By Asia Samachar Team | INDIA |
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spotted a Gujrati turban as he took part in India’s 72nd Republic Day in Delhi yesterday (26 Jan 2021). But his mind was probably calculating the potential fallout from massive farmers’ tractor parades elsewhere in Delhi and other parts of the country.
The farmers’ protest has certainly shifted focus away from the national celebration. It must have loomed large on the minds of the Indian premier and his leadership team.
Despite massive odds and unending hurdles thrown at them, the farmers displayed steely determination to protest peacefully to demand the removal of three controversial farm laws hurriedly passed by the government five months ago.
After weeks of camping out at the borders of Delhi, the farmers’ union marched out in their hundreds of thousands on designated routes, coinciding with India’s Republic Day. It was a show of force and a direct challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led federal government, an administration that had previously readily elbowed parties that came in their way.
The BJP ministers had attempted to kill the farmers resolute opposition to the farm laws by dragging negotiations. So far, the government and farmer unions leaders met over 11 rounds of negotiations with nothing to show. Each time, union leaders came out exasperated, knowing full well that they were being egged on by the government.
Modi has reason to fear the farmers’ determined push. They have shown immense maturity and astuteness in dealing with the government.
More importantly, the massive tractor parade yesterday saw spontaneous outpouring of love and support from the people in the street. The farmers and their supporters took to the streets on tractors, trolleys, cars, motorbikes and on foot. There was a carnival like mood. You should view videos, live streamed or recorded, uploaded by pro-farmers social media platforms. You will get the sense of the mood on the ground.
The spontaneous support and love showered by the ordinary folks who came out in support should send chills down the spine of BJP leaders. And the fact that the farmers are not about to throw in the towels.
By and large, the tractor parades were a huge success. Barring a few incidents – probably due to miscommunications or suspected state manufactured chaos – the kisan morcha went on peacefully.
Some of the government’s actions were questionable. In the beginning, they gave the protesting farmers a hard time in getting permission to hold their intended rally.
Once approved, other hurdles appeared. On the day of the event, farmers leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said that police had blocked access along the routes that was earlier agreed upon, forcing tractors to divert.
On one route, he said the protestors had to clear the path to stick to the tractor parade plan. On another, they were ‘being diverted towards the ring road.’
“I had received a call from Dr Darshall Lall [another farmer leader]. He told me that the police had blocked their path. They were not allowing our people to proceed as planned, but diverting them towards the Ring Road,” he said in a speech the day after the event. “On the agreed routes, we were supposed to pass through many large villages. People were looking forward enthusiastically to greet us, some with langgar and methaiyaa (sweets).”
When the trapped farmers tried to make a u-turn, he said the police again blocked them.
“The police told us that we could proceed towards Delhi, that you can go towards Lal Qila even. There was no barricade along that path. The same had happened at the Tikri border. There, they [the farmers] pushed ahead, insisting on proceeding along the agreed route.”
One devastating blow was the unplugging internet access to people in the protest areas. Imagine how this would throw the whole movement into chaos since they would not be able to communicate effectively. This is state manufactured chaos.
That is precisely the intended outcome from the authorities when they decided to suspend internet services till midnight on the day of the protest. Home Ministry deputy secretary Shailendra Vikram Singh is supposed to have exercised his powers under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Rule 2(1) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
He released an order stating that “in the interest of maintaining public safety and averting public emergency it is necessary and expedient to order the temporary suspension of internet services in the areas of Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri, Mukarba Chowk, Nangloi and their adjoining areas in NCT of Delhi.”
And there were a good many other such attempts. More such attempts will come out in the open in the coming days.
A good number of the Indian media had clearly dropped all pretensions to report the farmers’ protest accurately and objectively. The farmers plight was mostly reported in the negative.
Some television channels only showed the few moments when police and the farmers, or parties representing themselves as farmers, clashed. And you had news anchors walking into areas engulfed with tear gas, giving dramatic blow by blow accounts. However, their narrative omitted to tell viewers that those ‘clashes’ hardly represented the overall tractor parades which proceeded peacefully.
The print media was no different. Take the government’s move to disrupt the internet service. This is how Business Times, a major business publication, reported the story: “Parts of the national capital are facing issues with accessing internet since the past few hours. Following a ruckus created by protesting farmers, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) quickly resorted to switching down the internet services in areas like Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri, Mukarba Chowk, Nangloi and their adjoining areas within the NCT (national capital territory) of Delhi.”
What are you told in these few lines? First, the farmers are the ones creating the ruckus. Second, the authorities had ‘quickly resorted to switching down’, making it sound like they were firemen facing a blazing fire. On the contrary, it can be argued that the government has acted in haste, and that its actions caused more harm and disrupted a peaceful protest.
FARMERS RESOLUTE PUSH
The farmers have been holding fort on the roadsides demonstrations of Delhi since November. They seem to holding steady despite attempts to puncture their resolve.
The coming days and weeks will be decisive. They may turn out to be Modi’s biggest challenge. Perhaps it’s time he come down from the mighty Delhi throne and give the farmers what they have been asking for – a slice of life and dignity that they truly deserve.
Modi should consider getting rid of the three farm laws. When walking to the Singhu border to make peace with the farmers, he can don the turban of the Panjab farmers, the prime movers of the protest.
Farmer unions to ignore Supreme Court committee, seen as government ‘ploy’ (Asia Samachar, 12 Jan 2021)