Samyukta Kisan Morcha

Samyukta Kisan Morcha To Hold Marches To Raj Bhawans On Nov 26

Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) on Thursday announced that it would conduct large farmers’ marches to Raj Bhavans on the second anniversary of the SKM-led farmers’ struggle and submit a memorandum to the President Droupadi Murmu through the respective Governors on November 26.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, SKM leaders including Darshan Pal, Hannan Mollah, Yudhvir Singh, Avik Saha, and Ashok Dhawale gave a call to all the farmers of the country to hold the march.
With many other demands, SKM has asked the government to provide a legally guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for all the crops that should be set at a profit margin of 50 percent.

The farmers have also demanded legal action against union minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra Teni, who is accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre of farmers and journalists.

SKM leaders also demanded a comprehensive and effective crop insurance scheme to speedily compensate farmers for crop loss due to natural calamities, farmers’ pension of Rs 5,000 per month to all marginal, small, and medium-scale farmers and agricultural workers, and withdrawal of all false cases against farmers during the SKM movement and also payment of compensation to families of all farmers who were martyred during SKM movement, along with the major local demands of the respective states.

It was on 26 November 2020 when SKM had launched the historic “March to Delhi” which became the world’s longest and largest farmer’s movement and led to the astounding victory of farmers against the corporate-political nexus to oust farmers from their land and livelihood, the SKM press release said.

SKM’s National Council held a meeting on 14 November 2022 at Gurudwara Rakabganj, New Delhi, and strongly condemned the Narendra Modi-led ruling government for “betraying” the farmers.

According to the statement by the Morcha, the government betrayed the farmers of the country by not implementing the written assurances made on 9 December 2021 on legally guaranteed MSP.

The meeting resolved to advise all constituent organisations to be prepared to further intensify the struggle across the country.

“The March to Raj Bhawan across India marks the beginning of the next phase of the farmer’s protest. Hence, SKM appealed to all farmers to prepare for and join continuous and committed countrywide struggles till all demands including “Karza Mukti – Poora Daam” – “Freedom from Indebtedness and Full Remunerative Price”- are fulfilled by the Government. Legally guaranteed MSP for all crops and freedom from indebtedness are the major demands the farmers have been fighting for since the rollout of neo-liberal policies that aggravated the agrarian crisis and peasant suicides,” the statement said.

“Since 1995, more than 4 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India and around 68% of the peasant households are indebted and in financial distress. These demands along with the demands of the repeal of three pro-corporate Farm Laws and the Electricity Bill 2020 led to the historic one-year-long farmers’ struggle at the Delhi borders since 26-27 November 2020 which was actively supported by all sections of the working people in India,” it further said.

The morcha has announced a plan of action to intensify the protests for the coming weeks with the focus on massive protest gatherings beginning from the village level and spreading across the country.

It will organise Fateh Diwas or Victory Day all over the country on 19 November 2022.

“It may be recalled that the Modi Government had to give in to the main demand of repeal of the three farm laws on 19 November 2021. In the face of sustained protests by farmers, it also gave a written assurance on 9 December 2021 to set up a committee on MSP law, with fair representation from SKM, and on other demands. It was on the basis of this assurance that the farmers returned home on 11 December 2021, suspending their historic struggle at the Delhi Borders in which more than 700 farmers were martyred. In this backdrop, SKM shall celebrate 19 November 2022, the first anniversary of the capitulation and declaration of withdrawal of the 3 Black Farm Laws by PM Modi, as Fateh Diwas or Victory Day,” it said.

Farmers will stage a protest march from December 1-11 to the offices of Lok Sabha and Raj Sabha MPs of all the political parties and also to leaders and MLAs of all State Assemblies and a call-to-action letter would also be submitted to all of them, demanding that they bring up the issue of farmers demands in Parliament/State Assemblies and force a debate and resolution of these issues, as per the SKM’s statement.

The next meeting of the SKM is scheduled on December 8, 2022, at Karnal in which the next phase of the movement will be decided and announced. (ANI)

Read More: https://lokmarg.com/

Weekly Update: Punjab, Lotharios & Politicians; Global Britain Single Focus

Punjab’s politics seems to be like the last days of the Sikh Raj in 1840s. But more than that, it seems Pollywood has taken over politics and made it into an entertainment, splashing a different twist every day on the media. Some of the politicians appear to be political Lotharios looking for Sugar Daddys, bed hopping political parties like the changing mix of papri chaat. Some politicians are even threatening to form new types of Political Papri Chaat.

It all started with the Badals, the most promiscuous of ideological bed-hoppers. Senior Badal raised issues of Sikhs, then went against them, detaining hundreds if not thousands. He then became Indian nationalist and made the party ‘secular’. He then tied nuptials with the BJP, gathering substantive Punjabi Hindu vote. He then decided to make this historic party into a family enterprise, casting away other powerful and serious Akali leaders and promoting his son for the succession.

Instead of demanding resolution of Sikh issues such as release of long held political prisoners etc, he demanded a berth for his family at the BJP Cabinet. He then divorced the BJP as it became a liability. The father-son duo realised BJP was toxic after farmers rose against farm laws. Badals are now desperately seeking a link up with any party, such as Bahujan Samaj etc. The Akali Dal is now an unrecognisable party. What does it stand for? What is its political ideology except to protect the Badal family? They have their own TV channel to boast of ‘what they will do’ that they were not able to do in the long reign of Badals before.

It seems Punjabis have decided politicians are always acting. So why not put in professional actors. There is Navjot Sidhu, Deep Sidhu and now Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu (Moosewala). It seems the Sidhu clan have taken over entertainment from traditional marasis. All these three have provided endless entertainment off stage and on stage, in politics and in entertainment media.

Moosewalla played to the Khalistani sentiments, exploiting Bhindranwale and secessionist desires in his songs. He has now joined Congress, the party that in power attacked Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) and killed thousands of Sikhs. In Punjab politics, such hoola hoops raise no eyebrows.

In fact, Navjot Sidhu himself has been like a ‘Bhambiri’ (spinning top) on a string. It seems whereever the pull of political gravity is heavy, he falls onto that side with a hundred explanations on why he did that to save the Punjab (from itself). After retiring from serious cricket, he became a clownish entertainer. He joined the BJP, then the Congress. The two parties that have no common political ideology. Only in Punjab can one be a secularist and Hindutva-wadi within a period of 24 hours and still have integrity. Punjabis have no concept of political ideology any more. Politics is entertainment. Sidhu apparently even considered joining Akalis at one time as well but senior Badal had already decided on the succession.

Deep Sidhu of the Khalistani flag at Lal Qila fame is another entertainer. Delivering speeches best suited to an emotional Sikh nationalist drama documentary, Deep decided to be the bull in a China shop during the very well organised peaceful march in Delhi by farmers protesting against farm laws. The world was awestruck at the size of the march and more importantly that it was peaceful. Most of the protestors were and are Sikhs. The Image of Sikhs as peaceful marchers was going down in the annals of history. World opinion had started swinging in favour of the farmers. The BJP government was worried.

Deep Sidhu did the spoiler as many suspect. He fired a group of youth. A breakaway section who put the Sikh religious flag, Nishan Sahib, on a historic seat of power turned museum building called Lal Qila. Violence happened and turned the media hostile. Hundreds of thousands of peaceful farmers had to struggle peacefully for another eight months to get repeal of the farm laws.

Why Lal Qila? It was the throne of the Mughals. Sikh General Baghel Singh had successfully taken over the Mughal seat of power in 1783 for a short time and installed the Sikh flag there. Now Lal Qila is a museum. Anyone can hire it for a day and put any flag there, family flag, corporate flag, Tik Tok flag, even a Sikh flag during the day of hire. It doesn’t need a mock siege. Just hire the building from the Dalmias.

The Govt of India hires it for Republic Day etc and puts its flags all over. Why Indian media made the Deep Sidhu episode into ‘attack on Indian sovereignty’ is another of those hilarious Indian politics cum entertainment dramas. It would have been an episode worthy of Baghel Singh’s courage had Deep Sidhu himself gone and put the Sikh flag on Rashtarpati Bhavan (Presidential Palace). That is where the seat of power in India is now. But Sikh courage now lives bravely on the celluloid and Tik Tok reality, so a flag at Lal Qila can be turned into the most heroic episode for a Sikh generation groomed on virtual reality. Consequently, Deep Sidhu is in the running now for some sort of leadership but looking for a home.

There is of course Amarinder Singh. Captain Sahib, Maharajah Sahib, Leader Sahib who knows. He hails from the great Maharajah family of Patiala who gave their formidable army over to India in return for being Maharajah forever only to find that Indira Gandhi asset-stripped him and made him a commoner after buying him out with some peanuts. So much for political acumen in the family. Captain-Maharajah-Neta Amarinder Singh found that politics can be entertaining. He was first elected under Congress in 1980, then resigned after Operation Bluestar, then joined Akalis and then sensing he was to remain second in any succession, joined Congress again and became the CM. He has now left Congress and threatening to form a new party. Rumours are that he is now in bed with BJP.

And there can be so much written about Bhagwant Maan of AAP. It could take pages.

Is there an ideological gap between Akalis, Congress, AAP and BJP? Not in Punjab which is ideologically rudderless. Party hopping is so common, no one in Punjab probably knows what any of the parties stand for. They all promise swarg (heaven).

There is now a melee of politician-entertainers in Punjab. In fact the whole Punjab politics has become one great entertainment industry. It is difficult to know who is a political Lothario and who is a serious politician. Perhaps, Punjab is showing, politics does not matter. It is all razzmatazz after all. Today here and tomorrow there. Secular one day, Khalistani another day and then Hindutva-wadi the third day. It’s just actors mugging up for a part.

Global Britain’s Focussed Foreign Policy

It used to be Pakistan that was famously mocked for a single focus foreign policy. It was Kashmir, Kashmir and Kashmir. Pakistan Foreign Policy has become more diverse now with Afghanistan and China among other interests. Where Pakistan left, it is Global Britain that is filling the vacuum of one focussed Foreign Policy. Its obsession is France.

It seems the bumble bee Prime Minister of Global Britain, Boris Johnson gets up every morning and dreams up ideas on how to ‘piss off the French’. Brexit Britain hasn’t quite turned into Rule Britannia as he had promised. So why not rally the nationalists against the oldest enemy on tap, France.

There is more coverage of spats with France in British media than any serious Foreign Policy. To get the French colourful language retched up a bit, Boris proposed in full social media glare that he send troops to France to ‘jointly’ guard against all those illegal boat people crossing over into Global Britain. This would be akin to India offering to send troops into Pakistan to stop insurgency crossing over into Jammu Kashmir.

Of course, Macron (France) had a few ‘curses’ to utter against Global Boris in private. In public he banned the British Home Minister from a meeting. British commentators called it ‘over reaction’ without adding ‘over reaction to a clown’.

More ‘illegal’ migrants have been invading the Global Britain shores since on boats. Meanwhile Boris who plays Laurel (from Laurel and Hardy) in real life with even scratching his hair and head, is dreaming of another shot at the French. What an end to an inglorious Empire and its once renown diplomatic corps.

Farm Laws: Winners, Losers And The Future

The long term collateral impact of the biggest sustained protest in contemporary history is yet too early to be assessed. Prime Minister Modi, whose public persona was crafted as a tough leader who never does a U-turn, has been forced to do just that by the relentless farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They had more to lose from these laws than Modi did with a U-turn. He has repealed the laws to every one’s relief, except the arm-chair warriors around him who wanted him to stand firm against his own citizens.

What was also remarkable was the unity of the farmers’ leadership. Sikh leadership rarely remains united beyond a few months. The Punjab-Haryana leadership in association with the inspiring and formidable Rakesh Tikait of UP also managed to de-communalise the struggle despite several attempts by the Government to make it appear a Sikh separatist campaign. Astute and intelligent leadership has emerged from this movement. The one to watch.

It will remain to be seen what happens next in the talks. Will the leadership remain focussed and united? Will it successfully continue to be a one purpose campaign, keeping away opportunist politicians eying the potential vote bank?

While the immediate win is obvious, it’s the collateral impact of the protest that could be even more powerful. Struggles in the Punjab have often shaped the course of events in South Asia, sometimes the world. The cracks in the Mughal Empire were first split open in Punjab in 1710. Within 20 years the Mughal Empire began to unravel. It was the fall of the Punjab in 1847 that led to consolidation and expansion of the British Empire. It was the five year sustained protest movement in Punjab in 1920s for regaining control of Gurdwaras that started the collapse of the British Empire. The British invited the Congress in 1932 to talk about possible transfer of power. Why Congress and Gandhi dillydallied for another 15 years has not been looked at by historians. Once India became free, the rest of the British Empire fell apart like dominoes.

It was the communal violence in Punjab in 1947 that continues to dominate geo political issues in South Asia. And it was the Punjab Sikh agitation against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975 that weakened her and the Congress. It started the rise of the alternatives. It was the Sikh uprising after 1984 invasion of Golden Temple that led to final disintegration of Congress, rise of BJP and Hindutva.

The Punjab rarely gains much politically from its struggles but creates waves that quantumly precipitate other upheavals in South Asia and the world.

What will this movement precipitate? It is possible that a coherent federal Indian movement might arise as a collateral from the weakening of BJP. It is possible that the ‘small farms’ issue could become internationalised and small farmers around the world might rise against the encroaching corporate agri business. It could be the beginning of dismantling of stranglehold that global corporate sector has on power. Struggles from Punjab influence events in many ways and the consequences of this struggle remain uncharted yet.

Equal winners in the struggle were the women of India. The women of Punjab, Haryana and UP have shown a strength, resilience and daring that is an inspiration to the world. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the men and many times endured far more. They refused to go back to the villages and instead brought their children and grandchildren with them. They dared the Government and refused to bow.

It is difficult yet to predict the personal and political impact on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People who have met him personally often say that he is a pleasant, charming and a warm person who empathises with the concerns of others. But the BJP electoral machine had built him as an Indian Thatcher, decisive and never taking a U-turn.

Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister who destroyed the coal mines and the Unions, is famously remembered for her rhetoric, ‘You turn, the Lady is not for turning’. Yet in her reign, she did many U-turns, most infamously in the very unpopular poll tax. Similarly Modi has done a few U-turns, with the repeal of Farm Laws as the most spectacular one in full public gaze.

Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to say he lost. He bowed to democracy. He is a leader of a democracy. When he sensed that that the protestors were gaining increasing support from Indians from all corners of the country, he did the decent thing. He ignored his image makers and took a personal decision. He decided to repeal the laws. He may initially have stood his ground against the farmers, but ultimately he defied those who ‘made’ his public persona.

ALSO READ: Farmers Protest – Solution Lies With Canada Sikh MPs

The greatest losers in this have been Canada and Australia and their big Agri businesses assisted by WTO rules set by western powers. It was Canada and latterly Australia that have relentlessly been gunning at the MSP (minimum support price) for farm produce in India. Australia brought a formal complaint against India in 2019 with Canada joining the ‘arbitration board’ to decide whether India has broken World Trade Organisation rules by given 150% MSP (or MPS in WTO language) for wheat and 185% for Sugar Cane.

The Indian Government was under immense pressure to scale down MSP to a mere 110% or bring in the private sector. Both Canada and Australia were drooling when farm laws were introduced and Modi stood firm. They are of the opinion that due to miniscule profit margin under WTO rules and free market, small farmers  will stop growing wheat and other food grains thus pushing India to buy these products from Canada and Australia instead. They had the GDP obsessed IMF on board too. India is a huge potential market for the mega farms of both countries. It was no surprise that Sikh MPs in Canada maintained a studious silence on the Punjab Farm Laws.

If Modi decides to stand by Indian farmers and accepts their demand for MSP to be legislated at 150% or more, this will be a great blow for the 30-year campaign by Canada and recently by Australia to break into the Indian grain market.

With growing dissent within the WTO for its pro-western and pro-corporate orientation, this protest may spur India to lead the developing countries and force change in WTO.

Perhaps the greatest winner of the protest and the Modi U-turn is India’s otherwise dysfunctional democracy. Often appearing to be faltering and surviving in Intensive Care, India’s democracy has in fact shown itself to be adaptable and a great survivor.  Despite many hiccups, election violence, wannabe dictators, it has shown its resilience time and time again. It broke Indira’s Emergency and it has forced BJP to repeal the laws.

Whatever happens next, whether the BJP starts to lose grip of near total power or federalism emerges as the way forward, democracy will survive in India for long time to come. It will make and break leaders. It is the wider collateral impact on the world that is to be watched from this protests.

Langar for Protesting Farmers at Singhu Border

‘I Set Up 1st Gandhi Memorial In US, Sent A Trainload Of Relief For Tsunami… But I’m Barred From Feeding Farmers At Singhu’

Billionaire NRI philanthropist Darshan Singh Dhaliwal who championed India internationally and supported many causes was barred from entering Delhi on October 23 for organising a langar for protesting farmers at Singhu border

Darshan Singh Dhaliwal, a noted Indian-American based in MIlwaukee, who has a reputation for his generosity as a philanthropist and has cordial links to the highest offices in USA feels quite let down by his mother country. Dhaliwal, who has been sponsoring a langar (in Sikhism, it is a community kitchen that serves free meals to anyone and everyone regardless of their background or beliefs such as caste, religion, gender, economic status, or ethnicity), was not allowed to enter India on October 23 when he landed there on a flight from Chicago.

Dhaliwal has been sponsoring the langar since January 2020 and has a record of philanthropy in India for the past several years. In 2004, he had sent an entire trainload of food and other provisions to Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of the devastating Tsunami. He has helped over 2,000 Indian families establish themselves in the USA irrespective of what Indian region they came from.

Talking to LokMarg in an exclusive interview, he said that he headed the campaign to install a memorial of Mahatma Gandhi in the Milwaukee County Courthouse. It was the first time that such a memorial was set up. “Many did it after that but I was the first one. I have established some 2,000 Indian families in the US. I have provided scholarships/financial support to over 1,000 Indian students without asking them which region or religion they belong to.”

Dhaliwal, who holds an OCI card, asked, “So why was I being stopped from helping Punjab farmers in distress?” Clearly referring to the fact that he has been a true nationalist and given so much to Indian causes.

In a first person account, he tells LokMarg the complete story that led to October 23 unsavoury incident here:

“Last year in January, while watching TV one day here in the US, I saw how the farmers were protesting at Singhu Border in India amid heavy downpour in cold weather. They seemed to be in a miserable shape. With an intention to provide whatever help I could, I came to Delhi in January 2020 and started a langar and put up tents for the farmers at the site.

“All of these provisions I arranged were from my own hard earned money. While returning to the US, I was accosted by a few security personnel and was detained at the airport for one hour. They asked me why I was doing all this.

“I came back in April 2020 and again detained both ways and was asked the same thing. I told them I had taken a train full of goods to Tamil Nadu when the Tsunami hit the country’s southern coasts. At that time no one stopped me, so why was I being stopped now from helping Punjab farmers in distress? The same thing was repeated when I visited India again in June 2021.

“During my previous visits they would ask me why I was doing this and if I was collecting money from someone to do this. I would ask them to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t be doing it. I told them it is my own money. I haven’t done anything wrong or illegal.

“I made three trips to the Singhu border and never took the stage to speak about the issue or approached any farmer leader because that is not my cause. I was asked to speak at the protest site but I refused. The issue on which they are protesting is between the government and the protesting farmers. The government says the policy is good for farmers; but the farmers don’t like it. I do not know whether they are good or bad/ right or wrong. I do not have the entire knowledge of the issue so why should I even talk about it. All I wanted to do was provide food and shelter to the protesting farmers.

Dhaliwal (centre) says he only wants to provide food and shelter to protesting farmers without taking any sides

“I want to go on record to say that I am the biggest nationalist in the US today. I was the first person to install the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Courthouse. Many did it after that but I was the first one. I have established some 2000 Indian families in the US. I have provided scholarships/financial support to over 1000 Indian students without asking them which region or religion they belong to. President Bush is a dear friend. I have been close to President Clinton as well.

“I am from a village called Rakhra near Patiala and migrated to the US in 1972. Our family is involved in politics in Punjab. My younger brother Surjit Singh Rakhra was a minister in the Punjab Government and the other brother Charanjit Singh Dhaliwal is a businessman in the US. For the past 10 months, we have been providing langar and shelter and other amenities to the protesting farmers at the Singhu border but not even once did we get involved with the politics of the issue because that is not our intention.

“Today, I learnt that the former chief minister of Punjab, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, is believed to have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bringing to his attention what happened to me when I landed in Delhi. I would like to emphasise that I have only one purpose and that is to provide food and shelter to the protesting farmers who are holding ground there in spite of all adversities and we will continue to do that no matter what!”

Attend Kisan Mahapanchayat

‘Mahapanchayat Has Revived The Farmers Movement’

Kuldeep Singh Khalsa, 32, who travelled from Tikri Border to Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh to attend Kisan Mahapanchayat, says this is a do-or-die battle for protesting farmers

When we received the call to attend the Kisan Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on September 5, we didn’t waste a single moment. We moved straight from Tikri Border (where we had been protesting till then) to the Mahapanchayat site. We were a group of 20 people who went to participate in the important Mahapanchayat and we lend our full support to the cause as well as the kisan leader Rakesh Tikait Saheb.

The place was full of protestors and not even a single patch of the ground at the protest site (Government Inter College Ground) was unoccupied. People kept pouring in with each passing hour. The Mahapanchayat was organised smoothly and there was no inconvenience to us for the days we were there.

Our spirits have been revived and attendance in such huge numbers has given the movement a fresh shot in the arm. It shows that the protest isn’t going to die down anytime soon until a concrete solution is offered by the government.

We have zero faith in the current government and the corporate entities it is seemingly supporting. If corporates get into farming, we will turn into gulams all over again. The very fabric of our country will be torn, for people without land are people without identities. The farmers don’t have the means or resources to fight these corporates. As individuals, farmers are powerless but collectively we can be a force to reckon with. Which is why such a huge number of farmers with landholdings big and small attended the Mahapanchayat.

Khalsa says corporates have little knowledge of farm procedures or crop cycles

Tikait Saheb has taken a vow that he will not enter his house until our demands are fully met. Such leadership gives us the motivation to carry on. It is this trust that was evident at the Mahapanchayat. The atmosphere was one of hope and faith that the tide would turn fully in our favour soon. There were farmers from various nooks and corners of the country at the meet, including female protesters. For, this time it is aar ya paar ki ladai (do-or-die battle).

It has been nearly one year since we started protesting and even though the ministers say that there have been multiple rounds of meeting with farmer leaders, those meetings had little substance. Forget MSP, even farm loan waivers haven’t been worked upon. The pandemic has already made our condition worse. If we don’t give this fight all we have, we could be at the mercy of such corporates who have no idea of farming procedures or crop cycles.

ALSO READ: Solution To Farm Crisis Lies With Canada Sikh MPs

This time it is not only the elders who are fighting, even children of farmers and other youngsters are taking extra initiative, be it then amplifying the cause through their social media handles or volunteering in any capacity.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha has given a call for nationwide bandh on September 27 and we fully support it. Just how many voices will the government ignore? The government should show genuine interest to solve the problem otherwise elections are right down the corner. The vote speaks louder than words. In my opinion, forget six months (to the Assembly elections), if the jazba (spirit) is right and the cause just, then even one month is enough to take on the matter politically.

Providing Medical Support to Protesting Farmers

‘Media Glare Is Fading, Not The Resolve Of Sikh Farmers’

Amrit Pal Singh (23), a BBA student who assists a US-based doctor at Tikri Border in providing medical support to protesting farmers, says they are ready to ‘weather’ any challenge

It has been nearly six months of the farmers’ protest, but we are in for the long haul. The numbers might be dwindling par jazba poora barkarar hai (the resolve is firm). You will find many of us from Punjab staying put here until a proper solution is found to the farmers’ grievances. The media interest is also dwindling but we know that those mediapersons who are still coming here are the ones who were truly invested in the issue right from the beginning. It warms my heart to see the exchange of views between protestors and mediapersons; after all interviews are about exchange of views.

I have been assisting Dr Swaiman Singh, a US-based doctor who has set up camp at Tikri Border and has been providing seva non-stop to protesters since January. Apart from registering my voice at the protest, I also serve as his assistant and accountant.

Amrit with Dr Swamiman Singh (seated first from the left)

After taking due permissions, we have turned a local bus depot into a medical camp where we provide basic medicines, first-aid facilities and have provisions for dental as well as eye check-ups. We also provide masks, sanitisers and have been trying to step up the processes here when it comes to Covid testing.

Apart from this, I do seva wherever it is required, right from providing medical support serving langars, to doing basic everyday chores like cleaning the washrooms etc. Summers are fully upon us and the trolleys that kept us safe during winters are now turning into tandoors literally, we can’t sleep in them any longer. So I contribute in the making of temporary bamboo and iron shelters to keep us safe from the heat.

Amrit with his team of medical volunteers at the protest site

While we are providing coolers wherever possible, we farmers are used to working in extreme heat and cold conditions. So extreme weather does not bother us too much. However, we need to take care of our elders and others and hence these shelters.

We had anticipated water shortage in the beginning of summers and we did suffer a bit because of shortage of water and milk, but things are back on track now and we have proper water supply. Dr Swaiman has set up big water filters at regular intervals so that the protesting public can access clean drinking water.

Amrit Pal with fellow protesters at Tikri Border

The recent Baishakhi celebrations provided us with renewed vigour and that day saw a huge rise in numbers. Many common people, artists and sportspersons came to show their solidarity and gave us a much needed shot in the arm. They might have gone back home as of now but they have told us that they are with us in spirit.

We are ready to ‘weather’ anything in order to find a solution to the problems of farmers but we sincerely hope that the government listens to us. Hamare buzurg itna kuch jhel rahe hain, wo sacchai ke liye sab kuch jhel sakte hain to hum bhi jhel sakte hain. They are our guiding light summer or winter cannot dampen our jazba.

A Tale Of Two Indian Protests In Media

About a decade ago, an anti-corruption protest in national capital Delhi provided the cue for several others across India. These protests, under the banner of India Against Corruption, and their mishandling by the Manmohan Singh government would go on to create the space for Narendra Modi’s 2014 swoop into the prime ministerial chair.

Till the anti-corruption protests happened, a common, now forgotten grouse was that the principal political opposition outfit, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wasn’t doing enough to corner the Singh government. It is tempting to see contextual similarities with the present – the farmers’ protests are happening at a time when there’s much moaning about a weak opposition – but this piece focuses on something else, crucial differences in how several major TV news channels have treated the two sets of protests.

Remember how the channels covered the anti-corruption protests? Parked 24X7 at protest sites, they told us of the action unfolding on the main stage and in the sidelines, the upset and passion that was pulling the crowds, the celebrities lining up in solidarity, the wanting negotiating table manners of the government.

They reminded the government of its democratic duty to listen and be flexible, took exception to police excess, refused to lend credence to theories about the protestors being unreasonably maximalist or being backed by anti-national forces. (Yes, the anti-national card was around then too. It wasn’t as weaponized as it is now though.)

ALSO READ: Farmers Protest Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

In contrast, the farmers’ protest has found sympathy scarce in TV news rooms. Touching human interest stories, the kind that inspire and sustain participation in popular movements, abound but aren’t being told. Few channels are exhorting the government to act conciliatory, show heart. There are dark speculations about why farmers are not availing the government’s supposed generosity. And certainly government spokespersons aren’t being hauled up for insensitivity to the farmers’ cause, protestors’ deaths in the biting cold, or the unprecedented events of Republic Day. In the Singh era, ministerial heads were demanded – and furnished – for a lot less.

The difference is clear. In the case of the anti-corruption protests, the channels amplified the protestors’ voice, did not allow the government line to drive the narrative, played a key role in pressuring the government to persist with a difficult dialogue and eschew sharp tactics.

With the farmers’ protests, the government narrative has enjoyed disproportionate play, and nobody is really nudging the government into a sincere, sustained conversation or enjoining it to avoid coercive action. If anything, it has sometimes looked as if an assertion of state might is being advocated. Things would have been worse if not for a few honorable exceptions in the TV news business and some gutsy freelancers.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that news channels have trained their guns on an anti-government stance. The eagerness with which most have defended, indeed endorsed, the government’s positions and the ferocity they have reserved for its detractors have played a critical role in elevating the Modi persona and shoring up the BJP’s electoral fortunes despite an indifferent performance on several key fronts.

More importantly, they have given the government confidence to push ahead with contentious proposals, without fear of bad press and consequent electoral hurt. The danger a government, any government, anywhere, insulated from media criticism and voters’ anger presents is not difficult to imagine, and it is unconscionable on the part of the media, any one for that matter, to be complicit in such a project.

Am I overstating the influence of TV news, undermining the wisdom of the voter, and shooting the media-messenger here? No. Just consider the reach of TV news, the attractions of its immediacy and presentation, the subconsciously accepted authority of the reporter, anchor, and expert, the impact of incessant exposure over months and years to bias-ridden, rarely establishment-challenging messaging.

Much has been said about how things have come to such a pass. Blame has been laid on a mix of ownership changes, the demands of delivering ratings-driven, free content, and the emboldening in non-inclusive newsrooms at a time when casteist and communal sentiment is finding disturbingly open expression and approval all around.

The path to recovery, at least to a state where the TV media (others too) can bring itself to bat for the underdog, interrogate the government, and pursue an independently determined interpretation of national interest, isn’t going to be easy.

At this point, there appear no strong incentives, moral or commercial, among the errant to self-regulate. There is little reason for the government to disturb things as they stand either. Plus, governmental regulation, in any case, can be a double-edged sword and needs to be approached with caution.

None of this is compelling reason to give up on regulation options, but they do make a case for citizens to examine their own relationships with news channels, patronize non-partisan electronic media and print and digital publications that speak for the people, reject divisive and establishmentarian voices. It isn’t tough to find the ones to back, and the remote and subscription plan can be potent tools. It is time to stop being the subjects of mind control exercises. It is time to stop passively soaking the news. It is time to make it.

Suspending Internet Services Near Farmers

‘Work, Studies, Business… All Suffered From Internet Ban’

Noushad Saifi, 34, a social activist, says by suspending internet services near farmers’ protests sites, the government caused untold miseries on local residents as well as peaceful protesters

Roti, kapda, makan and the internet! In the current times, especially in the post-pandemic world, the internet has become some sort of a lifeline, a basic right of people. Many people’s livelihoods and education depend on the smooth and efficient functioning of the internet. Thus suspension of internet services near farmers protest sites by the government was a body blow for local residents.

One can understand an internet ban during riots, to check mindless violence, to keep miscreants or anti-social elements from spreading fake news. But to ban the internet during a peaceful protest is uncalled for. This is brutal suppression of democratic dissent.

We are a family of eight staying together: my parents, my wife, my two children and I. We also have a nephew and a niece staying with us because they wanted access to better education opportunities available in Delhi-NCR. One of them is in Class 10, another in Class 12, both Board Exam candidates and for them each day is crucial. Their studies suffered when the internet was banned twice in our locality recently.

ALSO READ: ‘Studies, Protest Both Important For My Future’

Students have anyway had a difficult year because of the pandemic and classes shifting to online mode. This is the year when they need support the most. We can’t afford them getting anxious about their future. I just hope their exams go off smoothly.

Saifi (inset) says people in his locality in Loni, UP, were badly hit by internet ban

If the internet spreads fake news, then it is also the most potent tool to counter disinformation. The day after the Republic Day violence in Delhi, our local representative tried to distance himself from the farmers protest. He said he never supported Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait. But locals circulated videos and photographs of him being present with Tikait that very day. Thus the internet ensured that the public can’t be taken for a ride anymore. They are not dependent on media to get the correct picture, for they can get it themselves and report it.

I have been taking part in the farmer protests from the beginning and I believe banning the internet leaves many people feeling unsafe and anxious. Many people draw courage to go to these protests because they feel connected and know that they can call or message their friends anytime if they find they are lost in a sea of people.

ALSO READ: ‘Rihana-Greta Amplified Voice Of Farmers’

Moreover, even though farmer protests is in the forefront, the shadow of coronavirus still looms large. I have nearly 200 groups on my WhatsApp where we coordinate together to provide help and support to people around us and even in remote areas. On the days when internet services were suspended, we were unable to help or reach out to people.

Even though the lockdown has ended, many professionals are still working from home. These men and women could not attend office when the internet was down.

Modiji encouraged everyone to go cashless and opt for online modes of payment post-demonetisation, but by banning the internet, the government has backtracked on its own promise. If a vendor cannot make an online payment in time due to internet ban, they will switch back to traditional mode of transactions. The government should keep all these factors in mind before taking any such drastic step.

‘Rihanna, Greta Have Amplified The Voice Of Farmers’

Neeraj Tyagi, a farmer leader from Mandola Village in Loni, Uttar Pradesh, says the Modi government which tried every trick in the book to suppress farmers’ voice is now worried about its global image

Galat ko galat, aur sahi ko sahi kahna, yehi ek insan ki pehchan hoti hai (A man of integrity will never be afraid of calling a spade a spade). I respect the fact that a global celebrity like Rihanna decided to speak up on the issue of Internet ban during farmers’ protest. I also respect the young child and environmental activist of mark, Greta Thunberg, who brought the matter to worldwide attention.

I think celebrity support, if given with good intent, helps engage people to look more deeply into a matter of public importance. Artists are sensitive, they feel deeply about other humans. We are all humans too, apart from being citizens of our respective countries.

When the largest democracy in the world is at risk, how long can people keep quiet? If Modiji and other leaders can comment on what is happening in other countries, why can’t international celebrities do it? As long as the language is not hateful and demeaning, people are within their right to raise their voice.

ALSO READ: Many Global Celebrities Spoke About Indian Farmers

The Indian celebrities who were sleeping while the farmers had been protesting, are now trying to defend the government, using a script drafted by the Ministry of External Affairs (#IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda).

Tyagi (far right) at a farmers’ protest site

Some are saying Greta Thunberg is a child and does not understand Central farm laws. I want to ask them: Do children not suffer during a crisis or disaster? It is in the interest of farmers that their issue are being talked about at global level. This will amplify the voice of the farmers and bring the government to the table for a meaningful dialogue.

Now, the government is concerned about its global image. Where was their concern when it was hammering nails on the road and barricading the border to stop farmers? Is a country’s image dented only when public figures question it and not how their leaders act?

ALSO READ: This Protest Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

Hasn’t this government come to power on the basis of sheer words? One of the major PR programmes during the 2014 elections was Chai pe Charcha; now it is shying away from charcha on matters of public importance. They brought in Farm Bills through ordinance, sidestepping any debate or dialogue.

This government tried to label anyone who questioned them as anti-national but now they are finding it difficult to suppress the voice of the farmers. The media too needs to stop taking sides and raise issue impartially rather than sensationalise them.

Discussion is the need of the hour. Parliament is a sacred place where even those who don’t have a voice, can find representation. The democracy is accountable to the people. And a democratically elected government should be able to answer when it is questioned.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Not Just Rihanna-Greta, Many Global Figures Back Farmers Protest

Since the news of the Farmer’s Protests in India have started to make the International News, the surge in the support on social media has sky rocketed after celebrities such as  Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and US Vice President, Kamala Harris’s niece have shown their support.

While this has helped the international community become aware and understand better the protests that have been happening in India over the past 5 months there has been some backlash from the Indian authorities.

They issued a statement on Wednesday 3rd February 2021, accusing ‘foreign individuals’ and celebrities of ‘sensationalism’ following Rihanna’s post.

While Rihanna, has helped bring light to the farmer’s protests with her plus 100 million followers and her comment retweeted more than 230,000 times and liked by more than half a million users, she is not the first celebrity to speak out about the New Farm Laws. Take a look below how other celebrities from cricketer Monty Panesar and filmmaker Gurinder Chadha to American actor John Cussack have lend weight to the raging protests.