On 26 January, the Republic Day of India, a rogue segment of the farmers' movement deviated from their pre-designated route and launched a procession at the Red Fort where they were met with the brutal force of the police resulting in one farmer's death.
In response, the Uttar Pradesh government ordered the farmers to vacate the Delhi border at Singhu and Ghazipur.
The movement - previously supported by the vast majority of Indians - was being accused of desecrating a national monument and the puppets of the Modi government in the media declared that the movement was essentially over, much like its predecessor against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
But Rakesh Tikait - the President of the Bhartiya Kisan Union - had no intention of giving up.
On January 28, a teary-eyed Rakesh called on his fellow farmers as he refused to vacate the grounds and pledged a hunger strike. His emotional call to action revitalised the movement and saved it from potential implosion.
Fast forward to November 19, 2021.
Against all odds, the alt-right central government in India led by Narendra Modi finally succumbed to the Indian farmers' movement and decided to repeal all three farming bills introduced in September last year.
Unlike most South Asian countries, India has had a long, proud history of strong democratic institutions. Although these institutions seemed to be threatened under the rule by a strongman like Narendra Modi, the victory of the farmers' movement did serve as a ray of hope.
In fact, the success of the farmers' movement in India was probably the first of its kind: a well-organised battle of attrition by the people of India against the ruling party without any assistance or leadership from any political party.
The movement showed that you do not need to conform to the ruling party's whims to avail yourself of your rights - an important lesson for future movements both in India and in neighbouring countries.
But what set off this movement? Why were the farmers protesting? How did they win against the mighty BJP government? Why did the BJP give in to their demands?
Let's go back one year.
The three Farm Acts 2020
On 27 September 2020, the BJP-ruled central government in India passed three agricultural bills, namely, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers; (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and an amendment of the Essential Commodities act.
Anticipating the initiation of the bills, farmers in Punjab threatened to block any rail movement in Punjab from 24 September. But the BJP central government, led by Narendra Modi, decided to ignore them.
In layman's terms, the three bills would allow farmers to sell their produce outside the purview of their state's Agricultural Produce Market Committees or APMCs, eradicate the middlemen and allow them to directly deal with buyers, i.e., large corporations in the cities.
Under the pre-existing system, farmers would bring their produce to the local APMCs where their products would be auctioned and sold at a certain price. If some products could not be sold during the auctions, then the government would buy them at Market Support Price (MSP).
According to farmers, there was a sense of accountability in this system as the farmers had a relatively clear idea about the value of their products, the licensing system gave them an idea about the buyers. More importantly, the Market Support Price (MSP) functioned as a safety net against any uncertainty.
So what was wrong with the new bills?
Firstly, the farmers believed that the bill would favour large corporations significantly more than the farmers and they would be far more vulnerable to exploitation than in the current model.
Secondly, with the phasing out of market support price (MSP), farmers stood to lose a much-coveted safety net. On top of that, any disputes between the buyers and the farmers would now be dealt with by bureaucrats which the farmers believed were on the payrolls of large corporations.
Regardless of the farmers' complaints and processions in Punjab and Haryana, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind signed the farmers' bill on September 27, 2020.
In response to the three bills, the farmers in India decided to march to the capital Delhi in an attempt to force the central government to listen to their demands.
As the farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other states were moving towards Delhi in their tractors, the police were ready at each step with water cannons, tear gas and concrete barricades.
It was becoming increasingly clear to the farmers why the central government stuck to its decision, despite BJP having a majority in the parliament (meaning they could easily repeal the bills if they wanted to) and incredible public angst against the bill, and who stood to benefit from this rigidity. Spoiler alert: It is the large corporations.
But the central government had to retreat in the face of strong protests by the farmers as they settled down on the Singhu and Ghazipur border and so began a series of dialogues between the government and the farmers.
Despite the ongoing protests, the government continued to argue against repeal. So, it was becoming increasingly clear to the farmers why the central government stuck to its decision, despite BJP having a majority in the parliament (meaning they could easily repeal the bills if they wanted to) and incredible public angst against the bill, and who stood to benefit from this rigidity.
Spoiler alert: It is the large corporations. By this point, the farmers had become so distrustful of the government that a promise of amendment of the bills was rejected by the movement. What followed was a year-long campaign of slander, controversy and nationalistic dog-whistling to nip the movement in its buds.
The participants in the farmers' movement were called 'Andolon Jeevis' (those who protest for money), 'Khalistani' (a Sikh separatist movement) agents and whatnot. In February, the government even shut down the internet around New Delhi - as they did in Kashmir before - inviting international discourse.
Why did Modi give in now?
Narendra Modi's ultimate selling point was his strong-man like, unwavering image in the face of all adversities.
He did not apologise for the demonetisation debacle. He doubled down on any opposition against the NRC, CAA bills. He stripped Kashmir off of its autonomous status without even blinking. So, what changed now?
Firstly, the BJP government's catastrophic handling of the second wave led to the worst health crisis in recent Indian history. Adding the farmers' protest and dwindling economic growth to the equation, the BJP's support is dwindling in many states, as evidenced by their underperformance in the seemingly winnable election in West Bengal.
To add salt to the wound, as the effects of the second wave waned, the farmers began organising their local populace and pledged to make sure that no BJP leaders win from these regions. The BJP leaders could not even enter these regions for campaigning due to intense farmer protests. So, it became virtually impossible to campaign for BJP leaders.
Things turned for the worst for BJP when Ashish Mishra - son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra - allegedly ran over protesting farmers with his SUV - resulting in a countrywide pandemonium.
Akhilesh Yadav, an opposition politician as well as a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh doubled down on these mishaps by the BJP and launched a huge campaign in support of the farmers.
All of these developments worried the incumbent BJP leadership in Uttar Pradesh. If BJP lost Uttar Pradesh as well right after their loss in West Bengal it may have had catastrophic consequences for the party in the upcoming election in the other states as well.
So, before things could get further out of control, Narendra Modi's government decided to repeal the three agricultural acts and apologise to the farmers.
Farmers are still holding processions at the Ghazipur and Singhu border until the parliament's repeal of the three acts come into effect. They have also promised to not leave their ground until MSP is reinstated.
The success of the farmers' movement in India serves as a reminder that no matter how extractive the political institutions may become, it eventually has to bow down to the unrelenting will of the people and every autocratic, quasi-fascist regime in the sub-continent should do well to remember this lesson.