- Amar Jeet and Jaspreet Kaur
The arena for the forthcoming Assembly elections in Punjab is on fire. This time the Punjab election is between five fronts. Including Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BSP alliance; Akali Dal-United, Punjab Lok Congress and BJP alliance; Aam Aadmi Party (AAP); Congress and Samyukta Samaj Morcha (SSM) are in the fray. People are aware of other parties and alliances except for Sanyukta Samaj Morcha Punjab as it has come into being recent.
The emergence of Sanyukta Samaj Morcha
As everybody remembers the peasant struggle fought from September 2020 to December 2021 against the three Farm’s Act enacted by Modi Government in September 2020. The struggle was organized under the leadership of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), which included thirty-two farmers' organizations from Punjab. After the main demands of the peasant struggle were accepted, the struggle was postponed in December 2021.
Out of these thirty-two farmers 'organizations, twenty-two farmers' organizations have formed Samyukta Samaj Morcha Punjab. They have elected Balbir Singh Rajewal as their president and announced to contest the forthcoming Punjab Assembly elections. Balbir Singh Rajewal is the State President of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal). Before joining the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, it was known as a pro-Congress organization. In contrast, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal’s Bhartiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal) is considered a pro-Akali farmers' organization.
Both these organizations are mainly based on rich farmers and big landowners. The twenty-two organizations involved in the front include the Kisan Front of some Left parliamentary parties. In addition, most of the organizations are based in the Doaba region of Punjab and do not have a long history. In 2016, a major struggle was fought under the leadership of the Sugarcane Struggle Committee. In it, the sugarcane cultivators under the sugarcane factories fought the common struggle of the farmer belt.
After this struggle, the sugarcane struggle committee was divided into different organizations under the area of respective factories. Out of these twenty-two organizations, a large number belong to sugarcane growers' organizations. These organizations are like the Kisan Trade Unions of Sugarcane Factory. Their public sphere extends to sugarcane farmers under one or two sugarcane factories. It is a front that is mainly confined to Doaba and some adjoining areas of the Majha region.
Political Economy of Samyukta Samaj Morcha Punjab
After the 1960’s Punjab experienced a green revolution. While this experience has led to a dramatic increase in agriculture production costs and these rising costs have pushed medium and small farmers into debt. On the other hand, it also resulted in rapid agricultural production and surplus. The rich farmers and big landlords benefited from the surplus production and with the profit of this surplus production, this class emerged as a rich peasant class in Punjab. In 1970-80 this rich and big landed class was led by Shiromani Akali Dal Badal and during this period Akali Dal Badal emerged as a powerful regional party. On the other hand, Congress also recruited the big landlord class of the village into the Congress. Therefore, the Green Revolution provided a political and social base to the big landlord class and this class was absorbed in the Akali Dal and the Congress. These classes are still the traditional mainstay of the Akali Dal and the Congress in the villages.
The policies of liberalization, privatization, and globalization in 1990 are also linked a section of the rich peasantry to agro-based economic businesses, including arhat (money lenders), grocery stores, fertilizer stores, petrol pumps, transport, hotels, etc. A large part of these landed farmers have invested in businesses like modern seed laboratories, seed shops, and other businesses related to the agro-machinery industry. Over the last 30 years, the big landlord and rich peasantry involved in such businesses have expanded their land and business and this section has emerged as a social, economic, and political entity. They have played a very crucial role in the recent peasant struggle at the borders of Delhi. This class is the main social base of the Samyukta Samaj Morcha Punjab.
Social and Cultural Basis of Samyukta Samaj Morcha
There are about 25 lakh farmers in Punjab. More than 80 percent of them are Jatt Sikh farmers. These farmers own 90% of the land in Punjab. In Punjab, 20 lakh farmers have less than 10 acres of land. In contrast, 0.46 percent of farmers own 22 percent of the land. Out of total 1,03,74,000 acres, approximately 23,00,000 acres of land is owned by 11,500 families. Sikhs constitute 58% of the total population of Punjab and out of them, Jatt Sikhs constitute 19% of the total population. Above than 90 percent of Punjab's land is owned by 19 percent of Jatt Sikh farmers, out of which the number of households with 100 acres to more than 250 acres is 11,500. There is competition between the considerable sections from this class for participation and proclamation of political power in Punjab.
The Samyukta Samaj Morcha also represents this section. Its public base is in the rich peasantry that is equipped with politics, education and other progressive consciousness and desires change. It is a Jatt by caste and a Sikh by religion. That is why the Sanyukta Samaj Morcha is also the party representing the Jatt Sikh Zamindar.
Role of Samyukta Samaj Morcha in Punjab Elections - 2022
Samyukta Samaj Morcha is announcing its candidates from educated and to some extent politically enlightened sections of rich farmers. Its party manifesto has not come yet. But in the current election, the role of this front can be estimated from the equation of the distribution of votes and the balance of power. The Akali Dal seems to be lagging in the current elections more than in the 2017 elections, but it has a solid traditional electoral base. The United Akali Dal, the Punjab Lok Congress, and the BJP are facing collective mass aggression in Punjab. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also in a precarious position and is struggling to perform well since last time. Being in power, the rural base of the Congress has remained the same and with the appointment of a Dalit Chief Minister, the Congress has made its place in the Dalit society.
A significant portion of the 32 percent Dalit population is expected to be affected by Congress. Sanyukta Samaj Morcha (SSM) seems to be undermining the electoral base of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The middle class urban and rural classes, which were leaning towards AAP in the hope of change, seem to be leaning towards the Sanyukta Samaj Morcha. Evidence of this can be seen in the mutual antagonism between AAP and SSM. On the contrary, the caste antagonism of the Jatt Sikh peasantry and the Dalit community is likely to go in favor of Congress.
Overall, the Sanyukta Samaj Morcha may win a considerable number of votes, but its chances of winning seats are slim. At the moment it does not seem possible for the Sanyukta Samaj Morcha to achieve any big success. The main reason for this is that as the monopoly on ownership of the means of production grows, so does its manifestation in politics. On the other hand, when foreign finance capital becomes a monopoly; then the small capital cannot survive well. In the same way in politics, once the monopoly power of the ruling classes is established it makes it difficult for forces like the Sanyukta Samaj Morcha to stand up to the political monopoly.
(The authors are Research Scholars, from Punjabi University, Patiala, associated with Peoples Pulse, Research Organization on Electoral politics.)