BBC News – Tractor rally: India farmers clash with police in massive protest

Soutik Biswas – India Correspondent

Thousands of farmers protesting at agriculture reforms have fought through barricades and tear gas to enter Delhi on India’s Republic Day.

They are on foot and in tractors – part of a massive rally that was planned to coincide with the annual celebrations. But many protesters diverted from the agreed routes and clashes have broken out with police along the way.

The government says the reforms will liberalise the agriculture sector but farmers say they will lose income. Tens of thousands of them have been striking on the outskirts of Delhi since November, demanding the laws be repealed. They rejected a government offer to put the laws on hold last week.

Police agreed to allow Tuesday’s rally after several rounds of talks on the condition that it would not interrupt the annual Republic Day parade, which takes place in central Delhi.

They gave farmers specific routes for their rally, which would largely be confined to the outskirts.

While farmers at several entry points appear to be following the agreed route, a section of protesters at the Ghazipur, Sinnghu and Tikri borders, three of the six entry points to the city, broke through police barricades.

Those at Ghazipur started marching towards central Delhi, where India’s parliament is located.

“Mr Modi will have to take back these black laws for sure,” one of the protesters told the BBC’s Salman Ravi.

Images from the ITO metro station junction, which is on their route to central Delhi, showed police clashing with protesting farmers and using tear gas and batons to stop them.

Protesters driving tractors appeared to be deliberately trying to run over police personnel. Local media reported injuries on both sides.

BBC correspondents say protesters outnumber the police at the ITO junction, and the latter are struggling to control the crowd. More scuffles are expected along the way as they are not allowed in central Delhi where official celebrations are taking place.

The annual parade involves armed forces showcasing their latest equipment and floats from several states presenting their culture on a national stage. The parade is shorter and more muted this year due to the pandemic.

The laws, which seek to further open up agriculture to the free market, sparked protests even as they made their way through parliament in September.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party-led government defended the reforms, farmer groups likened them to a “death warrant” that made them vulnerable to private companies.

The stand-off continued as tens of thousands of farmers from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana marched to Delhi in late November and began sit-ins at the city limits, many of which still continue.

What exactly do the laws propose?

Taken together, the laws loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce – rules that have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades.

One of the biggest changes is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online grocers.

More than 90% of India’s farmers already sell their produce in the market, and only about 6% of them actually receive assured prices for their crops, guaranteed by the government.

But farmers are mainly concerned that this will eventually lead to the end of government-controlled wholesale markets (mandis) and assured prices, leaving them with no back-up option.

That is, if they are not satisfied with the price offered by a private buyer, they cannot return to the mandi or use it as a bargaining chip during negotiations.

Most of the protesting farmers are from Punjab and Haryana, where the two biggest crops, wheat and rice, are still sold at assured prices in mandis. Are these reforms necessary?

Most economists and experts agree that Indian agriculture desperately needs reform. But critics of the government say it failed to follow a consultative process and did not take farmers’ unions into confidence before passing the laws.

For one, the bills were put to a hurried voice vote in parliament, leaving little time for debate, which infuriated the opposition. And state governments, which play a crucial role in enacting such legislation, also appear to have been left out of the loop.

Experts also point out that the reforms fail to take into account that agriculture still remains a mainstay in the Indian economy.

More than half of Indians work on farms, but the sector accounts for barely a sixth of the country’s GDP. Declining productivity and a lack of modernisation have shrunk incomes and hobbled agriculture in India for decades.

The government, meanwhile, provides farmers with generous subsidies, exempts them from income tax and crop insurance, guarantees a minimum price for 23 crops and regularly waives off debts.

“Now the government is saying, we will get out of the way, and asking us to deal directly with big businesses. But we didn’t demand this in the first place! So why are they doing this to us?” Rakesh Vyas, a farmer, told the BBC’s Soutik Biswas recently.

Experts say any attempt to dismantle decades-old concessions must happen through dialogue because otherwise fear and suspicion will derail the process.

The Tribune – Final chance to decide on Balwant Singh Rajoana plea: Supreme Court to Centre

Satya Prakash – Tribune News Service

New Delhi – India, 25 January 2021. The Supreme Court on Monday gave a last chance to the Centre to take a call on the mercy plea filed by Balwant Singh Rajoana for commuting the death penalty awarded to him in former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassination case.

A Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, which had earlier asked the government to decide the petition before Republic Day, gave two more weeks after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the government was examining the issue.

Mehta said it would not be prudent to decide the matter at this juncture as it could have some repercussions in the present situation. As Mehta sought three weeks, the CJI shot back, “Why three weeks? What is happening Mr Mehta… A three-week period is unreasonable. We asked you to decide before 26 January 26.”

Mehta said, “The decision going either way will have some repercussions in the present circumstances.” The Bench agreed to grant two weeks as the last chance for the government to decide the matter.

On behalf of the petitioner, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi opposed Mehta’s request, saying, “The man (Rajoana) is in jail for 25 years. His mercy plea has been pending for over eight years.” “He is in jail for killing a chief minister,” replied Mehta.

Convicted of assassinating Beant Singh in 1995, Rajoana has been in jail for 25 years awaiting his execution. The former Punjab CM and 16 others were killed in an explosion outside the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh in 1995. Rajoana was sentenced to death in 2007 by a special court.

Maintaining that pendency of appeals by co-accused has no bearing on Presidential pardon granted to a death-row convict, the Supreme Court had on 04 December questioned the Centre over delay in sending proposal to the President for commuting Rajoana’s death penalty.

Once the Centre has decided to recommend Presidential pardon for a death row convict, the pendency of appeals of his co-accused can’t be a reason to delay the clemency proceedings, it had said.

The Province – Ontario MP turfed from Liberal caucus after accusing ex-minister Navdeep Bains of extremism

The episode has revived an issue, Sikh separatism, that has repeatedly bedeviled the Liberal government, sometimes souring relations with India

Tom Blackwell

Brampton – Ontario – Canada, 26 January 2021. An MP from Ontario has been thrown out of the Liberal caucus after suggesting that former Industry Minister Navdeep Bains was an “extremist” supporter of Sikh separatism and should never have gotten into cabinet.

Chief government whip Mark Holland announced Monday afternoon that Ramesh Sangha had been expelled in the wake of his latest barrage against the party and government he represents.

The Brampton Centre MP’s remarks came days after Bains unexpectedly announced he was stepping down from cabinet, citing personal reasons that included a desire to spend more time with his family.

In a somewhat rambling interview with Y Media, a Punjabi-language news outlet, Sangha said he was “shocked” to hear that the minister was quitting at a relatively young age, and that the reason Bains offered for his decision “was difficult to digest for me.”

Sangha also said that he had felt pressure from the former minister and the minister’s father. Now that Bains was gone, “I am not a bounded Liberal any more,” he said in remarks the National Post had translated. Then the MP appeared to comment on Bains’ views about the Sikh question.

“If someone says that ‘I am extremist, I am Khalistani,’ and says it in a declaring style, is he fit to be a minister?” asked the backbencher. “I already said that he is not.”

Khalistanis are supporters of an independent Sikh homeland in India, a cause pursued by many Sikhs in Canada and a bone of contention for the Indian government.

But there is no evidence that Bains has declared that he was one or that he was an extremist. He and other Sikh members of cabinet, faced with such allegations in the past, have denied being part of the movement.

The difference this time is the allegation came not only from within the party, but from one of Bains’ fellow MPs from Ontario’s Brampton-Mississauga area, whose ridings are home to large Sikh populations. The constituencies are key electoral battlegrounds, too, swinging between the Liberals and Conservatives.

The episode also revived an issue that has repeatedly bedeviled the Liberal government, sometimes souring relations with New Delhi.

The cause of Sikh separatism – a predominately peaceful movement today despite an outburst of terrorism three decades ago – has divided the Indian-Canadian community, as well.

As soon as the whip learned of the comments, he consulted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and “the necessary steps were taken,” said spokesman Charles-Eric Lépine.

“As we have made clear time and time again, we will not tolerate conspiracy theories, or dangerous and unfounded rhetoric about parliamentarians or other Canadians,” said Lépine in a statement.

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for many Canadians to experience suspicions because of their background; we all know where this can lead.

“The Liberal Caucus continues to stand firm against racism and intolerance.”

Yet the accusation of racism was leveled against a politician of Sikh background himself, making the situation all the more unusual.

Sangha said in an interview Monday the move by the party came out of the blue, and that he never had a chance to offer his perspective.

“Thy have not given me any opportunity of being heard,” he said. “They are misunderstanding me. It was just misinterpreted. This type of justice is a harsh response.”

Asked if he had evidence Bains is a Khalistani, he didn’t directly respond. The MP said he is against all forms of extremism, but that he does not have anything personally against the former minister.

He said he thought that as a Liberal MP he was free to express his views.

In the Y Media interview, the journalist also asked about Sangha’s basis for claiming Bains was a Khalistani extremist.

The MP cited discussions of a controversial Public Safety Canada report on terrorism in 2019, which referred to the continued existence of “Sikh extremism.” The Sikh community was outraged at the statement, which many felt maligned the entire religion.

In discussing changes to the report, Bains went further and said it also should not refer to Khalistani extremism, said Sangha. That seemed to betray the then-minister’s own views, he argued.

Dawn – Back to governance

Maleeha Lodhi

Op/Ed 25 January 2021. Despite sporadic agitational activity by the opposition, Prime Minister Imran Khan has enough political space to consider acting on a number of fronts to repurpose his government.

His government has a window of opportunity to take initiatives and focus on governance rather than the opposition. This will also demonstrate that it has gone past the phase of its unifocal preoccupation with the opposition.

While PDM has continued efforts to mount political pressure it has been unable to force a crisis to challenge the PTI government or warrant its full-time attention.

This means the government has the chance to get down to serious business and set, as well as, elaborate its agenda for the year ahead.

Among the steps it might consider are:

1. engage more actively at the leadership level in managing the pandemic and laying out the vaccination plan
2. recast the cabinet and its team in Punjab
3. reach out to the business community to encourage investment and boost productivity and growth;
4. plan for comprehensive civil service reform;
5. undertake a wide-ranging review of foreign policy.

Although the Covid-19 situation is not as alarming as it is in other countries, including in the neighbourhood, this is no reason to be sanguine about the future.

Especially so because examples from elsewhere show that cases surge when complacency or fatigue sets in, or when new variants enter the country.

A hands-on approach by the leadership is needed in a number of areas: robust public messaging (virtually absent now), increased testing, as well as ensuring SOP compliance by businesses/ markets/ educational institutions.

Above all, the government must ensure that procurement of vaccines is swiftly done. It is already behind the curve on this count.

There is little clarity about which vaccines will be secured given the global challenge of unequal access with richer countries monopolising initial supplies.

Yet to be explained is how vaccines will be rolled out across the country. The Pakistan Medical Association has also asked for clarification and criticised the government for lack of plans to vaccinate people.

The prime minister should himself lay out the national vaccination plan as this is obviously the only way to exit from the pandemic.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK and UN.

Aljazeera – Two Afghan female judges shot dead in Kabul ambush

Afghan officials blame the Taliban for the attacks, an accusation the armed group denies.

Kabul – Afganistan, 17 January 2021 Two female judges have been killed by unknown gunmen in an ambush early on Sunday in Afghanistan’s capital.

The attack on the Supreme Court judges took place as they were driving to work, Ahmad Fahim Qaweem, a court spokesman, said. Kabul police confirmed the attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and spokesman for the Taliban armed group Zabihullah Mujahid said the group was not responsible.

Violence has surged across Afghanistan in recent months despite ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and government, especially in Kabul where a new trend of targeted killings aimed at high-profile figures has sown fear in the city.

The latest attack comes two days after the Pentagon announced it cut American troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500, the lowest in nearly two decades.

High-profile killings

More than 200 female judges work for the country’s top court, Qaweem said.

Afghanistan’s Supreme Court was a target in February 2017 when a suicide bomb in its car park killed at least 20 court employees and wounded 41.

In recent months, several prominent Afghans, including politicians, journalists, activists, doctors and prosecutors, have been assassinated in often brazen daytime attacks in Kabul and other cities.

Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks, a charge the militia has denied. Some of these killings have been claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.

Earlier this month, the US military for the first time directly accused the Taliban of orchestrating the attacks.

“The Taliban’s campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders & journalists must cease for peace to succeed,” Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said on Twitter. – Op-Ed: Preventive detention of BJP leaders is the need of hour in Punjab

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 16 January 2021. During the past few days, BJP leaders have geared up their anti-farmer activities under the garb of “raising awareness about positive sides of farm laws” in Punjab.

These activities of BJP leaders have incited farmers to take action against them due to which several incidents of clash have come to fore.

On 10 January BJP leaders faced opposition by farmers in Jalandhar when they tried to campaign in favour of farm laws under the security of shield of police.

On January 15, a similar incident came to fore in Bhawanigarh where farmers surrounded BJP leaders for about three hours when they were trying to campaign in support of farm laws.

Such incidents are likely to get increased in the coming days due to the tractor rally announced by agitating farmers in Delhi.

The ruling BJP is not leaving any stone unturned to crush farmers’ agitation and the ongoing provoking activities of BJP leaders in Punjab are definitely encouraged by its core leadership, which is keen to create ground for imposing president rule in Punjab.

After unsuccessful attempt of using Khalistani narrative for the agitating farmers, Punjab based BJP leaders like Harjit Grewal have now straight-forwardly started launching personal attacks on farmer leaders like Joginder Singh Ugrahan and Darshan Pal while dubbing them as Comrades, Maoists etc.

Last week, another BJP leader Surjit Jyani had also drawn flak after he accused agitating farmer leaders of being stubborn. He had also accused that the farmer leaders don’t want solution and they were having a hidden agenda.

The BJP has an established record of prospering its pro-Hindutva agenda by inciting communal disharmony in society.

In 1980’s, the law and order situation in Punjab was worsened by the BJP leaders like Harbans Lal Khanna through intolerable hate remarks against Sikhs.

Former Amritsar SSP Gurbachan Jagat, who remained deployed in Amritsar during the 1980s, holds BJP responsible for worsening the law and order situation in Punjab during 1980s.

No doubt, BJP won’t refrain repeating its tactic this time too. So, if not prevented by time, BJP leaders will definitely cause a serious law and order problem in Punjab like they did in the early 1980s.

India Today – The Punjab model of agitations in history, from Vancouver to home

Aside from variations depending on political climate and state response, the model that unfolded in the ongoing Kisan Morcha draws heavily on history.

The success of the Indian diaspora, especially the Sikhs, in Canada is seen back home through multiple lenses. Some take pride – and many unfortunately issue blanket slurs.

But few know that if the collective diaspora from across undivided India, or rather Asia, was able to live and work with dignity in British colonies of the white world it was in part because Punjab’s workforce took up the cause and paid a heavy price to achieve it.

No fight, no revolution in history that had its connection with Punjab in India, from the shores of Vancouver to Singapore over 120 years, meant solely for a single community, occupation or a region.

It’s also true that vested interests have tried to colour them with communal brush, mostly unsuccessfully.

That’s how Panjab fought for others

But whenever a Punjab-led protest turned into an agitation, graduated into a movement, and then into a revolution, it eventually forced powers to change course for good.

Aside from variations depending on the political climate and state response, the model that unfolded in the ongoing Kisan Morcha draws heavily on history.

The home-grown propaganda in 2020-21 against it is as vicious as what it was in the early 1900s when white supremacists in Canada nursed strong anti-Asian feelings, especially against the Chinese and Japanese workers.

Anti-Asian rioting in Vancouver in July 1907 resulted in the damage of property worth $36,000.

Around the same time, immigrants were told to leave Canada on their own and move instead to British Honduras (Belize).

Much like Punjab’s present-day peasantry which didn’t take the word “reform” affixed to the farm laws on its face value and instead studied them clause-by-clause, word-by-word, and line-by-line, the Sikh workers didn’t take the Canadian proposal hands down.

They visited the Honduras, studied the conditions and the wage structures and found that the labour was indentured in that British crown colony.

The Sikhs came back and rejected the proposal, in much the same way Punjab’s peasantry has turned down the 2020 farm legislation.

The British Canadian state realized that Sikhs were definitely less docile than the Japanese or the Chinese, and responded harshly.

“Strange to say the Hindus (then a common term for Indian workers in Canada) are looked upon by our people in British Columbia with still more disfavour than the Chinese.

They seem to be less adaptable to our ways and manners than all the other Oriental races that come to us,” wrote Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then Canada’s prime minister, to Lord Minto, the Indian viceroy, in April 1909.

Gurdwaras as centres of activism

The same year, the Khalsa Diwan Society built a gurdwara in Vancouver followed by several other gurdwaras across British Columbia.

Those who object to the use of gurdwaras for political activities impose their own definition of religion on the Sikh community.

Gurdwaras have historically been centres of political and social activism and philanthropy, and not just worshipping and meditation alone.

Much like the present-day discourses on farm laws and announcements about tractor rallies at historical gurdwaras in and outside Punjab, economic issues linked to the immigrant communities were actively discussed in gurdwaras of Canada and the United States in the early 1900s.

Colonial-style propaganda, bias, insensitivity

For the British, sending the Sikh soldiers to the frontlines of the First World War and allowing more Sikhs into Canada became two different things.

When a businessman from Singapore, Gurdit Singh, chartered a freighter, the Komagata Maru, in Hong Kong with 376 emigrants, mostly Sikhs, on board and dropped anchor in Vancouver harbour in May 1914, the passengers were not allowed to disembark.

Events that happened in Canada back then and Delhi’s response to the Kisan Morcha over the past two months share an eerie resemblance.

“The authorities, more racist even than their red-neck constituents, were unrelenting,” wrote author Patwant Singh in his book, The Sikhs, about the incidents that followed the arrival of the Komagata Maru off Vancouver.

“Making a mockery of their own law, they held a fake hearing in which the Supreme Court declined to interfere in the affairs of the Immigration Department; passengers were refused permission to disembark; grapeshot was fired across the ship’s decks; a deaf ear was turned to requests for medical attention for the sick aboard…”.

And this is how The Times (London) justified Canada’s racist treatment of the subjects of the British empire in June, 1914:

“Phrases like British citizenship cannot be used as a talisman to open doors, sophistry and catch logic, the spinning of words or the reading of many books will not help her (India). And she is likely to get little profit out of enterprises like that of which has sent the Komagata Maru to hurl its shipload of hundreds at the door of Canada.”

Braved seas, bullets then, braved winter, water cannons now

On the Komagata Maru’s return to Calcutta, the British Indian police opened fire and killed 19 Sikh passengers and wounded 25 others.

“…the men and women who had braved the seas and bullets to return home undaunted, struck a chord in the Punjab population and helped kindle national resentment against the high-handedness of the ruling power,” Patwant Singh wrote.

Journals, poetry, bards

The publication of the Trolley Times, the new mouthpiece of the 2020-21 Kisan Morcha at Delhi borders, and mini-libraries and book stalls at Singhu during this social-media age also have numerous parallels in Punjab-led movements of the last century.

A footnote in Khushwant Singh’s A History of the Sikhs refers to journals that the Punjabis, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims alike, produced to mobilize opinion against power abuse by the British.

Among those placed in the shelves of the Berkeley University library are copies of Desh Sewak in Gurmukhi and Urdu by Harnam Singh and Guru Datt Kumar from Vancouver, the Khalsa Herald also in Vancouver by Kartar Singh Akali, Aryan by Dr Sunder Singh, Hindustani by Seth Hussain Rahim, and the Ghadr by the San Francisco-based Ghadr Party.

“Though Hindus, Mussalmans and Sikhs we be, sons of Bharat are we still,” the Ghadr wrote. The Ghadr articles and poems were reprinted in booklets like Naya Zamana and the Balance Sheet of the British in India.

Singers like Kanwar Grewal and Harf Cheema have emerged as the bards of the 2020-21 Kisan Morcha.

Their Pecha album themed around preparing the peasantry for the long agitation ahead over the farm laws had powerful lyrics: “Khich Le Jatta Khich Tyaari, Pecha Pai Gya Center Naal”.

In 1907, “Pagdi Sambhal Jatta” resonated similarly as the signature anthem of a farmer agitation in Lyallpur (now across the border) against three British laws: the Doab Bari Act, the Punjab Land Colonisation Act, and the Punjab Land Alienation Act.

That time too, the farmers had read the legislation clause-by-clause, word-by-word and line-by-line, and found they might well be reduced to labourers, their lands eventually taken away by the more powerful. That too was a collective effort, not for an individual or a community. – The Political Fix: What BJP’s rejected offer to suspend farm laws tells us about Modi’s tactics

If history is supposed to not repeat itself, but rhyme, this one is a bit of a slant

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

The Big Story: Zig-zag – 25 January 2021

As we’ve reminded you before, Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his first tenure in 2014 with a set of pro-business reforms to India’s land acquisition laws that drew the ire of rural India.

Having led his Bharatiya Janata Party to the first majority in Parliament in three decades, the assumption was that Modi had enough political capital to push through the new law, despite some pushback and accusations of being a “suit-boot ki sarkar” beholden to big business.

That assumption was wrong. After months of pressure, Modi caved in, withdrawing the laws and, as many have observed, moving away from pro-business reforms to “new welfarism” to counter the narrative.

Over the last week, it appeared that Modi’s government was about to do something similar.

Having spent much of 2020 comparing three new agricultural laws to an emancipation proclamation for India’s farmers, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced that the government was willing to suspend the laws for 12 to 18 months and set up a committee to examine the concerns of protesters who have been protesting on Delhi’s borders for nearly two months in the cold.

The offer, coming after the government had already promised to make a number of substantial amendments to the laws, represented a significant climb-down for Modi, less than two years after he was re-elected with a massive mandate.

The government had spent the previous 50 days pulling out all of its familiar weapons, ignoring protests and responding in nationalist language, labelling demonstrators terrorists and anti-national, attempting to drive a wedge between various farm unions and even banking on the Supreme Court to solve its problem.

That Modi had to offer to suspend laws that had been passed by Parliament didn’t just reflect the failure of these tactics. They also belied the BJP’s claims that the protests were limited to a small section of the farming community and ought to simply dissipate.

Not only have the protests lasted much longer than the government anticipated, they have grown in numbers, our reporters saw tractors lined up for 40 kilometres outside Delhi’s borders, and have been attracting participants from well beyond Punjab and Haryana.

“It is not good for the health of society for any agitation to run for too long,” said Suresh “Bhaiyyaji” Joshi , a senior leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindutva organisation that is the BJP’s ideological parent. “We just want the agitation to end quickly now.”

Curiously, Tomar, the Union minister, even declared that “it will be a victory for Indian democracy the day farmers’ agitation ends”.

From this perspective, the government’s legally dubious offer to suspend the laws for 18 months seems more like damage control than clever tactic. Which may be why the farmer unions decided to say no.

“People have trust issues with the government. What if they implement these laws again after a stay for a short period?” said Rakesh Tikait, a farm union leader and one of the spokespersons of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of protesting farm groups.

“After long deliberations, we came to this conclusion that we will not return till the laws are repealed. We can stay here for six more months, it hardly matters to us.”

The unions did consider the offer, since it was undoubtedly a major concession from the government relative to what had been on the plate so far.

Reports suggest that a counter-proposal to suspend the laws for four or five years, until the next elections, was discussed, but ultimately these were all set aside, in part because there was no clarity on how laws passed by Parliament could be put on hold for a set timetable.

Another leader brought up the tactical question at hand: “These laws will be hanging like a sword. It will not be so easy to start another farmer movement such as this soon, so nothing less than repeal of these laws is acceptable to us.”

And so the deadlock is still in place. The government insists its offer to suspend the laws is final. The farm unions are demanding a full repeal.

After much discussion with the Delhi Police, farm groups have been given permission to enter the Capital on the outskirts on 26 January, Republic Day, for a tractor rally protest that will begin after the prime minister’s speech and annual military parade has ended.

The government had earlier argued that allowing this would be a “huge embarrassment for the nation”. Uttar Pradesh has decided it will not supply any diesel to tractors through the week.

It is unclear what happens after. The protesters and the government, for the first time, have not set another date to meet. Ministers have gone back to talking about “invisible forces” derailing the talks.

There are some who believe that the farmers may have overplayed their hand, and won’t get any more from the government. Others expect the protests to swell, forcing the government to offer more concessions – just as it has over the past two months.

That the government even made the offer, however, leads to a few observations:

  • Unlike in the first term, Modi did not begin his legislative agenda in 2019 with this or other “development” policies. Instead, he went for more culturally contentious, long-standing Hindutva demands first, criminalising triple talaq, stripping autonomy from Jammu and Kashmir and passing discriminatory Citizenship Act amendments with a promise of a National Register of Citizens.
  • The “offer to suspend” may be formally new as a tactic, but informally it has also been applied to the last of those culturally sensitive efforts: the CAA and the NRC.
    Widespread protests against these around the country prompted Modi to falsely claim that his government had not even contemplated a National Register of Citizens, while the Citizenship Act amendments have not been implemented despite having been passed a year ago. In effect, for two winters in a row, protesters have managed to force the government to suspend legislation.
  • In the first term, the reason given for caving in about the land acquisition law was that the BJP was still a minority in the Rajya Sabha. So the party put efforts into better managing Parliament, somehow passing the farm laws without even counting all the votes.
  • Yet, as in the case of CAA, the party has learnt that managing Parliament isn’t the same as creating public consensus. In fact, the BJP’s conscious decision to turn Parliament into little more than a rubber stamp has driven political contestation to the streets.

Political scientist Neelanjan Sircar argues that the same is true for elections, funding has become so opaque and corporate, that even elections are no longer sufficient sites for political contestation.

  • Tomar almost seemed to acknowledge this when he said that the end of the protest would be a “victory for Indian democracy”. As many supporters of the government’s reform agenda fear, giving in to the farm union demands will only embolden other players to take to the streets and repeat these tactics. Of course, few groups have the wherewithal of the farm unions, but reports suggest the protests have already prompted the government to be cautious about its new labour code despite industry concerns.
  • Modi’s entire narrative project is built on the assumption that he alone represents the public’s interests. This is the reasoning given for running roughshod over Parliamentary procedures, and why any opposition to Modi is immediately depicted as either corrupt or anti-national. The government has been unable to do this with the farmers. Or at least it has struggled to make that image stick.
  • And so despite the widespread belief, and not-so-reliable surveys, saying Modi remains extremely popular, it is the government that has had to give in to the farm unions so far. If it does indeed rollback the laws eventually, that will once again set the tone for how reformist the rest of Modi’s legislative agenda is likely to be.

The Nation – Afghanistan hails US plan to review deal with Taliban

The Afghan government is welcoming the new US Biden administration moving to review the February 2020 deal with Taliban insurgents.

Anadolu – 23 January 2021

Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said in a statement Saturday that the US-Taliban agreement has so far failed to deliver the desired goal of ending Taliban violence and bringing a cease-fire. “The Taliban did not live up to its commitments,” he said.

His statement followed a telephone conversation between Jake Sullivan, the new US national security adviser, and his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib.

The Biden administration on Friday said it is looking to review the deal between Washington and the Taliban.

In the conversation with Sullivan, Mohib said that they agreed to work toward a permanent cease-fire and a just and durable peace in Afghanistan “capable of preserving the gains of the past two decades, protecting the rights of all Afghans, and continuing the reforms.”

He said in a series of tweets on Saturday that Sullivan affirmed that the partnership with the government of Afghanistan and Afghan security and defense forces remains a priority and a key to US national security objectives. “We will continue close consultations in the days and weeks ahead,” he added.

Last week, following the targeted assassination of two female judges in the capital Kabul, the US Embassy warned the Taliban to cease attacks on civilians for peace to come to Afghanistan.

“The Taliban should understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan,” tweeted Ross Wilson, the US chargé d’affaires.

The review comes amid the stalled intra-Afghan talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, which aimed at ending the nearly two-decade conflict in Afghanistan.

The Tribune – Marathon runner Fauja Singh’s biography Turbaned Tornado is all set to become a biopic

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 23 January 2021. A story that necessitated the collaboration of three creative powerhouses, namely Omung Kumar B, Raaj Shaandilyaa and Kunal Shivdasani, is now all set to see the light of day.

Pooling their individual sensibilities together, the three filmmakers announced the film Fauja, which is based on the book titled Turbaned Tornado written by Khushwant Singh on the 109-year-old Fauja Singh (better known as the Sikh Superman), who stunned the world with his age-defying energy and shattered world records as a marathon runner.

Directed by Omung Kumar B, the biopic chronicles the life of Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathon runner whose rollercoaster journey is an inspiring one.

Author’s take

Chandigarh-based author Khushwant Singh shares his joy as his biography Turbaned Tornado is now being made into a movie. “I am feeling honoured and humbled at the same time.

I am happy that my efforts to bring recognition to the Punjabi community are paying off. Another novel of mine, Maharaja in Denims, is picked up for a Bollywood motion film by producer Guneet Monga.”

The author, who belongs to Hoshiarpur, conveys that there’s no city small or big for artistes to grow if one believes in the creative power of their mind and express it through the medium of their choice.

Recalling the time he met Fauja Singh, he adds, “There was never a dull moment with him. He is high on humour and energy. Rest assured, the audience will come face to face with the spirit of life with this movie and learn the value of fitness and never giving up.”