Staging a protest is an essential privilege enshrined in democracy and it ought to be resorted to whenever the republic wielding power becomes inconsiderate of the concerns of the public. But what if the protest is a staged act by a cabal with vested interests? Should it be allowed to run unimpeded and abuse the privilege? Similar, however remotely, is the case of current farmers' protest. Making matters worse, the protest was hijacked by anti-nationals on the republic day, bringing shame to the majority of protesters who quickly distanced themselves from the hoodlums.
Coming back to the core idea of the protest, what is most perplexing is the reluctance shown by protesters in agreeing to any terms whatsoever. In the beginning of the protest, the demand was to at least put a hold on the farm laws and have a rethink and discussion over it. But as the protest intensified, the goal post kept changing and today it has come down to complete repeal of the laws with no questions asked. Therein lies the irony of upholding the spirit of democracy, as the government has offered to discuss the laws clause by clause. Such obstinacy cannot be explained by pragmatic assertions. Rather it starts smelling of an ulterior motive, if not a conspiracy.
The primary concerns of the protesters are the probable redundancy of APMCs, inability to engage in legal battles with corporates in case of disputes related to contract farming resulting in land acquisition, and giving a leeway to hoarders by allowing unlimited storage. However, not all of these apprehensions hold water. Firstly, obviating the existence of APMC has been denied clearly by the government. In fact, it has emphasized the strengthening of APMCs and connecting them through eNAM which is an online trading platform for agricultural commodities.
Secondly, in case of contract farming, the law allows the farmer to get out of the contract anytime they want while the trader cannot renege on his commitments and will have to pay the farmer. The union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar clarified it during the discussion in Rajya Sabha. This allays the concern pertaining to the most flagged terminology used in the act i.e “farm service provider”. Many experts have said that it will provide a scope for the play of middlemen as the term is not clearly defined. Now, this is a genuine concern but the ability of the farmer to get out of the contract if he is not satisfied with the terms even after the commencement of the deal is something which empowers them to not get affected by it. However, the terminology must be explained properly by the government.
The only concern that is valid is the last one but interestingly, nobody is protesting against it. Allowing unlimited storage without regulatory oversight is bound to lead to hoarding and hence enough measures need to be taken to establish the way in which unethical practices would be monitored, identified, and acted upon.
The Other Dimension
Farmers being misled is just one dimension of the protests. The other dimension involves the influence of outsiders who are looking at it as an opportunity to further their own agenda. Whether it is the Khalistani elements or the opposition, they see the protest as a stepping stone to fulfill their goals. The Khalistani movement which has found no supporters in India is surviving through the obeisance of a bunch of non-resident Sikhs outside India. Having failed to garner the support of Sikhs in India for their movement, they are wishing that the protesting farmers will play into their hands. They have not lost hope even though the farmers have strongly condemned the hooliganism at display on the Republic Day at the Red Fort. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist recently put out a tweet in support of the farmer protest attaching a toolkit which is believed to have been created by the Poetic Justice Foundation, which according to Delhi Police Crime branch is a pro-Khalistani organization.
As for the opposition, this is just another opportunity to mobilize people against the government. The inability of the opposition to build a movement from scratch by having people on its side is so extreme that it is willing to jump into any non-issue offering to lend support. It has turned into a hyena looking to grab a bite from someone else’s win without putting in much effort.
One of the most important issues where the opposition could and should have architected a campaign was when the migrant laborers were left in an abysmal state during the peak of Covid-19 pandemic but nothing more than a few sporadic tweets came from the opposition. This shows its lack of sincerity in playing its role in the democracy.
Now that the farmers have already been misled and the fact that the government has failed in convincing them, the way forward for the government should be to implement the farm laws in all states except the states which are witnessing protest. Once the farmers in these states realize that their counterparts in neighboring states are getting better prices for their produce, they will start acknowledging the efficacy of the new laws.