Six months into the farmers’ movement, govt and farmers both adamant on their respective stances but both want the movement to be over
SKM has even written a letter to PM Narendra Modi asking him to resume the dialogue on the issue of the three farm laws. At the same time the protesting farmers say that if the government doesn’t listen to them, they will intensify the movement in the days to come. However, over the last few days, according to sources, the government agencies have also been looking for possibilities to start a new round of talks.
The ongoing farmers’ movement on the Delhi borders to protest the three new farm laws brought about by the central government through ordinances on June 5, 2020, turns six months old today May 26. The farmer organizations are observing May 26 as Black Day to mark six months of the movement led by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) and they are holding the central government’s indifferent stance towards the farmers’ demands responsible for this.
The protests against these laws are, in fact, older than six months. They had started as soon as the laws came into being. The protests intensified in the months of August and September. Protests had gone for three months in Punjab before the farmers reached Delhi and a Bharat Bandh had been called on September 25. Over the last six months since November 26, 2020, the farmers’ movement has gone through several ups and downs, appearing at times even to collapse, but it remains effective even now.
The protesting farmers are adamant about their demands even in the face of the terrible second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which suggests that they are succeeding with their strategy to continue with the movement. The government, on the other hand, has virtually kept mum on the issue since talks were last held on January 22, 2021. Given this situation, the moot question is who will wink first. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) has even written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to resume the dialogue on the issue of the three farm laws. At the same time the protesting farmers say that if the government doesn’t listen to them, they will intensify the movement in the days to come. However, over the last few days, according to sources, the government agencies have also been looking for possibilities to start a new round of talks.
If we take a look at the entire course of the movement, it is now entering its fourth phase. During the first phase, the farmer organizations launched protests against the laws at a local level in the states — the Bharat Bandh of September 25 was part of this. In the second phase, the farmers gave the “Dilli chalo” (Let us march to Delhi) call from November 26, 2020. And they have been protesting on the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders of Delhi — if not in Delhi —, Palwal and Shahjahanpur ever since.
The third phase of the movement started on January 28, 2021. Only two days earlier, on January 26, Delhi had witnessed the tractor march and the Red Fort incident, which virtually brought the movement to an end. The movement had lost its moral support on a large scale. But, on the Ghazipur border in the evening of January 28, the pressure to arrest the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesman Rakesh Tikait and the failed attempt by the police and the administration to end the movement by force gave the movement a new lease of life. These happenings not only gave a fillip to the movement but also added to the stature of Rakesh Tikait among the farmer leaders of the movement. Since then, the movement has been going on at its own pace and in its own character. The farmer organizations remained, and still are, united.
We may now assume that the movement is entering its fourth phase from May 26. One of the reasons for this is that the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is weakening, which will open the possibility of farmers coming back to the Delhi fronts. Two, the Rabi crops have been harvested and the farmers can now spare time to come back to the fronts. Another significant aspect is that under the pressure of the farmers’ movement, the government has gone for a massive purchase of the Rabi crops. In Punjab, as of May 22, there has been a record purchase of 132.10 lakh tonnes (lt) of wheat in the current Rabi season (2021-22). In Haryana, as of the same date, there has been a record purchase of 84.93 lt of wheat. Calculating at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 1,975 per quintal, we find that wheat farmers in the two states now have more than Rs 42,862 crores in their pockets. Going by the farmers’ dedication to the movement in these states, there will be no scarcity of resources.
Meanwhile, there has been a significant development that the Haryana government has breathed life into the movement indirectly. Despite the aggressive attitude of the farmers in Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala decided to attend the programmes. This resulted in an opportunity for the farmers to protest against them. On May 16, a protest was held against the Chief Minister in Hisar. The police resorted to lathi charge and a large number of cases were registered against the farmers. On May 24, however, the massive protest by the farmers forced the government to retract and a consensus was reached between the government and the farmer leaders that the cases registered against the farmers be dropped. The incident contributed to the unity of the farmers and assured them that the farmers could be brought to the fronts if the need arose.
Therefore, the fourth phase of the movement may prove to be one that would intensify the protest to create pressure on the government. In a conversation with RuralVoice, one of the members of the newly formed committee of SKM says, “We believe that the movement will live long but we also wish that the government accede to our demands and the movement be over. The very purpose of our writing the letter to the Prime Minister is that a new beginning be made to find out the solution.” Although one faction of the SKM was not in favour of this letter, the other committee members managed to convince it that talks were the only solution to have their demands met. The protesting farmers have also indicated to RuralVoice that the government may have an opportunity to bargain on some of the issues provided it agrees to a large part of the major demands of the protesting farmers.
The movement has a firm grip among the farmers in Punjab. In Haryana, too, going by the way the farmers are protesting against the government, it is clear that the protest against the three farm laws has taken firm roots. BJP suffered a significant loss in the recent panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), especially in western UP, which has been impacted more by the farmers’ movement. The Assembly elections are due in UP within a year. Politically, UP is a key state for the BJP. That the BJP met with a colossal loss in West Bengal despite having made stupendous efforts and invested enormous resources is forcing it to take UP with utmost seriousness. On the other hand, questions have been raised on the health services and the administrative management skills of the government even as the number of deaths and infections reached record levels in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given this situation, the BJP is filled with apprehensions of political loss. This is why, of late, the introspection made by the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) officials on this issue has been in the news.
It is this aspect that is raising the hopes of the strategists of the farmers’ movement. If sources in the farmer organizations are to be believed, work will now start on intensifying the movement in UP. If the Covid-19 pandemic situation improves, the activities of the movement may increase in UP from June, which is part of the strategy to bring the government to the negotiating table under political pressure.
The government, on its part, may not be doing anything on this issue publicly, but it is worried about the movement drawing long. In the wake of the letter from the SKM to the Prime Minister, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said in a statement, “Talks may be possible if the farmer organizations come up with a positive option, barring the demand for repealing the laws.” The farmer organizations are not attaching much significance to the statement. They say that their demands are clear and that they stand by these demands.
On the other hand, in a conversation with RuralVoice, a senior central government official said, “We accept that the movement against the laws has not weakened. Besides, the resentment of the farmers continues with the government in areas where the movement has an impact. But it is also true that the movement has not been able to take root beyond these areas.” Still, some way will have to be found out but the farmers, too, should adopt a flexible stance.