Modi in a Bind

Finally prime minister narendra modi had to bow down before the rock-solid unity of farmers. No doubt prime minister’s announcement on November 19 of the repeal of the contentious farm laws surprised the protesting farmers on the streets. In his televised speech Modi said three farm laws would be repealed and asked people to forgive him. But this wisdom came too late as 700 farmers sacrificed their lives in the year-long struggle. He introduced the three draconian laws bypassing the Parliament. It is just the beginning of the end of his autocratic regime. Interestingly, Modi’s all important announcement came on the eve of Guru Nanak’s birth day, hopefully to woo Sikh farmers of Punjab. Whether it will help him in the coming assembly elections in the state is open to question. After all cheap populism cannot work all the time. In truth the Modi brigade tried to break the movement by applying divide and rule policy without any success. The apolitical and non-violent character of the movement from the day one was the source of its strength. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM)—the umbrella body of farmers’ unions that had been leading the agitation against the draconian laws since they were introduced in September last year didn’t allow political leaders on the stage at the Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur borders. Volunteers were put on rotational duty to manage proceedings on the stage and ensure that no political or radical speeches were made. SKM leaders also requested political parties not to hold huge rallies in Punjab ahead of the forthcoming elections, so as to not take away focus from the farmers’ issues. Barring the Republic Day parade during which some farmers allegedly attacked a few policemen on duty at the Red Fort, there were no major incidents of violence in the past one year. Despite provocation farmers maintained peace. At the peak of the movement farmers were called Khalistanis, Gaddars (traitors), anti-nationals and terrorists who were working against India’s interests. Modi himself, speaking in Parliament called them ‘andolanjibis’ to discredit the movement leaders. Modi is unlikely to apologise for his misdeeds.

Farmers’ battle is not yet over. SKM—the joint leadership of the movement—sent an open letter to Modi seeking a dialogue with the government on their pending demands. Their agitation was not just for the rollback of three farm laws. They have long been demanding a law to guarantee minimum support price (MSP) and withdrawal of the Electricity Bill and anti-farmer provisions in the law to control pollution in the national capital Region. Their demands also include withdrawal of hundreds of fake cases registered against protesting farmers in several states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), compensation for the farmers who have died during the protest, and the arrest and dismissal of Union Minister of State for home Ajay Mishra Teni for his role in the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre. Despite so many attempts by the BJP establishment to create fissures in the movement farmers remained united and never allowed themselves to get trapped by BJP’s machinations.

Immediately after Modi’s ‘historic’ retreat SKM organised a Kisan Mahapanchayat in Lucknow and reaffirmed their resolve that their movement would not end until the Narendra Modi Government had accepted all the farmers’ demands.

For all practical purposes Modi is in a bind now as his government is trying to delay the issue of MSP by proposing a committee to look into the matter. But SKM leaders say government doesn’t need an expert committee to decide minimum support prices of farm produce. As chief minister of Gujarat Modi sent a report to the then Congress government suggesting a law on MSP. That report is still lying with the Centre. So Modi can now act on his own report—a paradoxical situation for him. If Modi doesn’t bend further farmers’ struggle will continue as their mass support is increasing with every passing day. Solidarity movement across the country is on the rise. When the movement reached Delhi borders and took on a national character it received unprecedented support from across the country. The maximum support, however, came from Haryana and people from the state. NRIs in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK held rallies and road shows in support of the farmers. Today’s victory would not have been possible had the people in India not come out in open support to the agitation.


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Vol. 54, No. 23, Dec 5 - 11, 2021