'Smash the Skulls' Can't Crush a Movement: BJP Must Realise Farmers Won't Quit
PM Modi paid tribute to Jallianwala Bagh martyrs even as Haryana police attacked protesting farmers in Karnal.
The blood soaked kurta of a protesting farmer in Karnal, bloodstains on the yellow 'Shaheed Bhagat Singh' badge pinned on it. The farmer, standing resolute, despite being hit on the head with lathis by the Haryana police.
A junior bureaucrat, barely four years into his service, ordering the police to "smash the skulls" of protesting farmers, many of whom are old enough to be his grandfather.
These images will haunt both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for some time.
As all this unfolded in Karnal on Saturday, 28 August, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the renovated memorial for Jallianwala Bagh.
Even as PM Modi paid tribute to the victims of colonial police brutality a century ago, the police in a state ruled by his party attacked protesting farmers with lathis after being ordered to "smash their skulls".
The irony, too, won't be forgotten in a hurry.
THE RESILIENCE OF THE PROTESTS
The farmers' protest against the Modi government's farm laws has been surprisingly resilient. Protests began nearly a year ago in Punjab and they have been going on at Delhi's borders for the past nine months.
The agitation has withstood police brutality, a pandemic, peak winter and summer and the deaths of several hundred protesters.
What lies at the root of this resilience?
It's not very complicated. It stems from the need to survive.
Farmers see the protest as their last stand to defend their livelihood.
The Modi government has tried various means to get the farmers to back down – from several rounds of negotiations to offers of keeping the laws on hold for a while.
But the farmers have made it clear that they won't settle for anything less than a complete repeal of the laws.
On its part, the Modi government's spin doctors too claim victory in the fact that the government hasn't conceded to the repeal demand, despite farmers getting support from much of the Opposition in India, besides international solidarity from diverse figures like Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and several MPs in UK, US, Canada, and Australia.
What happened in Karnal, however, could drive the next phase of the protest.
THE AFTERMATH OF KARNAL
Soon after the police action in Karnal, farmers began protesting the arrest of their comrades and demanded that they be released. They have also sought action against the bureaucrat, Ayush Sinha.
The arrested farmers were released. CM Khattar has also said that Sinha's orders would be inquired into. However, many protesters say that the junior bureaucrat would never have been able to give such orders without the backing of the state government.
In the coming week, the theater of confrontation between the government and the protesting farmers will now shift to the poll bound state of Uttar Pradesh. On 5 September, the farmers have called a Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar.
The key players here are the Tikait brothers – Naresh Tikait and Rakesh Tikait – who control both the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Baliyan Khap.
Rakesh Tikait has alleged that the police action in Karnal was aimed at preventing Haryana farmers from attending the Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat.
If Tikait's allegations are true, then it would be mean that the "smash their skulls" order came from above and wasn't just the handiwork of a power-drunk bureaucrat.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The BJP would want the Mahapanchayat to be a flop. The last thing it wants is Jats consolidating against it in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. If that happens, it would undo years of work by the BJP in bringing the Jats of West UP into its fold.
As things stand today, Jats are angry against the BJP and so far seem to be shifting away from it.
On the other hand, efforts are on through figures like Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati to communalist West UP once again. A few weeks ago, Hindutva outfits conducted a drive to prevent Muslims from applying 'Mehendi' on Hindu women on a festival.
Several other efforts are underway to increase communal temperatures in the region.
So far, Jats don't seem to have wavered from their intention of voting against the BJP and the main beneficiary of this could be the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The RLD's efforts to revive agrarian politics in the region could pay off, after years of being in vain.
The other major consequence of the Karnal police crackdown would be greater support of Opposition leaders for the protests. Already, top Opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar have condemned the police attack on protesters. This support is only going to get stronger in the near future.
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