In any republic or democratic country, what is the biggest fear of the ruling party or the head of the state? To lose election, of course!
This has been proven hundreds of times in countries throughout the world and many times in India itself. While I do not intend to go into the details of this topic, I want to address the farmers protests going on in India for the last six months. The government of India is acting as if it is asleep and does not care about tens of thousands of farmers living on the roads with more than 500 dying while protesting.
The protest against three new agriculture bills started first in Punjab soon after the laws were passed in September 2020 and then spread to the neighboring states of Haryana and U.P. shortly afterwards. When the local protests made no impact on the elected members of the government, the farmers decided to make it a national level protest and started marching to Delhi in November. The BJP led central and state governments jumped in to block the peaceful protests by showing high handedness, including digging ditches on the highways, using water canons, tear gas and even beating the farmers (lathi-charge). Farmers were stopped on the outskirts of Delhi and have camped on the main roads entering Delhi since then. More than ten rounds of discussions with the government have failed. Farmers have faced hard winter on open roads, suffered through COVID pandemic, extreme heat wave of the summer and now facing crushing monsoons and flooding. However, the Indian government has refused to pay attention and instead built military style barriers on the roads entering the capital. The government seem to be employing the wait-out strategy and hoping that farmers would eventually turn away due the exhaustion and exasperated by cutting off water supply and electricity connections to the camping sites. The farmers seem to be determined to stay put until the bills are withdrawn, so there seem to be an impasse at the moment. Many world renowned intellectuals have supported the farmers protest. Noam Chomsky, professor at the renowned institute MIT, in the United States, called the protest as a beacon of light for the world. He quoted various studies done by RAND corporation, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, which estimated that about US $40 trillion of wealth has been transferred from the working and middle class (farmers usually make this group) people to the super rich in the last 40 years since European and U.S. governments allowed the big corporations to enter the agriculture. For India, it is a writing on the wall that these new laws will enable transferring the wealth from already poor farmers to the super rich corporations such as those run by Adani and Ambani groups.
While the government is not doing anything to address the actual concerns of the farmers, it is making sure that farmers are not affiliating with any opposition parties. Even if an opposition party member visits the protest sites, Indian media starts slandering the protestors and accusing them as if they have committed a serious crime. In reality, the most natural process in any democratic country to give weight to protests is by aligning with elected representatives regardless of which party they belong to. In this case, the ruling party members don’t want to address farmers’ concerns and they are slandering them from meeting with other party members, what kind of democracy is this?
Recently, Indian media has even started speculating that farmers are protesting just to grab power. This tells that the government is only concerned with elections and doesn’t care about their needs so long as the farmers are neither supporting other political parties nor showing any intent to form their own. The Indian Express published an article, dated March 28, 2021, “Modi’s BJP believes that democracy only means winning elections,” which further cements my belief that the government will not take any action unless they fear losing elections.
So if the farmers are to win this battle, then they should hit where it hurts the most. Five states (U.P., Uttar Khand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur) are up for elections next year (2022), the time has come for farmers to either declare their support for a political party who promises to repeal the three laws or form their own political party.
The farmer leaders need to start strategizing election alliance for each state independently. For example, if farmers create a new party in Punjab, then the biggest risk is that the rural votes may get split among the new party, Congress, Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whereas the urban votes may go to BJP along religious lines. So in some states, it may be best to make an alliance with existing parties whereas in others, it may be better to form a new party.
With the elections few months away, it may be best if farmers leaders make a clear announcement and give a deadline to the ruling party to either repeal the laws or face competition in the elections. Some farmer leaders have already started making statements about contacting elections but the message need to come strongly and backed by all farmer leaders.
- July 21, 2021, Davinder Singh Garcha
– The author currently lives in Virginia, U.S.A. and works as an IT Consultant. He is passionate about bringing prosperity and equality in Punjab and India and volunteers with non-profit organizations. He came from a farmer’s family in Punjab, where his father and brother still do the farming.