As Nivedita Menon recently argued in a piece in Kafila, the “massive and electrifying” protest movement against the farm laws is well aware of political theory and political prctice, and offers opportunities for writers and academics to listen and to learn. This is clear in the farmers’ response to the Supreme Court’s unusual and unilateral offer to help negotiate a solution. Here is the statement, lightly edited, of Kanwaljeet Singh of the Punjab Kisan Union on the subject.
I am here today to respond to the latest situation that has developed in the struggle of the peasants, which everybody knows has grown into such a mass movement, that everybody in the whole world is focusing their eyes upon us. I think it’s the biggest human meeting that is being held on the planet right now. And in this meeting, a new development has come up. The Supreme Court has received many petitions; and while looking into these, the Supreme Court has put a stay [a hold] on the implementation of all three laws that we are fighting against. But our position—the position of the peasant organizations who are fighting this struggle, who are heading this struggle—is that we have not gone to the Supreme Court. First of all, the Supreme Court has received many petitions from other quarters. We don’t know who those quarters are, and what their intentions are. But, in any case, we have not gone to the Supreme Court directly.
Why have we not chosen to go to the Supreme Court? That is because these three laws that we are fighting against, they are being opposed not only on constitutional grounds. No doubt, we claim that these laws are unconstitutional because they are an attack on the federal structure of India envisioned in the constitution. That federal structure is being violated by the three laws.
But not only this. These laws also represent a policy matter of the Indian government. The Modi government has also stated that that it has an intent, a political will, to let the corporates enter into the food-grain market and make direct purchases from the farmers. And this is a problem for us that we are fighting right now. So this cannot be looked upon through a constitutional lens. This is a policy matter; it is part of the political will of the government. So we have to oppose it by stating the political will of the masses. That is one idea why we are sitting on the Singhu border, the Tikri border, and all the other borders. We are here because we want to express the will of the masses, the will of the laboring, the peasant, the farmer masses. This cannot be looked upon through the lens of the Supreme Court, through the lens of constitutionality, only.
This is one reason why we don’t go into the option of the court. We have chosen the option of fighting it through peaceful mass agitation. That is our mode of fighting. That is why we are here.
Another thing is that the very order that has been passed by the Supreme Court, which is now quite public, the main thing in that order is, one is, that they have put a hold on the laws. This is a very basic thing that they have done. Second, they say that the mechanism of the ongoing markets, the MSP thing, will continue. Another thing they have said is that this order will create a perception among the masses that they are getting something. That means the court is trying to build a “perception,” and that perception, the order further states, will help the farmer leaders convince the masses and their members to go back to work, to go back to normal life.
What does that mean? That the court is not following a legal rationale for this. The court is rather following a political rationale. This, in itself, is something that should be looked upon while looking into this court order: it is reading something not out of jurisprudence, it is reading something out of the very needs of the government—that is, to persuade the farmer leaders, for them to persuade their masses, to go back. This is where we differ. That is why, we are not recognizing ourselves as a party to this order.
Another thing is the committee that they have formed. They have formed a committee that the court has entrusted with the task of intermediating between the government and the peasantry. And this, the court says, will follow a mechanism. Suppose the peasants go there: the committee will receive their grievances, it will look into what the government says, and then it will form some recommendations.
We don’t want to bind ourselves to the recommendation of any committee. I particularly say any committee—why? One thing is that the members of this committee are all people who have already been known to be in favor of these laws. So this committee has already not followed any known, visible standards of neutrality. This committee is not at all a neutral and unbiased committee; it is a biased committee. So, it seems, that this committee starts another process, a back-to-square-one process, which the government was already following. The government was trying to tuition the farm leaders that these bills are good for you.
The same process is being expected by us from this committee. So we are not going to this committee. We are not going to this committee not just on the grounds that it consists of biased people, but also on the grounds that we don’t recognize this process. This process should not interfere with the otherwise ongoing negotiations that the government had already initiated. These negotiations have been fruitless until now, no doubt. But at the same time they had been proceeding in some direction. Our leadership has noted already that the dialogue between the government and peasantry has advanced a bit. It started from the tuitioning process, and now we have finally passed that barricade of the tuitioning process, and the government has received our agenda in the last to last meeting, and that agenda was very crisp and clear.
The first item was the process of repealing of the law. The second item was how the government is going to give a legal guarantee that the farmer receive MSP all over India. And the third item was about repealing the Electricity Bill 2020, and the fourth was about making changes in the environmental law that was making a provision of some penalties and imprisonment for farmers who burn paddy husks.
Those four items were there. Out of those, the government has talked on two, but those two are meaningless for us until our first and second items are discussed. In the very next meeting, that is going to be held tomorrow, that is, 15th January, we expect that the government should talk on the other two remaining items. The talks were proceeding; things are proceeding. So we don’t think that there was any need of intervention on the part of the Supreme Court.
But it is welcome that the court has said that we cannot stifle an ongoing, peaceful negotiation. But this is something the court had to say. This is a thing that is very much known.
The second part of today’s statement will be regarding what lies ahead. How we will proceed now.
We still think that peaceful mass agitation is our way. So we are going to proceed on with that. We are going to continue the struggle until the three laws are repealed, the MSP is guaranteed, and the other two laws have been changed or repealed. Our position is that on the 18th of January, we are going to have a Women Farmers’ Day; on the 20th, we are going to celebrate the tenth Sikh Guru’s Guru Parab with a Sankalp Divas; and on the 23rd, we have a program; and finally on the 26th [on India’s 72nd Republic Day], we have a parade, we have a tractor march into Delhi.
So that tractor march, many people have raised doubts upon that, many people have looked at the preparations being made by our youngsters and think that some violence is being planned. It is not the case. We are not preparing for any violence—we are preparing for a parade. And the word “parade” implies a sense of discipline. So it is going to be a disciplined parade. We are going to parade with the tractors. The ball is in the government’s court: they should give a peaceful path to us. We only simply want to parade peacefully.
Our people are preparing, no doubt! We are preparing in numbers! We want to display the numbers we have. Everybody wants to come to Delhi on that day because it is going to be a farmer’s parade. A historic movement of this country, a historic movement for the democracy of this country. So, we want the government to allow this parade. It is not going to interfere with any government program, it is not going to interfere with peace. The government, rather, should restrain itself from using any force against this parade.
The 26th is not the last action. It is not the final action. We are here with long plans. We are here to fight until the laws are repealed. Until all our demands are met. The 26th is a historic moment, but it is not the final moment. The final moment is still in the hands of government. Whenever it is ready to repeal the laws, we are ready for it.
I assure everybody that the 26th parade is going to be a peaceful parade. It is not going to interfere with any of the government programs. The government should restrain itself from using any force against the people. The people want to march peacefully. They want to celebrate democracy. They want to broaden the horizons of democracy in India.