Agriculture

Rising Number of Protesting Farmers Switch From Jio to Rival Mobile Networks

The underlying logic that has caught on with the farmers is that the Narendra Modi government has enacted the new farm laws only to benefit Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani's business interests.

Singhu border: At the Singhu border on the National Highway-44 teeming with protestors, apart from the endless rows of tractors, langars, eye-catching placards and hit farmers’ songs are newly-erected stalls of mobile companies to cash in on farmers rushing to change their mobile operator from Jio to Airtel and Vodafone-Idea. They have been using the portability option, which allows a mobile phone user to switch to a different network while retaining their mobile number.

The campaign that initially started in Punjab in September has been picking up pace among people from Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh too. As farmers have been on protest, the need to kickstart the campaign at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders have been felt, and the response so far has been enormous.

Even back home in Punjab, special camps are being organised in villages with shopkeepers making special offers and running discounts to encourage people to switch from Jio sims to Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and other mobile companies.

Also read: A Month on, Farmers Remain Resolute Over Repeal of Farm Laws

The anger against corporate giants Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance and Gautam Adani’s Adani Group has been building up since the day the protests against the Central agriculture laws.

Amanbir Singh, a driver from Sultanwind in Amritsar at Singhu border, says in protest against the three farm laws, he too has decided to port his Jio Sim.

Jo sadi zameen te nazar rakhi baitha, oh sada ki lageya? (One who has his eyes on our lands, what relation do I share with him?) We will fight this government tooth and nail,” he adds, his anger visible.

Ashok Dahiya, a farmer from Hisar in Haryana, has also said that he along with others have been spreading the word and asking people to boycott Reliance and Adani products.

Mukesh Ambani. Credit: PTI/File photo

Mukesh Ambani. Credit: PTI/File photo

Two young boys, Tajinder Singh from Nurmahal and his cousin Manpreet Singh from Jalandhar, reached Singhu border on their moped Honda Activa. While changing their sim from Jio to Airtel at a mobile stall, they say that it is their way of supporting farmers.

“Seeing our elderly men and women sitting on protest and braving the cold for the past one month makes me feel indebted to them. It’s like an acknowledgment that we have also contributed,” they add.

Deepak Singh, Airtel team leader on duty at one of the stalls at Singhu border, says that they have erected stall based on customers’ demand.

“On an average around 500 to 600 people have been getting their Jio sims ported to Airtel, Idea and Vodafone every day. As farmers are sitting on protest, it is not feasible for them to visit local shops to get their mobile sims ported, hence the decision to put up stalls here,” he informs.

Another Airtel team member, Sanjay Thapra from Sonepat in Haryana at Singhu border, who is seen holding a register and writing mobile numbers being ported says, “Farmers are coming on their own. We have not gone anywhere to tell them to visit our stalls. Not just Punjabis, even those from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh have also been coming. All they want is to discontinue Jio sims as soon as possible,” he explains.

Also read: Did You Think the New Laws Were Only About the Farmers?

Speaking to The Wire, Kisan Ekta Morcha IT wing head Baljeet Singh, who is credited with the setting up of a special IT cell for farmers to counter BJP IT wing’s fake news propaganda against farmers protest, says that the campaign against Jio Sims have started around a week ago, when Modi government made a proposal that they will amend the three controversial farm laws but will not scrap them.

“That’s when these mobile company stalls were put up here. Till date over 1.50 lakh Jio sims have been ported to Airtel, Idea and Vodafone at protest sites. The campaign is getting a thumping response through social media and by word of mouth. We are glad that people are coming on their own to express solidarity with farmers,” he informs.

A concerted campaign

Kisan Ekta Manch volunteers have also been posting similar videos calling for the boycott of Reliance products through its social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp and webinars.

Farmers shout slogans at Singhu border during a protest against the new farm laws, in New Delhi, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Photo: PTI

On December 24, a video message of Dr. Darshan Pal, the president of Krantikari Kisan Union, was released on Kisan Ekta Manch Facebook page appealing people to boycott all Reliance products in daily use.

“Reliance towers would automatically become redundant, when its sims would not be in use,” he appeals in the video.

Back home in Punjab, farmer union members earlier had been involved in disconnecting power supply to Jio mobile towers and disrupted its services in Nawanshahr, Ferozepur, Mansa, Patiala, Moga, Barnala and Fazilka districts of Punjab.

In response to this move, Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh urged them to show restraint and discipline in leading the protests, the way they had been doing at Delhi borders and avoid causing inconvenience to citizens.

Also read: Will India’s Contract Farming Ordinance Be a Corporate Lifeline for Agriculture?

Vipan Pal from Sham Chaurasi village, who owns 18 acres land in Hoshiarpur district, says that messages are being shared through farmers WhatsApp groups to port Jio sims.

“Even I will get both my Jio sims ported to Airtel. Airtel and Vodafone-Idea employees have been reaching out to farmers through farmer unions with different plans for subscribers. The idea is that we don’t want to associate ourselves with anything that is remotely associated with Reliance and Adani, Modi government’s twin business supporters,” he explains.

It is pertinent to mention here that a wall-sized poster calling for the boycott of Reliance and Adani products has been put up near the main stage at Singhu border. Many other posters against both the corporate houses have been put up at other locations too.

Emphasising on people’s campaign, Baljeet Singh, who is also the vice president of Majha Kisan Sangharsh committee, says that individuals under different groups have been putting up posters themselves.

“You will find many such hand-written posters, placards and banners put up on tractors and trolleys demanding a boycott of Reliance and Adani products. People are protesting through various mediums,” he adds.

It is pertinent to mention here that last week Reliance Jio had reportedly complained to telecom regular Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) against rivals Airtel and Vodafone Idea alleging that the duo was spreading rumours that Reliance will gain from the three farm laws enacted by the Narendra Modi government.

“And, the government says that we are misled. Mukesh Ambani’s reaction to our campaign against Jio has proved that we have hit them hard,” says a group of elderly farmers.