At 42, Vijoo Krishnan is probably the youngest member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Vijoo cut his teeth in politics when he was a student at JNU, Delhi. He was former president of JNU Students’ Union. After completing his doctoral programme on the changing Indian agrarian economy (condition of peasantry under neoliberal policies), he joined St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru, as the Head of Department of Post Graduate Department of Political Science. After a couple of years of teaching, he quit his well-paid job to be a fulltime CPI(M) activist. He is currently the national joint secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the largest farmers’ organisation in the country.
In a candid chat with Nidheesh J Villatt, Vijoo discusses the future of Left politics and people’s struggles in India.
Vijoo (V): I admit that there are electoral setbacks. But there are various kinds of people’s struggles throughout the country against exploitation and dispossession. Irrespective of electoral failures, we are in the forefront of many of these struggles. We are also part of struggles for protection of land rights, against corporate loot of land and natural resources and against caste discrimination. We have been playing a role against the communal politics of the Hindutva Brigade.
Narendra Modi’s rise to the national politics as prime minister has seen aggressive forms of exploitation and looting of common resources. We understood that it is important to make issue-based alliances with all other progressive social movements. A broad alliance against Modi’s draconian land acquisition ordinance consisting of Left peasant organisations, Dalit and Adivasi organisations and social movements was built. This umbrella alliance called the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA) formed during the agitation against the controversial land acquisition ordinance is quite active in several states now. For instance, it has taken up several issues in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. The Left Parties, including the CPI(M), have played a significant role in building resistance to the ordinance within Parliament and on the streets.
V: The need to form a national level Left and Democratic Front was in discussion since several years. There were some concrete steps also. For an example, there was a National Platform of Mass Organisations involving various Left mass and class organisations. Left trade unions also had taken special interest to mobilise all trade unions, including BMS and INTUC, affiliated to BJP and Congress, respectively, to counter serious onslaught on labour rights.
The land acquisition ordinance gave an opportunity for several organisations working for peasants and other rural poor to come together and discuss issues on which we can make common ground and launch struggles jointly. It also opened up the possibility of strengthening the unity and addressing the other issues affecting peasantry. The united struggles across the country forced the Modi regime to take a backfoot in the case of the ordinance. However, it is now pursuing it through BJP-ruled states as well as some Congress-ruled states. It is a challenge for us to percolate this unity to the states and build resistance.
V: I disagree that the Left Front government was following neoliberal economic policies. While it took many far-reaching steps like land reforms and steps to provide relief for the people, some mistakes were also committed. There were some issues related to land acquisition and industrialisation that led to a campaign against it and created a perception that the Left Front government that traditionally distributes land was now assisting land grab. The Vijayawada extended central committee and even the last party congress of the CPI(M) in Visakhapatnam had admitted that there were problems and mistakes in the manner that the industrialisation agenda was pushed in West Bengal. It is clear that industrialisation should address the concerns of rural poor and especially peasants whose lands would be acquired for projects.
It is wrong to accuse the AIKS of remaining silent earlier. We have been in the forefront of struggles and the CPI(M) made parliamentary interventions to fight against some controversial clauses in the Land Acquisition Bill moved by the UPA also. In fact, the AIKS did manage to rally several peasant organisations around our position. This made the UPA listen to the concerns of peasantry and incorporate some important concerns raised by the farmers in their Bill.
V: There had been serious debates within the CPI(M) and the AIKS about land question earlier also. All recent conferences and special sessions of the AIKS debated the minute details of land relations, land acquisition as well as alternative policies to neoliberal developmentalism. Neoliberal development model is a grand failure in India. To understand the barbaric nature of this model, one should travel in Gujarat instead of believing in photoshop-driven fake claims on development by Narendra Modi. We are highly critical of unbridled land acquisition projects in the name of industrialisation and infrastructure projects.
V: On land acquisition, we are clear that there should be a land use policy, the principles of prior informed consent, proper definition of public purpose, effective safeguards for food security and livelihood security, binding Social Impact Assessment and effective rehabilitation and resettlement. Land has to be distributed to the landless, land rights if Dalits and Adivasis have to be protected. we demand Zameen Wapsi wherever land acquired on different pretexts remains unutilised. Paddy lands and community resources have to be protected.
In India, one cannot separate struggles against land acquisition and struggles for land rights. It should go together. When we were concretising the structure and broad policies of the BAA, there were some interesting developments. There were some farmer groups/individuals with us who were opposed to Modi’s land ordinance. But they refused to support our struggle for land rights. For instance, some groups/individuals walked out from the deliberations when a senior social activist announced that the BAA should fight to “realise Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s dreams”. This shows the reality of caste in India.
The AIKS and All-India Agricultural Workers’ Union were among the first organisations to come with an Alternative Agricultural Policy in 1993 itself and it has been updated twice based on economic developments. We demand the reversal of neoliberal economic policies. There should be immediate steps to reduce the cost of production in agriculture. Farmers must be given remunerative prices and public investment in agriculture should be increased. We also envisage a network of peasant cooperatives to counter corporate monopolies that are ruining the lives of rural poor.
V: There is a consensus about the immediate necessity to address the question of caste discrimination along with economic rights. Struggles led by the oppressed sections and Dalit organisations are gaining momentum and it is our duty to walk in solidarity with them. It is positive that more people from oppressed sections are playing leadership role in struggles. The overlapping of class and caste oppression in our society is a visible factor. There is scope for building a rock-solid unity.
V: As of now there is a warm relationship between political Left and social movements. Participation in the struggle of the people of Narmada valley or the Una Dalit Asmita Rally was not meant to build any political alliance. Those were part of our commitment to issues related to the livelihood of masses as well as dignity and emancipation of the oppressed. They were rather solidarity actions and should be seen only as such. Our effort is to build broad unity and launch consistent struggles on people’s issues. Over time, whether this materialises into a full-fledged political alliance depends on the success of the mobilisations in several states. More such united actions will continue to rally the masses against the anti-people, corrupt and communal policies of the ruling classes.