They were labelled terrorists, Khalistanis, Opposition’s stooges. They braved a bone-chilling winter and the scorching summer, rains and the water cannon and lathis of the state through water cannons and lathis.

They were ridiculed and taunted, and even mowed down (Lakhimpur Kheri).

Estimates put the dead at 600- 700 due to various factors, but the agitating farmers stood their ground, and refused to back down, till the mighty Government of India did.

On November 19, finally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did what he should have done much earlier — announced the repeal of the three controversial farm laws.

These laws had struck terror into the hearts of farmers, cutting across caste and community, region and religion, and, above all, political ideology.

The new laws, they were convinced, would enable the muscle and greed of big corporates to throw them out of their land and livelihood and put them .at the mercy of the rich and the powerful. Their argument was that Indian industry was already the monopoly of been a few powerful industrial houses, that had now turned their eyes on Indian agriculture, and the humble farmer could never take on those mighty entities.

Unlike protests for the citizenship amendment law, erosion of civic liberties, lynchings, etc, which were quashed by the might of the state, the farmers just did not budge. The dominant imagery in the sea of protesting Sikh and Jat farmers, the Punjabis and Haryanvis, groups known for their fierce stance, and unquestionable resolve.

Read also: Salient features that got lost in the din of protest

Electoral compulsions

The fallout of the government’s dogged resolve not to back down became visible in the drubbing the BJP got in the bypolls in West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan; Assam being the exception.

With elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradeesh coming up, and a profitable alliance with the ousted Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh so tantalisingly close, but for the farm laws, the BJP top brass’s options were shrinking.

Add to this, BJP leaders who tried to enter the villages of Western UP, were being driven away by the region’s angry farmers, who screamed in TV channels — “Uttar Pradesh ki gaddi ka raasta hamarey kheton se jaata hei” (the road to the power in UP goes through our farms).

It became evident that the controversial farm laws had become an albatross for the ruling party.

The BJP just could not risk a big section of farmers joining the anti-BJP bandwagon and wresting UP away from it.

With no sign of the farmers giving up their agitation, and accepting the government’s reasoning that these laws will usher in the much-needed reform in the agriculture sector and really benefit the small and marginal farmers, Modi had to eat humble pie and announce their repeal.

Totally avoidable

While the contentious farm laws will soon become history — the farmers have refused to budge till the laws are formally repealed in Parliament — the BJP top brass needs to do some serious soul searching on its stance on these controversial laws for a whole year. The ferocity with which these laws were defended, and the troll army unleashed on the farmers, who were humiliated, abused, and defamed, is astounding.

The government needs to introspect on the attacks on social media of global celebrities who supported the Indian farmer’s right to protest. Climate activist Greta Thunberg was attacked, the 22-year-old Indian climate activist Disha Ravi was dubbed a “conspirator” for sharing a document to help the agitating farmers, and arrested.

If that wasn’t enough to muzzle free speech, and warn those protesting, the government “persuaded” celebrities to come out with tweets against singer Rihanna, Thunberg, etc, on how this is “an internal matter”, “India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised”; “external forces can be spectators but not participants”and so on.

At the end of the day, the biggest winner of this avoidable mess was the humble farmer.

This is proof that democratic and righteous protests can indeed get you victory.

A shot-in-the-arm for other protest movements which are equally necessary, but which have been muzzled.