Some distortions are socially imposed. For example, two young lovers will find every other explanation for why they want to meet, other than the actual one. Even among themselves, they will distort the real reason. They are of course, not to be blamed as liars or hypocrites. The distortion is socially imposed upon them.
The same is the case with nationality movements in politics of mainland India. They cannot say that they are nationality movements. So even by themselves to themselves, other explanations are given. This is the first fundamental distortion in the so-called farmers movement. It is initially mobilised by farmers unions, and its formal demands are concerning farm laws. But from the very beginning, it has been apparent that it is in fact a nationality movement. The content of the movement is far more than its formal demands. Our understanding of it should be too.
The managerial take on things is did the movement succeed in its demands and how best to achieve them? Though that is not unimportant, you need to ask different questions to see what have been the movement’s achievements.
In one way it is truly unprecedented. It is Sudra-led, like Tamil Nadu and Nepal, but the Punjab nationality movement is pro-Religion unlike both of those. In both those cases, Tamil Nadu and Nepal, the Sudra-led nationality movements were militantly anti-Religion and replaced it with ideology – from a Dravidian perspective and from a Marxist perspective respectively. In Punjab’s case, the nationality movement is positively pro-Religion.
Incidentally, that is authoritative proof it is not just a Sikh religious uprising but a Panjabi nationality movement. Even if it was populated mostly initially by Sikhs, it is now embraced by all other religions as well. When government shuts down internet, mosques and temples in Haryana and West UP are turning into information centres. Buddhist Sangha established a permanent spot at one of the protest sites. Jats definitively joined the movement and now conducting Mahapanchayats all over drawing all the other communities in. Jats even tentatively asserting a demand to be recognised as a separate religion! Other lower caste religions, ravidasias, kabirpanthis, deras, all are equally mobilised.
Only nationality movements can in this way give space to all religions. (Even nations that while building themselves tend to exclude and attack, from genocides to legalised discrimination, minority religions, when in the nationality movement stage, invariably try to assimilate all the religions around).
One more sure indication it is a nationality movement is the relative dispensability of its leaders and democratic fervour among the agitators for accountability of the leadership to the people. National leaderships – ‘founding fathers’ and ‘freedom fighters’ of every nationality movement are established and created after the fact. During the movement stage many of them are replaceable non entities, agents acting out the will of the people. This is the story of every nationality movement, and this is evident to see in the Panjab uprising.
Another way it is unprecedented is the way in which the agitation has turned into a Sudra-led. With some exceptions, largely it is due to an ABDICATION by the upper-caste civil society leadership in Punjab. This abdication is unprecedented. Even in Tamil Nadu some amount of pressure and coercion by Tamil Nadu standards was required to essentially retire a generation of upper-caste community leaders.
The historical reason for the Sudra-led Punjab uprising is not the farm laws. It is the Hindu Nazist grab of power and beginning implementation of its revolutionary agenda for building Akhand Bharat and Hindu Rashtra. It is to assert Punjab nation is not interested in it, will not play it’s desginated part in it, and is prepared to prevent it. After Punjab nation, older Greater Punjab across the entire region, led by Jats, joined in as well.
The first immediate happy outcome of the nationality agitation for this purpose is that Sangh Parivar has completely lost its ability to speak to the Sikhs. A default decades long non opposition to Sangh Parivar developed due to having much worse enemies in the community memory and cultural resources born out of traumatic experiences from Partition to Operation Bluestar to Delhi Genocide of Sikhs to Police Repression through Khalistan times is decimated utterly. The Sangh’s organisations for Sikh collaborators to infiltrate the religion are hollowed out. The Punjab leaders are quitting the party and afraid to leave their homes or campaign for elections. Even the Akalis are facing the trouble from it. Such a trouncing of Sangh Parivar is something only a Sudra-led nationality movement can do.
Second happy outcome is the political immunity shown by the agitation. It is the first and only example where propaganda support and technical support from outsiders has been harnessed to the agitation’s benefit, rather than it acting to take over the movement. A political movement is not taken over when somebody else replaces the leadership, nor if the work is being handled by outsiders, nor even if somebody is speaking for others. We are not into this business of ownership of politics. If no one can speak for others, there is no politics. The signature of capture by infiltration is when a movement starts speaking for someone else’s agenda. When a community’s own leaders start speaking for someone else’s agenda. The “farmers” distortion, and the limits imposed by Indian nationalism, though also ultimately imposed by outsiders are in the nature of socially pre-imposed distortions mentioned earlier, that the nationality movement has taken up by itself, for understandable reasons. If the community leaders ever start talking about dismantling the State, Capitalism, and the Family, we can know the agitation has been captured. But the remarkable thing about it is that it won’t be. It can not be. This is because of it being a Sudra-led nationality movement.
Across the country we see that most successful, longest lasting, most loyalty inspiring politicians tend to be from Sudra communities. They are not radicals or major ideologues necessarily, but they command an authority no one else can by virtue of demographic strength. This is what makes it possible for a Sudra-led nationality movement to assert the position that we are in it for our own reasons, if you – any kind of outsider – wants to join us and help us you can do it as long as you are useful to us on our terms. Even most skilled diversionists and infiltrators of movements – upper-caste led progressive Hindu left, radicals, gandhians, anarchists etc are trying and failing to outflank them. This political immunity is unparalleled among all people’s movements in India. We should get used to understanding political immunity as one of the core strengths or weaknesses of any agitation, over and above our usual sense of evaluating resources. It is an example every other movement of opponents and victims of Hindu Nazism – Adivasi, Dalit, Muslim, Christian, Communist – should learn from.
This immunity then is also the basis for its strength. Already the Punjab agitation showed aside from its now patently obvious far superior skills for mobilising people even better than the nearest competitors – Sangh Parivar and Maoists – far greater capability for getting global spotlight and cornering the regime through international pressure than hitherto best at it – the progressive Hindu left and liberals. In both counts it showed beyond any doubt how much more potent a fighting force against Hindu Nazism it is than any other opposition contender.
Modi is leading the regime into an international humiliation trying to deal with it. Much more familiar with the communist methods after decades of closely studying and imitating them, Sangh Parivar is trying to divert things to fight with communists in the familiar terrain. Usually when the regime does this – attacking communists after communists have thoroughly inflitrated someone else’s movement – it results in imposing of leadership, symbols, narrative and agenda of communists on to the movement. But noticeable thing in the Punjab agitation is, while the Hindu Nazists and communists carry on their fight, they are not able to take over the agenda of the agitation.
But one danger still does remain, mainly perpetuated by the interpretors and analysts in the media and academia, dominated by upper-caste liberal and leftist intellectuals but also including some disappointing figures who do and should know better. This danger is called Khalistan. These intellectuals and journalists, trained in the habit of caste-denial in the paradigm of upper-caste secular Indian nationalism, have produced some version of the same here: Khalistan-denial. Like caste, Khalistan is a real force, undesirable, that the denialism thinks it can defeat by pretending it doesn’t exist. Their largely being located outside India in the diaspora communities, and being completely marginal in Punjab, doesn’t mean either that Khalistani forces are not involved in the current mobilisation or that denying their existence is the politically effective way of dealing with it.
The point is this – if the community leadership is defeated, discredited, humiliated, marginalized, only then Khalistan can come in. Politics is decisionist, as long as there is a credible and trusted community leadership dealing with a people’s issues and interests, no one else can take them over and recruit them for any kind of anti-materialist or extremist cause. Only once the existing community leadership is discredited and weakened, others can step in. Note, this is a community that still has not got justice and compensation after facing genocide and systematic state persecution for a few decades. Even the court cases still not completed. The near total mobilisation shows, there is no reason to yet fear the loss of the grip of the community leadership. But the hopeful Khalistan-denial, by the same left/liberal managerialists who will insist the movement is defeated if a face-saving exit on the demands is not achieved, can only bring it closer to the brink of that happening – community leadership getting humiliated and discredited in the eyes of the community and their hold weakening. The risk also then arises if things begin to deteriorate if it looks like it is going to be a statemate or demands may not be met, that from within some section of the community itself, probably from the abdicated upper-caste elite sections, a demand arises for a new KPS Gill to rise and bring back some discipline, leading to some kind of bloody civil war scenario between state power and the people. What Punjab faced till very recently, that is.
It should be said as clearly, if the community leadership that has mobilised this agitation is discredited in the eyes of the community, within twenty years the spectre of Khalistan will be alive again, militant and police terrorism in the name of it. Deliberately closing your eyes to Khalistan perversely worsens the risk of it starting where it didn’t exist. Denying the agitation its achievements aside from the narrow question of the farm laws, framing your view in a way that erases its character as a nationality movement, framing it exclusively as a peasants movements against agricultural laws that necessitates this denial worsens the risk.
But luckily there is a good chance this denial will not have it’s chance to play out in this way because the agitation is likely to win, even at the formal level. The news reports are that hectic discussions are going on within the government and Sangh Parivar how to engineer a face saving exit. In Punjab the destruction looks like tending towards total. Entire Western UP is likely lost for now and probably Haryana as well, more damage must be avoided.
This is a first time experience for the Sangh Parivar. They have the experience that they can not enter in some places like Tamil Nadu, there are limits to their growth in some other places, and they can thoroughly take over some places. In no place they have experienced growth and then a reversal, to the point of decimation. They are not Congress who experienced complete disappearance and unexpected revivals both all across the country. Being ideological people, they also can not handle well something they are unfamiliar with, something that has not yet been theorised. Making them face this situation is yet another of the Punjab agitation’s unparalelled achievements.
All said and done, a social movement is about its social consequences, the movement in society that it causes. On these terms, the Punjab agitation has won on every front even before it wins.
Abir Dasgupta is an independent journalist.