Big hullabaloo has been raised by the Indian government and some sections of the Indian media on the incidents of 26 January, 2021 during the tractor parade of the farmers’ movement. Government has used the incidents as an excuse to tighten its noose on the entire movement. However, things are not as polarised as shown by some media. Majority of the people participating in the rally conducted their march as intended peacefully. But there was a small section of the protesting farmers, not part of the 32 Jathebandis involved in negotiations with the government, that broke the first barricades and started to march towards Red Fort.
On the event of the Republic day, the only scenes showcased were that of an unruly mob taking over the capital. This was largely the result of Indian media’s biased reporting and a habit of jumping to the conclusion by painting false narratives. The sacrifices farmers have been making for more than two months were outrightly disregarded. More than 170 famers have lost their lives during this peaceful protest either due to suicide, extreme cold conditions or health reasons. Interestingly, complete disregard of masks and social distancing has not resulted in any death due to Covid.
The protestors faced condemnation for hoisting a Nishan Sahib flag at Red Fort, which is normally put atop Gurudwaras as a spiritual marker of Sikh identity and has deeper philosophical meanings attached with faith. But what needs to be kept in mind is that during the entire course of this event, the tricolor was never disrespected in any way. It was always seen flying at the highest point at Red Fort where it needs to be. Many people use flags to represent an idea/ideology they stand by. The communists have a popular slogan, ‘Lal qile par lal nishan, maang raha hai Hindustan.’ The Rashtriya Swayansewak Sangh is so enamoured with its bhagwa dhwaj that until Bhartiya Janata Party formed a government at the centre they gave priority to their flag over the tricolor. Their hidden agenda has never been disguised when they openly talk of making a Hindu Rashtra out of India with their bhagwa as the national flag. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) has been negotiating for a separate flag and separate Constitution with the government of India. Jammu and Kashmir used to have its own flag until Article 370 was diluted. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had gotten a separate flag for Karnataka approved by his cabinet. So, if somebody hoisted their favourite flag without disturbing the tricolor why is the government, including the President and Prime Minister, harping on disrespect to the national flag? And in any case, how can Red Fort, which incidentally has been handed over to Bharat Dalmia group for Rs. 25 crores for five years in 2018, be a symbol of our democracy. The Parliament, the Supreme Court or the President’s Residence are symbols of democratic republic.
BJP and RSS supporters, masquerading as pro-farm law supporters, have attacked the farmers in police presence at various locations. Journalist Mandeep Punia who reported one such incident was arrested on charge of obstructing police in discharge of their duty and of beating police personnel. Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s prophecy in August 2019 that abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Jammu and Kashmir would not result in Indianisation of Kashmir but rather Kashmirisation of India has come true with internet ban at protest sites. Water and electricity supplies had been cut off. But brave women from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana arrived with earthen pitchers of water.
The coverage of mainstream media, unlike during the Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement which was launched in 2011, this time is biased. It reported that farmers were leaving the protest sites after the 26 January incidents, whereas the reality is that only those who specifically came to participate in the Republic Day tractor parade were going back. Because of government’s repression and breaking down of Rakesh Tikait at Ghazipur border the farmers were galvanised. It became a matter of self-respect for them, Since then mega Kisan Mahapanchayats have been held at Muzaffarnagar, Baraut, Mathura, Bijnore, Jind, Shamli and farmers are making a beeline for Delhi border. Tikait who till 26 January was only the leader of farmers from western UP has now become the face of entire farming community of northern India. Farmers are mobilized into a stronger force now.
On the other hand the government is being mean. It tried to get twitter accounts sympathetic to the famers’ movement blocked, registered cases against prominent people who posted messages in support of farmers’ movement, got iron nails embedded on roads to puncture famers’ vehicles, put up concrete, metal and stone boulders as obstruction, diverted trains to make it inconvenient for farmers to reach protest sites. When the government starts treating its own citizens as enemies, it is clear who has an upper hand in the battle. It remains to be seen who’ll win the war.
The government is irked by the international support of Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, terming it interference in the internal affairs of our country, forgetting that the basic premise behind Citizenship Amendment Act brought by it was that non-Muslims in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are persecuted minorities and it was actively trying to get the Nepalese Constitution in 2015 amended, going to the extent of imposing an informal economic blockade, which has resulted in an ill feeling in these countries towards India. In any case, domestic violence is not considered the internal affair of a household. Similarly, violation of human rights by any country cannot be overlooked by terming it an internal affair.
BJP leaders from Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere have begun publicly articulating their discomfort at the way their government is handling the movement. Most believe that the Prime Minister is capable of resolving the crisis. Most prominent among them is the Meghalaya Governor, Satyapal Malik, with a socialist background, who has advised the government not to insult the farmers.
With discontent within and without it may be difficult for the BJP government to continue its smooth sailing for very long. The government is arresting farmers under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for having provoked violence on 26 January whereas Deep Sidhu, one of the miscreants, whose proximity to the BJP has been all over the media, is yet to be apprehended. Compare this with the violence which was unleashed on 6 December, 1992 by an unruly Hindutva mob which resulted in razing the Babri mosque and killing of 12 Muslims as their houses were burnt down in Ayodhya. While demolition of Babri mosque invited the problem of terrorism to India, no First Information Report was registered in the case of murdered Muslims even though the P.V. Narasimha Rao government paid financial compensation to the families of the deceased.
It is ironical that the BJP government has launched a high profile programme to honour the martyrs of Chauri Chaura incident, forgetting that these martyrs were booked by the British government in a similar manner that it is charging the farmers today, even though the scale of violence in Chauri Chaura was much bigger, 22 policemen burnt to death, compared to Delhi incidents.
The role of government in any country is to look after its people. The basic needs of people are not just material but even more a sense of security. The recent history of dissents in India has show that the government rather than providing answers and being more transparent in its functioning dwells into identity politics to change the narrative and infuses a communal propaganda to every protest and voice that disrupts its non-transparent way of functioning. This attack on a person and group identity is leading to a growing sense of insecurity among the people of India and disintegrating our secular spirit while losing faith in democracy. The trust in government is sadly, already lost.
By Dr. Sandeep Pandey, Harleen Sandhu and Rahul Singh Rana
Note: Sandeep Pandey is National Vice President of Socialist Party (India), Harleen Sandhu is a Doctoral student at Louisiana State University and Rahul Singh Rana is a consultant working in the field of business analysis.
Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Social Activist & Professor at IITs & IIMs