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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The way they resist

From setting new goals to stop the agitation from slipping into obscurity to managing resources to keep the morchas flourishing, all it took to make Kisan Aandolan a movement worthy of management books.

Written by Manraj Grewal Sharma |
September 17, 2021 5:52:47 am
Farmers lead towards Mini Secretariat at Karnal in Haryana on Tuesday. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Corporates manage their operations by focusing on people, processes and technology. Farmers and their leaders may not have learnt from the Ivy League management gurus but they have been able to sustain the agitation for the last nine months using an almost uncannily similar roadmap. Here are the five ways in which they managed to keep their flock together and resources flowing ever since they started protesting in June last year.

1. STRATEGY

Daniel Q. Gillion, author of The Political Power of Protest, and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says that to be successful, a protest must be impossible to ignore. The farmer unions in Punjab have been very strategic in the way they have gone about increasing the tempo of their protests. They started by opposing the farm bills from the rooftops of their houses in June. Gradually in July, they started rallying outside the offices of deputy commissioners. This was followed by pucca morchas outside the houses of BJP leaders, and freeing of toll plazas that created a flutter in the state. The rail roko that started on September 24, a week after the new laws were passed in Parliament, caught national attention.

Finally, they took the agitation to the Delhi border on November 26 and grabbed the eyeballs of the world.

When the tempo of the protest started to wind down, they jumped into the West Bengal elections. Now with elections in Uttar Pradesh slated for next year, the unions are holding mahapanchayats in the state with the Muzaffarnagar mahapanchayat being a case in point.

2. FINANCES

The protest sites at the Delhi border need a steady injection of resources to keep going. Aware of this need, the unions had begun making monthly collections from villages last year itself. Rattan Singh Ajnala, general secretary of the Jamhoori Kisan Sabha, says villagers contribute a fixed sum depending on their landholding. BKU (Ugrahan), the biggest union of farmers in Punjab, also follows this system. Satnam Singh Pannu, president of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) with a sizeable presence in the Majha border belt of Punjab, says they collect funds from their members twice a year, after the rabi and kharif harvest. Ever since the protests began, there has been an outpouring of funds from singers, artistes and NRIs as well. All this has gone into constructing shelters and other infrastructure at the Delhi border protest sites — infra that makes it easier for the protesters to spend a longer time there. During a tractor march to Delhi. (File)

Vinod K Choudhary, a sociologist with roots in the Haryana countryside, says villages contribute in kind as well. “There are villages who have been given the task of bringing durries (mats), others contribute milk, still others offer quilts. It’s a decision taken at the village level.’’

With Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee (DGMC) and some NGOs contributing langar, meals are never a problem at the various protest sites.

As Pannu puts it, “Punjab has a tradition of langar, you just have to present yourself for protest, the food is taken care of by nearby villages.’’

Skilled workers such as electricians, mechanics and plumbers have been offering free services at these sites, building sheds, installing fans, repairing tractors et al.

The movement has attracted foot soldiers from the diaspora as well. Dr Swaiman Singh is here from the US with his team of medical professionals. They were quick to arrive in Karnal when the farmers started a pucca morcha there.

3. PEOPLE

The unions behind the farm sir are well-organised machineries with committees at the level of villages, blocks and districts. They prepare a roster of people to ensure that the protest sites do not empty out. Ajnala admits that the numbers at the Delhi borders have thinned, but is quick to add that the dip is seasonal and depends on the farming schedule.

KMSC chief Pannu says that mobilising people for such a long struggle requires hard work, but the prevailing anger against the government makes it a tad easier. “We go from village to village to spread our message, sometimes with the help of pamphlets. And every 10 days, we send a jatha of around 2,000 people to our enclave at the Singhu border. It’s a rotation that takes place every 10 days.”

The protest, says Ajnala, has sustained for so long because it has brought various concerns under one banner, thus attracting more stakeholders. The unions have formed a coalition of not just farmers and farm labourers but of almost everyone associated with farming, from truckers and brick kiln workers to commission agents.

4. COMMUNICATION

The social media has been central to the scale of this agitation. Farmers first received information about the three laws not from a government agency but from the social media. The message was compelling: the three laws, if implemented, would destroy the farmer by robbing him of his land and giving it to the corporate giants.

Now as the protests carry on, the people remain connected due to union and village-level WhatsApp groups.

Singers and artistes have also played a significant role in sustaining the protest by attracting the youth. Traditionally, farm rallies in the state were dominated by the elderly and middle-aged, this is the first time the youths were drawn in.

From Diljeet Dosanjh and Deep Sidhu to Kanwar Grewal, there wasn’t any Punjabi singer or artiste who did not present himself at the Singhu stage.

Every union is supported by an army of social media warriors that keeps the flock together and the fire burning. “The rising prices of fuel, LPG and edible oil are only feeding the anti-farm laws narrative that this government is being run by corporates,” says Chaudhary.

5. ENGAGEMENT

The unions keep the stakeholders engaged by ensuring that there is never a dull moment in this agitation. First, there were various tractor marches, now it’s the boycott of BJP-JJP leaders and the upcoming Assembly elections in five states. There is always a new goal, a fresh activity around the corner. It is September, but KMSC chief Pannu has already planned a roster of events for October, starting with dharnas in front of the DC offices. But as of now, the unions are focusing on just one goal: to make the Bharat bandh on September 27 successful. And so the protest juggernaut rolls on.

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