India being an agrarian economy owes its development progress and emergence at global level to the unquestionable devotion, extreme hard work and selfless service of its farming community in making India not only self-sufficient in food grains but also a surplus food grain country. The Indian farmers have hardly ever been involved in demonstrations, protests or major agitations over the last 73 years of independence. They have always been the hapless victims of unproductive policies and inconsiderate plans formulated by politicians and policy makers who have little or no involvement with agriculture.
The ongoing farmers protests against the hastily passed Farm Bills is a clear indicator of the phenomenal power, mass appeal and enormous support that they receive at the national level. The ruling government failed to foresee that the vulnerable farming community could emerge as a force to reckon with. Not only such a huge and massive protest has not taken place anywhere in the world. More importantly the peaceful nature of the demonstration involving millions of farmers who are either from the middle class or the lower middle-class backgrounds with minimum literacy levels have been successful in launching a campaign in such a path breaking manner which is worth emulating.
In comparison to earlier demonstrations organized in India like the anti-corruption movement headed by Anna Hazare or the more recent anti CAA protests popularly known as Shaheen Bagh protests which were being spearheaded by a single clear leader and boasted of many popular activists and celebrity’s supporting these demonstrations and their cause. Though the number of people supporting these agitations were far less and the urban educated people were associated with them, still these protests were marred with violence, disruption of public life and destruction of public property. Where as in stark contrast the farmers protests lack a clear single leader, who could lead them in their cause/ struggle, but are being spearheaded by the effectual Kisan Unions. More so, a major proportion of the protesters are senior citizens with an equal stupendous support being extended by village women.
What leaves one baffled is the manner in which these protests are being organized with no incidents of violence and minimum inconvenience to the public life, though the central government has left no stone unturned to provoke them by throwing cold water cannons on them in the biting cold winters of the North, tear gassing them and also using canes and sticks,but neither was there any counter action from the protesting farmers nor was there any destruction of public property which leaves us in awe of them.
It is also important to value the fact that for the first time in Indian History the barriers of religion, caste and class have been eliminated. Not only farmers from all the religions (Hindu/ Sikh/Muslim) are together in this fight but also the caste divisions that were deeply engraved in the rural areas have been negated; leading to the emergence of a massive united farmers front.
These protests also saw the merging of the gap between the urban and the rural populations as the youth and general public of the nearby towns and cities regardless of their caste or creed have over fervently fully empathized with the farmers and have extended all kind of required support. This humongous support extended to the farmer’s protests have never been witnessed in any of the movements or protests carried out in recent past. The vociferous support lent by Punjabi and Haryanvi singers in the form of songs, kisaan anthems or tweets clearly indicate the popularity of these protests. The organizational capabilities and the leadership qualities of the Kisaan leaders is worth appreciation. Organizing community langars at such mega scale, provision of all basic necessities like water, sanitation, first aid kits, consistent supply of milk, dry rations, vegetables, collection and disposal of garbage in an efficient manner, systematic and orderly move of protest vehicles, clearly showcase’s the preparedness and foresight of the Kisaan leaders.
The setting up of leg massage machines, gyms, sewing center’s, basketball play areas, IT cell, local news paper and saloons for the protesting farmers evidently shows the contribution and support of the educated and urban population as well. The smooth orchestration of the protests minus the political parties or political leaders questions the very existence or need of the political parties in the battle of the common man.
The all-powerful Indian media failed in a botched attempt to polarize the protesting farmers on the basis of their religion and to stigmatize them as anti-nationals. Whereas the international media not only supported the cause of the farmers but also reported it regularly. The support extended by the nonresident Indians clearly speaks about the global appeal of the protests. With over 25 deaths due to health issues, accidents and severe winter conditions of Delhi the farm protests are still growing strong and are here to stay. For all times to come these protests will be remembered for the emergence of the Indian farming community at the national and global level. This non-political well prepared movement and the sincerity of its protesters is a big jolt and a wake up call to all political parties to address and analyze its pseudo agendas, biased policies and fake nationalism chants as the stage is now set to fear the ‘Power of the Powerless’.
Dr Harleen Shergill is a Phd in economics from Punjab University