By Raza Hasnain Naqvi
With the announcement of the repeal of the three contentious farm laws, the BJP-led Indian government has sought to appease farmers and cool down the soaring political heat that BJP and its allies are facing in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Will this announcement be enough to pacify farmers?
It happened finally. The almost proverbial ‘teen kaale kaanoon’ will be repealed. This historic announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 19, 2021, in a televised address to the nation at 9 am. In the coming winter session of the Indian parliament, the three disputed agricultural laws will be repealed.
These three laws will be taken back.
- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020;
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; and
- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020.
This major announcement by the head of the Union government was done on Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary. Besides sending a strong message of support to farmers in general, the Indian government via the Prime Minister also sent a specific message to Sikh farmers on their First Guru’s birth anniversary.
It is almost one year since the farmer agitation began with a sit-in at the New Delhi borders. Farmers from Haryana, UP & Punjab have been living in makeshift camps-cum-tractor trolleys, trucks and tents at the borders with the hope that someone will listen to their grievances.
In this case, this ‘someone’ was not an individual but the Union government. More importantly, the farmers wanted the head of this national Indian government, the prime minister to listen to them. There have been so many rounds of discussion between the Centre and the agitating farmers under the umbrella organisation Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). But they amounted to nothing or no way forward.
In all these joint discussions comprising 11 rounds in December 2020 and early January 2021, the government went with the objective that talk of the repeal of the three farm laws was off the table. Representatives of the farmer organisations went to these talks with their objective that repeal of the farm laws and guarantee of MSP needs to be on the table in order to have a result-oriented meaningful discussion.
Both sides kept firm on their respective stand in the talks and the result was ‘no more talks’. The last such joint meeting between farmer organisations and the Union agriculture minister was in January 2021.
The prime social media platform in India for getting the latest political and related news quickly is undoubtably Twitter. Twitter responded again. More precisely, Twitter users shared their thoughts, feelings and emotions freely on the platform as the PM’s announcement started spreading.
A number of farmer agitation related Twitter hashtags dominated the day. Top Twitter Hashtag trends on the day were:
A number of political memes were also shared. Some of them went: Petrol Rs 50 per litre, defeat BJP in UP and Two minutes of silence for all the godi anchors.
As soon as the news sunk in that the prime minister had indeed announced the repeal of the three farm laws, top political leaders in the opposition, political commenters and a section of the online news media channels responded with the word ‘politics’.
All of them raised their voices as one in saying that the Union government had backed down on the farm laws because of the coming assembly elections early next year in 2022. The fact is there are assembly elections scheduled in five states in Feb/Mar 2022. The states are: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur & Punjab.
Some political commenters even went ahead and commented that Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav is gaining a lot of political ground in Uttar Pradesh with his ‘Vijay Yatras’. They are confident that this is another reason that the BJP-led Central government has taken a step back by deciding to repeal the farm laws. Since UP is a critical state in terms of high supply of MLAs and MPs to the assembly and parliament, the BJP is interested in keeping control of the state by keeping voters satisfied.
If we include the time period of the farmer protest that began from Punjab after the three farm laws were passed in Monsoon Session during Covid time in 2020, then the total time spent in farmer agitation has been 14 months.
From November 26, 2020 to November 26, 2021, it will be one year that the farmers have occupied the borders of Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur around Delhi. In this duration, the agitating farmers have kept a record of the number of farmers who have died taking part in this protest. This record says that more than 600 farmers have laid down their lives in this fight.
If we talk of sacrifices during this protest, then the farmers have been subjected to beatings by the police, their names have been dragged in FIRs and even threatened in many ways. They have been abused and given cringe-worthy epithets by many BJP leaders and supporters who disagreed with the farmers protest.
There have been celebrations by the farmers on the borders once they were told about the repeal of the farm laws. Singhu border is the headquarter of the farmer agitation and the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). Celebrations and sweets were distributed there also, but this was followed by many questions and comments by the farmers assembled there.
As soon as the TV news channels and online news media channels appeared to take a byte of the farmers on the announcements, they said the decision is welcomed. But it does not mean the end of their agitation. SKM will convene and decide the next course of action. Then they followed up with some of their own questions and comments which were:
- “This announcement is nothing much. What it has really highlighted is that we too are farmers. We have been certified as farmers, when all this time we have been abused and said we were not farmers.”
- “What about MSP guarantee?”
- “What about all those farmers who have been arrested?”
- “What about the electricity bill that the government is planning to bring?”
- “Why didn’t the government not repeal these laws earlier so that many lives of farmers could have been saved?”
A peaceful protest spanning more than a year has won the day. The farmers have emerged victorious. An important demand has been met by the government. But we should also remember that there were so many lows that the farmers faced and the lowest point was that evening of January 28, 2021 on Ghazipur border. On that evening surrounded by the police, chief spokesperson of SKM Rakesh Tikait got emotional with tears and said that he would not leave the border and his farmer brethren alone. That brought new life to the farmers agitation which had faced a big beating due to the turn of events that unfolded at the Red Fort on January 26, 2021 tractor rally.
Till November 18, 2021 most TV news channels had tagged these protesting farmers with many derogatory names. From November 19, 2021 onwards, all TV news channels have now started calling these protesting farmers as ‘andolankari kisan’. The farmers have earned their identity back with their patience, determination and single-minded focus for their survival. Let’s see what the future has in store for the ‘anndaata’ and the public who eats the ‘ann’ produced by these farmers daily.