Harvesting over, it was time for last-minute preparations for protests. Sheds were being welded over tractor trollies, and waterproof sheets, mattresses and dry rations were being collected.
The farmers’ protest of 2020-21 blocking major roads into Delhi is still fresh in memory, but preparations for Farmers’ Protest 2.0 were on in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Plans were afoot to march to Parliament on February 13 over several demands, including a statutory guarantee for a minimum support price (MSP) for all crops.
Farmers clashed with police at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on Thursday (February 8), as if to provide a trailer of what was coming.
The timing is crucial. Just ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, when the BJP-led NDA government would be looking for a third consecutive term at the Centre.
Such is the situation that the BJP-led central government dispatched three ministers to talk to farmer leaders. They held talks on Thursday.
Amid all this comes the announcement conferring Bharat Ratna on Chaudhary Charan Singh and MS Swaminathan — two names that farmers swear by.
FARMERS CLASH WITH POLICE AT UP-DELHI BORDER
Thousands of farmers from more than 100 villages of Noida and Greater Noida on February 8 took to the highways and blocked them to seek higher compensation for lands acquired by the government.
Sporadic protests have been reported from across the rural areas of Noida and Greater Noida for the last couple of days.
The protests along the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border were against the land acquisition by the National Thermal Power Plant (NTPC) in Noida, since January. The farmers planned to march towards Parliament to press their demands but were stopped.
Some of the farmer’s groups, based in Noida and Greater had been protesting since December 2023.
“This is Farmers Protest 2!!,” wrote an activist on X, who was active in the 2020–21 farmer’s protests.
There are several demands of the farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
PROTESTS HAVE ROOTS IN THE 2020-21 FARMERS’ AGITATION
The protests by farmers in 2020-2021 compelled the Centre to roll back three contentious farm laws.
The laws sought to modernise Indian farming by introducing market interventions, reforms and statutory backing to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) in the procurement of agricultural yields.
The protesting farmers and their unions primarily belonged to Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and northern Rajasthan.
On November 19, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologised to the people of the country and said that the government “failed to convince a section of farmers” about the farm laws. PM Modi urged the protesting farmers “to return home to their families and start afresh”.
The farmers who had pitched tents at the Tikri, Ghazipur and Singhu borders for over a year returned to their villages as heroes.
PREPARATIONS FOR FARMERS’ PROTEST 2.0
Things, however, don’t seem to have normalised for the farmers.
The farmers are still waiting for the legal backing to the assurance on MSP they got from the Centre. Many farmers who were named in the FIRs during the year-long protests have been waiting to get their names struck off.
In November 2023, on the eve of the third anniversary of the anti-farm laws protests, farmers from Punjab and Haryana flocked to Chandigarh in massive numbers, riding on their tractors and trolleys, to participate in a three-day protest.
The protests resembled a Singhu-Tikri border-like gathering.
Meanwhile, the farmers in Punjab and Haryana started mobilising in large numbers for the February 13 march to Delhi. They even started collecting wheat and other food items from villages and started to prepare their vehicles, mainly tractor-trolleys, for the long haul, reported The Indian Express.
The BJP-led Haryana administration has reportedly ramped up its surveillance to disrupt any such mobilisations by serving notices to farmers and putting up barricades at the Shambhu border between Haryana and Punjab.
The administration in Punjab is also tracking farmers’ movement and is on alert.
This after a call by farmers’ unions, including the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (non-political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM) from Haryana and Punjab, for the February 13 ‘Dilli Chalo’ protests to demand Minimum Support Price (MSP) backing for all crops and quashing of FIRs against farmers lodged during the farmer’s agitation of 2020-21.
UNION MINISTERS REACH OUT TO FARMER LEADERS
Representatives of various farmers’ organisations met Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare and Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda in Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi, on Wednesday (February 7).
The delegation discussed various farmers’ issues with Munda and the minister assured them of the earliest resolution of the problems faced, reported news agency ANI.
A day later, three Union ministers, including Food and Civil Supplies Minister Piyush Goyal, Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, and Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, went to meet farmers’ leaders.
“The Centre had sent three ministers. A detailed discussion took place on the issue. The demands of farmers were put forth, including withdrawing police and railway cases against farmers from the time of the farm agitation and exemplary punishment for owners of companies selling spurious seeds. A consensus was also reached on these demands,” Punjab Chief Minister Bahagwant Mann said on Thursday (February 8).
Despite the meeting, Bharti Kisan Union leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said that the farmers’ plan to march towards Delhi on February 13 was still in place.
WILL BHARAT RATNA TO CHARAN SINGH, SWAMINATHAN HELP?
The very next day, on February 9, the government conferred Bharat Ratna on former Prime Ministers Chaudhary Charan Singh, PV Narasimha Rao and agriculturalist MS Swaminathan, posthumously.
Both Charan Singh and Swaminathan are connected to farmers and farming.
While Charan Singh was the Prime Minister who was the ‘champion of Indian farmers’, Swaminathan is known as ‘the father of the Green Revolution in India’.
The farmer connection was made amply clear in PM Modi’s message after the Bharat Ratna announcements.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was a matter of “privilege” for his government to bestow “Chaudhary Charan Singh with Bharat Ratna”.
“He had dedicated his entire life to the rights and welfare of farmers. Be it the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh or the Home Minister of the country and even as an MLA, he always gave impetus to nation-building. He also stood firm against the Emergency. His dedication to our farmer brothers and sisters and his commitment to democracy during the Emergency is inspiring to the entire nation,” PM Modi wrote on X.
PM Modi said that “it was a matter of immense joy that the Government of India is conferring the Bharat Ratna on Dr MS Swaminathan Ji, in recognition of his monumental contributions to our nation in agriculture and farmers’ welfare”.
“He (MS Swaminathan) played a pivotal role in helping India achieve self-reliance in agriculture during challenging times and made outstanding efforts towards modernizing Indian agriculture. Dr Swaminathan’s visionary leadership has not only transformed Indian agriculture but also ensured the nation’s food security and prosperity,” PM Modi wrote on X while hailing the prominent agriculturist.
Farmers or annadata (food growers) are a group the Modi government has been focussing on as part of the GYAN – gareeb (poor), yuva (youngsters), annadata (farmers) and naari (women).
The Bharat Ratna to Chaudhary Charan Singh was received warmly by his grandson and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhary.
“It is a big day and an emotional moment for me. I want to thank the President, government & PM Modi because this was part of his vision,” Jayant Chaudhary said. “Bharat Ratna to Chaudhary Charan Singh, PV Narasimha Rao and MS Swaminathan is a huge message for the country. PM Modi has also shown that he understands India’s fundamental feelings,” added Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary on Friday.
Jayant Chaudhary the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which holds a formidable voter base in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh
has confirmed its alliance with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, a couple of months away.
WHAT FARMER LEADER RAKESH TIKAIT HAS TO SAY
The Western Uttar Pradesh-based farmer’s leader, Rakesh Tikaitr said “Conferring the Bharat Ratna to Charan Singh and MS Swaminathan is good, but will thank the government if they give the MSP legal backing”.
“That’s what we want. Chaudhary Charn Singh and Swaminathan got the award because they deserved it,” said Tikait on Aaj Tak TV.
“Did the government give the Bharat Ratna to them in lieu of votes,” the farmer’s leader asked.
Rakesh Tikait also hinted at government-facilitated splits in “many farmers’ unions, just like of political parties” since the Farmer Protests were called off in 2021.
He called the Bharat Ratna-Jayant deal, “a number-driven alliance” and said, “The farmer’s unions are also tactfully acting by staging the protests right before the Lok Sabha 2024 elections”.
“I would doubly thank the government if it implements the recommendations of the ‘Swaminathan Committee’,” added the farmer’s leader.
The February 13 protests will be followed by another protest on February 16, which will be organised by Tikait’s SKM, he added.
The opposition has also voiced a statutory status to the MSP, which Rakesh Tikait and other farmers’ unions are demanding. He said the PM and government, by not implementing the ‘Swaminathan Formula’, are doing “hypocrisy”.
“As far as Swaminathan is concerned, I would like to say that for five years the farmers’ organisations have been demanding that the Swaminathan formula be implemented when you announce MSP… The government has been denying this for five years now… The PM & Government are silent over that… This is hypocrisy. On one hand, you are awarding the Bharat Ratna – which we welcome – but on the other hand, why are you ignoring the Swaminathan formula?…”, Jairam Ramesh said on Friday.
Protests and politics over MSP legal guarantee are hotting up ahead of the polls.
Not just electorally, the BJP will hope to contain a section of the protesting farmers by getting Jayant Chaudhary into the NDA fold. The poll pact and Bharat Ratna to Charan Singh and Swaminathan might help blunt the edge of the Farmers Protest 2.0. The next few days of February will be crucial, as to which way the winds blow.