Monday, March 1, 2021
 
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Shame on R-Day, Bigger Plot & Farm Laws
Straight Talk




K B Jandial


Scenes of mayhem the nation saw live on TV channels on 72nd Republic Day marred the sanctity of the solemn day. The shame at the iconic Red Fort, Indian version of the Capitol Hill incident, has been etched on the pages of history and sad & appalling memories of the day would continue to haunt Indians for decades. This R-Day would be remembered for two distinct ‘parades’: one of national pride & the other of disgrace. While the parade at Rajpath showcased India’s unity in diversity and growing military & economic power determined to overcome all challenges, the second parade, billed as Tractor parade of agitating kisan, mostly of Punjab, Haryana & western UP, was a picture of chaos, anarchy and desecration of the Tricolor and Red Fort, age-old symbol of national unity.

Why and how did the farmers’ protest, largely peaceful, suddenly shattered peace and the people’s trust at large? These events and subsequent unraveled global plot to embarrass India proved the Police doubts right that “undesirable and anti-national elements have entered into the agitation”. These acts of destruction and a sizeable number of “anndatta” running amok some like crazy hoodlums mowing down the security personnel under the wheels of tractors and horse riding Nihang brandishing unsheathed swords, did shrink the number of their sympathizers barring the political parties which has a certain agenda.

In the first place, the very idea of a tractor parade on R-Day passing through the densely-populated areas of the national capital by one of the most patriotic sections of population was mischievous. Fraught with law and order challenge, the Delhi Police, albeit MHA, still committed a blunder in granting permission for this rally on a solemn day. How could any professional Police believe that with huge mobilisation in Punjab & Haryana amid provocative statements, the farmers’ leaders would control the youth and observe the long list of conditions which they had signed? Right in the morning the agreement was shredded in to pieces when farmers, mostly youth influenced by anti- India elements abroad, smashed the barricades and changed the agreed route. The plot that was hatched abroad by forces inimical to integrity of India was unfolded later. While the R-Day’s shame was yet to settle down, a blitzkrieg of tweets of 37 well-known global celebrities within hours hit India’s image with attack on India while claiming to stand by agitating farmers.

In the wake of R-Day violence, the Police imposed restrictions on internet services in some pockets and installed patches of nails around the sites of the protest on Delhi’s borders as a measure to control law and order situations. This was exploited internationally by a tweet of pop star Rihanna, asking why “are we not talking about it”. Soon Meena Harris, niece of Kamala Harris and US lawyer followed it & tweeted: “It’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest democracy was attacked not even a month ago (a reference to the US Capitol violence), and as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault. This is related. We ALL should be outraged by India's internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters.” The Porn star, Mia Khalifa too joined in this Tweet-attack while supporting the farmers. Other included US footballer JuJu Smith-Schuster, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, teenager climate activist Jerome Foster II, British actor Mandy Takhar, American rapper Russ, Hollywood star Susan Sarandon, Washington Post journalist Karen Attiah & Swedish climate activist teenager Greta Thunberg.

Study of the sequence of tweets of one icon to another in a particular pattern despite the issue don’t impact them directly, led to their linkage to one Canada based Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), that created the controversial ‘toolkit’ shared by Greta on her Twitter account. “Toolkit” is set of guidelines or suggestions on tweeter to get something done. It is the content in the “toolkit” that determines its objective. It was used in 2011 Wall Street protests & 2019 Hong Kong protests. It was also used during CAA protests.

The PJF, creator of controversial “toolkit” asked the people to join the “Global Day of Action” before India’s R-Day. It also urged them to post pictures of farmers’ protest by “tagging a celebrity, politician, or influence” saying “We’re stronger together. Let’s make some noise”.

An ‘accidental’ tweet by Greta unfolded the global plot. She posted the document received by her which was an action plan for protests for the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India including on Republic Day. While she deleted the document calling it 'outdated' and later posted another version, it decidedly unfolded an international conspiracy to defame India over the farmers’ protest.

The “toolkit” document says "Either find protests happening in your city, state or country and participate in large (or small) numbers or organize one. In addition, you are encouraged to organise solidarity protests either at or near Indian embassies, near your local government offices or offices of various multinationals...this is not going to end anytime soon." It adds, “India's farmers and other citizens need the global community to pay attention…It is paramount to put international pressure on India’s government.” If it is not global effort against India, then what is this? Moreover, why target Indian “Chai & yoga”?

On Twitter, the PJF has been actively tweeting about the farmers protest with the hashtag AskIndiaWhy, which is found in the revised “toolkit” tweeted by Greta. The PJF has a website with the same name which says “International focus on these protests may be the only thing preventing state-sponsored violence and another string of massacres in the country.” The PJF defends the hoisting of the Nishan Sahib at the Red Fort which even farmers condemn.

Canadian born self-confessed Khalistani activist Monminder Singh Dhaliwal, co-founder of PJF, had addressed a protest at Vancouver on 26th January whose video too went viral on social media. He said: "If the farm bills get repealed tomorrow, that is not a victory. This battle begins with the repeal of the farm bills, it does not end there. They are trying to tell you that you are separate from Punjab, and you are separate from the Khalistan movement. You are not." Still anti-Modi Govt politicians, columnists, intellectuals & activists slam the Govt for unnecessarily criticising freedom of speech of international celebrities, politicians & media men as conspiracy. More shocking is Maharashtra Govt order to probe into anti-Greta & pro-India tweets by Indian celebrities including two Bharat Ratna recipients & legends- Lata Mangeshkar & Sachin Tendulkar. What a shame!

However, the political tamasha didn’t end despite the sacrilege of national day. The Govt too didn’t shun politics and didn’t agree for separate discussion on farmers’ agitation in the Parliament even though many days were wasted due to opposition’s disruptions. It was good to see PM Modi sat through the speech of the Leader of Opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad in Rajya Sabha while speaking on farmers’ agitation.

Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke eloquently on the history of farmers’ movements but regrettably sought to compare the current agitation with the ones that took place during the foreign rule. He recalled the agitation over the draconian provisions in three Farm Laws enacted by British Govt during 1900-06 in Punjab which provided forfeiture of land to the Govt if the deceased farmer had no adult son. Another agitation (satyagrah) was in1917 over cultivation of indigo. The third agitation he mentioned was of Gujarat (Kheda satyagrah) in 1918 over imposition of tax and imprisonment on failure to pay. Similar satyagrah was in 1928 against huge hike in taxes on farmers (22%) by Bombay Govt in 1925. The fourth agitation he referred was in Telengana in 1946. In all these cases, the British Govt was forced to concede the demands of the farmers. And basing his arguments on the “surrender” of British Empire in pre Independence era, he urged PM to withdraw these three contentious Farm laws.

Like all other opposition leaders and agitating farmers’ unions, Azad didn’t pin point a single draconian provision in the impugned laws. It was the right forum for Azad to pin point the specific draconian provisions like the ones he tirelessly quoted from the laws of British time that should be removed. But either he didn’t know any such provision or no such provision perhaps exist. Other lawmakers too slammed these laws without pointing out the “black” in these “black laws” .That precisely is the problem.

What are these laws? One law is “The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020” that gives farmers the freedom to sell their produce either in the established mandis or outside these. The PM Modi & the Govt have repeatedly made solemn commitment that neither the mandis nor MSP would be abolished.

The second law is “The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020”. It provides for much-recommended agriculture marketing reform — contract farming. It helps the farmer to transit to commercial crops, such as vegetables and fruits, which give higher returns than the traditional food grains. The law allows the farmer to negotiate a price beforehand, even though the prices in the market may fall due to food grain glut. In case of higher market price than the contracted one, it provides a mechanism of “sharing the windfall’. Moreover, there is no compulsion for the farmer to go for contract farming and he is free to sow crops as per his choice and sell it at MSP at Mandi or elsewhere. Why protest over additional option?

The third law is “The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020” that removes restrictions on storage of cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes except in extraordinary circumstances. The earlier EC Act had served the interests of the urban middle class consumers with objective of providing farm produce at low prices. The new Act promotes investments in cold chains, warehouses, marketing chains etc by the farmers for higher returns.

What is there to oppose? The vested interests have created a negative perception of corporate sector grabbing their holding which has no legal basis. That is why the farmers’ leaders don’t want clause-wise discussion with the Govt or the Supreme Court constituted Committee of Agriculture experts. Despite the Acts stayed by the SC and Govt unilateral offer to withhold these for 18 months ( a desperate move that shows Govt’s keenness to wriggle out of the stalemate in view of elections in 3 states next year) neither the agitating farmers have come for meaningful dialogue with open mind nor did the political parties supporting their agitation urge them to resolve the issue.

Intriguingly, the obstinate Punjab farmers leaders who are demanding repeal of these laws have never made similar demand against the existing “The Punjab Contract Farming Act” which provides imprisonment up to one month or penalty up to Rs. 5 lakhs in case the farmer defaults any condition of the agreement with the buyer.

It is everybody’s right to protest against the Govt but what purpose does it serve if not engaged in meaningful dialogue? ‘My way or the highway’ cannot lead to solution. Then, why put these “Anndatta” to sleep in winter chill on Delhi borders and create a situation that motivated, at least, two of them to commit suicide and death of over 100?

In whose interest this situation is developing, given the disturbing inputs of bigger global plot against India. Politics seems to override India’s larger interest. But there is a danger lurking: mixing of farmers’ agitation with Khalistan or Sikh separatism. Khalistan was buried in 1993 & no one, both ruling party and the opposition, should try to reignite it for vote bank politics. Both farmers’ leaders and Modi Govt must resolve the matter through give & take even when nothing tangible is there that affects the farmers.



(The Author is a retired IAS officer, feedback: [email protected])



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