At around 9 a.m. today, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement. In his address to the nation, he said that the government has decided to repeal all three controversial farm laws against which farmers have been protesting for more than a year. This news came as a pleasant surprise for most who heard it and more so, for the thousands of farmers who have been camping out on protest sites outside the national capital since late November 2020, in opposition to the three draconian farm laws which they have consistently claimed are detrimental to the interests of the nation’s farmers.
Addressing the nation on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, Modi said the three laws were for the benefit of farmers but “we couldn’t convince a section of farmers despite (our) best efforts”. Today is also the 104th birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi, India’s fiesty Prime Minister during the 70s and 80s, who was assassinated on Oct 31, 1984.
What the capitulation by the Modi government demonstrates is that in a democracy, ignoring or sidelining the opinions and concerns of major voting blocs can prove to be suicidal. Also, almost everyone has made the connection between the looming assembly elections in two states next year and the timing of the announcement of repealing the three farm laws.
Meanwhile, Modi tried to make most of a no-win situation in his carefully-constructed speech. “While apologising to the nation, I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that maybe something was lacking in our tapasya (dedication) that we could not explain the truth, as clear as the light of the diya, to some of our farmer brothers. But today is Prakash Parv, not the time to blame anyone. Today, I want to tell the country that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws,” PM Modi said.
“In the Parliament session starting the end of this month, we will complete the process of repealing the three laws,” he said. “I would request all my protesting farmer friends, today is the auspicious day of Guru Purab, return home to your fields and your families and make a new beginning, let us move forward afresh.”
Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have been camping outside Delhi, at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders, demanding that the “black laws” be withdrawn. The BJP has faced massive anger in northern states, something it cannot afford as it prepares for big polls ahead, including the 2024 national elections.
The farmer protests did not stop through several rounds of talks between the government and farmers, disruptions in Parliament and Supreme Court hearings on petitions challenging the laws.
However, Rakesh Tikait, a top farmer leader, said the protesters would wait till the laws were repealed in the Parliament session starting on November 29. He also raised questions over the stalemate over the minimum support price (MSP) for crops, the violence against farmers in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri and the pending criminal cases against farmers, filed during their over one year-long protests.
Tikait also paid homage to the over 700 farmers who have died during the course of the agitation.
The opposition termed the move ‘politically-motivated’ and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal expressed grief over the deaths of over 700 protesting farmers in the last year. He said, “This day will be written in golden letters in India’s history like Independence Day, Republic Day. It’s the victory of democracy, not just farmers. Govt made all efforts to disrupt anti-farm laws protest, called them Khalistani, terrorists, but farmers’ didn’t give up. It is sad that more than 700 farmers lost their lives. Today is a lesson for the youth of the nation that fight with peace, you will achieve success.” He added, “Farmers proved that the Centre eventually will have to listen to the people. Water cannons, lathis dried up and nails melted against farmer’s determination. Govt made all efforts to disrupt the protest but farmers didn’t give up & fought well.”
Any mention of the avoidable deaths of over 700 farmers would be incomplete without recalling the events of UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district, where on October 3, 2021, hundreds of farmers in the Tikunia area were returning after staging protests as part of the nationwide farmers’ protest against the three farm laws passed by the BJP-led Union government. The protestors, who were allegedly blocking state deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to Banbirpur village, were hit and ran over from behind by a speeding Mahindra Thar, an SUV. Two other vehicles in the convoy quickly followed the first car and crushed the injured who were lying on the ground.
A total of eight people died in the violence. Two farmers perished on the spot while two more died later in hospital. Ten farmers were injured. Raman Kashyap, a 28-year-old journalist working with a private TV news channel was among those killed. His father, who witnessed the incident, stated that Kashyap was hit by the car and grievously injured.
The incident brought to the fore the callous manner in which powerful people could mow down peaceful protesters, indicating the impunity with which they treated the laws of the land and their ability to evade justice. Following a nationwide outcry, Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra has been named as the prime accused in the case.
According to a source, a section of the protesting farmers believes that several conspiracies were hatched to bring disrepute to their cause and sabotage it. They cite the violence that took place on January 26, as a section of protesters broke through police barricades and entered parts of the national capital not permitted for their protest. The path taken by this section reportedly deviated from the route that farmers’ unions had agreed upon in their talks with the Delhi Police. There is widespread belief that this rogue section of farmers had deliberately provoked violence, in a bid to deal a crippling blow to the farmers’ protests.
Then there are the two deceased farmers whose unexplained deaths threatened to overshadow the protests.
On October 15, Lakhbir Singh, a Dalit, had one of his hands and legs chopped off and was then tied to a metal barricade near a farmers’ protest site at Kundli in Haryana’s Sonipat district. On November 10, another farmer named Gurpreet Singh, who was protesting at the Singhu border, was found dead. He was identified as a resident of Rurki village in Amloh tehsil of Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib district.