'Satt dhungi khaa gayaa lagda, hun samajh nahi aa reya ki phatt khula chhad ke chheti bharu ya patti banke' (You are so deeply wounded that now you don’t know you will heal whether to do dressing over it or left it open for natural healing).
These lines from the movie Angrez perfectly describe the situation of the Narendra Modi government during the last period of the farmers' protest. Accepting the demands of the farmers would have affected the image of Modi, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), and the Government of India. But on the other side, the protest, which was about to complete a year at the Delhi border, was already becoming a headache to all of them.
Modi chose to repeal the laws on 19 November 2021, on the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti. This, we can say, was ‘dressing over the wound,’ rather than leaving it for natural healing. The protesters left Delhi's borders on 11 December.
'Karja Mukti, Pura Daam'
It has been a year since the prime minister announced the repeal of the contentious farm laws and since the farmers' protest ended.
The movement against the laws was so strong and unique in many ways that on the one side it forced the BJP-led government to roll back its decision and, on the other, it energised the rural and agrarian population.
This movement, which emerged spontaneously, was a distraction to contemporary demands and forms of struggles of the farmers. Farmers had been demanding the implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, which was about legalising Minimum Support Price (MSP).
Along with this, the core slogan of the farmers' groups since 2015 was 'karja mukti, pura daam' (Freedom from loan traps and remunerative prices for the crops). With the three farm laws, the whole orientation of farmers' unions as well as agrarian society was shifted towards saving the mandi and the limited MSP (which they already had), whereas they were about to fight for legal guarantee of the MSP as well as total freedom from the trap of loans.
This is a less covered fact and probably elements within the government were aware that in late 2019, some significant farm unions of Panjab and Haryana were planning a big agitation for MSP and karja mukti, by coming to Delhi in May 2020. All the meetings and preparations had been taking place a few months before the introduction of the farm laws.
While the BJP and Indian states can present any kind of justification behind the repeal of farm laws, truth is that the farmers' movement was becoming a big threat to the state-corporate alliance.
The forms of protest are evident in this argument whereas the farmers explicitly boycotted the products and services of Ambani and Adanis. Similarly, the leaders of the BJP were not allowed to enter the villages of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, and northern Rajasthan. Even the government officials, who are not linked with political parties, were opposed in several instances.
It was said that the farm unions got divided after the repeal of the farm laws. It is an open secret that the farm unions had huge differences ever since the protest began. Most of the unions are factions of mother organisations. The differences among some are not fundamental but they have their own contexts and working styles. They were already divided, they just got a chance to come together at the time of the farmers' protest, and then they went back to their unions after the protest. Notably, there is a high possibility that these unions may come together again whenever they is a strong need.
Farmers' Unions in Punjab Assembly Elections
A section of the farmers' unions jumped into the Punjab elections but they lost badly. Leave the taste of victory, only one candidate of that party was able to save his deposit and their chief ministerial candidate got just 4% votes in his constituency. This shows that although the farm leaders got the huge support of the people of Punjab, they did not want to see them as their political representatives.
One reason could be that the farm leaders, during the entire period of the protest, themselves have been saying that they were “non-political.” So the cadre of farm unions as well as ordinary masses saw farmer leaders as pressure groups and not political leaders.
The “non-political” nature of the protest reduced the reach of farmers' leaders to the issues of the farming sector only. Even after fielding many candidates from the non-agriculture background, the farmers’ political party could not convince the ordinary masses about the elections.
Another big reason was that most of the prominent farmers' unions, which have the biggest cadre, did not go to elections. But then their very ‘non-electoral' nature of politics is strengthened by their unions.
A big contribution of the farmers' protest in Punjab is that the society became more aware of issues and has started practising democracy uniquely. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the Vidhan Sabha elections not because Punjabis saw charisma in Bhagwant Mann or Arvind Kejriwal, but because Punjabis voted against the “traditional parties.”
The defeat of former CMs – Parkash Singh Badal, Captain Amarinder Singh, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Charanjit Channi and many more prominent figures shows the supremacy of people. But, while people showed faith in AAP with a huge majority in Assembly elections, they explicitly rejected AAP too in just three months after that big victory where AAP lost the Sangrur bypoll.
The Government of India is repeating the mistake that forced the farmers to hold the agitation in 2020-21. This mistake is the 'trust deficit' – the reason why farmers were so angry and their frustration was not just limited to the three farm laws.
PM Modi repeatedly promised the implementation of recommendations by the Swaminathan Committee during his election rallies and even in the manifesto of the 2014 general elections but those have not been implemented yet. Leave aside the election manifestos, the Modi government made a written agreement with the farm unions on 8 December 2021 on six points but none of them has materialled. Those agreements and their realities are:
1. Government had promised that all the cases against the protesters during the period of farmers' protest will be withdrawn. But the reality is, farmers are still getting summons and notices. A recent RTI revealed that the Indian Railways has not initiated the process of withdrawing cases.
2. Government had promised to form a committee on MSP for its effectiveness. The reality is, this committee has been formed with a very biased nature whereas all the non-government members are neo-liberalists or BJP supporters.
3. Government has promised compensation to the families where the person who died in the farmers' protest. These families are still waiting for compensation.
4. Government had promised to bring the electricity amendment act only after discussion with farmers' unions, but it has already tabled the said law without informing to the unions.
Likewise, there are many issues where the government has betrayed farmers. Farmers' unions have been holding multiple demonstrations against this betrayal and they have announced the next course of action as well.
Another Wave of Farmers' Protests Can't Be Ruled Out
Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has announced some programmes for the next 20 days where they will protest against the Parliament members and will also celebrate the victory of the repeal of farm laws. The SKM leaders have also warned the government of a big agitation if the pending demands are not met.
It is difficult to organise another movement like the earlier one, but it is not impossible. Farmers and farmers' leaders are aware of the fact that small road jams and gheraos of the district collector's office won’t solve their issues and they will have to come on the roads for an indefinite period.
Farm unions have been working hard after the protest ended at the Delhi borders. They have been actively participating in non-farm issues as well. We are not sure whether there would be any big movement or not, but we should certainly be sure about the continuous efforts and struggle of the farmers for a progressive and just society.
(Harinder Happy is a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and is associated with Samyukta Kisan Morcha. He can be reached at email@example.com. his is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)