New Delhi: Despite several weeks of acrimonious interaction with the Central government, farmers agitating against the three contentious agricultural laws have not lost hope. The optimist peasants, camping at five entry points of Delhi, say that the ruling dispensation will come to its senses and repeal the legislations sooner or later.
Two days after celebrating Lohri at the protest sites away from their families, they are set to celebrate Baisakhi as well if the government does not accedes to their of roll back the farm laws enacted in September last year and legal guarantee on the minimum support price (MSP) — the agricultural produce price declared by the Government of India for direct procurement from farmers.
Copies of Farm Laws were burnt on Lohri, Jan 13.
Lohri is a harvest festival celebrated on January 13 every year, primarily in Punjab, to mark the passing of the winter solstice. Usually celebrated on April 13 or 14 each year, Baisakhi also marks the beginning of solar new year.
“We have already rejected what the government is forcing upon us. Whatever solutions (to resolve the stalemate) the government has suggested so far are a farce and half-hearted. If they were genuine, the farmers would have had accepted them. When they are willing to change several provisions of the law but not ready withdraw it, it shows their ego,” Gurpreet Wasi, who is volunteering at the protest sites in the national capital, told NewsClick at Ghazipur border where the agitators set ablaze copies of the laws in the Lohri bonfire on Janaury 13.
Copies of the gazette notification of the laws were burnt at over 20,000 sites across the country during the Lohri festival.
With regard to Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishing Lohri to the Sikh community in Gurumukhi, she said, “I find it a little comical. It appears that he is staying in some ivory tower where he is perhaps away from ground realities. He is tweeting on various developments across the globe to offer condolences and speak against anarchy (Capitol Hill incident), but he is silent on farmers protesting in Delhi. It appears as if he is cut-off from whatever is happening in this country.”
Wasi said the Supreme Court reprimanding the government for not tackling the farmer grievances seriously, constituting a four-member committee to talk to different stakeholders and ordering the panel to submit a report in two months so that the top court can understand well the problems and reach a conclusion was well “orchestrated”. Still, she claimed, she has faith in judiciary.
“As a citizen, I have faith in the judiciary. The day we lose faith in the judiciary, it will probably be the day we become entirely cynical of democracy. It will completely negate the entire Constitution. Therefore, we will wait how things pan out in the days to come. We hope better sense prevails….”
She said urban Indians may have woken up to the protests just 50 days ago when the farmers marched toward Delhi, “but this agitation has been going on in Punjab since last September. There is a lot of patience and long-term strategy. There is lot of resolve in farmers who know that the issue is not going to be sorted out very quickly. Urban Indians are impatient, not the protesting farmers who are well-prepared for a long haul. Sooner or later, the government will have to accept our demand.”
Wasi is not alone, as there are several protesters who are hopeful and confident that the laws will be struck down by the government, which has not so far given any indication for the same and instead continuously defending it.
“We ask the government to respect our sentiments. The contribution of Sikhs to the freedom struggle is no secret. Of the 2,621 life imprisonments pronounced by the Britishers, our share stood at 2,600. We were 96 of the 120 people who were sent to the gallows. Still, you (the government) doubt our patriotism and call us anti-nationals? You have distanced yourselves from us by doing so. It is you who are responsible for the widespread trust deficit,” said Hukam Singh, a resident of Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttarakhand.
Like others, Singh reiterated that they would go back only when the laws are repealed. “The committee (appointed by the Supreme Court) has been formed so that farmers return to their villages, but this will not happen. The protest will continue till the government repeals the laws. And it will have to do so by hook and crook,” added the young man.
Others said the government, by delaying the process, was testing their patience but will “fail measurably”. A day will come — they said with confidence — when the government will be left with no option but to accept the demands of protesting farmers.
“Given the stubbornness of those in power, the only way forward for us is further intensification of the protest. The government is testing our patience. Therefore, it is delaying the process of withdrawal. But it will fail measurably in its tactics. Farmers are the most patient people on this earth. We sow our crops and wait for months for the production. It’s like gambling where you sometimes win or lose. Despite hard work and hiked input costs, the weather destroys the crops and we suffer huge losses. But still, we don’t lose hope. We go for the next crop and harvest a good produce. Patience and courage to bear losses are key to farming. So, the government better not test our patience,” said Jagdish Singh, a farmer from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh.
He said the government will have to accept the farmer demands and attempts to discredit the agitation by branding the agitators as ‘terrorists’ won’t work.
“Divide and rule is the policy of the BJP government. They (Right wing leaders) are expert in Hindu-Muslim conflicts. But this time, they have locked horns with farmers, who are out of their syllabus. They are trying to break the unity of this protest, but they are failing in all their attempts. They are trapped so much that it has become difficult for them to find a way out. We will keep them trapped till they accede to our demands, which are very simple and justified — roll back the three laws and bring a law on MSP,” he said.
Satnam Singh, who belongs to Lucknow, cautioned the government that a “small spark can cause devastating fire, which will be difficult to douse”.
“Do not take the peaceful protesters for granted. Our youth are bound by the discipline of farmer unions. If they are pushed to the brink, the damage may be unimaginable. A small spark can ignite their emotions, and the fire caused will be difficult to douse,” he threatened.
Defence Veterans in Solidarity
Defence Veterans in Solidarity
Among the protesters at different borders of the national capital are several veterans of the defence forces who also appear to be angry with the government.
Wing Commander (retired) Anuma Acharya, who along with a bunch of ex-service men, has been camping at the Ghazipur border, called the government a group of “dictators” and “fascists”.
“Those in power claim to be nationalists. They could be nationalist in their own way; but if it is a democracy, they are not nationalist at all. They are dictators and fascists. We should not mince words when we have to call spade a spade. If the government is not listening to its citizens, it is a dictatorial government. It’s not the farmers who are adamant, as being claimed, they are firm on their demands. The government is adamant, stubborn and obstinate because it is not ready to consider the farmers’ points of view. The government is on the wrong foot, not the peasants,” she told NewsClick.
With regard to the allegation that some secessionist forces, such as Khalistanis (separatists who seek to create a sovereign state for Sikhs) have infiltrated the ongoing peasants protest, she said the “government is floating such conspiracy theories because it cannot face its citizens”.
“Whosoever is against their policies, the government and its proxies label them as Khalistanis, members of the ‘Tukde Tukde gang’ and even anti-nationals. When fellow citizens are labeled as Khalistanis and anti-nationals, it means that the government has some kind of inferiority complex and it is falling short of courage to face its own people. What is sacrosanct is that this country has a democracy and it will continue to have it forever,” she said.
‘Tukde Tukde gang’ is a political catchphrase used by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sympathisers accusing their critics for allegedly supporting sedition and secession.
“When these terms were very new, at that time I used to take them very seriously. Now, when I know it is purely their inferiority complex, I don’t feel anything about it. When they have nothing to say about people, they come out with such kind of honorifics,” she said.
Subedar (retired) Guru Charan Singh said calling out farmers, who also comprise those who have defended the country, is like an “abuse”. He said it is easy to fight external aggression, but difficult to deal with “internal aggression”.
“I was a farmer before joining the armed forces and I am a farmer after retirement. So, calling us anti-nationals is like abusing the defence forces. Those who are branding us are, in fact, traitors who want to hand over the agriculture sector to big corporate, as they are doing with other national assets such as airports, railways, etc. These laws have been drafted to safeguard the interests of big industrialists and leave our fates at their mercy,” he alleged.
Singh said the government was lowering the morale of the young men defending the country on its borders by forcing their elders to sleep on roads in the bitter cold and die. “The government is pretending that it is unaware of a looming threat,” he said.
He urged the top court to stay the implementation of the laws till this government completes its term. “Stay the laws for the remaining period of the Modi government. Translate all 23 pages of the three laws in all languages of the country, distribute it across the country so that people can read, understand and have informed opinion about the legislations. Promise implementation of the laws in your manifesto. Conduct the next general elections through ballot paper. And then see the results, I bet the BJP will be restricted within a hundred seats,” he challenged.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) alleged the government is leaving no stone unturned to make the protest violence so that it can be discredited and rooted out.
“We are so far successful in going ahead with a peaceful protest. The government wants violence, but all its attempts have been exposed,” BKU leader Dharmendra Mallick alleged.
“Pyar ki bhasha desh ki sarkar nahin sunti hai. Sarkar jaise sunti hai use waise hi sunana parega (the government does not listen to the language of love. We will make it listen the language it understands),” he said when asked about the future course of action.
He, too, said the government will have to accept the farmers demands; otherwise, “it will have to face the consequences”.
With regard to the proposed ‘Tractor Parade’ on Republic Day (January 26), he cleared the air by declaring that the farmer unions have not given any call to disturb the official parade at Rajpath. He said the protesters will organise a parallel parade in Delhi without creating any law and order situation.
“Republic Day is a national festival and everyone in this country has the right to celebrate it. Farmers will also celebrate the festival with full enthusiasm. As far as entering Delhi is concerned, the national capital belongs to everyone. In an independent country, you can go wherever you want without any pass and permission. The Delhi Police saying that only those who have passes can enter Delhi is ridiculous, nonsense and condemnable. Passes are issued to take part in official parade, not for traveling into the city,” he added.