The BJP will continue to face resistance from people: Farmer leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan

08 December, 2021

On 20 November, the prime minister Narendra Modi announced the withdrawal of the three farm laws against which tens of thousands of farmers had been protesting for over a year on Delhi’s borders. Opposition parties have since termed the rare policy-reversal from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party as a move aimed at improving its showing in the upcoming legislative elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. But Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who leads the largest contingent of farmers on Delhi borders under the banner of the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Ekta Ugrahan faction, said that the repeal will not help the BJP as its image is already tarnished among farmers in the states.

“Whether in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand, or even anywhere else in India, the withdrawal of these laws doesn’t mean that the BJP will gain from it,” he said. “We will see to it, and carry forward our debate amongst the people on the anti-people role of the BJP since it came to power in 2014, the role of the RSS since 1947 and also before the country’s independence.” Speaking to Prabhjit Singh, a contributing writer at The Caravan, Ugrahan said that the withdrawal of the laws was only the first part of a long fight for democracy in the country. He also spoke about the limited ability of opposition parties to oppose World Trade Organization mandates about the corporatising of agriculture—which the laws had come to represent—and the need to oppose Modi’s other mandates, including the reading down of Article 370, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens.

Prabhjit Singh: How do you assess the year-long struggle of farmers’ unions on Delhi’s borders?
Joginder Singh Ugrahan: There have been many ups and downs as the Modi government was hell bent to harm this farmers’ movement. But it gradually grew from being a farmers’ movement to a people’s movement. The government intended to suppress us the way it had earlier curbed the anti-CAA movement, by inciting communal violence [referring to riots in Delhi, in February 2020, that followed the protests]. They wanted to do the same thing here, by hatching a conspiracy on 26 January, by labelling us as separatist Sikhs. But we remained united and focused. The Lakhimpur killings and then the killing of a poor man at the hands of a Nihang leader was also a BJP plan. We worked very hard in reaching out to the people and got massive support from across the country. We lost nearly seven hundred lives of our farmers in this agitation. But we never got derailed and remained focused.

Prabhjit: What do the protests mean for democracy in India?
Ugrahan: Democracy has further evolved and strengthened because of the protests. Those who were scared to raise their voice in the past are now realising the relevance of democracy. This protest has given a new burst of courage to the people of this country.

Prabhjit: How do you see Modi’s role in handling the farm laws and the protests that followed?
Ugrahan: Those who think themselves bigger than the society at large, they will always fall. Modi had thought—Modi hai to mumkin hai [referring to a popular slogan which translates to “If Modi leads, anything is possible”]. But we proved this wrong. He never uttered a word after the Lakhimpur killings. He didn’t utter a word after pictures appeared in newspapers where the Nihang leader who killed a man at Singhu was seen with [Union Minister Narendra] Tomar. Even the manner in which Modi announced the repeal of the three laws was undemocratic. He neither discussed it in the cabinet nor placed the debate in the public domain. And though we welcome the final announcement, I am simply pointing out the undemocratic approach of the country’s prime minister.

The challenge before us was how to break his egoism. While announcing the repeal, he stated that he couldn’t make us understand the laws. This shows his egoism. All his anti-people decisions, whether on Kashmir, CAA, NRC [National Register of Citizens] or land-acquisition laws were never brought for debate in the public domain.  

Prabhjit: How do you think the BJP will do in the upcoming state elections, and will the repeal of the farm laws affect the results?
Ugrahan: The BJP will be wrong if it thinks that this announcement has paved its way in these elections. Whether in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand, or even anywhere else in India, the withdrawal of these laws doesn’t mean a gain for the BJP. We will see to it that the anti-people decisions taken by the BJP since it came to power in 2014, like demonetisation, the annulment of Article 370, the land acquisition law, the NRC and CAA, continue to be talked about and opposed. We will also expose the role of the RSS since 1947 and also before the country’s independence. The BJP will continue to face resistance from people in Punjab because of their misdeeds. We have been to Shaheen Bagh during the anti-CAA protests and we had also organised a massive rally at Malerkotla on the issue. We will continue to stand by these voices against fascism.

Prabhjit: So, your organisation will continue to fight against the BJP?
Ugrahan: Our fight is not against the BJP but against its ideology of Hindu rashtravada [Hindu nationalism]. The BJP adopted this ideology to gain power so that it could implement its fascist, pro-corporate and pro-capitalist economic policies. It is a big fight, and our organisation alone cannot win against this. We all need to coordinate and organise. The people are gradually understanding this.

Let me ask now, has the BJP improved the fate of the Hindus of this nation by this approach? No, it hasn’t. Look at Modi’s attitude towards Shaheen Bagh—he suppressed the Muslims, got them killed, and then put the Muslims in jail for the killings of their own men. He tried to become a Hitler, through his fascist and communal approach.

Prabhjit: The farmers’ protests have also asked for more power to be shared with the states. How do you see this?
Ugrahan: It is a deep political question. It is a long debate with serious repercussions. Let us talk about this some other time. Today, those who raised the Anandpur Sahib resolution [a 1978 resolution by the All India Akali Conference that demanded greater federalism, among other things] do not talk any more about it. You look for the reasons.

Prabhjit: But agriculture and GST are sectors that are relevant to state policy making. Why are you avoiding talking about this?
Ugrahan: I agree that agriculture is a state subject, but the state governments too follow the dictates of the WTO [World Trade Organization]. Even the states are bringing agriculture under the control of the corporate sector. No single political party ruling in any state at present has a model with which it could combat the centre’s policies. So, no point talking of more powers to states until we have a model at hand for such a demand.   

Prabhjit: What impact has this year-long protest had on the people of Punjab?
Ugrahan: The level of debate in Punjab has drastically improved. Parties who earlier used to announce sops and get away with their appeal for votes now face tough questions from the people. Questions like what plan or model the parties have for employment generation and the fate of key sectors like education and healthcare. Now people are targeting the corporate lobbies in these debates, and this is another achievement of the farmers’ movement.

Prabhjit: Gurnam Singh Chaduni, another farmer leader, supports farmers’ groups contesting elections to give legislative power directly to the hands of farmers. How do you view this?
Ugrahan: We understand that all political parties are failing to meet the purpose elections were set up for. All of them are victims of a larger issue of the pro-corporate model of development. They all promise to waive farm loans but they do not have an answer to the basic questions about a sustainable model of development, where people don’t have to fall in the debt trap. A remedy lies in the realisation, for example, that the income coming from agriculture is not being invested or spent to develop the agriculture sector. Internally, this farmers protest has unnerved all the political parties. But at the same time, I can’t comment on the electoral ambitions of others. I like to talk about my own organisation only.

This interview has been edited and condensed.