Jacobin - December 1, 2020

General strikes in the era of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi have an oddly repetitive quality to them. First, the major national-level trade unions — save for the one aligned with Modi’s far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — call for a one- or two-day general strike, usually in response to the BJP’s latest raft of anti-worker policies. Millions of people across the country pour into the streets in support. Strike leaders tout the action as perhaps the largest strike in history. Left media outside the country hail the walkout, while the mainstream media in India barely mentions it. And then life seemingly returns to normal.

Last week’s general strike in India featured some of these components: the call by national-level unions in response to the BJP’s anti-worker policies; the claims of massive turnout (250 million people, in this case); and the time-limited nature of the strike. But this being 2020, the November 26 walkout also had a different quality to it. Back in March, the government used the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on and clear the last physical remnants of widespread protests against its discriminatory citizenship laws. And so the sight of people out on the streets in protest was a striking display.

Even more importantly, the general strike converged with a march launched by a broad group of farmers’ organizations, all planning to descend on the capital of Delhi. Social media was suddenly awash with images of farmers using tractors and trucks to break down the barriers erected by police to keep them out of the city. In one video, a protester emphatically explained to a policeman at the barricades that “this is a revolution, sir.”

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