Ghazipur: The Ghazipur border near Delhi, which for months had been a protest site for agitating farmers, was a celebration venue Friday. The change followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the withdrawal of three contentious farm laws passed by the Parliament last year.
Empty boxes of sweets littered the ground and at each step, visitors were stopped by jubilant farmers pressing more sweets on anyone within reach. Those not eating or distributing sweets were busy interacting with the gathered media. The frustration and anger evident in every statement before has now been replaced by a sense of victory. In some of the tents — set up to shelter the protesters in the past months — farmers danced to loud music.
For the farmers, who have been sitting through extreme and inclement weather, it was perhaps the hope of this day that had kept them going. In their minds, probably, they had even rehearsed it multiple times, and so, the song “Annadata ki maang jo pehle maan gaye hote, ek saal se halat yeh nahi hote (had you met the demands of farmers earlier, this wouldn’t have been the situation for the past one year)”, comes so spontaneously to their lips.
“This is the time to celebrate, to eat sweets. You also ask less questions and eat more sweets. The decision has been announced on Gurupurab and I’m very happy about it,” said S.P. Singh, a retired government employee and protester.
The months of agitation have, however, made many of the protestors wary of the government. There’s a hint of scepticism still, and the final sigh of relief will only come once the parliamentary procedure for the withdrawal of the three laws has been completed, they said. The death of those who lost their lives during the nearly-year-long protest also weighs on their minds.
The protesters are also aware that they owe their victory in a big measure to the upcoming 2022 assembly elections in Punjab, Utar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. “Bharatiya Janata Party leaders wear chashma in line with an election, wear their beard and their clothes keeping in mind the aesthetic of the state that is election-bound, so it isn’t possible that elections were not factored in while taking such a huge decision,” said Jagtar Singh Bajwa, spokesperson, Samyukta Kisan Morcha (umbrella body of farmers’ unions that had been leading the agitation) for the Ghazipur border agitation site.
Near-empty protest site
Despite the mood of celebration, there are not many left at the protest site. Only a couple of langars (community kitchens) were still functional and a handful of people walked about chanting ‘Jai Kisan, Jai Jawan’. Many of the tents sheltering the protesters have also already been pulled down.
“This is no time to celebrate. Yes we’re happy after the Prime Minister’s announcement, but we’ll celebrate only when the laws are repealed in Parliament,” said Bajwa.
Explaining the presence of the few at the protest site, Bajwa added, “Also, farmers are busy sowing seeds now, as rains delayed the process this year. Farmers will come here, yes, but not right now. They’ll come to mark the one year of protests on 26 January.”
A Mahapanchayat has also been planned in Lucknow on 22 November, said Bajwa, to take a decision on the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, where a convoy of three vehicles, including one allegedly owned by Ashish Mishra, son of BJP leader and Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni, mowed down a group of protesting farmers, killing four of them.
Some protesters are also unhappy about the announcement of the withdrawal being dubbed a government “gift” on Gurupurab. “We’re happy that the decision was announced on the birthday of Guru Nanak, but a real gift would be removing all cases protesters have been booked under, honouring the lives of the 700 brothers we’ve lost here, guaranteeing an MSP. This, this is no gift,” said Gurdev Singh, a farmer from Uttarakhand.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)