The farmers’ protests against the three bills that have been passed by the government has now moved far beyond merely being farm bills. Fact of the matter is despite wide ranging support from different parts of the country, it is mainly a protest led and supported by the Sikhs wholeheartedly. Had it not been so, it would have been difficult to sustain the bill. There are various reasons but the amount of support for the farmers in Punjab from diverse sections of Pujabi elite, middle classes, intellectuals, celebrities show that farmers have respect in Punjab and people feel proud of doing so. The Punjab culture of collective spirit which is often witnessed in the food culture, joint sittings is very much visible in these protests. One need to understand that Punjab is deeply hurt as the feeling inside it is basically the attempt to control them in the name of ‘liberalisation’. Unlike other states, Sikhs are well established globally and their diaspora is quite aggressive in countries like the UK and Canada, much to the discomfort of our government whose officials often target them as being ‘Khalistanis’.
Streams of visitors, activists, journalists and political leaders are visiting the protesting farmers on different borders of Delhi. The crowd is swelling as farmers organisations from different states too are joining yet it is the Sikh groups who are in the lead and it is because the Sikh community now stand united behind their farmers. One has to understand why this is happening in Punjab which has united them. Why is such a kind of unity unprecedented and unheard of in the rest of India. How many of the people in ‘other’ communities support their farmers ? How many celebrities will come and stand with them. And the reason for this unprecedented unity and support is categorical. The Sikh today feel that their very identity is under threat today under different ‘developmental’ agendas and farmer bills have been the last knell. Prior to that, RSS was always blamed for attempting to co-opt Sikkhism into Hinduism and this has been vehemently opposed and rejected by the Sikhs. The fact of the matter is Sikkhism is much more universal and egalitarian. One can learn a lot from the Sikh community particularly when the collective spirit of the community. Anywhere in the world, Sikhs are the first one to stand up in solidarity and support. Sikkhism was also a revolt against hierarchical brahmanical social order which excluded India’s Bahujan Samaj, the working masses of the country.
It is not that Sikhs are against modernity, globalisation or other things as they themselves are business persons and a dynamic community spread all over the world. What seems to have happened now is that Punjab now has the feeling that the BJP is playing its Hindutva agenda and using all the cards to make Sikh vulnerable so that they can play their power games too. Ambanais and Adanis have been on the offensive and best beneficiary of the current regime without much protests though resentment has grown everywhere but Punjab has taken that resentment at a new high which has given new hopes to the people elsewhere. Several years back none would speak so openly against these industrial houses but now the farmers are calling for their boycott.
The movement is gaining support from the wider sections of people now. I was asked a question in a panel discussion recently whether the Dalit Adivasis should not support the farmers movement. Many people are suggesting that and my answer was that people are joining hand but the same farmers when they go back, will get back to his or her own ‘khap’. It is easy to romanticise the farmers movement when they pick up Ambanis and Adanis or say capitalism but why the other threat of the religious and caste based manipulation by the brahmanical forces is undermined. That is why I mention the points raised by Jyoti Ba Phule in his famous work Ghulamgiri and Kisan ka koda. He clearly said that the biggest damage to the Kisans of this country has been done by the collective power of Sethji-Bhat ji which is capitalism and priesthood. Unless India’s farmers movement understands and realizes that the caste supremacists are the biggest threat to their movement, the impact of this movement will remain limited to Punjab alone where Sikhs are fighting against this assault of brahmanical capitalism. Rest of India, farmers have not really felt that way and unfortunately became a tool of the religious groups. The issues of farmers and the priorities of this government are well known to all those who know the philosophy of the Jan Sangh and BJP when it used to be called the Bania Party. Though the party has definitely brought a large number of other communities using the caste contradictions as well as money power, it is visible, whose interest the party speaks about and works for.
Annihilation of the castes can happen through the farmers movement if they have time to understand Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Phule’s enormous work. If the farmers movement does not consider the whole issue of Bahujan Samaj, then it will remain a movement of a few dominant communities who will compromise with political parties to gain the political powers. It happened in the last elections and one can see the political outcomes in the Kisan belt of the Western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. Hence, a mere protest or prolonged protest would not serve any purpose if the future political action is not debated and discussed. Dalits, Adivasis have always supported the movements but how many of the Kisan will support the cause of the Dalits and Adivasis. And it is possible if they understand the whole dynamics of the Indian caste structure which has kept the Bahujan masses vulnerable and made the middleman as the ‘leaders’ of the community.
The government has made its intention clear that it is not going to take back the bills. Ambani continues to suggest through his channels that ‘majority’ of ‘farmers’ support the ‘revolutionary’ bills. The prime minister is speaking to everyone except the farmers while the other ministers are blaming the farmers. The BJP would definitely look for a Shaheen Bagh kind of situation against which they went to court and created a narrative. The narrative of We versus them is dangerous.
Let us hope the government will realise that consultation is essential in democracy and it has bypassed people and parliament in most important bills. The ministers speak through tweets, party reach people through IT cell narrative on whatsapp and political discussion happens through ‘PM’s Man kee baat’ leaving all other avenues of discussions and consultations. Will the government accept that there was a mistake and that a dialogue is possible if the hurt feelings are assuaged. It does not look so but one can only hope that good sense prevails and a solution is reached.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist