Monday's Bharat Bandh' crippled day-to-day life in Punjab but had limited impact elsewhere in India, news reports said. But a handful of farmer organisations' well-advertised and systematic approach towards a nationwide shutdown has once again brought back focus on these organisations' means and resources to have pulled off such a large-scale event.
Engineering a mass movement needs funds, a planned communication strategy and a grassroots organisational structure, especially when the cause represented is not a unifying one. The fact that these organisations insist they have no political linkages further raises questions about how the group has managed to sustain a protest for over a year without worrying about lost workdays or the cost of running an agitation.
This brings back to mind news reports from January this year when intelligence agencies found evidence that Sikhs For Justice, a foreign-based organisation that is associated with secessionist demands, had promised hard cash and support to fuel the movement and instigate anti-India sentiments in farmers of Punjab.
As thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were rallying at Delhi's three interstate border points, SFJ was trying to fish in troubled waters by announcing $1 million in aid for farmers who suffered injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action in Haryana. SFJ had also announced a reward of $2.5 lakh for those who will hoist a Khalistani flag on Red Fort on Republic Day.
The organisation had put up posters claiming that it is funding the various trolleys containing people who are coming to the Singhu border. This organisation is led by a person who has been designated a terrorist by the Indian government.
The SFJ-link was also taken on record in a Supreme Court case in which these farm organisations were seeking a repeal of new farm laws.
Representing one of the petitioners, senior advocate Harish Salve on 11 January reportedly said, "There must be an assurance that peace is being threatened by a large group of people. Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a Vancouver-based organisation has put up posters that (Rs) 10,000 will be paid to anyone who joins the protest."
PS Narasimha, appearing for one of the intervenors supporting the farm laws, voiced the same concern, alleging that the SFJ is involved in the movement. While Attorney General of India, KK Venugopal did not mention the organisation by name, he also took note of a Khalistani presence in the movement.
The Supreme Court is hearing a plea by farm organisations such as Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) to repeal three legislation providing an alternative to the mandi system of sale of crops deeply entrenched in North India, but which is often criticised for granting hegemony to middle-men and large farmers to dictate crop prices.
While suspending the implementation of the three farm laws, the Supreme Court had constituted a Committee on 12th January 2021 saying talks between the farmer organisations and the Centre have "not yielded any result so far" and "we are of the view that the constitution of a committee of experts in the field of agriculture to negotiate between the farmers' bodies and the Government of India may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of the farmers".
Farmers have been agitating on the borders of Delhi since November 26 last year, seeking the repeal of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.