9 months into protest, farmers remain committed to cause

Farmers spirits remain high despite 273 days of struggle

Politics

August 26, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

9 months into protest, farmers remain committed to cause

Farmers' protest began on November 26, 2020 when a large number of farmers from Punjab and Haryana reached the borders of Delhi (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

A series of events are being organised across various parts of India to mark nine months of the farmers’ protest against three farm laws pushed through by the Indian government in 2020. Farmers say they remain committed to the protest and this unique protest has now developed a life of its own and hence will continue until the government accepts the demand to annul the three laws.

On November 26, 2020, when the first tractor, a green Massey Fergusson driven by Jalandhar-based farmer Gurdeep Singh, leading thousands of other tractors and farm vehicles from various states in north India, breached multiple police barricades and finally arrived at its destination, Singhu Border, on the northern fringe of the national capital, few, including the farmers, would have imagined that the protest would not only still be going strong nine months later but actually develop into an international symbol of peaceful and democratic protest against laws imposed by an autocratic government.

“I never thought that the protest will continue for so long. When I joined the protest, I thought it would continue for one or two days or at most a week. But I never imagined we will be here for so long and we were not even prepared. However, now we are prepared,’’ Jatinder Pal Singh, a young farmer from Mohali in Punjab, tells Media India Group.

Not just the younger farmers, but even the older ones are surprised at just how long the government has continued to ignore the farmers. “We did not expect that the protest will last for so long. I think since India got independence, and so many governments have come and gone, but no government has allowed a protest to go on for so long without trying to reach an agreement with the protestors. Earlier governments used to listen to the demands of the farmers, they used to come and listen to them, but this government’s stubbornness is such that they have no attachment with the farmers. This government only cares about the capitalists and are only working for them,” says Ranvir Singh, a leader of the farmer union headed by Rakesh Tikait, an influential farmer leader from Uttar Pradesh.

Close to 600 farmers

Close to 600 farmers have lost their lives in these nine months (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Since the beginning of the protest, close to 600 farmers have died at the protest sites or while travelling to or from the protest sites and the farmers say these have been the toughest moments for them, especially as the union government has refused to even acknowledge the deaths of so many people due to their obduracy. “The most difficult moments during the protest were when people died in front of our eyes. As I am in charge of security, I saw too many people die. Two people consumed poison right in front of me. We took them to a hospital, but they died there. We have lost some very close people at this protest site,’’ says Jatinder Pal Singh.

The farmers say the protest has fully exposed the government and its real agenda, which has for long been only to help crony capitalism grow in the country. They say that the entire economic agenda of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been set according to the wishes and priorities of billionaires like Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group, or chairman of Reliance Industries, Mukesh Ambani, the two richest persons in Asia.

They also say that the though the Farm Laws were introduced only in 2020, the government had been preparing the ground in connivance with the two billionaires for many years and in complete secrecy. Ranvir Singh says that the two companies had begun building large silos in various parts of rural India as early as in 2017.

“At that time, they said it was meant for setting up an industry or a workshop. At no point did they even mention that it was to prepare for their foray into farming, they lied to us continuously for so long and it was only when the laws were pushed through the Parliament, without any consultation with any of the farmers or even the opposition political parties, that we realised the real purpose behind building of so many silos and other projects by Adani and Ambani in our villages,’’ says Ranvir Singh.

The farmers are particularly upset by the manner in which the government as well as the ruling party have tried to ignore the protest, even though it has been at their doorstep and every day a minister or even the prime minister himself keeps on spreading propaganda on how the BJP cares about farmers’ welfare and the steps it has taken to help them. But on the farmers’ protest, they have maintained a complete silence.

“The government is pretending that it doesn’t matter to them whether we are protesting or not. But we are now getting large number of protestors mainly from states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu. Between 200-500 people are coming here on a daily basis. They stay for few days and then they leave. Earlier it was not like this. The government was saying that this protest is a protest of only three states, mainly Punjab, Haryana and UP. But now we have people participating from southern states as well,” says Jatindar Pal Singh.

Protest to weigh on UP & Punjab elections

This silence and various falsehoods about the farmers and their protests spread by the government, the ruling party and its allies will bear significantly on the farmers for a long time to come, they say.

The farmers are particularly upset by the manner in which the government has tried to ignore the protest (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

They say that they are angered by the ‘arrogance’ of the government and a complete lack of response. The farmers have increasingly been very open with their disquiet and launched very strong and popularly-backed boycott of the BJP and its allies in various states, notably in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh.

The farmers say that the protest will have a significant impact on the prospects of the BJP and its allied parties during the forthcoming assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, all slated for early next year. Some point at the rout of the BJP in recent elections in West Bengal, where despite organising large-scale defections from the ruling Trinamool Congress party and holding massive electoral rallies at the height of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the TMC got more seats than earlier, leaving the BJP far behind. They say that the BJP will face another significant rout if its arrogance continues and the farmers’ plight continues.

“The farmers will never forget the inhumane treatment meted out to them by the government over the last nine months. They have been humiliated for so long by the government and have been slandered with many names like Pakistanis, Khalistanis and they have even said that we are getting the funding from Canada. The Prime Minister even said that we are the andolanjeevis (one who thrives on protests) and has called us many such names. The farmers are listening to this and tolerating these things calmly. And you must have seen the results of this name calling during the West Bengal elections. The people showcased their unhappiness with the government during those elections,” says Ranvir Singh.

The farmers say that as they constitute a majority of voters not just in these three states but also all across the country, the government would try to distract the attention of people and voters in the coming months in order to try to take the national attention away from the farmers’ protest and try to ensure that they don’t lose the farmers’ votes which are crucial for victory in the elections. However, the farmers say that they will not forget or forgive the humiliation of the past nine months and deliver a strong message at the ballot box.

“Now as the protests are continuing the government will definitely try to divert the attention of people with some issues. However, the farmers are going through such a phase that they will do everything to save their crops as well as families. The farmers have been protesting for so long, but the government is turning a blind eye towards their issues. Now it is our duty that we teach a lesson to the government. The farmer has the power to topple the government. You have the power because it has been given to you by the farmers. And if the farmer can help you rise to summits, he can also make you fall into abyss,” warns Ranvir Singh.

Jitendar Pal Singh remains more optimistic about the short-term future and says that the ruling party would not want to face the prospect of a complete rout in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the largest in the country. “The protest will not last so long as I think that before Punjab and UP elections they will have to listen to us. The protest had a significant influence during the West Bengal elections. The BJP will not be able to recover if they lose elections in Uttar Pradesh because from September 6, some of our leaders will be going to UP to make the people aware about the situation. Since UP is such a big state, if they lose there, the problems of BJP will start,” he says.

Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar to set electoral agenda

As a preparatory measure for keeping the farm vote united and for the farmers to deliver a strong message to the government about their unhappiness, the farmer leaders have organised a massive meeting, a mahapanchayat, on September 5 in Muzaffarnagar, the hub of farm lobby in western UP.

During the convention, the farm unions will discuss the intensification and expansion of the ongoing agitation (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

“The mahapanchayat is going to be a big rally and has been organised by the Sanyukta Morcha and on that day we will make a big announcement that in the 2022 elections what impact will the ruling party face. We will finalise our electoral strategies during this meeting. But one thing the government and the BJP need to understand right away, earlier there was the Gandhian philosophy that if someone slaps you on one cheek you turn your other cheek to them. But the government better be forewarned that the farmers are no longer willing to turn the other cheek for the government to exploit them anymore and we answer them in the same manner,” warns Ranvir Singh.

To mark the completion of nine months of protest, representatives of over 1500 farmers’ unions from 20 states all across India have gathered at the iconic Singhu Border at the first All India Convention organised by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, (SKM) the umbrella organisation of the unions.

During the convention, the farm unions will discuss the intensification and expansion of the ongoing agitation, focusing on their demand of withdrawal of farm laws. The convention will also discuss legal guarantee for MSP of all crops, repeal of Electricity Bill, 2021, and no prosecution of farmers under the Commission of Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas Bill 2021.

At the convention, the farmers’ leaders rejected the so-called “highest ever” Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) for sugarcane announced by the central government on Wednesday. “The price approved for sugar season 2021-22, compulsorily payable by sugar mills, is INR 2900 per quintal for a recovery rate of 10 pc. It is noteworthy that the actual hike is a meagre five rupees per quintal, and as no government actually reduces the price from one season to the other, every year the price can only be “highest ever”! “This hike is clearly an insult to sugarcane farmers of the country,” said SKM.

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