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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: The ‘Tractor March’, attended by tens and thousands of Indian farmers was supposed to be a true representation and celebration of the “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan’ (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer,” national sentiment, at the 71st Republic Day celebration in Delhi yesterday. Protesting at Delhi’s borders for two months now, against the government’s `agriculture reform laws’, a successful accomplishment of the march, stretching over 100 km, was expected to steal the thunder. from right under the nose of prime minister Narendra Modi. And it did, with all the media attention focussed on the tractor march, much against their will, in between the dull and boring official ceremony.
The farmer’s for the first time since Independence were determined to join the Republic Day celebrations, as their soldier sons marched at the official parade. Media from around the world decided to do a live cast of the march which started on a peaceful note, with showers of flowers from citizens, standing on the sidelines. It however soon hit a discordant note, with news of violence breaking out, threatening to overpower their accomplishment. The national media on cue shifted the focus away from the well-intentioned farmer protests to the violence instead, in an attempt to undermine the protests.
For two months now, the farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, also joined by farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan, have been protesting peacefully on the Delhi borders in extreme cold, in the open, after they were stopped from entering Delhi to protest on November 26/27. Before this, the farmers had been protesting for months in Punjab, after the Modi government, used a brute majority and unfair means to pass what it calls the “agriculture reform laws”, in both houses of parliament.
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Though the government has been tom-tomming all over the country that the three laws passed under the pretext of reform of the agriculture sector, is for the benefit of farmers, it never consulted any of the farmer unions and passed the bill despite severe opposition in the parliament. The bill was passed extremely urgently, without any discussion on it, despite no emergency like situation prevailed in the country, to pass such a law. After months of passing the bill and 11 rounds of talks with farmers, the government has failed to establish how the laws are beneficial to the farmers. It has instead raised some uncomfortable questions for Modi, on how the laws help his corporate cronies like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani instead.
After two months of protest at the border, which has swelled from a couple of hundred farmers to several million now, not just on the borders but the rest of the country as well, the Modi government after trying every trick in the book to discredit and break the protests, has agreed to refrain from implementing the laws for 18 months. The farmers are however adamant about a complete rollback of the laws.
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Despite the Modi’s government’s efforts to tour every district explaining the benefits of these laws, farmers and agricultural experts refuse to be swayed by them. The national media’s efforts to discredit them with tags of Khalistanis and terrorists too have fallen flat, with public support for the growing, alarming the Modi government. The farmers have by and large succeeded in getting their message across that these bills are for the benefit of the private corporations and not for them. And that the negative impact of these laws is not limited to them alone. They have proved point by point that pushing agriculture into the hands of the corporate giants, after getting rid of the essential commodities act would not only mean complete devastation of their lands, but it would also lead to a sudden, unlimited spike in prices of every farm produce.
The protest was declared more than a month ago, with the farmer leaders showing their willingness to the central government and the Delhi police, to follow a designated route, to ensure a peaceful protest. The government’s reluctance to first allow the march and then its constant delays in clarifying the route, after reluctantly giving in to their demand for the march, led to a chaotic situation leading to the violence. According to Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), the police did not confirm the route till midnight of January 25. He stated in several interviews after the incident that, even after “confirming” it, the farmers were greeted with barricades on the designated route, forcing them to take detours. In the process, some of the farmers, mostly from the villagers unaware of the Delhi roads, were led by the disruptive elements to the Red Fort.
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Within minutes, actor Deep Sidhu, an election aide to actor and now Member of Parliament (MP) Sunny Deol, emerged as the main culprit, first seen breaking the barricades with his henchmen and then proceeding towards Red Fort, which was not part of the original plan according to the march leaders.
After reaching the Red Fort, he and his supporters hoisted the Sikh religious flag, the Nishan Sahib, giving impetus to the national media to spread the news that the Indian flag hoisted there was replaced by a “Khalistani” flag. The fact-checking teams of some of the media, soon revealed the identity of Sidhu as a BJP supporter himself, with pictures of him with Modi and home minister Amit Shah. It was also clarified that the flag hoisted was not a “Khalistani” flag, as portrayed by the media, also posting pictures of an unarmed national flag, still flying high on Red Fort.
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Despite his identity being revealed and Tikait stating that they had warned the Delhi police that he was a rogue element and not welcome in their protests, accusing him of even instigating the farmers to march to Red Fort with him, the night before, the police did not take any preventive arrests. The police did not make any arrests after the incident as well, despite video evidence of the source of the violence. Several members of the Delhi police were not only seen idling away around the Red Fort, despite a huge crowd of protestors rushing in and scaling the ramparts but also allowing the main culprit Deep Sidhu to walk away, all caught on camera.
A young farmer Navneet Singh, newly married and a resident of Australia was shot dead by the police, after which some of them ran away from the spot, fearing a backlash according to bystanders. Several other farmers and cops too have been injured in the mayhem that followed. Several videos of Delhi police not only beating up the farmers but also of them damaging their vehicles, not involved in the violence too, have surfaced.
The absolute silence of Narendra Modi, over the unfortunate incident, when he was quick to tweet over the violence at Capitol Hill in Washington DC just a few days back, is a damning indication of how his government is orchestrating these events. Fixing responsibilities since he became the prime minister in 2014, is a forgotten norm.
The Red Fort is a protected monument, and heavily guarded especially in the days before the Republic Day celebrations. And yet the government’s complete failure to first anticipate the possibility of violence and then prepare accordingly to ensure a peaceful march is unfathomable. The government has been using the police to simply orchestrate events in Delhi, rather than ensuring that it does what it’s recruited for. This was evident not just during the farmer’s march yesterday but also in November last year. It was also witnessed during the Delhi riots in February last year and during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, which too had garnered interest around the world.
The police not only allowed violence to escalate during the Delhi riots for days, but they also never questioned, leaving alone arresting the three BJP leaders, Parvesh Verma, Anurag Thakur, and Kapil Mishra, whose hate-filled speeches triggered the riots. The police instead went after the actual victims in the riots, not even sparing the doctors, lawyers, and activists, who are key witnesses to the riots and working to get the victims some justice.
Images of Kapil Gujjar, shooting thrice in the air, at Shaheen Bagh, walking backward as he kept waving his gun, as the police watched mutely, waiting for him to reach them, then arresting him, only for the courts to release him in a matter of days, followed by news of him joining the BJP, is a stark reminder all that is wrong with the Modi model of governance. This while protestors including students, civil rights activists, and political opponents well into their eighties continue to languish in jail, without any evidence against them.
The Tractor March was a deeply symbolic act, revealing the farmer’s determination to challenge Modi’s rising tyranny and has managed to push the government on the backfoot, for the first time in seven years. It is just a matter of time before the government is forced to give in to their demands. Hence the intensity with which the government is fighting back to break the farmer’s protests is not surprising, just as it did with the Shaheen Bagh protests, using Covid as a pretext to force them to retreat.
The farmers know that if they withdraw, it might be decades, before they are able to regroup on this scale to push against the might of the government, for their rights.
For months the farmer leaders had been informing the police about the infiltration of gangster-turned-activist Lakha Sidhana, and actor Deep Sidhu as “enemies of their struggle”.
These two had a plan ready by Tuesday morning and started their march a couple of hours before the start of the official march of the farmer unions. They positioned their ‘henchmen’ in large numbers at a road turning towards central Delhi. From there, they were able to direct other tractors towards the Red Fort instead of the agreed route, where the police had managed to erect barricades.
Though the designated volunteers of the farmer’s union tried to stop them, they were outnumbered. This unit then proceeded to forcefully remove all the barricades put up by the police, soon clearing their path all the way to the Red Fort, a distance of almost 30 km, without any further hurdles. An impossible feat to achieve on Republic Day, without some inside help.
Despite the march being planned for months, where large numbers of farmers were expected to join, the police seemed to have no backup plan to stop either the violence en route or stop anyone from entering the Red Fort, even when it was evident the night before that this group was going to attempt reaching the Red Fort. Speeches were being made by Sidhu the night before that they had been protesting for too long, to turn away without unfurling their flag at the Red Fort.
Instead of questioning the security lapse, the media as expected shifted the onus of maintaining peace on the protesting farmers instead, holding them responsible for the outbreak of violence.
In a video message by Rajinder Singh Deep Singh Walla, representing one of the farmer unions, after the march, he pointed out that their fight was long and they need to remain alert from attempts to disrupt their peaceful protest by these wannabe leaders, who bear no responsibilities and yet threaten to torpedo their protests, with their fake projections as leaders.
He reminded the dejected protestors that for the first time in the last seven years, the chokehold that the Modi government has on the citizens is loosening. That the rest of the country is viewing the farmer’s protests like a beacon of hope, pulling people out of abject depression, rekindling a belief that this government can indeed be pushed back and democracy reclaimed.
Photo Credits AP
Curated by Humera Kidwai