The events of January 26 and a narrative of convenience

Written by Sandeep Pandey, Harleen Sandhu and Rahul Singh Rana

A big hullabaloo has been raised by the Indian government and some sections of the media over the incidents of January 26. The government has used the incidents as an excuse to tighten its noose on the entire movement. However, things are not as polarised as claimed by sections of the media. A majority of the people participating in the tractor parade on January 26 conducted their march peacefully. But a small section of the protesting farmers, not part of the 32 unions involved in negotiations with the government, broke the first barricades and marched towards the Red Fort.

It was projected that an unruly mob was taking over the capital on Republic Day. The sacrifices farmers have been making for more than two months were outrightly disregarded. Numerous farmers have lost their lives during this peaceful protest either due to suicide, extreme cold conditions or health reasons.

The protestors faced condemnation for hoisting a Nishan Sahib flag at the Red Fort. The flag is normally put atop gurdwaras as a spiritual marker of Sikh identity and has deeper philosophical meanings attached with the faith. But what needs to be kept in mind is that the Tricolour was not disrespected in any way. It was always seen flying at the highest point at the Red Fort where it needs to be.

Many people use flags to represent an idea/ideology they stand by. The communists have a popular slogan, “Lal qile par lal nishan, maang raha hai Hindustan”. The RSS is so enamoured with its bhagwa dhwaj that until the BJP formed a government at the Centre they gave priority to their flag over the tricolour.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) has been negotiating for a separate flag and separate Constitution with the government of India. Jammu and Kashmir used to have its own flag until Article 370 was diluted. Former chief Minister Siddaramaiah had gotten a separate flag for Karnataka approved by his cabinet. So, if somebody hoisted their favourite flag without disturbing the Tricolour why is the government, including the President and Prime Minister, harping on disrespect to the national flag?

It has been alleged that supporters of the BJP and RSS, masquerading as pro-farm laws campaigners, attacked the farmers in police presence. Journalist Mandeep Punia, who reported one such incident, was arrested. Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s prophecy in August 2019 that the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Jammu and Kashmir would not result in Indianisation of Kashmir but rather Kashmirisation of India has come true, with the internet ban at protest sites. Water and electricity supplies had been cut off. But brave women from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana arrived with earthen pitchers of water.

After BKU leader Rakesh Tikait broke down during a police crackdown at the Ghazipur border, the farmers got galvanised. It became a matter of self-respect for them. Since then, mega kisan mahapanchayats have been held at Muzaffarnagar, Baraut, Mathura, Bijnore, Jind, Shamli and farmers are making a beeline for Delhi border. Tikait, who till 26 January was only the leader of farmers from western UP, has now become the face of the farming community of northern India. Farmers are mobilised into a stronger force now.

On the other hand, the government has tried to get Twitter accounts sympathetic to the farmers’ movement blocked, registered cases against prominent people who posted messages in support of farmers’ movement, got iron nails embedded on roads to puncture famers’ vehicles, put up concrete, metal and stone boulders as obstruction, diverted trains to make it inconvenient for farmers to reach protest sites. When the government starts treating its own citizens as enemies, it is clear who has an upper hand in the struggle.

The government is irked by the international support of Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, terming it interference in the internal affairs of our country, forgetting that the basic premise behind the Citizenship Amendment Act brought by it was that non-Muslims in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are persecuted minorities, which has resulted in an ill feeling in these countries towards India. In any case, domestic violence is not considered the internal affairs of a household. Similarly, violation of human rights by any country cannot be overlooked by terming it an internal affair.

BJP leaders from Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere have begun publicly articulating their discomfort at the way the government is handling the movement. Most believe that the Prime Minister is capable of resolving the crisis. Most prominent among them is the Meghalaya governor, Satyapal Malik, with a socialist background, who has advised the government not to insult the farmers.

The government is arresting farmers under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for having provoked violence on 26 January. Compare this with the violence that was unleashed on 6 December, 1992 by a Hindutva mob that resulted in razing the Babri mosque. In Ayodhya, 12 Muslims were killed when their houses were burnt down. No FIR was registered in the deaths even though the P V Narasimha Rao government paid financial compensation to the families of the deceased.

It is ironic that the BJP government has launched a high-profile programme to honour the martyrs of the Chauri Chaura incident, forgetting that these martyrs were booked by the British government in a similar manner that it is charging the farmers today, even though the scale of violence in Chauri Chaura was much bigger.

The recent history of dissent in India shows that the government, when questioned about its conduct, rather than providing answers and being more transparent in its functioning, takes to identity politics to change the narrative and paints every protest in communal colours. It is leading to a growing sense of insecurity among the people of India, disintegrating their secular spirit and causing a loss of faith in democracy. The trust in government, sadly, is already lost.

Pandey is national vice-president of Socialist Party (India), Sandhu is a doctoral student at Louisiana State University, and Rana is a business consultant

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