October 9, 2021
Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.
Farmers in India have been protesting for over a year against three agriculture laws that they believe will leave them at the mercy of large corporations, fetch them lower prices for their produce and endanger India’s food security. These protests have taken place all over the country, most notably on the outskirts of Delhi and now in Uttar Pradesh where things took a deadly turn this past week. An SUV plowed into a gathering of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri town, killing four. What’s more, the farmers allege, the car was driven by Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra. A case of murder has been registered against Ashish but the police delayed his arrest. How have the farmers successfully turned their agitation into a national one and what can we expect next from the government?
The farmers don’t seem to be in a mood to give up, especially after Lakhimpur Kheri. Several rounds of talks between them and the government later, there is no solution in sight and both sides seem determined to stick to their positions.
There have been massive rallies across North India and strong support from other regions. Now, farm leaders say, they will step up protests in Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. This is important because the state has an Assembly election lined up next year and the agitation could impact the results.
The farmer protests started as soon as the government rushed through, in a highly questionable manner, the farm laws through Parliament. Farmers, first from Punjab and Haryana, and then elsewhere, descended on the capital, blocking highways several times. The agitation even caught international attention with celebrities and national figures abroad expressing their support.
While the government initially dismissed the protests as inconsequential, the protests have spread rapidly with the farmers demanding a complete withdrawal of the laws.
Sensing that Uttar Pradesh’s upcoming election would be a pressure point for Modi and his party, the farmers shifted focus to the state. The farmers say they will visit every city and town in Uttar Pradesh to explain how the government has become anti-farmer.
Now, the momentum of the campaign has turned it into more than a farmers-only protest. Not only has it found support across upper and lower castes, it has also united Hindu and Muslim farmers in a state that has witnessed deep communal fissures.
The running over of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri has pumped fresh energy into the agitation and drawn the attention of the entire country. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it has done little to move the BJP. The Haryana Chief Minister, who hails from the party, went so far as to urge party workers to organise themselves and “meet force with force”. It’s clear that Modi and the BJP view compromise or dialogue as a sign of weakness and would rather use force against the farmers.
Since it assumed power about seven years ago, the BJP has painted every opponent as an enemy of the nation – from Opposition parties and leaders to minorities and even students protesting against the raising of fees or the rising incidents of caste and communal violence. Even journalists seeking to cover crime in BJP-ruled states have been painted as anti-national.
Now, it’s the turn of the farmers.
It’s a way of deflecting attention from the government’s many failures – rising fuel and food prices, the utter mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undercount of patients and deaths, the floating corpses in rivers, dipping economic growth, the meek loss of territory to China.. the list goes on.
The farmers’ protests and Lakhimpur Kheri are electoral headaches for the BJP. Expect more diversions.
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