Siddharth Joshi, is an activist and researcher based in Bangalore, India. He was awarded doctoral degree (Fellow Programme in Management) from Indian Institute of Management Bangalore in 2017 for the dissertation titled ‘Resisting History? Agrarian Change and Farmers’ Mobilization in Western Uttar Pradesh 1985-2015’. The dissertation explored the structural changes in agriculture which explained the decline of farmer movement in the western Uttar Pradesh region. Since completion of his doctoral degree, he has been working with various social movements on issues of urban social justice, climate change and human rights while retaining keen interest in agrarian issues and the praxis of farmer movements as both a fellow traveller and scholar.
Resisting History? Agrarian Change and Farmers’ Mobilization in Western Uttar Pradesh 1985-2015
The 1980s and 1990s in India witnessed strong and strident organized mobiliziations by farmer groups which were referred to as ‘New Farmer Movements’, because of, among other things, their ability to mobilize agrarian groups across class and caste divides. These movements declined mid-1990s onwards as neo-liberal policies in India made their way to agriculture sector. The five years of Hindu right-wing government headed by Narendra Modi has seen a revival of sorts agrarian mobilizations around familiar demands but with a new vocabulary, idiom and strategy. While the mobilizations of the 1980s were led by organizations calling themselves ‘Unions’ having a singular hierarchical organizational structure, the recent agrarian mobilizations which began independently in various states culminated into the high tide of demonstrations at New Delhi on Nov 30, 2018 under the umbrella of All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee (All India Farmers’ Struggle Co-ordination Committee) which is a collective of over 200 disparate organizations. They put forward two draft lesgislations, demanding a special session of the Parliament to discuss the agrarian and rural crisis and enactment of these legislations – one dealing with assuring minimum prices for farmer produce and the second one to deal with agrarian debt which has been reported as the primary proximate cause for the phenomenon of farmer suicides in India. Although the demands made by the group have so far not been accepted by the Union government, the continuous mobilizations around agrarian issues was successful in changing the narrative of Indian politics in that the ‘farmer’ emerged as an electoral category to which each party is increasingly required to make electoral gestures. Through a comparative analysis of farmer mobilizations in the 1980s and those in the last five years, this paper seeks an answer to following questions: What are the structural shifts in India agriculture in the last two decades and how do they explain some of the characteristics, strategies, demands and trajectory of the recent agrarian mobilizations? What explains the timing of the recent eruption of widespread agrarian protests across various parts of the country when agrarian unrest represented by farmer suicides and stagnant rural wages has been a constant theme all throughout the last two decades? What is the relationship of this resurgence of non-party agrarian politics with the emergence of – as the dominant party in the electoral system in India? Under what conditions is the ‘agrarian’ identity’ a politically stable category, especially in its interaction with multiparty electoral politics in India? Do these protests signal a new dawn for the farmer movements which had been on decline after a brief crescendo in the 1980s and 1990s? The paper will draw from village-level field work conducted during 2015-2016 in western Uttar Pradesh, which was and continues to be a cradle of farmer mobilizations in Northern India.
Affiliation: Indian Institute of Management