From supplying food to border protesters to physically lifting barricades on a crucial day, farmers in Haryana ‘kept the protest alive with blood.’
The Wire | November 30, 2021
Chandigarh: The protest against the farm laws mainly centred around Punjab. Yet two developments played a vital role behind taking them to Delhi’s doors and onto international spheres.
First, representatives of around 30 Punjab farmers’ unions that later became part of Sanyuta Kisan Morcha that conducted the protests at the national stage decided in a meeting on October 27, 2020, to take their stir beyond Punjab’s borders.
Second, on November 20, 2020, the SKM itself was formed, when the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh and various factions of Bharatiya Kisan Union came together. A meeting in Chandigarh in connection with the ‘Delhi Chalo’ march on November 26 saw farmers resolve to march together.
“Haryana farmers were nowhere in picture till then,” recalls senior journalist from Chandigarh, Hamir Singh.
As planned, Punjab farmers’ unions began to march towards Delhi from November 25, 2020, through many routes, mainly the Punjab-Delhi National Highway that passes through Haryana, Ratia-Fatehabad and Talwandi-Sirsa, he said.
But the BJP government in Haryana stopped tens of thousands of farmers from Punjab from marching towards Delhi. At one point, farmers were considering a retreat due to fear of clashes with the Haryana police.
“Here, Haryana farmers played a crucial role. It was Haryana farmers, who with the help of the BKU Chadauni group broke the Haryana police barricade, paving the way for Punjab farmers to march towards Delhi and rest is history,” said Hamir Singh.
Hamir said the protest would not have reached a scale as it did later if Haryana police had its way in stopping and demoralising the farmers at the Punjab-Haryana borders.
He said Haryana farmers not only broke the police barricade but also the “mental barricades” of farmers’ union leaders. They became fearless and stopped worrying about water cannon, teargas or lathi charge by Haryana police.
Later the protest settled outside Delhi gates due to the huge barricading by Delhi police at the border points of Singhu, Tikri and later, Ghazipur. These became the meccas of the protest and it was from there that farmers fought the year-long battle that is being seen as the largest public movement in modern history, said Hamir Singh.
On November 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally announced the repeal of the laws.
Haryana’s role in ‘feeding’ the protest
In the beginning, there were no plans on how protesters would eat once they reached Delhi.
Farmers from Punjab had brought atta, dal and ghee but still not in large quantities. Hamir said while there is no doubt that Punjab NRIs, gurdwaras and rural supporters did not allow any shortage of food to affect the protest, people from Haryana were integral.
“People from Haryana villages did not let the supply of milk, vegetables and other essential food stop at the Singhu and Tikri borders. Logistically too, it was easier for Haryana to supply food since the protest, for all practical purposes, was within Haryana boundaries,” said Hamir.
Numerically speaking, too, Haryana added significantly to the population of protesters. Several Haryana farmers passed away during the course of the protests too.
Maximum hostility from state government
The Congress government in Punjab was not directly hostile towards farmers’ unions and even the main opposition party Shiromani Akali Dal broke its alliance with ruling BJP at the Union government. But these conditions turned in Haryana.
BKU Chaduni president Gurnam Singh told The Wire that maximum cases were filed against Haryana farmers. As many as 48,000 faced penal charges, many of which were of very serious nature, like sedition and attempt to murder.
Haryana farmers also faced brutal lathicharge from the police, its excess at its height at the bloody incident of Karnal.
“To say the least, Haryana farmers kept the protest alive with their blood. Nearly 200 farmers sacrificed their lives. Even though there was no compensation from the hostile state government unlike Punjab, this did not demoralise them,” said Gurnam Singh.
He said that even as laws are officially repealed, Haryana farmers will keep fighting till the time the cases against them are not withdrawn.
They are not given proper compensation. Besides, the question of legalising MSP is not settled. “The history of Haryana farmers is glorious. The farmers’ protest has added another chapter in it,” he said.
The BJP government in Haryana additionally often accused the protest of being politically motivated.
Their main allegation was that ever since the BJP formed the government in the state, the farmers’ lobby that was very powerful during Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s time could not tolerate a non-Jat chief minister in Manohar Lal Khattar. Hence, the real ‘ploy’ as BJP leaders claimed privately and also in open discussions, was to destabilise the Haryana government led by a non-Jat chief minister through this farm protest.
“That is where Khattar made a mistake,” a BJP Jat leader said, requesting anonymity.
“He (Khattar) could not understand that the farmers’ protests became a symbol of farmers’ dignity. He could not see how the protest enlarged to a scale where it was not confined to the farming community alone,” he said.
Another major contribution of Haryana farmers is that they provided diversity of faces and religion.
While there was continuous attempt to tag Sikh farmers as “Khalistanis”, that the narrative was false was evident as Haryana Jats, who are followers of Hinduism, rallied behind the movement.
Gurnam Singh said that there was a continuous attempt to create a divide between Punjab and Haryana farmers. There was even an attempt to communalise the movement by making it a ‘Sikh versus Hindu’ fight. “All these things failed because the focus of the farmers was clear,” he added.
He added that the state leaders could not understand that this protest was not political, but an attempt to prevent the corporatisation of agriculture that the BJP was trying to impose with the farm laws.
“It was a fight to save the land of the farmers. It was a fight to ensure that they get proper remuneration for their produce, he added
Even though the BJP-led Haryana government was hostile towards them, farmers from the state kept protesting against BJP leaders and disturbed a host of public programmes of BJP leaders, including those of Khattar.
It was during one of these resistances that farmers were lathicharged at Karnal before the arrival of Khattar in August this year, leaving at least 10 injured. Last year, in October, protesting farmers were lathicharged in Sirsa.
Amidst this, came a controversial comment from Khattar in which he exhorted farmers’ bodies sympathetic to BJP to raise volunteer groups in villages for a “tit for tat” treatment of agitating farmers. He withdrew his remarks following backlash.
Farmers’ resistance against BJP’s alliance partner, Jannayak Janata Party, a breakaway faction of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), also proved crucial.
JJP is a rural Jat-centric party and farmers are considered to be their core vote bank.
However, the JJP led by Ajay Chautala and his son and deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala chose to stick with the BJP despite farmers seeking their support. Farmers demanded Dushyant’s resignation but Ajay Chautala defended him, saying his resignation will not be a solution.
This created tension between farmers and JJP several times during the last one year.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni said that JJP has ditched the farmers in Haryana. “Farmers will never forget it. The BJP-JJP might feel that they have redeemed themselves today but it is not true. They cannot claim credit for what happened in any way,” he added.
It was due to this protest that BJP lost politically, too, in the state. It could not win municipal elections and lost all by-polls in the past one year.
Khattar is now keen to cut a conciliatory picture along with JJP. Their first litmus test will be Panchayat elections that are due for the last 10 months. How it now brings farmers to its fold remains to be seen.