February 14, 2021
SKM Calls for Countrywide Candle Marches & Rail Roko Stir

Ashok Dhawale

AFTER the massive nationwide success of the road blockades (chakka jaam) on February 6, and the series of mahapanchayats in various states in North India, both actions that mobilised lakhs of farmers against the adamant and heartless BJP government at the centre, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) in its meeting held on February 10 gave a multiple call for intensifying the countrywide struggle for the repeal of the three farm laws and for an MSP law. Over 200 farmers have been martyred at the Delhi borders during the last 75 days of this struggle.

The struggle programme announced by the SKM is the following: 1. From February 12, all road toll plazas in Rajasthan will be made toll free. In Punjab and Haryana, all the plazas have already been made toll free many weeks ago. 2. On February 14, candle marches, mashaal juloos and other programmes will be organised across the country remembering the sacrifice of the martyred soldiers in the Pulwama attack. 3. On February 16, the farmers will show solidarity throughout the country on the birth anniversary of Sir Chhoturam. 4. On February 18, rail roko programmes will be held from 12 noon to 4 pm across the country. 

The response to the road blockade call on February 6 was tremendous in every nook and corner of India. From Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana in the north to Kerala, Tamilnadu and Karnataka in the south, from Assam, Tripura and West Bengal in the east to Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, and also in the remaining states like Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, completely peaceful road blockades were held in an estimated 3000 centres. Lakhs of farmers blocked national and state highways for three hours from 12 noon to 3 pm. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were exempted to avoid BJP-RSS agent provocateurs from staging a repeat performance of January 26. This action again showed mass countrywide support to the stir.

In the national capital Delhi, the police detained three trade union leaders, including one from CITU, the previous night. Under the banner of Delhi for Farmers, over 100 people who demonstrated at the Shahidi Park, were detained till evening. They included leaders of the CITU and other trade unions, AIDWA, NFIW, SFI, AISA and several other organizations. In the nation’s financial capital of Mumbai, a large joint road blockade was led by the Samyukta Shetkari Kamgar Morcha, comprising political parties, trade unions and other mass fronts, at Kurla.

As a sharp reaction to the government-incited violence of January 26, a series of massive mahapanchayats began and are still continuing unabated in North Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Each one is being attended by tens of thousands of farmers, from all religions and castes. Each one is also being attended by thousands of women. This is an indication that the farmers’ struggle is having an impact in loosening long-standing social barriers. But this process needs to continue and consolidate.

One important example is that of Muzaffarnagar. The 2013 riots and attacks on Muslims incited here by the BJP-RSS had torn asunder peasant unity. The riots had left at least 62 persons dead and had displaced over 50,000 people. Ghulam Mohammad Jola, an 85-year old highly respected farmer leader who had worked closely with Mahendra Singh Tikait for several years, parted ways after the riots of 2013, along with thousands of Muslim farmers.

On January 29, a one lakh strong Mahapanchayat was held at Muzaffarnagar. Ghulam Mohammad Jola addressed and raised the 2013 riot-related issues amidst pin drop silence. Naresh Tikait in his speech apologized for letting Muslim brothers down in 2013 and also for voting for the BJP and against RLD chief Ajit Singh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Ghulam Mohammad Jola then said, “I have worked with Mahendra Singh Tikait for 27 years, Rakesh and Naresh are like my sons, but they chose the wrong path after 2013. After Naresh apologized and Jayant Choudhary (son of Ajit Singh) touched my feet, we are hoping that the wounds of the riots would heal. Out of one lakh farmers present at the Mahapanchayat, at least 30,000 were Muslims. They felt that they are farmers first and Muslims later.”

This is an excellent example of what the farmers’ struggle has done for social cohesiveness.

These Mahapanchayats in North India are being addressed by SKM leaders, by AIKS, CITU and AIDWA leaders.

The BJP government was thrown on the back foot when international celebrities and others tweeted in support of the ongoing farmers’ struggle in India.

Stung by this, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) released a puerile and uncalled for statement, which betrayed its intolerance of criticism. The government then tried to rope in singers, actors, cricketers etc against these tweets. Unfortunately, the servile among them succumbed. But there were also some who boldly refused and supported the farmers instead.

This episode showed that the Modi government was being cornered internationally as well.

Now the BJP central government has pressurised Twitter to deactivate 709 accounts that were critical of the government’s handling of the farmers’ struggle, on the grounds that they were “carrying inflammatory and divisive comments”. The government has threatened Twitter with the arrest of its top executives in India and a financial penalty.

In yet another reprehensible assault on freedom of the press, on February 9-10, the ED raided the independent news portal NewsClick. In a situation where sections of the mainstream media, when asked to bend, actually crawl, NewsClick in sharp contrast has done excellent objective reporting not only on the ongoing farmers’ struggle but on all just and legitimate people’s movements. This is nothing but an attempt of the government to penalise NewsClick for standing firmly with the fighting people.

Nodeep Kaur, a 23-year old dalit woman labour rights activist of the Mazdoor Adhikaar Sanghatan, was arrested at Kundli near the Singhu border and has been in prison for the last one month. According to media reports, she reached the Singhu border with 2000 factory workers to support the farmers’ struggle. Because of this she was dismissed from her job at a factory making automobile indicators. According to her sister Rajveer Kaur, Nodeep was thrashed and tortured by the police after her arrest.  She has not yet got bail.

The 122-odd farmers who were arrested on January 26 are also still languishing in jail. It is only after two long weeks, on February 9, that one of the main agent provocateurs of the Republic Day violence and the Red Fort incident, Deep Sidhu, was finally arrested. But what happens about him still remains to be seen.  

Both houses of parliament were rocked by the strong support extended to the farmers’ struggle by almost all sections of the opposition in the heated discussion on the president’s address, which most of the opposition MPs had earlier boycotted. A team of 15 MPs from several opposition parties including the Left, went to meet the farmers at the Ghazipur border, but were turned back by the police from over 3 km away. All of them protested strongly.

The formidable iron and cement barricades put up by the police at the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur protest sites around Delhi after January 26 still continue. They resemble our borders with some foreign country, with the ‘annadatas’ of our own country being treated like ‘foreign invaders’ by this BJP government. This has become the target of nationwide criticism.

On February 8, prime minister Narendra Modi, while replying to the debate on the president’s address in parliament, made a particularly odious speech full of lies, insults and invectives not only against the farmers’ struggle, but also against all forms of democratic dissent. The SKM, AIKSCC and AIKS immediately condemned the prime minister’s speech in parliament.