With the United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponing his visit to India later this month, the Narendra Modi government may heave a sigh of relief while simultaneously it may prove to be a dampener for the farmers protesting on the Delhi borders against the centre’s three agri laws over a month.
Johnson had earlier given his assent to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade function on January 26. However, on Tuesday he postponed the visit citing the need to oversee the response of COVID-19 pandemic’s response at home.
“The prime minister spoke to Prime Minister Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. “In light of the national lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the Prime Minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus,” Johnson told PM Modi.
Back in India, 41 farmer unions have already held seven rounds of talks with the centre and the eighth round is scheduled to take place on January 8, failing which they have threatened to enter Delhi from the national capital’s borders and hold a “tractor rally”.
Thousands of protesting farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping at three Delhi border points – Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur – for the past 40-odd days. They have been demanding a repeal of three three farm laws and a legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP).
The sixth round of talks was held between the government and the farmer unions in Vigyan Bhawan on December 30. The two sides agreed on two issues – decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.
However, the seventh round held on Monday remained inconclusive as no common ground could be reached on scrapping the three laws and providing a legal guarantee for MSP. On the one side, the farmers have stuck to their demand for repealing the agri laws passed by Parliament in its monsoon session last year. On the other side, the government has made its intention clear of not repealing the three legislation.
In this backdrop, the farmers have warned of intensifying their agitation. They are already making preparations for entering Delhi and holding a massive tractor rally on Republic Day. Their intention seems to be to embarrass the government and internationalise it even more on a day when India would be celebrating its 72nd Republic Day and the security agencies would be on highest alert.
If the farmers would try to enter Delhi and take out a tractor rally, the law-enforcement forces would not allow them to have their way. Skirmishes between the two sides and even violent clashes may not be ruled out.
If violence and injuries take place and loss of property or lives also happen, this is sure to get highlighted in the media in the country and abroad.
A similar situation had arisen on February 24 last year when protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were taking place and US President Donald Trump was in Ahmedabad on his first India visit.
The Shaheen Bagh protests were going on since December 2019 but it intensified a day before Trump landed in Ahmedabad on February 24 last year. Violent clashes broke out in Northeast Delhi when a head constable lost his life and a DCP was seriously injured.
The incident caught the attention of the international media which was present in the country in large numbers due to Trump’s visit. There were chances of the same scenario arising during the visit of Boris Johnson. As it is, comparisons are being drawn between the ongoing farmers’ protests and the Shaheen Bagh agitation.
However, with the UK prime minister postponing his visit, the security agencies would be under slightly less pressure to maintain law and order. Moreover, the presence of international media contingent would also be a curtailed one. This may be a boon in disguise for the centre.
The Modi government may heave a sigh of relief. However, it would prove a dampener for the protesting farmers as their tractor rally may not get as much publicity as it would have got had Johnson been present in the Republic Day parade celebrations.