Regarding the consequences of such tireless propaganda favoring whoever is in power, he adds, “Somehow propaganda has come to be seen as the most viable political tool. Besides other problems, it should also soon begin to produce low returns. Popular media losing credibility is not a good thing for any society.” Not surprisingly, all this reflects the fragility of our institutions, including the judiciary. “I hope the political establishment and civil society recognize this sooner than later. Such a relaxed attitude toward such processes would weaken us as a people and as a society,” Jodhka points out.

Young Indian farmers at a protest venue just outside Delhi on February 1. (Ullekh N.P.)

On tour of Tikri, Singhu, and Ghazipur, it is almost impossible to meet a protester who has neither served in the armed forces nor had a close relative posted along the border—a vindication of the farmers’ claims that they are here to fight for their rights, not to wage a secessionist battle against the government. The presence of large numbers of women and children—notwithstanding the physical discomforts of being away from home and in crowded surroundings in chilly weather—would be discomfiting to any ruling government. Instead of engaging with these protesters, the government has now decided to restrict Internet services in protest venues, which will affect the supply of necessary goods, including medicine, which is especially critical for the elderly. This is the second time that Internet access has been curtailed in the capital city, the first time being almost exactly a year ago, when students and civil society spoke up against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a new law that some say discriminates against Muslims. Internet access was also restricted for a few days in parts of the neighboring states Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, not just for protesters but also residents. Punishing people for exercising democratic rights appears to have become a norm in modern India.

In fact, the welcome given to India’s newest Union Territory is a telling sign of what awaits dissenters across the country. Stripped of statehood through Modi’s 2019 repeal of certain provisions of Article 370, which had given Jammu and Kashmir special status and limited autonomy, Kashmir has had no 4G Internet since August 2019, and only limited periods of 2G access, which has crippled the state’s educational and medical institutions and its economy.

Some commentators are now asking farmers to call off the strike following the drama at the Red Fort. Their argument is that deviants among them gave some credence to the government’s conspiracy theory that Khalistanis are behind the farmer protests. But the farmers I spoke to believe that backing down now would not only spell catastrophe for their livelihoods but would also set a bad precedent for future protesters and embolden what they see as a pro-rich, anti-poor federal administration and its right-wing supporters in the media. Many of them also have another issue at stake: Their Sikh identity has been on display because a majority of the farmer leadership belongs to that religion; retreating now, they believe, would give this community, which is historically known for its valor, a bad name.

Indeed, the farmers don’t see any reason to yield to a no-holds-barred effort to taint them. After all, theirs is the biggest mobilization of people in free India. But after farmers were slandered as trouble-makers, what we saw next were pro-government counterprotests at these protest sites, in which several people were injured. This followed the diabolical pattern seen last year at an anti-CAA protest venue in Northeast Delhi, which led to communal riots that saw 53 people killed, most of whom were Muslims; the burning of mosques, homes, and business establishments owned by Muslims; and hundreds of arrests, mostly of Muslim men.

Even as reports come in of thousands more farmers heading to Delhi to join the protests, the government has dug deep holes on the roads, spiked them in some parts around protest venues to stop the entry of tractors, and erected more concertina wires and cement walls. The government was also successful in forcing Twitter to temporarily suspend the accounts of farmer groups, pro-farmer journalists, and even politicians in India—even as the likes of pop legend Rihanna and teenage activist Greta Thunberg tweeted about the protests to invite global attention to what, according to them, is the battle of right against might.