Bharat Bandh gives fresh boost to expanding farmers’ agitation
The kind of support it received from non-BJP, non-NDA political parties indicates the future of Indian polity would not remain the same from now onwards
Bharat Bandh, observed on March 26, clearly indicated widening spread of the farmers’ agitation in the areas and states which have hitherto been almost free from its influence. Their support base has also shown an increase, which not only included more organizations but also more people, individually and in groups, especially those who have been restive for quite some over the autocratic ways of the Modi government. The kind of support it received from non-BJP, non-NDA political parties indicates the future of Indian polity which would not remain the same from now onwards.
Protesting farmers’ unions under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) had given the call for this Bharat Bandh to mark the completion of four months of their agitation which began on November 26 at the Delhi borders. They have reiterated their demand with a renewed vigour to repeal the three farm laws which they fear would jeopardize their future, while the Modi government insists it would brighten their future.
It should be noted that the three laws in question try to bring corporates to the farms for the first time in India. Sugar industry has already been brought to the farms, and sugarcane growers know how they are at their mercy for payment in time and how their demand for better rates for their produce is ignored. Non-payment to sugarcane farmers for years has been normalized. The present farmers’ agitation thus has a serious point supported by their prior bad experience.
The nationwide blockade has also signalled that greater unity is emerging among farmers across the nation. It may be recalled that after the Red Fort incident on Republic Day, a few farmers’ organizations had dissociated themselves from the agitation. Farmers unity was somewhat split up, though marginally. BKU president Rakesh Tikait alleged that the Centre tried to divide the farmers on the lines of caste and religion, but they were unsuccessful.
The spread of the farmers’ agitation has been noticed across the country, with an intensity ranging from simple protests to combating one, minor blockades to complete stopping of all sorts of wheels on the road and rail, and negligible influence on the market to complete closures. Only five poll-bound states – Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry – remained an exception where the Bandh was not observed by the agitating farmers. Supply of agricultural goods, such as milk and vegetables, was also affected in many parts of the country.
The agitation affected Punjab and Haryana the most, since the farmers of these two states have been agitating against the farm laws right from the beginning. These two states have traditionally been considered to be the ‘bowl of grain’ for the country, and have been contributing largest quantity in national food grain stock, enabling the country to achieve food security at the national level. Therefore, a prolonged farmers’ agitation in even these two states must not be ignored. The spread of their agitation to other states is a matter of concern.
In and around Delhi, at the borders of which the farmers have been agitating for four months, train and road traffic was affected by the Bandh. Four Shatabdi trains were cancelled and more than 32 trains were stopped near railway stations in Delhi, Chandigarh, Firozpur, and Amritsar. The traffic on NH-9 near Ghazipur border, one of the epicenters of the protest, was affected. Traffic around the other two protest sites – Singhu and Tikri borders – was also affected.
Ghazipur border has become important because of incoming protestors of Western Uttar Pradesh, where agitation has gained ground. Market associations in Delhi gave moral support to the agitating farmers.
Educational institutions in Odisha in eastern India remained closed as per an order by the state government due to considerable spread of the support to farmers’ agitation. Among the southern states, Andhra Pradesh was most affected. The ruling YSR Congress had extended its support to the Bandh call. It also affected certain areas of Maharashtra.
The farmers’ agitation has been supported by the working class. The ten Central Trade Unions and the SKM are supporting each other in their struggles demanding roll back of four labour codes and three farm laws respectively. Bank employees unions, General Insurance employees unions, Life Insurance employees union, some other trade unions, student unions, bar associations, traders association, teachers association, railways unions etc supporting the agitation shows their widening support base.
Many agitating farmers, especially in BJP-ruled states, such as in Uttar Pradesh, were arrested and subjected to police action. Many cases were also registered against agitating farmers’ leaders across the country. However, SKM has reiterated that farmers intend to continue their agitation for as long as it takes. They are even in a mood for a combative struggle against the three farm laws until they are repealed.
In the meantime, they would also launch a new phase of the movement and go for non-cooperation with the BJP-led government. In the poll bound areas, farmers’ leaders are already campaigning against the Modi government’s anti-farmer and anti-worker policies and asking the voters not to vote for the BJP. The actual impact on the national politics depends on many other factors but a situation seems to have evolved in which political parties of all hues and their leaders are most likely be compelled to talk more about farmers and workers for their success during future elections in the country.
Views are personal