PARTICULAR battles often have a significance that goes beyond the immediate context, of which even the combatants may not be fully aware at the time. One such was the Battle of Plassey, which was not even a battle since one side’s general had already been bribed by the other not to lead his troops against it; and yet what happened in the woods of Plassey that day ushered in a whole new epoch in world history.
The battle between the kisan movement and the Modi government falls into the same genre. At the most obvious level it has been seen as a climbdown by the Modi government in the face of the incredible resoluteness shown by the agitating peasants. At another level it has also been seen as a setback for neo-liberalism, since corporate ascendancy over the agricultural sector, by making peasant agriculture subservient to the corporates, is a crucial part of the neo-liberal agenda, which the farm laws were seeking to promote.
THE historic victory of the kisan struggle in forcing the government to roll back the anti-farmer, pro-corporate three farm laws underlines the importance of the politics of mass struggle. The strength of the farmers’ united movements under the leadership of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha put the government on the defensive with the struggle organically transforming into a mass struggle against the BJP and its governments at the centre and states. This transformation with direct and spontaneous kisan mobilisations against BJP leaders’ visits to villages in Haryana and Western UP was linked to the real life experiences of the kisans themselves of the arrogant and aggressive promotion of corporate interests when kisans were suffering due to a variety of reasons created by government policies. The Lakhimpur Kheri atrocity symbolised both realities – that of kisan mobilisation and the other of the brutal nature of the BJP response.
New Delhi: “The government is not listening to us alive. Hopefully, it will hear us out when we are dead.” These were the last words of 42-year-old Jai Bhagwan, a farmer from Haryana.
Bhagwan, like several others from his village, was a regular at the Tikri border protest site ever since the farmers’ protest began last year against the three contentious farm laws.
“He would volunteer all the time. He would be present at the protest site all the time and urge everybody to join the protest. His last words still ring in my ears all the time,” says Bhagwan’s wife, Renu Rana, who is yet to come to terms with her partner’s death. Bhagwan consumed poison at the protest site and killed himself.
“If it wasn’t for the protest, my family would have been together today,” she adds.
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.
In a circumstance where one side controls institutions like the media, police and other organs of the state, the success of a movement rests on developing creative means of breaking through the government’s control over institutions.
Why do some protest movements succeed while others fail?
There are three major elements that determine the success of a protest. The foremost amongst these is the ability of a movement to establish narrative dominance and get its message across. Next is understanding who the opposing forces are and developing the resources to counter them. The tactics of protest against a corporate entity look very different from those required to mount a successful protest against the government, an entity with unlimited resources at its disposal. And lastly, any movement must grow its support base beyond its core supporters if it is to succeed.
In theory, the validity of the grievance plays a major role in determining if a movement can gain traction. But in a circumstance where one side controls institutions like the media, police and other organs of the state, the success of a movement rests on developing creative means of breaking through the government’s control over institutions – or sidestepping it.
The farmers’ protest is an apt illustration of how this can be done.
The farmers quite nicely did understand the fake nature of the claims sought to be made for the laws, which is why their mobilisation remained unbreached by the various shenanigans resorted to by the establishment.
It can be said with confidence that the year-long peaceful satyagraha by India’s farmers has made a watershed contribution to returning democracy to the beleaguered republic.
This historic movement has been marked by some exemplary features:
Foremost, the protesting farmers have evinced, to the last man and woman, in fact even child, a comprehensive and sophisticated grasp of the ideological import of the three farm laws (now happily set to be repealed).
No disingenuous diversion or fake interpretation managed to shake down that clarity.
On November 19, nearly a year after the farmers’ protest began, Narendra Modi announced his government’s decision to repeal the three farm laws. As I watched the prime minister on TV, my mind went back to the scores of visits I have made to Delhi’s borders to document the stories of the farmers on protest, and as I did, one memory stood out above the rest. The memory of a winter’s night at Tikri border.
I still recall the trepidation I felt as I called Jasbir Kaur Natt to ask if I could stay over at the ‘Trolley Times’ tent. Jasbir Kaur (or Beeji as she is called) is a senior leader with the Punjab Kisan Union and has been helping to manage the Tirki protest site for a year now. She told me I was most welcome.
Jalandhar: The repeal of the three controversial farm laws scripted a new chapter in the history of India’s farmer movements. While farmers’ union leaders, under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) became the face of the movement, there were many others who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the struggle a success.
The Wire traced the faces behind the year-long farmers’ agitation, which is set to complete its first anniversary on November 26, for which big rallies and celebrations are planned at Singhu and Tikri.
On September 27, Indian farmers’ organizations and trade unions are holding a country-wide shutdown demanding the withdrawal of the three agricultural laws and other anti-farmer and anti-worker measures. We take a look at the key milestones of the past 10 months of the farmers’ struggle.