Nearly two months back, the ongoing Farmers’ Agitation in India was analysed by this author under the title “How Farmer is Farmers' Current Agitation”, wherein apart from explaining the salient features of the Indian government’s legislation under three farm bills, it was inter alia also unambiguously concluded that the Indian farmers have actually been offered a viable option under new laws for the sale and marketing of their produce with necessary legal safeguards. Such a conclusion was derived because while implementing these laws, the government have also retained the existing Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) markets and the system of Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for the purchase of the farmers’ produce.
Actually, through promulgation of the relevant Acts in September 2020, the government has introduced the long-awaited reforms largely keeping the farmers’ welfare in mind. Ever since several past speeches and utterances of the key leaders of various political parties, including the Indian National Congress President Sonia Gandhi and ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for ten years, in the Parliament and public have come up in knowledge suggesting that those who are now instigating the farmers’ agitation against the reforms, were actually supporting it till some time back strongly pleading it in their interests. The ongoing protests has been carried out by the farmers mainly from Punjab, and some neighbouring districts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh nearly for three months blocking major roads leading to the national capital.
The most alarming feature of the agitation is that it has been organized on the pattern of the Shaheen Bagh Protests in Delhi, which were started in the later part of 2019 against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) by instigating the particular community supported by the same opposition parties. The movement was later hijacked by the anti-national elements and saboteurs leading to mass communal riots and carnage in February 2020 coterminous with the visit of the then American President Donald Reagan in Delhi. In the previous article, I had pointed out how the current farmers’ agitation is under the tremendous risk of being hijacked by the separatists and anti-national elements. These apprehensions and fears large appear to have come true if the tractors rampage by the so-called farmers in the national capital Delhi on 26 January 2021 and subsequent internationalization of the subject with the demands raised for Khalistan are of any indication.
Prelude, Tractors Rampage and Flag Hoisting on Red Fort
Although the agitating farmers had started with many demands but their focus gradually shifted primarily on making MSP and state procurement of all crops a legal right, repealing of the Commission and Ordinance on the air quality management in NCR Delhi and annulment of the three Farm Laws passed and promulgated by the government. Prior to the Republic Day on 26 January, some 11 rounds of negotiations between the farmer leaders and representatives of the Central Government were held but the talks remained inconclusive and apparently after the last round held, the government had also hardened its position on the farm laws. The main reason for this stalemate was agitating farmers’ demand of unconditional withdrawal of the legislation while the government was open to need based amendments and even postponing laws for a given time.
Although the farmer leaders have often made conflicting claims and threats, what was revealed in public by the official sources suggest that the government was inclined that the MSP in existing form will continue and they had also agreed to withdraw the Commission and Ordinance on the management of the air quality in the NCR, by all means a major and rather retrograde concession as with that the farmers would be free to burn their parali (vestigial remains of crop) in fields hitherto fore unabated, which has been a major source of air pollution and public health hazard in NCR Delhi. The recent disclosure at the Prime Minister level suggests that the government was even inclined to postpone the implementation of the farm laws for one and a-half year to enable all parties to have clear understanding and implications of the laws.
After the eleventh round, even the next date of negotiations was not announced as the agitating farmer leaders remained adamant for the unconditional withdrawal of the three farm laws promulgated after the relevant bills were passed by the Parliament in September 2020. This adamant and inflexible stand taken by the agitating leaders on face appeared on account of apprehensions that these laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the APMC (wholesale market) system, ultimately leaving the farmers at the mercy of big corporates. However, if the recent disclosures on international conspiracy are also accounted for, it gives impression that even withdrawal of the farm laws may not end agitation; instead, it would probably trigger other issues of en masse trouble probably till ultimate downfall of the present Central Government.
Consequently, the agitating farmers announced to hold a tractor rally in Delhi on 26 January 2021 with insistence on taking parade through the prominent venues of the inner parts of the capital. This is an auspicious date celebrated by the Central and State governments with fanfare every year as the Republic Day. As it has already become a high security event in recent years due to constant terrorists’ threat, such rally obviously had its own pros and cons, including the risk of disruption of the event. As the Supreme Court had already left the decision to the Delhi Police and farmers refused to change the date, the police had several rounds of talks with the farmer leaders and finally allowed them to hold their rally on a curated route in the given timing (1.00 to 5.00 PM) with a limited number of tractors and participants under the police supervision. Perhaps, sensing the possible trouble and probably in the obtaining Covid-19 scenario, the number of participants in the Republic Day Parade and its route, which otherwise concludes at the historic Red Fort, was already drastically limited.
The Delhi police had made all necessary arrangements with adequate deployment, barricading at vulnerable points and regulating entry in the capital on the day so as to ensure that the Republic Day Parade is smoothly held well before the Tractor Rally of the farmers during the appointed time. With a view to ensuring the law and order, the number of tractors entering the border was limited and their details such as the vehicle number, licence details, names of drivers and accompanied passengers, etc., was also called for by the police. The police version and other available sources suggest that the Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM, an umbrella league of over 40 farmer unions) had largely agreed to abide by the terms and conditions set for a peaceful rally including that the farmers would not enter the inner parts of the capital, sans some reports of some leaders being adamant on taking rally in the rather busy outer ring road of Delhi. The police had also obtained an undertaking from the SKM to take out a peaceful rally as per the proposed plans on the agreed upon routes.
However, as the Republic Day arrived and the Central Government and Delhi Police was engaged in organizing a trouble-free parade at Rajpath, the earmarked venue, the unruly and defiant elements in the Kisan Morcha broke hell on the Delhi borders at Sindhu, Tikri and Gazipur borders in the morning itself defying all (agreed!) protocols including the timing. The timing is specifically important because any persons who are patriotic and love the nation would have waited at least till resumption of the Republic Day Parade (10.00-12.00 Hrs) before resorting to such unlawful activity which they (mistakenly) think, is their freedom of expression. While few farmer groups appeared to follow agreed protocol and route but a large unruly and chaotic assembly of the protesting crowd (farmers!) broke off from the planned tractor parade routes, forcibly removed barricades and swarmed into the heart of the national capital surprising the police and administration. Reportedly, the trouble started at the Sindhu border at 8.30 AM on the Republic Day with nearly 6-7 thousand tractors assembled and gone on rampage in an attempt to penetrate the Central Delhi, instead of following the pre-decided route and appointed time.
Reportedly, the crowd was led by Nihangs with many of them on horses flashing swords, kirpans and fursas. They charged at the police, broke barricades on several places, and even attacked the police vehicles and personnel injuring many of them in an endeavour to force their way on their intended route. Somewhat, similar unruly scenes were also reported from the Tikri and Gazipur borders as the farmers(!) destroyed the barricading arrangements, clashed with the police and the procession forcibly headed towards the ITO, the converging point of another group joining from the Sindhu border.
At the ITO, the crowd initially attempted to move towards the NDMC area (also traditionally known as Luytens' Delhi). When stopped by policemen, the unruly men became violent in breaking and damaging the barricades, iron grills and dividers, resorted to vandalism, and some even tried to run over the policemen on duty. This savage act was revealed in live videos recorded by onlookers on the spot as also validated by the police statement. However, police did not allow them to enter the Lutyens’ Delhi applying measured restraint and force. Then, they apparently changed their plan and moved the tractor procession towards the Red Fort. They broke the gates and entered the premises of the historic fort sabotaging and damaging precious articles and property inside. Many visuals have come in the social media as also played by the national news media wherein the unruly men carrying lethal weapons were seen attacking the policemen, many of whom ran for life and got injured either pushed by the rioters or themselves jumped down and fell into the deep canal surrounding the fort.
The Red Fort was final flash point, which was kept hostage for hours and the climax was played there by the alleged unruly and violent farmers’ mob. Apart from damaging and destroying the public property inside the fort, a few men from the crowd also climbed atop the rampart of the Red Fort and hoisted a saffron flag, which was later identified as the Nishan Sahib, a religious flag of the Sikh pantheon. This event was a paradigm shift in traditions and something that received maximum attention, publicity and criticism all over because ever since the Indian Republic came into existence, only the national tricolour has been hoisted at the Red Fort on the special occasions of national importance and no other flag was ever allowed.
Two specific names of Dharmendra Singh Harman and Deep Sidhu are on look out for the alleged violation. Surprisingly, through the entire commotion and rioting during the day, the Delhi Police exercised utmost restraint in not retaliating and taking punitive measures against the violators despite numerous injuries with some even fatal ones, except occasional use of the tear gas and light lathi charge here and there to stop or disperse the rioters. Of course, numerous FIRs were lodged subsequently and law is taking the usual course against the accused now.
International-Conspiracy and Ugly Face of Agitation
First official intervention in favour of the agitating farmers from any influential democratic country was noticed generating enough controversy towards the end of 2020, when the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement in a virtual address to the Sikh diaspora in Canada on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti on 30 November:
“I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognising the news coming from India about the protest by farmers. The situation is concerning. We are all very worried about family and friends. I know that’s a reality for many of you. Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest.”
Just a day before, Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan had already expressed similar concerns suggesting that the peaceful protesters in India were being brutalized. Such unwarranted statements from a foreign country in India’s domestic matter received wide international coverage and embarrassment so much so that the Indian foreign ministry was constrained to summon Canadian envoy in New Delhi to warn that such unwarranted interferences would have “seriously damaging impact” on bilateral ties.
Traditionally, the US and UK have been more involved and politically active to react or respond on developments internationally, the former due to its global influence and the latter particularly if the country involved is a member of the commonwealth nations. So, the question arises how come Canada has become so keen and active in the internal matters of India. The author has derived the answer of this question in the political compulsions of the existing Canadian government headed by the Canadian premier. Mr Justin Trudeau heads the ruling Liberal Party currently with 154 MPs in the Canadian Parliament (House of Commons), which is short of 16 members necessary to form a government with the support of minimum 170 MPs in the total strength of 338 MP seats. This support has come from the New Democratic Party (NDP) with 24 MPs, the party leader and sitting MP of which is Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal, a proclaimed Khalistan sympathiser and supporter.
Jagmeet Singh alias Jimmy Dhaliwal (born 1979) is the son of immigrant Indian parents in Canada, a practicing lawyer and the leader of NDP since 2017 and MP since 2019. Dhaliwal is well known for his support for the Khalistan movement and has so often openly voiced his support for the Khalistanis in Canada. The previous Congress government in India had even denied him a visa to visit Delhi in 2013 accusing him misusing the human rights cause to pursue his “insidious agenda of disturbing the social fabric of India and undermining the peace, harmony and territorial integrity of India”. There are many instances from the past when he had physically participated in rallies or seminars held in US and Canada by Khalistanis to press for a separate homeland for Sikhs in India, and his anti-India stance is not limited to Khalistan alone as following the abrogation of the Article 370 of Constitution in India, he had even expressed his support for the pro-Pakistan propaganda on Kashmir. Reports have also surfaced of the involvement of the Pakistani ISI to promote the Khalistani agenda due to their own selfish interest of destabilizing India.
The separatist Khalistan movement of the 1970s – 80s vintage in Punjab province of India is almost dead now. Most of the Indian and even Canadian Sikhs do not support Khalistan or any form of extremism but a handful of extremist Sikhs mainly in UK and Canada are still continuing with their separatist agenda. With Jimmy Dhaliwal’s background and the ruling Liberal Party’s compulsions to continue friendly ties with the NDP, it is so simple to understand Trudeau’s dilemma and proclaimed stand on the farmers agitation in India, which is largely driven by the Sikh leaders from Punjab. So, on one hand, he is seen reconciling with the Indian Prime Minister by personally reaching him for the vaccine support to fight Covid-19 menace in the country, on the other hand, he is compelled to befriend and tango with Dhaliwal for own survival in power domestically. This also explains why he needed to speak for a retrograde and ill-conceived cause when his own government pitches for such reforms in the United Nations and other forums.
While the remarks of the Canadian premier created furore in India in government and social circles, but similar remarks and concerns were also raised in US and UK by some parliamentarians, sans any important functionary of the government. For instance, seven lawmakers in US wrote to the Secretary of State in December 2020 to intervene in Farmers agitation expressing their serious concerns calling it a civil unrest in India. Incidentally, six out of these Congressmen are from the Democratic party including Pramila Jayapal, a well-known India-baiter, whom the Indian Foreign Minister had earlier refused to see in 2019 annoyed with her unwarranted remarks on Kashmir. Many of these lawmakers are the ones who are proactively seen almost availing every opportunity to speak against the programmes and policies of the present Indian government, be it farmers’ agitation or the Kashmir, CAA, human rights, and so on. The handful Khalistani supporters too in these countries have organized rallies and protests under the aegis of Sikhs for Justice Forum during the ongoing protests of the farmer unions. One may raise a question as what a Khalistani has to do with the social unrest of the farmers in India, where Sikhs constitute less than two percent of the total population and the overwhelming majority of them are patriots and mainstream people of the country. Here, the obvious answer lies in the question itself.
The current farmers’ agitation has raised certain very disturbing and alarming concerns at home as is evident from the visual clips and images as well as messages circulating on the social media. This even include in-camera anti-national postures and utterances before the media persons. In some instances, protesters are seen raising slogans in support of Khalistan and Pakistan flashing swords and other lethal weapons while simultaneously abusing India and Prime Minister Modi in person. Even women were spotted publicly shouting “Modi, tu mar ja” (death to Modi) and “Modi teri kabra khudegi” (Modi shall be buried). In one instance, a protester was seen in full public view threatening Prime Minister Modi will meet the same fate as that of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. On many occasions, the posters of the Khalistani terrorist Bhindranwale and Khalistani flags have been raised in hands and displayed on the tractors and other vehicles. Ironically, the agitating farmer leaders maintain stoic silence on these developments and none of them was seen on roads to moderate the unruly crowd or own responsibility when the protesters took the national capital for a ride on the Republic Day. All these developments suggest that the radical elements are indeed present among the agitating farmers in an attempt to hijack it and push their own agenda.
Foreign Celebrities’ Entry in Farmers Agitation
The farmers’ agitation rolled out with yet another dimension with the twist and tales of the celebrities’ entry on 2nd February 2021, when famous Barbados born US singer Rihanna tweeted sharing a CNN news item:
“India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police”:
“Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest…”
These days, the microblogging sites & social media forums like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become the most powerful tools of not only for sharing and exchange of views but also for the opinion building and mustering support on issues in the fastest mode. Rihanna is a popular celebrity with over 100 million fans and followers, and one can well imagine the impact that one tweet can create world over. The very first tweeted response thanking the celebrity quoted that India has 250 million farmers protesting for fair prices and control over their product, creating the analogy of the number and magnitude of farmers with the US population of about 330 million. This is undoubtedly a gross untruth yet has a potential of turning millions of people against the Indian government.
Now let’s compare the aforesaid narrative on the Twitter with the ground reality. The majority of the agitating farmers are from a rather small Indian state of Punjab and a few adjacent districts of the neighbouring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, and they generally represent the upper 5-10% wealthy and prosperous farmer class with a potential to muster some crowd too for self, if required to show strength and solidarity. Despite the vengeful attempts of the opposition parties, media and other interested elements, the majority of small farmers (more than 85%) in the country have neither joined nor shown interest in the ongoing protests at the Delhi borders. Attempts were made by the rioters and saboteurs in the name of farmers on 26 January 2021, a significant day in Indian contemporary history, to disrupt the national capital and provoke security personnel to take retaliatory action but the latter maintained their restraint and poise while dealing with the saboteurs and violent agitators thereby successfully avoiding more ugly incidents. Also, the internet services were only temporarily shut down in the affected areas to avoid disinformation and fake news.
Only few hours after Rihanna’s tweet, yet another teenage celebrity Greta Thunberg, a climate activist from Sweden, too tweeted in favour of the agitating farmers in Delhi – “we stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India”. Soon yet another well-known and supposedly ex-porn star and model Lebanese-American Mia Khalifa, a niece of the US Vice-President Kamala Harris and some others too tweeted in support of the same cause. However, Ms. Thunberg made a serious mistake when she attached a “Tool Kit” most probably prepared by a pro-Khalistan outfit called the Poetic Justice Foundation. Although, apparently realizing her mistake, she promptly deleted the alleged tool kit and retweeted with a revised one but it had already been copied by many by that time. This tool kit actually revealed the detailed plan, strategy and sequential steps on how the ongoing protests in India shall be carried out to new dimensions and hights to garner maximum publicity and pressure for achieving the intended objective. Ordinarily, such protests have some political and/or social overtone and are carried out by the concerned class world over but the entry of a glamorous pop singer, teenage and controversial environment activist and a socialite-porn star turned model has been a new feature and dimension in the current farmers’ agitation in India.
Soon, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in India too buzzed in issuing rather a stern caution to the foreign celebrities to ascertain full facts and undertake a proper understanding of the farmers’ protest before rushing in to comment on it. Now reports have also come up in certain newspapers nationally and internationally including “The Print” that the US singer Rihanna was paid $2.5 million (about Rs 18O million) through a Public Relations firm, namely Skyrocket, with alleged Khalistani links for the aforesaid tweet, an allegation denied by the spokespersons Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal of the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF). Allegedly, the Power Point toolkit used by Ms. Thunberg was also prepared by the same organization and the chief aim of the said kit was to incite widespread disaffection, violence and malign India's image. The PFJ is a body allegedly co-founded by the pro-Khalistan activist, Mo Dhaliwal, who is currently based in Vancouver, Canada.
Mo Dhaliwal’s name among other things is also linked to a video where he was observed saying, “If the farm bills get repealed tomorrow, that is not a victory. This battle begins with the repeal of the farm laws. It does not end there. Anybody who tells you that this is going to end with the repeal of the farm bills is trying to drain energy from the movement.” In a joint statement, co-founders Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal have now refuted coordination or payment to Rihanna, Greta, or any other specific celebrity for their tweets on the Farmers’ agitation as also any links with the anti-farm laws protest but admitted that they did generally encourage the entire world to share this issue. The way the Canadian MP and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh promptly appreciated and thanked Rihanna for her tweet, it is widely believed that he is also part of the greater design of international conspiracy of planning upheaval and insurrection in India.
On their part, the Delhi police has registered a criminal case against unknown people after Ms. Thunberg erroneously revealed the outrageous toolkit outlining the plan and modus oprandi of creating disruption and disharmony in India. Reportedly, the intelligence sources have revealed that the Pakistani ISI is also involved in pushing and funding the Pakistan-based pro-Khalistani groups in a bid to revive militancy in Punjab. It remains to be seen if the police is indeed able to establish links, substantiate allegations and take any lawful action against the known offenders who carry out their shady deals and activities while cosying in friendly and comfortable locations abroad. India has also reached out to the United States in the context of the investigation against the Khalistan backed Sikhs for Justice referendum 2020 by issuing a Mutual Legal Assistance Request to the US government.
Opposition Parties and National Scenario on Agitation
The current irony of the Indian democracy is that ever since the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came in power in May 2014, the opposition political parties, particularly the Congress and Left, have increasingly lost their ground and popular support mainly due to their own lack of ethics and negative politics. Their leaders appear so desperate and dispirited to hog limelight that they not only doubt and question all good intentions and developments at home following the actions of the government but also wholeheartedly welcome and endorse any adverse development against the nation or staged criticism of the Indian government internationally. Consequently, they have fully endorsed and supported the ongoing farmers’ protest morally and materially as can be seen from following submission:
- They do not find it objectionable if the agitators raise pro-Khalistan and pro-Pakistan slogans, display Khalistani flag or terrorists’ posters and placards, or even flash lethal weapons, justifying it as freedom of expression and calling them only peaceful farmers;
- During the tractor rampage and ensuing violence on the Republic Day, more than 500 policemen were injured and some were critical too but not a single word of sympathy for them or criticism of hooligans came from them; instead, those involved in such indiscipline and blasphemous act of flag hoisting were depicted as assaulted and aggrieved party.
- Government has constantly invited the opposition parties in Parliament and agitating farmers at negotiation table to discuss the contents of the legislation showing willingness to amend laws, if so required but, the opposition, instead of accepting this open offer, constantly calls them black laws and demands its unconditional withdrawal;
- The opposition has endorsed and supported all international intervention in the farmers agitation whether it was Justin Trudeau’s virtual address to Sikh diaspora, celebrities’ tweets in support of the agitation, or even the role of other organizations with suspected Khalistani linkages;
- During the hight of farmers’ agitation at borders and Delhi police’s efforts to control the situation, the Aam Admi Party government ordered withdrawal of the DTC buses in use with an obvious design of frustrating the efforts of police administration and Central government to maintain the law and order.
Needless to mention that the recent tweets of the aforesaid foreign celebrities supporting farmers’ agitation triggered similar action from many other lesser-known politicians, celebrities and sportsmen across the western world. Domestically too, it has prompted many patriotic celebrities from the Indian cinema and sports to sharply react on the aforesaid foreigners’ indiscretion and lack of understanding of the Indian situation. Here the responses of Bharat Ratna awardee octogenarian singer Lata Mangeshkar and cricket star Sachin Tendulkar is of special relevance because they live in Mumbai and Maharashtra state is currently under the opposition rule. While Sharad Pawar, a politician of national stature, did not criticize foreign intervention but has told Tendulkar to exercise caution while speaking on the issues related to any other field, the Maharashtra government has gone one step ahead and ordered an enquiry into the statements of both Mangeshkar and Tendulkar. These Indian celebrities along with other cricketers, actors and politicians had taken to Twitter to rebuff Rihanna for interfering in India's internal affairs.
Almost all key leaders of the Congress and other opposition parties have spoken from time to time in favour of the farming sector reforms to make it more market oriented and farmer friendly during the last two decades. Here it may be relevant to quote the Congress leader Manmohan Singh, who was also prime minister for two terms (ten years) immediately preceding the present incumbent, but now taken U-turn along with his party and the rest of opposition – “…There are other rigidities because of marketing regime set up in 1930s which prevent our farmers from selling their produce where they get highest rate of return... ... …It is our intention to remove all those handicaps which come in the way of India realising its vast potential at one large common market". What a double standard, when in power one supports a cause but fails to take initiative to implement it, and while in opposition one opposes the same lock, stock and barrel.
With the promulgation of the aforesaid Acts, the Indian government has introduced the long-awaited reforms largely in favour of the farmers, and these laws are also commensurate with the present international norms. The laws provide an option to the formers to seek more favourable terms and prices for their produce; at the same time, the MSP and APMC markets have been allowed to continue hitherto fore giving choice to the formers to choose between the two options as it suits them. The government has also constantly expressed their willingness to consider amendments, if required, in the legislation. The government’s flexibility and open mind can be gauzed with their willingness even to postpone the laws for a given period to enable the farmers to properly learn and understand the pros and cons of the legislation. The recent developments on the Republic Day and entry of the Khalistan sympathisers operating from abroad is a paradigm shift in the farmers' agitation.
While the opposition leaders have played their usual game to score a point but the farmer leaders too need to understand trick with open mind. It should not be a question of ego clash but the welfare of the large population of the agriculture community of the country. Factual occurrences and points briefly made in the preceding paragraph are suffice to suggest that many selfish interests including separatist elements are trying to exploit the situation to destabilize the country through international conspiracy and domestically planned disruptions. Some foreign celebrities playing their cards need to learn background and facts of farmers’ agitation before dancing to the tune of their pied pipers. Now the fact that some extremist and pro-Khalistan elements have indeed made infiltration in the ongoing farmers’ agitation, cannot be denied. It is necessary for the genuine farmer leaders to realize it and discredit and dissociate with such elements in their own as well as larger national interest.