Democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the peopleAbraham Lincoln
The protests signify the liveliness of democracy, but the stalemate needs to be broken at the earliest, and all efforts made to strengthen the integrity of democratic values and processes.
Seven decades ago, Indian democracy tasted the first general elections in 1951-52, followed by a series of such elections afterwards. During elections, the political parties and individuals in the fray are seen rhetorically wooing the voters for seeking their votes through assurances in the election manifesto and proclamations in public meetings. Because of the sizeable population share, India’s agrarian community has always been at the centre stage of public mandate in elections and performs decisive roles in the formation of a majority Government. Philosophically, in a democratic setup where Governments are formed on the basis of winning a majority of the population owe a lot to the majority community, which is the farmers in the Indian context. Also, the indulgence of political parties out of power in the ongoing challenges by the public at large is very natural and points towards etarnality in democracy.
Consequently, assessing the amelioration in the state of farmers is not impertinent at any time. Doubtlessly, the state of farmers has improved a lot since the independence of the country. Green revolution culminated in the abundance of food grain with the untiring endeavour of Indian farmers and other enablers for it. But the penchant of younger generations of farmers for migrating out of agriculture points to something wrong. Today, farming does not appear an attractive proposition for living a decent life. This propensity of drifting away from agriculture is evinced from the shrinking share of the agriculture sector and the growing contribution of the service sector in the economy among different contributors of the economy. It does not augur well.
The well being of the citizenry is the sole way to give a firm footing to any democracy and its governance through elected representatives under the sacrosanct constitution of the country that lays beautifully articulated frameworks for the governance. The mathematics involved in winning the elections and formation of governments divulges that the winner is not always the one seeking more than half of the votes. This fact is essential to understand that even the majority ruling the roost does not enjoy the confidence of more than half of its citizens. Perhaps, this reasons the commencement of more than two-month-old farmers’ agitation. The protesters are a sizeable farmer community of the country who are not comfortable with the three farm acts namely “Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act”, “Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act”, and “Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act” enacted in September 2020. The trust deficit among these farmers towards the government also arises from the way these bills were passed in the Upper House. The passing of these laws witnessed a lot of uproars in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament followed by the suspension of many parliamentarians and their dharna in its premises. It is notable that these farm laws were earlier brought into force in the form of three ordinances encompassing somewhat similar subjects in June 2020.
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Consequently, the farmer agitation triggered from Punjab and it appeared as ‘Rail Roko Dharna’ from 24 September 2020 continuing up to October 2020. Upon no respite from State Government, the farmers moved on with the slogan of ‘Dilli Chalo’ towards Delhi. At the Delhi borders, they were welcomed by the police using tear gas, water cannons, digging the approach road, etc. on 25th November 2020. With hundreds of thousands of farmers attempting to reach the capital city, their entry to Delhi was not possible in spite of farmers repeatedly seeking permission to reach Jantar Mantar – the quintessential protest site of India.
As time passed by, the debates started in press and media with prominent personalities having views opposing as well as favouring the farm laws. News poured in about the return of medals and awards received from Central Government by many eminent ones.
With the protests continuing, the Union Government of India started dialogues with the group of around 40 leaders of farmer organizations, and eleven rounds of talks were held, but to no avail. The last round of talks held a few days prior to the 72nd Republic Day of India also went inconclusive and importantly there was no proclamation of any future date for another round of talks. The offer of suspending the implementation of three farm laws for a limited period and setting up discussion groups too could not resolve the stalemate.
Then came the much-hyped Tractor march by farmers on the Republic Day of 2021. Despite claims of the necessary preparations for maintaining law and order during the proposed peaceful march, the machinery could not avert certain unfortunate incidents. As a result, a community was painted in bad colours. However, the conglomerate of farmer leaders dissociated itself from the unfortunate incidents and called for stringent action against the culprits.
With the farmers’ protest getting mired in unfortunate incidents at Red Fort in Delhi, there was a mood swing in the public sentiments. The return of farmers from the protest sites made these places scanty and speculations about the end of farmer protest were rife. The voices were heard from the sparser farmer protest sites about the disruptions in electricity supply, stopping the water supply, removal of toilets, etc. Suddenly, the 28th January evening emotional outburst of the farmer leader Rakesh Tikait leading to him being in tears acted as a game-changer. The spread of the video of Tikait in tears from the Ghazipur protest site sensitized the farmers, the farmers heading back to their villages made a ‘U-turn’ and started reaching the protest sites again. The elder brother of Rakesh Tikait mobilized Mahapanchayats and the farmers re-collected at protest sites with an apparently stronger resolve and commitment. The contemplations of police action on Tikait took back seat at that moment. The series of staged barricading, grouting of iron nails on roads for cordoning off farmers from entering the capital city could be good from policing perspective, but created a sense of alienation among the protesters staging the proclaimed peaceful protests.
This resulted in Rakesh Tikait, the spokesperson of BKU, emerging out as a formidable farmer leader. Subsequently, a series of Mahapanchayats were held in locations in different states around Delhi which impressively assured of larger participation of farmers in the ongoing protest. The vociferous demand for the repeal of referred three farm laws was joined by the long-pending demand for the declaration of MSP (Minimum Support Price) as a legal guarantee too. Of course, around 94% of Indian farmers not getting their produce sold on MSP is a heart-burning issue for all of such farmers as they have to sell at quite lesser prices that are even unable to reimburse the cost of production in certain cases. Farm produce essentially requires threshold pricing else the farmers dying in penury can’t be checked.
Gradually, this continuance of the unresolved rejuvenated farmer protest may spread among the small farmers too and their other livelihood miseries like poor average income, unemployment of youth, reducing job opportunities, etc. could percolate in masses and catalyze the ongoing farmers’ movement. Doubtlessly, the protests signify the liveliness of democracy, but the stalemate needs to be broken at the earliest, and all efforts made to strengthen the integrity of democratic values and processes. The governance is a perennial process and the political parties in power will keep on changing as per popular mandate. Therefore, the deliberations and discussions must continue for the betterment of citizens of the country without any prestige issues on either side on the premise that the change is the law of nature.