In a world where the rising tide of neoliberal policies is causing chaos for everyday people, Indian farmers, who have been protesting for the past two months, have again made a stand against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda to privatise and corporatise the agricultural sector.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a pan-Indian umbrella organisation comprising 250 farmers' organisations, held a nationwide tractor rally, on January 26 against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government's draconian farm bills. This day was also Republic Day, the anniversary of India's adoption of its constitution, which the current BJP government chose to overlook as it rammed the bills through parliament in September.
“The Farmers’ Parade … is the most fitting way to mark Republic Day 2021,” said Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPIML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya ahead of the protest.
“Farmers and farm workers constitute the large part of ‘we the people of India’ who constitute the Indian Republic.
Battacharya described the farmers’ struggle to protect farming communities and food security from the “Company Raj” as “the best tribute to the values of India’s freedom struggle”.
The CPIML, along with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party and the All India Forward Bloc issued a joint statement in solidarity with the protest, hailing the unity and determination displayed by farmers.
In Delhi, a convoy of 10,000 tractors and tens of thousands of farmers entered the capital city in protest. Farmers were given a predetermined route and blocked from entering major parts of the city due to a military parade to mark Republic Day.
Police met protesters with road blocks and tear gas, as they did during the Dehli Chalo (Let’s go to Delhi) demonstrations in November — the largest workers strike in history, involving 250 million workers, farmers and students.
Being largely ignored by an indifferent government and court system, and in an attempt to have their voices heard, some farmers diverged from the planned route to enter Delhi’s historic Red Fort. Protesters were met with police violence, which left one farmer dead.
Internet services were suspended in parts of Delhi and some metro stations closed as police tried to gain control. The pro-BJP media used the opportunity to assert that the movement had become violent and taken over by separatists, accusing protesters of raising a Khalistani (Sikh secessionist) flag at the fort. Media fact checkers later confirmed this to be false.
Some union leaders condemned the violence, but also noted that the protests had been largely peaceful.
Bhattacharya congratulated the farmers on their tractor rally and appealed to them to continue their struggle without getting provoked.
Responding to the day’s events, he told the National Herald of India: "The sporadic incidents that disturbed this dominant picture are primarily due to the adamant attitude of the Modi regime and the repression unleashed by its police against the farmers.
"The Modi regime has forced farmers to camp at Delhi's borders for two months in the cold weather, resulting in the deaths of more than 70 farmers at the protest sites. Even in the face of this, the movement has displayed remarkable patience and restraint, occasional expressions of restlessness notwithstanding.
"We must all refuse to allow the issue to be diverted away from the demand to repeal the three farm laws. We appeal to the farmers to resume their agitation without getting provoked and diverted, and pledge our unflinching support and cooperation for their just movement."
In Mumbai, more than 15,000 farmers protested in solidarity with their north Indian counterparts, as they made the two-day, 180-kilometre journey from Nashik.
Solidarity protests were also held in several countries, including Australia.