Hundreds of farmers from various villages in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana gathered at the border of India’s capital, New Delhi, on January 30 2021 to show solidarity with Bhartiya Kisan union (BKU). The protest indicates that the standoff between the protesting farmers and the Indian government is far from over.
BKU and Farmers Oppose Farm Bills Introduced by Narendra Modi Government
BKU, along with 35 other farmer unions, held the protests to oppose controversial farm bills introduced by the Narendra Modi government. The bills in question are The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The proposed laws aim to increase the participation of corporate entities in Indian agriculture. However, farmers feel these bills will create a corporate monopoly and hurt the already ailing Indian agricultural system.
The protests began in August in parts of Punjab and Haryana, followed by a large-scale mobilization of protesting farmers to the border of the national capital. Around 200,000 to 300,000 farmers reached the protesting sites near Delhi border by the end of November, making it one of the largest protests in recent Indian history.
Despite such high numbers of protestors, the demonstration was largely peaceful with the exception of a few clashes, where Delhi police used water guns and tear gas on the farmers. The police dug large holes and instigated barricades to stop farmers from entering the capital.
However, after months of talk and negotiations, farmers managed to gain approval from the authorities to conduct a tractor rally in the capital on January 26 (Indian Republic Day). However, it turned out to be a big blow to the movement.
January 26 Tractor Rally in New Delhi
Around 20,000 tractors were part of the rally conducted by farmers to protest against the new farm bills. However, farmers claim these numbers are conservative estimates.
On Republic Day, Delhi is fully fortified for security reasons. For this reason, Delhi police designated a fixed route to famers to conduct their rally.
The problem arose when a section of farmers broke away from the main group before the prescribed starting time and entered the interior region of Delhi. Tensions soared high as famers clashed with the police force, using tractors to take down barricades. One farmer even lost his life in the process.
As the day went by, the situation kept escalating as farmers stormed towards Red Fort, a national monument. Clashes with police grew more and more violent. Protestors entered the Red Fort and hoisted a religious flag of the Sikh community on one of the poles. Following this, the number of demonstrators began to dwindle.
The day left 300 policemen were injured, and 200 people detained due to violence. However, the majority of protestors carried out a peaceful rally, separate from the smaller groups who created chaos.
Protestors Clash With Police Personnel and Locals
The violence that took place on January 26 was a huge blow for the movement. Farmers were given an ultimatum by Police in Uttar Pradesh, a neighboring state of Delhi, to vacate the premises by the end of the day. As a result, a significant number of people left the site of protest as police lodged FIRs against at least 22 people and detained 200 protestors for instigating the Republic Day violence.
However, the voice of farm leader Rakesh Tikait of BKU breathed new life into the protest. His emotional outburst in response to the labeling of farmers as terrorists and linkage of the movement with anti-national elements attracted a large number of farmers to the protest site the very next day.
The government has deployed a large number of police personnel along borders; the situation remains tense. Furthermore, on January 30, a scuffle took place between farmers and some “locals” who the farmers alleged were goons of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which is the ruling party. As of now, the number of protestors on the borders of Delhi continues to swell.
International Community in New York and Worldwide Demonstrates to Show Solidarity with Farmers
Since the beginning of the protest, Indian diaspora and the international community have taken to the streets to indicate their support for Indian farmers in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and musician Rhianna expressed their support for Indian farmers. On January 26, protestors in New York supporting Indian Farmers demonstrated in front of the Indian consulate.
Demonstrators honked horns and raised slogans against the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, outside the Indian consulate in New York. Interestingly, some groups among these protestors were calling for the establishment of Khalistan (a separate country for Sikhs) in the Indian state of Punjab.
The Indian media and the government have used the Khalistan narrative to discredit the farmer protests and assert that the Khalistan agenda has hijacked the movement.
Moving Forward: The Deadlock Between Farmers and Modi Government Continues
Farmers are not willing to negotiate the provisions of the bill, instead, they are demanding full withdrawal of these new regulations with immediate effect. Previous attempts at discussions have failed, even after 11 rounds of negotiations, the situation remains deadlocked. While the government offered an 18-month delay in the enactment of the provisions to allow refinements to the bill, the farmers refused this proposal.
The issue has also reached the doors of the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court suspended the enactment of the bills in order to encourage negotiations. However, many farmers don’t believe the decision goes far enough. The court also ordered the formation of a four-member committee to submit recommendations and reports related to the three bills.
Modi government has made it clear that they will not hold discussions with farmers until they accept the 18 months delay proposal. Farmers maintain that they will not budge or accept the delay and will not accept the Supreme Court committee’s decisions.
Farmers recently announced that they will hold another rally and block roads across the country for three hours on February 6.