A volte face on the three controversial agricultural laws by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seen as an eventual loss of face for him. Th farmers’ victory may spur many more united struggles such as against CAA and NRC and skyrocketing prices of commodities, observes Abdul Bari Masoud

A volte face on the three controversial agricultural laws by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seen as an eventual loss of face for him, and his ‘aura of invincibility’ has also taken a grand beating at the hands of agitating farmers whose year-long protest with tenacity, determination and patience has finally triumphed. This victory may spur many more united struggles such as against CAA and NRC and skyrocketing prices of commodities.

In a television broadcast on Friday (November 19) PM Modi said, “Today, I apologise if some farmers did not understand what we wanted to do through the farm laws. We have decided to repeal the three farm laws. We will withdraw all these three bills in the upcoming Parliament session.” 

“Despite our efforts, we could not convince some farmers. We continued to convince them with all humility and an open mind. I would request all my protesting farmer brothers, today is the auspicious day of Guru Purab, return home to your field,” the Prime Minister added.

The PM’s climbdown for the first time in his 7-year rule has baffled many. The reversal of decision is attributed to the compulsion of the forthcoming assembly elections in different states, including in India’s most populous and crucial state of Uttar Pradesh considered the ruling  BJP’s ‘backbone of power’. 

Earlier, the Modi  regime held 11 rounds of negotiations with farmers, the last on January 22, which failed to resolve the issue. On January 12, the Supreme Court put a moratorium on the laws, following which the government said it would freeze the law for one-and-half years.

As expected, opposition parties were quick to label the decision a triumph for the farmers and a defeat for the Modi government. While the protesting farm groups described it as the “half victory”, saying the  ‘arrogant’  Modi-led BJP Government has been forced to accept defeat.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform of protesting 40 farmers unions, noted that its struggle included other demands regarding remunerative prices and electricity rates. “Our demand for a law on guaranteed MSP [minimum support price] is still pending. The promise of forming a committee will not do. We will wait for clarity on other issues and the repeal of the laws in Parliament,” general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Yudhvir Singh said.

“The arrogant Narendra Modi-led BJP Government has been forced to accept defeat and announce repeal of the three Anti-Farmer, Anti-People and Pro-Corporate Farm Laws. We congratulate the lakhs of farmers, agricultural workers and workers across India who have led a resolute struggle for over one year against these Acts, braving extreme repression and making great sacrifices for this historic victory. The people of India had reposed faith in the farmers and come out in a big way in support of them,” All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said.

SKM, which  is leading the Kisan andolan, reminded the Prime Minister that “the agitation of farmers is not just for the repeal of the three black laws, but also for the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill. SKM will take note of all developments, hold its meeting soon and announce further decisions.”

BKU leader and a key figure behind the farmers’ movement, Rakesh Tikait also declared, “We are not immediately withdrawing the protests. We will wait and watch to see what actually happens. Also, we want a law on MSP.”

Blaming the Modi government for the death of nearly 700 farmers, SKM said they “will wait for the announcement to take effect through due parliamentary procedures. If this happens, it will be a historic victory of the one-year long farmers’ struggle in India”.

The BJP Government had unleashed “extreme repression” and had used corporate media to malign the farmers’ protest, with the Prime Minister himself leading the charge mocking protesting farmers as ‘Andolanjeevis’.

Many other BJP leaders have also insulted farmers. They (ruling party) had belittled the struggle as “anti-national”, “Khalistanis”, “terrorists’, bogus activists masquerading as farmers, and made all efforts to malign the farmers’ movement. This victory has triumphed over all such attacks.

Former MP and All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) general secretary Hannan Mollah told Radiance that the farmers and people of India shall not forget the extreme repression, brutal attacks, the killing of our comrades and the insults hurled at farmers.

“We shall not forget the concrete walls, the barbed wire and barricades, the trenches dug, nails planted, insults hurled, the water cannons, teargas, the clampdown on the internet, attacks on journalists. Everything shall be remembered,” Mollah added.

Speaking with Radiance, another farmer leader and President AIKS, Dr Ashok Dhawale said, “We will have to remain vigilant and wait for the repeal of the Acts in Parliament. If the Prime Minister believes that his announcement will put an end to the farmers’ struggle, he is grossly mistaken. The struggle will continue till an Act to ensure remunerative MSP is passed, the Electricity Amendment Bill (2021) and Labour Codes are withdrawn.”

Farm unions, largely from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been holding yearlong sit-ins at four sites near Delhi’s borders: Singhu, Ghaziabad, Tikri, Dhansa and also at Shahjahanpur (on the Rajasthan-Haryana border).

Farmers unions also alleged that Modi and his government are directly culpable for the loss of about 700 lives in the course of the last one year of the farmers’ struggle and urged him to apologise to the nation. And they vowed to continue until the killers of Lakhimpur Kheri and Karnal are brought to justice.

OPPOSITION HAILED FARMERS

The farmer unions managed to keep the protests largely apolitical, despite support from many opposition parties. These parties hailed the farmers for their victory.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said the “country’s ‘annadatas’ (food providers) have made arrogance bow its head through satyagraha”. “Congratulations on this victory against injustice! ‘Jai Hind, Jai Hind ka Kisan’,” Gandhi said.

The main opposition party said the historic movement which started last year has braved all odds, police atrocities, an anti-farmers slander campaign and even death in Lakhimpur Kheri under the car of a cabinet minister. The BJP IT cell and pro-corporate sections of media have constantly spread fake news and attempted spurious actions against farmers.

Congress  demanded that the BJP Government and Prime Minister had to take the responsibility of more than 700 farmers deaths and the BJP union minister Ajay Mishra Teni, whose son Ashish Mishra is responsible for killing of farmers in Lakhimpur, should be immediately sacked.

Saluting the farmers and their brave struggle, Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) General Secretary, said, “We must not forget the sacrifice of more than 750 farmers who have lost their lives in this struggle. They are our martyrs. The quest for justice for those targeted by the government and its agencies through false cases will continue.”

He asked the PM to apologise for the hardship and trouble caused by his dictatorial step of farm laws to benefit his crony business partners.

“Modi expresses no remorse over the deaths of our annadatas due to his yearlong obduracy. Modi continues to justify these black laws even now! Refuses to learn from this historic, spirited, inspiring and brave struggle,” Yechury said.

The Aam Aadmi Party, considered the B-team of the BJP, also said the farmers had forced the Modi government to finally bow down before their demands. It said the party had been consistently opposing the three farm laws since the day the Modi Government announced them.

NON-BJP RULED CHIEF MINISTERS

Kerala Chief Minister and CPI(M) leader  Pinarayi Vijayan said farmers have scripted one of the brightest chapters in the history of class struggles.  Vijayan tweeted: “The year-long farmers’ protest has finally triumphed. Indian farmers have scripted one of the brightest chapters in the history of class struggles. Salutes to the martyrs, farmers and organisations who fought with unmatched resoluteness and undying spirit.”

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee also congratulated the farmers for their relentless fight, saying they were not fazed by the “cruelty” of the BJP. “My heartfelt congratulations to every single farmer who fought relentlessly and was not fazed by the cruelty with which @BJP4India treated you. This is YOUR VICTORY! My deepest condolences to everyone who lost their loved ones in this fight. #FarmLaws,” Banerjee tweeted.

MUSLIMS ALSO HAILED FARMERS

In farmers’ victory Muslim groups see a ray of hope in reviving the anti-citizenship law protest which inspired the farm unions for peaceful protests.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) has called the announcement of the repeal of the three farm laws by the Prime Minister “a great victory for democracy and farmers”.

JIH President Syed Sadatullah Husaini said: “We feel that the repeal of the farm laws was inevitable and it is a great victory for democracy and the farmers of our country. It is also a victory for the people of India and all those who supported the farmers in their resistance against the anti-people, anti-poor and anti-farmer laws. However, we regret the fact that the farmers had to pay such a heavy price for fighting against these unjust laws and we pay our homage to the hundreds of farmers who laid down their lives for this cause.”

Referring to the discriminatory citizenship amendment law, Husaini said, “We now urge the government to also look at other anti-people and anti-constitutional laws like the CAA-NRC, etc. and ensure that they too are withdrawn at the earliest.”

Reverberating his views,  Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (A) President Maulana Syed Arshad Madani also said the decision to withdraw the farm laws has shown that democracy and the power of the people are paramount.

Madani claimed that the agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act encouraged farmers to protest the farm laws. Madani also demanded that just like the agri laws, the CAA should be withdrawn.

In many ways, there were similarities between the anti-CAA and anti-farm laws protests. However, in Shaheen Bagh case, the presence of non-Muslims was significant but relatively it had low visibility, giving the media “ample space” to build anti-national narrative and a vast majority of people evidently believed in what was being disseminated through 24×7 news outlets which reflected in the anti-Muslim riots in northeast Delhi, said Quamar Ashraf, a media analyst working for a Delhi-based communication and advocacy firm.

Unlike in Shaheen Bagh protests, almost all the political parties openly came out in support of the peasant movement. But in the case of Shaheen Bagh, despite all the provocative and abusive slogans against the women protesters, there was no political party daring to speak openly against the hate brigade, Ashraf told Radiance.

Though it is a big victory, the other fundamental demand of farmers’ struggle – a Central Act to guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) to all crops of all farmers at one and a half times the comprehensive cost of production (C2+50%) – still remains unaddressed. It is the failure to address this demand that has aggravated the agrarian crisis and led to the suicide of over four lakh farmers in the last 25 years, of whom around one lakh farmers have ended their lives in the last seven years.

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