Farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh have been camping at several border points in Delhi since 26 November 2020 demanding repeal of three laws Modi government passed on the sly in September 2020.
The three controversial laws which the farmers want repealed are Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and Essential Commodities (Amendment Act).
From the outset, these laws were fated to get entangled in protests, disagreement, widespread disenchantment and upheaval among the farmer community.
This community is no small crowd that gathers at the neighborhood teashop for small talk. Cultivators and agricultural laborers constituted 263 million or 22% of the 2011 census. It is a significant number of Indians that the government’s proposed laws would impact. It is this huge humanity that the government chose to take for a ride by having these laws ‘passed’ through Parliament’s backdoor on September 20 2020.
Three laws that would impact 22% of Indian population merited more deliberation, scrutiny and consultation among and with at least the opposition parties. Such a demand by Biju Janata Dal was pooh-poohed by an adamant NDA government drunk on brute parliamentary majority.
Minimum procedures expected of a parliamentary democracy were cold-shouldered by a government drunk on brute majority. Non-existence of an ‘opposition’ worth talking about added to the government’s brashness while transacting business in Parliament. Which has been the modus operandi of the NDA government in power. Deliberative and consultative lawmaking-the trademark of parliamentary democracy are meted out deliberate contempt and audacious step-motherly attitude. The same methodology was evident in passing important bills viz; The Constitution Amendment Bill, abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Triple Talaq, Unlawful Activities (Preventive) Bill. None of these were referred to any of the parliament committees for deliberations on a non-partisan basis.
Early days witnessed largely peaceful agitation by the farmers. Agitators cooked food in community kitchens set up at agitation sites, which was often shared with representatives of government interlocutors and the police.
However, frequent rail and road rokos organized by aggrieved farmers created endless inconvenience to citizens in and around Delhi. Delhiites were denied right of unhindered movement.
Subsequently, Talks between government and farmers’ representatives did take place on numerous occasions. These largely ritualistic ‘talks’, largely intended to eyewash the nation bore no fruit. It only added to mutual distrust and hegemony. Peaceful nature of protests, the greatest strength of aggrieved farmers, took a turn for the worse on Republic Day of 2021.
Farmers through the Samyukt Kisan Morcha had announced their decision on January 2 2021 to take out tractor parades marches on the Republic Day of 2021 on Delhi’s streets to arm-twist the government to consider annulment of the controversial farm laws.
Numerous protesting farmers drove a convoy of tractors into Delhi earlier than the time allotted for the tractor rally on prohibited routes. Others rode horses and walked alongside tractors. Some of them deviated from pre-sanctioned routes agreed to by the Delhi Police by breaching barricades. Abruptly, a section of the tractor rally turned violent.
This was uncharacteristic of the nature of agitations which has thus far been peaceful and non-violent.
Farmers clashed with the police. Some resorted to vandalism and damaged public property in Central Delhi. To add to the melee, protestors reached the iconic Red Fort and hoisted the Nishan Sahib (a Sikh religious flag) and farmer union flags on the ramparts of the fort. About 300 police personnel sustained injury in the violence that surprised Delhi.
The violence drew condemnation from politicians like the then Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Sharad Pawar, the NCP leader. Widespread violence and unfurling of flags on the Red Fort took a section of farmers’ unions unawares, and lose face.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) and All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee decided to quit the protests.
Protests that abruptly turned violent had people ask a few relevant questions:
Did the government driven to the wall by persistence and determination of agitating farmers have lumpen elements infiltrate the protests that were largely peaceful until the violence that engulfed Delhi on January 26? Had the government planted their ‘supporters’ among the farmers to trigger violence? Did the government attempt to sow disunity among largely united farmer unions that was indeed the fulcrum around which the protests turned? Did the government, through the violence have the farmers lose crucial national and international sympathizers to their cause?
After the mayhem on the Republic day, the agitation took an entirely different turn on an unexpected turf.
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg extended support for the agitating farmers by sharing a toolkit on her Twitter Account on February 4 2021. The Delhi Police believed the toolkit created in collaboration with Khalistani organizations led to the Republic day violence in Delhi.
Soon after, the police dragnet closed in on three individuals, who the former suspected to have created and edited the toolkit. They were environmentalist Disha Ravi (22), engineer Shantanu Muluk and lawyer Nikita Jacob. While Disha was detained under police custody for ‘interrogation’ for extended time, the other two were granted bail. The government seemed like a bully by hunting down some youth to divert national attention from an issue that had blown over into a national movement that had also turned a thorn in the government’s flesh.
After a brief lull, a macabre incident that shadowed the above ones was soon to follow.
On October 3 2021, hundreds of farmers in Tikunia area of Lakhimpur Kheri district of uttar Pradesh returning from protests, and blocking UP Deputy Chief Minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to Banbirpur village were hit from behind by a speeding Thar SUV car that also ran over them. Two other vehicles in the convoy followed the SUV crushing the injured lying on the ground. Eight including four farmers died, and ten were injured in what looked like deliberate and desperate manslaughter. Raman Kashyap, a 28-year old journalist was also hit by the car and killed. Three persons in the minister’s convoy were lynched by the farmers subsequently.
Two of the cars were owned paradoxically by the Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra. According to eyewitnesses, the minister’s son Ashish Mishra drove the car involved in the murderous incident. The murderous driver denied the charge and evaded police questioning for six days. The BJP government in power both in UP and the centre lacked the expediency with which Disha Ravi and others were arrested in the toolkit incident and urgency with which people involved in beef trade in UP are usually incarcerated.
The supreme Court heard the case after two lawyers from UP wrote to Chief justice NV Ramana.
Seeking a federal investigation into the murder, the court criticized the UP government and expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken thus far. The court also asked the police why the minister’s son, accused of murder was not being arrested. The Chief Justice went a step further expressing the court’s disapproval of the Special Investigation Team set up by the UP government, terming those constituting the commission ‘ local officers’.
This timely rap on the knuckles of the UP government by a responsible judiciary had the latter swing into action. Ashish Mehra appeared before the commission for interrogation 6 days after the incident. He was subsequently arrested and taken to custody on October 9 2021, and was taken to the site of the massacre for reconstruction of events three days later.
India, having lost face and considerable credibility, stood shamefully with bowed head before more civilized comity of nations when a Union Minister of State for Home murdered by proxy farmers agitating peacefully against three contentious laws thrust on them by a totalitarian government.
When the nation watched in sheer terror post-independence India’s Jalian Wala, and Indian version of China’s Tiananmen massacre of 1989 being enacted before her, it took an alacritous and conscientious judiciary- that last post of hope and succor for a nation and her people, to shine a beacon of hope on India blanked out by all-encompassing darkness and hopelessness.