seats of Punjab Assembly. While in electoral democratic system or Parliamentary democracy, anyone, fulfilling conditions and eligible to vote has a right to contest. But this right is theoretical or just on paper. The kind of parliamentary system has developed in India from 1952 first Parliamentary elections onwards or even during the British colonial period, it needs to be evaluated objectively and critically, that how much chances of success in this system is there for farmers, workers or lower-income classes or oppressed sections of society.
Not only in independent India, some form of parliamentary elections is legacy left by colonial rulers. There was Central Assembly and provincial assemblies during British colonial period as well. Especially after Govt. of India Act 1935, the elections were held all over India in 1937 for eleven provincial assemblies as well as Central assembly. Even prior to that under Govt. of India Act 1919, the foundations of preliminary parliamentary system were laid down. Interestingly Congress party despite being critical of British set up institutions, other smaller parties and pro Govt. parties or individuals, had all been participating in whatever little democratic content of these institutions was there. Even revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh had been supporting candidates in these elections. In 1926, when Lala Lajpat Rai and Moti Lal Nehru split in different parties and contested against each other, Bhagat Singh and his friends supported Moti Lal Nehru candidates against Lala Lajpat Rai candidates, who had become communal minded. Moti Lal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai made up later with each other and stayed together in Central Assembly, perhaps called Imperial Assembly in those days. But 1937 elections to then 11 states of undivided India were major elections. Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh was elected unopposed to Punjab provincial assembly then in a by-election in 1938 and continued till 1947. The changes after independence were in the inclusion of larger number of voters, which were limited to privileged classes prior to 1947. Dr. Ambedkar was mostly nominated member of Central Assembly and a minister too, even before independence. In 1937 major elections Congress had won 8 provinces, Muslim League 2 and Punjab was won by Unionist party-the party of big landlords. Chhotu Ram had won from Unionist party and had become minister and brought some pro-farmer laws. Comrade Sohan Singh Josh had also won on Unionist party ticket and Pratap Singh Kairon on Akali Dal ticket. Gopi Chand Bhargava was Congress party leader. Diwan Chaman Lal (once supported by Bhagat Singh) won on trade union forum and Manohar Lal from Universities constituency as an independent in 175 seats house of pre-partition Punjab.
So, participating in elections can be thought of, but evaluation of objective conditions is a must.
In post-independence India, in 1952 first parliamentary elections while Congress party won 364 seats out of 489, united CPI was the second largest party but with only 16 seats. While socialists had won 12 seats, along with smaller parties, leftists had won nearly 50 seats. That was the time when farmers of India had won victory in Telangana struggle and CPI candidate Ravi Reddy had won by the largest no of votes, more than Pt. Nehru votes, perhaps from jail. Whereas Jansangh won only three seats and with other parties together, rightist parties could not cross even 10 seats. But in subsequent elections leftists never scored second position in Parliament, the highest no. of seats was won in 2004 elections.
But from 1952 to 2019, the parliamentary system had taken a shift towards rightist policies, especially after emergency. In the last seven years it has degenerated into a game of money and muscle power with fake social media, and bought Godi electronic media, which runs 24”7 and degrades human mind to a brainless robot. The human mind is not trained in critical evaluation and discerning attitude, rather it is turned into a thought less impulsive agent of brainless media’s rotten inhuman propaganda. To hope to gain space in such a system is a mirage. Gone are the days when A K Roy like people’s trade unionists, could win such elections, when comrades or Gandhians/Socialists could do campaigning on bicycles or on a single jeep, borrowed from some rich friend. Gone are the days, when candidates will not attack other candidates at personal level and tell hundred lies against rival candidates. Gone are the days, as late as in 2014, when even upright democratic candidates like Dr Dharamvir Gandhi could win on a party’s platform, but then BJP Fascism had not yet begun and idealism was seen in newly came up party AAP, as idealism is being seen in SSM at this moment. Now mud will be thrown at clean and honest candidates and it will not get cleaned, at least during election campaign period. One has to keep into account all these factors while going in for contesting elections on the basis of farmers demands, unity and program . The fact is that the present electoral system will sap all their strength gained during the struggle with so much suffering and to gain that strength again, it will be much difficult task, and the burning rage of corporates moused rulers, at getting defeated at the hands of farmers unity, will turn into hearty laughter again, finding farmers self-trapped into their Corporatized electoral system!
In all sincerity I will suggest that Sanyukat Samaj Morcha should take part in Punjab elections but not under the illusion of getting into majority and power, which will not happen in any case, rather they should take part symbolically to strengthen their already gained limited victory. Rather than contesting all 117 seats, they should choose five to seven constituencies, where they should field their best representatives and put all their strength to make them all victorious at the hustings. It will be better if they choose such constituencies, which are known BJP and its allies like farmers betrayer feudal Amrinder Singh&Co. constituencies and teach them a lesson of suppressing farmers and other working people of India. They can support some such candidates from any non BJP party or independents, who have genuinely supported and participated in long farmers struggle, though such candidates will be very few.
But they need to learn from previous Punjab elections. At one time, farmers representation was made through Communist party of India or by smaller leftist groups. After success of Mujara movement in Pepsu in 1948, many stalwarts of the movement won elections to Pepsu assembly, some from even inside the jail, like Dharam Singh Fakkar, Jagir Singh Joga. After the merger of Pepsu into Punjab, till 1962 elections united CPI on their own strength without any alliance with major parties-Congress or Akalis, won respectable no. of seats. Even in 1967, CPI and CPM, made good show. However, in post-1967 scenario of United front Governments, CPI and CPM started making alliances with different ruling parties-Congress or Akalis. After 1990, all left parties-CPI CPM, CPML, CPM (Pasla-Now RMPI) together could not make their presence felt in Punjab electoral scene. They will pit candidates in 60-70 constituencies and end up scoring 500 to 1000 votes in most of the constituencies, thus getting politically ridiculed!
This was the scene at national level too. CPM did stand on its own feet, especially in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala and built a reliable mass base, but only for continuing in power in parliamentary system. The real strength of masses’ fighting spirit was getting sapped in remaining for very long in power in West Bengal and Tripura and in Kerala in present form of parliamentary democracy. The irony is that in the ensuing period the mass base of CPI and later both CPI and CPM in many states like UP, Bihar, Punjab, Manipur and few more states shrunk almost completely. Further irony is that CPM not only lost power in West Bengal and Tripura, they slide down to fourth position in electoral game. Their presence in state assemblies got almost decimated! The condition of many other left parties was even worse, they got completely eliminated from political scene of India, like Lal Nishan Party in Maharashtra, Forward Bloc (Marxist) in West Bengal and so on. More irony is this all-left parties have their main base in workers and peasants mass organisations. CPI and CPM farmers and trade union organisations like AITUC/CITU/AIKS were the largest mass organisation of these parties. But remaining too long in power under present parliamentary system, sapped the strength of their main base in form of AIKS and CITU/AITUC. It is no surprise that in present farmers movement consisting of 400+ all India organisations and 32 organisations of Sanyukat Kisan Morcha, Kisan Sabhas of CPI and CPM are not big organisations, CPI Kisan Sabha has almost minor presence. CPM did improve the strength of their AIKS by organising struggles in Maharashtra and Rajasthan independently and has respectable presence in SKM, but still not among larger farmers organization. It is the new farmers organisations which came up in last one decade of so, who had grown in strength on the basis of continuously struggling on farmers demands-local or wider. But it goes to the credit of CPI and CPM affiliated farmers organizations that they have stood with Sanyukat Kisan Morcha through thick and thin!
Farmers movement and their long peaceful struggle and their success though after much sufferings and sacrifice of more than 700 farmer lives, has actually created a new model in present corporatized world capitalism. As in Latin American countries like Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela etc. new experiments in people’s movement and resistance had changed their societies into better social welfare states, getting liberated from US imperial control. In South Asia, Indian farmers movement has set a new example of resisting international corporates controlled neo-imperialist economic order. They need to change the exploitative system, as has been their mission and not change rulers. They have been following Bhagat Singh ideas in this regard towards exploitative system-how does it make difference to people if in place of Lord Reading, Purshotam Das Thakkar is made Viceroy or in place of Lord Irwin, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru is made Viceroy of India. If the system of exploitation of masses continues in same manner? (Lord Reading was Viceroy of India during 1921-26 period and Lord Irwin during 1926-31 period-time of Bhagat Singh’s political life) Farmers have taken this clear stand during the struggle and if they think that by changing rulers, even by getting SSM in power, without changing exploitative system they can change farmers life in a better manner, then it is going to prove a delusion! As the world looks with hope towards Latin American experiments in democratic struggles to get rid of corporate capitalism, so they have looked upon Indian farmers struggle as well and extended its full-hearted support. Journals like Monthly Review from US, intellectual giants like Noam Chomsky have seen hope in Indian farmers struggle and achievements. While taking any decision farmer organizations have a moral duty to pay attention to not only Indian non-farming people who stood by them, rather world democratic people as well, as the farmers themselves know that their struggle is not just confined to one country or one nation, they have been fighting against world corporate integrated system and their struggles are also bound with world resistance movements. The support of world level democratic persona and organizations have contributed no less than their own sufferings and sacrifices in achieving this limited victory! Farmers along with other exploited and oppressed Indian people, have a duty to build alternate exploitation free democratic systems and structures, as Latin American countries are doing.
However, they need their strong voice even in degenerated parliamentary institutions like state assemblies, but they must not be in delusion of ‘changing the system from within’! They can declare fascist and people oppressive BJP and its supporters to be their main enemy, even in electoral politics, as they have been in real politics of ruling power and show that even in most adverse circumstances if they can win on ground level, they can also win in the electoral battle, but that is possible only through a symbolic and limited contest. Their moral uprightness can work only in symbolic manner. Also in practical terms, they can put their whole organisational strength in chosen 5 to 7 seats and make them all win. They can ask other political parties that they can support farmer candidates and withdraw their candidates in their support and let it have straight fight between BJP/allies versus farmers! BJP has no face in Punjab, farmers betrayer and feudal lord Amrinder Singh is their real face, who should be soundly defeated as biggest symbol of BJP. If Dr. Darshan Pal or Jagmohan Uppal, leaders of struggling farmers from Patiala itself are willing to take up this challenge, they should, otherwise they can request and support democratic person like Dr. Dharmavir Gandhi, who had defeated Amrinder wife Praneet Kaur in 2014 Lok Sabha ekections, to take up challenge of contesting against Amrinder Singh and with farmers support, soundly defeat him as symbol of anti-farmer BJP! In that case even remaining farmer organizations -10+2 , can think of extending all-out support to their symbolic candidates and they can win all seats handsomely and assert their moral uprightness of being different from power-seeking parties. They can claim to be true representatives of farmers inside assembly. Possibly all 32+2 farmer organizations can agree on such moral uprightness. They can also set an example in campaign, which they should conduct only in the form they have conducted struggle on Delhi borders. They should campaign only on cycles and tractors and by processions on foot, not by ugly procession of cars of power-seeking parties. If they can set such an example, their electoral battle will draw attention of the world and be appreciated by all democratic people in the world, as they have supported their struggle on ground. Hope for a new world order can then sustain and not lost by the quagmire of corporatized electoral games!
Would my farmer brothers and sisters and saviors of Indian democratic tradition, pay attention to these suggestions, at least they should debate these suggestions!
PROF. Chaman Lal
PROF. Chaman Lal was Dean, Faculty of Languages, Panjab University Chandigarh till January 2021 and now Honorary Adviser Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre New Delhi. After retirement as Professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi, he had joined the Central University of Punjab, Bathinda as Professor in Comparative Literature for a year for 2014. In 2016, he was nominated as a Fellow to the Senate of Panjab University Chandigarh for four years.