Farmers’ Agitation is Getting a Character of another Freedom Movement

The farmers are ready to take the protests to the next level, but when will the government pay heed to their voices, questions ARUN SRIVASTAVA

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After 40 days of peaceful non-violent satyagraha, a situation reminiscent of the famous 1942 “Do or Die” movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi, is fast emerging on the political horizon with the farmers’ not willing to accept anything below scrapping of the three farm laws and providing legal status to the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

If it was the reluctance of the Britishers to listen to the Indian voice that forced Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 to give the call for Quit India movement, then this time it is the arrogance of the government to not concede to farmers’ demands that has forced them to hold their own Republic Day parade in Delhi.

The farmers plan to organise the twice-rescheduled tractor rally on the KMP (Western Periphery) Expressway as a practice for January 26. On January 23 — the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose — farmers across the country will march to their respective Raj Bhavans since the governors represent the central government in the states.

Though the Modi government has been inviting the farmers to the table to discuss their problems, its obstinacy to accept their pleas has been at the root of those talks. So far seven rounds of talks have been held, but shockingly the government has not yet shown its eagerness to find a solution.

If it was the reluctance of the Britishers to listen to the Indian voice that forced Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 to give the call for Quit India movement, then this time it is the arrogance of the government to not concede to farmers’ demands that has forced them to hold their own Republic Day parade in Delhi.

That is why the failure of the seventh round of talks held on January 4 did not come as a surprise. It was on the expected line; Modi government would not agree to the proposition to repeal the contentious laws. This has been part of the strategy to frustrate, exhaust and break the morale of the farmers. Once they are exasperated, they will abandon their agitation and go back to their villages. 

Though the agriculture minister announced that the 8th round of discussion will take place on January 8, going by the mood and posture of Narendra Modi it can safely be said that it would also prove to a futile exercise. The government is trying to engage the farmer leaders in psychological war and is using all kind of tricks to weaken them.   

The farmer leaders have also made it absolutely clear that they would not agree to any alternatives. It is indeed shocking that the Modi government has been pushing its own people to the wall and forcing them to resort to a protracted struggle. While the Modi government has been maintaining the façade of engaging with the farmers in a dialogue, farmers’ organisation ‘All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC)’ has come out with the accusation that the police in Haryana had been resorting to violent actions against them.

In fact, thirty-five students of Panjab University have written to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde and other judges of the Supreme Court seeking an inquiry into alleged police atrocities on the protesting farmers. In the open letter, the students of the Centre for Human Rights and Duties of the university have alleged that there had been “illegitimate use of water cannons, tear gases shells and lathis on peaceful protesting farmers” by police authorities, which needs to be probed.

The farmer leaders have also made it absolutely clear that they would not agree to any alternatives. It is indeed shocking that the Modi government has been pushing its own people to the wall and forcing them to resort to a protracted struggle.

Meanwhile in a major move Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has distanced itself from the contentious farm laws. This is being viewed as a major setback to the Modi government. RIL has said that it neither buys food grains from farmers directly nor is in the business of contract farming. The company said, “RIL have not done any ‘corporate’ or ‘contract’ farming in the past, and have absolutely no plans to enter this business.” On the vandalism of towers and telecom infrastructure owned by Jio, the company moved to the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking urgent intervention of the government.

With the Modi government determined not to accede to the farmers’ demands of not allowing unregulated private ‘markets’ in competition with APMCs, giving a legal guarantee for MSP, and not allowing the entry of corporates into purchase of and trade in agricultural produce, the farmers are left with no other alternative but to take their struggle to new heights. This is for the first time that Independent India has been witnessing a complete non-violent, peaceful protest of this nature, which has also led to the death of 57 innocent farmers at the protest site.

Meanwhile in a major move Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has distanced itself from the contentious farm laws. This is being viewed as a major setback to the Modi government.

The most shocking scenario has been the apathy of the ministers towards the death of each farmer. Three more farmers died at the Singhu and Tikri borders; they were Jagbir, 66, from Jind district, Jashnpreet, 18, from Bathinda, and Shamsher, 44, from Sangrur. They were found dead inside a truck at Singhu protest site. It is indeed a matter of shame that the government does not feel guilty. For it, the farmers who died in the chilly winter do not count as human beings.

Nevertheless, the agitating farmers have posed a significant question for the Prime Minister. What are the disadvantages of withdrawing the new farm laws and who stands to lose if they are withdrawn? While the farmers reiterate that they do not need such laws, Modi is insistent on having them. It is an open secret that he has been thrusting these laws down farmers’ throat to serve the interest of his corporate friends particularly the Adanis and Ambanis. Nonetheless he ought to realize that by maintaining silence, he has been pushing the country into a black hole. He is ruining the future of the next generation.

This is for the first time that Independent India has been witnessing a complete non-violent, peaceful protest of this nature, which has also led to the death of 57 innocent farmers at the protest site.

Modi claims that these laws will transform farmers’ lives. If he is so confident then why is he evading them? Why not sit with them across the table and explain them the benefits. Instead, he has been playing the mind game and using all machination to break the agitation.

Farmer union leaders have warned the government that it should not take their agitation lightly and think that it can be handled just like the Shaheen Bagh protest that was held against the CAA. The warning came a day after the younger generation of protesters gathered at Shahjahanpur on the Rajasthan-Haryana border and pushed their way past the barricades.

SKM leadership have also cautioned that the collective leadership of the movement might not be able to rein in the youngsters if the government continues to test their patience. While the blockade of Delhi will continue, they will broaden the movement by mobilising opinion across the country with a “Desh Jagriti Abhiyan”. (IPA Service)

(Arun Srivastava is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)

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