Fourteen months after the Modi government had bulldozed its way in Parliament to convert the widely resented farm ordinances-turned-bills into laws, the Prime Minister had to bow down to the unprecedented farmers’ resistance to announce a repeal of all the three contentious laws. It will be remembered as a historic instance when a courageous and tireless movement of the people brought a tyrannical regime to its knees and people’s power prevailed over the arrogance and brutalities of state power and the ruling elite. Narendra Modi chose the Guru Purab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, to announce this U-turn, obviously with an eye on placating the enraged Sikh community and cutting the much feared losses in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab.
The Godi (pet) media anchors and commentators, having played cheerleader for the farm laws all this time, for once appear utterly confused and demoralised. Some of them are wondering if the government would now bend on other issues like CAA and Article 370 too, some are calling the move the sagacity of a statesman, some are calling it driven by national interests, and some have already discovered an electoral masterstroke in this much belated announcement! One Godi media manager has also compared this ‘retreat’ with a lion taking two steps back, not to run away but only to spring on its prey!
Time will tell if and how far Modi’s ‘masterstroke’ will reduce the BJP’s losses, and how exactly the regime will try to spring on the farmers. What is clear as daylight at the moment is the fact that the government has failed in spite of trying all possible tricks to discredit, demoralise, and demonise the farmers and divide and crush their movement. It is actually a desperate, diffident, and fearful government which has announced the repeal of the laws. The protesting farmers and all other forces who are fighting for justice, democracy, and people’s rights must seize this moment and push for bigger victories.
What has made this great victory possible? It has proved once again that it is not possible for the Indian state and powerful governments to ignore and antagonise India’s farmers beyond a point. India’s freedom movement was punctuated by major peasant agitations and revolts, it was the energetic participation of India’s peasantry which sustained the freedom movement and eventually ended colonial rule. Every major social and political upheaval after 1947 has had India’s farmers and youth at the forefront. Even in the last three decades when the politics of Hindutva and economics of market domination and globalisation have generally been on the ascendant, the farmers’ movement has managed to break the shackles at several junctures.
The anti-SEZ movement ended the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, and farmers and adivasis also successfully thwarted Modi’s bid to subvert the 2013 Land Acquisition and Compensation Act in the interest of corporates. This is the second time in Modi’s seven years that farmers have managed to push the government back. The farmers’ movement has achieved this victory by forging and maintaining a broad-based and disciplined functional unity involving hundreds of farmers’ organisations across the country and by consciously rejecting the divisive communal propaganda of the Sangh brigade. When Punjab farmers were sought to be targeted and isolated by dubbing them Khalistanis, Haryana stood with them and together they pitched their protesting tents at the Delhi border on November 26. After the 26 January misleading media campaign and repression, farmers from western UP lent fresh energy and strength to the movement. After the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre of farmers, the whole country rose in unison.
The more the regime and the Sangh brigade sought to demonise the protesting farmers and crush the movement by unleashing repression and plotting conspiracies, the more it steeled the determination and unity of the farmers. And the tireless determined protests of the farmers evoked growing sympathies of other sections of working people. The by-election results announced on November 2 made it abundantly clear that the anger of the people had started spilling over into the electoral arena. At a time when the opposition parties are still divided and weak, the united movement of the farmers emerged as a growing dynamic opposition on the ground. While remaining independent of opposition political parties, the united forum of farmers took a bold stand against the BJP, appealing to the people everywhere to ensure the BJP’s electoral defeat. It is this combination of the broad unity and bold political voice of the farmers’ movement which left the Modi government with no other option but to repeal the laws lock, stock and barrel.
Modi did not apologise to the farmers for the seven hundred odd lives that were lost in the course of the agitation, some of them directly due to the violence and repression inflicted by his party and its governments and others because of the harsh conditions of outdoor life which the farmers were compelled to endure. He did not express any regret for the abuses hurled at the farmers and their movement by his ministers and senior leaders of his party, or for his own infamous ‘andolanjeevi’ remark in Parliament targetting activists supporting the farmers’ movement. He rather apologised to ‘the people’ for not being able to ‘convince a section of farmers’ about the supposed benefits of the farm laws. He said nothing about reducing the escalating cost of cultivation, fuelled especially by the relentless rise in the prices of diesel and fertilisers, on the contrary he talked about promoting zero budget farming and forming a new committee for framing new laws.
Farmers have rightly decided to carry on with the protests till the laws are actually repealed and other demands of the movement, including legal guarantee for MSP for all crops, withdrawal of the new electricity bill, are conceded by the government. Let the Godi media try to spread myths about Modi’s new masterstroke and magnanimity, India will salute the farmers for what they have already accomplished, building and sustaining a powerful movement in the middle of a pandemic and leading it to victory in the face of the arrogance and aggression of a fascist regime. It is time for every ongoing people’s movement to draw inspiration and courage from the farmers and mount a powerful counter-offensive to foil the fascist design of the Modi-Shah-Yogi regime.