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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO:
This is the media, an irresponsible media. It will make the criminal look like he is the victim, and make the victim look like he is the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. This is part of the propaganda tactic that I would call psychological warfare.
Malcolm X, 50 years ago
“Instead of the government mediating on how best to accept the farmers demands, they are mediating on how fast to break the protests,” a protesting farmer at Gazipur, UttarPradesh.
“It is such a sad day today that the government we voted for, wants to win by making the people lose”, another protesting farmer at Gazipur.
Last night when a large posse of policemen and the Rapid Action Force, under the cover of darkness, on a cold, chilly night, after cutting off the electricity and water supply, rushed to the Gazipur border, connecting Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, the fear amongst the leaders and the protesting farmers was palpable. It had seemed like a done deal for the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ajay Bisht, to arrest the leaders and forcibly wind up the protests. The tension had been building, since the evening of January 26, when what had started out as a historic, peaceful tractor rally, had ended in violence and chaos.
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After launching a collective wave of condemnation against the farmers, enlisting the media in its nefarious plans, it was just the opportune moment for the brutal government to move in to crush the protests, after more than 60 days of wringing their hands in despair, over the rising support for farmers.
Not just the police force, but the media, most of whom were kept away from protest sites because of their biased reporting were ready with their headlines, of impending arrests of the farmer leaders, especially the spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Rakesh Tikait.
Sensing the possibilities of a pogrom against the protesting farmers, Tikait offered to surrender himself peacefully, if the police promised to ensure the safety of the farmers till they reached home. This despite knowing the implications of being arrested like a terrorist under the Unlawful Activities Preventive Act (UAPA),
The fears of a pogrom under the cover of darkness was real, with local BJP MLA’s Nand Kishore Gujjar and Anil Sharma accompanied by 400-500 henchmen beating up the farmers, in the presence of the police, forcing them to leave the place. News of similar brutalization was coming in from the Tikri and Singhu borders, the two other protesting sites as well.
Hundreds of members of the Hindu Sena, an affiliate of the BJP, carrying banners, shouting “goli maaro saalon ko” (shoot the rascals), a war cry popularized by BJP leader Kapil Mishra, triggering the Delhi riots, further created grounds for fear of a pogrom.
The police however refused to promise any such thing, claiming that they only had orders to clear the place.The moment of peace snapped, and Tikait dug in his heels, as fears of not only the two month long protest failing but also the impending pogrom, loomed large.
Sensing that the lives of farmers who trusted him was at risk, after he was arrested, he refused to surrender. Bursting into tears, screaming a conspiracy by the government to crush the protests, he pleaded that the farmers who were home should come back in big numbers. The tears were all that it took to galvanise 1000’s of villagers into action. Tikait who had once reposed faith in the leadership of prime minister Narendra Modi, to lead the farmers to a better life, has now become his biggest stumbling block. He has led an incredibly spirited battle for more than two months now, against the government, despite all kinds of evil machinations by it, to break the movement.
Then came the dramatic turn of events which will long haunt the Modi/Bisht government’s for a long time. The tears that rolled down Tikait’s cheeks, turned an impossible situation around, and the opportune moment that the two tyrants were waiting for to crush the dissent, dissipated into nothingness. The anger that rose in the farmers watching their leader crumble in pain for them, soon sent the cops retreating, with the right wing goons sensing trouble slinking away too.
In the next few hours, the number of protestors at the protest site swelled to three times its size, the numbers growing with every passing hour. Late night announcements were made from temples in almost every village in Haryana, asking at least one member from every family to leave for the border immediately.
The Modi government’s folly is that it has been playing by its own rule book detailing how to break protests, which has been repeated so often in the last six years, that it is easy for most to guess the exact sequence of events to follow. Besides the rule book designed with Muslims and Dalits in mind, is not working against the Sikhs and the jats from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and farmers from other states as well like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Taking on an unrelenting stance, prolonging the protests with meaningless rounds of discussions, the government had shown an inordinate rush and aggression to push through the agriculture reform bill in parliament without any discussion. After 11 rounds of talks, the government finally agreed to postpone the implementation of the act by about 18 months. Though this was a sort of victory for the farmers, after Modi government’s stubborn refusal to roll back the “black laws”.
Every trick from their rule book from questioning their nationalism, when it is their son’s who are serving at the borders, to branding them as “khalistanis”, before they even reached Delhi to protest has been applied to break up the protest. As a last resort, the Supreme court was asked to intervene, which instead of hearing the petition and passing judgements was appointing the government friendly right wing experts to mediate with the farmers, on behalf of the government, instead of questioning the government in favor of the farmers.
The farmers however stayed put, despite the extreme weather, out in the open, as the government started running out of excuses. They were willing to wait for months, for nothing less than complete rollback.
The reticent Modi government was then forced to switch gears and give in to the farmer’s demand to come to Delhi with their tractors, for their own Republic Day parade, Tens and thousands of tractors, lined up on the chosen route, grabbing eyeballs as they paraded their tractors on the 100 km pre-approved route and greeted with a shower of flowers enroute.
Though the farmers read the public support for them well, they misread the government’s rising antagonism, at their palpable strength.
Overnight a breakaway group was readied, led by supposedly hot blooded youth and BJP stooges identified as actor Deep Sidhu, gangster Lakha Sidhana and Amreek Singh, to disrupt the tractor rally. A couple of hours before the scheduled rally, this breakaway group took off, got into staged clashes with the police, as they aggressively removed strategically barricades on their way to the Red Fort, which was not part of the program.
And wonder of wonders, after the break away group managed to clear the barricades on the unscheduled route, they got a clear 30 km path and a safe entry into the otherwise heavily guarded Red Fort, to hoist the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh religious flag.
A young 24 year old Navrit Singh, who had just come from Australia on holiday and had joined the protests only two days before, mistakenly followed this breakaway group and got shot by who appeared to be a miscreant, if not the police, before his tractor lost control and overturned,
The government and the police had since then launched an elaborate ploy to dismiss evidence that he was shot, despite the accounts of several eye-witnesses, the visible gunshot wounds below his nose where the bullet entered and the side of his face, from where the bullet exited. The doctor who conducted Navrit’s post mortem report admitted to his family that he had indeed died of the gun shot, but was under pressure not to state it so on the report. Several facial internal injuries caused by a sharp object has been recorded in the report.
Interestingly sedition cases have been slapped on senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai and congress stalwart Shashi Tharoor, for tweeting about the gun shots.
Ignoring the young man’s death, dismissing it as his fault, the media launched a tirade against the farmers that the Red Fort had been defiled with the hoisting of the religious flag, besides insisting that the protestors should have never been allowed in Delhi. They spent the rest of the day accusing the farmers of bringing disrepute to not only the prime minister but also the country.
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The fact that 90% of the rally on the pre designated route was peaceful, was deliberately ignored, with the attention of both the national and the international media focussed on it, instead of the boring official ceremony. Instead the drama at the Red Fort turned into headlines and a narrative was spun, on how the government and the people trusted the farmers but they were let down badly. This was repeated throughout the day, turning many supporters of the farmers protest into non supporters within hours,
From there on the plot started totally unravelling for the farmers, as the narrative against them gained momentum the next day as well, just the opportune moment that the government was waiting for, to forcefully clear the protest sites claiming security issues.
First Information Reports (FIR”s) were filed against the top farmer leaders including Tikait, under the UAPA act, though they were nowhere near the crime scene. The UAPA is a law which pushes the victims in a black hole for months and years, left languishing for bail. The government does not even need any evidence to throw them in prison. No FIR’s were filed against the three actual culprits immediately, whose pictures with top BJP leaders including Modi and Amit Shah surfaced all over social media immediately.
The opportune moment was however washed away in the tears of helplessness that flowed down Tikait’s cheeks. It has totally invigorated the protests, which had seemed to collapse in the last two days.
The burgeoning numbers since last night is capable of scaring the living daylights out of the most tyrannical governments. With Tikait announcing that they will have more permanent structures at the protest site, better bathrooms than the portable ones they had been managing with, better water supply and generators for uninterrupted water supply, the protest has got a boost.
Compiled and Curated by Humra Kidwai.