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'Yes, it is a setback to our movement'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
Last updated on: January 29, 2021 07:19 IST
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'Our movement was not about putting any flag on the Red Fort, but it is to secure our livelihood.'

IMAGE: A protestor at the Red Fort in Delhi, January 26, 2021. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
 

This was not how it was supposed to be.

The 62-day-long farm protest, seen by many as a David versus Goliath fight, was expected to reach a climax of sorts with a tractor rally through designated routes in Delhi on Republic Day.

What happened next left shocked us.

New Delhi witnessed violent scenes as farmers participating in the tractor rally clashed with the police, broke barricades, stormed the Red Fort and planted flags in the dome, with the police responding with tear gas and lathi-charge.

"Tuesday's events are a setback, but the determination of the farmers can't be broken," Avik Saha, national convener, Jan Kisan Andolan, one of the organisations protesting against the farm laws, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.

For over 60 days your protest has been peaceful. All that changed on January 26 when violence broke out during your tractor rally.

We have to keep aside the heroic elements and adventurists away from our movement and strengthen our movement more. There are people who did wrong things, but I don't know how much of it is a conspiracy.

A Bharatiya Janata Party associate, Deep Sidhu (actor), what was he doing at the Red Fort? I would really like to know. He is an old BJP associate.

He was the election manager for actor Sunny Deol when he contested on a BJP ticket from Gurdaspur (In the 2019 Lok Sabha election). He was doing Facebook Live from Red Fort and he was doing it openly.

Don't you think the violence is a setback to your protest against the farm laws?

Yes, it is a setback to our movement now. There is no denying it. But I don't think the determination of our farmers can be broken.

Most of the farmers want to peacefully agitate. They are saying they have got six months' rations and they are in no hurry to go back to their villages.

Yogendra Yadav and other farmer leaders were constantly appealing to farmers that they should not change their path of protest. Why is it then that the protestors got unruly?

Some organisations had already decided they will take these steps. Under whose guidance or whose influence, they changed the route or why they changed the route, we need to understand this.

These people who reached the Red Fort were sitting here peacefully for the last seven days and were completely disciplined. How did they suddenly decide to break away? What was their motivation?

But the responsibility lies with you all, the farmers's leaders.

There are 500 farmers' organisations that were in the protest. And if somebody decides to break in (what can you do?)

It is like saying that the prime minister must apologise because (then BJP MLA in Uttar Pradesh) Kuldeep Sengar has been accused of rape of a minor.

Do you feel the farmers have been obstinate even when the government has been ready to accommodate some of their demands?

Why should we be obdurate? The government says these new laws have been made for our welfare, but we are saying it is not in our welfare.

You are giving me a gift, which I am repeatedly telling you, I don't want. You are forcing me to accept the gift. Where is the common sense in it?

You then tell us this is for reform, then please tell us whose reform you are doing?

We are saying scrap these laws and make new laws by sitting with us.

When you make laws so sudden by bringing in an ordinance, why can't you cancel the same laws?

The government said it would defer the laws by 18 months. But the farmers were adamant about their demand that the laws be repealed.

The central government said it will keep these laws in abeyance for 18 months, but what stops state governments from implementing these laws?

The BJP is in power in 17 states and these laws are actually state laws. This is a centralised movement, and not about the Centre and the states.

If we had agreed for 18 months and returned from the protest, what would have happened to the farmers of Tripura? Tripura is ruled by the BJP and so are 16 other states in India.

They will enact these laws. The same thing they did with the land acquisition law. The central government took it back, but the BJP-ruled state governments implemented it. We understand what they mean by 18 months withdrawal then.

What is the future of your movement as this deadlock continues?

Farmers are ready to sit here (on Delhi's borders).

On Republic Day, it was necessary to show strength because the government was lying that there were only 5,000 tractors and only a thousand farmers were protesting.

It was just like the government displaying its strength by showing its armoury we were doing our tractor march peacefully.

Our movement was not about putting any flag on the Red Fort, but it is to secure our livelihood.

Have you lost public sympathy?

Public sympathy keeps shifting and farmers are part of the public.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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