It is being called the longest agrarian movement in independent India. The agitation against the three farm laws passed in September 2020 started in Punjab, but gradually spread to the neighbouring state of Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh. But it caught the eyeballs of the nation only when farmers marched to the Delhi borders on November 26 last year. Many thought they would return after registering their protest, but they set up a little township of sorts, weathering the cold winter and the searing summer. But there was a method to this madness despite the multiplicity of unions and ideologies participating in the agitation.
Here is a look at the way they kept both protesters and resources flowing.
Unity: The leaders of farmers unions were very strategic in their approach to the protest and decided to work together very early in the agitation. Daniel Q. Gillion, author of The Political Power of Protest, and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says to be successful, a protest must be impossible to ignore. The farmer unions in Punjab, after getting little traction from their protests in Punjabi that started in June, decided to take it to the national capital. They were prepared for the long haul right from Day 1. The tractor trolleys went laden with bedding and food. Once there, they got the attention of the national leaders. Although the talks ended in an impasse, the union leaders kept the protests alive despite the R-Day violence that dealt a big blow to the agitation. Also, the leaders worked like a conglomerate under the umbrella of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha. Given the different ideologies followed by the unions, no one expected them to stay together for so long but they remained united under the SKM and did not let their differences sabotage the agitation.
Finances: The protest sites at the Delhi border needed 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, toilets, buying gensets and digging up borewells at the Delhi border, infra that makes it easier for the protesters to spend a longer time there.
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 other 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 and repairing tractors. They were quick to arrive in Karnal when the farmers started a pucca morcha there.
People: The unions behind the farm stir 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 don’t 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 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 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.
Communication: 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 on 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.
Later, they made WhatsApp groups to keep people connected to the movement. These also helped in mobilising people in a trice. When the UP police was making efforts to empty the Ghazipur site following the January 26 violence, and BKU leader Mahender Singh Tikait was under siege, these groups managed to mobilise thousands overnight.
Singers and artistes 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 were only feeding the anti-farm laws narrative that this government is being run by corporates,” says Chaudhary.
Engagement: The unions kept the stakeholders engaged by ensuring that there was never a dull moment in this agitation. First, there were various tractor marches, then came the boycott of BJP-JJP leaders, and recently they had trained their sights on the upcoming assembly elections in five states. With some activity or the other around the corner, they kept the protest site buzzing.
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