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Farmers at the Haryana Border: The Chronology of How We Got Here Again

For the past six months, farmer groups have been organising all over India to reiterate the demand for MSP and other agrarian issues. A new coalition was emerging between the north and south.
Photo: X/video screengrab/@gurshamshir

After a silent period of gestation, the Indian farmers movement has rejuvenated itself.  Recently, some farmers’ group under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) – a faction which is un-afilliated to any political party – launched a peaceful convoy of thousands of tractors-trolleys to New Delhi. The convoy was stopped on the Punjab-Haryana border at Shambhu and the farmers were met with brutal state violence as they tried to cross over into Haryana. The tractorcade was to reach Delhi on February 13.

Reports of police drones dropping tear gas bombs, and of cops using rubber pellets and batons have emerged, signalling the deep hostility of the government towards the peaceful farmers’ movement. In response, the farmers unions and its allies declared a Grameen Bharat Bandh (Rural India general strike) on February 16. Various workers’ unions supported the call and called for an industry strike too. They blocked roads and highways in civil disobedience against the unprovoked state violence.

Did the farmers deserve this treatment?

Why weren’t they allowed to exercise their fundamental right to protest?

How did things get so bad?

Let us look at the chronology of events that led to the attack on the peaceful convoy and the blockading of roads with barbed wire, spikes and concrete.

In December 2021, the farmers decided to return home after the three farm laws they had protested against for nearly two years were rescinded. They left in good faith, as the Modi government promised them that their other demands – like a law on minimum support price, the withdrawal of cases, compensation for the farmers who died during the protest, etc. would be met.

The government continued its dialogue with the SKM until January 2022, when a statement on MSP was made. After that, all talks stopped. Their camps unpegged from Delhi’s borders, the SKM knew the farmers and their movement had lost their leverage. This is the beginning of the trust gap between the government and SKM.

Meanwhile the government also created a committee to further deliberate on the MSP question. From the start, the committee was boycotted by SKM because of the clear bias in its composition. An independent member even resigned from the committee, adding more weight to the farmers cause. This was the second betrayal by the government.

As the government refused to talk with the farmers’ leadership, the SKM used the next two years to build the campaign around India for MSP and also lent its support to other agrarian and social causes.

Meanwhile, it came to light that certain government-backed farmers union had started to emerge and even successful attempts were made to break bigger farmers’ unions like Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugraha) and BKU (Tikait). As farmers were trying to gain ground around the country, attempts were being made to weaken them at home. This increased the trust gap. Yet the SKM pulled through and reorganised itself in a stronger fashion, rebuilding its cadre, purging members and reorganising itself for future challenges.

For the past six months, farmer groups have been organising all over India to reiterate the demand for MSP and other agrarian issues. A new coalition was emerging between the north and south. But the first sparks were seen in Punjab again, when farmers launched sit-ins and hunger strikes for MSP. They approached the Modi government again for talks. As a reaction to this new wave, the government blocked Twitter accounts, and started arresting and weakening the farmers.

Yet the unions continued. Even before the convoy started, some of the farmers leaders met with Central ministers to remind the government of its promises and informed them of the farmers’ resolve to head to Delhi for a peaceful protest. After which and even now, all talks failed.

Farmers’ demands

When it comes to the farmers’ demands, nothing has changed. They have had the same demands since they left Delhi’s borders. The demands include implementing a Minimum Support Price for crops, in line with the Swaminathan formula, ensuring a legal guarantee of procurement, providing debt waivers, refraining from increasing electricity tariffs or implementing smart meters. Additionally, they seek free allocation of 300 units of power for farming, domestic use, and shops, comprehensive crop insurance, and increasing pensions to Rs 10,000 per month.

The government’s proposal for five-year support of five crops does not cut it.

In simple words, what the farmers want is a fair price for their produce.

The question now is will the Modi government give in?

Indra Shekhar Singh is an independent agri-policy analyst and writer. He was the former director, policy and outreach, at NSAI. He also hosts The Wire’s agriculture talk show, Krishi ki baat/Farm Talks. He tweets @indrassingh.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been updated and republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.

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