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Farmers at Delhi Borders Begin Packing as SKM Announces Suspension of Yearlong Protests

SKM leaders had demanded a formal communication of the Union government's intentions on official letterhead, which the government is understood to have now given.
Farmers wave the national flags and raise slogans as they celebrate after Samyukta Kisan Morcha announced to call off the farmers agitation, at Ghazipur border in New Delhi, Thursday, December 9, 2021. Photo: PTI
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New Delhi: One year and 14 days after the protests began, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella of over 40 farm unions, on Thursday, December 9 formally announced that it will call off the physical agitation after the Narendra Modi government agreed on all pending demands including dropping police cases filed against farmers during the protest.

All key SKM leaders – Rakesh Tikait, Dr Darshan Pal Singh, Gurnam Singh Charuni, Yoginder Yadav, Shiv Kumar Kaka, Hannan Mollah and Balbir Singh Rajewal – were present when SKM announced farmers’ ‘ghar wapsi’ or return home, from the SKM stage at the Singhu border.

Calling it a historic win, SKM leader Yogendra Yadav said farmers will celebrate the ‘Vijay Diwas’ or ‘victory day’ on December 11, after which they will start returning home. The farmers have decided to put off celebrations by one day because of the sudden demise in a chopper accident of the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and other defence personnel.

According to Yadav, in the official letter farmers received from the Union government, all major pending demands were met.

“But it is not the end of our movement,” clarified Yadav. He said SKM leaders will meet again on January 15 in Delhi to review the assurance given by the Union government and accordingly prepare a course of action.

Thanking the whole farming community, media, NRIs, and other sections of the society, Gurnam Singh Charuni, another key leader of the SKM told the media said that farmers would not hesitate in returning to the protest sites if the Union government does not fulfil its commitment.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, another prominent SKM leader, said that he had no words to express the gratitude for those who passed away during the protest and those who stayed put for months.

He said all dharnas across the country – whether at toll plazas or in cities or towns will be lifted from December 11. The farmers’ protests across Punjab will end on December 15, he added.

Activist Yogendra Yadav and Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) leaders show victory sign after SKM announced to call off the farmers agitation, at Singhu border in New Delhi, Thursday, December 9, 2021. Photo: PTI

Meanwhile,  the announcement sparked celebrations at major protest sites at Singhu, Gazipur and Tikri where the farmers have been camping since November 26 last year.

The protest first emerged from Punjab before it gained prominence in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and other states. It settled outside Delhi borders.

The movement is hailed as a major victory of the farmers against the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s attempt to introduce neo-liberal policies and entry of big corporates into agriculture in India.

Hannan Mollah, another SKM leader, said that this movement was the biggest public movement after Independence and the biggest achievement of the protest was that it had remained peaceful. It transcended regional boundaries and blurred the caste and religious lines.

“There were repeated attempts to malign the protest but SKM remained united. We were united and remain united,” he said

Official letter from Union govt ends protest 

The protest that is believed to have redefined public dissent in the world’s largest democracy forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal the three farm laws last month. Later, the government through an official letter sent on Thursday paved the way for SKM to call off the protest.

Key among SKM’s pending issues was the constitution of a panel for giving legal sanctity to the Minimum Support Price (MSP),  withdrawal of fake cases registered against farmers and compensation to families of the farmers who died during the protest.

Apart from it, SKM sought the withdrawal of the anti-farmer provisions in draft of Electricity Amendment Bill, removal of the penal provisions on farmers for stubble burning in the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act 2021 besides the removal and arrest of Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni over his involvement in the Lakhimpur Kheri farmers’ massacre.

SKM leader Shiv Kumar ‘Kaka’ told reporters that after the Prime Minister on November 19 repealed the farm laws, SKM on November 21 wrote an open letter to the PM asking to resolve six pending demands.

Later on December 7, SKM received a draft from the Union government in response to SKM’s open letter to PM. “But the Centre’s stand was not clear, especially on withdrawing the false cases filed against farmers in different states,” Kaka said.

The letter forwarded by the Union government, answering farmers’ demands.

In the official government letter received by SKM on Thursday, (signed by Secretary, Agriculture, Sanjay Aggarwal), the Union government has clarified that the state governments in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have given consent to take back cases filed against the farmers. The government in these states will immediately start the process to drop the cases.

On the question of legalising MSP, the Union government has clarified that the mandate of the newly formed committee in which five members of the SKM (already announced) will also be members, will be to decide on how MSP can be legalised for the farmers. Besides, there will be no change in the existing procurement system of the Union government, which was the biggest apprehension of the farmers in the wake of farm laws that stand repealed now.

Kaka also said that the Union government has clarified the question of compensation. “While Punjab government has already announced compensation, the governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh too have on principal agreed to give compensation to the farmers who died during the protest belonging to their states,” he said.

According to SKM, more than 700 farmers have passed away during the last year of the protest.

The farmers’ leader also said that the Centre has also clarified that it will not table the Electricity Amendments Bill without the consultation of SKM leaders. “As far as our other demand to remove the penal provisions on farmers for stubble burning in the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act 2021, the Centre has already done away with criminal proceedings against the farmers in the said act. However, it has clarified that it will have to impose Rs 1,000 as penal charges as fixed by the Supreme Court,” he added.

However, there is no mention of SKM’s sixth and final demand regarding the arrest and sacking of Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni.

Kaka said that SKM has not compromised on this demand but that the Union government has unofficially conveyed that the Supreme Court-appointed committee is investigating the matter and it can’t interfere in that process right now.

“But we will keep reviewing this matter and will continue to put pressure on the centre for speedy justice on the death of four farmers killed during the Lakhimpur incident,” he said.

Farmers pay respect to deceased farmers and a reporter in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in a ceremony. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

The SKM has also made it clear that its demand to ensure farmers’ rights, especially to secure MSP as a legal entitlement for all farmers, will continue.

Packing begins

With the decision to call off the protest almost finalised on Wednesday, there has been a flurry of activities at Singhu, Tikri and Gazipur borders since last night.

Farmers are seen packing their belongings, removing temporary shelters and repairing their tractors before marching back to their villages after months of struggle.

“It is a historic win,” said an aged protester as he was cleaning his tractor. Another protester from the village Ajroha near Punjab’s Patiala said that this day was long awaited. “Our village in Punjab is waiting for us eagerly,” he added

Farmers had created temporary wooden shelters with their stay at Delhi’s borders prolonged due to the Modi government’s refusal to roll back the laws.

One of the protesters said that they will repurpose this temporary shelter into a library and place it at a common area in their village as a souvenir of the protest so that the coming generations can take inspiration from it.

SKM leader Rakesh Tikait said that it will take a few days for the farmers to pack their belongings. “I think all borders will be empty with in four five days,” he added.

Major contribution of the protest 

Sukhpal Singh, senior economist and professor of the Centre for Management in Agriculture at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, told The Wire that the importance of his protest cannot be overstated.

Singh also said that it revived the space of dissent within the world’s largest democracy that appeared to have been overshadowed in the past couple of years.

“Another beauty of the protest was that the different sections of the society rallied behind it. Besides, it had a pan-global appeal with heads of many states and even the UN taking note of it,” he added.

He said one of the major contributions of this protest is that it has triggered debate on finding a suitable model of agriculture growth in India. Three farm bills that stand repealed now had “attempted to bring the control of corporatisation in Indian agriculture.”

“But this protest reinforced the idea that what India needs is a co-operative culture, not a corporate culture. In a country like India where half of the population is dependent on agriculture, we need policies that are pro-farmers and pro-farm labourers,” he added.

FILE PHOTO: Farmers gather to mark the first anniversary of their protests on the outskirts of Delhi at Pakora Chowk near Tikri border, India, November 26, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis

There were several public movements in human history and many of them ended in violence, but not this one.

Ramandeep Mann, one of the leaders associated with the protests since beginning, told The Wire that the credit certainly goes to SKM which did not let the protest divert and kept it focused.

“The success of the protest has also sent a message of a wider unity among farmers in India. Legalising MSP is a major issue of farmers across the country. The next big farmers’ protest will be pan-India movement if the government will back off from its commitment to legalise MSP,” he added.

SKM gives thanks

SKM has meanwhile thanked local communities at morcha sites profusely for their patience and support throughout the long agitation, and apologies to them for inconveniences caused during the course of the protest.

The group also thanked trade unions, women’s organisations and youth or student outfits who struggled along with farmers in this agitation, along with lawyers who extended legal aid and solidarity, doctors who set up medical camps and gave their untiring service.

It also thanked various religious bodies that set up langars and fed the protestors unconditionally and uninterruptedly.

SKM has also thanked various progressive organisations that stood in support including human rights groups, numerous artists who were there constantly with the movement, organisations that continuously and consistently responded to SKM’s calls for action, highway dhaba owners and people who gave space for the Kisan Andolan to run its organisational meetings, NRIs and international farmers’ organisations and others who took up solidarity actions in their own locations.

‘Vote ki chot’ forced BJP to step back: SKM leader Rajewal

Later in evening, SKM leader Balbir Singh Rajewal addressed the crowd and said that the SKM has just suspended the protest. It also warned that the protests will resume if the Centre backtracked from its commitment on MSP and other issues.

He said there were repeated attempts by the Union government to malign the protest. While conspiracies were being hatched against the movement, it was the farmers’ grit and determination that prevailed over the powerful government at the Centre, he said.

He further said that it was the Centre that forced them to campaign against the BJP government in Bengal elections. “This is where the government was hurt the most and finally decided to step back. It was ‘vote ki chot‘ that that forced the BJP to retreat.”

He asked the protesters to adopt utmost precautions while returning back on December 11, and drive slowly and ensure that all returned safely.

Meanwhile, politicians hailed the farmers’ protest. Former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, also the Punjab Lok Congress chief, congratulated the farmers over the triumphant culmination of their over yearlong agitation against the farm laws. He said that he hoped it would pave the way for a more constructive political environment for the progress of the farming community, who constitute the backbone of India’s economic growth and sustainability.

Captain Amarinder said he was happy the farmers’ fight had reached its logical conclusion and the Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments had agreed in principle to follow his own erstwhile government’s decision in Punjab to compensate the families of farmers who had lost their lives during the agitation. The Punjab government had announced Rs 5 lakh in financial aid and a job for one member each of the deceased farmers’ families in December 2020 and January 2021, respectively.

Also read: Families of Over 500 Punjab Farmers Who Died During Protests Haven’t Got Govt Jobs Yet

In a statement issued from the party headquarters, Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab president and MP Bhagwant Mann said that the farmers and labourers sitting on dharna have not only won the war against the Modi government, but they have also won the hearts of the people of Punjab and the entire country.

He further said that all the farmers involved in the movement are ‘warriors’. “The warrior farmers sacrificed their lives, but they never bowed down before the arrogance of Modi government.”

Punjab will always remember the sacrifices of these farmers and the farmers’ movement will be written in golden letters in history. The coming generations of the country will take inspiration from the winning spirit of these farmers and will always defeat the dictatorship behaviour of any government in a democratic way, he added.

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