THIS time instead of battle tanks, tractors of the protesting farmers stole the limelight on India’s Republic Day parade. Indian government hasn’t been able to suppress the voice of its protesting farmers. Sixteen major Indian opposition parties have accused the government of orchestrating violence that left one person dead and hundreds injured on Republic Day. These parties have blamed New Delhi for “discrediting a legitimate mass movement through a government-sponsored disinformation campaign” as they demanded that the “anti-farmer laws” be repealed. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused Congress of stirring up “agitating farmers.”India’s farming sector is vast and troubled. It provides a livelihood to nearly 70 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people, and accounts for around 15 percent of the $2.7-trillion economy.
Reacting to allegations that farmer organisations were responsible for the violent turn of events on Republic Day, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has put out a series of tweets raising interesting questions. “The turn of events on Republic Day points clearly to the complicity of the BJP government and Delhi Police in aiding and abetting the disruptors”. “The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee which isn’t part of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) was allowed permission behind the stage of SKM & wasn’t surrounded by barricades while the SKM mobilization was heavily barricaded”. “What is their relationship with the police and the BJP Gov??” asked AIKS. Moreover, police went against the route plan agreed with the SKM leadership and allowed an alternative route to the KMSC which was allowed to reach up to the Red Fort.
Some of those who scaled its walls carried ceremonial swords, overwhelming police who were trying to prevent them from entering. The government ordered internet services in some parts of the capital to be blocked, in an attempt to prevent further unrest. Delhi police started: “They have caused great damage to public property and many police personnel have also been injured”. Protest organiser Samyukt Kisan Morcha said the groups deviating from set routes did not represent the majority of farmers.
As usual India had earlier blamed Pakistan for farmers’ unrest. Union Minister Raosaheb Danve had alleged that China and Pakistan were behind the ongoing protests by farmers. Foreign Office spokesperson strongly denied claims by Indian Minister that Pakistan and China were behind the ongoing agitation by farmers. “Such baseless and irresponsible statement from Indian Minister reflects the true mind-set of the BJP government, which finds it convenient to blame India’s neighbours for all its internal failings. Such mind-set imperils regional peace and security,” the spokesperson said.
Now, the entire India is endorsing their farmers’ voice. Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans created panic ahead of India’s Republic Day parade. A protest parade of tractors around the New Delhi’s fringes to coincide with India’s Republic Day celebrations turned into chaos when some farmers diverged from agreed routes, breaking through barricades and clashing with police, who used tear gas and batons to try to restrain them. By evening police had removed protesters from the fort complex but a heavy security presence remained. Hundreds of protesters soon broke away from pre-approved routes, heading for the city centre where the government was holding an annual Republic Day parade of troops and military hardware on January 26. From the city’s north they headed towards the government buildings in the centre. They commandeered cranes and used ropes to tear down roadblocks, forcing constables in riot gear to give way. A second group rode tractors to get to a key central traffic junction, also breaching barricades after similar clashes with police.
Growers, angered by laws they say help large private buyers at the expense of producers, have been camping outside New Delhi for almost two months, posing one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014.Farmers enjoy widespread support among Indians. In rural areas, where 70 percent of Indians live, there is already a growing perception that Modi is cosy with big businesses and billionaire industrialists.
The “Green Revolution” of the 1970s turned India from a country facing regular food shortages into one with a surplus, and it became a major exporter. But for the past few decades, farm incomes have remained largely stagnant and the sector is in sore need of investment and modernisation. More than 85 percent of farmers have less than two hectares of land. According to a 2015-16 Agriculture Ministry survey, fewer than one in a hundred farmers own over 10 hectares. India hands out an estimated $32 billion in subsidies to farmers annually, according to the Finance Ministry. Water shortages, floods and increasingly erratic weather caused by climate change, as well as debt, have taken a heavy toll on farmers.
More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves since the 1990s. Nearly 10,300 did so in 2019, according to the latest official figures. Farmers and their workers are also abandoning agriculture in droves, around 2,000 per day according to the last census in 2011. Farmers constitute a crucial vote bank. Indian governments have long made big promises to farmers. And Modi government is no exception, it promised to double their incomes by 2022. Modi has tried to brush off the current agitation as being stoked by an opportunistic opposition “misleading” the farmers. Some in his party have upped the ante by branding the protesters— many of whom are Sikhs— as “hooligans, Sikh separatists and anti-nationals”. Farm leaders from the eastern state of Odisha to the western state of Gujarat said they would continue to support protesters in Delhi. “We have already made it clear that we want all three agriculture bills to be repealed,” said Raman Randhawa, a farm leader from Rajasthan state. “We will not step back before the laws are scrapped totally by the government.”
Far right thought continues to power the politics of India. Farmers’ protest is so far the biggest challenge to the government. While the protests are beginning to undermine support for Modi in the countryside, he retains a solid majority in parliament and his government has shown no sign of bending to farmers’ demands. Sooner and later, RSS-BJP clan will have to find a way to walk back and save face at the same time. Gimmicks like false flag operation to discredit a legitimate farmers movement are certainly bound to backfire.
—The Islamabad-based writer is a retired army officer and a regular contributor to the national press.