Farmers’ protests across India this week have been a massive blow to the governing hard right BJP party.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, despite his massive parliamentary majority, now looks vulnerable—and more militant protests could fracture his right wing support base.
Protest organisers’ claim that 100,000 tractors and other farm vehicles made it into New Delhi on Tuesday is highly believable.
But it was the tractor drivers’ determination to defy police barricades—and even the heavy vehicles parked deliberately to block their path—that really scared the right.
The widely shared image of two tractors, and dozens of protesters, crashing a parked police bus out their way will doubtless have terrified them. And protesters’ successful assault on the Red Fort in the heart of Old Delhi will be a reminder of what power people have when they act collectively.
So what a shame that much of the left in India moved quickly to disassociate itself from “condemnable acts” which, they claim, “hurt the movement”.
The giant Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement to “dissociate ourselves from all such elements that have violated our discipline”. “We appeal strongly to everyone to stick to the route and norms of the parade,” the party said.
It called on protesters to “not indulge in any violent action or anything that taints national symbols and dignity”.
But it was the cops that drove the violence.
It was them that blocked even agreed routes into the centre of the city. And they were the ones who launched tear gas grenades and baton charges at unarmed protesters.
The single death that resulted was on the side of the farmers, not the police.
So, the left should ask itself two questions.
First, would it have been better if the farmers, when faced with police violence, had simply turned back? That would surely have signalled to the state that its use of violence gets results.
And, it would have sent a message to all others under government attack that resistance is futile because the state is too strong.
Second, who gets to define violence? The police, the right wing press, and mainstream politicians can all agree on the violence of the protesters.
But where are they when thousands of farmers kill themselves every year because they can no longer live with the burden of debt and starvation? Is a deliberate policy of poverty not violence? Aren’t the Farm Acts themselves violent?
In generations of struggle the left globally has been forced to absorb hard lessons about the violence during protests.
Surely, the first of these is that the violence of the exploited and oppressed is never the moral equivalent of the violence of the state.
An eyewitness from the protests in New Delhi sent Socialist Worker this report.
The siege of Delhi was weeks in the making.
Slavish Narendra Modi news outlets, nearly all of them with no semblance of neutrality and funded by major industrialists, had been working up a fever. They demanded to know why farmers have been so unreasonable when concessions had been offered.
“Modernity,” they said, was at stake. The protests will hold back India’s drive to become a global capitalist power.
So when the state offered nothing but repression, the media circus were only too happy to join in.
On the day of the protest public transport was cancelled and large number of buses were sequestered from the transit authority by the Delhi police. The buses were then used as barricades to block roads and large highways in and into the city.
The working poor were kept out of town or in Old Delhi.
But despite Modi’s massive parliamentary majority, his ability to reshape agriculture for the free market was brought to a grinding halt. The farmers, and most of their leaders, have kept firm and mobilised.
The state siege was broken by men and women on thousands of tractors, with trailers loaded with supporters. They drove through three key junctions on Delhi’s outer and inner ring roads.
There were also 100,000 more supporters marching with them.
The famous Red Fort was where crack police teams decided to pound and ambush the farmers. They failed miserably and then the roads were pushed open by the tractors across the northerly and western parts of the city.
Delhi was theirs. The “official” Republic Day celebrations, and the fighter jets flypasts were totally over shadowed by the farmers.
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