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15.01.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

India: Tractors at the Republic Day Parade?


“Republic Day” is one of the three national holidays celebrated annually in India on January 26, marking the enactment of the country’s Constitution on that day in 1950.

Not to be confused with another holiday, “Independence Day,” which is also celebrated annually, but on August 15 on the occasion of the enactment of the “Indian Independence Act”, passed by the British Parliament and approved by royal decree in 1947. This accomplished what the British government itself in the second half of the nineteenth century had regarded as an inevitability.

As the guest of honor at official ceremonies on the occasion of “Republic Day,” a prominent foreign statesman is usually invited. This year it was to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson, invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the help of UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who visited India in mid-December 2020.

Johnson’s planned visit was supposed to become an important event in the overall trend (“tilt”) that has recently developed in the UK’s foreign policy, namely the one of a, once largest, former metropole attempting to return to the region “east of Suez”. As a comment on these attempts, the author would like to point out that the ambitions of the current leadership of the UK are questionable in relation to the political-economic-military ammunition available today.

In this regard, there is a remarkable symbolism in the fact that Johnson canceled the visit to India, as the official representative of the British prime minister reported on January 5 this year. The reason given was the nationwide quarantine declared the day before due to the “accelerated spread of the new strain of the coronavirus.” – It is astonishing how much of today’s politics is attributed to the “machinations” of the SARS COV-2 pandemic in its various strains.

Given that the Indian government is rather positive about its former metropole’s attempts to return to the region “east of Suez,” the announcement is unlikely to make the country’s leadership happy.

Still, its main concerns over the past few months have been of an internal nature. The issue is the continued protest of farmers who strongly disagree with the three laws passed on last September 27 aimed at making drastic changes in all aspects of agriculture in India. Note that agriculture employs more than half of the country’s able-bodied population, whose total number, let’s not forget, is 1.3 billion people.

It was the protesting farmers who threatened to join their tractors to the column of military equipment, which will be deployed during the traditional “Republic Day” parade in the capital city. A kind of rehearsal of the “tractor parade” is already taking place in a number of states, first of all in Haryana, on the border of which the Delhi capital district is located. On the outskirts of the capital there are also serious clashes with the police of many thousands of convoys of farmers, moving both on tractors and on foot.

The central government was clearly taken aback by the scale of the protests. Several rounds of talks were initiated with representatives of farmers’ organizations protesting the laws of September 27, 2020. On behalf of the central government, a number of ministers and, most notably, the head of the Ministry of Agriculture, Narendra Singh Tomar, participated in them. The last eighth round of talks took place on January 8 this year and yielded no results. In fact, nor did all the previous ones.

So far, the positions of the parties remain difficult to reconcile. The protesting farmers continue to insist on several points, the two main ones being the repeal of all three laws and the reinstatement of the government’s mandatory purchase of farm produce at the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

The opposite side is ready to discuss changes to individual articles of the adopted laws, and insists that the “naive” protesters (“who are misled by the dishonest adversaries of the current government”) do not understand the essence of the new procurement policy. In particular, it is argued that the practice of MSP is maintained, but farmers are now given the opportunity to sell their produce to “someone else at a better price.” Again, so far the government’s opponents are not satisfied with such clauses.

Note, in this connection, that the central government may have reason to speculate about attempts to exploit the (“naive”) farmers’ discontent by certain political forces. India is a highly complex country with a number of internal faults of varying nature. There are periodic internal turmoils of varying proportions, the real causes of which can only be more or less plausible speculation. Just remember the riots in Delhi last February.

Be that as it may, the main point today is that there is still no positive outlook in the escalating internal conflict over the passing of the three agricultural laws. The author wishes to hope the protesting farmers do not really try to break into the capital with their tractors on January 26. A place where their appearance is unlikely to be welcomed.

Didn’t Prime Minister Boris Johnson foresee the prospect of such developments in the former “pearl of the British crown”? In any case, the reason to think about it was given by an awkward situation a year ago, in which US President Trump ended up in Delhi at the time of the aforementioned (and similar to the current) “events”.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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