Groundxero | 12th February, 2024
The narrative for the upcoming general elections was already set. Backed by the corporate money and riding on the wave of Hindu religious nationalism unleashed, orchestrated and amplified through every government institutions and mouthpiece-medias, in the wake of the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya on the ruins of demolished Babri Maszid, Narendra Modi have already announced his emphatic victory. With the listless opposition in disarray and recalcitrant opposition leaders being taken care of by the ED and CBI, the demoralised secular and democratic forces have more and less resigned to the fate of another term for the Modi-led BJP.
But the farmers of Punjab and Haryana, who had heroically taken on the Modi-regime earlier too, have decided to take to the streets and in the process queer the set-pitch of the ruling regime. Multiple farmers and farm-labourers organisations under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM) have announced a ‘Delhi Chalo’ march on February 13, to put pressure on the Modi-led Union government into meeting their several demands, including enactment of legislation ensuring a minimum support price (MSP) to farmers for all crops.
The farmer unions claim the Narendra Modi government, while repealing the three pro-corporate farm laws had given a written commitment to consider legal guarantee to MSP, when the farmers had agreed to lift their siege from Delhi-borders in 2021, but the union government is not fulfilling its promise because of pressure from the corporate sector. After laying a siege to Delhi for over a year in 2020-21 in protest of the three farm laws, farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are again planning to march to Delhi on tractors on February 13. Farmer organisations are on a mobilisation campaign in Punjab and Haryana to make the call for ‘Dilli Chalo’ march a success. According to the report, farmers will also travel to Delhi from MP, UP, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and other potential areas. SKM (Non-Political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal has claimed more than 200 farmers’ unions from across the country will participate in the “Delhi Chalo” march on February 13.
The “Delhi Chalo” call by the farmers’ unions on February 13 has unnerved the Modi government. It has rekindled the spectre of the historic farmers’ siege to Delhi for over a year in 2020-21. The farmers’ struggle against the three farm laws enacted by the Modi government had changed the political narrative of the country and brought into popular focus the corporate-state-media nexus abetting the loot of the country and exploitation of the masses for power and profit. The united struggle of the farmers under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) gave hope to all struggling forces in the country, and Narendra Modi was forced to bow down, repeal the three farm laws, and accept most of the farmers’ demands. But the victory came at a huge cost. Over 700 men and women protestors were martyred in that historic struggle.
The SKM (Non-Political), the organisation which is leading the protests this time, is a breakaway faction of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the body that earlier led the farmers’ protest in 2020-21. This time, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) is not supporting the ‘Delhi Chalo’ call. The National Coordination Committee meeting of the SKM held online on 2nd February 2024 clarified no call for ‘Delhi Chalo’ has been given by SKM. The SKM has given a call for a ‘Grameen (Rural) Bharat Bandh’ and Industrial/ Sectoral Strike on February 16 in coordination with trade unions, industrial unions, bank employees unions, transport employees, government employees associations and several other workers’ associations.
The Union government has taken a two-pronged approach to deal with the protests. It has pressed three union ministers Piyush Goyal, Nityanand Rai, and Arjun Munda, to hold talks with the farm union leaders. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann is mediating between the union government and the farmer leaders. The first round of talks was held in Chandigarh on 8 February. The next meeting will be held on February 12, a day before the farmers’ proposed ‘Delhi Chalo’ march. Punjab CM Mann has assured farmer leaders of persuading the Union government to accept and implement their demands.
However, the government is not taking any chances and bracing for another agitation by farmers. It is fortifying the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-Haryana borders with barricades and deploying thousands of security personnel. The state BJP government under Manohar Lal Khattar has turned Haryana into a fortress, a war zone. All the main highways, roads and bridges have been blocked with barricades, concrete slabs, barbed wire, and metal spikes to stop farmers from marching towards Delhi. The Ghaggar river bed has been dug up to prevent farmers from crossing the river on tractors. On November 26, 2020, when farmers marched towards Delhi, they threw most of the temporary barricades into the Ghaggar River flowing along the Shambhu border.
According to news reports, Haryana is even planning to use high-voltage electric power on the fences to stop farmers from marching towards Delhi. Section 144 has been imposed in many districts of Haryana and CRPF and other paramilitary forces have also been deployed along with the police force. Mobile internet services have been suspended in seven districts of Haryana from 6 am on February 11 till 11.59 pm on February 13.
Security has also been tightened at all entry points to Delhi, with huge containers, cemented and iron barricades, and water-canons being placed by police officials at the Singhu and Tikri border. The Delhi police have issued an order prohibiting public gatherings at all Delhi-Uttar Pradesh borders. Drones are being used for surveillance. Entry of tractors, trolleys, buses, trucks, and commercial vehicles from Uttar Pradesh into Delhi has been banned.
#WATCH | Drone visuals from the Singhu border in Delhi where security arrangements have been stepped up by police ahead of the farmers' call for march to Delhi on 13th February. pic.twitter.com/RWJsU8q25S
— ANI (@ANI) February 12, 2024
In its desperation to prevent the farmers from reaching Delhi, the Haryana government has resorted to many other intimidatory means and repressive measures. The police in Ambala, has issued an official statement, urging farmers to refrain from participating in the protest or they “could face heavy loss”. The government is threatening to freeze bank accounts of the farmer leaders and even seize their land, in case of any damage to government property during the protests. According to news reports, notices have been issued by Haryana police to several farm leaders and farmers who are actively participating in organising the Delhi protest march. The notice mentions that the recovery would be made by seizing their land and bank accounts.
Farmers’ leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said, “on one side, the government is holding talks, while on the other side, roads are being closed toward the capital city, Delhi. Does the government already know that the farmers’ demands are not going to be accepted?” He warned that “if talks fail”, a convoy of more than 2,000 tractors will move from Punjab towards Delhi. “We will push aside all barricades as we had done in November 2020. Over 500 tractors from UP and nearly 200 from Rajasthan will also take part in the march,” Dallewal, president of Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Sidhupur) claimed.
Farmers in Haryana and Punjab are getting ready with trolleys, tractors, mattresses and dry rations. According to reports, thousands of farmers from the Malwa area of Punjab are already heading to Delhi, spending the night on the Haryana border. Over 100 farmers travelling from Karnataka for the ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest march were detained by the government railway police (GRP) at Bhopal railway station in Madhya Pradesh in the wee hours of Monday.
Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha has strongly objected and condemned the arrest and remand of kisan leaders by the BJP led Mohan Yadav Government of Madhya Pradesh. The arrests are in the context of the Grameen Bandh and Industrial/ Sectoral Strike on 16th February 2024, a joint call given by SKM and the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions, Independent/Sectoral Federations, Associations against the anti-farmer, anti-worker and anti-people policies of the BJP led Narendra Modi Government.
Simultaneously, an unrelated protest is unfolding at the Delhi-Noida border, where farmers from Uttar Pradesh are demanding increased compensation and developed plots in exchange for their farmlands acquired by local development authorities for infrastructure projects. Farmers from Noida also held a huge protest today against the government, as part of their march towards Parliament from Delhi-Noida Chilla border. The government’s focused attention being on the Punjab protest, the concerns of UP farmers have remained unaddressed.
As the government engages in dialogue with protesting factions, the situation remains fluid and tense, with war-like preparations by the State along the protest march route. Whether the ‘March to Delhi’ will go ahead or not will be decided by the outcome of today’s talks at Chandigarh. We end this report with the list of demands of the protesting farmer unions:
- Enact a law guaranteeing MSP (Minimum Support Price) for all crops, as per the Dr. Swaminathan Commission’s report.
- Provide a complete debt waiver to farmers and farm-labourers.
- Reintroduce the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 nationwide, ensuring written consent from farmers and compensation at four times the collector rate.
- Punish the perpetrators of the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre and provide justice to affected farmers.
- Withdraw from the World Trade Organization and impose a ban on all free trade agreements.
- Provide pension to farmers and farm labourers.
- Compensate the families of farmers who died during the Delhi agitation and offer one family member a job.
- Scrap the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020.
- Provide 200 days of employment per year and a daily wage of ₹700 under MGNREGA, linking it with farming.
- Impose strict penalties on companies producing fake seeds, pesticides, and fertilisers and improve seed quality.
- Form a national commission for spices like chilli, turmeric, and other spices.
- Ensure the rights of indigenous people over water, forests, and land, stopping companies from plundering tribal land.