Farmers’ Protest: Lessons to be learnt

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More than fifteen days have passed since farmers started their agitation in Delhi against Centre’s “anti-farmer” laws. The farmers continued their protest as an unrelenting centre continued to defend the hurriedly passed farm laws during the different rounds of talks held with them. The centre has offered “same proposals” but through different Ministers which farmers have rejected. “The farmers have rejected the government’s proposals,” Darshan Pal, president of Krantikari Kisan Union, told reporters after the meeting of over 30 farmers’ unions. He said the new draft contained what had already been proposed to them by Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar in his previous meetings with farmer leaders.

Farmers want no less than repeal of the farm laws passed in September as they fear the “privatisation” of the farming sector will destroy their livelihoods and put them at the mercy of big corporates. The ruling government wants to keep the laws because it believes farmers have been “misled” by the opposition but its unrelenting attitude also indicates the high stakes involved which makes it want to continue with close negotiations with farmers. The farmers have been open to talks and proposals but the Centre appears to have failed to persuade the allegedly “misled” lot in different rounds of talks. The farmer understands what is at stake too and he appears more determined than before because a “pro-corporate” government has rejected their demand. Despite the unfriendly winter and the looming darkness of the pandemic the farmers now intend to intensify their protest, and their actions do not quite appear like those misled into agitations.  Thousands of farmers have braved water cannons, tear gas, police barricades and even lathi charge by the police. At least five deaths have been reported since the protests began.

Leaders of Farmers’ unions announced that they would intensify their agitation by blocking the Jaipur-Delhi and the Delhi-Agra expressways by Saturday, and escalating it to a nationwide protest on December 14. According to the union leaders, a new ‘Delhi Chalo’ (March to Delhi) call is being given to all farmers in north India for December 14, while those in the south will be asked to protest at district headquarters. Farmers’ unions have also called for a boycott of Reliance malls and capture of toll plazas.

On the one hand, the centre has said that the laws have been brought for the benefit of farmers but on the other the centre has overlooked protests by farmers in different parts of the country and also tried to suppress them. The centre has been accused by farmers of not consulting them before bringing the laws. A wide consultation and “dialogue” with them at an earlier stage could have avoided protesting crowds during the pandemic. But the Centre had hurriedly passed the bills in parliament despite the opposition calling for a wider debate and more deliberations by a parliamentary committee. The centre opened the debate later when the Agricultural Minister called for a “clause by clause” discussion with farmers after the protests reached Delhi.  If the farm laws were pro-farmer why didn’t the centre take farmers into confidence before bringing the laws? The laws appear to open the agricultural sector to the greater benefit of private players than farmers themselves. Why loosen rules if farmers could benefit without doing so?

The timing of bringing the farm legislations has reportedly been close with the incorporation of agricultural firms by Adani and Ambani. Jio mart is co-incidentally a new food retail project launched by Reliance. One cannot overlook the increasing rate of co-incidence between the BJP government passing laws and the big corporate “friends” announcing projects. Earlier, Reliance had announced a series of investments in Kashmir as soon as the BJP government revoked Kashmir’s special status and opened the state “for sale”.

There are lessons to be learnt from these unprecedented protests for a government that rams through with legislations that it alone believes and feels are right for the people without first consulting them. In a democracy the government of the day is bound to listen to the people because technically it runs for their benefit. Dissent cannot be suppressed for long.

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