- Farmers' agitation grabbed international headlines
- Farm laws repeal is being touted as a surprise victory for the protesters
- What lies ahead for the BJP after the change of course on farm laws remains to be seen
The second wave of COVID-19 ravaged the country this year. Thousands lost their precious lives, so many people lost their loved ones and hope. But one thing that grabbed headlines during most of 2021 other than the Covid was the farmers' agitation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement on November 19 to repeal the three contentious farm laws finally brought the end of over a year-long confrontation between the government and the farmers during which, according to farmer unions, more than 700 people died. After Prime Minister’s historic announcement to repeal the laws, both the Houses of Parliament cleared the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021, on November 29.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of 40 farmers' unions that spearheaded the agitation, on December 10 decided to suspend the movement after the government repealed the farm laws and acceded to their other demands such as a panel on legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP) for crops.
Why the laws were repealed?
The laws raised concerns about the abolishment of the minimum support price (MSP) guaranteed by the government on select crops and leave farmers at the mercy of big corporates. Since these laws were promulgated, thousands of farmers gathered at Delhi's borders demanding their repeal, pushing the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre.
Farmers' protest goes international
The protests generated public reactions globally. It also evoked responses from teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg, singer-activist Rihanna and lawyer-author Meena Harris, niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Rallies were organized in Canada in support of the farmer protests in India. Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke out in support of farmers. Canada's Indian-origin Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan too had expressed concerns over reports of the "peaceful protesters being brutalised in India". India summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and conveyed to him that the comments made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some other leaders there on the farmers' agitation constituted an "unacceptable interference" in the country's internal affairs. The Canadian diplomat was also told that such actions, if continued, would have a "seriously damaging" impact on the bilateral ties, the external affairs ministry said.
In the United Kingdom (UK), as many as 100 Britain MPs, across party lines, had urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in January 2021, to take up the issue of the ongoing farmers’ protest in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The protesting farmers also exerted pressure on the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to cancel his visit to India to be part of Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2021, until the Centre concedes to their demands. Although, he cancelled his visit to India because of the serious Covid-19 situation in the UK.
However, things took a dramatic turn on January 26, 2021, during India's Republic Day celebrations. Thousands of protestors clashed with police during the tractor parade called by farmer unions. At Red Fort, the property was damaged and a protester died in the chaos. At Red Fort, a section of protesters climbed poles and walls and hoisted the Nishan Sahib flag. Two days later, on January 28, 2021, tensions rose at Delhi’s Ghazipur border after the administration in neighbouring UP’s Ghaziabad district-issued orders for protesting farmers to vacate the site by night. By evening, as police in anti-riot gear started spreading out at the site, however, the protesters camped there and their leaders, including BKU’s Rakesh Tikait, said they would not leave.
As months passed, the farmers' agitation became one of the longest and best-coordinated protests against laws legislated by Parliament that the nation has seen. The situation took a turn for the worse in October 2021 when eight people were killed in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Of the eight killed, four were farmers, who were allegedly knocked down by vehicles driven by BJP workers travelling to welcome Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya to an event in the area. The opposition renewed its attack on the Centre after a special investigation team (SIT) told a local court that the Lakhimpur Kheri violence was a "pre-planned conspiracy".
2022 Assembly Elections in mind?
11 rounds of talks were held between the Centre and farm unions. The Opposition and the critics claimed the decision to repeal the farm laws by the Centre was driven by the looming Assembly elections early next year. The majority of the protesting farmers were from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, of which the latter two goes to polls in February-March 2022.
Since the draft was formed farmers always had reservations about it, fears were further aggravated by the way the laws were brought about, through ordinances, and hurriedly passed in parliament without deliberations. States were not taken into confidence either.
A surprise victory?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's backing down on farm reforms was a surprise victory for protesters as the BJP government said last year there was no question of repealing the laws.
Soon after, Amarinder Singh announced an alliance with the BJP for the Punjab election. The political move had been anticipated ever since he quit the Congress. There were talks among party insiders in BJP and those close to the ‘Captain’ that Singh had put a condition before announcing the alliance with BJP - the scrapping of the three farm laws.
What does the repeal of farm laws mean for Uttar Pradesh, Punjab’s Assembly Elections next year?
The laws are gone, and protesters have returned to their homes. After the withdrawal, the Opposition is missing a major issue to target the government ahead of the polls. Will rollback of farm laws retrieve Punjab and Uttar Pradesh for BJP? Only time will tell what lies ahead for the BJP after the change of course on farm laws.
Here's a brief timeline of events since the laws were introduced:
- June 5, 2020: The government promulgates three ordinances.
- September 14, 2020: Three farm bills brought to Parliament.
- September 15, 17, 2020: The bills are passed in Lok Sabha.
- September 20, 22, 2020: The bills are passed in Rajya Sabha by voice vote.
- September 25, 2020: Farmers across India come out in protest in response to a call by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
- September 27, 2020: Farm bills notified in the Gazette of India and become farm laws after the president's assent.
- November 26, 2020: Farmers marching towards Delhi face water cannons, tear gas as police tried to disperse them at Haryana's Ambala district.
- December 11, 2020: Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) moves the Supreme Court against the agri laws.
- January 12, 2021: The SC stays implementation of the farm laws; sets up a four-member committee to make recommendations on the laws.
- January 26, 2021: On Republic Day, thousands of protestors clash with police during the tractor parade called by farmer unions. At Red Fort, the property is damaged. A protester dies in the chaos.
- January 29, 2021: Government proposes to suspend the farm laws for one-and-half years and sets up a joint committee to discuss the legislation.
- The farmers, reject the proposal.
- November 19, 2021: PM Narendra Modi announces the repeal of the farm laws