The government’s most immediate challenge comes in from the in tray of 2020 which is of course the ongoing farmers’ protests. With the talks now shifted to 8 January, will the government blink? So far sources have indicated that the government will not roll back its farm laws. But unlike the CAA protests, the government is making some efforts to placate the farmers. That’s because it realises that this is a vote-bank that is not limited to one region alone but its impact can spill pan-India. More importantly, with so many Sikhs in the Army, CRPF and other branches of our security forces, their views do matter. Specially to the BJP’s ultra-nationalistic vote-bank. Hence someone (probably from the government) has even prevailed upon the Ambani-Adani duo to issue reassuring statements to placate the protesting farmers. Or perhaps it was the attacks on Jio telephone towers that made Reliance Industries issue a statement that it had absolutely no interest in ‘contract’ or ‘corporate’ farming. This as you know is one of the farmers’ biggest fears that rich industrialists would play with the prices, lure the farmers and ensure that the APMC mandis go out of business; and then create a monopoly which will leave the poor farmers at their mercy. In fact, the farmers cite the example of what happened to BSNL once Jio entered the market, as an example.
This is the other thing that makes this protest so unusual. Although there is no one identifiable leader of the protest, there does seem a certain level of coordination between the protesting farmers who are surrounding the capital’s borders at various points. It’s an educated protest. Take for example the clarity with which the farmers are getting their message out. Realising quite early in the game that most of the media will be peddling the government’s narrative, the farmers set up their own YouTube channel giving short succinct soundbites no longer than a couple of minutes, explaining their issues with the government’s laws. In keeping with the short attention span of social media watchers, these videos don’t waste too much time to get their message across. More importantly, they have also set up a comprehensive campaign against the “Godi Media” (pro-Modi media), naming those anchors who they feel are pro-government.
Again, the spirit of Punjab is visible on ground as well as on the net as catchy songs, limericks and standup acts are being posted regularly from the protest sites to keep the interest from flagging. My personal favourite is the adaptation of Bella Ciao, the 19th century Italian protest folk song that was sung by the farmers to protest against the harsh working conditions in the paddy fields. It has since been adapted—and translated—many times over as a hymn of resistance.
Support seems pouring in from all quarters as the farmers brave the capital’s cold and rain—from blankets to tents to gyms to pizzas to mobile bathrooms. Some enthusiastic BJP supporters did try to paint the protestors as pro-Khalistan or a bunch of rich middlemen but this too boomeranged. The problem now is that the protest is no longer about the issues hence small-time tinkering will not work anymore. If the government complains that with the protestors it’s “my way or the highway”, it is probably right. The larger question is what got the farmers on the highway in the first place?