“Today, I beg the forgiveness of my countrymen and say with a pure heart and honest mind that perhaps there was some shortcoming,” said, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Gurunanak Jayanti (Gurupurab) last week. With this apology, Modi left British Asians and Indians emotional across the globe as he announced that his government would repeal three farm laws in order to breathe life into the struggling agricultural economy of India.
Western media outlets termed this move by Modi as ‘eating humble pie’, ‘rare show of weakness’, and cited the lack of strong opposition as an added advantage on the ruling government’s part while speculating that miracles in India happen during election season (the BJP ruled state of Uttar Pradesh in India is due for its 2022 elections). The Economist critiqued Modi, saying, “The trouble is that compared with the BJP’s simple core message of Hindu pride and nationalism, its scattered and multiple opponents have no shared story to tell.” The article also added that the pedigree of the younger Gandhis exposes them to the celibate Mr Modi’s well-placed barbs about nepotism. The piece further added, “...Modi’s best ally has been the weakness of his opponents, so the opposition’s best chance to capture power may stem from the actions of the prime minister himself. But it will take a gargantuan mistake to undo the seemingly unassailable Mr Modi.”
The western press can criticise Modi as much as it wants, but the fact remains that it takes a tremendous amount of courage for the leader of the largest democracy in the world to bow down to its people, even if it is in the name of an alleged political move to win an upcoming election. For this reason, Modi is counted as the ‘master communicator’.
Seconding that thought, Lord Rami Ranger CBE told Asian Voice, “It takes a great man to admit if he had got it wrong. Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi Ji by repealing farm laws has demonstrated two things. Firstly, he is a man of courage to accept that he had got it wrong to introduce farms bills without consulting the stakeholders, the farmers and secondly, by swallowing his pride, he has demonstrated that his love for his country and countrymen is above everything.
“Many lessons will be learnt from the outcome of a year-long protest of the farmers. To start with, it will make the Indian democracy even more, robust and secondly, the government will never pass any law unilaterally to avoid the consequences of people power.
“Finally, in all this, we should not ignore for minutes the great work Prime Minister has done and doing for the nation like repealing article 370 in Kashmir and making Triple Talaq illegal in India, thus giving women dignity and equality. He is also beefing up India’s armed forces to deal with the Chinese threat. He has put India firmly on the map for a business destination. The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is yet another example of his visionary leadership which could pave the way for friendship with Pakistan.”
Virendra Sharma MP told us, "I am pleased to see the Indian Government has listened to citizens and is rethinking the farm laws. It is right for the Indian Government to propose changes to the country to modernise systems, but some may go too far too fast. As someone who was born in India, alongside millions in the Indian diaspora, I want to see the country thrive and go from strength to strength, and I look forward to the UK and India collaborating on ambitious international agreements."
Sanjay Jagatia, Chair of the Hindu Think Tank UK told us that “it was heartening” to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announce the repeal of the three controversial farm laws.
Supreme Sikh Council UK secretary general Gurmel Singh Kandola also told the publication, “Many diaspora Sikhs have been vilified for providing humanitarian aid to the farmers. The government now also needs to withdraw the charges in good grace and enter into constructive dialogue with the farmers’ representatives.”
Sikhs under no illusion that impending State elections drove the decision
Harmeet Singh Gill, General Secretary, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall differs in perspective towards the repealing of farms laws.
Speaking to the newsweekly, Harmeet Singh Gill said, “The climb down by the Modi regime on the farmer's laws was long overdue; it has taken over a year of protests by millions and the death of hundreds of Indian farmers on the borders of Delhi.
“The UK Sikh community, many of whom come from a farming background or still have family members dependent on farming, are waiting for the repeal to be formally repealed in Parliament before they can breathe a sigh of relief. The community is under no illusion that impending State elections drove the decision. There is hope that farmers will now use this momentum to push for farmer-led reforms that are desperately needed.”
UK protests and petitions
It is important to reflect on the year-long protests by Sikhs across Europe and America who participated in large numbers in the ongoing Khalistan Referendum campaign.
29-year-old Daljit Singh had organised four kisan sleep-out protests outside the Indian High Commission in London. Daljit doesn’t wish to discontinue his mission. According to reports in The Times of India, Daljit will continue to protest and head towards a gurdwara car park in Letchworth on 27 November.
"We are going to keep protesting until it’s gone through the parliamentary process. There isn’t much trust in the Indian government — they have allowed the farmers to stay there for a year in the cold and spread propaganda against them and we have seen them face water cannon and tear gas. Some people in America have had their OCIs revoked just for protesting and we have all been labelled as anti-nationals. Once it has gone through the parliamentary process, people will go home,” Daljit Singh told ToI.
Councillor Gurch Singh’s petition with 116,000 signatures urged the British government to demand India to ensure the safety of farmer protesters and journalists, which even led to a debate in the House of Commons. Rendered ‘speechless’, Singh was quoted by ToI saying that this is the biggest gift the Sikh community could receive on GuruPurab despite the debatable timing f this move. Singh thinks that the Indian government needs to rebuild India’s reputation on the global stage.
Indian media reported that intelligence sources have confirmed that the BJP govt was rattled at seeing large queues of Sikhs in the UK cities voting for Khalistan during the referendum campaign, organised by the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) group, which is campaigning for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland.
Reportedly, protests were happening in London as recently as last month, and on 21 November, and over 20,000 Sikhs showed up to vote at the polling stations set up in Leicester, Coventry and Derby, while last Sunday, Birmingham polling station saw lines of voters stretched to several city blocks for the Khalistan Referendum campaign.
Emotional British Indians like 20-year-old Balraj Purewal told a publication that had he not been in the UK, he’d be a farmer in India like his family. " It's just not fair. They're taking the minimum wage away. My uncle goes back to India every year to check on his crops and check on his team. My cousin has been going to the protests. The police have been torturing and beating up our community," he told Newsbeat.
However, in an interview with Asian Voice earlier this year, BJP Spokesperson (Delhi) Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga countered the allegations against a political motive behind the government’s erstwhile stand on farm law. “The government has tried to talk to the farmers. There were more than eight to ten meetings that happened which included cabinet ministers along with the farmers. The farmers asked the government to give in writing that no MSP will be deducted which the government agreed to do. The government further said that it was ready to put a hold on the bill until both parties reach a consensus over the matter.
“Post that, the government made a committee with the Supreme Court of India, wherein both the government and the farmers were allowed to have a certain set number of people. But the farmers didn’t agree. This was being termed as a “political” movement, but now farmers' leader Rakesh Tikait is going to Bengal, Kerala and he said he will go to all the states where elections are happening and meet the farmers. So I think it is clear that their motive behind the protest is not the bill. The motive behind the protests is - that they hate BJP, they hate Modi. They know that these protests will benefit them, hence they are letting them happen,” Bagga had told the newsweekly.
UK MPs laud the victory of farmers
Sharing her sentiment on this historic repeal of farm laws by the Indian government, MP Preet Kaur Gill told us, "This is a huge victory for Sikh farmers and Indian farmers unions, who have fought hard for the repeal of what they called the 'black laws’. This was the largest social movement in the world, and it shows the power people have when they peacefully join together to affect change.
"Indian Parliament will now resume the winter session on 29th November and the farmers are saying that they will not be returning to their homes until they actually see the change in the legislation of the repealing of the laws and certain guarantees that they are requesting. This victory has clearly come at the cost of lives - 750 people have died as a result - and yesterday I attended an event that really took the time to recognise this loss of life. Hopefully, now the families will take some peace from knowing that their efforts were not in vain.
"It shows the power of some of the greatest social movements and what they can do especially now when the right to protest is under attack across the world."
MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi tweeted: “Given #FarmersProtest valiant struggles, glad the controversial farm laws being repealed. Sections of media and establishment busy labelling farmers and those standing in solidarity with them as terrorists and separatists may well want to apologise”.
MP Seema Malhotra wrote: “This hugely welcome news that India will be repealing its three controversial farm laws, more than a year after the start of widespread protests against them is a huge victory for the farmers and families who protested against them and sacrificed so much.”
MP Valerie Vaz tweeted: “The repeal of the farm laws is brilliant news Today is Guru Nanak Sahebjee’s Birthday”.
Critiquing and contemplating how Indira Gandhi handled emergency and its relevance amid this victory for Indian farmers, an Op-Ed in the FreePressJournal said, “Hiding behind her own insecurities, she concocted the story of a ‘foreign-hand’ and fictionalised a democratic movement known as the JP movement as a threat to the young nation. She weaved the narrative that she had imposed Emergency to save democracy. But her bluff was called, and she, as well as her son, lost their elections. That was the first time that democracy redeemed itself. But this time the threat is more vigorous, the conspiracy is deeper, the ideology is more dangerous and the rulers are more ruthless. Therefore, the occasion is more solemn.”