Days after the Lal Qila incident on 26 January in Delhi, India is all set to witness a repeat of the aftermath of the infamous Reichstag fire in Hitler’s Germany. Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP-RSS government and its UP and Haryana counterparts have started hounding out the leaders of the farmers’ movement against pro-corporate farm laws. Stringent terror laws are being invoked. Armed Police, paramilitary forces have been deployed to evict farmers from the borders of the national capital.
Meanwhile, ruling party leaders are instigating Hindu villagers to drive away the Sikh-dominated peasant assemblies at the borders of the national capital. They are calling the Sikh farmers anti-nationals and their movement a Khalistani-Pakistani conspiracy to threaten the security of India and its Hindu majority.
Some Sikh youth had hoisted their religious flag on a bare flagpole on the rampart of historic Lal Qila premises in Delhi on the 72nd Republic Day. It also resembles the separatist Khalistani flag. But they did not pay any disrespect to Indian national flag or replaced it with their own. The Tricolor continues to fly at the top of the Red Fort, the citadel of Mughal power-turned epitome of Indian sovereignty. It has been a prerogative of prime ministers of postcolonial India to hoist the national flag on the lower flagpole on 15 August, the Independence Day.
The RSS, the fountainhead of the majoritarian Hindutva politics and the mother of the ruling BJP had neither joined the composite national struggle against the British Raj nor accepted the Tricolor as the national flag for many years after the freedom. It still salutes Bhagwa Jhanda or Saffron flag that connotes Hindu supremacy and its followers openly want to replace the Tricolor with their own. Journalists including this writer had incurred their wrath when we declined to stand up in the honour of the RSS flag. Now the irony of time is unmistakable.
Nevertheless, the saffron gangs are spewing venom against Sikh farmers and asking their supporters to snatch away the Tricolor from the hands of the ‘traitors’. The pro-Modi TV channels are harping on the same narrative round the clock and exhorting ‘nationalists’ to close ranks. Clearly, they are preaching a recipe for communal riots, a sure-shot strategy to deflect popular attention from economic miseries and social injustice.
The German parallel
The German parliament house was put on fire on 27 February,1933 and the Nazi party quickly blamed communists. Hitler cracked down on assorted ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘Jews lobby-led conspirators’ by arresting them en masse including the Left wing MPs and non-Nazi labor and peasant leaders. He immediately amassed dictatorial power to bury the country’s fragile parliamentary democracy and divided opposition.
The communist leaders who had been put on the dock for their purported crimes were acquitted later. Except Marinus van der Lubbe, a young Dutch communist who was said to have acted on his own, guillotined later. Many contemporary accounts described him as a mentally unstable youth who was looking for a dramatic uprising against the Nazi takeover.
William Shirer and many other journalists and historians later said that the young man, a ‘lone wolf’ in today’s anti-terror parlance, might have started a small fire. But Nazis availed the golden opportunity and stoked the fire with gallons of fuel to gut down the huge building. Hitler and his men killed two birds with one stone: the end of both the multi-party democracy and the communists-socialists who had won substantial electoral support despite their mutual acrimony.
India today has already evoked some chilling parallels with Nazi Germany, especially after the second coming of Modi in 2014. The comparison is not far-fetched. Both the ideology of RSS and the hysteric Lynch mobs that hate Muslims and worship Modi a la followers of the Nazi führer, are professedly similar.
Deep Siddhu: The Indian Marinus?
The Sikh youths at Lal Qila were hot-headed and irresponsible. They may be the agent provocateurs as the majority of farmer leaders have labelled their leader, Deep Siddhu. A minor actor-turned activist, Siddhu is no rustic rabble-rouser but an English-speaking ambitious upper middle class youth from Punjab. His interview with journalist Barkha Dutt two months back has revealed that of late he is a votary of radical restructuring of Indian Centre-state relations. But he is also an admirer of Jarnail Singh Vindranwale.
The latter was killed during military action at the centre of Sikh religion, the Golden Temple in the early eighties after he became the main proponent of separatist Khalistan movement and took to arms. The demand for more equitable powers between states and the union governments is a strong but thorny strand of Indian mainstream politics since the Nehru era. But it also runs parallel to religious, linguistic and regional fault lines in India and many other countries and has triggered sectarian violence, civil wars and separatist wars more under the dictatorial rules.
Siddhu is clearly an attention and opportunity- seeking youth who has failed in film career and now wants to pitch in politics. He had already warmed up his access to Prime Minister Modi and his home minister Amit Shah via the film star-turned BJP MP from Punjab, Sunny Deol. He claimed to have no relation to BJP and spoke against its majoritarian politics at the cost of the states with minorities like Punjab. Now, his dramatic advent at the Red Fort as a champion of Sikh pride has only portrayed him at best as a pathetic pawn in the hands of the BJP government and at worst, a paid provocateur in its service.
Import of the farmer’s protest
Last winter PM Modi faced street protests across the country against the religion-based Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) But they were forced to roll back under prolonged Corona lockdown. Peasants of Punjab and Haryana have renewed the resistance against three pro-corporate farm laws since June- September. They have put a siege on the national power centre for the last two months demanding the abrogation of these laws. The new acts cap the regime’s series of moves were passed by bulldozing the parliamentary procedures and opposition parties, all in the name of reform but only to serve its crony capitalists.
The regime could not evict the mammoth but peaceful assembly of the farmers. They did not budge despite the loss of around 150 lives under the chilly open sky and refused to climb down on their demands as the deadlock continued at talks. The regime was looking for opportunities for a crackdown. It did not want rickety opposition to gain strength from the agitating farmers that had planned a march to the parliament at the opening days of the budget session.
Farmers on roads have proved themselves formidable and the real opposition on roads and a prolonged nightmare to the ruling corporate-communal cabal. Modi-Shah duo apparently could not afford a violent showdown considering the sentiments of Sikh and Hindu Jat jawans in army and paramilitary forces as well as the tumultant violence that the Operation Bluestar had triggered and led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
The 26 January violence, particularly the Lal Qila incident provided the regime what it was looking for: an opportunity for rousing emotions of Hindu majority. Particularly, that of the youth who hardly know or care for the difference between pluralist democratic nationalism of our freedom struggle that the Tricolor embodies and RSS-BJP brand of Hindu nationalism that stands for majoritarian supremacy.
Tikait holds ground
But the tearful defiance of Rakesh Tikait, a Jat farmer leader from Western UP with considerable following among Jats in surrounding states seemed to have halted the planned onslaught in the intervening night between 27-28 January. Insulted by BJP leaders who reportedly taunted him as an accomplice of anti-nationals, Tikait refused to end the assembly at Ghazipur border and court arrest which he had thought of earlier.
As his soulful cry for the peasant honour went viral, farmers who had gone home, somehow dispirited after 26 January incidents, rushed back in numbers. A war of nerves continued as both police and farmers spent a sleepless night. The farmers have prevailed so far and their depleted ranks at Singh and Tikri borders have witnessed a ripple effect of Ghazipur.
As the parliament begins its session some kilometres away, the rustic democrats and patriots are still keeping the vigil on roads. For you and me, for our children, for the future of the idea of India.