January 26, 2021 is going to be a historic day when there would be two parallel parades, one official displaying nation’s military prowess and development achievement, and the other one by farmers, showing indifference of the rulers towards farmers and commoners of the country.
Syed Khalique Ahmed | India Tomorrow
NEW DELHI—Inspired by Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protest launched mainly by Muslim women, the farmers’ movement against the three controversial farm laws of the Narendra Modi government have lot of similarities with the Shaheen Bagh movement.
The Shaheen Bagh movement that began after the police crackdown on Jamia Millia Islamia university students against unconstitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) acquired acquired a national character with Muslim women all coming out on streets and having launched sit-in agitations at more than 500 venues all over the country.
Similarly, the anti-farm laws movement that began in Punjab initially have now acquired national character with farmers from all over the country not only having assembled on the borders of Delhi-at Singhu, Tikri(both in Haryana), Ghazipur(UP) and Shahjahanpur(Rajasthan), apart from farmers in all the states running sit-in agitations in their respective state capitals or important districts, including famous Azad Maidan in Mumbai. Like anti-CAA movement during which the anti-CAA protesters took out rallies and candle marches every evening in their localities all across the country, farmers are also taking tractor marches and parades in their states and major towns.
If the Shaheen Bagh movement attracted international headlines with world media descending to little known locality in South Delhi and many global organisations having criticized the Government of India for amending the citizenship law based on religion(the first country in the world having made religion as the basis of citizenship), the farmers movement has also got international attention with Prime Minister of Canada taking up the issue with the Government of India and requesting it to reconsider the controversial laws.
Surprisingly, both movements began in chilly winter with people themselves leading the movement. If there were no leaders in the anti-CAA movement and were led by the Muslim women themselves, there are no political leaders in the anti-Farm Law movement and these are primarily led by over 40 farm unions from different parts of the country, mainly Punjab and Haryana.
If the Shaheen Bagh movement called the CAA unconstitutional, protesting farmers have dubbed the three Farm Laws enacted in September 2020 as “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. If the Muslims were the target of the CAA, protesting farmers say the target of the new Farm Laws are farmers who will not only suffer financially with its implementation but also lose their lands to corporates in whose favour, according to farmers, the new farm laws have been enacted.
While the Shaheen Bagh protesters all over the country were dubbed as “anti-nationals”, “Pakistanis”, “secessionists”, “terrorists” and “trouble-makers”, “criminals” to discredit them and their agitation and were also threatened by BJP leaders, including MLAs and MPs in public speeches, similar accusations have been levelled against agitating farmers calling them “Khalistanis” (because of the movement initially led by Sikh farmers of Punjab), “anti-nationals” and their movement motivated by “foreign forces” with a view to causing them to lose public respect and support. If some people tried to disturb the protests at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia by using firearms, some radicalized suspects belonging to right-wingers sent to create disturbance at Singhu border were caught by alert farmers and handed over to the police. If Hindu women supported anti-CAA protests, Muslim women from different part of the country, particularly from Malerkotla of Punjab as also as far as Hyderabad came to Singhu border to offer their support to the movement.
If Shaheen Bagh movement created a world history having been billed as world’s biggest feminine protest movement against an undemocratic and unconstitutional act of a democratically elected government, the Indian farm movement led primarily by Sikh farmers of Punjab and Hindu Jat farmers from Haryana and Western UP are going to be historic because they are going to put a check on a government that refuses to listen to the public opinion on enactment of laws. If Shaheen Bagh movement challenged the might of the BJP government having absolute majority in Parliament, the farmers’ movement has openly challenged the imperialistic designs of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. If the Modi government could not implement the CAA owing to Shaheen Bagh movement, the same government is now willing to defer the implementation of the three Farm Laws. The protesters in Shaheen Bagh’s case as also farmers’ movement want the total rollback of the laws and are not ready to accept anything less than that.
To ensure that the anti-CAA movement that was suspended due to lockdown in the wake of corona pandemic is not revived, the government booked the youths involved in it in criminal cases in connection with the Northeast Delhi riots and used dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention ) Act (UAPA) against many of them including Omar Khalid and 22 others, National Investigation Agency (NIA) has issued notices to several Sikh farmers and leaders with a view to compel them to withdraw them from the farm agitation. Like the police action failed to dampen the spirit of anti-CAA protesters, intimidatory tactics against the farm union leaders failed to have desired impact. In fact, the police action against farm leaders have further emboldened them, with the protest sites growing bigger every day after the NIA notice.
The anti-CAA protests took place because the CAA threatened the very survival of the Indian Muslims in their own country, the farm protests owe to the three farm laws that, according to farmers, are intended to take over their land by big corporates and reduce them to mere agriculture labourers.
However, there are certain differences between the two movements. If the BJP state governments in UP and Haryana dealt sternly with anti-CAA protesters and in UP, police opened fire on anti-CAA protesters killing 23 persons on a single day on December 19, 2019, the state governments all over the country, including BJP-ruled states, have avoided to take any such confrontation with farmers fearing huge political backlash from the majority community all over the country.
Another dissimilarity between the two movements are that while the Modi government stopped anti-CAA protesters march to Parliament on December 15, 2019, and Delhi police attacked Jamia Millia Islamia students within the campus and also in its library that became the cause for peaceful nationwide Shaheen Bagh movement, the police all over the country are extremely cautious of any confrontation with the farmers. When the farmers challenged that they would enter Delhi on January 26 and organize their own Republic Day parade, parallel to official parade in the national Capital, the police requested them not to take out tractor parade on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road which may be required for emergency purposes for use by ambulances and confine their parades on roads in Delhi near their protest sites in Haryana and Delhi as per Swaraj Andolan leader Yogendra Yadav. The request from the Delhi police indicates its helplessness against the might of the farmers. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who so far used to say that the Farm Laws will not be withdrawn, a few days ago agreed to withdraw it if he is convinced by the farmers that these are not in farmers’ interest. This indicates that the government cannot face the agitation of farmers for long as the longer the farm movement becomes, the greater the unpopularity of the Modi government among the farmers and the masses. No political party or a political leader in a democracy can afford the anger of the masses if it wants to exist in electoral politics of the country.
Tractor Parade To Reclaim The Republic
Whether the farmers are allowed to take out tractor march on Delhi roads or they conduct the march at places on Delhi borders where they are currently sitting, is not going to make any difference as far as sending a message to the government is concerned.
To quote Jagtar Singh, former journalist of the Indian Express, who has written several books on politics of Punjab, “….the farmers would reclaim the Republic” from a regime that hates to give weight to public opinion in its policy formulation. “This Republic day would determine whether India continues to be Colonial Democracy or gets transformed into People’s Democracy in accordance with “We the people” as per the Constitution on which the will of the people prevail, not that of the ‘rulers’ enjoying just numerical mandate”, says Jagtar Singh. If Jagtar is to be believed, January 26, 2021 is going to be a historic day when there would be two parallel parades, one official displaying nation’s military prowess and development achievement and the other one by farmers, showing indifference of the rulers towards farmers and commoners of the country.