A video of a protester marching towards Delhi and lecturing a Haryana police officer in English on why farmers are protesting is doing the rounds on social media.
Film director Vivek Agnihotri, a prominent voice of the right wing, posted the video on Twitter with a sarcastic remark: "Hahahahaha. The poor landless farmer for whom WOKES are crying."
Hahahahaha. The poor landless farmer for whom WOKES are crying. pic.twitter.com/yjl592EuqX
— Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) November 27, 2020
The latent message in his tweet was obvious – “How can a farmer speak English?”
The truth is that most protesting farmers are very articulate – be it in Punjabi, English or Hindi – as their rhetoric comes from lived experience.
But this particular protester being targeted by the right wing is as interesting as the story of his involvement in the protest.
The person captured on video is Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu, who has emerged as an important voice of the agitation against the Narendra Modi government's farm laws, ever since they were passed in September this year.
Soon after the sit-in protests against the farm laws began, Sidhu became involved with one of the most important protest sites at Shambhu Barrier in Punjab's Patiala district, that adjoins Ambala district in Haryana.
Who is Deep Sidhu?
Sidhu was born in a Jatt Sikh family in Punjab's Sri Muktsar Sahib district in 1984. His early schooling was said to have been in Punjab. He later studied law and briefly took to modelling, participating in the Kingfisher Model Hunt and Grasim Mr India contest and winning in a few categories.
But modelling didn't appeal to him and he came back to law, working with British firm Hammonds and then a number of production houses like Disney, Sony Pictures and Balaji. His longest legal stint is said to have been with Balaji.
Though acting offers did come his way, he finally began his acting career at the age of 31 with a Punjabi film called Ramta Jogi, produced by actor Dharmendra's Vijayta Films.
Sidhu is known to be close to the entire Deol family, especially Dharmendra and Sunny Deol, who is now BJP MP from Gurdaspur. Sidhu even campaigned for Sunny Deol in the 2019 elections.
However, the film for which Sidhu became most famous was Jora 10 Numbaria (2017). The film shows how the childhood of the protagonist (played by Sidhu) is destroyed because of criminals and a corrupt political and bureaucratic system. He goes on to become a gangster, but one with a conscience. Incidentally, Dharmendra also played a cameo in the film.
Given the depiction of the criminal-politician nexus in Punjab, the film received a very good response in the state. The above poster even has a caption ‘Politics is the last refuge of scoundrels’.
There were other politically significant elements in the film, especially the protagonist's protection of a Dalit family and his friendship with two Muslim characters.
Sidhu did act in a few more films after that but his most awaited film was the sequel to Jora 10 Numbaria titled Jora: The Second Chapter. which came out in March 2020.
Interestingly, in the second chapter, the protagonist played by Sidhu, joins politics and goes against established politicians. Will real life emulate reel life? More on that later.
What is Sidhu's Involvement in The Protests?
Much of the Punjabi film and music fraternity came out in opposition to the Modi government's farm laws and in support of the protesting farmers. Sidhu, in that sense, is no exception.
However, what set him apart is the fact that he remained at the Shambhu Barrier protest site – or Shambhu Morcha as it is now called – constantly for the past two months.
The site itself is important as it has been the venue of several other protests, such as the Sutlej-Yamuna canal dispute.
Another difference between Sidhu and the rest of the artists is that he did take positions independent of the stand taken by the farmers' unions.
For instance, Sidhu has consistently been saying that "the aim of the protests shouldn't be to gain concessions, it should be to change the entire power equation".
His disagreements often led to a few people accusing him of being an "RSS agent". His critics also cited his closeness to BJP MP Sunny Deol and family.
Sidhu's speeches at Shambhu are interesting and give a glimpse of his own politics. He frequently uses Panthic imagery as well as references from international history. On a few occasions he has also spoken about the oppression of minorities in rest of India.
He arrived at Kundli border between Haryana and Delhi in the afternoon of 28 November. It is not clear if he would join the protesters at the Nirankari Samagam grounds or remain with the protesters who have decided to stay put at Kundli.
Does Deep Sidhu Have Political Ambitions?
Clearly, the BJP government led by Narendra Modi is the main villain of the protest. And now, the attack on protesters by the police in Haryana may have added the state government led by Manohar Lal Khattar to the same category.
But it is also true that there is some resentment against the two major parties in Punjab – the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal – that have dominated the state's politics since Independence.
Both parties have been accused of promoting corruption and protecting only elite interests. At different points of time, other parties have tried to break the monopoly of these two parties – the Shiromani Akali Dal (Mann) and BSP in the 1990s, the Left in limited areas, and Aam Aadmi Party 2014 onwards. Except the BSP, all the other alternatives have primarily come out of the Malwa region where agrarian anger and assertion is the strongest.
But none of them managed to come to power. The vacuum for an alternative still exists. It is possible that in future, Deep Sidhu could use the momentum of the anti-farm law protests to try and occupy that space.
This would go well with his assertion that "concessions are not enough, the power equation has to change".
He did drop hints about his political plans earlier this year. In August, after the Punjab hooch tragedy killed 112 people, he put up this picture on his official Facebook page with a post in Punjabi criticising the Captain Amarinder Singh government in the state: “There’s seed scam, gypsum scam, illegal mining and now even illicit liquor is being sold...Should Punjabis just go and die?”
However, if he does have ambitions, that would become clearer closer to the 2022 Assembly elections.
As of now, it is clear that Sidhu has emerged as an important voice of the movement against the farm laws and has clearly riled the pro-government sections, which is evident from Agnihotri’s tweet.
But Sidhu’s own trajectory would greatly be dependent on what route the movement itself takes.
. Read more on Politics by The Quint.Farmers Protest: How Actor Deep Sidhu Became Part of the AgitationDilli Chalo: ‘Here to Stay,’ Say Farmers; Khattar Slams Amarinder . Read more on Politics by The Quint.