Farmers Protest seems political not economic

The Bharatiya Kisan Union’s decision to resume the agitation ahead of critical assembly elections suggests that the agitation is more political than economic.
Keywords: Agriculture | Farmers | Democracy | Rihanna | Greta Thunberg | Meena Harris | PJF | Protest | Canada | Toolkit | Labour | MSP | Nationalist | Rakesh Tikait  
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As international celebrities raced to support the farmers’ protest that was on the back foot after the violence that led to 300 policemen being injured on Republic Day, it may be pertinent to ask if there is more to the issue than meets the eye. Ilhan Omar, U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district, tweeted, “Solidarity with all the farmers across India protesting for their livelihood. India must protect their basic democratic rights, allow for the free flow of information, reinstate internet access, and release all the journalists detained for covering the protests.” It is well known that there were no nationwide protests, but inconvenient facts have not deterred those determined to corner the Indian Government. 

Meena Harris, author, entrepreneur, and niece of US Vice-President Kamala Harris, linked the Delhi Police’s efforts to control the unruly mobs with the crowd that entered Capitol Hill in January, and lambasted “militant nationalism” and “FASCIST DICTATORS.” 

But what set social media on fire was pop singer Rihanna’s tweet, “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” The singer, who has 101 million followers, gave a link to a CNN article headlined, “India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police.” She was soon followed by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage activist, who tweeted, “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India”. 

On Wednesday, February 3, Thunberg shared “a toolkit for those who want to help”. Those who went to the link found a document containing details on ways to support the protest, from creating a Twitter storm and protesting outside Indian embassies, very similar to the pattern followed during anti-CAA protests in 2019. Others who weighed in on India’s domestic matter include actress Amanda Cerni, singer Jay Sean, composer Dr. Zeus and former ‘adult’ actress Mia Khalifa.

Social media activists raced to unravel Thunberg’s “toolkit”, though it was quickly removed and replaced with an edited version. It soon emerged that the impugned toolkit had been created by the Canada-based Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF) that seeks an “independent nation of Khalistan”. Thus, the Toolkit wasn’t for farm protests, it was for Khalistan, a project that seeks to carve an independent State of Punjab out of India. Almost simultaneously, Anita Lal, a founding member of PJF, joined the World Sikh Organisation as a director. The goal of the World Sikh Organisation is an independent nation of Khalistan. 

Another founding member of Poetic Justice Foundation, Mo Dhaliwal, is a Director of the PR firm, Skyrocket that allegedly paid pop star Rihanna $2.5 million (Rs 18 crore) for her tweet that made the farmers’ protests an international cause célèbre. Also associated with Skyrocket are PR professional Marina Patterson, who is on the radar of Indian agencies for stoking the farmers’ agitation, Anita Lal of PJF, and Canadian parliamentarian Jagmeet Singh. After Indian authorities began investigations into the “toolkit”, the PJF denied paying the pop star any money or having any role in tweets by other celebrities. 

Rihanna’s tweet compelled the Ministry of External Affairs to issue a statement that some “vested interest groups” are trying to enforce their agenda on the protests, and that a small section of farmers in parts of the country has some reservations about the farm reforms which were passed by the Parliament after a full debate and discussion. Several Union Ministers led by Home Minister Amit Shah, and Bollywood celebrities like Lata Mangeshkar, Akshay Kumar, Kangna Ranaut, Ajay Devgn and Karan Johar, and cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli urged people to be wary of false propaganda. For nationalist citizens on Twitter, it was war!  

Caught on the back foot, the US State Department, which appreciates the new laws, issued a statement that, “We encourage (sic) that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue”. However, UN Human Rights tweeted: “#India: We call on the authorities and protesters to exercise maximum restraint in ongoing #FarmersProtests. The rights to peaceful assembly & expression should be protected both offline & online. It’s crucial to find equitable solutions with due respect to #HumanRights for all.” 

Unfazed, Meena Harris tweeted again on February 6, “This isn’t just about agricultural policy. It’s also about the persecution of a vocal religious minority. It’s police violence, militant nationalism, and attacks on labor rights. It’s global authoritarianism. Don’t tell me to stay out of your affairs. These are all of our issues.” This was directed at Indians who asked her not to interfere in India’s domestic matters. 

Yet the statement showed ignorance of the fact that the movement has been led by Uttar Pradesh activist, Rakesh Tikait, since January 27, when several opposition parties raced to his side and urged him not to call off the movement. The protesting farmers are rich landowners and have no sympathy for the rights of labour; they resented paying higher wages to farm labour when the government raised wages under a Central scheme that lured labour away from farms. But facts pale before “our issues”. 

By the evening of February 6, as plans to block major highways flopped, Rakesh Tikait withdrew the stir, saying farmers are giving the Centre time till October 2, 2021 to repeal the laws, after which they will make fresh plans. He ruled out negotiating under pressure.

Such clinical calculations have prompted analysts to wonder if the farmers’ movement is part of a larger attack on democracies worldwide, conducted by a host of international left-lib organizations opposed to nationalism and governments that talk of “Nation First”. A huge network of universities, technology giants, NGOs, Social Media platforms, and capitalist elites are part of this agenda. Last year, several Indian newspapers and websites published an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech at Davos (“Frightening setback in India, democratically elected Modi creating Hindu state: George Soros,” January 24, 2020).

Lamenting that, “Nationalism, far from being reversed, made further headway”, Soros said, “The biggest and most frightening setback occurred in India where a democratically elected Narendra Modi is creating a Hindu nationalist state, imposing punitive measures on Kashmir, a semi-autonomous Muslim region, and threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship.” Yet Soros must be fully aware that not a single citizen has been deprived of citizenship.

In February 2020, when President Trump visited India, there were riots that lasted till the time he left. During the Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act riots in Delhi in 2019, the dominant voices in most universities sided with the protestors. Both faculty and students were unembarrassed by the brutal killing of an intelligence officer and other innocent civilians, and did not condemn the role of a radical politician whose terrace was used to throw petrol bombs on civilians. In all, at least 53 persons died and over 500 were injured. The left-lib ecosystem cheered the perpetrators of the mayhem to the last episode. 

Since the 2019 elections, intermittent episodes of unrest aim to destabilise the government and exploit societal fault lines. During the current unrest, the farmers initially came from Punjab, displayed pictures of Bhindranwale and bragged of their ability to tame the Centre, to put it mildly. Protests against the new farm laws (passed in September 2020) began only in November after farmers had sold their crops to central procurement agencies.

The new laws permit farmers to sell their produce outside the state mandis, to anyone willing to pay a higher price, with the sole proviso that sales must be documented vide the buyers’ PAN card. This seems to be the real grievance, though farmers have refused to spell out their concerns despite eleven rounds of meetings with the Centre. Many suspect that large farmers double up as mandi agents and corner hefty fees during the procurement process. The PAN card would expose this fact and make them liable to pay tax as middleman income is not the same as agricultural income from direct farming.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union’s decision to resume the agitation ahead of critical assembly elections suggests that the agitation is more political than economic. Political parties that were wiped out in the 2019 parliamentary elections sense a revival of their fortunes. Time will tell if their dreams will come true by October there will probably be two harvests and farmers will experience the functioning of the mandi system alongside the private vendor system.

The Centre must realise that since the farmers rejected the offer to suspend the new laws, the matter is over. The new laws must be implemented. As Agriculture is a State Subject, the Centre must ask State Governments to decide the system they want in their respective States. Punjab’s Chief Minister should be invited to present his farm bills to the President of India, and thereafter, do his own procurement. 

In fact, the Centre should henceforth make procurements only via State Governments, per State-wise quota, so that Central funds are distributed more equitably. This may eventually promote the long-desired crop diversification-based suitability for specific agro-climatic zones, curb excess use of fertilisers and pesticides and the related pressure on ground water resources. Unhealthy and unsustainable agricultural practices must be guillotined without further delay.

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Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain is a political analyst, independent researcher, and author of multiple books. She is also editor of the platform Vijayvaani

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