Indian Farmers’ Crisis: Two Months And The Republic Day Aftermath!

Perhaps the Indian agitating farmers, protesting for more than 60 days, made two strategic mistakes at two crucial junctures. First when the Supreme Court of India stayed the Farm Laws till further orders and constituted a panel to carry forward the discussion. The farmers rejected this saying that all the four members of the panel were in support of the three Farm Laws, and that they wanted to talk with the Government only and wanted solutions through this. Perhaps, they could have perceived the stay on the implementation of the laws as a moral victory, and felt the opportunity in this, because the opinions of the panelists were not going to be the final say with the Supreme Court observing.


Second when the Government of India proposed what they had termed as the best offer: willing to stay the three laws for a period 18 months and carrying on the process of discussion, looking for required amendments of some provisions and so on. The farmers rejected this too saying that they would not stop at anything short of a repeal of the laws and a legislation to guarantee Minimum Support Prices. Perhaps, they could have reasoned that one and half years was quite a long time, and that the interim period was full of opportunities at finally arriving at the laws they would not object to.


The sole factor responsible for the stalemate has been the ever-growing trust deficit between the farmers and the government. The farmers did not want to put trust on the government due to many reasons, and they were also apprehensive of losing the momentum of the painstakingly built-up movement once they agreed to the proposals or rather falling into the trap supposedly set by the government.


The BJP-led National Democratic Government at the centre has always been used to more of cracking down on democratic movement than respecting the same over the last few years. The methods used to crack a movement are familiar to many, and in trying to crack the Farmers’ Movement most of the ‘time-tested’ methods are used: that the laws passed by the Parliament will be very beneficial for the farmers; that the agitation represented only two states of India and the rest of the farmers are always in support of the laws; that parallel farm unions are meeting the government to urge them usher in the reforms; that the opposition political parties are misleading the farmers; that terrorist elements have infiltrated the agitation and the enemy nation beyond the border is trying to take advantage of this to create disturbances; and that finally after a successful crack, labelling all agitators as anti-nationals or traitors or terrorists.   


What happened in the national capital on the 72nd Republic Day, 26th January 2021, in the wake of a tractor rally by the agitating farmers that was granted permission to enter Delhi after the Supreme Court refused to interfere, was a blot in the entire history of independent India. The utter chaos, the sporadic violence unfolding across the streets, the breach of the historical Red Fort and the injuries suffered by the policemen were unprecedented and must be condemned by all. Insult to the national flag cannot be condoned under any circumstances either. However, another chaotic drama unfolded immediately afterwards with the crosscurrents of photos/videos in the social media and on the television screens: one group saying the farmers had insulted the national tricolor and were actually terrorists while the other group alleging the opposite saying that the peaceful agitating farmers were not part of the violent acts, and that it was a conspiracy of the national ruling party to break the movement.


Well, the government, enjoying the support of a brute but abundantly clear majority, achieved what was required to put the agitation to an end irrespective of the contrasting narratives in circulation. FIRs and lookout notices were pressed in for most of the farmer leaders, and more forces, the police and paramilitary, were posted at all of the three protest sites bordering the national capital Delhi which are Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri. The Yogi Government of Uttar Pradesh issued an ultimatum to the farmers at Ghazipur, ordering them to vacate immediately, and the forces even staged a flag march there in the dead of the night of 27-28th January, 2021. Water and electricity supplies were cut off. Similar moves were also noticed at the Singhu border which has been the epicenter of the movement since the last two months.


The two-month-old farmers’ movement seemed doomed and actually cracked open with several Unions withdrawing from the protests and hundreds of farmers returning to their villages. But then, everything changed which essentially meant that the government’s perception about the ‘movement’ was wrong. One front-running leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Rakesh Tikait, surrounded by security forces and deserted by many farmers during the same night of January 27-28th at Ghazipur, cried out conspiracy and became tearfully emotional. He declared an indefinite fast, and said he would drink water only from his village.


His interview given to the media went viral instantly. And, his brother-leader in Uttar Pradesh along with thousands of farmers expressed shock, anger and sadness. They started garnering support immediately and started sending enforcements of farmers carrying the essentials including drinking water. Thus supported, Rakesh Tikait defied the Yogi government ultimatum with more and more farmers rejoining, even the returning farmers coming back. The plan of the Yogi government could never be carried out even as water and electricity supplies were restored the next day.


One more shocking event of mob violence happened at Singhu border on 29th January which made the ‘conspiracy’ angle much more plausible. A group of more than 200 people, claiming to be locals and wanting farmers to end stir in view of they insulting the national tricolor, carrying the national tricolor were allowed to cross at least three heavy barricades and to come face to face with the agitating farmers, calling the latter names in the most horrific way. The mob started pelting stones at the farmers ransacking their tents and belongings as the police looked on. Only when the situation got out of control with some the mob swinging swords the police cracked down, and at least two of them were seriously injured. Fortunately, this time the policemen were not attacked by the ‘farmers’.


The Farmers’ Movement, instead of getting cracked open, has got a second lease of life, perhaps even stronger than before. The cultivators are the providers of food and they constitute the bane of the Indian economy. In the long run all stakeholders have everything to lose only if they try to divide or alienate them or calling them ‘traitors’, or ‘terrorists’ or ‘anti-nationals’. Good sense seems to have prevailed over the Government with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for the first time, reaching out to the farmers saying that the ‘best offer’ still holds and that resolution must be reached through dialogue only. The concerns of the farmers must be put at rest first, reforms can come after that. 


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