Farmers' agitations, 2020-21; 2024: India
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
2020 Nov- 2021, early Feb
Controversy, violence, international support: The farm stir saga so far
From peaceful demonstrations to violent rallies ... from chakka jams to celebrity attention ... the farmers agitation against the three new agriculture laws has been a saga of many twists and turns that has captured both national as well as international attention.
The movement, which began with sporadic protests in Punjab following the enactment of the laws in September last year, took a mainstream turn when the farmers gave the "Dilli Chalo" call on November 26 to knock on the doors of the government. But that was just the beginning.
Eleven rounds of talks, intervention by the Supreme Court, multiple rallies (peaceful or otherwise) and tireless assurances from the government have failed to break the deadlock between the two sides since the farmers marched to the doorsteps of Delhi. Two-and-a-half-months on, the farmers still want a complete repeal of the laws while the government continues to stand in stout defence of its agri reforms.
But what is the story all about? Who are its main protagonists? And how did so many people — including international celebrities like Rihanna — get involved in a row between the government and farmers. Here's a look:
The entire logjam between the government and farmers rests on the following three legislations:
- Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance
- Farm Services Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
The government introduced the laws to deregulate the agriculture markets, allow farmers to directly sell their produce to private players (even enter into contracts with them) and remove stock limits on certain crops unless under extraordinary circumstances.
But the farmers see them in a different light.
They fear that the laws could end up dismantling the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) — or the mandis — and create a scenario where the Minimum Support Price(MSP)-based procurement will cease to continue.
Consequently, they believe that large corporates will mop up their produce at cheaper rates as small & marginal farmers, with limited means, will be unable to strike the right price for their crops.
Here's a chart to understand this better:
What do farmers want?
The farmers have categorically said that they will not settle for anything less than a complete rollback of the laws.
Even the government's offer of pausing the implementation of the laws for 12-18 months did not cut ice with them as most of the farm unions remained firm on their original demand.
In addition to this, the farmers now want a legal guarantee to ensure the continuation of the MSP system.
On the other hand …
The government has taken an equally firm stand on the new laws, saying that repeal is not possible.
Agriculture minister Narendra Tomar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have asserted that there is not a single flaw in the laws pointed out by either the protesting unions or the opposition parties backing them.
The government did, however, try to make several concessions to end the impasse.
During its negotiations with farmers, the government offered to provide a written assurance on MSP, said it's willing to stay the implementation of laws for 12-18 months to iron out differences and expressed willingness to discuss the laws in detail ("clause-by-clause") to address each and every concern of the unions.
MSP and farm laws: What's the connection?
The issue of MSP-based procurement lies at the heart of the farmers agitation.
The government has said the laws have nothing to do with the MSP system. This is a fair argument since state procurement was always an administrative decision and never written in the laws.
The ministers maintain that the new laws will not affect the old regime and MSP-based procurement will continue like it always did.
"MSP tha, hai aur rahega," PM Modi said in Parliament recently in an attempt to assuage the concerns of the protesting unions.
But the farmers remained unconvinced.
"The country doesn't run on trust but on laws and Constitution," farmer leader Rakesh Tikait quipped in response to Modi's "assurance".
Since the laws don't mention MSP at all, the farmers believe the system will be abolished once private players flood the markets and the mandis become obsolete.
But why are mainly Punjab and Haryana farmers worried about MSP?
MSP acts as a safety cushion for farmers growing specific types of crops — 23 to be exact.
It's the minimum price at which the government procures these crops from the farmers. This price is announced by the state-run Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) on an annual basis.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) — the main state-run grain procurement agency — largely buys only paddy and wheat at MSP and sells them at highly subsidised prices to the poor.
Since Punjab and Haryana farmers primarily grow wheat and paddy, they depend heavily on the MSP system.
And there's the data to back all this.
In 2018-19, only 12% or 97 lakh of India’s over 8 crore paddy farmers benefitted from procurement operations.
However, a closer look reveals that the numbers are skewed heavily in favour of Punjab and Haryana - which are seen as the country's granaries.
More than 95% of paddy farmers in Punjab and about 70% of farmers in Haryana were covered under procurement operations. On the other hand, the figures are abysmally low for states like Uttar Pradesh (3.6%), West Bengal (7.3%) and Bihar (1.7%).
In her Budget speech earlier this month, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government's payment on wheat procurement increased to Rs 62,802 crore in 2019-20, a significant rise from Rs 33,874 crore in 2013-14. She added that nearly 43.36 lakh wheat growers have benefitted from the MSP procurement in 2020-21.
Similarly, the MSP payment on rice procurement increased to Rs 1,41,930 crore in 2019-20 and an estimated Rs 1,72,752 crore in 2020-21 from Rs 63,928 crore in 2013-14.
Thus, the mere possibility of the MSP system going away has rung alarm bells in the two north Indian states.
What did the Supreme Court have to say
As the talks between the farmers and government failed to yield any result, the Supreme Court intervened and stayed the implementation of the laws for two months.
It ruled that MSP-based procurement should continue until further orders and farmers; landholdings should be protected.
“While we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present ...” the bench said in its order.
Holding that judges are not experts on agriculture or economics, the CJI-led bench also ordered the formation of a four-member expert committee to hold consultations with various stakeholders and submit a report during the period.
One member of the committee — BKU president Bhupinder Singh Mann — later recused himself from the panel.
The farmers didn't welcome the top court's decision to form a committee, claiming that all its members have backed the government's agriculture reforms.
The Supreme Court said that the panel would proceed with or without the farmers' participation and strongly deprecated attempts to besmirch the reputation of members by branding them as biased.
So far, the panel has held seven meetings with various stakeholders, which included talks with some representatives of the farmer unions. However, there is still no breakthrough in sight.
A march to remember
Even as the farmers continued their protracted siege at Delhi borders, causing inconvenience to commuters, both the government and the Supreme Court lauded the peaceful nature of the agitation.
But this changed on January 26.
The symbolic tractor parade by farmers on Republic Day descended into chaos and anarchy as the protesters breached barricades ahead of time, clashed with police personnel at various places in Delhi and stormed into the iconic Red Fort.
The waving of the religious flag from the ramparts of Red Fort evoked national condemnation and came as a body blow to the hitherto nonviolent agitation.
The unions immediately distanced themselves from the violence and alleged widespread conspiracy to sabotage the movement. Nonetheless, the movement did suffer as a fallout of the violence, with some unions withdrawing from the agitation.
And just when things appeared to be fizzling out, BKU spokesperson Rakesh Tikait made a tearful appeal to stir the sentiments of the dejected protesters.
"I will commit suicide but won't end protest until the farm bills are repealed" — with a single statement, Tikait turned the tide in favour of the farmers and became the new face of the agitation.
Thousands of protesters joined in overnight, coalescing at the Ghazipur border to rally behind the agitators. The mass support even forced the UP government, which had ordered the farmers to vacate all the protest sites, to soften its stand.
But with memories of Republic Day violence still afresh, the government and security forces too responded in equal measure.
Concrete barricades, nails, trenches, cemented walls, additional forces ... the Delhi Police fortified the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur protest sites to prevent the protesting farmers from forcing their way into the national capital.
Internet was banned at the protest sites as well as adjoining areas and border movement completely halted.
Internationalisation of protest
The action by the government and security agencies expectedly drew criticism from farmers, who alleged a conspiracy to scuttle their agitation.
But the unexpected bit was the reaction from an unlikely source — international pop icon Rihanna.
Her tweet triggered a chain reaction on social media.
Shortly thereafter, US vice-president Kamala Harris's niece Meena Harris, who's a lawyer, climate activist Greta Thunberg, US House foreign affairs committee member Jim Costa, YouTuber Lilly Singh, poet Rupi Kaur, rapper Russ, former adult film star Mia Khalifa, UK MP Claudia Webbe and a host of others came out in support of the agitation.
This prompted the ministry of external affairs to take the unusual step of reacting to tweets by private foreign individuals with a detailed official statement.
Not much later, senior government ministers and Indian celebrities too joined in on the chorus.
Actors Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, producer-directors Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor, singer Lata Mangeshkar and cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli supported the MEA's stand on Twitter with government-approved hashtags IndiaTogether and IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
Several ministers of the Modi government, including home minister Amit Shah and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, also joined the counter-attack.
The sudden internationalisation and counter-attack added another layer of controversy to the movement. The Maharashtra government has now decided to probe allegations that celebrities were "pressurised" by the government to tweet in their support.
Where things stand now
The farmers and the government have both expressed willingness to initiate dialogue.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent appeal in Parliament, some farmer leaders said they are ready for further talks and even asked the government to fix a date.
Separately, the farmers have announced a nationwide rail roko protest on February 18 to step up pressure on the government.
More such protests are likely to follow if the deadlock continues.
Tikait had earlier said the farmers have given the government time till October 2 to repeal the laws and will decide the next course of action after that. Meanwhile, the government continues to support the laws in ongoing Parliament session with PM Modi himself leading the defence.
Centre repeals all three laws in Nov 2021
Promising a new start to agitating farm unions, the PM justified the three laws meant to allow freer trade and introduce contract farming as beneficial to farmers. He lamented that a small section failed to see this fact even when it was as clear as the light of a lamp, but refrained from pointing a finger. “There must have been shortcomings in our own efforts,” he said.
This was the second significant retreat, not counting the reluctance to follow through with the enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by preparing the National Population Register, when the PM has retraced steps on a major initiative. In the earlier instance, the government allowed the ordinance to change the Land Acquisition Act to die a slow death.
This time, Modi made no bones about the retreat. His address to the nation on Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, seemed a deliberate outreach to the Sikh community in Punjab where farmers have been particularly agitated over fears that a new system of private mandis will sound the death knell for the minimum support pricebased procurement. The symbolism was in keeping with the PM’s visits to gurdwaras on special days and the decision to open the Kartarpur Sahib corridor — all intended to woo Sikh opinion.
“While apologising to my countrymen, today I want to say sincerely that perhaps there must have been some deficiency in our tapasya that we could not explain the truth like the light of the lamp to farmer brothers,” the PM said after outlining several decisions and measures the government had undertaken to improve the income of and benefits to the farming community.
Urging agitating farmers to return to their homes, he promised a fresh start, saying once the laws are repealed, a committee will study zero budgeting farming or natural farming, scientifically changing crop pattern, and most significantly, make MSP more effective and transparent.
For years, farmers & agri experts demanded these reforms: Modi
The panel is to include Centre, states, farmers, agricultural scientists and economists.
While the announcement of the rollback was viewed in the context of the upcoming elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, BJP sources emphasised the decision reflected concern over the long-running agitation having an adverse impact of reviving separatism in the border state of Punjab and providing a handle to Khalistanis and Pakistan.
The Prime Minister defended the aims of the legislation, saying that they were introduced as part of a campaign to improve the condition of farmers, particularly small ones who need to be empowered and get the right price for their produce as well as more options. Such support was vital for some 10 crore farmers who tend to holdings of less than two hectare.
“For years, this demand was continuously being made by farmers, agricultural experts, agricultural economists and farmer organisations,” he said. He has previously accused the opposition of double speak over reforms that previous governments have also called for.
The Prime Minister said that for years, farmers of the country, agricultural experts of the country and farmers’ organisations of the country were continuously making these demands.
He said four-pronged measures on seeds, insurance, market and savings were taken to help farmers.
“Along with good quality seeds, the government also connected the farmers with facilities like neem coated urea, soil health card and micro irrigation,” he said.
The main Punjab organisations involved
The main Punjab organisations involved in The farm agitation of 2020
The groups behind the protest in 2024
Unity among farmers in Punjab powered protests on New Delhi’s outskirts in 2020-2021, pressuring BJP-led central govt to revoke three controversial farm laws. However, it has undergone significant shifts in two years, with groups fragmenting and new alliances forming.
Fresh permutations and combinations surfaced among farm groups, diverging pathways as farmers began returning home in Dec 2021 following annulment of the farm laws.
Disagreements intensified, resulting in multiple splinters within groups. Number of active farmer organisations have surged close to 50, a stark contrast from 32 that united in Nov 2020 to collectively challenge the laws. As they embark on another round of protests in Delhi this Feb, it has been noticed that proliferation of divisions has caused confusion when various groups issue protest calls, despite their shared objectives, primarily centred on securing a legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP).
Farmer movement, stemming from 32 unions under the banner of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), has fragmented into distinct entities — SKM (Punjab), SKM (Non-political), and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM).
These apart, 22 unions under SKM formed Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) on Dec 25, 2021, with the intention to contest Punjab assembly elections. Balbir Singh Ra- jewal assumed leadership of SSM. Three major farm organisations of Punjab — BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), BKU (Ekta Sidhupur), and BKU (Ekta Dakaunda) — refrained from joining SSM.
However, soon after its inception, many organisations began withdrawing from SSM. As the decision to contest the elections backfired, SSM lost momentum, dwindling down to five farm groups. This bloc, led by Rajewal, merged with SKM on Jan 15, 2024.
Similarly, in Haryana, farm leader Gurnam Charuni established another party, Sanyukt Sangharsh Party, which faced setbacks.
DELHI CHALO 2.0: DELHI CHALO 2.0: WHO’S LEADING THE NEW PROTEST
➤ Farm organisation BKU (Ekta Sidhupur), led by Jagjit Singh Dallewal, took along smaller groups and formed a parallel organisation, SKM (Non-Political) Also has farm groups from | Haryana, Rajasthan, MP
➤ It joined hands with Kisan Mazdoor Morcha and held rallies in Amritsar and Barnala with the call for ‘Dilli Chalo 2.0’
KISAN MAZDOOR MORCHA
➤ Another farmer block was formed with 18 farmer groups. With more farmer groups coming together, this block was renamed as Kisan Mazdoor Morcha Convener | Punjab-based Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee leader Sarvan Singh Pandher Has farm groups from | Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP and MP
➤ It has decided to align with SKM (Non-Political) NO INVOLVEMENT IN DELHI CHALO 2.0
Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM)
➤ It has stayed intact, but witnessed several splits. Balbir Singh Rajewal and Jagjit Singh Dallewal formed other groups, but Rajewal with four other groups returned to SKM on Jan 15
➤ SKM led marches across Punjab on Jan 26 and has given a call for a Grameen Bharat Bandh on Feb 16 Other groups
➤ BKU (Rajewal), All India Kisan Federation, Kisan Sangharsh Committee Punjab, BKU (Mansa) and Azad Kisan Sangharsh Committee formed an entity after the 2022 polls
➤ They have joined SKM Split in biggest group
➤ Punjab’s biggest farmer group, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), saw a split when senior leader Jaswinder Singh Longowal formed BKU (Ekta Azad)
➤ This outﬁt has joined hands with KMSC to join the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha Split in BKU (Ekta Dakaunda)
➤ The group has split into two parallel outﬁts: BKU (Ekta Dakaunda) continues to be headed by Buta Singh Burjgill Ekta Dakaunda (Manjit Dhaner) with Manjit Singh Dhaner as its president