Syed Khalique Ahmed
NEW DELHI—Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his coterie have crushed all dissents and protests against their policies ever since they came to power at the Centre in May 2014. They silenced voices of dissent and political opponents not only outside their party and political allies but also inside the party by using draconian measures like UAPA and sedition laws that created fear and awe among their political rivals and critics from among the human rights groups and non-governmental organizations. They used stringent to crush dissenters from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Left organizations, Bollywood stars, professors from Delhi University, and many other groups by using strong-arm tactics and central agencies like CBI, Enforcement Directorate, and National Investigative Agency.
But the Modi government has completely failed to crush the farmers’ protest against the three new farm laws aimed to hand over India’s agriculture and food supply into the hands of corporates. While the laws are yet to be implemented owing to strong opposition to it from farmers, the result of the new laws has already become visible in the shape of rising prices, particularly of edible oil and pulses, the trade of which is in the hands of corporate houses like Adani and other big business groups. Both the farmers and consumers are sufferers and only beneficiaries are corporates.
Farmers have been sitting on the borders of Delhi for the last eight months, seeking scrapping of the law completely. The Centre and the BJP state governments could not remove them from the protest sites, fearing the political backlash. When the farmers gave a call for a protest outside Parliament during the current monsoon session that began on July 19, the Modi government went into a panic. While the NDA government led by Modi-Shah coterie had stopped protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act-2019 from reaching the Parliament, the duo could not use similar tactics against farmers to prevent them from going to the Parliament though their party leaders tried to create a rift in their ranks by giving the movement a communal colour, saying that most of them happen to be Sikhs and “Khalistanis.”
The government was ultimately forced to allow the farmers to stage their protest at Jantar Mantar, in the heart of Delhi, and close to Parliament. Farmers reached Jantar Mantar on July 21 and have been holding ‘Kisan Sansad,’ or Farmers’ Parliament, daily at the premises, discussing farmers’ problems, especially about the three farm laws. They have clearly announced that they will go back to their homes only after the new farm laws are repealed, even if they have to sit at Jantar Mantar or Delhi’s borders for years.
However, the Modi government, apt at diverting attention from the real issues, prevented the farmers’ protest at Jantar Mantar from getting massive publicity by conducting Income Tax raids at the premises of Dainik Bhaskar, India’s largest circulated Hindi Daily and UP-based Bharat Samachar channel in Lucknow. The crackdown on the media houses took place on the same day the farmers reached Jantar Mantar. The strategy succeeded. The farmers’ protest at Jantar Mantar did not get publicity. The media attention was diverted to the IT crackdown on Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar. The discussion in media also shifted from farmers’ issues to attack on media.
If the farmers’ protest gets wide publicity, it will remove the aura of invincibility that has been carefully built by BJP and its leaders around the Modi regime. It will encourage other groups as well to raise their voices against the undemocratic policies of the BJP government and ultimately weaken the party. This will have an adverse influence on the people, many of whom will muster the courage to fight for their rights and justice. And if the farmers succeed in getting the law repealed through democratic protests, it will harm the BJP politically in the forthcoming assembly elections in some of the states the next year, as also in the 2024 Parliamentary elections.