After Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar asserted in Rajya Sabha on February 5 that farmers in only one state are suffering from misunderstanding and that the agitation against the three farm laws is a matter of only one state, widespread traffic blockades were reported from across the country as farmers came out in large numbers to yet again protest against these laws. Not only did this blow away the minister’s assertion, – it yet again established that that there is deep anger against the laws, as also against the rigidity of the Modi government.
Media reports and NewsClick’s on the ground coverage suggests that the three-hour long blockade (“chakka jam”) took place in almost all the districts of Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Kerala, Bihar, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and many districts in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and other states. Some major farmers’ unions had decided not to hold the blockade in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, suspecting that the respective Bharatiya Janata Party governments would try to take advantage of the situation and cause some untoward incident. However, even in these states, other farmers’ unions held protests in several districts.
Why is the agriculture minister, who has been the pointsman for the Modi government in dealing with the farmers’ struggle, so insistent that this is a matter of only one state? He and others in the ruling party have repeatedly said this, despite the fact that:
Just two weeks after the Delhi siege began on November 26, a country-wide “bandh” or strike was observed on December 8, in support of the farmers and to condemn the violence unleashed against them in Haryana.
Since then, large protest demonstrations, dharnas, padyatras, rallies, and other actions have been held in all the states by farmers.
The joint platform of central trade unions, made up of 10 central trade unions and dozens of other independent federations has held protests in all the states, supporting the farmers.
Farmers from practically all states – including from as far away as Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south and Odisha in the east and a 5,000-strong contingent from Maharashtra in the west have joined the five dharnas continuing at Delhi’s borders.
Practically all Opposition parties, many representing their strong support bases in different states, have opposed the three farm laws and supported the farmers’ struggle.
Six state governments have passed resolutions in their respective State Assemblies against the three central laws.
And yet, the minister continues to make this false claim, that too in Parliament! Is it just a misjudgement, a delusion, that this government is labouring under or is there something more?
Attempt to Discredit
The inescapable fact is that the government’s continued harping on the protests being confined to one state arises from a combination of two different strands of thinking (or non-thinking) – one, the attempt to drive a wedge in the unprecedented sweep of the struggle by constantly saying that this is an issue that only the farmers of Punjab are raising; and two, the convenient conclusion that it is instigated by the state’s ruling party, the Congress, and sustained by international funds being funnelled through the diaspora from that state, which in turn has Khalistani separatist linkages.
Also read: ‘Punjab will Keep the Movement Alive’: The Workforce Behind Protests on Delhi Borders
Both these assumptions, expressed repeatedly in one form or other, are patently false. The Amarinder Singh-led Congress government has extended its support to the farmers’ cause. But, so has the main opposition party in Punjab, the Akali Dal, which was part of the Modi-led ruling alliance at the Centre till recently and parted ways on the very issue of the three laws. In any case, the movement of the farmers encompasses too much anger and determination, it has too big a scale and sweep to be propped up by any political party.
So, it really boils down to misleading the country and Parliament when the government claims that the farmers’ protests are just a one-state imbroglio. And through this, the only objective could be to drive a wedge in the unity, discourage others from joining and hope that the whole thing would simply go away.
The Foreign Red Herring
Meanwhile, two developments further revealed the inner workings of the BJP’s collective mind. One was the instant alarm that electrified the ruling establishment when a bunch of foreign celebrities expressed support for the farmers’ movement. The country – indeed the world – witnessed the astonishing spectacle of the government responding to tweets by these celebrities, and the closing of ranks by various Bollywood flag bearers, and surprisingly, even some cricketers, who came out with tweets or statements supporting the country and the confidence for an amicable solution to the ongoing protests.
This was confusing – the mash-up of country with the government and orchestrating a display of outraged patriotism, as if some foreign power had declared war on India, spoke of the crisis of confidence that the Modi government has been stricken with. It has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with such flimsy notions to draw attention away from the fact that its own activities in the recent weeks – the barricades and the spikes at Delhi borders, the fact that crowds walked into the Red Fort, the images of old women and children huddled in makeshift camps in the chilly winter of Delhi – have caused serious damage to the image of India as a “Vishwa guru” (world’s teacher).
The other development was, the US government announced that the new farm laws would help in increasing the “efficiency” of markets in India. This brazen comment on India’s internal policy did not cause outrage amongst the celebrity Twitterati but Rihanna’s and others’ did.
Also read: MEA Defends Farm Laws Amid International Backlash
The US, it is well known, has been leading a long drawn battle against India’s food subsidy which ensures better prices to farmers and affordable foodgrain for millions of poor people. The US Government has raised this matter in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and in the negotiations for other trade agreements including the Doha Round.
Their argument is that since India subsidises its farmers, they are deprived of the opportunity of exporting grain to India. Fortunately, Indian governments in the past have stood their ground and resisted the pressure. It needs to be remembered that the US government itself, as also the European Union give enormous subsidies to their farmers – they don’t want India to do so. Hence the US is supportive of the new farm laws – it will lead to dismantling of the whole procurement and distribution set up, after all.
So, what will happen now? The farmers have declared that they will continue the blockade at Delhi’s borders till at least October 2. That’s nine months away. Meanwhile, the struggle is steadily spreading and deepening. In the past few weeks, since the Republic Day, massive mahapanchayats (community gatherings) have taken place in Western UP and Haryana, two states adjacent to Delhi. Thousands have attended and preparations are on for joining the dharnas at Delhi’s borders. In Punjab, the determination to fight it out runs deep in the villages and the system of batches coming from every village is running like clockwork.
In several states, as the chakka jam showed, there is growing support. Even in cities, various sections are coming out in solidarity with the struggling farmers. In short, the government can only strike a compromise, there is not going to be any let up.
Also see: Farm Laws: The Resistance Grows