Farmers protest has entered 167th day on the borders of Delhi. Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh are sitting on the borders of Delhi. Farmers moved to these protesting sites on November 26th 2020 and have established concrete and non concrete structures on borders to keep protests going on. It is very important to understand that a lot has happened in these six months. From bearing the brute force on their way to Delhi borders or the harsh winters, farmers have been absolutely persistent in their demands of ‘Repeal of the three laws’ and enactment of MSP regime in agriculture.
What have farmers achieved in these six months?
It is important to take a look at this historical mass mobilisation and its effects. It would be wrong to say that nothing has been achieved by farmers upto this point. The argument that all the meetings between centre and the unions have failed just doesn’t tell us the whole picture on achievements of Farmers Morcha or the Farmers Protest.
Farmers protest has brought agrarian crisis to the forefront. It is widely accepted fact on all sides of political spectrum that Indian agriculture is facing crisis and the crisis has not been looked into. The farmers protest for an example has created awareness about the basic terms like ‘MsP’, ‘Mandis’ ‘PDS’, ‘Food Security’ etc. The fact that most farmers did not even know about existence of MSP regime before farmers protest goes on to solidify the argument that knowingly or unknowingly farmers managed to shift the attention to important aspects. The farmers across the country are now demanding MSP and fair prices for their crops. Farmers protest has thus created wave of awareness which will not let the eye wash policies float for a long term.
Farmer mobilisations have not happened at this scale post 1980s. There have been movements here and there but none at the scale of this movement. The reasons lie in the differences between the unions that head the farmers across the country. Farmers protest has for the first time seen all the major unions come together under one roof to advocate for a common cause. The unions may differ in their ideologies but have selflessly been standing up for the causes of farmers. This development if looked at from Punjab’s point of view is very important in context of upcoming elections in the state in 2022.
Farmers protest for the first time in Punjab’s politics has shifted the narrative from ‘Sikh Politics’ to ‘agriculture’. If we look at the election pattern in Punjab we find that the two main parties have been using the bandwagon of ‘peaceful punjab’ or ‘drug free punjab’ as their election war cries. This time however the parties are more inclined to do some hard work for the major vote base which is peasantry. Captain Amrinder singh for an example did put a major chunk of 200cr for diversification in Punjab’s agriculture. Akalis meanwhile are making sure they highlight each and every procurement problem from shortage of bardana to sluggish lifting by FCI. Farmers protest has resulted in putting farmers on the table for 2022. In the words of Farmer union leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, “If we can come to Delhi we can very well move to Patiala as well.”
Farmers protest has influenced politics not just in Punjab but other states as well. Punjab saw ousting of BJP and decrease in seats of SAD in Muncipal elections and Nagar Palika elections, similarly tremors were felt in Haryana as well with ‘No confidence motion’ against ML Khattar. Irrespective of the result of the motion the sentiment on the ground in Haryana has changed for Khattar’s partners in JJP. Haryana’s politics has become more interesting with Khaps standing in solidarity with farmers since day one. The ripple effects could also be seen in elections of West Bengal. Even though farmer rallies in West Bengal did not affect the vote share but it will remain significant given that BJP which is seen as major enemy of farmers in the current wave was not able to win the elections.
One of major achievement of farmers protest according to many thinkers is the ‘rise of movements’ or ‘Legitimisation of dissent’. Many people who talk and follow the protests globally acknowledge that dissent under Narendra Modi 1 and 2 did fall by great deal. Dissent was demonised and criminalised with the help of laws and machinery acting at the behest of government. The fact that none of the protests from 2014 onwards could survive the detailing tactics of government makes farmers protest as the tallest protest in these two decades. The protest has not only acted as an inspiration for many other small groups like tribals but has also established belief in democracy’s most important pillar ‘Protest’
Slightly less talked but very important aspect of farmers protest for Sikh community has been coming together of community for a common cause. The Sikh Diaspora and Indian Sikhs have had differences of opinion on how things shape or work in india but with the massive support by Sikh Diaspora things between the two groups have become better and fluid which is seen as emergence of better panthic resolutions and moves. Many in the Sikh scholarship think that this coming together of thinkers from across the places under one Nishan Sahib may see changes in how prime Sikh body SGPC works and operates.
What’s the road ahead?
The estimated number of farmers sitting on the borders as of this day is not more than 10,000 people. The farmers however are still focused on the repeal of the laws. There has been attrition and the causes are none that are portrayed by media. This is strategic attrition that is done as a cooling period. The farmers protest sites are still up and running. The period when government is dealing with Covid situation and is called out everyday for major failures is probably the time that farmers would like to cool off. Farmer leaders have maintained that there is no going back and that they can sit upto 2024 as well. Farmers are getting vaccinated on the borders. More than 2200 farmers have taken the jab as on this day. The medical facilities are emerging on the sites. It is important to mention here that the farmers are looking forward to talks with government to resolve the issues. It is probably the best time for Narendra Modi government to repeal the laws and enact new one’s in the post pandemic stage. For now on thing is clear that we are not going home without the repeal of the laws.