‘Govt Had Laid A Trap, Farmers Walked Into It’

Gurpreet Wasi, a volunteer at Singhu border protest site, recounts what happened a day ahead of the Tractor Rally and how the Machiavellian state led the farmers into a trap

I am an ordinary citizen of India. I have been on ground since the day farmers set up camps around Delhi in November 2020, as a Khalsa Aid volunteer. Lakhs of farmer camping in the bitter cold of Delhi is a humanitarian crisis. Getting up to help them was a natural reaction as well as a debt I owe to Punjab, the birthplace of my parents.

The Tractor March was a historic event, hitherto unseen in modern India. Around 2 lakh tractors, and 7-9 lakh famers, asserted their right to walk the national capital, mark the Republic Day, and renew our pledge to live by the Constitution of India. The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, a joint front of 40 farmer unions, and police authorities had agreed upon a route and the parade was to begin around noon.

Wasi and her friends are in support of farmers protesting at Delhi borders

On the eve of the Parade, I went to Singhu border to distribute tricolor turban materials to make the march spectacular. My friends had helped me put together green, white and kesari turbans. I was there when a faction of people, who are not part of the Morcha, suddenly announced that they won’t follow the route decided between the authorities and the Morcha. Deep Sidhu, a known BJP mole, appeared on stage with the help of a group of Nihangs, with a provocative speech.

I returned a bit wrecked, a bulk of the turbans still in my car. I could not sleep a wink that night trying to estimate the impending danger of this adverse turn.

ALSO READ: ‘Red Fort Violence A Bid To Discredit Movement’

Deep Sidhu is a familiar name at the protest; farmers never trusted his intentions or his suddenly developed ‘Sikhi’. His affiliation with BJP was not hidden. Yet, over the months he had gathered a following of adrenalin-high youngsters.

I also received a message from a friend that a media insider had told her that ‘action would start early in the day’. True to her ‘insider tip’ a group of farmers (not part of Morcha) appeared on the borders at 8 AM as did empty DTC buses so that ‘public property’ could be damaged conveniently and captured on camera.

And before you know it, TV screens were awash with aggressive protesters entering the Red Fort. A religious flag (Nishan Sahib) was tied on a conveniently vacant pole to prove that the protesters are Khalistan supporters – a narrative this government has been trying to push from the beginning. The farmers had literally walked into a dangerous trap laid out for them.

The irony is that all 40 farmer unions started the Tractor Parade on the route agreed upon and at scheduled time. Along with a group of friends, I witnessed this peaceful parade for hours together. People of Delhi were showering flowers on them. But not a single TV channel covered this official tractor parade.

Social media anarchists had been in convulsions about the leniency of Delhi Police and Supreme Court in ‘allowing’ the parade. Now, we know that the soft gloves were hiding daggers underneath. The farmer’s historic parade went horribly wrong; they returned disappointed and bewildered, wondering if their 63 days of penance in Delhi was undone in a single masterstroke of the Machiavellian State.

There are questions that beg answers. Who gave access to Deep Sidhu into a fortress like Red Fort, that too on Republic Day? Who opened its locked Iron doors? Troops were seen falling off the walls of Red Fort like matchsticks. How did anyone so strategically place a camera on the adjacent side to catch the drama? Is this a Netflix soap?

Why were some tractors turned around at Nangloi and not allowed to move to Najafgarh as planned? Why did police barricade routes to Akshardam and Geeta Colony that had been approved for the parade? Was it to create confusion? Tell me who is the biggest beneficiary from this situation? You will have all the answers there.

Wasi (left) has a string of questions that point at a conspiracy

Do you think the farmers would throw away months of their sacrifice to a few moments of madness? How can it make sense to anyone but those who are without reason, without a shred of humanity? Don’t you see this is most dangerous conspiracy and machination to sabotage the Farmers’ protests?

This sordid dance of a failed democracy was amplified on the mouthpiece TV channels. I am sure all of us who stayed home watched it, some with glee and others with dismay and disgust.

Most of the farmers thought that most Indians were looking at their plight with sympathy and that India knows that they stayed non-violent. But at the end of the day when they returned to base, broken and badgered in body and spirit, ‘Dilli’ had painted them and the most generous community of India as goons and terrorists.

It’s a tragedy to witness simple, gullible farmers who travelled from faraway places like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab and Haryana who decorated their tractors to Delhi Roads to make their parade their voice, were made scapegoats on the altar of politics.

As told to Mamta Sharma

When The Farmer Fights Back

Iconic moments captured on camera often express a historical event which shakes the conscience of the civil society for all times to come. Captured in a fleeting flash, they remain etched in public memory: the Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula, then nameless, shot by Steve McCurry in June 1985 in a Pakistani refugee camp, celebrated on the cover of National Geographic; one thin man standing in defiance against a row of tanks at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 1989; earlier than that, naked children running from a napalm bomb during the Vietnam war; and Che Guevara’s dead body somewhere in a jungle in Bolivia, shot dead by CIA mercenaries.

In contemporary India, as thousands of farmers wait steadfastly at the Delhi-Haryana-UP borders, deciding their next move, some images have already captured the imagination: A dignified old Sikh farmer, totally non-violent, with flowing white beard, in a white kurta -pyjama and jacket, being threatened by a young, wiry cop, belligerent, aggressive and remorseless, his fingers clenched around a rod, his body tensed up with machismo and power.

There are other iconic images too of the struggle:  a young protester jumping from a trolley to a police water cannon vehicle, switching off the tap showering dirty water on a cold day on farmers, and jumping back. (He and his father have reportedly been charged now for murder)

Many endearing moments have arrived yet again: women and men cooking in community kitchens on the highway; women driving a convoy of tractors in protest; and farmers giving food and water to grateful cops.

The last image would have been appreciated by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. This is because the cops, many of them children of hardworking farmers from humble rural backgrounds, had earlier gone all out against the peaceful protesters. They had drenched them with water, in this cold, teargassed them, threatened them with lathis, dug medieval war-like trenches, brought in iron barricades, sand and mud trucks, huge cement slabs, sand bag walls, ship containers, barbed wires, and an endless row of cops in full gear, ready to charge.

REFERENCE POINT: Making Sense Of Central Farm Laws

The farmers have been protesting in Punjab and Haryana since September. November 26 was a national protest day organized jointly by farmer organisations and trade unions against the labour laws being unilaterally enacted by the Centre despite the economic collapse and mass unemployment of millions in the organized and informal sector. These might include draconian provisions like hire and fire, 12 hours work, mass sackings, major changes in pro-worker acts like the Inter-state Migrant Workers Act, Contract Workers Act, the Factories Act, the Industrial Disputes Act, etc, and changes in wages, safety and compensation, while contractors will be calling the shots with no regulations. These trade unions are also opposing unbridled privatisation of the public sector, including banks, railways and airports, whereby certain favoured industrialists of the ruling regime in Delhi are being brazenly backed.

Significantly, there are more than 250 farmers’ organization in the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, and they actually joined hands with the workers on November 26 all over the country, including in West Bengal and South India. The farmers march to Delhi from Punjab and Haryana, and also other Hindi heartland states like Uttarakhand, UP and Rajasthan, however, became the epicenter of this mass uprising, and it is not going to die down so soon.

Police used water cannons on protesting farmers

The question is, why the government is so adamant after pushing the three farm bills in Parliament without consensus? Why is it refusing to make the MSP a law? And why is it so rigidly refusing to budge, to negotiate with flexibility, using strong-arm tactics? What is that unsurmountable, one-dimensional pressure on the Narendra Modi regime that it is ready to alienate farmers, while choosing to block, barricade and brutalise them?

“The BJP government is toeing the line of corporate cronies,” said Vijoo Krishnan, speaking to Lokmarg. He is a top leader of the Left-led All India Kisan Sabha, which led the massive long march of farmers to Mumbai. “The intention of this government is total corporatization of Indian agriculture. But the resistance is unprecedented. Except for the BJP and RSS unions, all other workers and farmers’ unions have joined this resistance. Even state governments like Punjab and Rajasthan are exercising their federal rights in support of the farmers. Kerala has declared MSP for 16 agricultural products, and has protected the farmers during and after the lockdown. Besides, it is providing food to 90 lakh people, including ‘guest workers’ (migrant workers).”

Farmer leader J Hooda from Shamli, Western UP, speaking to Lokmarg at the UP-Delhi barricades, said: “The farmers have always known their sinister motives – to sell our land and agriculture to corporates. Modi is doing precisely that to favour his favourite industrialists. Now the farmers are not going to relent. Drop the farm bills. Make a new law on MSP.”

Hooda says the farmer makes huge losses in the open market, because it is based on market whims, unscrupulous private players and demand and supply ratio. Often, distress sale becomes a norm. Without government support in states, or a central MSP, farmers will be doomed. “They want to abolish local mandis. So where will we go to sell our produce – can we compete in the international market with massive, mechanized farming and huge multinational farmer lobbies? Why are they pushing us into the hands of unethical corporates who are now trying to capture Indian agriculture through the backdoor backed by the BJP regime?”

Indeed, while Punjab and Haryana (with UP and MP) are the biggest producers of rice and wheat, there are 23 crops, including cereals, pulses, commercial crops, on the list. India is 80 per cent agriculture – the food chain begins at the land of the tiller and ends long distances in metros and small towns. In this complex and long chain, thousands of people are involved: farmers, entire families, landless farmers and sharecroppers, small and middle farmers, local services and ancillary networks, small markets, shopkeepers, loaders, truckers, workers, mandis, mills and factories, small scale and big industries, and others. It’s corporate and government propaganda that only 6 per cent of rich farmers are benefitting from MSP. What about the millions integrated to the entire process till the food reaches your table? ask farmers.

Argues Vijoo Krishnan: “MSP ensures at least that much for farmers if public procurement is there. In states where there is no effective public procurement, farmers get paid even below the MSP. For instance, while the MSP of paddy is around Rs 1860 per quintal in Bihar, Odisha etc, farmers are forced to sell at Rs 1000-1200 per quintal.”

ALSO READ: ‘MSP Must Be Fixed For All Crops’

Farmers are also arguing that even the MSP, based on state averages, is arbitrary. Kerala pays many times more per quintal for paddy, and the crop produce costs vary from state to state. But the government refuses to usher in serious policy changes for large scale benefits to the vast rural sector, even while pampering and subsidising big industrialists and waiving off their debts etc, while facilitating lucrative contracts for them, like the privatisation of airports and railways, or the Rafael deal.

Farmer are angry that the government is shy on implementing the comprehensive Swaminathan Commission recommendations, including the guarantee of 50 per cent more than the stated MSP, among other reforms, like compensating for land, labour, seed, pesticides, fertilisers, diesel, electricity, water, tractors, machines, and other things needed for agriculture. They are asking why the government has not returned the GST to them on all the additional things they have used for agriculture.

Indian economy is in crisis because crony capitalism by profit sharks have ravaged it with no signs of recovery during the pandemic. Now they are greedily eyeing the post-independence public sector and agriculture. If the farmers are driven to the edge, for the benefit of favoured industrialists and powerful MNCs, then there is no option left for them but to fight back. That is why, as of now, it is a do or die struggle for the thousands of defiant and non-violent farmers, now steadfast at the borders of the capital of India.