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 He has repealed the laws to every one’s relief, except the arm-chair warriors around him who wanted him to stand firm against his own citizens.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.

‘Farm Laws Abolished Due To Political Compulsion, Not Change Of Heart’

Sukhbir Singh, 55, a son of soil from Sangrur, Punjab says abolishment of Central Farm Laws is nonetheless a tribute to the indomitable spirit of Punjab farmers

Words cannot describe my happiness about the repealing of the Farm Laws. Our mehnat, our struggle and our belief has borne fruit and on what a beautiful day: Guru Nanak Jayanti. Maybe the day was symbolically chosen by the BJP government to call truce, but victory nevertheless tasted sweeter on Gurpurab day. I was literally jumping with joy when the news was flashed on TV screens that the Farm Laws bad been rolled back by Prime Minister Modi.

I wouldn’t say it is a change of heart that brought about the roll back, but rather out of political compulsion: as a step to save the vote banks or not antagonise other voters during the forthcoming Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections. Yet, no matter what the reason, finally seems like the government has come to its senses.

Born into a family of farmers, and having literally grown up on farms, I know how we deal with challenges year after year. It has been an uphill task to manage the different hardships from reducing ground water table, struggling to get right prices for non-staple crops in the absence of minimum support price, rising unpaid loans during a bad season to many other things. The repealing of Farm Laws is therefore just the first step; the government needs to walk a long road with the farmers if it truly wants to support them. Authentic and honest dialogue is important between the government and the farmers.

Singh (in his 20s and now at 55) says having grown up on farms, he knows Central laws are not beneficial to farmers

Hamari ekta, hamara sangharsh karne ka jazba, hamari sach ka sath dene ki takat, in sab cheezon ne hi humein aaj jeet dilayi hai aur aage bhi dilayegi (Our unity, our indomitable spirit, and our courage to always stand by the truth has got us this victory today and will yield greater results in the future too).

I am proud of all my farmer brothers and sisters from other parts of the country, but I am especially proud of us Sikhs. We give everything we had to the purpose at hand fearlessly. Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the successive Gurus have taught us to believe in both ourselves and a cause that moves us. Many people think that farmers have been unreasonable in not budging an inch, but the entry of corporates into farming would have meant an increase in price of almost all eatables. Perhaps then those people would have understood. We are people of the soil and we know what we are doing.

The government should understand that the voter in a democracy has a lot of power and Indian democracy is a robust one. We took everything in our stride during the year-long protests and finally the government had to bend. The government needs to understand that it is serving the people and needs to understand their fears and concerns and maybe suggestions too before bringing in new laws that affect huge sections of people.

‘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 Food To Protesting Farmers Is A Sacred Duty’

Farmer Harpreet Singh Mattu, 50, from Mehakpur in Jalandhar, Punjab, tells LokMarg whey he set up a 24×7 langar, with assistance from his brother Balwinder Singh in California, US, to feed protesters at Delhi-Singhu border

I feel these protests are a landmark moment in our lives and it is our contribution towards the life of future generations, so that can have an easier life than us. With the introduction of these three farm bills, the government has shown us that there is no need to build consensus before bringing in a new law.

Sahi kahoon to inhone loktantra se lok hi khatm kar diya (The truth is that the BJP has taken away people’s will out of democracy). If the farm bills are, as the government says, beneficial to the farmers, then why didn’t they bring it to the table before; people would have breathed easy.

Mattu (left) at the kitchen set up near Singhu border protest site

Apart from registering my voice at the protests, I am also doing sewa of other farmers by organising a langar. My brother, Balwinder Singh, who lives in California, US, called me before the protests started and said, “Let’s do it for our brothers. Let’s start a langar so that no one goes hungry in this biting cold during the protests.”

My brother is the pradhan at Gurudwara Sahib Riverside, California, which had orgnaised largescale langar (food distribution) in their area during pandemic to people who had been isolating. Since the idea originally took root in his mind, we kept the logo of California Gurudwara at our langar sewa.

I believe human hearts are all the same everywhere. The pandemic has shown us that we are all in this together and thus we have to help each other in times of need. Providing langar to people is a sacred duty. Even during the pandemic the Sikhs ensured that no one went hungry.

Mattu with his teammates at the protest site

Slowly more people have started joining us. In the beginning I brought along three trucks (my own) full of food, utensils etc. About a dozen halwais (cooks) and four assistants accompanied us so that we could work in shifts and get ample rest.

We can’t do sewa of some people at the cost of others. We take full precautions for coronavirus and keep sanitising the kitchen. Cleanliness is a way of life for the Sikhs, as you must have seen all Gurudwaras are spotlessly clean and no one thinks cleaning is beyond them. A lot of people volunteer for us and we have managed to feed thousands of people since December 2, when I first went to Delhi.

ALSO READ:  Langar In The Times Of Covid-19

Here, we make sure that the food is always served hot and that there is variety too. I must really thank the farmers from Haryana who give us fresh vegetables and milk for the langar. Also, people behave in a disciplined manner and ensure that everything is disposed of properly.

I wake up at 4 am to get things started. The first thing to go up on the fire is tea and we make nearly 13 huge containers of tea every day so that our farmer brothers can start their day with a warm cuppa. From 4 in the morning I work non-stop till 9 am. After that I take a small break and get back to work at 10:30 am, only work till 8 pm when I call it a day. Then I go to sleep. That is my routine here.

With his son early in the day at kitchen

I did take a day break to visit my hometown to attend the funeral of a fellow farmer’s father and also to check up on my own father who has not been keeping well. That was the only time I missed the sewa here. We have to manage both family and country and farmers are really good at multitasking.

I now wish to bring mobile washrooms to the protests site in Delhi. I have customised another truck of mine into mobile washrooms. It is important to take care of hygiene any way but more so in times of a pandemic. I hope the government also sees and understands what the farmers are trying to say and take away these bills in the interest of the nation.

Mattu with his team at Singhu border

‘Govt Wants Farm Sector To Go Telecom Way’

Dr Sumit Kaur, a 24-year-old dentist from Jalandhar, Punjab, tells LokMarg why she took time off from her practice to lend her voice in favour of farmers at Singhu-Tikri border

You know why farmers are drawing increasing support from national and international groups? That’s because their fears and demands are valid. People across the social spectrum are lending support to this movement because it would completely change the way farmers have lived their lives so far. The very dialogue that the government is having now could have been held before when the Bill was being drafted.

Once farmers give in, we fear things will go from bad to worse. I am a dentist living and practising in Jalandhar (Punjab) and I took leave from work to register my voice at the protest site. I reached the Singhu Border on Delhi outskirts on the night of December 5 and protested with the Kirti Kisan Union at the site. If the protest ‘needs more teeth’ I will ensure that it happens with my voice.

We are a family of farmers and thus consider this to be a landmark moment for us. Many people are not realising what has been going on, but they will understand it when due to these laws, the prices of food items shoot up. The new laws allow stocking of essential commodities and that doesn’t bode well for the poorest of poor.

ALSO READ: ‘Not Afraid Of Police Baton Or Water Cannon’

Does the government and those who question farmers ever pause and think why people are putting their lives at risk and choosing to protest the Bills even during the pandemic? It really must mean so much to people that are choosing to come out on the streets.

A protester at Singhu border holds a placard that says farmer is the backbone of a nation

Few realise that the agriculture sector will soon go the telecom way if the government implements these laws. Like (Reliance) Jio, they will first give lucrative deals to the farmers and then when they have a solid client base, the corporates will create a monopoly to impose their will. In India the land holdings are anyway too small and large families depend on small pieces of land. If the safety net of even the MSP is taken away, where will the poor go? And at a time when most migrant labourers have returned home in wake of the pandemic and there are no jobs in sight, what can an average person do apart from farming?

I am glad so many people, including some world leaders, are supporting the farmers. They are in fact supporting the soul of India. I do feel saddened by people who are trying to tar this movement with separatism. There wasn’t a single anti-national or separatist slogan chanted during the protests and I was a witness to it. Then we have Bollywood celebrities like Kangana Ranaut who has a take on every matter. She said, “ ₹100-100 me protesters available hain.” She should watch her words.

WATCH: ‘Shoot Us In The Chest, We Won’t Turn Away’

The agricultural sector needs serious structural changes but not in the areas that the government thinks. These reforms should be disucussed with agriculture experts, senior farmer leaders and also ordinary citizens at every level.

Some critics say that the protest is untimely as the country is already reeling under the pandemic crisis. I wish to tell them: Vaccine ke bhi pehle roti chahiye. Vaccine asar kare uske liye bhi roti chahiye. (You need food before the vaccine. You need food for the vaccine to work). Everyone needs farmers in order to simply exist. It’s time the government in power and the average man learnt to respect farmers. They are the backbone of this beautiful country!

Dr Sumit Kaur at the protest site on Delhi border

‘We Are Prepared To Die, Let Govt Test Our Mettle’

Digambar Singh, a farmer from Bhadana, Punjab, says Narendra Modi machinery underestimated their resolve in putting up a brave fight against Central laws

Iss bar to aar-par ki ladai hai (It is a do or die situation this time). Just how much can the farmer bear? Some things are better left out of the purview of corporates. We are sons of the soil and we understand the land and its needs much better than corporates. The land we till is our mother, and not a profit making machine, even though we all like to earn well.

When I set out from Bhadana (Punjab) to reach Delhi for protest against the Central Agriculture Laws, I was sad to see that midway in Haryana, the roads had been dug overnight so that we couldn’t reach the protest sites. Heavy concrete barricades had also been placed to block us. Farmers were also being badmouthed. Tear gas, water cannons, lathicharge… but our resolve was firm. Nothing is going to stop us this time.

The government says the various laws are for our benefit and will open up bigger and better markets for us. But if I am a farmer who grows his crops in Punjab, should I go and check out the bigger, better markets in, say, Karnataka or should I be busy sowing the crops? There is already a system in place (adhatiyas) for purchase of our crops and the farmers have been reaping its benefits because of a guaranteed MSP.

ALSO READ: ‘A Farmer Isn’t Afraid Of Police Baton, Water Cannon’

Digambar Singh with fellow protesters at UP Gate protest site

Why try fix a thing that isn’t broken in the first place? You may improve on the existing processes but why do a complete overhaul and that too without proper dialogue with the parties concerned. Farming requires groundwork but the new laws are silent on MSP.

At present I am at the UP Gate (Delhi-UP Ghazipur border) with fellow farmers to register my protest and if the government is going to ignore our voice, then we will also ignore their voice during elections. Fir satta se bahar jane ki taiyari kar lein wo (They better be prepared to stay out of power in that case). Farmers across the country have been committing suicide for many years now and this year the Coronavirus has wreaked a deadly blow to our income. This is the time to protect farmers and let them know they are valued.

The nights here are cold, but we are well-prepared. We have brought rations to last us for a few days and we have also brought bhattis along to cook the food. Let’s see for how long we will need to protest. Sometimes you have to muster up all the strength you have to survive. We are not scared of Coronavirus even though we are taking all necessary precautions.

Our kids have lost precious study time, as rural households don’t have easy access to online learning. Our old parents are suffering. I hear the hospitals are in bad shape due to the pandemic pressure. Par jab marna hi hai to kyu na ladte mara jaye (But if we are destined to die, we shall put up a brave fight?). If the government really wants to help farmers, why not do it directly by strengthening the health and education systems in rural, agrarian zones?

WATCH: ‘Shoot Us In The Chest, We Won’t Turn Back’

Protesters have been camping at Delhi’s Ghazipur border for more than a week now

‘A Farmer Isn’t Afraid Of Police Baton Or Water Cannon’

Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Nirdesh Choudhary, 40, has been protesting at Delhi-UP border for several days in the cold. Choudhary says farmers are willing to endure the hardship for their children’s future

A farmer’s nerves are made of steel and the resolve firm as a stone. We don’t protest on small matters, but when we do the government better sit up and take notice. We can bear hunger, thirst, rain, winter nights and what have you… only to ensure that the future of our children is secure.

After all, we go through all these while working in the fields. Hum raton me kai baar khet pe hi sote hain, bahut zyada thand me bhi, sadkon ki thand hamara kya bigadegi (We often sleep in the fields to take care of our crops, at times in the dead of winters. So, we can tolerate the cold here). I have been using my voice to protest the three agriculture bills since November 28. I went back home briefly to check on my family and house, and am back with renewed strength now.

We are not scared of the police or their batons or water cannons. I was roughed up by cops, but I take it as my contribution to a larger cause. We have put everything at stake to let the government know that this is not the way to treat farmers. The government thinks corporates will bring about another revolution for the farmers, but it won’t.

ALSO READ: When The Farmer Fights Back

We want the government to give us in writing that the MSP will be maintained or the protests can go on indefinitely. Ye kale kanoon hum nahi manne wale. The thing is we farmers have nothing to lose anymore. The farmer was anyway at the lowest rung in the profit chain and the pandemic this year has meant even lesser earnings. Maybe we fight the best when we have nothing to lose. We as farmers are not going to get bogged down this time.

BKU activists at Delhi-UP border protest site

It does get difficult sometimes, like I had to take a bus to reach the spot and then had to walk a decent distance to reach the venue because of the barricades. Sometimes you wonder about your kids back home but then you remember the larger cause and forget the personal issues. We have got our own dry rations to cook and eat here, and all this gets tiring sometimes, but then we take strength from the collective spirit.

Covid looms large but we are maintaining full social distance and taking all necessary precautions; we distribute masks every day and ask people to carry sanitizers. We try to maintain utmost hygiene while cooking, eating etc. However, the government needs to understand that if we survive the pandemic we need something to survive further.

WATCH: ‘Shoot Us In The Chest, We Won’t Turn Back

The farmer has no safety net at all, no pension, nothing to fall back on except crops, and if even that is taken up by corporates, where do we go? There are few women out here, numbering between 100- 150 and if need be more women will join the protests. Female farmers are one of the most resilient, hardworking and smart people you will come across. We are not scared of risk taking and have the capacity to make quick decisions.

Police barricades at Delhi-UP border near Ghazipur where farmers are protesting

Farmers have decided we will not go to Burari site, we will go straight to Jantar Mantar. I wonder why Modiji said that other parties are misleading us into protesting. As if we don’t have a mind of our own. If we are smart enough to raise crops year after year that feeds the whole country, aren’t we smart enough to make our own decisions? Kisan apne ghar se nikal aaya hai aur is baar baatcheet poori honesty se honi chahiye.

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.

Upsurge 2.0: Farmers Take To The Streets

On Friday, as the sun set in large parts of India, the day-long farmers’ protests and Bharat Bandh passed off peacefully with no police violence, lathi-charge or teargas reported, no mass arrests or detentions, and no forcible eviction of farmers, many of whom had blocked highways and roads, and railway tracks and trains, albeit peacefully, and in a collective, resolute show of non-violence. Even while the so-called Godi media chose to ignore it, social media was replete with images and commentaries of the mass protests all over the country; significantly in the South, in cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, where thousands thronged the streets in militant non-violent protests against three agriculture-related bills.

The Centre in the recently-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament passed three bills rather arbitrarily: the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and; he Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

Farmers believe these bills will have long-lasting and negative effects on farming as they will give a free run to big industrialists, global sharks, cartels and multinationals. Powerful hoarders will have a field day, the minimum support price of farm produce will be manipulated pushing the farmers to abject starvation, debt and total dependence, and all kinds of dubious and sleazy market forces will be allowed to capture Indian agriculture.

The belligerent BJP-led central government, who chose to care little for dialogue or consensus in pushing the three bills, and which was so sure of its absolute and one-dimensional power, now not only finds itself on a sticky wicket – it is clearly on the back foot.

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Indeed, the street has once again become a metaphor for non-violent protests, for the first time since the lockdown, which was preceded by massive peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and Citizen Registry (NRC) that rocked the nation with demonstrations and prolonged sit-ins across small towns and big cities for more than three months during winter last year and thereafter. Surely, after the massive Shaheen Bagh protests, which were replicated across the nation, and with the farmers coming on the streets physically, breaking all forms of collective phobia or the fear of a Police State, the use of the pandemic to crush democratic dissent can no more be used. The tide is rising again, this time with farmers in the lead.

On the first day of protests, the farmers’ life began earlier than most people in India, much before sunrise. There was fear that there could be a crackdown, especially in the states ruled by the BJP. Even now, there have been apprehensions that the central government, which has been rather uncompromising, might actually choose to crack down using the pandemic as an excuse, as it has done with peaceful dissenters against the CAA, which the protesters have condemned as discriminatory, communal and against the basic tenets of the secular Indian Constitution.

By morning most of Punjab was up in arms. Indeed, what found sharp resonance in Parliament earlier, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where the three bills were pushed by a voice vote in the din (with Rajya Sabha TV volume muted) and a division of vote was not allowed, and which the Opposition called as the murder of democracy, became resonant yet again on the streets all over India. Trains and highways were blocked but without any untoward incident.

At the Haryana-Punjab border, tractors blocked the roads even as ambulances and locals were allowed to move, and youngsters in thousands assembled in solidarity with the farmers. Punjab being the epicenter, the strong protests were spread across the state, with the farmers refusing to budge till the three bills are taken back, lock, stock and barrel, and the minimum support prices for farm produce legalized.

At the massive Nabha protests, again on railway tracks, men and women marched from long distances, to join in solidarity. A woman told BBC News (Hindi), “Narendra Modi tells his Mann ki Baat. So what about our Mann ki Baat? Another woman said, “The movement will be sharpened if the bills are not withdrawn. They are liars.”

The upsurge spread across the country, with thousands of rallies and dharnas. Farmers, workers, locals, trade unions, civil society organisations and students came out in hundreds of rallies in small towns and cities, in every state, holding red, green and other flags, marching in a disciplined and peaceful manner. ‘Standwithfarmers’ kept trending on social media. In Kolkata, the students of Jadavpur University marched through the streets singing songs in support of the farmers. There was overwhelming support for the agitation all over Bengal with the Left, the Congress and the ruling Trinamool Congress coming out in support.

The CPI-ML (Liberation), which is strong among the poor peasantry in Bihar, led protests across the state, led by its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. The CPI (M) organized rallies in several parts of the country even as its national protests have been continuing since the last few weeks demanding the scrapping of the bills, Rs 7,500 in every bank account of jobless workers, food for the poor from the public distribution system, an end to the selling of public sector assets like the railways and airports, and the release of students, intellectuals, activists and peaceful protestors from prisons.

Surprisingly, the CPI (M) organized massive and militant protests in Tripura, especially in Agartala, whereby thousands of people came out and broke the physical barricades enacted by the police at several points. People trickled in streams across locations, very angry and vociferous, though the clashes with the cops were never violent with the police giving way to the surging crowds.

ALSO READ: Can BJP Take On Punjab Farmers?

Several highways were blocked, including the important Bombay-Ahmedabad highway, where hundreds of women of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), blocked traffic. Ashok Dhawale, president of the CPI(M)-led All India Kisan Sabha, came to the site to give a solidarity speech. Dhawale, indeed, was the leader of the massive march of lakhs of farmers to Mumbai earlier from the remotest interiors of Maharashtra, including Adivasi areas, when the BJP government was ruling in Mumbai.

That long march of kisans with a sea of red banners struck a chord across the nation with round-the-clock coverage, including on social and international media, with the people of Mumbai coming out in total support. Indeed, the farmers deliberately chose the route and timing in such a manner so as to not to disturb the school students in their exams, or the locals in their daily affairs. Doctors, students, housewives had rushed in then with food, medicine and even chappals. Mumbaikars showered flowers on the annadaatas from their balconies and doors when they marched through the lanes. AIKS said 50,000 farmers protested across Maharashtra on Friday.

Over two dozen farmers’ organizations backed by scores of political parties have joined the protests. The Bharat Bandh was coordinated by the All India Farmers Union (AIFU), Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), All India Kisan Mahasangh (AIKM), among others, with the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) leading the protests. Ten central trade unions, all Left students’ organizations, joined the strike. Farmers’ bodies from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra called for a shutdown. The RSS-affiliated organizations like the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch did not take part.

Clearly, these mass protests are now likely to resurrect a new wave of peaceful resistance in civil society and by the Opposition parties, especially against the daily hounding and arrests of students, professors, intellectuals, journalists and dissenters, particularly from the Muslim community, on fabricated and flimsy charges.

Can BJP Take On Punjab Farmers?

First, it was the Shiv Sena which severed its links with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Now it is the Shiromani Akali Dal which is contemplating breaking away from its senior alliance partner. And in Haryana, another ally, the Jannayak Janata Party is under pressure to snap its ties with the saffron party.

Clearly not all is well in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The latest round of rumblings in the ruling alliance has been triggered by the growing protests of farmers in Punjab and Haryana against the Modi government’s decision to push ahead with three contentious farm bills aimed at deregulating the agriculture sector.

Unable to ignore the anger among the farmers in her home state, Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal gave up her ministerial post in the Narendra Modi government to register her party’s opposition to the farm bills. Since the farming community is the core support base of the Akalis in Punjab, Harsimrat Kaur had no choice but to leave the Modi government as she could not afford to ignore the voices from the ground. By walking out of the Modi government in protest against the controversial farm bills, the Shiromani Akali Dal has got an opportunity to regain lost ground. The party has been in doldrums since its drubbing in the 2017 assembly polls. It has been struggling to recover from the public anger it faced for the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib when it was in power.

Harsimrat Kaur‘s resignation will have a far reaching impact on the bond between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP. Having quit the NDA government, the Akalis are now weighing the option of going solo in the next Punjab assembly elections. In fact, the farm bills proved to be the proverbial last straw as tensions between the Akalis and the BJP had been brewing for some time now. Akali leaders had been complaining privately for over a year now about how the BJP was riding roughshod over its allies and not taking them into confidence on key issues.

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If the Akalis do decide to divorce the BJP, it will mark the end of a long and happy marriage. Together since 1997, the two parties worked harmoniously through all these years. The relationship was a win-win for both sides. While the BJP brought in the Hindu urban vote, the support of the Akalis comprising the Sikh peasantry fetched the alliance the rural vote. This proved to be a winning combination and worked well as it was an accepted fact that the Shiromani Akali Dal was the senior partner in Punjab and the BJP was happy to defer to it.

Besides the electoral benefits of this alliance, Akali veteran Parkash Singh Badal was also convinced that the partnership also helped keep the peace between the Hindus and the Sikhs. Actually it was Badal senior’s political wisdom and sagacity which held the alliance together over the decades.

But the terms of this relationship have undergone a change in recent years for several reasons. For one, it is Sukhbir Singh Badal who is now running the show as his father has handed over the reins of the party to him. Badal junior is impetuous and lacks his father’s accommodating nature. Not only has his party’s relations with its oldest ally come under strain on his watch, he has also alienated a large section in his own party.

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On the other side, the BJP is not the same party when the benign Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The saffron party has now emerged as the central pole in the country’s polity. With a brute majority in Parliament and an all-powerful leader in Narendra Modi, the BJP has ambitious plans to expand its footprint beyond its traditional strongholds even if it involves poaching on its partner’s turf.

Punjab is among the states on its radar where it would like to shed its dependence on its alliance partner. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological mentor, has intensified its activities in the state over the past several years to prepare the ground for the BJP to contest the 2022 assembly polls on its own. This has obviously sent alarm bells ringing in the Shiromani Akali Dal which has always been a senior partner in this alliance. The Akalis are also upset with the BJP as it is convinced that it is the saffron party which is encouraging disgruntled elements in its ranks to launch a parallel Akali Dal.

But in the process of settling scores with each other, there is a strong possibility that both the parties could lose out. The Akalis will find it difficult to come to power by depending only on the Sikh vote while the BJP too could face an uphill task as it will not be possible for it to win a majority in the 117-member Punjab assembly on the basis of the Hindu vote alone.