Farmers protest 2.0: What's their strategy?

Farmers Protest 2.0 is in motion. Nearly two years after farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh laid siege to Delhi to protest against three farm laws, farmers are again marching to Delhi on February 13. Expecting another siege of Delhi, the police in Haryana as well as Delhi have put in place massive security arrangements and sealed borders between Punjab and Haryana and Haryana and Delhi to deter farmers from entering the national capital.

Also Read: Section 144 imposed in Delhi ahead of farmers’ planned February 13 march

Unlike the last time when the main demand was to repeal the farm laws which the government had accepted after nearly two years of protests, this time the farmers are demanding a host of measures from the Central government which they say are required for the financial viability of farming.

Who are the protagonists?

In the earlier protests, almost all the farmer organisations in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, numbering more than 40, had come under the Sanyukt Kisa Morcha (SKM). This time a breakaway faction of that umbrella body is spearheading the protests. Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (non-political) excludes major farmer leaders which had hogged the headlines last time such as Darshan Pal, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, Rakesh Tikait, Balbir Singh Rajewal and Gurnam Singh Charuni.

SKM (non-political) includes BKU (Dallewal) led by Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha led by Sarvan Singh Pandher. It claims support of 17 farm organisations. Pandher and Dallewal from Punjab and Abhimanyu Kohar from Haryana have been the most visible faces of SKM (non-political) ahead of the February 13 Delhi Chalo march.

The bigger farmer leaders who had spearheaded the previous protests are in wait-and-watch mode while some like Rakesh Tikait have endorsed the call for Bharat Bandh on February 16. Cautious stance by the SKM leaders who have chosen to stay back indicates deep factionalism within farmer bodies.

This time little enthusiasm is shown by Khaps, the jat community organisations which had done massive mobilisation during earlier protests. However, khaps had sprung into action a little late last time after farmers mainly from Punjab initiated the protests and reached the Delhi borders.

What are the demands of protesting farmers?

The earlier protests were in response to the three farm laws brought by the government which promised remunerative prices to farmers by linking them to open markets thus aiming to achieve the government’s objective to double farmer incomes. The protesting farmer, however, rejected the new laws, claiming they will put them at the mercy of private companies.

The main demand this time, which was also a part of nearly a dozen demands besides the repeal of farm laws during earlier protests, is legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for all the crops.

The government sets the MSP for nearly two dozen commodities twice a year on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. Most of the crop procurement under MSP is from Punjab and Haryana and of mainly wheat and rice produce which supports the government’s public distribution system. Farmers want a law that guarantees MSP on every crop. However, the government has multiple concerns over the demand for a legal guarantee such as global prices, pressure on the government for procurement, export competitiveness and central expenditure.

Another major demand is to implement the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan committee on agriculture. Swaminathan, an agro-scientist known as the father of the Green Revolution, has been honoured with Bharat Ratna recently. One of the main recommendations of the committee was to increase MSP to at least 50 per cent above the weighted average cost of production.

Also Read: MS Swaminathan: All you need to know about Bharat Ratna awardee & Father of Green Revolution

Other demands include better sugar cane prices, a pension of Rs 10,000 a month for every farmer above 60 years of age, stronger action against the accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and grant of land in Delhi for a memorial for the “martyrs” of the earlier farmers protest.

What is the strategy behind the farmers protest?

The earlier farmer protests saw huge mobilisation of lakhs of farmers, an emotionally charged atmosphere, rampant violence and massive economic loss to businesses and residents living in and around Delhi as well as disruption in transport of goods.

This time the mobilisation is lower as 25,000 farmers and 5,000 tractors are likely to be part of the march. But that could be the initial stage and more farmers and other farmer organisations might join once the protests build up and farmers reach the Delhi borders.

The government has quickly engaged with the farmers to deter them from their march to Delhi. Three Union ministers, Piyush Goyal, Nityanand Rai, and Arjun Munda, had gone to Chandigarh on Thursday last week to hold talks with the farmer leaders. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had mediated between the Centre government and the farmer leaders. Another meeting is scheduled for today evening in Chandigarh. The government has said it is talking to the farmers with an open mind.

SKM (non-political), the umbrella body leading the protests this time, has said the talks with the Centre government will go on but the Delhi Chalo march will not be put off.

Even as farmer organisations are riven with factionalism, Khaps, the jat community organisations, have yet to warm up to the protests. Reportedly, two khaps have appealed to the farmers to not lay a siege to Delhi and talk to the government instead. A khap leader in Sonepat spoke of the massive losses and inconvenience faced by the people of border districts of Haryana during the earlier protests that led to closure of a large number of businesses and industry.

These factors indicate the farmer protests may be lukewarm this time. They may not be as protracted as the last time given the low participation, harvest season coming up in months and the Lok Sabha elections due to which farmers might have to return to villages. However, an initial low-level protest can turn into a full-blown protest months later when more farmers join in and bigger leaders such as Tikait, Ugrahan and Rajewal also jump in. A lot also depends on the Centre’s outreach and security strategy.

Also read: All roads to Delhi sealed ahead of farmers protest at UP Gate, Singhu, Tikri

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