Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait seems to have elaborate plans up his sleeves to cast a pall over India’s 75th Independence celebrations this year. In the last week of July, Tikait announced that the farmers, protesting against the three farm laws passed by the government last year, will hold a tractor rally to Ghazipur border on August 14 and 15 where they will unfurl the national flag on Independence Day.
He further added that the tractors will go from two districts. “We will go by tractors to Ghazipur border on August 14 and 15. On August 15, we will hoist the flag. Tractors from two districts will go. We did not remove the national flag on January 26,” Rakesh Tikait said.
The announcement to carry out yet another tractor rally appears to be a desperate move by the farmer leader to revitalise the flamed-out farmers’ protests that has now rolled into their ninth month.
‘Farmers’ have been camping on the different borders of the national capital since November 26 last year against the three newly enacted farm laws: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
There has been an extended round of talks between the farmers and the central government but the former’s intransigence has prevented any meaningful progress in resolving the standoff between the two sides.
With the central government holding onto their ground and refusing to cave into the extortionist demands by the protesting farmers, who want nothing less than a complete rollback of new farm laws, Tikait has studiously chosen the occasion of India’s Independence day to conduct a tractor rally and mobilise support for the wilting farmers’ protests.
The significance of mounting a rebellion on the 75th Independence day
The day on which the tractor rally is to be conducted is of particular significance, given that it marks the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence. August 15 is symbolic for Indians, as it is the day on which in 1947 India came into being as a free sovereign country, no longer under British imperialist rule.
For over 2 centuries, Indians were subjugated by their British colonisers beginning in 1757. The British gained control over the country by the victory of the English East India Company at the Battle of Plassey.
The history of India is riddled with prominent events of retaliation, uprising and agitation, which eventually drove the Britishers out and forced former viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to free India on August 15, 1947, after giving the mandate to transfer the power to Indians. The day also marked the partition of British-ruled India into two countries, India and Pakistan.
Every year, Independence Day is celebrated with much fanfare, especially in the national capital, where the incumbent Prime Minister hoists the flag and addresses the nation from the ramparts of the historical site of Red Fort in Delhi. The function is attended by various other dignitaries, as well as students from different parts of the country. During his address, the Prime Minister pays tributes to the Independence movement fighters. In his speech, the Prime Minister also usually highlights the past year’s achievements, raises important issues and puts forth his vision for the upcoming year.
Therefore, it is not a mere coincidence that Rakesh Tikait has called on for a tractor rally to be held on a day when the country is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its independence. The symbolism of carrying out a rally on the auspicious occasion of India’s independence day, in defiance of the democratically elected government, and to oppose the laws legislated by it cannot be overstated.
By choosing the independence day for mobilising a tractor rally, Tikait not only seeks to sanctify the ongoing protests but also aims to draw national, and perhaps, even international attention towards the farmers’ stir continuing at different border sites along with the national capital.
A protracted round of talks has yielded little headway to resolve the ongoing standoff between the central government and the farmers’ representative. The obstinacy displayed by Rakesh Tikait and other leaders has added to the unceasing impasse.
Anyone who has been involved in high-level negotiations can attest to the fact that they are seldom straightforward. Success requires patience and sustained efforts. It also requires ingenuity, openness to going beyond conventional means, and the willingness to show flexibility to achieve common ground.
However, Tikait and other representatives of farmers have made it amply clear that they have little interest in striking a meaningful negotiation with the Centre over the farm laws. They are steadfast in their demand that the central government revoke the three farm laws, failing which they will continue to protest not just along borders of the national capital but across the country.
Tikait has even travelled to many parts of the country and rallied support for the farmers’ protest. Not only do the protests happening along the Delhi borders pose a threat of powering yet another devastating wave of coronavirus, but they also have, by several accounts, already caused huge losses to the tunes of crores to the public exchequer by blocking the transport of goods and caused general inconvenience to the people.
And yet, Rakesh Tikait and his associates continue to hold the central government to ransom and pressurise them into conceding to their demands. There seems to be a concerted attempt on the part of Tikait and other farmer leaders to use protests as an intimidatory tool to threaten the Centre into submission.
Such sustained and ceaseless attempts to hustle the Centre into revoking three farm laws amounts to subversion of the democratically elected government. The government has been elected through a constitutionally sanctioned electoral process. The constitution bestows on it the mandate to legislate and enact laws. However, this authority was effectively undermined by the treasonous protests carried out by Rakesh Tikait and other leaders.
The political significance of organising a protest rally on India’s Independence day is therefore hard to miss. The goal, it seems, is to mount a rebellion against the central government, with the independence day being used as yet another occasion to stir up public opinion against the Centre.
Tikait’s treasonous antics and his utter disregard for India’s cherised democratic norms
While Rakesh Tikait might defend his antics by attributing them to their rights to oppose legislated laws, the past incidents and Tikait’s obduracy suggest that protesting against the farm laws is their only agenda. One does not need to go any farther than last month to realise the motives harboured by the farmer leaders in continuing their protest.
On July 14, 2021, Tikait proclaimed that the farmers would march up to the Parliament and carry out a sit-in protest outside the building to oppose the farm laws. This was announced at a time when the Monsoon session was underway at the Parliament. He even suggested that they would have their own Parliament at the Jantar Mantar.
India’s Parliament exemplifies its most representative and democratic institution. It is the sanctum of contemplation that delivered the Constitution, the keystone of our Republic. By announcing a siege to it, Tikait had once again revealed his disregard for electoral democracy and his penchant for using pressurising tactics to force the government to toe to his line.
Before that, in January 2021, a tractor rally carried out on India’s Republic Day turned violent as rampaging protesters breached barricades and ran amok on the streets of the national capital. They even stormed the iconic monument Red Fort—another symbol of India’s democracy—and desecrated it by unfurling religious flags from its ramparts.
The uncanny similarity between the Republic Day rebellion and the US Capitol Hill insurrection
The desecration of the Red Fort had uncanny symmetry with the insurrection at the US Capitol Hill that took place 20 days before, on January 6, 2021, when a legion of rioters scaled the walls of the hallowed US Capitol building, occupied and vandalised it for several hours. The mob had sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes that would formalize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Just like the mob in the United States that stormed the US Capitol Hill did not achieve its stated goal, the rebellion mounted by Rakesh Tikait and his followers on India’s Republic Day failed in its endeavour, although the “show of strength” through the tractor rally did result in a ruckus on the streets of Delhi, with protesters indulging in arson, vandalism and desecration of public property. The intention of the mob in Delhi was not very different from the objectives harboured by the mob in the United States: to delegitimize the elected government and use the strength of the mob to overturn a public mandate.
The rioters in the United States are being charged with sedition and other serious crimes It would be fitting and appropriate that the rioters and vandals in India are pursued with similar charges, lest inaction would embolden them to persist with their anti-national activities. Treason, as per India’s constitution, is defined as levying war against the country or adhering to the enemies of India and aiding them in their nefarious schemes. Sedition, on the other, is a broader term for disloyal behaviour against the government.
Why Tikait and his supporters should be tried for treason
What we have witnessed and are witnessing from the past few months, the so-called protesters seem bent on throwing the country into disarray by discrediting the elected government and mounting a rebellion against them. In this way, they are directly or indirectly, advertently or inadvertently, helping the enemies of the country, who would want to see India denuded of strong leadership and be embroiled in an inner turmoil.
As we have witnessed in the past, countries like China are lurking around, waiting for an opportunity to mount their offensive while the country is busy with its internal issues. Last year, when India was occupied with its coronavirus outbreak, Chinese soldiers stealthily moved in eastern Ladakh, thinking that they could capture the Indian territories as India was busy combating the contagion that first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The move later culminated into a tense standoff along the border, with the troops of both sides indulging in a bloody scuffle at Galway Valley friction point. Therefore, it cannot be denied that the antics of Tikait and his supporters are helping the enemies of the country and undermining the elected government of the day.
When the tractor rally on Republic Day convulsed Delhi and resulted in unprecedented chaos and disorder, there’s every reason to expect that the tractor rally scheduled to take place on independence day would yield similar results. It is time that the government throws caution to the winds and bell the cat by prosecuting Tikait and his lumpen supporters for treason.