Archive for the ‘Punjab’ Category

28
Sep

Farmers Protest: Bollworm

   Posted by: aman

Posted on September 27, 2021

Day 305

Toll 607

Bollworm

Reports emerge that gulabi sundi has affected cotton crops in Malwa, Punjab. This worm is pink sundi. A few years back Ajay Bhardwaj Bhaji (film here) had talked about white bollworm.

A few years before that Prof Dipankar Gupta and I had talked to Panjab farmers in Malwa about new cotton seeds. Prof Gupta had emphasised on intellectuals such as Vandana Shiva talking of issues with GMO seeds. Farmers rebutted Shiva. ‘Earlier we needed 25 sprays – to kill pesticides. Now we need 3 sprays’.

Then white bollworm happened, then white fly, now common view is, ‘Sundi has devastated crops’. Sprays have gone up to 10-15.

Shiva proves right. Corporate infuences farming and devastates farmers.

GMO seeds much?

25
Sep

The Times of India: Panjab CM Caste Identity

   Posted by: aman

Dear Friends,

Recently, Jairaj Singh from The Times of India asked me for an explainer on the caste identity of the new Panjab CM. I must state caste in Panjab and in India is extremely complex and cannot be summarised in an article. Yet, here is an attempt to list some pointers at least. Since the article is behind paywall, here is my text.

Headline: Why new Punjab CM is not just a Dalit face

Shoulder: To look at it through the prism of identity politics only ends up exaggerating the Jat-Dalit fault line, as if that has been Punjab’s primary concern. Charanjit Singh Channi’s greatest strength is that he’s a ‘common man’.

Column: On September 20, as soon as the Congress high command selected Charanjit Singh Channi to replace Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab’s 16th chief minister, the news headlines began to scream: “First Dalit Sikh CM”. Many on social media naively asked, if there is even caste in Punjab? Some pundits floated theories that this is a stop-gap arrangement for Navjot Singh Sidhu to take over as CM, if Congress is elected next term.

Before we dive deeper into this. We need to know that to understand any people, any social or religious community, it is vital to look at the history and the political economy of that society for context.

A Culture Cauldron

For more than three millennia, Punjab has been the gateway to the Indian subcontinent. On modern maps you can trace 20 countries — Macedonia to Turkey to Steppes to Mongolia — from where exodus to Punjab took place. Empires flourished during the Mauryan, Gupta, Harsha empires and later Mughal reigns. Even as Arabs, Ghaznavids, Durranis invaded the land, long before the British took control of it, imagine how many blood lines have mixed in the great cauldron, turning it into perhaps one of the greatest gene pools in the world? If one were to go by the tenets of Manu Smriti, this churning led to what a scholar explained to me as “Punjab being the apotheosis of Shudra culture”.

Through these millennia, while power shifted between kings and empires, the Punjab society moved from pastoral to agrarian, and the people took to arms in self-defence alongside being farmers, traders, ironsmiths, carpenters, tailors, leather workers, manual scavengers, and so on. These trades, informed by power dynamics, created hierarchical layers in Punjab’s society. This, in a crux, is Punjab’s caste structure. It is unlike the caste logic of the Gangetic plains, or in the regions south of Narmada, which, to an extent, are sanctified through religious texts and practices.

Punjab’s Complexity

The Sikh religion was founded in the 16th century and the Khalsa was inaugurated in the early 18th century. The ten Gurus indeed preached equality. The eleventh guru the Guru Granth Sahib contains verses by Bhagats, Bhatts and Pirs from across religions and castes. However, the reality of any religious community is more than its ideals. The fact is that like any other religion with their founders, even Sikhs have fallen short of the ideals by which they must live.

In the 19th century, the British tried to slot people into spreadsheets through census. But their categories of caste and tribe and race kept shifting. They formed regiments for so-called low caste Mazhabis, even as they declared the Sikhs on the whole as a ‘martial race’. The history is long and winding, but as of now, the Jats, the landed caste, dominate the politics of Punjab, and the Dalits, who constitute 31.9 per cent of the population, remain largely powerless. This is because in Punjab’s agrarian political economy, land is of immense value.

In current times, we might get an insight into caste through studying the aftereffects of the Green Revolution. While earlier in villages, Jats owned the land, the many trades formed the ecosystem of the land. Profits were shared through mutual agreements. With greater mechanisation due to the Green Revolution, the role of other trades in farming was reduced, which led to the Jats earning well though economic disparity became stark.

After the trifurcation of Punjab in 1966, in both the religious institutions and political parties, Jats began to edge out the trading class. Social mobility, aided by religious dominance and political power, abetted by influx of migrant labour, hardened the caste lines in Punjab. Towards the end of the previous century, Dalits — unencumbered by land whose profits were shrinking — mobilised themselves and took to urban livelihoods. The surge of Deras also provided social capital and widened the differences between Jats and Dalits. Though, it must be mentioned, most Deras are actually run by Jats.

The differences led to separate Gurdwaras and cremation sites and fights of villages over common land. Meanwhile, the welfare state did not provide for the Dalits by ways of schools, hospitals and employment opportunities. While Dalits languished, Jats could earn from, or monetise their land, and provide facilities to their next generations.

Punjab’s dominant music and culture too — barring the recent farmer protest songs — has pandered to the dominant patriarchal and feudal mindset. This is countered a bit through Dalit resurgence songs. While Jats claim the Sikh religion does not sanction casteism, the lived experience of Dalits tells an entirely different story.

Beyond Identity Politics

In this mix, Channi has made history. Yes, he is Dalit, from the Ramdasia community, which used to deal in leather. Congress found him an ideal candidate because rural Dalits are the party’s core vote bank, and they want to retain it. This also helps them negate the Shiromani Akali Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up and torpedo the Aam Aadmi Party move to nominate a Dalit deputy chief minister. But highlighting Channi’s being Dalit is similar to British ascribing people on spreadsheet columns. It is a parochial view and ends up exaggerating the Jat-Dalit fault line as if that has been Punjab’s primary concern.

For example, take the current jathedar of the Akal Takht. No one raised an eyebrow when Giani Harpreet Singh took the post. Giani Ditt Singh’s role as a reformer and scholar of the Singh Sabha movement is a part of historical records. The fact that the restoration of Dalits’ right to offer karah prasad at Darbar Sahib on October 12, 1920 led to the formation of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Gurdwara Reform Movement cannot be overlooked.

Coming back to Channi, his face alone is not enough to swing one-third of Punjab’s votes. The systemic oppression of weaker castes is such that they are heavily fragmented. There are differences between Mazhabis, Valmikis, Ad-Dharmis and Ravidassias. That is why, though Kanshi Ram was from Punjab, BSP could only manage to form its government in Uttar Pradesh. Also, by now, caste cynicism is deeply entrenched. A labour leader not long ago asked me: “Every election Punjab elects 34 reserved candidates. What have they done for us? What is the president of the nation doing for Dalits? Merely installing faces is symbolic.”

Channi comes from the eastern Puad region, which has been historically neglected. He is well-educated — he has a Master’s degree and an MBA, plus he is a lawyer, and has even enrolled for a doctorate. At 58, he is two decades younger than the outgoing CM Amarinder Singh. His greatest strength is, as he said in his inaugural address, “I am a common man.” After all, he does not belong to Punjab’s dominant political families and offers a clear break from royalty — like Captain — and almost-royalty — the Badals. This time, Congress has presented itself to the people without the baggage of feudalism. Yes, it may be symbolic, but symbols too have value.

In the post-militancy years, Manmohan Singh’s elevation as prime minister had changed the perception of Sikhs in the country. Now it depends on what Channi is able to achieve in the next four months before elections. It is here that Congress must observe caution: If Channi wins the Congress the next elections, the high command must repeat him as CM for the next term and root out the ‘stop gap’ speculation. That will be Congress’ test in Punjab. In any case, Captain has resigned from CMship, not from politics. His anger against his arch-rival Sidhu is only too apparent. One thing is clear: No one can yet say what the 2022 elections will throw up in Punjab.

To read article, click here …

24
Sep

Outlook: Panjab CM Change

   Posted by: aman

Dear Friends,

Outlook asked me for a write up on the change of CM in Panjab. Here is my piece. Since it is behind pay wall. Please find text inline:

Congress Bowls A Caste Googly: A Dalit Sikh As Chief Minister Of Punjab Ahead Of State Polls

When former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, said, ‘A week is a long time in politics’, he might have Maharashtra in mind, not Panjab. In Panjab, between last Saturday and Sunday, within almost 24 hours, the Congress high command effected a massive change which upturns the state’s history of selection of chief ministers. It not only pushed former royalty Captain Amarinder Singh to resign but also installed an unlikely common man, a Dalit Sikh as the chief minister.

Before we come to the change of guard, a generally asked question is: how can Panjab, where Sikhs are 56 per cent population, which suffered Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh pogrom at the hands of the Congress, repose faith in the Congress? Let me illustrate with three examples. First, Captain resigned from Congress after Operation Blue Star. Second, in his last term, Captain’s big stroke was the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 cancelling the sharing of river waters with Haryana and Rajasthan. The Congress high command and the then prime minister were very unhappy with the move, but Captain scored a brownie point and precipitated a constitutional crisis. Third, before this term, his authorised biography claims, in 2015 he threatened to quit the Congress and float his own party to fight elections if he was not made state chief. These examples illustrate Panjab warmed up not to Congress but to a rebel leader within the Congress. Captain’s major draw has been that he has stood up to the high command in Delhi, hence he would protect Panjab’s interests. This was seen in Captain’s handsome victory in Amritsar over BJP’s Arun Jaitley in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

When Congress was bidding for power in 2017, under Captain’s leadership, there were two dominant issues in Punjab: sacrilege of holy books, over 200 issues of the Granth Sahib, Gutka Sahib, Holy Quran, Ramayan, Gurdwaras being desecrated; drugs, the notion that Panjab was in the grip of a lethal drug smuggling racket, abetted by Rahul Gandhi’s false figures of ‘7 in 10 youth are drug addicts’ and movies like Udta Punjab. To negate the impact of the Aam Aadmi Party bid to power, on December 15, 2015, captain vowed on the Sikh holy book, the Gutka Sahib, a shortened version of the Guru Granth Sahib, to ‘break the back of the drug menace’ within four weeks of being elected; end corruption in public office; and provide employment to unemployed youth.

This was a tall order. So tall, that it was realistically impossible. Yet, since Captain had said it, since it was sworn of the holy book, people took his word. During the course of his campaign, Captain promised farm loan waiver to all, rallied against the sand and gravel and liquour and transport mafias and asked for votes on the plea this was his last term. He wanted voters to enable him to leave a worthy legacy with Panjab back on the path of progress.

Hence, once elected, people expected him to fulfil his promises. But, he didn’t. In his conduct, Captain has been the personification of royal disinterest in the affairs of the common people. The first signs of Captain’s failure could be seen when Captain’s famed promise to waive farm loans, from projected ?73,000 crore estimated by universities, was limited to loans taken from cooperative societies, for farmers owning not more than 2.5 acres of land and a loan value of up to ?2 lakh. The actual waiver amount came down to ?4624 crore till date. In July, 2018, the people of the state, frustrated with the drug menace, held a Black Week Against Drugs – Either Die or Protest. The promise to break the back of drugs had led to major infighting in the police department which was showing up to be hand-in-glove with the illegal trade. The mafias continued, unemployment remained high, corruption in public office did not abate, office of the CM was run from Captain’s residence, there have been massive protests by unemployed and underemployed teachers, by farm labourers. In August 2019, Congress MLAs questioned Captain on his performance. There were no answers. Captain had the entire state machinery in his control.

Meanwhile, the all-important sacrilege cases, the unprovoked firing at Behbal Kalan and Kotakapura, on which Captain had even conducted a special Assembly session and taken back consent from Central Bureau of Investigation over the cases, also came to nought. This April, the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed an investigation into the Kotakapura firing case. The informal discourse of sacrilege and firing targets the Badals, but once again they are off the hook. This is similar to how in 2017 Captain had fought from an additional seat at Lambi, just to help former CM and Akali stalwart Prakash Singh Badal win. This prompted Congress to set up a probe panel to sort out the issue. Finally, Captain’s error was: instead of preparing for succession, Captain betrayed his appeal to people and entered the bid for another term to rule the state as CM.

Once Navjot Singh Sidhu took over as Panjab Pradesh Congress head in July this year, he entered a head-on fight with Captain. Developments in the last few days show, Captain has had his comeuppance earlier than when normally leaders of parties have them – in elections which are still five months away. The outcry on Captain resigning is indicative of two aspects: one, those opposed to BJP are aghast how Congress could mess with the one state it had handsomely won; two, most media has no inkling of what really goes on in Panjab. For years, Captain has remained a loud nationalist – baiting Pakistan, posturing over Kartarpur Sahib corridor, supporting Army Major who dragged a civilian in front of his jeep. No one asked if these stances by a border state’s CM have been in the interest of Panjab, the state that elected him to power. Or if he has been furthering arch rival Bhartiya Janata Party’s agenda.

Through the change of CM, given the uneven electoral turf of Panjab – Akalis and AAP still in disarray – the Congress has moved deftly to prevent the party from facing a debacle in the February 2022 elections. The change is huge because in Channi, first time in many decades Panjab has a CM out of the top ruling families in Panjab. As far as the value of symbolic faces in an electoral democracy goes, it is a smart move. As a Dalit Sikh face, in the state with highest percentage Dalit population at 31.9 per cent, from the neglected eastern Puad region, Congress has apparently check-mated the Akali-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, the BJP overtures to Dalits, beaten AAP’s projection of a deputy CM candidate and attempted to retain its old voter base. But as a veteran journalist says, and considering the fact that Dalits are not a monolith, they do not vote together, ‘It is too early still to assess the power of a whisper campaign. Who knows what will happen?’

While Channi is an interesting selection, the way the Congress high command fumbled with selecting the next CM reveals it still does not understand Panjab’s ground realities. At this point, given the limited time Channi has before elections, unlike Captain’s bombast, he would do well to remain modest and grounded and cover as much ground as possible. The Congress must remember: if Channi sees the party through the elections, they must continue with him as the next full-term CM. Panjab, Puad and Dalits have been neglected for long, Congress would do well to demonstrate its intentions are sincere and honourable.

To access article, click here …

24
Sep

The Hindu: Panjab CM Change

   Posted by: aman

Dear Friends,

Yesterday afternoon Sampath G from The Hindu spoke to me on the change of CM in Panjab. It is 27.30 minutes. English.

Please listen here …

15
Sep

Farmers protest: Whither Captain?

   Posted by: aman

Day 293

Toll 599

Now that there is a lull in the Sidhu-Captain struggle saga in Panjab, Captain has gone ahead and provoked the farmers. Yesterday, he asked farmers protesting in Panjab at 113 locations for close to a year now to shift protest solely to Delhi and Haryana. The reason, he says is, people are inconvenienced and protests hamper economic growth.

Imagine the chutzpah! For four and a half years Captain has neglected the state and now he says farmers protest are harming development. It is for reasons like these I say Captain – while he nominally belongs to Congress – is the most cloaked face of the Sangh. In reality, Captain is a coterie unto his own. When it suits him he spouts nationalism, when it suits him he speaks Panjab’s interest.

Also yesterday, in an unfortunate turn of events, the SKM stage was used to issue a statement against a community elder S. Hardeep Singh Dibdiba. If you recollect, on January 26th, a young man lost his life near Red Fort. Navreet Singh was Dibdiba’s grandson. Police maintains the death occurred because Navreet Singh lost control of his tractor, the tractor tuned turtle, he fell and injured himself fatally. Some media and local sources maintain Navreet was shot at which led to him losing control of the tractor.

At that time, SKM immediately distanced itself from Navreet’s death. In fact, for at least a week SKM did not recover from the events of Republic Day and made all kinds of defensive statements, calling the younger lot in-disciplined and many more adjectives. When, in fact, the Tractor Rally was SKM’s call to start with and SKM never explained the logic behind the route change. Since losing his grandson, Dibdiba has been campaigning to bring the youth and SKM together. Later, once the protest was stable again, SKM honoured Navreet as a martyr.

This statement yesterday, though very brief, came from Dibdiba’s son Bikramjit Singh Hundal who is Navreet’s father. It is clear there is a rift in the family. It is an older rift, going back a few decades, when perhaps Dibdiba neglected his own family.

To me, SKM’s role in the immediate aftermath of Republic Day and yesterday remains problematic. I believe, any fight we take on is finally about our personalities, our character. If SKM has to lead this struggle over the morality of laws, it must itself also rise above exploiting family rifts and allowing its stage to be used to wash dirty linen in public. There is no end to Panjab’s internecine rivalries and SKM must realise it has always been a much bigger entity than just a front for a Panjab-based protest. These talks overall lead to SKM earning a bad name for itself.

In any case now the idea of SKM has spread and individual states are coming up with their own chapters. Haryana, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh are all starting their own SKM chapters. This is part of UP Mission, Bharat Bandh preparations – on September 27th, and for the longer innings in which farmers now find themselves.

Right now a Kisan Sansad is underway in Jaipur. The Sansad model has really worked for farmers and it is good that it is being replicated across sates. The media, if in solidarity, gets to publish concise, accurate information on the Farm Laws. The message spreads, hopefully far and wide.

11
Sep

Farmers Protest: Election Campaign

   Posted by: aman

Day 289

Toll 596

Election Campaign

Yesterday, the Samyukth Kisan Morcha’s Panjab Farmer Unions met with all Panjab political party leaders, except BJP, at the People Convention Centre, Sector 36, Chandigarh.

Given that elections are a few months away, the SKM is interested in keeping the people of the state focussed on the protest and does not want them distracted by political rallies or their opposition. They requested all political parties to not conduct political rallies until the state elections are announced. They committed that farmers will not obstruct social gatherings.

This step was necessary because the political situation is quite a mess. Not only because of Congress infighting, Shiromani Akali Dal nowhere close to recovering ground lost in last 5 years, AAP also in a deep churn.

On September 2, we saw the fracas between farmers and police over a Akali political rally. Given the situation, given how Centre is on the backfoot over the farmers protest, how BJP has no face left in Punjab, there is general apprehension of President’s Rule in the state.

The meeting was an interesting show of strength in reverse. Normally we are accustomed to politicians keeping the people waiting, delaying meetings. But yesterday, politicians were kept waiting. Navot Sidhu, the Panjab Congress head waited a whole hour before he was called in.

The result of the meeting was:

- All small parties and AAP agreed that they will not start election campaign before elections are announced. Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal noted the request but said they would revert after consultation with their high command.

- Unions posed that since all political parties, once elected, go back on their promises in the election manifesto, why not make the manifesto a legal document with timelines to implement promises if elected? All parties agreed to the proposal, in theory.

- Unions put up their demand to Congress to work with the Centre and cancel the submission of land records at APMCs to sell grain. The issue is complex because the titles of much of the land ownership of all farmers, all over the country, is not completely legally clear. It has to do with patterns of family ownership and not all farmers till their lands.

- The press asked if the Unions had also demanded from Congress to withdraw charge-sheets against farmers in Moga. The police has already agreed to withdraw the cases and sought one week to do that.

- Upon being pushed to declare which party the unions support, the unions summed up their meeting with the words that any political party that continues to conduct rallies will be seen as ‘anti-farmer’ and that will have consequences in the elections.

I think, in the interest of the farmers protest, and also for general peace in a democracy, this was an essential exercise. I hope the political parties heed the farmer unions’ request and Panjab averts a President’s rule. This move will also save political parties expenses to mount their campaign well in advance and will keep people focussed on the protests.

I also cannot help note how wily-nily this request will also play out personally in favour of Panjab CM Amarinder Singh. We know his tenure has been an utter failure. We know he cannot really face the people of the state. This request will give him an alibi to not appear in public. It is interesting how in Karnal, the unions are making the Haryana CM accountable, but in Panjab the unions’ call is allowing the CM a face saver.

Please do not read my understanding as an aspersion on the unions or any kind of insinuation. It is just an illustration of how every step we take has consequences, sometimes unintended. Overall, the meeting was a good illustration of people’s power over their representatives.

3
Sep

Farmers Protest: Paddy Procurement

   Posted by: aman

Day 281

Toll 595

Paddy Procurement

It really seems the government is unaware of anything like the farmers protest. It seems to me like Indira Gandhi’s wilful blindness when she called for elections after Emergency in 1977. Her advisors had told he she would win, but she was trounced.

The government continues with flawed policies. The new rules issued by the Centre clearly show they want to buy as little as possible paddy on Minimum Support Price. See my post dated March 17, some additional points:

- Broken grain: 25% is accepted. Now reduced to 20% when on ground broken grain is about 35%.

- Discolouration: 5% was allowed, now reduced to 3%.

- Moisture: 15% was allowed, now reduced to 14%.

- Damaged grain: 3% was allowed, now reduced to 2%.

- Red grains: 3% was the limit, now no longer be purchased.

Along with the farmers, the new rules are also being opposed by the Rice Millers’ Association. Even the Panjab government has opposed the new rules.

Meanwhile, the Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat on September 5, the day after tomorrow. The one that has sent chills down the government’s non-existent spine. See the stage, this is huge. 31 seconds.

2
Sep

Farmers Protest: Moga Erupts

   Posted by: aman

Day 280

Toll 594

Moga Erupts

Farmers from Kirti Kisan Union gathered at Moga, Panjab today to oppose a rally by Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal. The farmers wanted to confront him over SAD’s earlier support to the Farm Laws.

However, police stopped the farmers. This resulted in a skirmish in which police lathi charged farmers and then farmers indulged in stone pelting and chased the police away. We can see a farmer escorting a woman police personnel out of the conflict zone.

Do not worry if you can’t understand the language. See the visuals, they tell the story. I was moved to hear the commentator say at the end: does Badal not know because of him sons of farmers are fighting against each other? Why can’t he stop his rallies for votes?

Very unfortunate!

Video: Duniya TV.

27
Aug

PANJAB: Mention in Essential Reads on Panjab

   Posted by: aman

Dear Friends,

I was pleasantly surprised to see PANJAB Journeys Through Fault Lines mentioned among top seven reads on Panjab on a blog. In fact, on top.

Click here to read.

27
Aug

PANJAB: Talk at IISc

   Posted by: aman Tags: ,

Dear friends,

a few days back, Bitasta Das invited me to speak to scholars and friends at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Please click to listen to the talk.