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Monday, April 15, 2024

India’s farmer protest: Victory or death?

The writer assesses whether India’s deeply fragmented society is in a position to cope with the farmers’ protest, which has now evolved into a game-changing political ploy openly calling for an end to the country’s “internal colonization”.

No matter how justified the reasons are, a protest is always considered an act of defiance, especially by those against whom it is being staged. No matter how reasonable the demands are, people at the helm of affairs consider it a belittling act on their part to concede, or they simply take it as an offensive stance needing no attention.


Whether it is an expression of disdain against the executives or a lack of faith in time-consuming legal processes or simple frustration against any system, the number of protests is increasing worldwide. The rise in demonstrations seeking justice on the streets mostly results in hasty decisions or unnecessary violence, abusing all norms of fair play, thereby agitating issues of governance.


Meanwhile, the media thrive on such demonstrations, political rallies and protests, giving regular updates, feeding its desire to keep tensions high. Following perhaps Gandhi’s visionary approach of “speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly” and led by well-organized unions, the ongoing farmers’ mass protest in India is rapidly gaining momentum and the world’s attention at the same time.


Read more: Farmers Protest in India: The Beginning of a ‘Sikh Spring’

From the British Parliament to Amnesty International, serious concerns have been expressed on Prime Minister Modi’s approach to “stifling dissenting voices, blocking the internet and cracking down on journalists”.


The Leader of the House of Commons in the UK has conveyed to the British Parliament, “We will continue to champion human rights globally, and having the chairmanship of the UN Security Council, this month is a part of that.” A reference to the UN Security Council or human rights may have rung certain familiar bells in New Delhi and rightly so.


The fact that farmers have burned their boats is visible as they, after entering New Delhi in November, have set up kitchens, shops and libraries in and around their tractors with plans to expand the protest countrywide by hosting a series of rallies.


They have taken a giant leap forward with full conviction. For them, there is no turning back. To many, the depiction of Ambani-Adani-Modi placards indicates a drive towards the initiation of a nationalist movement against both the Indian elite and the ruling party.


Terming the farm laws, an alliance between BJP and Indian corporate capitalists, the protesters are openly castigating the “internal colonization” of India. On the other hand, making things easier for protesters to reach out worldwide, the media is giving sleepless nights to all those champion negotiators who thought the aggrieved could be fooled by emotional talks.


Read more: Farmers’ movement in Modi’s la-la land: What next?

A game-changing ploy


It no longer seems to be just a matter of repealing the three farm acts passed by the Indian Parliament in September 2020. No longer does it seem to be just an internal issue of law and order. No longer is it about India’s desire to seek new ways to sell produce on the market or to overhaul and modernize the agricultural sector.


It is gradually becoming a strong labour movement, tacitly reminding New Delhi of the necessity of addressing and negotiating issues in time. It is also reminding us that tampering with farmers and labourers has never been a good idea.


The farmers’ movement is perhaps the most difficult challenge Prime Minister Modi has faced during BJP’s approximate seven years in power. More than its apparent threat of becoming the longest ever movement of its kind, the BJP is wary of its spread over other states, creating an unstoppable trend of seeking justice through street power.


Read more: How did the farmers’ protests turn into an oppressed peoples’ Movement in India

Associating itself with the “freedom struggle” and being equated with Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement of 1921, the mass protest has shown the potential of turning the tide easily from a simple protest into a game-changing political pressure ploy. That kind of eventuality could possibly bring any government in New Delhi down to its knees to accept even additional demands.


India, like Poland, Zimbabwe, Korea and the US, has the experience of handling mass protests by farmers and labourers like the “Pagri Sambhal Jatta” movement of 1907 and the Awadh Farmers’ movement of 1920. However, the present movement is different from all such previous movements, both in scale and intensity.


The declaration “Jittangey ya Maraange” (Victory or Death) reminds one of Fidel Castro’s famous slogan “Patria o Muerte”, which still resonates in the streets of Havana. Both these slogans are definite and exhibit an ultimate determination of going all the way, even facing death, in achieving their objectives.


Here, the tone of this protest changes its nature from a simple demand-orientated protest to a menacing political movement entailing all sorts of possibilities. The enormity of an unprecedented Eka (Unity) has also charmed unrelated but aggrieved factions of the Indian society like Dalits and supporters like journalists and social workers. The stage is set for an undesirable battle.


Read more: Modi and his empty promises: Did Modi’s slogan sab ka vishwas ameliorate the Dalit in India?

Caught between the devil and the deep sea


It would perhaps be a little too presumptuous to conclude that the farmers’ movement has brought Indian Nationalism forth, resulting in uncertain or unimaginable outcomes. It is also a bit too early to say that it will become a torchbearer of a fight against neoliberal corporate-controlled regimes in Asia or elsewhere. However, the question is: can India afford such devastating internal strife in its already fragmented and widely divided society?


The answer is a big no. Looking at the present Government’s willful neglect of both the farmers’ demands and taking reconciliatory measures, New Delhi’s mood is anything but sympathetic. Why New Delhi is showing utter apathy to the farmers’ protest is best known to Prime Minister Modi.


The reasons for this issue not being handled through amicable, effective and timely negotiations at the very outset, in the largest democracy of the world, are also not known. Perhaps it is a miscalculation, or overconfidence or the oft-repeated mistake of not learning from the past.


Read more: Op-ed: Will Indian government be able to scuttle the farmers’ protest?

New Delhi is unwittingly finding itself between the devil and the deep sea. To top it all, there seems no opportunity for any face-saving exit either. Meanwhile, offering no room for any negotiation, Bhagat Singh’s followers are marching ahead in their quest to achieve the stated objectives. Whether or not the farmers’ movement succeeds, the damage has already been done.


The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of seven books in three languages. He can be reached at najmussaqib1960@msn.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of GVS.