Farmer Protests: Lessons from 21 Chilly Days and Nights

Amandeep Sandhu

Amandeep Sandhu

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The protest has now become a movement – a tiger with a life of its own, its own centre of gravity.

LAST EVENING, in my local market in Bangalore, my local Kannadiga chemist asked me: what if the Centre gives a package to Panjab? What will happen to the Farmers Protest? I said, farmers from north India are demanding Minimum Support Price for all farmers of India, 48,000 Mandis all over India.

As I was walking home, our street Bengali pakoda lady said, government is doing very wrong. I acknowledged her sentiment with a nod. On Bharat Bandh, my Malabar grocery store owner for twenty years said, we were waiting for someone to tell us to close down.


I smiled and answered, well, if you do not protest, soon you will not have the store. Today, they asked me: when am I going to Delhi?

A few weeks back – though farmers in Panjab and Haryana had started their protests from August – who would have imagined that the Modi government would be faced by its biggest uprising in a few days? Yet, now the protest completes 21 days and nights.

The next few days are stated to be the coldest in the season. Yet, the negotiations with the government have not thawed.

In fact, for the last few days the protests have gone down to the wire – who will blink?


protestAs our brothers and sisters, Bebes and Bapus, from north India states – Panjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan – spend these chilly days on the roadsides of Delhi, the end of these protests remains uncertain, it is time we count our learnings.

Especially, in the context of Panjab which willy-nilly is leading the protests and demanding the repeal of the three Farm Laws alongside other demands.

1. Bouquet of Ideologies:

From my own experience travelling Panjab and writing about it, we know that before this protest, Panjab was deeply factionalised, it was a landmine of narratives. When it comes to farmer Unions, at least in Panjab, it is a chicken and egg situation.

In a Sikh majority state, in a rural space where Jutt Sikhs own most lands, who is more important – people or leaders? To me both are important. No doubt the leadership is Left leaning, but the cadre is Sikh.

It is impossible not to use metaphors from Sikh religion – the jaikara, the symbolism, examples of past heroism – to hold people together, to motivate them.

The beauty of this protest is that Sikh culture and religion which had bitterly dissociated itself from Left culture and philosophy during the militancy years (1978-93) have now come together in this powerful uprising. It is an organic association and let it be so, it works.

Also Read: Farmers’ Movement: A Proud Legacy But Now Be Careful

A diversity of views, is anyway always more democratic. Some Union leaders need to refrain from picking the Sikh vs Left fault line.

2. Geographical Unity:

Just like ideology, there has been news on the difference between Singhu border peopled by Majha/Doaba and Tikri border peopled by Malwa. This is true, between them, in Panjab, flows the River Satluj.

Historically, Majha was part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire. Post its annexation, Majha provided leadership to the Panjab region – Singh Sabha, Gurdwara movement, formation of Akali Dal. In fact, the partition of India and Pakistan was essentially a partition of Majha. The Sikh ideology is stronger in Majha.

Also Read: Farm Laws and Farmers’ Concerns: What is the way out?

Malwa used to be princely state. Its major movements were first Praja Mandal (1920s-30s) and later Muzhara movement (1940s-50s), both were land to tiller movements with support from the Left. The Left ideology is stronger in Malwa.

Prakash Singh Badal and Capt Amarinder Singh

In the last half century, Malwa has dominated Panjab politics with 68/117 seats. Both Captain Amarinder Singh and Badal are from this area. This is similar to regions in all states.

For example, differences between Sambalapur and Cuttack Odisha, Uttra and Dakshina Karnataka, East and West Uttar Pradesh, and many other states. These are just a feature of the protests, accept them, and now there are enough bridges across the River Satluj.

Here is an illustration from my book:

Tumultuous History Panjab‘As I traversed Panjab (this is when 2017 elections were on), what struck me was the impassive and immense presence of camouflage-uniformed central security forces in every town and big village. When they stopped vehicles in Doaba, the drivers were polite.

In Malwa, from where the Akali and Congress chief ministers hailed, the commuters were aggressive: ‘We stopped. What else do you want?’ In Majha, once Panjab’s power centre, drivers asked: ‘Did you ask us to stop?’ These responses were quite indicative of how people from these regions behaved even otherwise.’ Page 513.

3. Decentralised Protests:

Yes, there are 31 Unions from Panjab, another 500 or so Unions from all over India, AIKSCC as an umbrella Union. They are quite a handful. The beauty of this diversified leadership is that it serves as an internal check and balance. It also means that everyone has to be satisfied with the final result else the protest is not over.

Also Read: Why are farmers protesting when govt says these laws are good for them?

protestAs discussed above, as highlighted on Human Rights Day, there will be minor differences between the Unions. Yet, for many months now they have a Common Minimum Program and all Unions are sticking to it.

At this juncture, we need to realise that the Unions have brought discipline to the protests and maintained focus on absolute non-violence. It is these qualities that have got us until here. Keep the focus.

4. Solidarities:

Though this is primarily a Jutt/Jat protest and they constitute about 25-30 per cent in any state, the fact is over 50 per cent India is engaged in agriculture.

protestThese other trades who work within the agrarian space are landless labour, arthiyas or commission agents, small traders to rice sheller and sugar factory owners. That is why all these trades have come together in the protests.

This is what has got the ruling party anxious – these sections of society are also its primary vote-bank in states other than Panjab. The point of this solidarity is that it should later push our society towards greater egalitarianism, greater equality.

5. Haryana:

If you look at the history of the last half century of Panjab, you will notice so much of its discontent erupts from the division of East Panjab into Haryana and Panjab in 1966.

1984This led to not only division of languages but also river water issues, Akali protests, Operation Blue Star and its aftermath – militancy. That is why it is so significant that during these protests, Haryana stands shoulder to shoulder with Panjab.

All the tricks the Centre, state agencies and politicians tried in the last 50 years have come a cropper. This is people’s unity that prevails over the shenanigans of those who have sought to break East Panjab.

Also Read: MSP – What profit does farmer makes?

6. Women:

samajFor long the protests in Panjab have been a male-only space. It is during the 2015 White Fly protest period that I saw women coming out but still confined mostly to langar duties.

In these protests the women have come out so much more boldly. In semi-feudal, patriarchal Panjab, the women taking change of the stages, making speeches, is a great coming out from behind a veil.

Viva la women! More power to you, you carry more than half the world.

7. Langar and Sewa:

Langar, to those familiar with the tradition, is free communal partaking of meals together. The tradition started by Guru Nanak has been going on for more than 500 years.

In these protests, the langar served two purposes: unconsciously, as a goodwill strategy, when farmers broke police barricades and served the police langar; as a metaphor for all kinds of aid that protesters need.

What the Rs 2 trolls, peddling vacuous lies and hate, do not understand is that when one submits to sewa through langar, all material questions vanish. I have never experienced a selfless langar fall short on supplies.

That is why the pizzas, the washing machines, the foot massagers, the warm blankets, the medical camps, are all langar. Learn, learn from the ‘nirbhau, nirvair – without fear, without hate’ tradition.

Know this, as of now, the protest is together. In fact, now a pan-India movement. District headquarters in Karnataka are bursting, there have been protests in Andhra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu farmers are already in Delhi, Gujarat farmer leaders are under house arrest lest they come out and organise protests. This itself is a huge achievement against a deaf and blind, arrogant government.

Also Read: #DilliChalo march has shattered the miasma of Hindutva’s power and arrogance

In fact, the way the amendments to laws were framed, later rejected by farmer Unions, it is clear the government is blinking double-fast.

However, what stands in the way is the arrogance of MoSha’s ego, propped up by crony-capitalists. What stands in the way of bowing to farmers is the image of the strong-man messiah, the uber-masculine projection.

In the first round of British colonisation, the 1907 Pagdi Sambhal Jutta peasant uprising in Majha had forced the British to take back draconian agrarian Laws.

The reason was Majha was a major recruiting ground for soldiers who served World War I and II. This time, in the second round of colonization by crony-capitalists, the BJP’s main vote bank is protesting.

Also Read: Shekhar Gupta’s Forked Tongue

The government is trapped in a no-win situation. It has already delayed the repeal of Laws and earned people’s ire. When it now rescinds, it will still be too late. The govt’s attempts to play imposter politics by creating a dubious farmer organisation named AIKCC instead of the original AIKSCC who are supporting the Laws is not working.

The protest has now become a movement – a tiger with a life of its own, its own centre of gravity. No single Union or the government has control over it.

It is a people’s uprising against seven years of Hindu propaganda machinery which has delivered no tangible results but only fooled people until now.

Well, you can’t always fool people. In this winter of agrarian discomfort, the warmth of the farmers, that keeps our kitchen fires burning, will scorch the government’s balloon of lies.

Also Read: Will Modi govt be able to wriggle out of situation?

What we need is unity, resolve, resilience to stand against the Laws. As a friend remarked, this protest does not seem to be a sprint any longer, this movement is becoming a marathon. Now what we need is stamina, and not let rumours or minor issues distract us.

Look at the art, the music, the movement is producing. It is so far from the ‘guns and girls’ trope infamous until recent times. These new songs are so rooted in the earth. This is what we need: solidarity!

As allies, let us focus on that.

Also Read: A Punjab in negotiation: what did we get?


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Amandeep Sandhu

Amandeep Sandhu

Amandeep Sandhu is the author of 'Panjab: Journeys Through fault Lines.'

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