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Has Govt Scored ‘Major Victory’ On Farm Laws Post-Red Fort Clash?

“The violence at Red Fort gave the govt the opportunity it was seeking to discredit & close down the farm protests.”

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Red Fort protests on 26 January 2021
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The Modi-Shah playbook has no room for compromise. It would be naïve then for protesting farmers to expect an outreach or a gesture of compassion from the government even as they desperately disown the violence that marred their Republic Day tractor rally and its perpetrators.

As evident from their defensive statements, leaders of the unions spearheading the two-month long agitation against the new farm laws have gone on the back foot. In their anxiety to distance themselves from the chaos that unfolded at ITO and Red Fort which left one farmer dead and at least 394 policemen injured, they have ended up sounding apologetic and vulnerable.

It’s given the government the upper hand in the ongoing battle of wits. The Modi-Shah duo fully intends to drive home this advantage and finish off a protest that has posed the most serious challenge yet to their authority and earned them a bad name internationally.

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26 Jan Red Fort Clashes: How Credibility of a Peaceful Gandhian Protest Movement Was Ruined

The mood is tough and unrelenting as the government goes about settling scores in myriad ways. One is the legal route. In an attempt to tie them up in criminal cases that will keep them running from pillar to post for a long time, a slew of FIRs (25 at the time of writing) has been filed against every single leader associated with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (the umbrella organisation of 40 odd kisan unions) and its spokespersons, whether they were cited or not at the spots where violence occurred. So far, none have been arrested but the threat of arrest hangs over their heads like the sword of Damocles. So does the possibility of more FIRs against them as the police proceed with its investigations.

The second is destroying the credibility of what was a peaceful Gandhian protest till the unfortunate events on 26 January. The Khalistan bogey has been raised again, and this time, the allegation is loud and clear amid claims by BJP supporters that the link to the dormant secessionist movement has now been exposed.

The Sikh religious flag, the Nishan Sahib, that was hoisted at Red Fort, was branded the ‘Khalistani’ flag. The ‘anti-national’’ motif is being used liberally. “We will not tolerate the insult to the Tricolour at Red Fort,’’ Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar thundered.

Post-Red Fort Clashes, Will BJP Be Able to Consolidate Hindu Vote in 2021 Punjab Polls?

The NIA is back in action pursuing notices sent to some of the protestors who are accused of having links to the banned outfit Sikhs for Justice. This includes the controversial actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu, who farm union leaders alleged is the chief conspirator and instigator of the violence.

The bid to divide is yielding results with residents holding protest demonstrations against the farmers in the border areas where they have been sitting. Ironically, they were allowed to do so by the police and residents alike for two long months. When the tractor rally first moved out on Republic Day, residents even showered the farmers with flowers.

A BJP insider admitted that the turn of events would help the BJP in the 2021 assembly polls in Punjab because they expect Hindus to consolidate behind the saffron party out of fear and suspicion about the revival of the Khalistan movement and accompanying terrorism.

He acknowledged that this may pose a security challenge in the long run but in the short term, he expects electoral gains for the party.

And finally, the government believes it has scored a major victory on the farm laws. After what has transpired, there is no question of repealing them and future negotiations will be on the government’s terms. It is not clear yet what concessions the government will offer, if any and if farmers agree to return to the table for discussions. But BJP sources were quite clear that the government is unlikely to yield much in the current scenario.

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The Modi-Shah Playbook on How to Deal with Dissent & Protest

The ball is now in the court of the protestors and the farm unions. Will they stay the course and continue with their agitation? The movement has already started scattering with some unions breaking away. Large numbers of farmers are also returning home. In any case, harvesting season is approaching and they will have to get busy in their fields. The agitation spots at the borders are looking emptier.

But it is obvious that the momentum the protests had gained is lost. Farm union leaders sounding dispirited and confused. They also seem to be worried about the legal cases the government could harass them with.

The Modi-Shah playbook to deal with dissent and street protests is quite clear. The manner in which the government has taken the steam out of the farm protests is eerily similar to what it did with the anti-CAA protests last winter.

Ruining Credibility of Farm Protests: Throwback to Shaheen Bagh

It first let the protests continue unhindered. Shaheen Bagh was allowed to grow and grow in Delhi and be feted nationally and internationally.

Simultaneously, BJP supporters and trolls tried hard to tarnish the protests and pit the rest of society against those on dharna. It was easily done with the anti-CAA protests which were dominated by Muslims who feared for their future in this country. The public willingly believed the protests were being fuelled by foreign agents and Islamist terrorist organisations.

It was not so easily done with the farm protests because a large component of the agitation was Sikh, who the Hindus regard as part of the larger Hindu family.

And then, the violence. The communal riots in Delhi broke up the anti-CAA protests and gave the government a handle to crack down on supporters and organisers.

Similarly, the violence at Red Fort gave the government the opportunity it was searching for to discredit and close down the farm protests.

And now, the Delhi Police has been tasked with entangling as many protestors as it can in criminal cases.

The future of dissent and street protests hangs by a slender thread. Much depends on the farm unions and whether they have the stomach to carry on their fight or whether they will cave in to the pressure being mounted on them.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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