About one lakh of workers, peasants and agricultural workers, under the banner of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), and the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) held a protest march here at the Ramlila Ground, demanding minimum wages of ₹26,000 per month, pension of ₹10,000 to all workers, and legally guaranteed Minimum Support Price based on the Swaminathan Committee recommendation for all farm produce with guaranteed procurement. They urged the Centre to waive all farm loans of poor and middle class peasants and agricultural workers. Scrapping the four Labour Codes and Electricity Amendment Bill was also in the demand charter.
Addressing the crowd, AIKS president Ashok Dhawale compared the Narendra Modi government with the colonial regime. “Lakhs of Indians have died due to lack of oxygen and medical beds during the pandemic. Lakhs of farmers committed suicide. If this ‘Modani’ government cannot be mended, it has to be ended and it will be ended in 2024,” he said, citing Mahatma Gandhi’s statement against the British after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre.
The organisers said participants had come to voice their demand for an end to the ongoing assault on their means of livelihood and for policies that allow access to education, healthcare and a dignified life for them and their children. “The united action of workers and peasants expressed anger against the BJP government for destroying the wealth of the nation and determined protest against the hate campaigns to distract attention from the grave economic crisis engulfing the lives of the working people,” the CITU, AIKS and AIAWU said in a joint statement.
One of the organisers of the rally, eminent economist Prabhat Patnaik told The Hindu that many of the big peasants are in the farmers’ movement now. “All these distinctions between small and rich peasants become secondary when farmers are faced with monopolies. Compared to Adanis, who is a big peasant? They are just peanuts. Everybody is small compared to gigantic monopolies and they are gobbling up the agriculture sector. The small scale producers and big peasants will be part of a movement whose target will be monopolies and big landlords,” Prof. Patnaik said.
Prof. Patnaik said that what has been happening during the neoliberal period was a primitive accumulation of capital. “For example, privatisation of health is an attack on the peasantry,” he said. He added that the economy was in a crisis, and “nobody has any idea how to get out of it”. “In a situation of crisis, selling of public sector establishments is not a solution. Implementing Labour Codes at this moment will arouse enormous opposition from workers. Even fascist repression may not be enough to keep the workers down,” Prof. Patnaik added.
The leaders warned the Centre that the rally was an indication of the surging anger of the working people of the country against the disregard of their basic needs while showering benefits on the big corporates. “The deliberate destruction of wealth by selling large public sector establishments developed over decades at throwaway prices to private owners, depriving workers and peasants of their basic rights, inviting foreign capital to capture Indian agriculture and dairy sectors, indulging corrupt money swindlers in looting peoples’ hard-earned money — all this is being increasingly promoted by the present government,” the leaders said.