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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 13, New Delhi, March 13, 2021

Setback over farm laws - Narendra Modi on salvage mission | Arun Srivastava

Friday 12 March 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), spearheading the farmers’ movement met with its first major setback with people of Haryana failing to carry out its directive to force their legislators to vote against the M.L. Khattar government in the March 10 vote of no confidence.

This move was widely publicised and was expected that the farmers of Haryana would enforce the decision. But with the BJP winning the trust vote with 55-32 votes it became crystal clear that the move failed.

The second agenda of the SKM is equally important. Under it the SKM has given the call to the farmers of the five states going to polls to ensure the defeat of the BJP candidates. Both these steps were presumed as major initiative towards intervention in the political system of the country. For the second move it has chosen Calcutta. West Bengal has been the most politically conscious state in the country and SKM’s intervention in the state would have wider ramification across the country.

The political importance of Bengal for BJP could be made out from the simple fact that the party has put the prestige of the prime minister and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at stake. The BJP and the prime minister have been designing their strategy in consultation with Bhagwat. This is also for the first time that the RSS has drafted senior functionaries in the state to guide the state unit. Apparently the BJP and Modi are being accused of poaching of the TMC leaders and legislators, the fact is it is the integral part of the RSS strategy to ensure the victory of the BJP.

While the SKM has been putting its efforts to mobilise the rural masses particularly the farmers, the BJP and Modi government has been busy putting its house in order to meet any sort of challenge from the protesters. In fact it has been more worried of the drubbing it received at the international level

In this backdrop the visit of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India by the end of March attains much attention. He was supposed to visit India in January to strengthen key strategic relationship, he could not make it due to abrupt rise incorona virus in the UK.

The sources however point out that it was the fear perception of the Modi government that the farmers protesting against the black laws would make him the target of their protest, that Boris had to postpone his visit.

Now Boris is now scheduled to visit India in the last week of March. His visit has acquired immense importance and it is unlikely that it would be deferred this time, as UK has emerged as the hotspot for the anti Modi activities and protest. Though the diplomatic channels and personal have been quite active to salvage the situation, it does not appear that they have performed their task.

The British Parliament would debate the farmers movement on March 8 has already got a wider publicity. But the dip0lomats did not dissuade the members of parliament to discuss it in Parliament and express disgust at the violence and torture perpetrated on them by the Modi government. Several MPs from the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party and the Scottish National Party had expressed concern about the safety of farmers protesting against the agricultural laws on Delhi’s borders and the targeting of journalists covering the agitation and status of press freedom in India.

The House of Commons had assigned 90 minutes for a debate on the matters on Monday. British parliamentarians, cutting across party lines, expressed concern about the democratic backsliding in India, which is acknowledged as the world’s largest democracy. They expressed their disgust at the Modi government stooping low and smashing democratic structure. The former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the nature in which the protesters have been dealt with in Delhi was “unprecedented”. Corbyn, who now sits as an Independent, said: “250 million people took part in it — the biggest ever industrial dispute in the history of this planet — so we should think about why those people are protesting.”

Though the Modi government and the Indian mission was hard pressed to describe the farmers movement and the three laws as India’s domestic problem, they could not come out with a plausible reply on use of large scale repression on the protesters and the people supporting them. The UK media even did not recognise the Indian argument; "We deeply regret that rather than a balanced debate, false assertions without substantiation or facts were made”.

Indian government has been trying to make out its point that the Indian diaspora does not support the western views. It is absolutely wrong. They have been taking out rallies and protesting the violence being perpetrated on the protestors. In fact only a week back the Washington-based National Farmers Union expressed solidarity with the protesting farmers in India, stating that “if our experience here in the United States is any indication, they are right to be concerned” about the three farm laws. It even said: “We have learned the hard way that fair prices and farmer sovereignty are the bedrock of flourishing rural communities and an equitable food system — in the United States and everywhere else.”

True enough a global chorus is in support of farmers. A few days back 75 organisations from the US and elsewhere brought out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times bearing a solidarity message. India’s official effort to silence condemnation from overseas of the farmers’ protests by telling critics to keep off the country’s “internal matters” does not seem to have drawn the desired result going by the continuing chorus of support for the peasants.

Significantly the US-India caucus, the largest country-specific caucus in the US House of Representatives, at its first meeting backed ’peaceful protests’ by farmers. Norms of democracy must be maintained, says Congressional committee member Brad Sherman. The Caucus urged the Indian government to ensure that the norms of democracy are maintained and the protesters are allowed to demonstrate peacefully.

With the aim to contradict the government claim that it has legislated the laws to hasten up agri reforms, the critics have cited how Bihar’s farmers have been suffering since the abolition of the APMC Act and the mandi system in the state. The diaspora members agree with the protesters that these market yards would close down with time. Fears have also been expressed about price manipulation if big companies are allowed unlimited storage and stocking facilities.

Though the diplomatic channels are at their job, the bureaucrats nurses the impression that Modi should take up the matter at personal level with Boris and evolve some mechanism to dilute the crisis. It is believed that Boris taking a proactive stand to diffuse the situation in Britain would have a positive impact on the US and other European countries. Though scepticism prevails over how far he would prove to be effective in persuading the USA administration, particularly the US president Joe Biden to come to the help of Modi, the sources are sure Boris’s good personal relation with Biden will yield some positive result. But whether Biden would throw his weight behind Boris is uncertain as by doing so Biden would be helping the rightist forces which he would personally abhor. Moreover the US policy makers and Democrat members do not support the rightist policies of Modi. Boris is expected to visit Washington to see President Joe Biden after his India tour.

This will be Boris’s first major bilateral visit since taking office, and the first since UK’s departure from the EU, and underlines his commitment to step up the UK’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific region. Boris is also likely to discuss the G 7 Leaders meet and COP 26 Summit which will take place in UK. With Modi’s well-wisher Donald Trump no more on the global circuit Boris will be entrusted with the task to smoothen India’s relation with other members. Boris has already decided to invite India to attend the UK’s G7 Summit as one of three guest nations alongside South Korea and Australia. Modi already nurses ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.

The UK and India are significant investors and markets for each other’s economies and UK’s trade and investment relationship is worth around £24 billion a year, supporting more than half a million jobs. A Modi-Johnson meeting would be useful for both leaders that too in the backdrop of handling of the press, parliament and public opinion by Modi government has turned the global fraternity hostile to Modi.

International criticism of its management of the farmers’ agitation has posed a major challenge for the Narendra Modi government. Human rights, civil rights, democracy, climate change, protection of religious minorities and a host of other issues that constitute a broad liberal agenda have become important buzzwords in the new world order Trump’s successor Joe Biden hopes to shape. True enough the Modi government choosing aggressive posture to silence its foreign critics on the farm protests has proved to be counterproductive. These people do not get scared of showing red eye tactics of Modi government. Its strong arm posture against US Vice President Kamala Harris’ activist niece, against teenage climate change movement activist, Greta Thunberg and others has proved to be completely misplaced. In fact Modi’s aggressive tone in Parliament has pitted him against international opinion that wields influence in the current administration in Washington.

The UK parliament’s debate on the farmers’ protest has come at a time when the Modi government has been casting aspersions on protests and rallies held abroad against the farm laws by calling it an ‘anti-national’ bid led by the Congress party. On January 5, over 100 MPs from the UK sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing concern over the farmers’ protests in India and sought his stand. British Labour MP from Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi while decrying this stance of Modi government commented; “It certainly is not anti-national, or anti-India, to be voicing concerns about the policies of the government of the day, whosoever that may be. In the UK, we consistently scrutinise the actions of our government and also foreign governments; indeed, it’s the sign of a healthy democracy.” Significantly a couple of days back the US administration said that it “encouraged” differences between the parties to be resolved “through dialogue”.

With the rightist ideas and beliefs blowing across the globe, India becoming the victim of the rightist virus has not come as a surprise. A fractured political economy and a degenerated social ethics simply provided the most fertile ground to the rightist forces to sow the seeds of fascism and anti-secular ideas.

The RSS the vanguard of the fascist rightist politics though has started the process of engraining the idea in the most venomous matter just after the partition of the country, it multiplied its efforts in 2014, once its protégé Narendra Modi became the prime ministers

Nevertheless victory of BJP in Bengal election will witness emergence of a new kind of aggressive form of politics. With the fall of the last bastion of opposition resistance, the BJP would not maintain the façade of morality and probity in public life and accountability. The BJP and the Modi government would turn more ruthless.

The farmers are not only fighting for themselves but for the entire poor and middle class who will suffer the dangerous consequences of these laws. India is already witnessing the dark phase of the democracy. The country has already entered a dangerous arena. People are not aware how this regime will behave in future. The SKM is preparing to try and inflict what farmers’ leader Yogendra Yadav described as “vote ki chot” (hurt with votes) on the BJP and its allies in the five poll-set states of Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.

Veteran farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said: “We will appeal to all farmers not to vote for the BJP and its allies. We will not support any party or campaign for any party, nor will we tell farmers who they should vote for. All we will do is appeal to them not to vote for those who brought the farm laws and have unleashed repression on farmers, and try best to vote in a manner that will ensure the defeat of the BJP and its allies.”

Dr Darshan Pal, president of the Punjab chapter of the Krantikari Kisan Union and a member of SKM said, “We will take part at a convention in Kolkata on March 12 where we’ll apprise local food growers on the anti-farmer face of the BJP and ask them to teach this ‘Kisan Virodhi’ party a lesson in the upcoming polls.” Avik Saha, secretary, All India Kisan Sangrash Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), said, “We’ll appoint ‘Kisan Doots’ (emissaries) at the March 12 convention and they will take turns to reaching Bengal’s villages and distributing pamphlets highlighting the sore points in the farm laws and their consequences for the agricultural community in layman’s language.”

The primary task before the SKM is to blunt the politics of communal divide. Farmers are farmers, irrespective of the fact whether they belong to Muslim or Hindu community. The SKM will ask the voters to be cautious of the divisive policy’s of the BJP. Upsurge of the farmers’ power has been unprecedented. The farmers are rising as never before in India. They were meant to be encircled by the government, but they are encircling the government rapidly.

It is now up to the political parties to show whether they are capable of rising to the occasion and going beyond petty electoral seat calculations to teach their makers with the help of this farmers’ uprising. Significantly two days back Rakesh Tikait stressed on farmers’ unity, which “is the only weapon to vanquish a stubborn BJP government at the Centre for repealing the three black agriculture laws.” He even expressed apprehension that Union government may resort to coercive mechanism. He said “Its "silence" for the past few days indicates that it is planning some steps against the farmers’ agitation over newly enacted agriculture laws.”

Apart from resorting to direct intervention in the political system through giving the call not to vote for BJP , the SKM is also planning to gherao the Parliament. Tikait said; ‘Farmers will gherao Parliament if govt doesn’t repeal agri laws. This time, 40 lakh tractors will be there, instead of four lakh tractors.” The protesting farmers would plough the parks near India Gate and grow crops there. Leaders of the United Front will decide the date to gherao the Parliament.

It is really sad that RSS and Modi have not been taking the farmers’ challenge seriously. In fact they are not in the situation to take it seriously. They cannot compromise and ignore the economic interest of their capitalist friends and masters as the RSS hs built its edifice of Hindu Rashtra on the promise and assurances of their capitalist patrons. RSS, BJP and Modi, all have been caught in a very precarious situation. Even after being aware of the fact that the farmers movement has the potential to check their juggernaut and transform country’s politics, they are feeling helpless. They have to react to the national and global criticisms as ignoring them would further erode their image and credibility. The fact is growing criticism at the global level has made Modi and RSS aware that they are on the weak wicket. This realisation has made them vulnerable and would ultimately turn them more aggressive seething with vengeance.

Narendra Modi and his far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), does not take kindly to criticism, whether it comes from the citizens or from global celebrities. Already his lieutenants and supporters like Yogi Adityanath have launched a crusade to malign and denigrate the basic ethos of the Constitution. While Modi has made the media subservient, he has also made the opposition a passive spectator to his repressive mode of governance. In this backdrop the only hope for India and its democratic institution is the emergence of the farmers’ force as the saviour.

The RSS not only took to indoctrinating the common Hindus, instead its forerunner leaders resorted to terrorise and threaten the people who mustered courage to question and oppose the move. It is really sad to witness that the rightist forces and the leadership survive behind the veneer of fantasy, in their make believe world which is more akin to nazi reality. They romanticise the vision of the expansion of Indian boundaries. Obviously to achieve this the New India as perceived by the RSS should not bother for the augmentation of the basic human indices, instead prepare a strong saffron brigade of the warriors.

Though chief minister of UP Yogi Adityanath was sworn by the Constitution of India while taking the charge of the office of the, his despise of secularism is indictment of the Constitution; he does not believe in the basic tenet of the Constitution. It would have been morally correct for Yogi to quit and spearhead his campaign. How can he vilify the Constitution by virtue of which he is ruling UP? It is really intriguing how he could say that he was not a secular.

Yogi blaming parochialism and constricted mentality of certain sections for depriving the country of its justifiable pride in history clearly implies that he should learn some lessons of the history. It is utopian to believe that he would become secular. But he owes an explanation to the country for saying; “ I believe the biggest lie in India after independence is the word secularism. The people who introduced this word and people who still use this word, should apologise to the country and its citizens.”

By implication Yogi also insults the leaders, particularly Baba Saheb Ambedkar, who framed the Constitution. Only a politically bankrupt person can inflict accusation on the framers of the Constitution. They had visualised the situation which was why they declared the Indian republic as secular, meaning thereby, that state in its functioning will not give importance to any religion. Religion and religious organisations will have their place, religious faith, customs and traditions will also continue as they are but the government will neither follow a particular religion nor oppose any religion.

The political dominance of the BJP’s brand of Hindu nationalism since the 2014 election has called into question the future viability of the country’s secularist tradition and its commitment to diversity. India’s defining characteristics is that it has managed to sustain democratic governance. Nevertheless it is the failure of the secular forces that has handed over the opportunity on platter to the rightist elements to decry the secularism itself. These people were never true to their commitment and conviction. The suspicion that whether secularism can maintain its hold as a defining ideology for the country has surfaced due to their failures. There is no denying the fact that it has become a means to get the votes and win elections.

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