One of the hottest topics that may be up for discussion in an MBA admissions interview could be the ongoing farmers protest in North India and some other parts of the country. The farmers protest is a protest against three farm acts which were passed by the Parliament of India in 2020. Over the course of a few months, these protests have gathered momentum and have led to multiple rounds of discussions between the government and the protestors, and have also unfortunately led to the death of at least one individual and injury to hundreds others. So what are these protests? Why are they happening? What are the arguments on both sides? Here is an explainer of the 2020-2021 farmers protest in India.
This is part 2 of the explainer. Please click here to access part 1 of this explainer.
What happened in the talks between farmers and the government?
This graphic captures in a nutshell key pointers the government has shown willingness to change in the past talks held between kisaan unions and the ministry of agriculture and other government officials.
However, the farmers have been clear in denying the amendments and have stuck to their demands of having the government repeal the farm laws and offer a guarantee of MSP in writing.
What has the protest been like?
The death toll for farmers has crossed 70 for the duration of the protests, according to India Times. About 300 police personnel have been injured according to BBC.
The protests started in Punjab and in about 2 months morphed into a Dilli Chalo movement. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana crossed the latter state despite police barricading and tear gas bombs. On reaching the borders of Delhi, farmers built camps with makeshift bathrooms and beds on the national highways stretching to about 15km from the border.
Since November 2020, farmers have camped at the borders which saw temperatures falling to 1°C in what is known as the dreadful Delhi winters. The pollution, rain, and cold were only some challenges farmers faced. Food and water at the borders of Delhi was an enormous challenge in itself. Grains and raw material were supplied from Punjab and Haryana using which kitchens were set up at the border, feeding thousands every day.
Away from home, farmers could not work on their field while protesting. They developed village committees that included volunteers from the villages offering to help farm while the farmers were away. They also built a rotations shifts system wherein some farmers would visit home every 4 to 5 days and other villagers would fill in for them.
The protests have led to road closure on the Delhi border. The police diverted traffic to other roads connecting Delhi to various states. Shopkeepers on the highway where the protest is ongoing were seen expressing apprehensions towards the protests because of which their incomes have witnessed sharp fall.
The farmers' agitation against the farm laws has led to an approximate loss of Rs 600 crore in toll collection until January end, according to ICRA.
What was the incident at the Red Fort?
Republic Day marks the official adoption of the Indian constitution on 26 January 1950. Red Fort is a fortress symbolic of India’s independence and democratic power. Every year, on 26th January, the Republic Day, a parade is held in the national capital attended by government officials, international guests, and numerous citizens. This year, due to the pandemic, the celebrations were shortened and the parade which usually ends at the Red Fort, ended at another location, leaving the Fort unoccupied.
The farmers, as part of their protest, declared to the government that they would hold a tractor rally on Republic Day as a symbol of their distress despite the nation’s growth. The police allowed them to conduct their tractor rally on the condition that it would not interrupt the annual Republic Day parade in central Delhi. Farmers were given specific routes by the police, largely confined to the outskirts of Delhi.
But a group of farmers converged on the historic Red Fort. They breached security and clambered onto the fortress, hoisting their flags alongside the national flag. Many protesters and allegedly other notorious parties diverted from agreed routes and clashes broke out with the police. 1 protester died and more than 80 police officers were injured. Mobile internet was suspended in parts of Delhi and some metro stations were closed as security forces acted to restore order.
According to BBC, images from the ITO metro station junction showed police clashing with farmers and using tear gas and batons. Protesters driving tractors appeared to be deliberately trying to run over police personnel. Local media reported injuries on both sides. At least one protester died at the junction when his tractor overturned as police fired tear gas. BBC correspondents said protesters outnumbered the police at the ITO junction, leaving them struggling to control the crowd.
By afternoon, police said they had removed protesters from the Red Fort, but the situation remained tense. "We came here to deliver a message to the Modi government, our job is done. We will go back now," one protestor told NDTV.
"We have been appealing to farmers to go by the pre-approved route but some of them broke police barricades, attacked police personnel," a senior police officer told ANI news agency. "We are appealing to farmers' unions to help maintain peace." Farmer union leaders issued similar statements, condemning and distancing themselves from the violence.
Current Events - Has the movement been damaged?
“The farmers' agitation will keep moving forward and even spread to the rest of the nation,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait while addressing a 'Kisan Mahapanchayat' in Haryana's Kurukshetra district.
Rakesh Tikait told India Today, "Now, a rally of 40 lakh and not four lakh tractors will be taken out."
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's criticism of "Andolanjivis" individuals, Rakesh Tikait said, "He [PM] has never been part of any agitation in his life. In fact, he did the job of breaking the nation. What would he know about Andolanjivis?"
"Bhagat Singh, even Lal Krishna Advani were part of agitations," Tikait added. Rakesh Tikait said that the ongoing farmers' agitation will continue till October 2 of this year. "But the protest will not end even after that. Farmers will keep returning to the protest sites in shifts."
Earlier on Sunday, Rakesh Tikait delivered a fiery speech at a 'Kisan Mahapanchayat' in Rajasthan's Bhawani district. Tikait also addressed a large gathering of farmers in Haryana's Jind district earlier this month.
Along with the leaders of as many as 40 farmers' outfits, Rakesh Tikait has been part of a delegation of farmer leaders that participated in as many as 11 rounds of consultations with the central government. Tikait has been at the forefront of the farmers' protest at Delhi's Ghazipur border.
Concluding from his position, it seems unlikely that the Red Fort violence has broken the farmers’ protest. The protest seems stronger as ever, with farmers clear on their demands and willing to organize sustained struggles to get the farm laws repealed.
Considering Claims by Indian Media
- Farmers are being misled by the national and international parties with malicious intent.
This claim rests on the premise that the farmers are themselves naïve enough to be 'misled' by other parties. This premise was destroyed when the farmers themselves made a point by point presentation to the central government, presenting their main concerns with these laws. The central government heard them out and acknowledged those concerns. The central government acknowledging the concerns of the farmers clearly shows that their concerns were valid and consequential.
- The farm protest is actually a Khalistan separatist movement.
Many protesting farmers came out and made statements in the media saying that they have children in the Indian armed forces and that shows they are nationalistic and patriotic to the highest decree. In fact, a young soldier who was martyred in Kashmir was the son of a farmer in Punjab.
Two senior leaders of the BJP itself have come out and said that it is unfair to use the Khalistani narrative on the farmers. Looking at the demands of the farmers offers insight too. Demands include revoking the farm laws and mandating MSP throughout mandis.
For further reading:
- Which Western celebrities have also voiced their thoughts on the ongoing farmers protest? What has been India's reaction?
- How has international media covered the farmers protests?
- What is the state of farmer suicides in India?
- Understanding the timeline of the months-long farmers protests
- What has been the Supreme Court's involvement in the dispute?