Hannan Mollah (Pic courtesy: All India Kisan Sabha Twitter account)
Farmers from across the country will gather in thousands in New Delhi on Monday for a ‘kisan sansad’, or farmers’ parliament. As many as 180 big and small farmers’ organisations of all political and non-political hues have come together to form the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).
The farmers would walk from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament Street and hold a meeting there to highlight farm distress and farmer suicides. The AIKSCC has put forth two chief demands to the Centre – 50% profit margin over the cost of production and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.
A profile of seven of the prominent leaders of the movement.
Mollah is an eight term Lok Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), winning consecutively from West Bengal’s Uluberia from 1980 to 2004. Mollah currently is the general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). He is also a member of the politburo of the CPI (M). The AIKS is one of the largest farmers’ organisations with influence in several states, particularly Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Mollah has been a leading voice both inside and outside Parliament raising issues of agricultural workers and farmers. He has been a member of several parliamentary committees on farm-related issues, including of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development in 2007.
Shetti, also known as Devappa Anna, is a two-term Lok Sabha member, winning from Hatkanangle seat in Maharashtra in 2009 and 2014. Shetti leads the Swabhimani Paksha, and is considered the successor to farmer leader Sharad Joshi. Shetti had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance. But farmer agitations in several states, including in Maharashtra, in the run up to and after six farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in June, he quit the NDA in end-August. Shetti is also the preeminent leader of the Shetkari Sanghatana, which he founded after quitting Joshi’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana in 2004. Since his younger days, Shetti had led several farmer agitations to demand better price for sugarcane. In 2002, Shetti says he was attacked by “sugar factory goons” and had suffered severe head injuries. He crowd funded his election campaign to win the legislative assembly seat in October 2004.
He founded the Swabhimani Paksha, a political party, in 2005 and has also founded several cooperatives.
Shiv Kumar Sharma, also known as ‘Kakkaji’, is the national president of the Madhya Pradesh-based Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Sangh (RKMS). He was sacked from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after his repeated attacks on the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh. He says the BJP government has jailed him no less than 44 times in the last few years. Born on May 28, 1952, in a farming family in the Hoshangabad, Kakkaji shot into prominence in 2010 when he brought Bhopal, the state capital, to a standstill by leading 15,000 tractors into the city. Kakkaji was a student activist in Jabalpur University where he studied law from in the 1970s. In 1981, he took up a job in the state's legal aid department, where his first posting was in Bastar—then part of undivided Madhya Pradesh.
There too, Kakkaji fought for the land rights of tribals, which irked his seniors and according to him led to his repeated transfers. He then started a farmers' magazine called 'Kisan Ganga' with his own money. But the magazine didn't take off and he lost the two acres of land he had mortgaged to fund the magazine. In 1998, he joined the RSS affiliated farmers’ outfit, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
Amra Ram, 62
Amra Ram, of the AIKS, recently led a farmers’ agitation in Rajasthan that made the entire nation sit up. He, along with former legislator Pema Ram and others of the AIKS, brought the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan to a standstill for 13-days from September 1, which eventually forced the Vasundhara Raje-led government to constitute a committee to look into the demands of the farmers. Ram is a four-time CPI (M) legislator and has been a youth leader.
When six farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in June, the incident refreshed the memory of a similar incident in Multai in Betul district in 1998. As the leader of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Sunilam (or Sunil Mishra) had led farmers in Multai to demand compensation for crops destroyed in winter. The police opened fire when the farmers laid siege to the Multai tehsil office. In the firing 24 farmers were killed and 115 injured. The then Digvijaya Singh-led Congress government filed 66 cases against Sunilam and his associates, which the activists claimed were false. In 2003, Sunilam won the assembly election from Multai. He is a doctorate in physics from Delhi University and has been associated with the Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party.
Saha was a Kolkata-based corporate lawyer who switched to hands-on natural farming and working for farmers’ rights and issues of food security. His journey started in 2008 when he petitioned the Joint Parliamentary Committee to make extensive submissions on the proposed changes in land acquisition laws, in the backdrop of the war on farmers to forcibly acquire their lands that was then raging in West Bengal. He is a pupil of renowned scientist-conservationist-farmer Dr. Debal Deb and is a committed ecological farmer and seed conservationist. In 2015 he joined Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan-led Swaraj Abhiyan and associated himself with the Jai Kisan Andolan of the Abhiyan. “We are trying to create an agitation on economic issues and not just farmers’ rights and one which won’t pit one community against the other. I see leaders of future emerging from this nationwide farmers’ agitation,” Saha says.
Vissa studied at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, and moved to the US in 1995 to pursue his masters in satellite communication. He worked in the US for several years. Along with his job, Vissa contributed to several non-profit groups working to support social causes in India, particularly the Association for India’s Development. In 2008, Vissa quit his job in the US and returned to India and started working on farmers’ issues at the grassroots level in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. He is one of the leaders of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika in Andhra Pradesh. In 2009, Vissa promoted cultivation of millets, a drought resistant crop which requires less water and minimal investment, as an alternative to paddy in the dryland regions of the state that were then faced with a drought. The Vedika reaches out to families of farmers’ who have taken their lives and try to understand the causes.