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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 8, New Delhi, February 6, 2021

The plot behind the January 26 incident stands exposed | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 6 February 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Once again the Prime Minister Narendra Modi lied to the nation by accusing the protesters of dishonouring the national flag on Republic Day. Yes, of course, the fact remains that the country was very much pained seeing the dishonour to the Tricolour by the leaders and cadres of the BJP, the party which rules the country and has come to power by exploiting the nationalist emotions and sentiment of the people of the country.

There is no need to get surprised at Modi speaking the white lies. He said thousands of protesting farmers had breached the monument on January 26 after deviating from their tractor rally route triggering a conflict with the police. They planted a religious flag atop the Red Fort, an incident which has sparked national outrage.

It is now an open secret that a BJP adherent, whose photo along with Modi is already in circulation, has been the mastermind behind hoisting of the religious flag “Nishan Sahib” on another pole on that day. Incidentally in the wake of the Red Fort episode a photo also started circulating in which Modi was tying the Nishan Sahib on his head.

Instead of cursing his own party cadres for the heinous crime, he tried to put the blame on the farmers’ tractor parade. It simply underlines his strategy to present the Sikhs as the enemies of the nation. Ever since the farmers resorted to protest, the BJP and the media subservient to him have started denigrating the Sikh farmers as Khalistanis. They along with a section of the senior BJP leaders and even ministers have launched insinuation campaign and maligning them.

Addressing the first ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio programme of the year, Modi also said the government is committed to modernising agriculture and is taking many steps in this regard. He has been continuously harping on reforms and modernisation, while the farmers who are supposed to be beneficiaries have been opposed to his moves. Since the farmers are against this nature of reforms one fails to make out why he has been insistent on implementing it. In contrast to his stand, lakhs of farmers have been demanding a repeal of the three new agri laws and a legal guarantee to the minimum support system for their crops.

To show his concern to the farmers, Modi also said his government was just a phone call away for talks with them. If what he was saying has any iota of truth, what deters him to pick up the phone and summon the farmers for dialogue? Why has he made it an ego issue? Apparently three factors are deterring him to accede to the demands of the farmers. First, the directive of the IMF to allow the private operators to enter the food bazar, second, his fear that the people’ power will override the political power and the third, agreeing to the farmers’ demand would deprive his corporate friends who have entered into agro-business to emerge as the key players in the international market. If he concedes to the farmers demand of repealing the three laws, then neither the international players nor his corporate friends would enter into the agro business inIndia, which is the biggest market across the globe.

This observation of the Prime Minister does not leave any confusion that he would not concede to the demands of the farmers to repeal the three laws or legalise the MSP. Not only this, the farmer leaders would have to approach the government for any fresh discussion. On its part the government would not make any initiative. This posture of Modi simply implies that the farmers would have to calloff their protest unconditionally and surrender before the Modi government.

Instead of misleadimg the people, Modi must speak out the truth and take the farmers into confidence. In this backdrop, the statement of the veteran farmers’ leader Naresh Tikait, elder brother of Rakesh Tikait, is quite significant; “We will honour and respect the dignity of the prime minister. Farmers don’t want the government or Parliament to bow down to them”. He also suggested “We will also ensure that the self-respect of farmers is protected. A middle way should be found. Talks should be held”.

He nevertheless contradicted Modi’s version on Red Fort incident when he said, “The violence on January 26 was part of a conspiracy. The Tricolour is over and above everything. We will never let anyone disrespect it. It will not be tolerated.” But the police continues to harass the farmers, journalists and activists for voicing protest against the sordid incident of Red Fort that was enacted by the BJP.

The behaviour of the Delhi police has indeed been deplorable. If we compare the brutalities of the police during the British Raj, one will feel ashamed at the way Delhi police under Amit Shah has been acting. Earlier during the Shaheen Bagh movement it had targeted Muslims, now it is targeting Sikhs.. This is a the most dangerous game the Delhi police has been indulging.. The Delhi Police has registered nearly 40 cases and made over 80 arrests in connection with the violence and vandalism.

The Modi government will resort to more ruthless and vindictive action is clearly manifest in erecting concrete walls around the city. It is the part of the strategy to launch a massive attack on the farmers. The government and police would eventually declare them anti-nationals and perpetrate torture. No civilised nation has resorted to this tactics against its own people, as if the government has lost faith in its own people. This is worst thing to happen. This is the beginning of isolation of the BJP from the people. But at the same time it raises the question the real intention of the government. Is it in war against the farmers and their sympathizers?

Barely ten years back the BJP felt proud in claiming itself as a party with difference. Its leaders boasted that their was the abode of the conscience keepers. But within six years of its rule, it emerged as a conglomeration of mercenaries and law breakers. One thing is quite noticeable; they utterly lack the morality and moral conviction. Earlier they acted as vigilantes, but during Delhi riots they behaved like marauders, and now in the wake of farmers agitation they are acting like mercenaries. In all the cases they lacked the moral strength to confess that they were the BJP workers. In all the cases they pretended to be local people but carrying out the murderous attacks with the Delhi police providing them cover.

The modus operandi of Delhi police makes it explicit that the violence that took place on January was pre-planned. The task of the government was made easier by the media which acted like the cheerleader of the state, particularly the latter’s non-reporting of brutal methods, resorted by the Delhi police which us under the Union ministry of home affairs. In fact, all through the six years of Modi rule the media (exceptions notwithstanding) did not question nor take on the commissioner of Delhi police which often became openly repressive, even the nature of repression kept becoming hard to harder. .

Their action also helped the Delhi police commissioner even frame the farmer leaders who were not near the Red fort..Some 30 leaders are facing the charges of sedition along with some conscientious journalists. It would be interesting to watch the judiciary how it behaves. Already one free-lance journalist (associated with the Caravan monthly) has been sent to 14 day judicial custody for exposing the police misdeeds. Many more incidents would follow. The six journalists were charged with sedition for their fault to expressing apprehension that the youth protestor was shot dead by police. Even Shashi Tharoor, the Congress Lok Sabha member has been framed up. But the mainstream media didn’t show the guts to ask the Delhi police under what circumstances the disorder erupted. They didn’t question the role of the state Why did the police allow the BJP guys assemble near the Red fort?

It is worth mentioning that the police actionof implicating the farmers, journalists and innocent farmers started only after the Commissioner of Delhi police had a meeting with his boss Amit Shah. Little doubt the leaders of the farmers protest will be framed with all the national security arsenal that the state has used in previous protests, from Bhima Koregaon to the Citizenship Amendment Act. This includes using the National Investigation Agency (NIA), detention, state harassment, and encouraging mobs to target legitimate protestors. Yogendra Yadav is already a target..

The real perpetrators of disorder will not be punished while those exercising the right to democratic protest will be demonised. While the central government and UP will unleash weapons of state machination and lawlessness in the name of law and order, the middle class of India (mainstream) will eulogise their ironman for taking a tough stand.

By now the Delhi police ably supported by the UP police and the BJP cadres should have crushed the movement. The BJP has already constituted the groups of dedicated cadres to strike at the protestors, immediately after the Red Fort incident with the help of police at Satyagrah places. Fortunately for the farmers Rakesh Tikait salvaged the situation and saved it from being shattered. After the late night attack plan of the BJP guys, which made Tikait weep, the Satyagrah places have been witnessing tremendous surge of the farmers. Farmers have been reaching Farmers reached the Ghazipur border from western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand as a turban-clad Rakesh Tikait led the charge for the BKU. Haryana and UP have been witnessing holding of Mahapanchayats. The clarion call from the January 29 "mahapanchayat" of farmers in Muzaffarnagar has re-energised the stir.

The farmers who were not aware of the BJP threat and government conspiracy to break the movement have become quite alert. Now they have taken matters into their own hands: ‘ we can’t rely on police anymore ’. Volunteers are manning entry and exit points to the protest site. In the aftermath of violence at Singhu border, farmers have stepped up “internal security” to prevent any untoward incident and ensure “political agents” do not get a chance to incite violence again.

The BJP cadres posing like local people have been arguing to lift the Satyagrah as it has affected their livelihood - the same mechanism , adopted to break the Shaheen Bagh movement. Volunteers could be seen walking around with large wooden and bamboo sticks. A message has been sent across to protesters to immediately alert volunteers in the event of a “threat”. Volunteers are doing pehra (rounds) of Singhu to make sure no miscreants have got in. A leader said “what happened yesterday has made our belief strong that there’s a conspiracy to break our movement.”

Setting up on the self-protection mechanism by the farmers is virtually a censure of the police and also expression of farmers’ distrust in police forces as well as the state. This is a matter of shame for the government and the political elite of the country. The farmers said’ “police stood and watched what happened. We can’t rely on them and their barricades. So we decided to take this step of doing rounds. However, it has been made clear to everyone not to fall prey to rumour mongering, and not act unless it is in self-defence. We don’t want our protest to be painted as violent”. BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni warned; “I want to warn this government that they should leave this gundagardi (hooliganism). An FIR should be filed against those who are coming here and doing danga (riots),” he said.

This action of the BJP and the Modi government has tremendously hurt the sentiment of the Sikh community. From the beginning of the protest the BJP leaders and ministers of the Modi government have been maligning it. Senior ministers slanderously called Sikh farmers ‘Khalistanis’.Pro-Modi The TV channels painted the farmers protest asan attempt to revive Khalistan stir. A brazen attempt was made to criminalise and communalise the Sikh protestors.

The Modi government had till now been treating the farmers’ protest as primarily a Punjab-specific movement that had some support in Haryana but unfortunately for it the crackdown seems to have spread the fire to western Uttar Pradesh and beyond. Many in the BJP fear that western Uttar Pradesh could now turn into the epicentre of the farm protests, which would not be good news for the Yogi Adityanath government.

The BJP had in 2014 managed to sway the Jats by using the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots to infuse Hindutva feelings. In the 2019 polls, too, the party had raised the Pakistan bogey in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack to influence large sections of Jats despite anger in the community over agricultural issues.

Shockingly an attempt is being made by some Hindi newspapers to depict the Tikait brothers, Naresh and Rakesh, as failed politicians who are now striving to gain legitimacy. One of the papers claimed that Rakesh had even forfeited his deposit. It obviously implied that their sole dsign is to tell the people that look these people are challenging the prime minister having enormous mandate. In fact the BJP leaders and even RSS has been trying to tell the people that the farmers have been challenging the authority of an elected government. For them the democracy ends with it.

The manner in which the Modi government has been acting makes it absolutely clear that it completely lacks a sound and perfect perception of Punjab and its problems. Simply abusing and hurling tirade, like describing them Khalistanis, will not help the political establishment and the institution. Delhi has to understand Punjab. Merely entering into an alliance with Akali Dal was not enough. It gave some seats,, but did not provide any political understanding of the state and its people. In fact it could not, since the fundamental political approach of BJP was entirely different from the Akali Dal. A Hindutva bigot cannot comprehend the ideology of the Khalsa Panth. Post farmers agitation, the BJP created an impression that the Sikh farmers were for more money. They never had a clear concept of the reasons which made some farmers commit suicide.

The prevailing situation has been a grim warning to the RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat; refrain from such divisive politics, the country will not forgive him . The manner in which the situation is developing may push the country toward a massive and peaceful Gandhian upsurge to foil the plan to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra. It is sad that Bhagwat in his pursuit to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra has refused to restrain Modi from acting in a dictatorial manner. To understand the current farmers’ agitation, one needs to understand the history, culture and the people who are in the vanguard of this struggle.

Khalistanis have given a bad name to Sikhs. But that is now a forgotten past; may be some elements exist abroad. But they have no relevance in contemporary India. Instead , one would like to know the plan behind using that bad word for the Sikh community in the present India? Whose interest the saffron brigade was serving?

Even today, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Union territories of Chandigarh and J&K have a 21.88 per cent share among troops and junior commissioned officers in the Army. Punjab alone sends 89,893 troops and JCOs’ 7.78 per cent of the total strength. These numbers, unfortunately, are a far cry from the pre-1966 days. The government ought to understand the economics of agriculture? Conventional wisdom holds that 84 per cent of the farmers in this region have landholdings of between three and five acres only. Most farmers grow only two crops. Wheat sown in November is harvested in April and rice planted in June is reaped in early October.

One acre of land in a good year yields about 20-24 quintals of wheat.. In a bad year, the yield can go down by half or three-fourths, that is, to 7-10 quintals. At a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,925 per quintal, a farmer can get about Rs 38,500 per acre.

However, input costs roughly come to about Rs 11,300 per acre. He thus earns about Rs 27,200 per acre for six months of hard work that translates into roughly Rs 4,530 per month. If a farmer has a plot of three acres, it comes up to Rs 13,590 per month. This does not take into account the wages of an entire family of four or five persons who would be toiling day and night. Does the government think that this amount is enough for the survival of the farmers. The government must listen to his demand of legalising the MSP.

A thorough investigation into the incident of January 26 makes it explicit that how some farmers unwittingly deviated from the route “just by following the tractor in front”. They suggested the confusion was a result of lapses. Farmers who took part in Kisan Parade spoke of a “wonderful experience”, with people showering flowers from the roadside and agitation leaders alert to prevent any deviation from the agreed route. Farmers confessed that some confusion had led them to inadvertently violate the prescribed route despite their determination to play it by the book. Ashish Mittal of the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha accused the police of deliberately creating confusion.

“Attributing motives to the farmers, saying they intended to trigger violence, is criminal. The media is behaving irresponsibly, calling us terrorists. There was utter confusion about the routes and the innocent farmers were perplexed,” he said. “Barricades had been put up on sanctioned routes, teargas was fired on tractors moving peacefully, routes were curtailed — all this to create chaos deliberately. Some tractors were initially allowed to reach the ITO and the Red Fort as part of a conspiracy by the government.”

(The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[a]gmail.com)

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