India: Modi’s repression and COVID crisis – farmers and workers, build for an indefinite general strike!

COVID-19 is ravaging India with a brutal second wave, which Modi is using as a pretext to cut across on-going farmer and worker struggles, despite failing to undertake effective measures to protect people from the virus. The battle against Modi’s reactionary anti-farmer and worker laws must be combined with a struggle for a people’s lockdown: providing adequate support and resources to millions of households crushed by poverty, disease and death. Worker and farmer solidarity is the only answer to Modi’s rotten regime! For a joint struggle to win a decent existence! Build for an indefinite general strike!

The Indian farmers’ movement has reached a critical juncture. On the one side, farmers are faced with draconian agriculture laws that will devastate them for generations to come, and on the other, the movement is threatened with state repression, lately under the guise of curtailing a horrific second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The farmers’ movement is stronger than ever, despite all the obstacles. In the last phase of state repression, especially after the tractor rally to Delhi, the farmers’ strength increased. The movement spread from Punjab and Haryana, to Uttar Pradesh and the whole country, drawing new and fresh layers of farmers into the sit-ins.

It is important to understand both the consequences of the agriculture laws and the limitations of the farmers’ struggle, especially if they fail to meet their objectives. It will rapidly drive down farmers’ living conditions, to the point where, tragically, suicides (which are already at a rate of over a thousand per month) will be seen as the only way out. Increasing input costs, skyrocketing debts, low prices for harvests, delayed payments, innumerable court cases and rising inflation are the main issues that will accelerate the devastation of farmers’ livelihoods.

No doubt, farmers have made heroic efforts in opposing the farm bills. They patiently negotiated with the government and responded to their calls for a meeting, which turned out to be a total farce from the government’s side. Farmers were tricked by the Modi government and dragged needlessly into meeting rooms. The real decisions, however, were taken outside of those meeting rooms – this is true for the government and should also be true for the farmers.

The farmers engaged in sit-ins across Delhi and remained peaceful throughout. They planned a peaceful march towards parliament but were met with brutal state tactics they never expected. Farmer’s sisters and mothers have also joined in their struggle and played an important role. They experienced ups and down in their movement but have remained determined to win the struggle.

The dark forces of capitalism that threaten the farmers’ struggle are becoming more aggressive. These forces will directly benefit from agriculture laws, and they want to make sure Modi implements them, so the benefits are passed to their corporate masters. For this, Modi has given a free hand to the state to use all the brute force at their disposal to put down the farmers’ movement. The state machinery, including the police, judiciary and civil bureaucracy are being deployed against farmers to put down their movement.

Furthermore, Modi is also waging an ideological battle against the farmers by spreading poison through the mainstream media, with paid-for experts and academicians. Not only this, Modi is arming his BJP and fascist RSS goons to wage physical attacks on farmers, which they have done in the past under complete police protection. These measures all show how far Modi and his capitalist masters will go in destroying the lives of farmers for profits. However, we see that farmers are opposing every move by Modi and his accomplices. Farmers must fight back – with political ideology, working-class unity, and organisation.

There is no turning back from this fight. If farmers pause or turn back, then the full might of capitalism’s dark forces will be unleashed upon them and their families. Modi is already asserting his power through the recent state-sponsored elections, whose outcome will be determined in the coming weeks starting May 2021.

If farmers show any sign of weakness, they will be isolated and brutalised by the state – politically, economically, administratively and physically. If farmers turn back now, most of them will face jail terms for going on strikes. They will be dragged into the courts for the rest of their lives. Daily local police raids in their houses will be a norm. Future generations of farmers will not be able to escape their heavy debts. They will face destitution, and hundreds of thousands will perish in hunger and poverty. At worst, the state will use their BJP and RSS goons to attack and kill farmers, activists and leaders. In quantitative terms, this episode could even be worse than the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. There is no question of turning back. Farmers can win the battle if they bring all sections of society, particularly workers, into the struggle. A strong appeal should be made to workers, as their lives are also being devastated by this regime and system.

Workers’ solidarity

The Indian working class face the worst of all times, with constant attacks by the government. Modi enacted and passed anti-trade union laws, which are primarily related to the casualisation of labour and against workplace organisations, including trade unions.

Joblessness, poverty wages, inflation, poor housing, environmental crises, illiteracy, lack of affordable healthcare, malnutrition and infant mortality are the lot of Indian workers. And the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening their fate tenfold.

Last year, we saw a glimpse of the strength of the Indian workers / Image: Brighter Kashmir

Because of the pandemic, Modi announced an unmanaged and unplanned lockdown, which triggered the world’s largest migrant labour crisis. Millions lost their jobs, and started returning to their villages and towns, only to find all transport shut down. Workers had to walk hundreds of miles to reach home, where poverty, hunger, disease and destitution awaited them. A lot of workers perished during the migration. The corruption-ravaged MGNREGA system (state welfare in rural areas providing unskilled manual work for low pay) failed to facilitate employment for youth in the villages.

Workers who were still in factories owned by prominent businessmen remained in work with no COVID-19 health and safety measures. They weren’t provided with any PPE, hand sanitiser, testing or access to affordable healthcare in case of infection. People continued working even when they were sick. They worked until they dropped dead.

After months of devastation faced by workers, the Modi government passed the anti-worker bills in parliament. The trade unions responded by calling a day of action in November 2020, in which 250 million workers participated. There were great hopes that Modi would back off from his anti-worker bills and would provide relief to workers. But nothing happened. One day of action was an important step but not decisive enough to quell Modi’s anti-worker attacks.

The majority of the large workers’ trade unions are linked to political parties, either in power or opposition. The leaders of these political parties are keeping all battles within the confines of parliament. The same parliament represents rotten Indian capitalism, which is filled with corruption, thugs, gangsters, murderers, black-marketeers and rapists. The only thing the Indian Parliament does for workers is sow illusions of progress and ensure all of the workers’ genuine movements are derailed and diffused so that the rule of capital prevails. Another criminal function of parliament is to transfer public wealth into private hands through privatisation and corporatisation.

Modi awarded billions of rupees in public contracts to private corporations owned by his friends and financiers. There are reports that over 100 public sector units would be sold to corporations for them to exploit for windfall profits. We all know that when corporations take control of a unit, they immediately drive down the working conditions of employees. Salaries are slashed, payments are delayed, contracts are casualised, many workers are laid off without any recourse to compensation, pensions are attacked, health and safety is compromised, unions are banned, and union activists victimised.

Modi’s capitalist masters, along with multinational corporations, are also eyeing Indian agriculture. With these farm laws, Modi is privatising and corporatising the whole agriculture value chain, including farms. Large corporations will increase their landholdings from farmers. The immense corporatisation will bring profit-seeking that will squeeze all the value out of agriculture into the pockets of few corporate leaders. All the necessary legislation has been eased for a massive land grab from farmers. Last year, Modi allowed farmers to access bank credit by specifying their land as collateral or security – before, this was not possible. In the event of a default, the bank can take over a farmer’s land and sell it to specific corporations. Both farmers and workers should jointly fight such privatisation and corporatisation as it will destroy their lives equally.

For example, in India, the vast majority of workers are on the verge of destitution. The government’s public food distribution system is failing badly to accommodate poor workers. It is ravaged with corruption and mismanagement due to increasing corporate interests in the food sector.

Due to the passing of anti-farmer laws, the prices of food commodities have seen a 50-100 percent increase. The price of onions and potatoes has registered historic highs, similarly for wheat and rice. Indian workers, who usually spend about 50-70 percent of their disposable income on food, are highly vulnerable to food inflation. A slight increase in prices pushes workers and their families into hunger and destitution, consequently increasing deaths, disease, and illnesses linked to malnutrition.

According to the National Family Health Survey [NFHS 4](2015), 39% children, especially those from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities1, are stunted (less height for age) while 40% are undernourished (less weight for age).— Aaharanammahakku (@aharanammahakku) December 15, 2020

A strong appeal to workers should therefore be made to fight together with the farmers against the farm laws, to control the rising prices of food to ensure food security for workers.

Coronavirus: No to the Modi lockdown – we need a people’s lockdown!

The coronavirus is an issue that is impacting both farmers and workers. Many people are being affected and dying of the virus, and the government cannot get it under control. Furthermore, under the pretext of the coronavirus, the Modi government has announced full and partial lockdowns in many cities across the country. The recent announcement by the Chief Minister of Haryana suggests that, because of the coronavirus, farmers must end their movement and go back to their homes and vacate Delhi’s outskirts.

The Modi government has failed to control the spread of the virus. The government is unable to vaccinate the whole population, despite India manufacturing the majority of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines. Modi also failed to implement lockdown properly. He notoriously arranged a grand reception for the visiting US president called ‘Namaste Trump’, at a time when COVID-19 cases had already started escalating in India. Even now, the government fails to control BJP events, religious festivals and political gatherings despite rising coronavirus cases. Recently, coronavirus cases reached an all-time high, and are growing at an alarming scale.

Tragedy in India as COVID-19 surges amid religious festivals and election rallies | The New Daily— Richard Forrester: Anti Fascist Proud #SewerRat 🐀 (@RichForrest2) April 19, 2021

What the US is doing, unfortunately, to help India is restricting the export of equipment and raw materials that would allow it to make more vaccine.— Natasha Loder (@natashaloder) April 21, 2021

Daily cases jumped by 273,810 on Monday 19 April 2021, with India now one of the most badly hit countries. Total infections have passed 15 million, second only to the United States. Total coronavirus deaths are approaching 200,000. Deaths due to COVID-19 have reached 2,000 per day and according to experts could reach 3,000 per day and beyond. These are official figures: the real figures are likely much higher. The discrepancy can be judged by a Financial Times report, showing how cremations of COVID-19 victims surpass official COVID-19 death data by 8-10 times.

India’s healthcare system is totally collapsing under the weight of COVID-19. Thousands of private hospitals already opt out of COVID-19 treatment because of a lack of infrastructure and facilities. State hospitals are crammed with COVID-19 patients, with two or three patients sharing a bed. Patients are lying on ward floors, in corridors and even hospital parking lots.

Two patients in single Bed, Bodies Outside Ward At Delhi Hospital Amid Covid Crisis#ModiFailed poor people are dying as Modi regime can’t provide oxygen!— IndianAmericanVoice (@IndianAmerican6) April 18, 2021

There is a huge shortage of oxygen cylinders. Any available are given to “priority patients”, often those who are wealthy, or resourceful. Al Jazeera on 21 April 2021 reported that at least 22 died at a public hospital in Maharashtra state’s Nashik city when their oxygen supply ran out after a leak in the tank. This is just another tragic episode of India’s COVID-19 crisis.

The surge in deaths also has also created a crisis in crematoria and graveyards, with dead bodies piling up. Barkha Dutt from the Hindustan Times reported: “Another man, younger, angrier, shouts out. ‘First there was no space in hospitals, now there is no place at the shamshan ghat (crematorium)… Where should we go?’”

“22 COVID-19 patients in Indian hospital die after oxygen tanker leaks”— Melie (@MelieInThe210) April 22, 2021

In most hospitals in Delhi, oxygen is available for the next 8 to 12 hours only. We have been demanding for one week to increase the oxygen supply quota to Delhi, which the central government has to do: Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia— ANI (@ANI) April 20, 2021

Still from Anand Vihar bus terminus.

Migrant workers leaving Delhi after lockdown imposition.— Samar (@RefractedSamar) April 19, 2021

“‘The rich can deal with another lockdown, but what will the poor do?’ Mr. Sheikh said.” — The million-dollar question.

In India, Second Wave of Covid-19 Prompts a New Exodus – The New York Times— Luiz (@lhgraeff) April 16, 2021

Despite the adversities faced by the workers of India during the coronavirus situation, thousands of rich capitalists are richer than ever before. There are reports that Indian billionaires increased their wealth up to 35 percent during the coronavirus crisis. They have huge stacks of money lying in Indian and foreign banks. They have well-isolated homes and gated communities. They are enjoying full, nourishing meals. They have access to expensive five-star hospitals for their care. It is only the workers that face hunger, poverty, disease, malnutrition, and death during the coronavirus crisis.

Modi and his party are not following any COVID-19 restrictions. Modi himself is shown refusing to wear a mask. On the one hand, Modi announced a lockdown without providing ordinary people and their families with food, medicine, wages, remote education, etc. On the other hand, there are a lot of factories and businesses owned by corporations and businessmen that are given the green light by Modi to keep their unessential business running, without the necessary health and safety measures in place.

If workers are under lockdown, they should be sent home (furloughed) with full pay. They should be guaranteed food, medicine and healthcare. Furthermore, the government should cancel their utility bills, rents and debts. However, Modi’s lockdown offers nothing of the sort. This sham lockdown is instead being used to threaten the farmers’ movement. Farmers are forced to end their peaceful sit-ins and return to their homes. Farmers and workers should reject Modi’s lockdown because it cynically seeks to drive down the living and working conditions of Indian farmers and workers. It aims to defuse, derail, demoralise, and put an end to the farmers’ movement. Farmers should appeal to workers, particularly in Delhi and neighbouring areas, to wage a joint struggle to defeat Modi and the coronavirus. They should demand a “people’s lockdown”, which would:

  • Make all public transport free, to transport workers to their villages and towns in safe conditions.
  • Furlough all non-essential workers, and provide a minimum government wage to all adults in households during their lockdown.
  • Double the salary of key workers running essential services and make their workplaces 100 percent coronavirus safe.
  • Provide food and gas cylinders free of cost to homes.
  • Cancel all rent and mortgage payments on houses.
  • Cancel all utility bills for one year.
  • Cancel all public and private debts for families.
  • Provide vaccinations, medicines and hospital treatment free of cost.

The Modi government and its capitalist masters have all the money and resources to fund these measures for the people of India. The workers’ movement should demand the government divert all necessary funds to coronavirus support, and if there is a shortage of money, the government should impose taxes on billionaires and make an effort to repatriate their wealth, which has been hidden abroad for many years. Of course, Modi has no intention of taking these necessary steps to save people’s lives and livelihoods. Therefore, the workers and farmers should organise their own forces to prepare for a confrontation with the Modi government, and develop a programme to run society on their own terms under a democratic plan of production. As part of this struggle, an international appeal to workers and trade unions in other countries should be made immediately.

Farmers and workers unite for an indefinite general strike

Farmers and workers: unite and fight! / Image: Randeep Maddoke

The Indian workers and farmers routinely organise days of action in the wake of attacks from the state or the capitalists. In the last year, India has seen four national lockdowns (or Bharat-band) of workers and farmers, who have made heroic efforts in going into the streets and paralysing the country, to force the government to listen to their demands. This action is no doubt very important. However, we can see the limitations of this action as the government is paying no heed to the demands of farmers and workers, and is not backing off from the anti-farmer and anti-worker laws that they have passed.

The state and the whole of society are resting on the hard labour of farmers and workers. If their work stops, the whole state will come crumbling down like sand. India is fortunate to have well-organised unions and organisations of farmers and workers. What is needed is for them to join forces and forge ahead with an indefinite all-out general strike until all their demands are met.

Farmers organisations must reach out to workers, their trade unions and their organisations for the people’s lockdown measures outlined above. These measures should be funded by re-appropriating the state budget and increasing taxes on the super-rich, and making all effort to return the looted wealth lying in foreign banks. This lockdown should only be ended when all farmers and workers are vaccinated, and new infections brought to zero. The farmers’ and workers’ movements should not be cowed with the excuse of COVID-19. They should continue to demand:

  • Price controls on all food items – bringing them to pre-COVID levels.
  • Cancellation of all farmers’ and workers’ debts with immediate effect.
  • Immediate repeal of all unjust anti-farmer and worker laws passed by the government last year.
  • Immediately halting corporatisation and privatisation of public sector units.

If the government does not agree to fulfil these demands, there should be no more ineffectual one-day strikes that peter out without any concrete gains. Instead, farmers and workers organisations should announce an indefinite general strike until their demands are met.

The call for a general strike cannot be taken lightly, and the groundwork for such action must be laid now. A date must be determined for the commencement of the strike, and a proper strategy developed for an extended, nationwide shutdown. The leaderships of the Indian workers’ and farmers’ movement should organise joint strike committees in workplaces, farms and villages all over the country, linking up the struggle in the urban and rural areas. Plans should be drawn up to provide food, funds and support to workers’ and farmers’ families in the event of a protracted standoff with the government. Solidarity appeals must go out across India and out to the workers’ movement internationally.

An all-out, extended general strike also poses the question of power. If the economy grinds to a halt, and Modi is left suspended in the air, it would demonstrate to the working class and farmers that the real power in society lies with them. Therefore, the most militant layers of the workers’ and peasants’ movement must prepare themselves to topple the rotten Modi regime and its corporate masters, and run society under their own strength: establishing a socialist state and planned economy that will be able to solve the burning problems affecting Indian workers and poor. For millions of people, succeeding in this struggle is a literal question of life or death.

Solidarity between farmers and workers! Down with Modi! Down with capitalism!