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Understanding Kisaan Andolan

ECOLOGIES | Essays  }

Amardeep Singh Dhillon / October 16, 2021
An extended study of the historical and world-ecological context of the Farmers' Movement struggles. 5108 words / 20 min read

This is an extended and updated version of Amardeep’s “Transmissions” piece, “Kisaan Andolan and the Neoliberal Food Economy”.

There are multiple complementary frameworks through which we should engage with the situation facing the farmers of India’s north-western states and their resistance to it. While contributions from UK left media have variously offered nuanced exploration of the solidarities of the resistance, the interests of Indian corporations and the context of Modi’s Hindu nationalist project, there has been comparatively little historical grounding of these “historic” protests in the global agriculture sector. Modi’s twin pillars of Hindutva and neoliberalism are built on wider trends in Indian and global politics that go back to the colonisation of the subcontinent and the creation of the modern nation state of India.

The biggest strike in world history; hundreds of thousands of tractors parading from villages across the North-West towards Delhi; a year long campaign of agitation, blockades, occupation and civil disobedience; the convening of panchayats (village councils) and mahapanchayats (state-level councils) – these are not a response to a novel threat, but to the culmination of decades of oppression and exploitation faced by Indian farmers and labourers.

In order to begin to understand the significance of Modi’s Kale Kanoon (Black Laws) and the Kisaan Andolan (Farmers’ Movement) resistance and to work out what a response in solidarity make look like in the Global North, we need to turn to the history of colonial rule, the caste system, the Cold War, the Green Revolution, Khalistani separatism, Hindu nationalism, neoliberalism’s “unrevolutionary agricultural revolution”1 and its multinational monopolies, and a suicide epidemic. Above all, we need to understand the persistence of oppressive social relations in rural India and the ways in which these are determined by casteism, stabilised by state-welfarist intervention and technological development, and how often these relations and the ecology of rural north-west India have been subject to extreme pressures by imperialism, the effects of capitalist technologies on nature and the coercive opening up of markets. This is a story about the development of neocolonial capitalism, class struggle, capitalist world-ecology and climate change. It starts in 1849.

This is a story about the development of neocolonial capitalism, class struggle, capitalist world-ecology and climate change. It starts in 1849.

The Raj

In 1849, the East India Company annexed the northern Sikh kingdom of Panjab, one of few remaining independent territories on the Indian subcontinent, and following the Indian Revolt of 1857 it came under direct rule of the British Crown (along with the rest of India). Its fertile land – Panjab means “land of the five rivers” – offered opportunities to fill the imperial coffers, and the Raj quickly introduced large-scale cash crop farming (cotton, wheat, tobacco, sugar cane) for export. This export-oriented model of agriculture would persist throughout British rule, to the extent that when the Great Depression impacted its ability to sustain purchase of wheat (for cheap bread for labourers in the imperial metropole) at prior levels, there was a crisis over what India and other wheat-exporting nations should do with the sudden surplus. The emphasis on production of cash crops like wheat, despite it not being a central component of Indian diets, would persist in agricultural policies post-Independence, including the Green Revolution, and directly contribute to the decline of agricultural diversification in Panjab and Haryana. The Raj embarked on a programme of infrastructural development that would see millions of acres of barren land transformed by canal systems. Crucially, it also enshrined in law caste-based, individual (rather than collective) ownership of arable land. This formalisation of existing dynamics of power through ownership ensured the duration of casteist exploitation.

The colonial emphasis on production of cash crops like wheat, would persist in agricultural policies post-Independence, including the Green Revolution, and directly contribute to the decline of agricultural diversification.

The caste system has its roots in Hindu scripture, and organises society into a hierarchy of four varnas – Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants) and Shudras (labourers). Within these are thousands of minor castes, and below them, at the bottom of the hierarchy, are Dalits (“untouchables”). The Raj standardised the system in its current form through a series of administrative policies centred on formalising private ownership of land. By individualising land ownership along caste lines, the Raj cemented the status of jatt – peasant farmers – as primary landowners, and of lower-caste Dalits as an exploitable labour source (since they could not farm their own land). In Panjab, the majority of jatt were Sikh and Muslim. In 1947, with the partition of Panjab between India and Pakistan, the majority that remained in Indian Panjab were Sikh – they own more than 80% of arable land in Panjab today.

By individualising land ownership along caste lines, the Raj cemented the status of jatt – peasant farmers – as primary landowners, and of lower-caste Dalits as an exploitable labour source.

The Cold War and the Green Revolution

The government-regulated mandi system eventually developed (with the post-Independence Nehru administration initially focused on industry over agriculture) from the state-run rationing systems of WWII, in response to fears of food shortages in newly-independent post-war India. It involved state-run markets setting minimum support prices (MSPs) for grain, with government intermediaries guaranteeing procurement, supposedly acting as a security for farmers against exploitative firms, and enabled the public distribution of subsidised food to some of India’s poor.

While public oversight in mandis dates back at least to 1939, precedent for this system had been set much earlier under colonial rule, with the Berar Cotton and Grain Market Act of 1897, passed to more efficiently facilitate the extraction of Indian cotton for export to Manchester’s textile mills. The Act had enabled British resident “diplomats” (the agents of British rule in the Indian princely states) to designate markets and establish management committees to oversee them within their assigned districts. The 1928 Royal Commission on Agriculture had proposed rolling out these legislative provisions on a grander scale, and a decade later circulated a model bill that was widely disregarded (with the notable exception of Panjab). It was only post-Independence that public oversight would be expanded on a national level, with the left-leaning Congress government drawing on rationing systems implemented during the Bengal Famine and Second World War to lay the foundations of public procurement and subsidised provision.

Nehru’s government picked up where the 1928 commission had left off. In independent India, as per the constitution, agricultural policy was broadly within the purview of state (i.e. not central) government, so throughout the 1960s Agricultural Produce Markets Regulation (APMR) acts were passed at state level. These new acts empowered Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) to establish and implement regulatory frameworks within mandis, applicable to crops farmed on the surrounding land. Since the regulatory frameworks were only applicable to areas surrounding mandis, the setting up of new mandis was paramount to enable farmers to benefit from their regulatory frameworks, and until 1991 they steadily increased in number, funded by the state. Interestingly, while state-regulated mandis can be traced back to colonial rule, the MSP was the later brainchild of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

As the Cold War gathered pace, for the West these measures represented a compromise between the demands of labour and capital to satisfy a domestic need for food (including in the cities), maintaining private ownership of land alongside guaranteed government procurement, little meaningful redistribution of resources but offering some government support through MSPs and subsidies. Theodore Schultz’s theory of the “poor but efficient” farmers of the developing world – as rational actors in pursuit of profit – precipitated the aggressive introduction of new technologies with an emphasis on private profit motives that, combined with the mandi regulation and welfare measures, would become known as the Green Revolution.

Organisations like USAID and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations steered India to agree (in the Treaty of Rome of 1965) ‘to purchase any [chemical] fertilizer produced in excess of market demand at world market prices’ and to open up space for private production and distribution. These (US-produced) chemical fertilisers were then subsidised and offered to farmers in the north-western states, in conjunction with a mass campaign of private tube wells for irrigation (incentivising private profit), alongside hybrid seed varieties (developed by the Rockefeller Foundation) and pesticides.

Simultaneously, India engaged in one of the largest logistical operations in history, setting up the Food Commision of India to procure significant proportions of grain that could be provided cheaply to consumers in the cities. This mass procurement enabled the state to mediate the conflicting demands of farmers, consumers and industry, and when it was later expanded to provide subsidised grain to the rural poor, it enabled India to break away from reliance on imports by the mid-1970s. It was this policy, in conjunction with new tech and welfare measures, that has cemented the perception of the Green Revolution as a triumph in the minds of policy-makers and historians.

Yet while the Green Revolution was celebrated as a resounding success, in practice it laid the foundations for a shift away from the state providing cheap food for domestic consumption to farmers pursuing profit maximisation, through a combination of private irrigation and subsidised inputs, encouraging competition by demonstrating the opportunities of optimising crop yields through intensive farming. Over the years, this would create a cycle of dependency on patented seeds and imported fertiliser, worsening soil degradation and depleting groundwater. As effects of toxification from fertiliser, soil exhaustion and depleting groundwater began to bite, state-welfare measures were eroded leaving farmers even more ill-equipped to deal with these adverse ecological effects.

As effects of toxification from fertiliser, soil exhaustion and depleting groundwater began to bite, state-welfare measures were eroded leaving farmers even more ill-equipped to deal with these adverse ecological effects.

The Neoliberal Food Economy

The Green Revolution was a global phenomenon, and its capacity to increase agricultural productivity in the short and medium term, saw huge increases in agricultural yields in the Global North, particularly the USA, and with that a crisis of overproduction particularly in wheat. This crisis of overproduction was resolved to a significant extent through the debt-enforced opening up of Global South economies through the actions of the US state, and above all state-like institutions like the World Bank, WTO and IMF.

The World Bank, WTO and IMF have a long history of coercing countries in the Global South into opening up protected markets to private enterprise in return for loans to pay back debts – many of which can be traced back to colonial extraction in the first place. Multinationals, through a series of mergers and diversifications (controlling every aspect of food procurement from patented seeds to food processing) have consolidated themselves in food chain clusters with near monopolies in the global agricultural sector. Many multinationals based in the Global North have had an historic vested interest in limiting competitive exports from the Global South, since their profits could be threatened by them. But if these multinationals control supply in both the Global North and the Global South, they can manipulate the global market more efficiently. They could simultaneously demand specialty crops for export to satisfy international markets (having already established a cycle of reliance on imported chemical fertilizers and pesticides with devastating long-term ecological consequences) while hoarding domestic supply to drive up prices; they could alleviate the overproduction of non-tropical crops in the Global North by encouraging reliance on imports for these staples in the Global South while also profiting from contracts to build or manage the privatised logistics infrastructure necessary to facilitate storage and export on an unprecedented scale.

While India experienced a balance of payments crisis in 1966, it stood relatively firm with regards to limiting private sector involvement in protected markets – while the Green Revolution contained tensions between private actors and stated government policy, it can nevertheless be read as an attempt to hamper the influence of corporations, at least insofar as the effects of developments in agricultural technology were countered by welfarist and developmentalist states in the Global South. By the next major balance of payments crisis of 1991, however, the situation had changed substantially. As Moore points out on a global scale:

Combined with selective agricultural liberalization and mediated by the structural adjustments after 1982, Northern Cheap Food flowed into the South displacing millions of peasants. Voilà! Cheap Food plus liberalization produces Cheap Labour. The neoliberal debt regime worked so well because it prevented the kind of delinking that had occurred in previous crises […] The financial-imperial power that fused in the […] Washington Consensus was directed at preventing the South’s relative withdrawal from the world market.’2

By the 1970s, American agriculture was experiencing a crisis of profitability due to overproduction – it needed new opportunities for profit, and it couldn’t get them at home. The Green Revolution had enabled limited access to India’s agriculture sector, but it wasn’t enough – indirectly, the WTO, World Bank and IMF played key roles in changing this. Through these institutions, US agribusinesses began pushing a model of globalised food procurement that de-emphasised the role of self-sufficiency (through which ex-colonised nations had previously been attempting to combat dangerous levels of food insecurity) in favour of protections for the free market that could facilitate cheap imports to India while incentivising the growing of tropical crops for export to the Global North. Given the centrality of guaranteed central procurement and input subsidies built into the Green Revolution, this would prove to be a slow process.

Throughout the 1980s, “minor reforms” in India laid the groundwork for further liberalisation of the sector. Companies like Pepsi Foods brought the contract farming model pioneered in the US – whereby private actors supply “inputs” (seed, fertiliser, tech) and farmers supply land and labour, selling a proportion of crop back in return – to Panjab. In one sense, this model had been prefigured by the state-provision of subsidised inputs in the Green Revolution, but the centrality of the private sector operating outside of state mandis represented a significant (if gradual) change.

External assistance from international players had initially been coded into India’s food procurement through the reliance on food aid imports from the Global North; later coded into the agriculture sector through the subsidies and policies of the Green Revolution; coded into the wider economy through India’s increasing reliance on the IMF. By 1991 domestic actors were able to make strong cases for globalisation and deregulation by pointing to this reliance on subsidies as being unsustainable. Under the Congress’ Manmohan Singh, state policy shifted from favouring state-led industry to globalisation. Outside of the mandi infrastructure, contract farming became increasingly popular across India, weakening the public sector in the process. In tandem, Indian multinationals like Reliance and the Adani Group scooped up lucrative contracts in agri-logistics (ports, transportation, warehouses for grain) and have since consolidated their hold on agriculture-related infrastructure in anticipation of further liberalisation.

The 1995 WTO Agreement on Agriculture effectively aimed to curtail subsidies to farmers in “developing” nations while enabling countries in the Global North to continue offering large subsidies. Since then, floods of cheap imports from the Global North have threatened the livelihoods of Indian farmers. At the same time, the Indian state has become the world’s largest exporter of rice, choosing to sell much of its procured crop on international markets for profit rather than funnelling it towards the 32% of its own population experiencing food insecurity. This “success” may partially explain why in 2019, the WTO ruled against India in a dispute with the US, finding that its existing export subsidies for Indian farmers were in violation of the 1995 agreement.

Yet other subsidies had been decimated by compliance with the 1995 agreement. Regulated public credit initiatives were dramatically scaled back, empowering state-employed administrators in mandis to become informal lenders as well as trade brokers (predictably enabling further corruption) and opening the door for microfinance companies to fill the void left by diminishing subsidies. These developments generated a debt crisis that would be dramatically exacerbated by the actions of agribusiness companies following developments in biotech, with deadly consequences. Multinationals like Monsanto – associated with the Rockefeller Foundation – introduced “terminator” seeds at the turn of the century, genetically modified to ensure subsequent seeds are infertile. Aggressive marketing campaigns conned farmers into buying the patented seeds, only for their crops to fail after a single harvest.

Multinationals like Monsanto introduced “terminator” seeds at the turn of the century, genetically modified to ensure subsequent seeds are infertile.

Caught between an expanding exploitative private sector and a corrupt mandi system (now extant primarily in Panjab and Haryana), and struggling amidst diminishing groundwater, soil degradation and the ever-increasing costs of fertiliser—and pesticide—intensive farming, many farmers were plunged into poverty. In 1997, the Food Commision of India’s Public Distribution System was reconstituted as the Targeted Public Distribution System, switching to a means-tested provision that rendered many farmers eligible for subsidised grain. Although later legislation would aim to tackle widespread corruption in the system and expand its reach with some success, land-owning households experiencing food insecurity had lost access to the provision as the rural debt crisis escalated. Since the turn of the century, a suicide epidemic of indebted farmers across India – often by drinking pesticide – has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The dismantling of the mandi system at state level in recent years – notably in Bihar – has led to increased grain price volatility and many farmers and labourers made destitute, forced to travel to Panjab and Haryana in search of work. The dismantling of the existing system in these last bastions is the culmination of a neoliberal project, not its onset.

The Culmination of a Neoliberal Project

The last twenty years have seen a range of legal interventions attempting to restructure Indian agriculture, the sheer quantity of interventions and their sometimes contradictory directions suggestive of a set of rural social relations and a globally – that is, imperialistically – integrated agricultural regime that is unsustainable in anything like its present form. When the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unseated the liberal Congress Party in 1999, it made further incursions into what remained of the mandi system. In 2001 it tasked the Shankarlal Guru Committee with a review of the agriculture sector, and the committee’s final report advocated the promotion of “alternative marketing systems”, in particular the promotion of contract farming to support the food processing industry and the instituting of private mandis as standard. In 2002, a task force was created to implement the recommendations of this committee, but the introduction of private actors would necessitate the revision of existing legislation, and the Indian constitution designated agricultural policy as a matter for state governments. As a result, the Model State Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act could only be promoted to state governments, not mandated. Shankarlal Guru would later argue that agricultural policy should be brought under the direct purview of the central government.

With the defeat of the BJP in 2003, the UPA-Congress government reversed some of the more aggressive trends towards privatisation, disregarding the recommendations of the Shankarlal Guru Committee and shoring up farmers’ rights and food access provisions. This was a result of pressure from below from farmers (and their unions) who had played an important role in the defeat of the BJP. At the same time, it did not challenge the driving ideology behind the actions of the previous government, because those actions had been the natural extension of the neoliberal agenda the Congress government had committed to in the 1990s.

Under the UPA-Congress government in 2004, the Swaminathan Commision was formed to report on how productivity, food security and sustainability could be strengthened in agriculture. M.S. Swaminathan, the man heading up the commision, had been instrumental in devising the policies of the Green Revolution, so from the beginning the commission was predisposed to shore up what remained of the mandi system without challenging the key tensions within it. Nevertheless, its recommendations were surprisingly radical for a government-appointed commision (hence, the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations in full have been demanded by some sections of the Kisaan Andolan). It recommended the re-establishment of regional credit banks, the increase of MSPs and the establishment of MSPs for crops other than rice and wheat, and a universal public distribution system. Recognising the corruption and increasing irrelevance of the mandi system, which had been weakened by the lack of investment post-1991 and had seen state mandis closing year-on-year, it recommended that state mandis be established per every 80 square kilometres to bring a greater proportion of farmers under regulation. Up until now, no state has met this requirement (though Panjab has come closest), and large swathes of farmers have been left to the mercy of the private sector away from the regulatory framework of the mandis. The commission also recommended preventing the transition of arable land and forests to corporations for industrial purposes: instead, in 2005 the government introduced Special Economic Zones that designated arable land to be used for industrial development. These have helped fuel mass internal migration to urban centres.

The return to power of the BJP under Modi in 2014 saw attempts to reverse the small gains for farmers made under the previous administration. A national platform for online agricultural marketing (e-NAM) was launched in 2016, but it was barely used and generally accepted to be a failure. More worryingly, the Food Commision of India had its funding cut, leaving it forced to borrow and incurring staggering levels of debt – there has been speculation that this is part of a deliberate strategy by the central government to ultimately get rid of subsidised provision altogether. The 2017 Model Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion and Facilitation) Act contained provisions to bypass the mandis by issuing licenses to private actors to set up wholesale markets or designate existing private warehouses as mandis. It was followed in 2018 by the Model Contract Farming Act, stipulating that contract farming should remain outside of the jurisdiction of APMC mandi regulations. But both were promoted rather than mandated, once again, due to the Indian constitution’s designation of agricultural policy as falling within the remit of state governments.

In an attempt to force compliance with central policy, in 2020 the Fifteenth Finance Commission introduced performance-based grants, requiring states to pass the previous model legislation in order to be eligible for federal grants. Soon after, the Kale Kanoon were introduced into Parliament as ordinances and passed through the Lok Sabha (Lower House, the equivalent of the House of Commons), where the BJP retained a majority. The “reforms” were not introduced to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House, the equivalent of the House of Lords), where the BJP does not have a majority, and the Parliament was subsequently suspended, ostensibly due to the pandemic. In November, the Akali Dal – the Sikh-dominated Panjabi political party that had been in coalition with the BJP – quit the government in opposition.

The new laws bypass the mandis and MSPs, enshrine the establishment of private mandis, promote contract farming outside of the APMC regulatory framework and remove restrictions on the ability of corporations to hoard food supplies. They bar the state from imposing taxes on sales outside of state _mandi_s, promote private sector digital procurement systems and finally mandate the few states in which the _mandi _system is even partially extant to sign the death warrant of a state-regulated system. The door is wide open for domestic and international agribusinesses to finally integrate Indian agriculture into the globalised neoliberal food economy, in line with the implicit demands of the WTO, World Bank and IMF over the past three decades.

Yet Indian farmers and labourers are well aware of the hollowness of these “reforms”. The assumption evident in the agricultural policies of the past three decades that India’s transition towards industrialisation is inevitable (as had been initially held by Nehru’s left-wing post-Independence government, with its short-lived fervour for prioritising industry) has failed to accommodate the reality that there is nowhere else for rural Indian workers to go. The conventional model of industrial transition involves a newly proletarianised, previously rural population, in Marx’s terms, “set free” for industrial labour. However, the opportunities for this work, and therefore access to the means of survival through the wage, remain largely absent. The Washington Consensus, as well as opening up agriculture, leading to this displacement, has significantly blocked the possibility of industrial development through forms of de-linking too. The increasing ranks of the landless masses at the edges of urban centres may contribute to the devaluing of labour at a global level (since the international reserve pool of labour is an integral part of the globalised economy), but at a national and local level it arguably makes little difference given the existing reserve labour pool and scale of exploitation in other sectors. Neoliberalism simply has nothing more to offer whether in agriculture or for those “set free” from it. As it approaches its apex, it falls back on appeals to nationalism, constructing “an enemy within” that can be blamed for the failure of its promised rewards to materialise. It is no accident that Modi’s 2019 re-election campaign and subsequent press strategy has relied on the most brutal iteration yet of the right-wing imaginary of modern Hindutva.

The assumption in the agricultural policies of the past three decades that India’s transition towards industrialisation is inevitable has failed to accommodate the reality that there is nowhere else for rural Indian workers to go.

Hindutva

Hindu nationalism – or Hindutva – has long been the backbone of the current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but it has also been a key element of the supposedly liberal Congress Party’s election campaigns historically. Hindutva is most sympathetic to Sikhs relative to other Indian minorities, primarily because it seeks to locate the Sikh tradition within Hinduism, framing them as the historical “protectors” of the Hindu rashtra (nation) against “Muslim invaders”. Prior to Modi’s ascension, the BJP had been able to benefit from openly espousing Hindutva elsewhere whilst leveraging the legacy of the Congress Party’s violence against Panjabi Sikhs and centralisation of power under Indira Gandhi’s political dynasty, to shore up its share of the Sikh vote in Panjab in a coalition with the Shiromani Akali Dal – a Sikh-dominated Panjabi party. However, years of state-level corruption and the intensifying of Hindutva rhetoric under Modi came to unravel this, with Panjab an outlier in rejecting the “Modi wave” in the elections of 2014 and 2019.

There has been much debate in the Sikh diaspora over how far the current Kisaan Andolan can be viewed as a continuation of the struggles of the 1980s, in which some Sikhs strived for greater autonomy and parity of treatment within India while others demanded a Sikh nation: Khalistan. Indira Gandhi’s second partition of Panjab into three states (Panjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh); her denial of the rights of Sikhs and Panjabis; her assault on Sri Harimandir Sahib (the holiest site for Sikhs) when it was occupied by separatists in 1984’s Operation Bluestar; her ruthless attacks on Sikh gurdware in Operation Black Thunder; her assasination by Sikh bodyguards and subsequent anti-Sikh pogroms across Delhi – the bloody scars left by these traumas have in different contexts stoked or suppressed calls for Khalistan by India’s Sikhs. While the extent of genuine Khalistani sentiment in Kisaan Andolan today is debatable – particularly given the recent prominence of Hindu farmers from Uttar Pradesh in joining the movement in their thousands – an often-overlooked element of Kisaan Andolan that Khalistanis have correctly identified is that these new laws are part of long-term process of centralisation that goes back decades, orchestrated by both Congress and BJP governments.

Insofar as Kisaan Andolan can be partially read as a revolt against Hindutva, parallels have been drawn between Kisaan Andolan and the Shaheen Bagh protests of 2019, in which Muslim women led the charge against the Citizenship Amendment Act that discriminated against Muslims. This framing makes sense, but it’s also important to bear in mind that at least some of the jatt farmers of the current movement have been implicated in caste-based violence against Dalit Muslim labourers in the past, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. It’s also vital to remember that adivasi (indigenous, sometimes referred to as “tribal”) farmers have long been fighting dispossession from their lands at the hands of mining multinationals and dam-construction projects. The current Kisaan Andolan _seems to have prompted many _jatt farmers to understand that their struggle is alongside these dispossessed groups – and against the instruments of neocolonialism (World Bank, WTO, IMF etc), the Hindutva state, and homegrown multinationals.

The Kisaan Andolan has remained strong for over a year, but the situation they face is dire. International solidarity from Global North governments has remained restricted to pleas for human rights to be respected with regards to policing dissent – it is not in “our” interests for the laws themselves to be repealed, implicated as “we” are in the neocolonial systems of globalised food procurement. Covid-19 rates have surged in India, and vaccine-nationalism and the lack of adequate healthcare provision has seen death rates soar, in a chilling example of global necropolitics. Splits between activists involved in the occupation of the Red Fort and those who blame them for enabling Modi’s “anti-national” smear-campaign are growing wider. And yet, resistance is the only option for those whose lives will be further decimated by the unimpeded implementation of Modi’s new laws. In the face of brutal violence and a pandemic, they are facing down both the forces of Hindutva and of global capital in a fight for survival.

As anti-capitalists in the Global North, it’s vital that we don’t fall into the trap of seeing Modi’s Kale Kanoon as a break from existing trends. Showing solidarity with the Kisaan Andolan has to involve meaningful interrogation of the global powers that have a vested interest in their suppression (and which they challenge). We can neither understand the complexities of the ongoing class struggle without reference to casteism and Hindutva, nor contextualise this resistance without specific reference to the global players that stand to gain from its suppression. It is not enough to explain the Kale Kanoon and resultant Kisaan Andolan by saying that India is increasingly fascist or increasingly neoliberal: we have to understand what that means. It’s only once we have done that work that we can identify actions of solidarity at home that go beyond words.


  1. Jason W. Moore. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso. p. 255. 

  2. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life. p. 263.