Farmers raise their hands in affirmation of the demand to throw out the controversial TN State Agricultural Council Bill, 2009 (Photo by Arul, Sept 9, 2009, Chennai)As soon as I switched on my phone after alighting from the flight from Chennai, a stream of messages trickled in. I couldn't believe what the messages said. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister had told the media that his government had withdrawn the controversial Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Council Bill, 2009.
Only a day before, at a conference organised by Tamil Nadu Uzhavar Periyakkam, Thaalanmai Uzhavar Iyakkam, Pasumai Thaayagam (Green Motherland) and CASA South Zone at Chennai, I was invited to speak on the implications of TN State Agricultural Council Bill. As someone wrote in an email to me, at the end of my talk I had asked the audience (the hall was overflowing) to raise their hands and reply in an affirmative Yes if they agree that this Bill needs to be thrown out. The entire house raised their hands in agreement. To this, I told them: " No, not this way. You voice is too feeble to fall onto the ears of the Chief Minister, who is an elderly person. Come on, if you want your Chief Minister to hear your voice, say it loudly."
There was a loud reverbating roar.
And today morning, the Bill was put on hold. Obviously, I wasn't expecting the Chief Minister to respond so quickly to the peoples' demand. I am aware that people's opinion is what matters in a democracy, but I don't have any illusions that democracy works like that. Nevertheless, lest you form an opinion as if it was I or those who organised the conference who were responsible for the change in government's thinking, let me make it very clear that it is actually the continuous effort by various farmer organisations, NGOs and civil society groups from Tamil Nadu, that had actually made an impact. For nearly a month now, Chief Minister's office had received a stream of petitions from agitating farmers/women groups/NGOs from across the State.
Yesterday's conference only reaffirmed peoples' anger against the draconian Bill.
Political parties, inlcluding the CPI and CPM, had thrown their weight behind the agitating farmers and NGOs. Even at the Chennai conference a day before, Dr S Ramadoss, president PMK, Mr C Mahendren of the CPI, and Mr K Balakrishnan of the CPM had participated. The meeting was also addressed by the respected organic guru, G Nammalvar. You can read a brief news report about the event at: http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Gear+up+to+fight+farm+council+Act:+Ramadoss&artid=j7bufx3t/MI=&SectionID=vBlkz7JCFvA=&MainSectionID=fyV9T2jIa4A=&SectionName=EL7znOtxBM3qzgMyXZKtxw==&SEO=
Speaking at the Chennai conference. Also in the picture are: Mr G Nammalvar, Dr S Ramadoss and Mr C Mahendren
I had categorically stated that the TN Bill was like the last nail in the coffin of Tamil Nadu farmers. I have been saying for long that the manner in which the successive TN governments are actually destroying agriculture, farmers would more or less disappear from Tamil Nadu by the year 2025. Subsequent studies have shown that at the present rate of rural-urban migration, nearly 75 per cent of Tamil Nadu population would be residing in the cities/towns by the year 2020. My assessment is that if the TN Agricultural Council Bill is allowed to come into force, the process of emptying the villages would be hastened, and farmers would disappear some five years earlier (from the earlier market period ending 2025).
The dark bill is certainly not yet confined to the dustbin. Reports say that it has been put on hold (see the report Tamil Nadu agricultural bill would be put on hold to protect farmers at http://www.newkerala.com/nkfullnews-1-109267.html). Farmers must keep on the pressure to force the government to withdraw it completely. I know it is a long drawn battle, but that is the way we have to proceed if we have to protect the future of TN farmers.
PostScript: A friend called me up from Chennai. She said that the TN government was probably moved into action after getting to know how the farmers had agreed to share responsibilities and plan for a district-level action against the Bill in the days to come. Let me share with you how we were able to strategise an action plan, which in real terms can be called "all inclusive".
While summing up the day's proceedings of the conference (on Sept 9) I had asked farmer representatives from the 25-odd districts who were present to spell out the actions they plan to undertake. R Selvam, a man who is always charged with energy, was the first one to stand up and say that he is planning to take out bicycle rallies. Fine. I than asked the representatives whether anyone else also thinks he/she could plan a bicycle yatra in his/her district. One, two, three the hands went up and I found that we had some 8-9 districts volunteering to do that.
The second action that needs to be taken. Someone got up and said that he plans to hold a day-long token hunger strike in front of the district collector's office. Again, the question was tossed to the farmer representatives, and again we had some half a dozen districts willing to organise token hunger strikes. Similarly, there was ample support for some other actions like padyatra, seminar, and demonstrations. We finally nominated volunteers who would coordinate each activity, and then picked up two conveners for the entire action programme.
The lesson from the strategy session is that we all have to share responsibilities. We cannot leave it to a few people to plan, organise, and execute activities on our behalf. It has to be a collective effort, and only then will we succeed. Together we can move mountains. The Chennai meeting has shown that if we join hands and work out a real peoples' agenda, the governments will listen.