SEEMA MUSTAFA | 28 JANUARY, 2021
‘Lose a Battle to Win the War’- Kisan Leaders
Sometimes one has the sense of sitting on history. And the massive farmers protest ---with lakhs bringing out their tractors and marching to Delhi or state capitals across the country-- was one such momentous occasion. Except for the managed, or not, event at the Red Fort, the farmers responded with commendable discipline to the call by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha to join a march that India has not seen since independence.
It is sad and tragic that instead of grasping the importance of the Kisan Parade the media has again sought to belittle the people, exposing its ignorance and bias in the process. And present a distorted narrative as has been done for past protests and struggles by the people, and while some might exult in brownie points scored temporarily, the damage done to democracy in this process is immense. As always. For in trying to damp down a protest, we are belittling the millions of people who have been camping in the bitter cold for a cause that they believe in. And want redressal for. The cause in this case being the repeal of the three laws that the farmers all across the country view as a serious impingement of their interests and rights.
It is a sad commentary that today dissent is tarnished, ridiculed, attacked and protestors dubbed anti-national, Khalistanis, Pakistanis and what have you. In the process large sections of peoples in this country are being alienated, harassed, terrorised leading to simmering discontent that does not make for a vibrant and healthy democracy. The rule by a few on the golden end of the stick cannot last simply because the gold is a self created illusion, and is available only to the select conformist few.
Since the start of the farmers protest, there has been an orchestrated attack on the farmers who are being dubbed as Khalistanis simply because Punjab took the lead this time around. And given the Sikh farmers courage, cohesiveness and honesty this poses a major threat to the status quo where government and corporates --of course with the support of the captive media---seek to rule. The branding created tremendous anger amongst the agitating farmers as they sought to set up their own channels of information to counter the propaganda. And did so rather successfully with their Trolley Times and YouTube channels drawing increasing traffic.
This seems to be the chink that the establishment is seeking to exploit and widen to the detriment of the farmers. The media’s refusal to recognise the farmers from states other than Punjab and to a lesser extent Haryana is evidence of this. The television talk shows seeking to put the farmers on the defensive over the Khalistan angle is evidence of this. The coverage of the Red Fort incident is evidence of this where hysterical reporters and anchors insisted that the Nishan Sahib, a flag of Sikh pride and religion, was Khalistan’s flag. And of course the zeroing in on the violence, with not a word about the mammoth protests that remained peaceful, disciplined despite the multi-million participation across India - is evidence of this.
The takeaway of the narrative painted by the willing media at the end of the day fed into the traitor, Khalistani, anti national image that the farmers have been so diligently working against. Look at how it works. There is little to no effort in the past months to cover the farmers agitation except as a bunch of misguided men who are not willing to listen to the government. Why? Because they are either promoted by the Congress and the opposition, or are Khalistanis, or are paid agents of foreign powers. So the narrative goes despite commentators like Arun Shourie pointing out that this branding will arouse more passion and anger in Punjab, as this is a terminology the Sikhs are allergic to.
The narrative of Khalistan emerges with some regularity on the social media trending under similar hashtags with assertions claiming that separatists controlled the movement. The media did full justice to this, with even the protests in other parts of the world supporting the farmers in India being projected as part of a larger plan by enemies of the country supporting separatism.
The farmers have countered this continuously but their views are not not carried by television channels that continue with the above narrative. Part of the establishment tactics to sow confusion in the hope of reaping the same as chaos. And thereby placing a question mark on the credentials of the farmers movement in the minds of the common person whose first reaction had been empathy and support for India’s kisans.
The Red Fort incident was intended to play into this. The farmer organisations are categorical that this was a “big conspiracy” by the government to tarnish the movement. And sully the image of the kisan and the organizations who have so have inspired trust and confidence. But in the handling of this and pushing for a biased coverage, the ruling establishment is playing with fire. More so as this incident in real terms was just a fraction of the massive protests that engulfed the country on January 26, in Delhi as well as the state capitals, involving unprecedented mobilisation of millions of farmers on tractors. And all completely peaceful, except for the managed incidents in and around the Red Fort.
At an united press conference on Wednesday night the kisan leaders appeared more determined to continue and intensify the struggle. But to do so with an eye on saboteurs, and a shift in strategy beginning now with a one day fast on Martyrs Day, January 30 when Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. The march to Parliament planned for February 1 has been postponed for now.
Significantly the propaganda unleashed by sections of the media about the violence was countered almost as fast as it emerged on January 26. Within minutes the social media was flooded with photographs of Deep Sidhu, who was one of the prominent faces seen at the Red Fort, with actor Sunny Deol visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This came with the counters that Sidhu had been asked to leave the Kisan morcha at the onset as he was seen as a “BJP stooge”.
Hundreds of tweets sought to establish that persons from a group that had been shunned by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the conglomerate leading the protests, had sought to divert the tractors into Delhi. And while many refused, those not as well informed followed their directions to Red Fort. And fell into the trap that the Twitterati insisted had been laid for the farmers by the government.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha immediately distanced itself from this violence with a statement. And videos were released of seniors who arrived at the Red Fort in a bid to move the hundreds who had reached there out of the premises. Sidhu of course, had released a video of himself amongst those seeking to fly the Nishan Sahib and hence was easily identified by the farmers who are now asking the government on the social media, why he is not being arrested. Sidhu has been releasing videos on Facebook since, defending himself and maintaining that the Red Fort incident was a testimony to the peoples anger and frustration.
However, this is expected to have little impact on the movement and as Vijoo Krishnan of the All India Kisan Sabha told this writer, “the movement will absorb this and move on, it will not be impacted.” More so as he and the other farmer leaders who echoed the sentiment have a sense of how wide the movement has travelled, and is not confined to Punjab and Haryana.
In fact farmer leaders pointed out at the press conference that the effort of the government was to isolate and tarnish the farmers from Punjab. “But we will not allow this to happen, we are all together and will stay together,” they asserted.
All other states witnessed huge mobilisation including areas as in western UP who have not been directly impacted by the three agrarian laws in real terms.But they were all out on the roads with their tractors, in solidarity and in what is a historical movement for peasants rights.
As a farmer leader pointed out, many of them had voted for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last Lok Sabha elections. And had come to Delhi in the hope that he would hear them and concede their demands. “He would have emerged as a hero had he done so,” he said but instead the government has chosen to target and victimise us.
The farmers are clear that the struggle will be intensified, and that this is just one “battle in a war”. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha leaders said that these developments have only strengthened their resolve to remain united and move forward together. This despite the FIRs filed against the leaders, and the crackdown at some venues in UP. Neither side is willing to concede, the farmers are adamant that the three laws be repealed, and the government determined not to let this happen.
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