On 26 June, around 25,000 farmers marched into the bureaucratic area of Chandigarh to submit a memorandum to the governors of Punjab and Haryana. The memorandum said that the 2020 farm laws need to repealed, as farmers have been demanding in their many protests for seven months. In response, the Chandigarh police barricaded the roads, lathi charged the protesters and used water cannons. Facing the full-frontal blast of a water cannon, the turban of Rajinder Singh Deepsinghwala, the vice president of the Kirti Kisan Union, who was at the forefront of the march, was ripped off. Despite the crackdown, the protesters were able to hand both governors the memorandum. A day later, I met Deepsinghwala at a sit-in at Singhu on Delhi’s border, sitting calmly among the KKU’s cadre. He told me that despite their core demands not being met, the past seven months of protests had won a major victory in how they had democratised politics in northern India.
Deepsinghwala is one of the leaders of the many farmers’ unions leading the farmers’ protests against the three farm laws promulgated by the union government in September 2020. At 38, he is the youngest member of the panel of 32 leaders from the unions who had been attending several rounds of talks with the government at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan. While the official talks have stalled, Deepsinghwala told me that the farmers’ protests had carried out a revolution in Haryana and Punjab by giving space to people from the margins, who were previously silenced, to make political demands. “We have re-established a democratic space in a country where the Modi government, in its seven years of ruling, had resorted to tyranny and a fascist approach,” he told me.
Deepsinghwala built a political clout during his days as a law student in Punjabi University, Patiala, between 2014 and 2018. During this period, he was the president of the Punjab Students’ Union, and the core of his political support continues to come from former PSU members. Deepsinghwala shot into the media limelight on 2 January 2021, when in a press conference organised by the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of 32 farmers’ unions, at the Press Club of India he said, “The government’s dilemma is not of a mere issue of the three farm laws but it is looking at this movement as a challenge to the Modi’s aura.” He said, “The government thinks that Modi never backtracks from any of his decisions whether it is demonetisation, that took the lives of the people standing in queues, or other anti-people policies, and it is for the first time that the government has dithered and now is talking of amendments in the farm laws.”