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People from almost all strata of Indian society supported the farmers' march on the country's capital: They no longer want to be played off against one another

Old, colorful India has united with modern India on the dusty Ramila Ground in Delhi: under a huge tent, there are only farmers from India's southernmost state, Tamil Nadu, wearing a loincloth. Peasant women in colorful saris from Kerala. Sikhs from Punjab adorned with robes, swords and turban. In between, young women in T-shirts and tight jeans sit and hear stories like that of the 49-year-old Chand Kumar from Uttar Pradesh: "As early as 2009 I wanted to draw attention to the catastrophic situation of us smallholders and applied for one in the elections Parliament seat - I got 2,310 votes, "he says proudly.

But four years later, after another bad harvest, Kumar had to give up his farm: His piece of land fell to a local loan shark, who then gave him a new loan to open a "corner shop" in the small town of Maghpur. In 2015, Kumar had to close because there were too many shops and more and more residents were moving to the big cities for work: "Since then, I've kept myself afloat with casual work."

One of the young women listening to people like Kumar here is 22-year-old student Sunita. She came here for two days to volunteer as a helper in the demonstrators' camp. "Actually, the whole of Delhi should support the farmers' protest because their problems also affect us," says Sunita.

The farmers in neighboring Haryana and Punjab are burning the stubble of their fields for lack of government support. The cloud of smoke then moves as far as Delhi and worsens the dire air of Delhi even more.

Sunita

Loosely dressed students with stylish hairdos also help to accommodate the demonstrating farmers and see something in common: "Two years ago we students demonstrated in Delhi against Modi's university reforms. But the rest of society let us down. That was the way it was for the government just to have the police beat down our protest, "says the 24-year-old Abhijith.

Every day around 2,000 farmers leave their fields and move to the big cities of India. But there is hardly any work there because a million young Indians are joining the labor market every month.

Talking to farmers usually hears three demands: debt relief, higher prices for their products and the implementation of the results of the Swaminathan Report: Between 2004 and 2006, the Indian government commissioned five studies that investigated the problems of farmers should.

However, proposed solutions like this: finally granting farmers access to public credit or access to sufficient clean water, have not yet been implemented. The recognized economist Jaya Mehta also knows that the problems cannot be solved with a few subsidies and loans:

I fully agree with the farmers in implementing the proposals of the Swaminathan Report. But: 240 million Indians (50 percent of the working population) live directly or indirectly from agriculture on an area of ​​94 million hectares. However, seven percent of the farmers are large landowners, they own almost half of the agricultural land. These large farmers, who can borrow money from the public banks, would primarily benefit from a loan waiver.

Most smallholders would go away empty-handed because they can only get credit in the informal financial sector. In the current system, the large landowners and agricultural corporations would also benefit from higher prices for agricultural products. 65 percent of people who work in agriculture do not harvest enough from their small fields to support themselves. So higher prices would burden them too.

Jaya Mehta

Instead, Mehta calls for a total change in the agricultural system:

The agricultural corporations and big landlords must disappear from the Indian agricultural market. Sustainable agriculture is required through smallholder cooperatives that produce what the regional market needs and what best suits the local conditions. I know this sounds utopian to many. But you finally have to look at the damage that the current system is causing to people and nature, and not just at the short-term profit that only a few take. If you have that in mind, you cannot come to any other conclusion.

Jaya Mehta

As the sun goes down, the Ramila Ground sinks into darkness. "The men who are supposed to bring the lighting system have forgotten that it gets dark so quickly at this time of year," says Dr. Sunilam from the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), who called for the farmers' demonstration for the next day. The subject of light reminds him of President Narendra Modi, who, as usual, adorns himself with strange feathers.

"It was not his government that provided all of India with electricity," Sunilam emphasizes, "because 94 percent of Indian villages had electricity before Modi took office.

I am not a friend of the Congress Party. Their neoliberal economic policy, which promotes financial inequality and causes catastrophic environmental damage, is similar to that of Modi's BJP - so is the corruption.

But with its quotas for government offices and universities for ethnic and religious minorities, Congress has helped soften India's caste system and make India a little fairer. Modi, on the other hand, also relies on division in the election campaign. Because his economic growth is not creating jobs, he tells voters that they will not get a job because the Muslims or the Dalits (the untouchables) are taking their jobs away through the quotas.

Dr. Sunilam, AIKSCC

Ramila Ground the next morning, the day of the large demonstration. A scientist walks across the square, chatting with a priest in the light of the first rays of sunshine, while two farmers and a teacher follow them, listening attentively. Women and men, formed in circles, sing and dance. The mood is clear: Nobody here will allow themselves to be played off against one another because of religious or social differences.

Shortly before the demonstration march starts moving around 11 a.m., it is the half-naked farmers from Tamil Nadu who storm into the traffic on the route that has not yet been released and sometimes throw themselves on the street. The bones they carry are meant to remind of the 300,000 farmers who have committed suicide in India since 1990. The police are on site with rifles and water cannons.

Despite their martial appearance, Delhi's law enforcement officers remain level-headed not only in this situation. The police calmly block traffic and give farmers' representatives time to calm down the overzealous people from Tamil Nadu. It cannot be taken for granted: In April this year, 8 people were killed in demonstrations by the Dalits. One month later, during protests against a copper mine in Tamil Nadu, 13 protesters were shot dead by police.

Bright spots

The 50,000 or so demonstration participants in Delhi on November 30th - some newspapers later give up to 80,000 - remain peaceful on their way. Two days earlier, at least 50,000 people took to the streets for the farmers in Kolkata (Calcutta).

In Delhi, meanwhile, the march is moving to the parliamentary district, colorful and noisy. Sympathizers gather at the roadside, including a group of teachers from the University of Physics. "Today it is the farmers who take their own lives because they cannot repay the loans," says the teacher Dr. Abha Dev Habib. "Tomorrow it will be my students because Modi's privatization of the education system is driving them into debt."

In conversations with the demonstrators, it also becomes clear that they were not carted here by political parties. It cannot be ruled out that a few large farmers have also sent their workers, after all, they would be accommodated by loan waivers. But most of the participants belong to one of the 208 farmers' organizations that have called for the march on Delhi.

In the afternoon, farmers' representatives at the closing rally and representatives of the political opposition will speak. One of them is Rahul Gandhi, presidential candidate for the Congress Party. Gandhi promises the farmers that he will take care of them if he is elected in 2019. Even his party did nothing for the majority of the peasants during its term of office.

A small political ray of hope on the podium is Arvind Kejriwal from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Since 2013 he has been Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi. The AAP was founded in 2012 from the anti-corruption movement. Progress in Delhi is there, but it remains manageable because the central government tries at every opportunity to torpedo the work of the new party.

Two years ago, Kejriwal offered his counterparts in Punjab help to support the farmers financially so that they no longer had to burn the stubble from their fields. So far there has been no response to his offer. In addition, Arvind Kejriwal is regularly covered with criminal charges. Ineffective so far. Last month he was acquitted in a court of law that he had insulted the Delhi police, which are run by the central government.

In court, the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) was also acquitted of the charge of agitating against the state (see India: Modi and the unloved activists). But a few weeks later, INSAF's accounts were blocked again - the government had conjured up another reason for dragging the umbrella organization of around 700 social organizations to court.

The government is now using the same approach against Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Nevertheless, the chairman of INSAF, Wilfred d'Costa, is not discouraged and remains optimistic in the evening on the Ramila Ground:

More than 1,000 students volunteered to help feed the farmers who had traveled to Delhi. There was also generous financial support from the civilian population. To this end, the AIKSCC association has presented its own draft laws to parliament for the first time.

Wilfred d'Costa, INSAF

Then d'Costa describes why, despite all the problems, he doesn't think about giving up: "30 years ago Colin Gonsalves (winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize 2017) took me to a slum in Bombay - since then I can't and don't want to look the other way. When more people No longer looking the other way, but listening to one another and networking with one another instead of letting themselves be played off against one another, can be positively changed.

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