‘Centre Beware, Punjab Has Risen’: Singers Amplify Farmers’ Stir

Some of the lyrics seek to remind the Narendra Modi government how Punjab has always resisted Delhi’s diktats.

4 min read
‘Centre Beware, Punjab Has Risen’: Singers Amplify Farmers’ Stir

Tera vaah peya eh kihde naal, tainu dasange sarkare ni’ (Listen government, we’ll tell you what you are up against).”

This ‘warning’ is part of a song by Punjabi singer Harf Cheema composed in support of the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the Narendra Modi government’s recent farm legislations.

The warning, of course, is meant for the Narendra Modi government that pushed through the new legislations that are being called “anti-farmer”.

The legislations sparked protests by farmers and the most intense opposition has come from Punjab.

Amplifying the farmers’ voices are a large number of Punjabi singers and actors, who have actively joined the stir. On 28 September, several Punjabi artists like Harbhajan Mann, Ranjit Bawa, Tarsem Jassar, Ammy Virk, Kanwar Grewal, Kulwinder Billa, Yograj Singh and Deep Sidhu among others took part in a protest in Batala in Gurdaspur district.

The protest was timed on the same day as the birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

Poster of the 28 September rally at Batala.
Poster of the 28 September rally at Batala.

Not just participation in protests, Punjabi artists have also responded through their music.

Like Harf Cheema’s song above, a series of such numbers supporting farmers and attacking the Centre has been released within days of the bills being passed. Some older songs like Tarsem Jassar’s Dharna were also re-released.

Here are some of the major themes in these songs.

Dilliye khyal rakh layi’: Challenging the Centre

Punjab has a history of challenging authoritarian leaders from Delhi - from Aurangzeb to the British and later Indira Gandhi. The same sentiment is now being invoked against the Modi government.

This is reflected in many of the songs released in the last one week. For instance this song by Jass Bajwa says, “Centre di sarkaar rahi sada Jatta layi Gaddar, Jatta tagda hoja (The Centre has always been a traitor for Jatt farmer, Jatts strengthen yourselves).”

Elly Mangat’s song Baghi Kisan invokes Baghel Singh, the Sikh general who in the late 18th century launched an attack on Delhi and inflicted several defeats on the Mughals.

Reminding the Modi government of Baghel Singh, the song tells the government, “Lagda Baghel Singh yaad tainu reha nai (It seems you have forgotten Baghel Singh).”

The song, written by Devinder Benipal, further warns the government that if farmers become rebels they are capable of unfurling their flag at the Red Fort as well.

Similarly Korala Maan’s song also warns the Centre not to compel farmers to become rebels by saying “Dilliye khyal rakh layi, kitte kahi aale modhe te bandook na aa je (Delhi better be careful, lest the weapon come on to the shoulder).”

GST, ‘Achhe Din’ and UAPA Arrests

The barbs are not just on the recent farm legislations but also demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax and even the arrests under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

For instance, this song by Sharry Maan says: “Jera vadda kar hun tak jarr gaye, Masan jode si te notebandi kar gaye. Ne tu sahaan te vi laoni GST, Chehra muddatan pehla asin parh gaye.”

Translation: Until now I accepted everything you did, After I saved (money) with so much difficulty, you announced demonetisation. You want to impose GST on every breath of mine, we understood your reality long back.

Ravinder Grewal’s Jatt Karjai takes a dig at PM Modi’s ‘Achhe Din’ slogan by saying “Achhe din tere ron denge kisaani (Your Acchhe din will make farming cry).”

Similarly, Aman Jaluria’s song Delhiye criticises the “incarceration of innocent people” under the UAPA.

Invoking1984 and Anandpur Sahib Resolution

A number of songs also drew comparisons with 1984 - a deeply traumatic year for the Sikh community - which saw the attack on Harmandir Sahib complex by the Indian Army in June and the anti-Sikh pogrom later in the year.

While some songs invoked the 1984 trauma through lyrics, Kanwar Grewal’s Akhan Khol does it visually. The dark video depicts farmers standing surrounded by burning tyres, a visual associated with the ghastly 1984 pogrom.

Simu Dhillon’s Baaghi invokes a number of issues that have remained at the core of Punjab’s disputes with the Centre such as the status of Chandigarh, the sharing of riverine water and implementation of the Anandpur Sahib resolution, which called for greater autonomy for states and protection of the rights of minorities.

This is not to say that no artists have come out in support of the new laws. Singer Daler Mehndi did make a statement praising the Modi government’s move. But the overwhelming opinion among Punjab’s artists and intellectuals is against the Centre.

With the Modi government unlikely to budge on one hand and Punjab’s political and cultural class determined to resist on the other, this may just be the beginning of the tussle.

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