South Asia Solidarity Group congratulates the farmers on their Republic Day Tractor Parade and expresses its solidarity as they stand firm against the Modi regime’s repression
Why are the farmers protesting?
Indian farmers are protesting the wholesale corporate takeover of agriculture from sale, to storage, to pricing of agricultural produce and Farm laws passed by the Modi regime, without any consultation with farmers unions, which will facilitate them.
These changes will usher in agribusiness, destroying the livelihoods of India’s farmers and agricultural workers – the vast majority of whom are already impoverished. It will also destroy India’s ability to feed itself and its self-sufficiency in food grains production. The country will become a dumping ground for expensive food grains produced in the global North. The billionaire capitalists who will benefit are those close to Modi, Mukesh Ambani the fifth richest man in the world and Gautam Adani, well-known for environmental crimes in Australia and global agribusiness.
How long have the protests been going on?
Protests have been going on across India over four years. Momentum has been building up with mass protests in Rajasthan in 2017, in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in 2018, in Maharashtra in 2019 and in Punjab and Haryana in 2020.
The protest movement decided to meet the Modi government in the last few months of 2020 to demand a repeal of the Farm laws. On arriving, in November, at the outskirts of Delhi, from Punjab and Haryana and other north Indian states they were met with tear gas, water cannons and barricades. They decided to base themselves at three entry points to the capital at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur and many more farmers, women and men from all over the country joined them there.
Despite the bitter cold and harsh conditions which have led to the deaths of some 170 farmers, these occupations have become remarkable places of creativity and political transformation – with their own newspaper Trolley Times which has some 14,000 subscribers, film screenings and libraries.
What was the Modi regime’s initial response?
Right from the beginning, the Modi regime has demonised the farmers, just as they have demonised every other mass movement which has risen to challenge it – from the students’ protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University in 2019, to the Muslim women’s occupations in Shaheen Bagh against the fascistic and Islamophobic citizenship laws in 2019 and 2020. Bharatiya Janata Party politicians and thousands of BJP supporters on social media have accused them of being traitors, ‘anti-nationals’and Khalistani separatists – out to destroy India.
What happened on 26th January, India’s Republic Day?
The vast farmers’ protests, having waited for two months at the borders of Delhi, entered the city on Republic Day on foot and in tractors for a peaceful people’s rally for Republic Day. Meanwhile Narendra Modi’s triumphalist ritual of displays of military hardware was taking place in central Delhi.
The route of the farmers’ rally had been negotiated and agreed with the police, tractors had been beautifully decorated. But as they rolled into the capital they found the agreed route had been barricaded. Shocked and confused by this, the farmers decided to continue anyway, with their tractors breaking through the barricades. These were the only ‘acts of violence’ directed against police personnel or other state functionaries which have been reported.
Local people overjoyed to see them, lined the pavements in many places showering them with flowers and remarkably for a rally of several hundred thousand, it was not only overwhelmingly peaceful and disciplined but beautiful and inspiring.
A section of the protest, however, with no guidance from the police and internet suddenly cut off, got lost in Delhi’s maze of unfamiliar roads and ended up near the Indian Telegraph Office bridge not far from Central Delhi. Here they were met with extreme police violence from baton charges to tear gas. Even bullets were fired, according to eye witnesses, from behind the grills of a government building.
A 27-year old farmer was killed when he lost control of his tractor after it was hit by a bullet. Infuriated and distressed, the farmers wrapped his body in the Indian flag, refusing to hand it over to the police. A section of the rally then pushed forward and at this point a number of BJP agents emerged to take control of the demonstration including Deep Sidhu, an agent provocateur, who directed the protesters to the Red Fort. There, the gates were open and the police allowed them in, and while the national flag continued to flutter from the central ramparts, Sidhu raised the Sikh religious flag on an empty flag post.
How did the Modi government respond?
The government-controlled media has used the incident at the Red Fort to demonise the farmers’ movement. Almost every report, including those sent out to the foreign press, focused on a so-called ‘Khalistani link’, while the BJP and its army of trolls on social media are whipping up hate, which they had previously reserved for Muslims, against the farmers’ movement. All major farmers’ leaders have been served with First Information Reports, which indicate that they are being investigated for cognisable offences, and security forces are now at every site.
The BJP is doing everything it can to destroy the movement. Most concerning is the appearance of storm troopers from the fascist Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the BJP, at the protest sites. These men claim to be ‘local people’ who want the farmers to leave, but their slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, the rallying cry which has so often been a prelude to murderous attacks on Muslims, give them away. At the Singhu border they have been hurling stones at the farmers while a huge contingent of police look on.
The media is also circulating rumours that the protests are finished, but reports from the ground contradict this. As Navkiran Natt, the youth activist based at the Tikri border, who recently spoke at the webinar Fighting Corporate Power and Fascist Governments – India and Beyond tweeted “Amidst the rumours of movement fizzling out, Tikri morcha recorded highest ever participation on 27th January 2021.”
Meanwhile at the Ghazipur border in the state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the notorious Hindu supremacist leader Yogi Adityanath, the police tried to force the farmers to leave the protest site, but failed. At the time of writing, reports are coming in of a huge new section of Uttar Pradesh farmers joining the movement as a result. The movement is if anything stronger and more determined than ever before. The leadership is considering further action on January 31st.
The left in the UK must continue to build international solidarity with the protesting farmers and to amplify their voices.
Watch the recent webinar Fighting Corporate Power and Fascist Governments – India and Beyond, hosted by South Asia Solidarity Group:’
Image: Indian farmers protest, December 2020. Source: Provided by eMail from Randeep Maddoke. Author: Randeep Maddoke; [email protected], made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication