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.