New Delhi: When at the end of November last year Delhi was ostensibly laid siege to by the agitating farmers – then primarily hailing from Punjab and Haryana – in protest against the controversial Farm Laws, the timing of their move to camp at the national capital’s borders worked well to their advantage.
In both the states the harvesting of the Kharif paddy and even the sowing of wheat for the new Rabi season was over, resulting in what was described as “free time” for the farmers. They could afford to stay put away from their farmland for months until the laws were rolled back, as their demand goes.
Come the end of February, with the capital sit-in near to the three-month mark, the seeming upper hand that the Samyukt Kisan Morcha – the umbrella body leading the agitation – enjoyed while negotiating with the government interlocutors is no more.
The wheat harvesting period is due within a few weeks, if not days, and that will make it necessary for a section of the protesting farmers, if not all, to report back to their villages. It will be here even as the deadlock with the Centre continues; talks too fell apart last month after a proposal by the latter to keep the contentious laws in abeyance was rejected.
In a press conference held on Sunday the SKM leadership informed the media that planning for the “third stage” of the ongoing movement will be decided after a meeting on February 28.
However, a look at the programmes lined up in the run-up to the said meet suggest that the farmer leaders, anticipating the challenge, are already looking to put a strategy in place to keep the morchas at Delhi’s borders running.
For example, out of the total four events announced on Sunday, two are specifically targeted to attract the participation of the youth and workers to the ongoing protests. On February 26, it was stated, a “Yuwa Kisan Diwas” will be organised; subsequently, the next day, on Guru Ravidas Jayanti and the martyrdom day of freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad, a “Kisan Majdoor Ekta Diwas” will be celebrated.
“Both the programmes were announced keeping in mind the upcoming wheat harvesting period,” Dr. Darshan Pal, president of Punjab-based Krantikari Kisan Union, who also holds a prominent position with the SKM, told Newsclick on Monday over the phone. He added that both the events will ensure the “running of morchas at (Delhi’s) borders” with the participation of the youth and workers’ groups at a time when some farmers are expected to “go back home” for a short period.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, another SKM leader who heads the Haryana-based Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), echoed a similar viewpoint. He further suggested a shift in focus to attract other sections of the society to join the protests came with the added advantage of also projecting the ongoing agitation as a “mass movement”.
“Right now our focus is to make different sections of society to join the protest against the farm laws; turning it into a mass movement. We are doing this by highlighting how the reforms in farming will not just affect farmers, but others as well,” said Chaduni, adding that a lot in this direction had been achieved by the recently-organised mahapanchayats in Haryana.
Celebrated for galvanising the farmers’ protest after spirits were said to be dampened after the Republic Day controversy, these mahapanchayats – large village council meetings – witnessed considerable participation by women, landless agricultural workers, and even those engaged in salaried jobs.
For the wheat harvesting season in Haryana, Chaduni added that a “routine” was also being planned. “Multiple rotations will be made by the farmers, if required. We will ensure that the wheat produce of every farmer is taken care of,” he said.
The need to actively engage with sections of society which are not exactly land-holding tillers is not being felt just by the SKM, but also by other farmer groups active in the protests.
One such faction is the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), one of the largest farmers’ unions in Punjab, one that is spearheading the protests at the Tikri Border. On Sunday, in a virtual show of strength, BKU (EU) and the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union – its wing which represents landless agricultural workers – jointly organised a “Mazdoor Kisan Maha Rally” in Punjab’s Barnala, in a gathering that reportedly saw over a lakh attendees.
“The huge crowds were the answer to all those who wrongly claimed that andolan pheeka pad gaya hai,” Shingara Mann Singh, state secretary, BKU (EU), told Newsclick over the phone from Tikri Border. He added that with the “Maha Rally” the union was also successful in driving home the point that the ongoing movement was not just about the livelihoods of farmers.
“This protest against the kaale kanoon (black laws) is not only of the farmers, but of farm labourers as well,” Singh said, adding that “to honour the role of women in farming” a call to celebrate the upcoming Women’s Day (on March 8) at border camps at the outskirts of Delhi was also given.
Jora Singh Nasrali, president, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, said that mobilisation drives are currently on to ensure continued participation of farm labourers at Delhi’s borders. “The farm laws will not only affect the livelihood of farmers but also the employment of a farm worker. Also, the PDS (Public Distribution System) will be severely diluted with the reforms – putting food security of these workers in danger,” Nasrali told Newsclick from Punjab’s Bathinda.
He added that after a union meeting scheduled for Tuesday, the preparation of a list of all those union members joining the “Delhi morchas” by February 27 will begin. “We are using the farmers’ protest platform to also highlight the issues surrounding caste-based oppression,” said Nasrali. Majority of the farm labourers in Punjab belong to Dalit groups.
Asked about the contradictions between the interests of farmers and agricultural labourers, most apparent recently during the lockdown, Nasrali claimed that it is imperative for both the groups to first unite to fight against the “privatisation, and corporatisation” that is unleashed by the Centre. “Through this unity, ways to resolve the contradictions will also be found.”