There has been a lot of interest in the farmers’ movement and many people in distant parts of the India, and even outside India, feel a strong emotional connect with the movement. Recently this movement has been passing through a critical phase . It is useful to see what some well-informed persons in important positions have said in this context.
Let me start with a very balanced statement and well-thought viewpoint expressed by the Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarindar Singh in an interview given to Manraj Grewal Sharma and published in the Indian Express ( Chandigarh edition) under the title ‘ Some goons shamed all of us…don’t use it to negate pain of farmers’ on January 29. Responding to the very sad events of January 26 in Delhi, the CM said that the incident was a shame to all of us and condemned it, then added, “ It would also be wrong to defame the farmers, who have been protesting peacefully now for months, first in Punjab and for the past two plus months at Delhi’s borders, without causing an iota of trouble. It is the sons of these very farmers who are sacrificing their lives protecting our country’s borders.”
Further he said, “ Those who indulged in the violence at Red Fort were not genuine farmers but some anti-social elements. …While this incident may have some temporary repercussions for the farmers’ agitation, I do not think it will cause any serious damage to their movement. They are fighting for their survival and for their future generations and I don’t think the struggle of the genuine farmers or their supporters can be negated by one such incident. The Red Fort incident cannot and should not be used by BJP or anyone else to negate the pain of the farmers, who have been camping out in the bitter Delhi cold for more than two months now. Can’t the BJP see their tears?”
Secondly, It is useful to see what Julio Ribeiro, the super-cop who played such an important role in curbing Khalistani terrorism, has to say on recent events. In an article titled ‘Setback to farmers’ cause’, published on the editorial page of The Tribune dated January 29, he writes, “ The wounds caused by the ‘ Khalistani’ terrorism on the body politic are still not fully healed. Great care and caution has to be exercised that no wrong move is made, specially by the government, which may provide the impetus for the revival of an anti-national movement.” Further he says that it is very important to rightly identify the real culprits of the mischief of January 26. If they belong to a dissident group of the movement , or are elements planted by a foreign force, it will be possible to identify the culprits. But the very senior ( retired) police officer also points to a third possibility. To quote him, “ If, however, the ones involved in the violence were planted by the authorities, then it will be almost impossible to ascertain the truth.” Pointing to a widely discussed name ( in the context of the mischief), Ribeiro says, “ It must be ascertained who it was that set him up. Till his exact role is established, a doubt will linger about the government’s role in fomenting the riots. If a government department is involved, then the true culprits will not be brought to book and you will see a repeat of NE Delhi’s riots investigations and the consequent arrest of farm leaders, instead of the real culprits responsible for sabotaging the peaceful nature of the protests.” Such concerns and suspicions have been raised also by other senior ( retired) police and intelligence officers who know the workings of such systems, how these need to be used in the national interests but also how these can be misused for narrow ends.
Thirdly, we should look at the views expressed by a veteran leader of the BJP in Punjab who also had a national post and status. The reference here is to Laxmi Kanta Chawla who was formerly national-level vice-president of this political party. In an interview with Raakhi Jagga he stated ( see the Indian Express, Chandigarh Edition, January 25, report titled Unease in Punjab BJP) that the farmers had set an example for the world by ensuring peace despite the protest going on for so long. He said that the protest should not have been allowed to fester the so long and that the Prime Minister could solve the situation in a day if he wanted. He said that at an early stage he had written to the Prime Minister that if the agriculture minister is not able to solve the issue then the PM should take the matter in his own hands.
This report in the Indian Express also stated that in the past ten days 15 BJP leaders in Punjab have quit the party.
Several respected observers have emphasized that there is great sympathy for all persons injured in the violence, whether policemen or farmers or others, and at the same time they have also emphasized that the mainstream farmer movement cannot be blamed at all for this or for the flag incident at the Red Fort, as is evident also from the very strong words farmer leaders have used to condemn the unfortunate incident.
Soon after this there was a very temporary setback and demoralization in the movement, as it was realized that powerful forces had succeeded in placing false blame on farmers to some extent, but very brave, courageous and timely stand by some farmers led by Rakesh Tikait saved the day.
The move, which had reached a very advanced stage, to evict the Ghazipur dharna was successfully resisted in peaceful ways and the movement here has emerged stronger than ever before after a very short period of decline and demoralization. The alternative media with its limited resources also played an important role in this timely recovery. The goons with a lot of political backing, waiting to attack or threaten farmers and thereby assist in the eviction, were exposed in time before anything very tragic could happen. Nevertheless the need for great caution still remains.
The farmers’ movement now needs the support of all citizens committed to democracy, justice and peace more than ever before. People committed to justice, democracy and peace are now appalled at the attitude of the ruling regime. This attitude has to change completely. It is the farmers and farm workers who feed us and it is only their labor and toil which saved the economy from collapsing during lockdown days. For heavens sake, the ruling regime should stop treating them as enemies and trying to damage their movement in one way or the other.
If the national interest is to be protected, the government must ensure that the movement ends in happiness for farmers, not in anger and resentment. They should go back to their villages happily, not in resentment. Any wise government should have understood this by now.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India) and Protecting Earth for Children.