The Freedom Convoy movement launched by the truckers in the Canadian cities since the last week of January continues to make headlines. While the peaceful movement started against the allegedly dictatorial orders of the PM Justin Trudeau vaccine mandates for truckers, entering into Canada from the US who have seen it as an attack on their personal freedom and liberties.
The massive protest movement, alleged by some as right-wing inspired, undoubtedly has found popular appeal, across sections of the society within Canada and the US. Tamara Lich, Maxime Bernier, James and Sandra Bauder are the leaders, leading the movement. Their presence and the flagging of Confederate and Nazi flags in support of the movement have been cited by some, as evidence of the right-wing involvement in the Freedom Convoy movement of Canada.
There have also been reports of support pouring in from various political and corporate elements in the US. Some of the US Senators like Rand Paul and Jim Jordon too have come out in the open, supporting the march of truckers while questions have also been raised about the availability of financial support to protesters, courtesy the online collection of funds to support and further the movement.
Though PM Trudeau did call the movement as that of ‘fringe minority,’ it has spiraled soon to other cities, including Quebec, Calgary, Toronto and the Ambassador Bridge, disrupting movement of goods and trade within Canada and with the US. So much so that the US administration’s Homeland Security and Transport Department have been forced to pitch in and are is in close contact with Canadian authorities over the handling of the protest movement. However, as was feared by many, the copycat ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement has spread to Australia, New Zealand and France while being supported by many across the US and Europe.
Till a few weeks ago, a similar looking movement by a section of farmers (mostly from north Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and western UP region), continued their protests against the Indian Government’s proposed agrarian reforms. The Farm laws that were passed by the Indian Parliament were aimed at initiating wide-ranging reforms in the farming sector and included curtailing subsidies of electricity, fertilizers to rich farmers and providing more support to poor and marginal farmers.
Their movement that frequently turned violent, including one resulting in explicit attack on cops and law-enforcing agencies in the capital city of New Delhi on 26th January last year (the day India celebrates its Republic Day, commemorating its Constitution each year), hogged global headlines. The government was severely criticized, both domestically and internationally, by the known-government baiters.
Mostly egged by critics of government who had been living abroad for years and decades with no or little understanding of the prevailing agrarian crisis in the country, the farmers protest on the outskirts of New Delhi, turned into a global spectacle. It was widely exploited by opposition politicians, anti-government intelligentsia, inside India and from abroad without even discussing the rights and wrongs of the proposed government policy.
Nearly a year of highway blockade by agitators, obstruction of traffic and frequent conflicts and inflammatory discourse, ultimately compelled the Modi government in India to rescind the decision. It would be interesting to have a comparative analysis of this movement with that of the Freedom Convoy movement in Canada.
While the farmers movement in India had explicit political overtones and was funded by elements inimical to India, both within and outside. The movement in Canada too, has such similarity. However, differences between the two protests end there. The movement in India was allowed by the Indian government to continue without resorting to confrontationist tactics and in spite of adequate legal provisions; it did not use force to ensure a retreat by protestors.
In Canada, the Trudeau government has resorted to the first-time usage of national public order emergency provisions against the protestors, using unheard of authoritarian measures including seizing of their trucks, bank accounts, blocking of social security and use of force by security forces. Any protests by them have been banned at highways, airports and border crossings, all in the name of national security and public order.
Another contrast could be seen in the way the situations were handled by the two governments. While the Indian government was widely chastised, especially by the global western media (the op-ed pieces in many instances were written by Indian critics of Modi government) even while allowing the protests without any hindrance, the same media today seems very supportive of all the dictatorial steps, initiated by the government in Canada.
Whereas the Modi-government initiated 11-round of negotiations with the agitating farmers, explaining its perspective on the proposed reforms, the Trudeau government in Canada refused to even talk with the agitating truckers. The Indian government could have used internal emergency provisions to quash protests, it did not do so and finally the Indian PM Modi humbly accepted his government’s failure to convince the agitators while withdrawing the proposed laws.
Another shocker in the whole episode of Freedom Convoy movement in Canada has been the lackluster leadership of PM Trudeau. While Indian PM Modi remained available for discussions with farmers and continued to remain in touch with agitators through formal and informal channels, the PM of Canada is reported to had been relocated to a hideout in the initial stages of movement, fearing for his personal safety.
In the midst of all this, the recent ranking of nations on the Global Freedom Index that puts Canada on the impressive 6th rank against India’s 111th sounds tricky and questionable. It is time that ranking of nations and societies, is done more objectively and after shedding political and personal bias, prejudices that have been the hallmark of such assessment for quite some time.
* Rajesh Kumar Sinha, MA, MLISc, MPhil, PG Diploma in Journalism is a serving Librarian with the Indian Railways. He has worked in print and web media for eight years and writes for Foreign Policy News (US), South Asia Journal (US), South Asia Monitor, Modern Diplomacy (Germany), Eurasian Times, Eurasian Review, Indian Defence News, Indian Railways, Global Railway Review, Rail Journal and OPEN Journal (India). He may be contacted at [email protected]