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Modi withdrew farm laws as BJP found west UP Jat-Muslim communal divide 'failing'

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

The announcement for repealing the three notorious farm laws that were passed by Parliament is definitely a big victory for the farmers' movement and those who have been protesting against these unjust laws for the last one year. The government failed to the extent that BJP lost one of its oldest allies Akali Dal when the government took this decision; it felt that farmers would be tired of the protests and would go back to home after some time, but that did not happen.
BJP tried its best, and we saw all kinds of efforts to damage the protests. Initially, farmers were threatened with counter protests. Farmers faced "protests" at the Singhu border as well as the Tikri border when local goons were brought in to oppose the farmers under the pretext that it was disturbing traffic and creating problems for the locals.
Then came the historic day. The farmers decided to march on in Delhi on the Republic Day on their tractors. Police hesitantly gave them permission but managed to create chaos at the Red Fort. The government got a handle to suppress the movement, called its participants anti-national. Pimps on prime time were already shouting loudly to take ‘stern’ action against the ‘terrorists'.
Every effort was made to instigate the locals against the farmers. A swift police action was being planned at all the three border areas. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath thought that it was a suitable time to act at the Ghazipur border. However, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait's address to farmers at Ghazipur border with tears flowing from his eyes created a massive outrage in the entire western Uttar Pradesh belt.
The authorities in Mujaffarnagar warned their counterparts in Ghaziabad to desist from taking any action as it would only create a massive crisis. Rakesh Tikait’s call made the farmers more determined as they started marching towards the Ghazipur border. Before January 26, 2021, it was Singhu border which was the main scene of action, but after Rakesh Tikait’s call, the Ghazipur border became the focal point of the farmers' movement.
The massive participation of the farmers from western Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana thwarted the move of the ruling party to make it national vs anti-national issue. It faced with the predicament to deal with its own constituency, which had voted for it massively in the last two general elections, and in 2017 in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
If it were merely an issue of Punjab farmers, BJP would have succeeded in isolating them by inciting the "we versus them" issue. But it failed because BKU led by Rakesh Tikait became more vocal and participated with greater strength.
In the last one year over 750 farmers got killed in the peaceful protests. While all those who laid down their lives for a cause are called ‘shaheed’ or ‘martyrs’, it should not be ignored or forgotten that ultimately it is the Union government, its political leadership of the day, that failed them and looked extremely insensitive to the basic demands of the farmers.
Anyone who is aware of the extremities of north Indian weather can vouch for how difficult and hard it would have been for men, women and children of all ages to sleep under the open sky in hot humid months from April onwards, followed by rainy season in monsoon, and again extremely cold weather, particularly from December to February. Many famers, meanwhile, were compelled to commit suicide.
However, we heard not a single word of sympathy or solidarity. In the last seven or eight years since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, the government, BJP or its ministers have never ever uttered a single word on deaths of people in movements, whether students' protests, or protests against Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) or farmers’ protests.
The whole premise and focus of the governance model was to completely ignore or shout down the stories of pain, agony and anger. So much was the insensitivity that the government patted on its back for ‘successfully' handling of the Corona crisis even when all saw, India was one of the worst in handling the crisis with over 4.65 lakh deaths, yet there was not a single word of moaning, sympathy or failure.
Instead, anyone questioning the government was shouted down and faced stringent laws. Sections of media became lapdog of the government, which had already completely lost its credibility. They were busy merely broadcasting stories to malign the opponents and glorifying the ‘supreme leader’. All this only created extreme insensitivity in society, where deaths and brutality were normalised.
One should not forget how the lopdog media was ‘monitoring’ everything at the protest sites. Fake news ‘reporters’ were pushed to the protest sites to bring stories of dissent among farmers to ‘show’ the to the ‘world’ how ‘lavishly’ the farmers were living at the protest sites. It was said that the farmers were drinking milk, eating dry fruits and living in luxurious AC huts.
Many times, it was also shown as if they were not farmers but goons and terrorists. But all of it failed. Having been to some of these protest sites and speaking to many people, including activists and those associated with the movement, I can only say that I found political understanding of the farmers far superior to that of the urban English-speaking middle classes.
Farmers resorted to different kinds of protests, but everything was peaceful and democratic. The entire movement is an example of how to fight peacefully against a repressive regime. But it is also a fact that the current regime could not afford to antagonise the powerful farming communities in the election season.
According to an article published in "Down to Earth" magazine, the total number of farm related protests in 2020 was 2,188 as per National Crime Record Bureau data, which was 19% more than the previous year. It also reported that prior to that farm protests had considerably reduced in India -- particularly after the 2013 land acquisition Act was passed, which made ‘consent’ an extremely important factor even as offering reasonable compensation for the acquired land with stringent terms and conditions.
However, things changed in the last two years. There were several all-India general strikes called by farmers, several chakka jams and rail rokos, mostly peaceful, even when the police resorted to highhandedness.
The horrific incident in Lakhimpur Khiri where the son of a Union minister was involved in crushing several farmers and a journalist under his fast moving SUV is still fresh in the minds of the farmers. The minister is still there and his ‘illustrious’ son got arrested only after the Supreme Court intervened. It defines how the government under the current regime has been functioning and ‘cares' for public opinion.
One man who stood apart in the entire exercise and spoke with courage and conviction is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi
While the chums of the government were freely abusing the opponent, misusing the Constitution and had no faith in India’s inclusive pluralistic culture, those who questioned the unconstitutional means and deeds of the ruling party were arrested under stringent laws where procedures were created to humiliate and intimidate them. The fake news wallahs, who abused the Constitution, were provided Z plus security but no questions were asked.
It is ironic that the farm laws were passed through highly undemocratic means. As the opposition was protesting in Parliament in support of the demands of the farmers, the government was determined to crush the opposition voice. It brought in ‘experts’ to unleash its propaganda against the farmers and support the laws.
One man who stood apart in this entire exercise and spoke with courage and conviction is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who on the floor of the house as well as elsewhere said that the government would have to withdraw these laws. Mark my word, he had said, the government would have to withdraw the laws. He proved correct and today stands taller than any of his contemporaries.
The Prime Minister's speech announcing the withdrawal of the three farm laws appeared to suggest he was sure that ‘majority’ of farmers all over the country actually ‘supported’ the laws as it would have benefitted them. Modi claimed, the ‘government’ was unable to convince only a ‘few’ of the farmers and that he did not want to make anyone feel left out, hence in the greater ‘national’ interest, he was withdrawing the laws.
Though the manner of the announcement itself was highly objectionable and unconstitutional, as the Prime Minister or any minister is not supposed to announce any policy level decision outside Parliament, the fact is, Modi and BJP do everything according to their political calculations. They found the party was finding it difficult for the Uttar Pradesh elections due for early next year, hence the announcement.
Modi made the announcement on Guru Nanak Jayanti and the birthday of former prime minister Indira Gandhi. The entire country erupted in joy after he made the announcement of repealing the law. It was unthinkable in recent times for Modi to concede defeat or regret on anything. But the political fallout of the farm laws was much more powerful and dangerous for the Prime Minister and the government than what they had thought.
Meanwhile, one should not forget what the government is doing by coming up with new amendments and new bills. They are amending the Indian Forest Act to help their crony friends at the cost of Adivasi lives. They want to dilute every environmental safeguard from laws. They are doing everything to remove the ‘consent’ clause from the land acquisition Act so that they can do things at the cronies' whims and fancies.
Like what it did after withdrawing its amendments to the land acquisition Act, 2013, the government will definitely work on a different plan to bring in farm laws, so one needs to be alert. It can act through States by suggesting land is a state subject. Various States have already amended their land laws as per the guidelines of the Centre. If things don’t work politically, judiciary is an alternative given the current trends in the judiciary.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Arun Mishra's observations on land acquisition, forests and slum dwellers are a case in pont. In his view, Adivasis are ‘encroachers’ on their own land which they have protected for centuries. One of his orders was reversed when there was a huge uproar. Justice Mishra is now chief of the National Human Rights Commission, openly endorsing government policies on everything.
One shouldn't also forget the statement by the National Security Adviser at the police academy in Hyderabad that the ‘fourth generation’ war should be fought against ‘civil society’. When the top officer of the government thinks this way, it is clear how they want to ‘govern’ the country. It is ‘My way or High way’ where the common persons will find it hard to walk through without the preconditions imposed on them by those in power or who manage them.
Nor should one ignore the fact that the withdrawal of these laws is not love for the farmers but to get back to the basics of elections. Western Uttar Pradesh, particularly Jats, became the supporters of BJP in the last two decades. After the Mandalisation of Indian politics, Jats sided more and more with the upper caste parties and BJP was natural for them. BJP’s Hindutva agenda got pushed in the farming belt through 2013 Mujaffarnagar riots which isolated Muslims in the region and made them unwanted.
The polarisation has always been used by BJP for its power games but in the process Jats got politically marginalised. So much so that in a State like Haryana, where Jats voted for BJP, the party has a chief minister belonging to the Khatri community.
The farmers' movement has brought back the old Jat pride as also their association with Muslims. Jat-Muslim unity actually was the last thing that BJP could think of, as it is bound to create an extremely difficult situation for the party in western Uttar Pradesh, where party leaders are unable to make any visit in their constituencies.
---
*Human rights defender

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